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Letter to Chatham House

posted 29 Jan 2012, 06:22 by D Woldeab

I am the chairman of an organisation know as the Action Group for Eritrea (AGE).  I am writing to you as advised by your Mr Thomas Cargill to make a complaint about the way in which Chatham House has been handling issues regarding Eritrea.


As you know, Chatham House announced at the beginning of 2007 the setting up of the Horn of Africa Group in association with the Royal African Society, the Rift Valley Institute and the Centre of African Studies.


The Horn of Africa Group was supposedly created to seek views through meetings and consultations, and publish a report for the benefit of policy makers, diplomats, academics and others.  This is what Chatham House claimed that the Group will do to achieve its objectives:  “It will solicit a wide range of views, seeking to involve policy makers and a range of area specialists. It challenges received wisdom and takes a long term view. It seeks out new angles and new voices, using unexpected sources, particularly from within the region. The views and analysis of leading figures (officials, journalists, academics) from the countries of the Horn, especially their take on each other, will be an important component of the series. It includes visiting speakers on key topical issues.”  Chatham House stated that they planned to publish their findings at the beginning of 2008.


As part of the programme, the Horn of Africa group held a series of meetings throughout the year.  One was held on Monday the 17th of December 2007 to discuss the foreign policy of the Eritrean government.  The meeting was not publicized and was held under Chatham House rule.


Our members including myself contacted Chatham House and expressed our wish to attend the meeting. Our repeated requests were turned down.  We were informed by the Programme Manager, Mr Cargill that “the meeting is a gathering of academic specialists to which a limited number of other participants have been invited. Invitees are from the academic not the political world.”   We offered to send AGE members who are academics and would meet the quoted criteria, with the ability to give an objective analysis of the subject matter.   Chatham House was not interested to listen to our views and flatly rejected our offer.


We then contacted Eritreans who we know would meet the criteria with an in depth knowledge of the subject in question.  None were invited.  We also learned from Sally Healy of Chatham House that they had also turned down the new Eritrean Ambassador in the UK who had shown interest to attend. This was confirmed by Embassy of the State Eritrea in the UK.  We later learned that the Ambassador attended the meeting after lodging a formal protest.


Although the meeting was held under Chatham House rule, the names of some of the people who were invited had become known to the public well in advance of the meeting.  Some of the invitees were neither academics nor specialists in the field discussed, but well known for their partisan political activities against the State of Eritrea.


Chatham house handpicked individuals who seemed to hold a certain view of Eritrea and refused to allow people who may give a different view.

Chatham House only invited individual Eritreans whose views are at odds with the vast majority of Eritreans.  AGE members were known to the Programme Manager, but he did not see it necessary for us to participate in these meetings. We were denied the opportunity to make a presentation on the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia and how that might influence Eritrean foreign policy.    Chatham House was not initially interested to hear the Eritrean Foreign Policy from the Ambassador himself.


We, the Action Group for Eritrea, have had serious concerns for a while about the way in which Chatham House has been dealing with issues concerning Eritrea.  The reports published so far are one sided and very biased. It is to be recalled that Chatham House invited selected individuals in April 2007 to discuss the Eritrean economy.  Some of the people invited then were those with dubious credibility and with an axe to grind against the Eritrean government.


The title of the conference was ‘Eritrea’s Economic Survival’, but the press release and report that was made public six months after the meeting came out with a sensationalized title indicating that the Eritrean economy was close to collapse.  One can only question what the purpose of such a press release would be exactly at a time when there was a heightened tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia and the chances of renewed conflict were real.


The other report written for the Group was titled ‘Eritrea and Ethiopia-

Allergic to Persuasion’, written by Sally Healy of Chatham House and Martin Plaut of the BBC. The authors went to great length to justify

Ethiopia’s intransigence and put the blame on Eritrea for the impasse.

They encouraged violation of international rules and advocated violence to resolve the conflict.


In response to our complaints made to Mr Cargill, we were told that

Chatham House is ‘an independent think tank with no institutional point of view.’  However, as far as Eritrea is concerned, the evidences stated above clearly suggest that individuals within Chatham House have made up their mind on the content of the final report before the consultation began and are only interested in views that would support these preconceived ideas.  The consultation is neither extensive nor impartial.


Chatham House also claimed that their aim is “to promote a better understanding of areas of Africa that are little studied or discussed in the United Kingdom and Eritrea is one such place.”  We believe that individuals within Chatham House are promoting an agenda with the aim of undermining Eritrea’s sovereignty.


We would therefore consider based on the above and past reports, the process to be unfair and unjust.  We feel that any publication that is produced as a result of this programme cannot be considered fair and impartial.  I therefore kindly request that you look into this matter and take the necessary measure to ensure that Chatham House’s rules and regulations are being followed and that there is a sense of fairness and balance in the process.


I look forward to hearing from you.


Link to Follow Up Letter to Chatham House

Link to Response From Chatham House