The Sarcasm, Denial and Lies of the Eritrean authorities: a personal account on the National service, the closure of the University of Asmara and the Scholarship program in South AfricaTuesday, 23 December 2014 12:33 Written by Zekarias Ginbot
By Zekarias Ginbot
December 20, 2014
A lot have been said about the atrocities committed by the Eritrean regime and articles with similar content have been published before in this kind of platforms. However, the content of this article might be different in a sense that it is my personal account or reflection of the situation in Eritrea since independence. I am not a politician to give a political analysis about the situation, but like any Eritrean who has suffered under PFDJ (People's Front for Democracy and Justice) leadership for years now, I felt I have to share my experience and my frustration with people who are still naïve or knowingly ignoring the facts. I heard and read a lot when it comes to issues related to my country since I left but did not take the initiative to write about what I felt. I admit that I was also one of those people who believed in patience and making sacrifice for a better future Eritrea. Many Eritreans still have these kinds of thoughts. But the Eritrean authorities continued to misinterpret patience as if the Eritrean people do not know what is possible and what could be achieved under the circumstances. PFDJ continued to hold the people as hostages for the last 25 years using different pretexts.
In 1989, when the Eritrean struggle against Ethiopian occupation gained the upper hand in the war front lines, a group of us, high school students at the time, came around an elderly man whom we thought did not support Eritrean independence and bullied and made fun of him, telling him that the country was to be freed soon. He explained to us that he was not against independence but was skeptical of the leadership and ideology of ‘Shaebia (the name the liberation fighters were identified with)’ for post war Eritrea. Today, when I see the current situation of our country, I consider that elderly man a prophet, may his soul rest in peace. No one disputes the sacrifice paid for independence and no Eritrean regrets playing his or her part in the process. The dissatisfaction came later when PFDJ failed to fulfil the promise.
The Eritrean people celebrated independence and continued to make an immense sacrifice for a better future. But everything the ruling party, PFDJ, which is the only authority in the country, did in post-independence was sarcasm, lies and intimidation. Pre-independence, nationalism and patriotism was so high and people were not even able to see some of the evil tendencies of the PFDJ leadership. Parents who lost some or all of their sons and daughters in the war and children who were left alone wanted no sympathy from anyone. Every Eritrean was proud of what has been achieved after such a long and bitter war for independence. However, what followed after a couple of years post-independence was far from what was dreamed of. The leadership which lead the war for independence and in power today, immediately started to blame the people for being spoiled and for expecting more. Today, to the credit of PFDJ, Eritrean nationalism and patriotism has fallen to its lowest level.
The authoritarian policies and communist ideology of PFDJ started to be noticed when they started to introduce the student summer campaign and the national service programs (both in 1994). Both these programs would have been for the good of the nation if there was a good intention at heart and good management. But both programs were introduced without any public discussion, planning or concern for traditions and culture. High school students and their teachers across the country were required to report to designated stations after the completion of the academic year and perform land rehabilitation activities. But parents, especially in the country side, wanted their school children to help with farming during summer vacation, and those in the urban areas to work and get some income to contribute in covering the next-year’s school expenses. Others were not happy to let their young daughters go away due to traditional ramifications and the consequences later in their lives. The authorities refused to address these concerns or entertain alternative measures; or create an environment for public discussion. The program itself was mismanaged and did not leave any meaningful and measurable trace of improvement on the ground.
The national service project was also mismanaged and was not as effective as it should have been. It was started by a decree without proper planning, and as it is true for any government run program in Eritrea, it did not have a proper oversight. Military training requires mental health, preparedness and physical strength and not every young person is born fit. It requires basic facilities and qualified personnel to deal with all kinds of issues. There was no preparedness of any type except arranging the transport when the first batch of thousands of trainees arrived in a place called Sawa which was to become the center for military training for the years to follow. The manner in which the program was handled at the beginning was in the same manner as was the case during war for the liberation of the country. But that was a different setting; why do we need to make it so difficult when we can afford to provide modern training?
I admit lots of changes have been made since then on the ground in Sawa but the mind-set of the people who manage the program did not change. The commanders can do anything they want. Many young lives were lost because their health issues were not attended by professional personnel. Health complaints were always seen by military commanders as excuses to evade national service. Many young people who could not perform well or commit minor crimes were inhumanly treated and some of them died in the process. I could give personal accounts of the events I witnessed during my short stay in the program. Many parents whose sons and daughters ran away to avoid national service were incarcerated and forced to pay a ransom of 50,000 Nakfa per evader, which is a huge money on the country’s standards. Even individual families who were terribly affected by the death of many of their family members (or one or both parents) in the war for the independence of the country were not spared. It is true that the punishment for refusing to participate in the national service was not consistently implemented over the whole country and it was not known whether it was a national policy or it was up to the discretion of the local government officials.
National service is not unique to Eritrea. It is practiced in many nations around the world but unlike in Eritrea, it has a time limit. In Eritrea it was supposed to play a vital role in nation building and contribute meaningfully to the economy of the country. But the program costed the country millions to build the infrastructure required for it and to run it year after year. Members of the national service were kept moving stone from one place to another and building temporary shelters wherever they move. However, the contribution of this generation in the Ethio-Eritrean border war should not be belittled. The bravery and sacrifice made by this generation was not any less than the heroic struggle made for independence of the country by the previous generations. They played a major role in saving the country from falling into the hands of PFDJ’s counter parts in Ethiopia. But national service has become non-ending, modern slavery. Thousands of young people have lost their precious time in the military being abused without any hope for the future. The young people who were enlisted in the national service in 1994 or in the years followed are now middle aged. Many of them are married and have children but they do not have salary to support their own families let alone their aging parents. They lost hope because they don’t see any way out or a way forward. The young and school-age people see this as their own destiny, too. They do not get any motivation to complete high school; after all they will end up in the military anyway. They also hear and see some young people who made it to overseas destinations send money and help their families left behind. Their situation is so desperate that they do not even pay attention to the number of people who are killed by Eritrean border guards while trying to cross the border or drowned in the Mediterranean waters or killed by smugglers.
It is outrageous to hear PFDJ leaders in Eritrea to blame other imaginary forces for involvement in fleeing of young people from the country. They also sometimes call them tourists and other times traitors. For God’s sake these are the young people who stood beside their older brothers and bravely defended the country from reoccupation by Ethiopia. If anyone is in doubt of these, go to the refugee reception centers in European countries or find recently resettled Eritreans and get your story right. The same is true in the refugee centers in Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere. After the bitter border war with Ethiopia and the tragedy that happened to Eritreans living in Ethiopia at the time, no one would imagine going to Ethiopia. But thousands of young people are fleeing into Ethiopia despite the shoot-to-kill policy of the Eritrean authorities, and obviously many die trying to cross the border. So, this should help those who are still naïve to understand the degree of desperation in Eritrea today. But no one can give a prescription to others who choose to ignore facts.
But why is this small group of PFDJ leadership not interested to listen to the grievances of the people and so obsessed with maintaining power? By the way, the Eritrean people did not demand a handover of power. What the people asked for was for a rule of law to be established, for the constitution to be implemented and for the military service to have a limit, just to mention some. They have jailed (without trial) comrades-in-arms who proposed alternative ways of dealing with issues. Is it possible that this small group of people is scared of what might happen if power slips away from them? They should have remembered that the Eritrean people have even forgiven the atrocities committed by Ethiopia. I remember the famous statement made by the late Ethiopian prime minister during his visit to Eritrea before relations went sour; “We should not scratch each other’s wounds”, but by then the Eritrean people have already forgiven the atrocities committed in Eritrea by Ethiopians. By the way, that same Ethiopian leader later forgot what he preached when he caused lots of suffering to the Eritreans who lived in Ethiopia when the border war started.
I am now in my middle age and I believe I represent the generation who joined the Eritrean war for independence in its final stages and became the major force (through national service) that fought later against Ethiopia in the border war. Back in 1984, I was among many youngsters who were rounded up and taken from the villages by Eritrean liberation forces to become a fighter but then sent back home as they concluded that I was too young to carry a gun. I then went to school and 14 years later, I did a one year national service as a school teacher. When the border war with Ethiopia started in 1998, I was in the final year of my undergraduate program at the University of Asmara. We, the students, volunteered to go to the war front lines to help. I, with a group of fellow students, was assigned to the Senafe area and played our part. A year later, I was again asked to do a national service that included the military training, the infamous, indefinite and now identified as modern day slavery by many. Despite the fact that I had already served for more than a year before, I had to go and after 10 months in the military, I somehow managed to come back to the University where I started a third year national service as a graduate assistant.
I stayed in the national service for a total of 3 years but those who were enlisted before me and in the years that followed are still under those extraordinary tough conditions. This is to mean that the facts I describe here are common to thousands of Eritreans of different ages. The time I spent in the national service first as a military trainee and then on breaking and collecting stones and woods was traumatizing. It was not only the hardship but also the fact that we did not see what we were doing as something important or we believed that it could have been done differently. All the shelters we built did not survive another year, it was just an environmental disaster. For me, the objective seems to make the Eritrean youth submissive and obedient through hardship, intimidation and military indoctrination. One of the methods used by the military leaders to achieve this is recording the identity of anyone who asks questions in meetings. Then this is followed by a private warning and then if these people commit minor offences, they are subjected to all the hardships. This might be the likely reason why we do not see many incidences of revolt in the Eritrean military despite the ill-treatment and abuse.
My first escape from the military was not far enough; it was coming back to the University and continue the national service without salary. To put it in exact context, I was getting paid 250 Nakfa a month in Asmara in the year 2000 when a single meal in a cheap restaurant was 50 Nakfa and a 3x3m2 room was about 300 Nakfa. This might have been a better option than in the military for those who had relatives in Asmara to stay with but not for me. I was going to the student cafeteria when they left to beg for a meal and then we meet in class later. This might not seem bad in a different context, but in Eritrea, a teacher was respected and had a different status in the society. My situation was not inspiring to the students either. At one stage, I decided to ask the University’s president, Dr Woldeab Yishak, to make some kind of arrangement so that I could carry out my duties at the university. I had to wait at the stairs for an hour to stop him as he told his secretary not to keep appointments. But his response was demoralizing. He told me that I could go back to the military if I chose to do so without even waiting for me to finish my question. Going back to the military was not a better option to consider and I had to make a private arrangement with the cafeteria staff to get a meal. I found the cafeteria staff better understanding than Dr Woldeab.
……..part II will follow.
Peace and Prosperity to the Eritrean people!!
The Stockholm and environs branch of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) on Sunday 21 December 2014 held a meeting with Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar, head for foreign relations office of the party, and received a wide-ranging updating on current developments affecting Eritrea and its people.
The topics covered in the updating included the worsening condition inside the country manifested by the frightening displacement of the people; the “refugee fatigue” of countries like Denmark, Italy and the rest of the EU member states and their search for excuses to deny legal protection to Eritrean refugees; EPDP diplomatic efforts and their outcome so far, and the still fragmented situation of the opposition camp and prospects of creating a viable opposition to the dictatorial regime in Asmara.
The EPDP leadership member stated that the dictatorial regime will never be expected to change its old erroneous and harmful ways and that the political and human rights situation has no prospect of improving until a real change is effected on time. He said the ever increasing outflow of young refugees from the country is the worst occurrence that Eritrean patriots worth the name should stand together and find a solution before it gets too late.
He noted that the recent visits to Eritrea by a number of European delegations looking for ways of re-establishing “relations” with the criminal regime at the cost of the affected people are acts of desperation at the international level that must be firmly opposed by forces struggling for democracy and human rights anywhere in the world. He added that the latest expression of support to and solidarity with the Eritrean people by the Council of Non-Governmental Organizations in the 15-member states of the Southern African Development Community is an encouraging recent development that deserves the full attention of all Eritreans struggling for positive and timely change in the country.
Regarding the state of affairs in the opposition camp, Mr. W. Ammar said the concerned forces are aware of their past shortcomings and that they are currently considering to come out of their “old boxes” and engage in joint tasks that can give hope to the people inside the homeland.
Later in the day, the EPDP executive committee member was interviewed by Voice of the People television broadcast every week for the inhabitants of Stockholm and its environs. The interview covered party activities, including the recent mission to Southern Africa, the plight of Eritrean refugees and prospects for working alliances in the camp opposed to the dictatorial regime in Asmara.
Court in Argentina grants basic rights to orangutan
Sandra covers her head with a cloth to protect herself from the public gaze at the Buenos Aires Zoo
A court in Argentina has ruled that a shy orangutan who spent the last 20 years in a zoo can be granted some legal rights enjoyed by humans.
Lawyers had appealed to free Sandra from the Buenos Aires zoo by arguing that although not human, she should be given legal rights.
They had argued that she was being illegally detained.
If there is no appeal, the ape will be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she will enjoy greater freedom.
The singular case hung on whether the animal was a "thing" or a "person".
In December a New York State court threw out a request to free a privately owned chimpanzee arguing that the animal was property and had no legal rights.
Lawyers for Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) said Sandra was "a person" in the philosophical, not biological, sense.
She was, they argued, in a situation of illegal deprivation of freedom as a "non-human person".
They had filed a "habeas corpus" writ in her favour last November over "the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability".
Afada lawyer Paul Buompadre was quoted as saying by La Nacion newspaper: "This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories."
The court judges had rejected the writ several times before deciding finally that Sandra could be considered to have rights to freedom which needed defending.
Sandra was born in 1986 in a German zoo and arrived in Buenos Aires in September 1994.
She regularly tried to avoid the public in her enclosure.
If there is no appeal against the court's decision from the Buenos Aires zoo, she will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in Brazil where she can live in partial liberty.
It was a few hours after my arrival in Sweden for a memorial service of another dear old friend that I learned the unexpected martyrdom of Comrade-in-Long-Stretched-Struggle Omar Jaber in the late evening of 19 December 2014. I have all the inconveniences with internet connection and time that one can encounter while on travel, and I will not be able to write a deserved obituary to this brilliant example of Eritrea’s memorable generation that is now in the process of passing away without fulfilling its noble mission. Instead, I am sending for reposting my article about Omar that appeared in the internet a little over nine years ago following a visit to Australia with another heroic freedom fighter, Seyoum Ogbamichael, who was martyred nine years ago this 17 December.
Deep sympathies and condolences to his widow, Dr. Melika Yassin Sheikh-a-Din, his children with the rest of the family and friends in struggle. May his soul rest in peace.
A Memorable Conversation with Omar Jabir In Melbourne
By Woldeyesus Ammar (August 4, 2005)
To my viewpoint, Omar Jabir Omar, a veteran ELF freedom fighter now in Australia, represents, in one go, a combination of many things in a contemporary Eritrean in exile - contemporary here mainly meaning the generations that bore the brunt of national awakening and struggle for Eritrea’s national independence.
First: Omar Jabir is a good representative of the passionately nationalist Eritrean youth of the 1960s and the 1970s who studied in the Middle East and played a vital role in building the Eritrean national liberation struggle – but, alas, only to be betrayed wholesale in liberated Eritrea.
Second: He suitably symbolizes Eritrea’s leftist revolutionary generation that worked under nascent (now defunct) Eritrean parties of the left: LP or the Labour Party within the ELF, and EPRP or the Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Party within the EPLF.
Third: Omar Jabir is a good example of independent Eritrea’s self-inflicted brain drain that unfolded as a result of a well designed social engineering of Isayas Afeworki’s exclusionist and evil policies commencing with his “Hashewiye Wudibat” of 20 June 1991 that eventually succeeded to keep at bay literally all of Eritrea’s intellectuals, especially those with advanced knowledge of and qualifications in the Arabic language.
Fourth: He symbolizes the failure of PFDJ’s Eritrea to reconcile even with those who were willing to go an extra mile to make reconciliation happen after 1991. (The listing of such symbolisms of Omar and his generation with the situation of contemporary Eritrea would prove endless.)
During June 2005, I had the opportunity of meeting several times with Omar Jabir in Melbourne where he took residence with his family since 1995. He works for an employment agency while providing voluntary services as president of the 30,000-strong Horn of Africa Community in Australia (refer to a previous article in Nharnet, Awna, Alnahda and Farajat about ‘Eritreans in Faraway Australia’.)
In our chitchats, Omar and I talked on a variety of topics and events of the past, the present and the future. In particular, we enjoyed our exchange of ‘ancient’ notes about Eritrean student militancy inside and outside the homeland. I noted to Omar that I may write down for the benefit of other readers some specified parts of our talk. And he, a trained journalist himself, had no objection to whatever I wished to select for writing and posting in Eritrean websites from the conversation that went on and on - well spiced by his command of linguistic nuances in Arabic, English, Tigre and Tigrinia.
As many readers may recall, Omar Jabir has been a constant contributor of articles in Arabic and English to the Eritrean websites. His present-day stance regarding the regime in Asmara, his ideas on democratisation, national unity, reconciliation, and the basic requirements for coexistence and stable future in Eritrea are well known to many people. Therefore, I will not bore readers by trying to repeat them here. Instead, I will concentrate on a few historical events and experiences, some of them told in the form of anecdotes. But, first a few notes about the man.
Omar Jabir: A short profile
Born in 1945 in Ali Ghidir near Tessenei where he completed his elementary and middle school grades, Omar Jabir pursued his secondary school classes in a boarding school in Port Sudan, and one year in Khartoum. He completed grade 12 by 1962. During the later part of 1960s and early 1970s, he was a university student in Baghdad but could not obtain all of his medical credentials mainly because of his decision not to become a member of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq. As indicated below, he was one of the key players in the student movement in the Middle East. In later years, he served as a senior cadre of the ELF during the entire 1970s in the fields of student and youth affairs, information and diplomacy. In 1982, he supported the ELF faction that staged a coup d’etat (for others known as “an uprising”) within the organization. After liberation in 1991, he took another controversial decision by going back to Eritrea while it was under an exclusionist regime that banned all patriotic forces that took part in the liberation struggle.
Interview with Omar Jabir
Question: Omar, I assume you started politics early in your life. When was that and what particular events do you still remember?
Answer: I started involvement in politics from my early teenage years. In fact I was born in politics. My family and the small Ali Ghidir community in general were among the strong cells of the Independence Bloc and later on of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (Haraka/ELM) and the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). I was with the Haraka cells by 1959-60 in Port Sudan where the movement was founded. I then switched to the ELF when it became operational. At the age of 20, I already was a member of the Revolutionary Command in Kassala when it was formed and took charge of security matters. In fact I was one of the ELF people in Kassala who arranged the fateful trip to Asmara for your classmates Seyoum Ogbamichael and Woldedawit Temesghen in August 1965. They were assigned to re-organize ELF cells in the Eritrean capital but, unfortunately, they were betrayed by Mulugeta Gherghis, one of us in Kassala who deserted soon after their departure and had them apprehended by the Ethiopian authorities. By the end of that year , I went to Baghdad for higher studies. I was there throughout the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s as a student leader.
Question: We know that the student union in Baghdad that you chaired was instrumental in the formation in December 1968 of the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES). Who else was with you in the leadership of GUES in the Middle East?
Answer: The student union in Baghdad was among the most dynamic groups in the Middle East. Among my colleagues in the leadership of the student movement from Baghdad Osman Humed, Mohammed Ali Idris, Mohammed Sheikh Abdu Jelil and Hassan Debesai. Union leaders from Cairo were Abdalla Omar Nasser, Siraj Mussa Abdu, Omar M. Suleiman and others. From Europe were Beshir Saeed, Woldu Kahsai, Idris Nur Hussein and others. It was with the student unions in Damascus, Cairo and in Europe that we formed the GUES.
Question: What roles did GUES play in the nationalist struggle?
Answer: GUES became a full-fledged member of the International Union of Students (IUS) in Prague and helped introduce the Eritrean cause to international organizations of the day. That was a very important achievement. The other role effectively played by us in GUES was the national service. We all were committed to spend one year serving in the field with the ELF before completing our studies. Besides learning more for themselves, the young service students carried with them knowledge, enlightenment and many modern ideas to the fighters and to the rural people inside Eritrea. It was through that well thought national service that more and more new blood was injected in the liberation struggle. GUES’s national service programme was continued till 1977.
Question: AndnaturallyGUES had its share of student martyrs.
Answer: Yes, the first GUES martyr was my elder brother Yahya Jabir, a medical student from Europe who was martyred on 31 August 1973. That date was being annually marked as the Eritrean Student Martyrs’ Day by GUES. Other students from Europe who were martyred while on service included Fitsum Ghebreselassie, Aregai Habtu, and Abdulgader Idris from Khartoum University.
Question: Did the Arab regimes of the day create interferences in Eritrean student affairs during those years?
Answer: There were many interferences. For example, I was barred for two years from entering Cairo by the authorities who listened to framed up ELF-PLF allegations against the mainstream GUES of the ELF (Revolutionary Council). The ELF-PLF headed by Osman Saleh Sabbe created their own GUES and gave us hard time although their union did not have any international dimension or weight. In later years, the Baathists also formed their own Eritrean student union in Baghdad and planted many hurdles against our organization.
Question: Can you recall any memorable event(s) that you experienced during those student days?
Answer: Oh! yes, many interesting happenings, some of them shocking. One experience was an extremely embarrassing and shameful Munich meeting of Eritrean students and workers in Europe in the summer of 1970. I was on a visit to Germany that time and attended the meeting as observer. I vividly remember the poisoned atmosphere at the meeting in which a recorded speech of Woldeab Woldemariam was played. In it, Woldeab spoke against the General Command of the ELF (Kiyada Ama). I was forced to present my speech in English because Arabic as language was banned at the meeting. Idris Badume [presently residing in Sweden] begged to speak in Arabic because his mother tongue, Kunama, had no single listener at the meeting and that he did not have strong command of any other language except Arabic. The majority of the meeting participants said no Arabic should be allowed at the meeting. He thus chose to walkout of the meeting.
Another more embarrassing and quite incredible incident at the same Munich meeting was the threat to kill. Some meeting participants looked decided to kill Petros Kidane of Halhal!! The blunt language used was, “You are from Halhal who are with Kiyada Ama. Your people killed Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey in Kassala. We will kill you today, and there will not be any mercy!” We were afraid that he was in danger; his friends helped him escape back to Berlin within hours of the threat. I believed that they meant to kill him. It was shameful. GUES members like Fitsum Ghebreselassie, who was chairing the meeting, Aregai Habtu, Habte Tesfamariam, Embaye ..... and a few others were insulted and attacked for being “stooges of Kiyada Ama”. Herui Tedla Bairu also attended the Munich meeting that can still be a measure of show how low national awareness was among many Eritreans 30+ years ago. But frankly speaking some of the participants could have done better than what they actually did at that meeting of shame in Munich .The anti-ELF elements held their second meeting in Nuremberg in August 1971 and supported the split of PLF from the ELF.
Question: And what about left politics of students of that age? Weren’t you part of the leftist movement?
Answer: Of course we were espousing leftist slogans of the day. Many of us were co-opted into the Labour Party of the ELF. The LP gradually took upper hand in Kiyada Ama and it was the party that organized the First ELF Congress in 1971 and formulated a national democratic programme. It is my conviction that everything good that had been done in the ELF was done by the LP. In its initial stage, the LP recruited and trained the best cadres for the liberation struggle. However, problems were created later on when the ELF leadership took power both in the front and in the party; power struggle between two ambitious politicians, Ibrahim Toteel and Abdalla Idris, flared up. This was disastrous. Azien Yassin, who was the LP Secretary General in 1976 was replaced because of the power struggle in the front and this power struggle finally weakened the ELF and contributed to its demise as a military force.
Question: Many thanks, Omar, for your comments about the roles of GUES and LP in the growth of the ELF. Let me now ask you about two issues that pop up in discussions among old ELF comrades. These concern what we call the coup d’etat within the ELF in 1982 that you supported and then your return to Eritrea after liberation. What are your comments?
Answer: First about the event at Rasai. Was that event in 1982 a coup d’etat? I say ‘YES’, it was a coup d’etat. In fact, I wrote this opinion in the ELF’ magazine, ‘The Revolution’,immediately after that event took place. But was that coup d’etat anti-democratic and was it conducted against a democratically elected leadership? My response was and is ‘NO’ for the following contextual reasons that connect it with the facts on the ground at that period. In fact the coup d’etat was the last resort taken to curb a series of wrongdoings and accumulation of leadership errors that gradually suffocated the organization to its deathbed. The Executive Committee (EC) that was elected after the 1975 Second Congress of the ELF became an absolutely autocratic power that froze the roles of other institutions and bodies in the organization. This particular EC refused [for three years] the holding of regular meetings of the Revolutionary Council. The EC controlled the mass organizations; created its own GUES and ignored the joint historic memorandum of mass organizations that told everything. Then came the collapse [in the hands of the EPLF/TPLF armies] and we crossed the border to the Sudan – leadership divided and cadres pushing for change in the EC. But how? Leading cadres were advocating the holding of an emergency military conference that would exclude civilians and ELF branches in the Middle East. The final blow was the Sudanese action of confiscation of arms and then the threat of taking everybody from Tahdai and Korokon to refugee camps. The bottle was already broken – pieces left were just remainders of a legendary ELF that was targeted not only by EPLF and the Sudan but also betrayed by its leadership. I am not saying that the 25 March [1982 event] was a saving step for the whole organization but it was an initiative by one of those scattered pieces.
Question: And the second issue - do you regret having returned to Eritrea after 1991?
Answer: I never regret having gone to Asmara [after liberation]. To start with, I am an Eritrean citizen and going back home is a natural step. Secondly, I went with a vision, principles and values and came back with them all without any change! Thirdly, I learned new experience, new facts and tangible evidences about the theoretical concept I used to have about EPLF. The fourth reason that I do not regret having gone to Asmara is that I did not go to serve the regime but I went with the idea of living as an ordinary Eritrean. My real dream was to settle in my village of origin and work in the family farm or to have a library for the new generation.
Question: Now, let us envision about a future viable governing party in Eritrea in the post-PFDJ period that can give Eritrea last peace and stability. What forces can realize this hope?
Answer: I can say that the present opposition groups can play a role in shaping such a party. In addition, the outcome of the governing party (PFDJ) after the expected change will tell what sort of a political formula we might have for Eritrea. To sum, future developments and interaction between different forces will decide the shape and content of such a party.
Thanks a lot.
(PS: At the last meeting with Omar, we encouraged each other to put in record the activities of the Eritrean student movement: he for what took place in the Middle East and I for what was done inside Eritrea. Each one of us said he would try.)
EPDP Information Office
In statement released this week, the UNHCR expressed “a number of concerns as regards the methodology” used by the recent report of the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) and its confusion of sources as well as its selective use of unverified facts from usually ill-identified interlocutors. The Danish report wished to portray that the situation in Eritrea is “not as bad as reported” by the rest of the world.
The DIS report refers to have met “a UN agency” in Asmara without saying which agency, and the UNHCR wished to confirm that that reference should not implicate it.
UNHCR also regretted that the report given to DIS by its Shire office could have been useful in helping DIS reach right conclusions. Instead, the relied on “on speculative statements” of other informants regarding nationality identification of UNHCR registered refugees in Shire.
The UNHCR also expressed its frustration with the report’s failure to make ample direct quotes from its sources and in its lumping together information provided it by various informants.
The UNHCR statement added: “The (DIS) report does not include any reflections on the reliability of specific sources of information. No information is provided in the report about the regulatory framework for the media, NGOs, research institutes and other actors in Eritrea, nor does the report contain an assessment of the impact of these regulatory frameworks on the independence of certain sources and the reliability of information provided by these sources”.
Read full UNHCR Statement in this link:
EPDP Information Office
On 30 November and again on 13 December 2014, chairman of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party, Mr. Menghesteab Asmerom, and other party leadership members conducted public meetings in the UK cities of London and Birmingham in which burning national issues were raised.
Meetings in both cities were attended by a good number of national figures and prominent veterans of the much stretched and yet unfinished struggle of the Eritrean people for national liberation and democratic governance.
Accompanied in both meetings by EPDP executive committee member, Mr. Hamid Drar; Central Council member, Mr. Assefaw Berhe, and chairman of the UK branch, Mr. Goitom Mebrahtu, the party chairman took the opportunity to first highlight the ever deteriorating political, social, economic and human rights situation in Eritrea and the insurmountable problems being faced by Eritrean refugees scattered all over the globe.
In his comprehensive presentation made both in Arabic and Tigrinia, the EPDP chairman gave adequate outline on the party’s role in public mobilization, diplomacy, information and humanitarian spheres, and stressed that these contributions can be considered satisfactory inputs to the collective struggle being waged by forces opposed to the repressive regime in Eritrea.
Mr. Menghesteab Asmerom also expressed deep concern about the state of fragmentation prevailing in the opposition camp and believed that the only way out is to come together by narrowing down the existing points of difference. He also stressed the paramount importance of laying the ground to attract the full participation of the younger generation in the ongoing struggle for positive change in our country.
Both meetings were enriched by question and answer sessions in which lively discussions touched on all topics of high concern in the current struggle and the desirable political atmosphere in post-dictatorship Eritrea.
EPDP Information Office
In a strongly-worded memorandum addressed to the Foreign Ministry of Denmark, the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) criticized the recent report of the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) which, after a visit to Eritrea, said the situation in the country is not “as bad as reported” and wrongly called Eritrean asylum seekers as “economic refugees”.
In the memorandum urging the branches of the Danish government to ignore the report, the EPDP believed that the Danish team’s report has “reached an utterly erroneous and dangerous conclusion that we see as a travesty of justice and an added insult to injury to the Eritrean pe
ople currently condemned to live under the worst repressive regime in the whole of Africa, if not the world.”
The EPDP regretted the wrong picture conveyed by the DIS report which intended to deny all world bodies including the UN Human Rights Rapporteur who has been denied entry to Eritrea while the likes of DIS are welcomed by the Asmara regime which is well aware of the wishes of the visiting team.
Below is the full text of the EPDP memorandum to Denmark.
To: H.E. Mr. Martin Lidegaard,
The Foreign Minister of Denmark,
Mr Martin Ldegaard
Subject: Eritreans Fleeing All-Round Repression at Home Are Genuine Refugees.
12 December 2014
Dear Mr. Martin Lidegaard,
We, in the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the mainstream opposition organizations in exile struggling for change and democratization through people-power, received with shock and dismay the recent report by the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) which reached an utterly erroneous and dangerous conclusion that we see as a travesty of justice and an added insult to injury to the Eritrean people currently condemned to live under the worst repressive regime in the whole of Africa, if not the world.
The DIS report wished to show that the political and human rights situation in Eritrea is not “as bad as reported” by many honorable bodies including the UN Human Rights Rapporteur and her two submissions endorsed by the UN Human Rights Commission, which in turn upgraded its concern about Eritrea by establishing a UN Commission of Inquiry on that regime’s excesses. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur was denied entry to Eritrea. The same fate could await the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea because their findings would not pre-drafted conclusions, as the case was with DIS’s report, which is already judged as a gross distortion by many sources including Professor Gaim Kibreab, the only Eritrean source the DIS fact finders approached. The report forces its readers to easily conclude that it is a shallow document apparently drafted by not-so-serious team of “fact finders” who could not even see why their mission was so welcome by the regime in Asmara. We are not surprised that they did not see any checkpoints on their pre-planned travel to two localities south of Asmara.
Dear Foreign Minister,
We are aware that Denmark is not the only country pressurized by domestic politics to find an excuse to call Eritrean asylum seekers as “economic refugees” which they are not. We recall that the Italian Government sent a high level mission to Eritrea last summer and expressed its wish to resume work with the regime in Asmara with which it had no relation for a long time. UK government team is now on visit to Eritrea. We hope that its conclusions are not pre-drafted.
As you may very well know, Sir, we are talking about the most disquieting case in regard to gross violations of political, economic, social and human rights in Africa. One would even dare say that the open-ended national service that has been turned into an illegal act of forced labour is by itself sufficient to inflict havoc to the life of an entire nation. But our country has many more worrisome causes that turned it into a hell on earth. Eritrea is, Sir, a country where:
- No elections have been held for the past 23 years;
- No constitution exists and no rule of law can be dreamt of;
- No freedom of press and assembly is allowed;
- No free worship by the faithful permitted;
- No basic human rights respected;
- No private entrepreneurship allowed to thrive;
- No quality or higher education encouraged; the list of no’s is endless……..
These are among the key causes of refugee outflows in any part of the world. Becoming a refugee is not a choice, and only to reiterate: those Eritreans who are fleeing the country are doing so because they were deprived of all basic political and human rights under the repressive regime that made the country unlivable for the time being.
An increasing number of Eritreans inside the homeland and those in diaspora is currently engaged in an ever growing struggle to bring about a positive change in the country. But until then, people are forced to flee, and those who escape arrest or death while crossing the borders are bona fide refugees who deserve temporary protection until the situation is changed. At this moment in time, all Eritreans fleeing the regime in Asmara are genuine refugees and deserve your support and protection.
We, therefore, request your esteemed Ministry to share this message with the Danish Government, the Danish Parliament and the Danish Judiciary. We are asking Denmark and its people to ignore the shallow DIS report and instead continue to give Eritrean asylum seekers at least temporary but adequate protection until the situation in our country is changed to the better through the growing struggle of our people inside the homeland and those in the diaspora.
Head, EPDP Foreign Relations Office
CC: Danish Government; the Danish Parliament, and the Danish Ministry of Justice.
By Fesseha Nair
What is a vision? What is a shared vision? Much has been written about the importance of shared vision and leadership in the Eritrean Opposition.
Vision is the image people has in common about how the work will look upon completion, how they will work together and how people accept the struggle for democracy. Simply vision means what do we want to create? It is not that all have the same vision but have similar image. Visions can be explained by a variety of ways and forms. They can be explained by slogans or vision statements. In this article I will discuss how we can create a shared vision in during the struggle against dictatorship and post- dictatorship Eritrea.
A shared vision is a vision uniting all the forces for democratic change with different backgrounds and agendas to a common aspirations. A shared vision motivates participants in the struggle for democratic change in Eritrea to subordinate their individual agendas and act what is best to save the Eritrean population suffering under brutal oppression. A shared vision provides priority to focus on major issues that unite the actors. It helps to communicate with mutual respect and recognition. A shared vision fosters harmony among democracy forces. A shared vision help establish a common framework for making decisions.
How can we create this shared vision in the Eritrean Opposition?
Most of the Eritrean Opposition-civic or political organizations say that they have visions after the fall of dictatorship but all this in the paper not in action. To build a shared vision one must have the knowledge of inspiring, communicating, and have strategic planning and be passionate with all forces for democratic change. Do the opposition have these properties of good inspiration, communication and strategy? Not at all. The opposition leadership and grass-roots lack these properties. All the past conferences of the opposition were lacking a shared vision and did not accept the importance of building a shared vision. The Eritrean opposition forces have no shared vision how to get rid of the dictatorship in Eritrea and what kind of government will they form after the post-dictatorship.
A shared vision can be built by working together and building trust by solving the common problems facing you at this time and preparing for the future. An opposition without shared vision cannot gain people's trust and support. As it is ascertained by some Eritrean scholars in their studies that the post independence Eritrea led by PFDJ failed to address the past by rebuilding peaceful coexistence facilitating national reconciliation to move from a divided history to a shared future.
Managing conflicts within the opposition was dysfunctional and was based on win/lose strategy instead of win/win strategy. It is natural that disagreements and conflicts emerge in any work in human lives. One of the most the Eritrean opposition lacks is to be tolerant for critical debate. The opposition must have skills of listening and encourage critical opinions. The trend of the Eritrean opposition is similar with that of the dictator in Eritrea -creating yes- men and then the king goes without clothes meaning that a dictatorship will be born inside the organization and as a result the democratic struggle fails to succeed.
Re-energizing the forces for democratic change in Eritrea
The struggle from dictatorship to democracy needs commitment to the objectives of the shared vision or to swing to action and combine its efforts towards the salvation of the Eritrean people. The opposition must look towards its performance, behaviour and culture for the purpose of eliminating dysfunctional behaviours and strengthening functional ones. it must attempt to develop strategies improving its operations against the dictatorship instead of bickering and confrontations. One of the main failures of the Eritrean opposition- political and civic organizations is not of recognizing the working relationship between the various political and civic organizations. The Eritrean opposition lacks the will to scrutinize their own behaviour before they judge others. The Eritrean Opposition Political Organizations initiative for consultation that started in Ethiopia last summer was a positive initiative towards building a shared vision. This initiative have discussed alternatives for action and development of the political organizations but because of minor issues did not continue, this can be perhaps because of lack of trust and ownership of the struggle for democratic change in Eritrea.
The other building of shared vision of the Eritrean opposition was that of the ENCDC /Eritrean National Council for Democratic change. This coalition of both political and civic organizations. The ENCDCs shared vision was only in their heads but not on performance. ENCDC has not pursued the resolutions adopted at the Awasa Congress. They failed to build a good working relationships between them they instead managed their conflicts by dysfunctional methods and paralysed the entire system of partnership for democratic change.
The ENCDC or the Eritrean Political organizations Counsultation are both positive initiatives but need more to do to come to a common understanding how to get rid of the dictatorship and lay foundations for the future democratic, secular and constitutional government and build a state guarantying all citizens equality and justice.
Eritrean Delegation in Johannesburg Urges Fraternal Africa To Concretize Support for Democratic Change in EritreaSaturday, 06 December 2014 19:02 Written by EPDP Information Office
EPDP Information Office
After attending a fruitful two-day workshop in Johannesburg on the political and human rights situations in Eritrea, Palestine, Swaziland and Western Sahara, the Eritrean delegation to the workshop held a press conference on 5 December in which it hailed as “historic” the establishment of Solidarity Task Team for Eritrea by the sub-continental organ representing all civil society formations in the 15 member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
In welcoming the media, civil society activists, diplomats and other participants at the press conference, the Executive Director of the SADC - Council of non-governmental organizations, Mr. Abie Ditlhake, expressed concern about the lack of sufficient commitment by African leaders to address difficulties facing the broad masses in Africa.
He described the current situation of repression and displacement in Eritrea as “a burning African problem” that requires the joint action of African democratic forces, including the civil society. He added that the selflessness shown by all Africans during the struggle against foreign domination must be revitalized now “in order to save ourselves from facing the worst”.
The SADC-CNGO Executive Director also reassured that his umbrella organization will do all what it can to make Eritrea an African agenda and help its people overcome the huge problems facing them. He summarized the decisions taken at the 3 to 4 December workshop which he said was an important step towards putting in action the July 2014 declarations on Eritrea, Palestine, Swaziland and Western Sahara by the 10th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum. Mr. Ditlhake then invited the Eritrean delegation to deliver its message to the press conference.
Ambassador Andebrehan Weldegiorgis, member of the coordinating body of the Eritrean Forum for National Dialogue, introduced his colleagues in the delegation and read the press statement which hailed the SADC-CNGO for its firm solidarity with the Eritrean people. The statement urged for African and wider international support and believed that “international and regional solidarity can make a significant contribution to positive change in Eritrea”.
The Eritrean delegation members, who included Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar, foreign relations head of the Eritrean People’s Party (EPDP); Mr. Kuluberhan Abraham, chairman of the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR), and Ms Salwa Nour, an Eritrean human rights and democracy activist from the Gulf region, took part in further explaining the worsening situation in Eritrea and answered various questions raised at the press conference.
During the coming weekend, the Eritrean delegation is scheduled to hold public meetings for Eritreans in Durban and Johannesburg. (Reportage on the delegation mission to South Africa will follow soon).
Printed below is the text of the press statement read as introduction to the press conference on Eritrea.
(For immediate release)
The dictatorial regime is destroying Eritrea and causing untold suffering on its people. The prevailing political, economic and social situation has created an appalling human condition. Arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, etc., have rendered the country unlivable for its people. The state of sever repression has caused mass exodus, particularly of the youth, at an alarming proportion.
Change is coming and the demise of the regime is imminent. The responsibility of national salvation has fallen on the shoulders of the growing opposition at home and abroad. The absence of an institutional mechanism for succession and the lack of freedoms of expression, assembly and association risk the creation of a political vacuum that poses the danger of implosion. The gathering momentum towards “Unity of Purpose” within the opposition augers well for the realization of the aspirations that inspired and sustained our long struggle for freedom, justice, democracy, peace and prosperity. There is thus a need to manage the process of change to ensure an orderly transition to democracy.
We strongly believe that international and regional solidarity can make a significant contribution to positive change in Eritrea. In this regard, we hail the 10th Southern African Civil Society Forum’s firm declaration of solidarity with the Eritrean people and the establishment of a Regional Solidarity Task Team for Eritrea.
The Eritrean delegation participating at the SADC Council of NGOs workshop just concluded here in Johannesburg, South Africa, would like to call upon:
- The South African Government to grant political asylum and the necessary legal documents to Eritrean refugees in South Africa to enable them to live in security and contribute to the socioeconomic development of the country;
- The Southern African civil society to enhance their solidarity with the struggle of the Eritrean people for democracy, dignity and justice.
- The African Union to play a facilitative role in accordance with its Constitutive Act;
- Eritrea’s neighbours in the Greater Horn of Africa to protect the rights and ensure the safety of Eritrean refugees in accordance with international conventions.
Friday, 5 December 2014
Johannesburg, South Africa
Eritrean Delegation Participating at the SADC-CNGO Workshop