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 Africa – Part IIITuesday, 03 February 2015 19:39 Written by Zekarias Ginbot
February 3, 2015
……..in Part I, I described how the aspirations of the Eritrean people have been dashed by PFDJ over the last 20 years and how the national service has ended up becoming a modern day slavery. In Part II, I continued to reflect on my own experience while inside and outside Eritrea including the closure of the University of Asmara. This final part, Part III, is about my own escape and life experiences outside Eritrea.
The closure of the University of Asmara in September 2006 was the ultimate disappointment to the university’s staff and students and to any Eritrean who understood the value of education. The university did not have new admissions then for two years, so the closure was in the making. But some people thought second year students might be sent to the university from the MaiNefhi College. We thought those students especially the ones in the natural science fields would require practical laboratory training to qualify for the degrees and diplomas as there was no laboratory setting at MaiNefhi. It is worth to note here that there was no communication in advance between the ministry of education and the university community until the last minute. The plan to close the university was just a rumor. This is common under PFDJ administration rather than exception. They first propagate rumors to measure public response and their cynical directives follow. They also use these same methods to propagate fear among the people.
When I came back to Eritrea as a fresh master’s graduate from the University of Cape Town at the end of 2002, I had never thought all these could happen. I had big ideas and a big motivation to work at the University of Asmara and contribute my part. But PFDJ had its own plans for the University, and they still claim that the University was not closed. Some of my teachers, who became colleagues later, at the University of Asmara, who taught for years were forced to leave the country and some of them were put aside. It was a sad occasion to witness the University closed after about 50 years of turbulent existence. Even the Ethiopian rulers did not dear to close it during the war for independence. Instead of strengthening the existed and established university, PFDJ chose to close and substitute it with sub-standard, military-run colleges. This has not been heard of in any other country as it is difficult and takes a long time to establish an internationally accredited institute like the University of Asmara was. Its closure and the issues associated with it has been described by many colleagues; I have just raised the subject here as my own tribute to what happened.
I always defended my coming back from South Africa when friends challenged me, but I really regretted when the university was closed. As I indicated in part II, I actually went to MaiNefhi for a couple of days when ordered to do so and was given courses that I was supposed to teach. I saw the students being treated like prisoners in a compound surrounded by military check-points. There were reports of beatings and military punishment of students who tried to jump over the fences. The moral of the students was at its lowest point and the situation was getting worse day by day. In my meeting with my would-be-students at MaiNefhi, I actually told them that I was not going to continue to teach them. I gave them some course material to help them with whoever was going to take over the course. I felt very sorry for them but what else could I do! PFDJ made it difficult for all of us. By then, some close colleagues have already left the country. It was not an easy decision; I had to leave and my family had to re-locate. I had to find someone who could assist me to escape. All these had to take place in a short period of time and without attracting attention of security agents.
I arranged for my escape to the Sudan but then my guide-to-be, who lived in Keren, was identified and abducted the night before the planned departure date. When I called, his terrified wife picked up the phone but then she was scared to tell me what happened. I was forced to tell her the travel plans on the phone so that she could tell me the truth. Then I had to talk to the person who introduced me to the guide about the situation and to get an advice. This latter person confessed to me what he knew; he himself had suffered tremendously in the hands of PFDJ security agents before and that he had to safe his own life. He decided to leave with me and we had to leave the town immediately before security agents capture us. We observed suspicious movements of people around the place where we had an earlier appointment with the then-captured guide and we had to hide. We left the town of Keren, but after three days’ journey towards the west, we lost our direction and were captured in the town of Teseney. It was night; we approached the town thinking that it was Kessela, the Sudanese town near the Eritrean border and were captured by the security agents.
The border security agents took our ID cards and were taking us, I did not know where to, and I told my colleague that I had to escape (using my tribal language). He was a welder by profession in his 50’s and I was a 36 years old university lecturer at the time. I thought they were to kill me not because I have read more X’s and Y’s than him, but because they would consider me more threat. They would also think I would tell my story louder if I survive the punishment and above all, I was already black-listed in their books. I did not wait to hear my colleague’s response. I jumped over the fence into a compound and continued to run from one house to another until I got to the edge of the town. People in Teseney and in other towns in the lowlands of Eritrea sleep outside, in front of their house and when I jumped into their yardssome woke up and wondered around and their dogs barked. I believe this made it inconvenient for my pursuers to shoot me or re-capture me. I am sure I also out-run them as I was running to safe my life. I continued to run out of the town for a couple of minutes more and then laid down on the ground to avoid visibility as the moon was so bright. I could see, about 150 meters away, my pursuers searching the houses on the edge of the town.
I stayed laid on the ground for some time until my pursuers moved to the next neighborhood and then walked further away from the town. I did not know where I was and I had to stop and sit for a while to determine the direction from the movement of a shade of a stone against the moon light. It took me three more days to reach to safety. The distance between Teseney, the Eritrean near-border town and Kessela, the Sudanese town on the other side of the border was not that long but I was badly injured and dehydrated; and I had to travel at night only. I survived as I was able to drink water and eat some food on the second night when I met a farmer who was staying at his farm. He had a little left over from his dinner and I am very grateful to him to this day. It is in my wish-list to meet this person in the future and thank him for the water and food he provided me at the time of need.
I become very emotional and my body shakes when I remember my escape into the Sudan, but when I tell people about it including the details I left out in this written testimony; I get the feeling that some people might see it as a fiction. But when I tell this to fellow Eritreans who escaped in similar manner, they tell me of more horrific stories including the friends they left dead on the way. These days, I started to think of the kind of determination in the Eritrean youth to get away from the unjust PFDJ regime and I am struggling to find the reason as to why we do not show that kind of determination and take the risk to defy the regime inside Eritrea!. Wouldn’t the latter be more effective in solving the country’s problems like what has happened recently in some Arab countries? Is it possible that PFDJ, through the obligatory national military service and dirty propaganda, has instilled fear in us to see them as untouchable? I have my own assumptions on how PFDJ would react to an uprising, but I still need help to understand this and readers’ feedback will be invaluable.
In Eritrea, I heard many people cursing the ministers and local officials for all the misery but not Isayas Afeworki, the president. They thought that these officials were the spoilers and that if the president knew of the issues he would have solved them. I asked people in high office and found out that the president actually gets every detail of what happens in the country by a special group of people. So, he knows everything. But I also found out that the ministers and higher officials who chair meetings in the country and listen to people’s questions and grievances actually do not dear to tell the president what the people are complaining about. They just want to be seen as capable of decision making but talking to them can only put you in trouble. They can make you arrested and you can be forgotten there.
After leaving Eritrea, I meet Eritreans in the diaspora who blindly support the Eritrean government regardless of what is happening in that country. This undermines efforts by individuals and organizations who are working hard to awaken the people working for the system back home. There are also some ex-government officials who have abandoned PFDJ recently and claim that they themselves were in danger while in Eritrea. Some of them were terrorizing the people there. They now raise ethnical and tribal issues to indicate that PFDJ works on these bases and that they were discriminated against. We knew about these claims but they were the enforcers of such practices and they should have acknowledged and asked for forgiveness first. Furthermore, their ethnical and tribal disclosures are not helping others who are working hard to unify opposition against PFDJ, the dictatorial regime at home. It is worth to note that PFDJ itself is doing its best to divide the diaspora so that there could be no united opposition. Their supporters in the diaspora also pursue propaganda to show that there is no better option for Eritrea other than PFDJ.
I want to revisit here is the exodus of young people from Eritrea. It is shame that, despite our population size, we make up the second highest percentage of asylum seekers in the world at the moment. I do not believe that the Eritrean government is willing to address the root cause to stop it any time soon as they have already blamed other parties for promoting it. This issue will continue to affect us all for the foreseeable future. What I would recommend is to increase public awareness on the Eritrean situation wherever we are so that other countries could exert pressure on the Eritrean authorities to respect the rule of law. We need to make it clear to the world that there is no rule of low in Eritrea and our people are suffering in the hands of PFDJ government. Some European countries, such as Denmark, are getting the wrong information about the situation in Eritrea, primarily by talking to the Eritrean authorities or third parties that are not directly affected or involved. They are not talking to the right people and that we are not doing enough to expose the PFDJ regime. We need to convince these countries that the information they are getting from the Eritrean authorities is wrong and that they should investigate properly. We know what happened to those who were deported before.
Today, I am an associate professor with a PhD degree, trying to hold onto the passion I had in education despite being an asylum seeker in Europe. I believe I would have done a better and morally satisfying job in Eritrea than what I am doing now if PFDJ did not create the obstacles. The purpose of my testimony is to contribute to the efforts undertaken by other Eritrean individuals and organizations in increasing public awareness of the evil PFGJ. I believe a lot has been done to challenge the ‘Hade Wdib, Hade Hizbi, Hade Libi’ (One-Party-One-People-One-Heart) false propaganda of PFDJ. But we need to do more to convince Eritreans inside and outside the country that PFDJ can no longer deceive us and use the stalemate in the border issue with Ethiopia as an excuse to chock the Eritrean people. The Eritrean people deserve better. PFDJ should understand that there will be a time when they will face the consequence of their actions. In this regard, there is not going to be a better lesson in life than what has happened in Libya. There are still better options PFDJ could pursue rather than arrogance, deception and intimidation. The situation is already close to no turning point. The Eritrean people want real freedom, and they paid a huge price for it.
Peace, Freedom and Prosperity to the Eritrean people!!
Local office of UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Eastern Sudan reported that 3,667 new Eritrean refugees have registered at the reception centre of Shagarab during the month of December 2014, showing an increase over the figure of 2,128 refugee arrivals in previous month of November.
This increase in the number of refugee arrivals at the camp of Shagarb was registered in spite of the insecure situation of the reception camp located near the Eritrea-Sudan border. It is to be recalled that Eritrean refugees at Shagarb were subjected to inhumane treatments in the hands of local villagers assisted by state security personnel.
According to the report for December, 555 of the new refugees were below the age of 18. It was also made clear that, out of the total arrivals 457 were female and 3,210 male, including children below the age of 5.
The ever deteriorating situation in Eritrea is reflected by the ever increasing number of refugees escaping from the unbearable political, economic, social and human rights condition in the country. This was well reflected in the UNHCR briefing on Eritrea last November in Geneva. A 14 November 2014 report entitled “sharp increase in number of Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe, Ethiopia and Sudan” was a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The must read report follows:
During the first ten months of 2014, the number of asylum-seekers in Europe from Eritrea has nearly tripled. In Ethiopia and Sudan, neighbouring Eritrea, the number of Eritrean refugees has also increased sharply. So far this year, nearly 37,000 Eritreans have sought refuge in Europe, compared to almost 13,000 during the same period last year. Most asylum requests have been lodged in Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland, with the vast majority of the Eritreans having arrived by boat across the Mediterranean. Our office in Italy reports that 22 per cent of the people arriving by boat are Eritrean, a total of nearly 34,000 people this year. This makes Eritreans the second largest group to arrive in Italy by boat, after Syrians.
Most of the Eritreans arriving in Europe have travelled, initially, via Ethiopia and Sudan. These countries have also experienced a dramatic increase in arrivals, including large numbers of unaccompanied children. More than 5,000 Eritreans crossed into Ethiopia during the month of October alone, compared to the average of some 2,000 arrivals per month since the beginning of the year. About 90 per cent of those who arrived in October are between 18 – 24 years old. Seventy-eight children arrived on their own, without an adult family member. The trend seems to continue with more than 1,200 Eritreans having arrived in Ethiopia during the first week of November.
In Sudan, we have also been witnessing a marked increase in the number of arrivals since the beginning of 2014. This year, more than 10,700 Eritreans have sought refuge in Sudan, an average of more than 1,000 arrivals per month.
There are currently more than 216,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan. Sudan has been hosting Eritrean refugees for more than forty years, which makes it one of Africa's most protracted refugee situations. Eritreans started to arrive in Ethiopia in 2002, after the end of the conflict between the two countries. The recent arrivals told us that they were fleeing an intensified recruitment drive into the mandatory and often open-ended national service.
Growing numbers of the predominantly young refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan have become frustrated with the shortage of services and absence of self-reliance opportunities in the camps. Limited funding for the Eritrean refugee programme in both countries has resulted in a lack of secondary and post-secondary education, as well as vocational training and job opportunities. Deprived of any prospects for a better future and feeling that they have nothing to lose, many fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers and put themselves in danger by trying to cross the Mediterranean on overcrowded and unsafe boats. We are extremely concerned that the refugees crossing into Ethiopia today will eventually try to move on.
There is a need to boost education and livelihood opportunities for the refugees in the countries neighbouring Eritrea to prevent people moving on simply out of desperation. At the same time, we also call on Europe to step up efforts to provide credible legal alternatives to dangerous voyages, to protect people from the risks of traveling with smugglers. The collective response needs to maintain a strong capacity to rescue people at sea and increase safer ways for refugees to find safety, including enhanced resettlement, other forms of humanitarian admission and private sponsorship schemes. UNHCR is calling on European governments to do more to facilitate family reunification and use programmes such as student or employment visas to benefit refugees.
During the first 10 months of 2014, 36,678 Eritreans sought refuge in 38 European countries in 2014, compared to 12,960 during the same period last year. Most asylum requests were presented in Sweden (9,531), Germany, (9,362) Switzerland (5,652) and the Netherlands (4,113). Authorities in Italy recorded 342 asylum applications by Eritreans thus far this year.
Sudan is the main country of asylum for Eritreans with 109,594 refugees at the end of October 2014. 10,701 people have arrived since the beginning of the year, including 1,259 during the month of October. The majority of the refugees are in refugee camps in the arid eastern part of the country (Gaderef and Kassala), with smaller numbers in the capital Khartoum.
Ethiopia is the second largest country of asylum with 106,859 Eritrean refugees, including 1,591 unaccompanied children at the end of October. They mostly live in four refugee camps in Tigray region and two in Afar region in north-eastern Ethiopia
By Caroline Hill
Martin Hill first went to Africa in 1965 to teach English in Uganda
My father, Martin Hill, who has died of cancer aged 71, championed human rights in Africa for more than 32 years during his career with Amnesty International.
He was instrumental in exposing the human rights violations committed in Ethiopia and Eritrea by the Derg military force, many of whom were subsequently convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. He campaigned tirelessly for the release of dozens of prisoners of conscience, including Netsanet Belay, who is now Amnesty International’s Africa research and advocacy director.
Martin, who was based at the Amnesty secretariat office in London, helped human rights activists in east Africa, including those in Somalia who sought to build a human rights foundation in a country with no central government. He was a founding member in 2005 of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project.
His commitment and compassion touched all those with whom he worked. He was greatly respected by the survivors of human rights violations and the victims’ families.
Martin was born in Leeds, to Dudley Hill, a clergyman, and Nancy (nee Bates). From Durham school he went to Downing College, Cambridge, where he graduated in classics. He inherited his parents’ musical talents and was an accomplished pianist.
In 1965 he went to teach English in Uganda. He subsequently lived in Kitui, Kenya, with the Kamba people and wrote a dissertation that earned him a PhD in social anthropology from the London School of Economics. In 1976 he joined Amnesty and worked as a researcher on east Africa, and especially the Horn of Africa, until his retirement in 2008.
During his time at Amnesty, he taught at the University of London and was a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. After retiring, he continued to work on human rights in Africa and wrote reports on minority rights in Somalia, trials in Ethiopia and child soldiers in Eritrea.
Martin was passionate about gardening and RHS flower shows. He loved art and music, and delighted in his collection of African headrests. He was on the council of the African Studies Association and the Anglo–Somali Society and was a keen supporter of the Black Cultural Archives, in Brixton, south London.
He is survived by his wife, Dawn, whom he met at the LSE and married in 1972, and by two children, Andrew and me, a grandson, Lewis, and his sister, Rachel.
UK based Eritreans will expose human rights violations taking place in Eritrea to the Commission of Inquiry into Human RightsMonday, 19 January 2015 19:49 Written by Consortium of Eritrean Human Rights Organisations in the UK
Eritreans in the UK have asserted their readiness to expose violations of human rights taking place in Eritrea, during public meetings organised by a consortium of Eritrean human rights organisations.
As part of its activities aimed at promoting a better understanding of the United a Nation's Commission of Inquiry on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea and in anticipation of the Commission's visit to the United Kingdom, a consortium of Eritrean Human Rights organisations held public meetings in Birmingham and London on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th January 2015 respectively. Members of the consortium gave detailed explanation of the operational process of the Commission’s work, its mandate and objectives. They also called on members of the Eritrean community in the UK to come forward and provide the Commission with their evidence, testimony or information about human rights violations in Eritrea.
Participants of the workshop affirmed their commitment to work with the organisations by volunteering to be interviewed by the Commission’s investigation officers and mobilise fellow Eritreans within their networks to do the same.
Members of the Commission and the accompanying investigation team will be in the UK between 24 and 31 January 2015.
The consortium of UK based human rights organisations organising this event comprised: Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights – UK (EHDR – UK), Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE), Release Eritrea and Suwera Human Rights Centre (SHRC).
Further information about the Commission can be obtained from their website:
BERLIN (Reuters) - A 20-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea has been stabbed to death in Dresden, a city in the east of Germany at the center of protests against Islam and immigration.
The state prosecutors' office said on Thursday the man was found dead on a street on Tuesday morning. A police spokesman declined to comment but prosecutors said 25 detectives had been assigned to investigate the case.
German media said the man was last seen alive on Monday evening and one paper quoted a local leader in the Left party, Juliane Nagel, urging police to redouble their efforts to determine if racist violence was involved.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said about 100 people had staged a demonstration when the police confirmed that the man, who was not named, was the victim of a violent crime. The paper quoted Mayor Helma Orosz as saying she was shocked by the news.
A record 25,000 joined the PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) movement's latest march in Dresden on Monday. The march followed the Islamist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
The Dresden rallies began in October as a local protest against new shelters for refugees and have attracted growing numbers of demonstrators.
Counter marches have taken place across Germany with far larger numbers. The PEGIDA leaders deny they are racist and are careful to distinguish between Islamists and most of Germany's 4 million Muslims.
After nearly quarter of a century of independence, Eritrea under the repressive regime of Dictator Isayas Afeworki remains at the bottom of all world indexes – even in sports in which it is the 202nd out of 202. But few would care about the sports index: the worst is when you lack in the economic sector, also in technological connectivity.
Least Connected in the World
The June 2014 report of the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) confirmed that Eritrea is “the least technologically connected country in the world”. Its telecommunication is under the monopoly of the state-owned EriTel with no other competitor in the country. At 1% of potential users of fixed-line and mobile line, Eritrea ranks the lowest in the world.
The Business Monitor International (BMI) lamented on 24 December 2014 that “by preventing international investors from entering the Eritrean telecoms market, there will be no significant boost to growth”. BMI continued to observe that “international investment would bring long-term benefits to the market, extending networks to rural areas and lowering prices that would enable more Eritreans to participate in the telecoms market.”
Human Development Index (HDI)
This is one of the most important indices that measure health/life expectancy, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. In the 2014 HDI, Eritrea again ranked at the bottom: 182nd out of 187 countries put to the measure. Djibout ranked a bit better by being the 170th in the list, Ethiopia the 1773rd and the Sudan 166.
Human Development Index map for Africa
Eritrea’s Economic “Freedom” Score
Eritrea’s economic freedom score was put at 38.5, making its economy one of the least free in the 2014 index of the Heritage Foundation. Eritrea was also ranked 45th out of the 46 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region in 2014 although the revenues from the mining sector (which are consumed for the regime’s security concerns) are expected to improve the index to be issued in 2015.
The Heritage Foundation’s report of 2014 further states as follows:
“Corruption is a major problem. The president and his small circle of senior advisers and military commanders exercise almost complete political control. The politicized judiciary, understaffed and unprofessional, has never ruled against the government. Protection of property rights is poor. The government has a history of expropriating houses, businesses, and other private property without notice, explanation, or compensation. ...... State domination of the economy acts as a deterrent to foreign investment. The financial system, consisting mainly of a small banking sector, remains severely underdeveloped and subject to heavy state control. Private-sector participation in the system remains constrained”.
Also in spite of the lies churned out by the regime, public debt has reportedly reached 125 percent of GDP, making Eritrea one of the most indebted countries in the world.
The report continues to confirm the following:
“Eritrea’s economic freedom was first assessed in the 2009 Index and has remained stagnant near the bottom of the Index rankings. Score improvements in government spending and business have been completely offset by deteriorations in six of the 10 economic freedoms including investment freedom, labor freedom, and fiscal freedom. Scores for financial freedom and property rights have not changed. The country continues to be stuck in the “repressed” category.
“Strong GDP growth has been led by increased foreign investment in the mining industry, but substantial mineral revenues benefit only a narrow segment of the population. Chronic deficits due to large military spending plague public finance, worsening already fragile monetary stability. A repressive central government continues to marginalize the domestic private sector, perpetuating an uncertain investment climate.
“Inconsistent enforcement of regulations and other institutional shortcomings often impede business activity and undermine economic development. Launching a business takes more than 80 days and is costly. The labor market remains underdeveloped, and much of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. Monetary stability has been weak. Subsidies and price controls are core features of the country’s command economy.”
Eritrea – Last in World Press Freedom Index for 2014 Remains Africa’s Biggest Prison for JournalistsMonday, 12 January 2015 12:38 Written by EPDP Information Office
The World Press Freedom Index for 2014 has listed 180 countries for its evaluation and found Eritrea is still the last in the list – the 180th! Eritrea in 2014 also remained to be “Africa’s biggest prison for journalists”.
Prepared by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the index confirmed that 28 journalists are currently in detention in Eritrea. It stated that ever since the repressive regime in Eritrea “closed down all privately-owned media and jailed 11 journalists in 2001, of which seven are reported to have died while in detention, Eritrea has been Africa’s biggest prison for the media”
The second worst place for press freedom in the world in 2014 was North Korea, the third being Turkmenistan, fourth Syria and the fifth Somalia which ranked 176th in list. Ethiopia is 143rd in the list, meaning the 33rd worst for press freedom in the world.
.The RWB index added that there are no longer any privately-owned media in Eritrea and that the state media are subject to such close surveillance that they have to conceal major world developments not liked by the repressive regime.
Dear EPDP Editorial team,
This response is in relation to your article posted on your editorial section of your website, http://harnnet.org/index.php/news-and-editorial/epdp-editorial/item/1186-state-failure-and-identity-politics-in-eritrea-is-regional-mobilization-the-answer-1
Titled: “State Failure and Identity Politics in Eritrea: Is Regional Mobilization the Answer?
Our response will be from the viewpoint of Afar and Afar only. This is not to say we are not concerned about the wellbeing of fellow Eritreans. This will allow for concerned Eritreans to respond from their respective responsibilities and viewpoints.
Let me begin by saying the views expressed in this article is very troublesome. It’s a huge setback for those of us moderates who strive to reach out across ethnic, religious and regional divide to restore our people’s dignity. The views expressed in EPDP article maybe popular in some corners or websites, but it’s unjust and divisive. It goes against the principle of strengthening the unity and diversity of Eritrea which you claim to defend.
If the intention to write this article was to provoke a thought, or speak about the main source of division among Eritrean opposition groups, or to find lasting and viable solution to Eritrea’s problem going forward, then it has missed its target. Your article and views expressed in it are against peaceful coexistence and building of diversity in Eritrea. It is downright offensive for us, Eritrean Afar.
The case of Eritrean Afar
Like many self governing indigenous peoples in the world, historically the Afar have been attached to their land and region. And historically those who want to exert their power “land-grab” over Afar territory and its people have attempted their ambition to justify their political dominance. Today’s rulers in Eritrea are no exception. What is different here is that, the ruling class in Eritrea and the opposition are in agreement to subdue the Afar indigenous fight to self rule themselves. The only difference is the State of Eritrea is using violent means to remove the Afar, while the opposition uses the scare tactics and demonization using populist propaganda machine.
Failed Ideology and Policy
To find the root cause of today’s Eritrean political reality, and the underlying issues for regional, ethnical political divides one can look no further than the ideology of “Dear-Leader/Afwerki”, (“Nehnan-Elamnan), the Elitist, the supremacists, and the so called oppositions that looks down on Afar and other marginalized groups. What make the Afar less patriotic or less Eritrean than those in the highlands, or the authors of this EPDP article? The Afar and the Kunama have been called the traitors, not committed to the sovereignty of Eritrea, those who want to break up the nation of Eritrea, just based on our geographical locations. We have been called the backwards and the uncivilized since the time of Emperor Haile-Sellasie down to today’s rulers. Our communities have been victimized both during independence struggle and during the last war between the two Tigrignas (EPLF-TPLF).
The Tigringanization of Afar must be stopped
Today, as a result of this racist ideology, the Afar are being systemically removed from their homeland in Dankalia and the regime is colonizing the area with others. To remove the Afar, Eritrea is using mass murder, terror, intimidation and other forms of violence, and is destroying the basis of the Afar economy.
Afar are fleeing Dankalia by the 10’s of thousands. The Eritrean government’s settlement agenda is politically and financially backing the influx of highland-Tigrigna investors to take up businesses, trades, fishing and other traditional afar economic activities to further press forward with its agenda of Tigringanization of Afar people.
There is official government policy to settle thousands of highlanders to areas of Dankalia near Galalu and other areas of the sea in Afar territories. This is underway as we speak. The excuse is that highlands can no longer support a large population, so people are being taken to Dankalia coast. The Afar people have been violently forced out of their homes and businesses because of the widespread aggressive government policy.
The Term “Equal opportunity Oppressor”
The EPDP article mentions, “The regionalists tend to blame the victim (the region that they claim has an upper hand in the current system) for their own political weaknesses.” referring to the Tigrigna suffering under Afwerki’s rule. No one is questioning the Tigringas are not suffering too.
This notion or term, the Afwerki regime being an “equal opportunity oppressor” doesn’t fly with Dankalia’s Afar population. Say what you want to say about the current regime, the Language of Tigrigna still flourishes, the culture and the way of life of Tigrigna ethnic groups still thrives. The government sponsored Tigrigna print media, TV and radio programs are bombarding Dankalia and Afar people daily. The Afar are losing their Language, their culture, their identity, and the means to survive from their local economy and they’re under constant threat of extinction for their ancestral land. Say what you want to say my compatriots from Tigrigna ethnic group you do not have the threat of extinction looming over your heads. And the suffering is not the same.
You may classify Eritrean Afar as those who promote their ethnic aspiration “Tribalism, Ethno fascist or regionalist”, say what you want to say, the Afar aspiration for self-rule is not the impediment for building united democratic Eritrea. The Afar are the critical component and critical jigsaw puzzle for Eritrea’s social fabric and nation building. What will destroy Eritrea is the out dated ideology of supremacy and looking down on other minorities as untrustworthy and incapable, and the hegemonic policies that are put in place as a result of these ideologies. Both by the dictator himself and the support base in Diaspora.
The good example of these policies, are the Eritrea’s land proclamation of 1994, “All Land and Resources belong to the State”, which subsequently found itself in the texts of now defunct 1997 Eritrean constitution. I understand EPDP favors to implement this constitution immediately if they were to rule Eritrea tomorrow.
Let me explain, why Eritrea's unimplemented 1997 constitution is at odds with Afar vision. It excludes minorities from effective participation in reformed Eritrea. It suffocates them in institutions that will be dominated by the Tigrigna. It confiscates Afar lands to be disposed of by the dominant large nationalities. All of this is contrary to international law respecting minorities and indigenous peoples (the Afar are both).
The 1997 Constitution contains no provision for the protection of minority rights. The rights of the national communities are nowhere guaranteed. The Constitution neither provides for any measures for autonomy or self-government of the nationalities (including the Afar), nor does the Constitution provide for guarantees for the small nationalities to participate in the central institutions of the state. We believe without these guarantees, implementation of the constitution will lead to another form of Eritrean conflict, between smaller nationalities and the large. http://ease.dankalia.org/petition_info
The Afar are simply advocating for their rights, dignity and their rightful place in the country. In no way that should be considered harmful to Eritrea’s sovereignty. I don’t know where that leaves us, as regionalist or tribalist, in the case of Afar, we could be classified as both. The Afar have clearly defined region and a home territory that spans from the tip of Mossowa and stretches down to heart of the Sultanate of Rihayta near Djibouti border. Up until the escapade of Afwerki and his military junta this region was predominantly occupied by one ethnicity, The Afar people. We were not called Eritreans then. But we choose to call ourselves Eritreans because we believe Eritrea can be salvaged from dictatorship and extremist ideology. The afar history in this region predates modern day Eritrea and Ethiopia put together. We have lived in this territory since the time of Mosses (Peace be upon him). If this makes us regionalist, Tribalist or Indigenous, then, so be it. Afar people did not prevent Eritrea from becoming independent state. Afar people’s role during the independence struggle is missing from the history books of Eritrea today. People like Ahmed Hilal, Ibrahim Shehem, Idriss Bolo and others.
No Eritrea without Danaklia and Afar people
The Afar have made their vision known to the world from day one. Dankalia is no small fish in Eritrea’s context. Without Dankalia and Eritrean Afar, there won’t be any Eritrea. Let’s make no mistake about it. http://ease.dankalia.org/downloads/ease_policy.pdf
If EPDP considers itself the flip side of current regime in Eritrea and really cares about the future of Eritrea, then it should go back to drowning board and abandon the ideology of Afwerki “all embracing one super ethnic identity” and get in touch with modern reality of the world, the world of Pluralism, diversity, federalism, mutual respect and coexistence.
End Institutional racism against Afar in Eritrea. For the sake of Eritrea, stand up with Afar people; don’t push them down when they are in need. Afar people are under threat in Eritrea; this threat is coming from one quarter, the Tigrigna expansionism project. The Afar are committed to seeing a strong, sovereign nation of Eritrea. The name calling must stop. Long live the spirit of the marginalised and the despised Eritreans.
Let’s work diligently to build mutual respect and understanding. Let’s work together to end the brutality against all of our Eritrean people. Let’s open up a dialogue on constitution of Eritrea. Let’s open real heart-to-heart discussions. Let’s together bring about real, sustainable and meaningful democratic change in Eritrea. The road to victory against dictatorship leads out of Dankaila.
May the year 2015 bring peace, prosperity and justice to Eritrean people.
The Eritrean Afar State in Exile (EASE)
Reverse-Engineering Regionalism/Identity Politics in Eritrea: Is the Medicine Worse than the Disease?Monday, 05 January 2015 19:39 Written by EPDP Editorial Board
Eritrea is a plural society characterized by diverse social cleavages that go along linguistic, religious, cultural and regional/geographic divisions. During the long political evolution of Eritrea as a nation-state, these diverse social groups coalesced into one entity in search of freedom, liberty and national sovereignty. Eritreans fought successive colonizers, finally ousted the last vestiges of colonialism, and secured national sovereignty in 1991 after 30 years of bloody war. Not only the prices Eritreans paid during the 30 years active armed struggle was high, but also the loss and suffering that successive Eritrean generations endured before the liberation era and after our independence in search of their nationhood was unparalleled by any account. Sovereign Eritrean is not just a country to an Eritrean, but rather it is the result of the sacrifices of each and every Eritrean family - more than 80,000 martyrs, as well as the complete destruction of villages/properties, infrastructure, and livelihood of every Eritrean. Without distinction of linguistic, cultural, religious, or regional identities, Eritrean lives were sacrificed in search of their sovereign and independent country.
Hence, the most challenging issues that post-independent Eritrea faces concerns the proper management of Eritrea’s diversity, which is a critical determinant factor for the continued existence and sustainability of Eritrea as a nation-state. These include: One, the establishment of effective and good governance that allows access to fair and equitable socio-economic development as a necessary condition for ensuring a peaceful coexistence among Eritrea’s diverse groups. Two, organization of government institutions and structures that can effectively manage and accommodate the diversity of Eritrea’s social groups in a manner, for example, that defines the relationship between the national government and its local government bodies is another crucial element. Instead, what we see in Eritrea today under the PFDJ regime is a “failed/failing state phenomenon” with dire consequences to the survival of Eritrea as a nation state and as a society. The post-independent Eritrean state turned from an intrusive state into an absentee state. Using repressive ideology, policies, and laws, the despotic regime maintains its dominance and controls all aspects of life (political, social, economic, cultural, etc.) in Eritrea, which overtime evolved to become an absolutist and extractive entity. Such a dictatorial power structure continues suffocating the political space in Eritrea and eliminating many political figures, including internal dissents such as G15 who called for political pluralism and constitutional governance in Eritrea. After shelving the 1997 Constitution for the last 15 years, Issaias in his 2015 New Year interview has finally declared that the constitution is dead before even being promulgated( ---እቲሰነድከይተኣወጀሞይቱእዩ።). By killing the constitution before its arrival, Issaias and his regime have been continuing to effectively deny the Eritrean people their rights to have a constitutional government, rule of law, and social and economic prosperity.
The basic economic resources, such as land, labor, capital and natural resources, are mainly under the control of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea. The vast PFDJ’s parastatals, such as construction companies, financial enterprises (insurance, banks, foreign exchange bureaus, smuggling networks, etc.), and trading firms, such as Red Sea Trading Company, are mainly dependent on “forced labor”. Issaias determines who has power in Eritrea and to what ends that power can be used. Hence, for the last two decades, Issaias presided over an extreme set of extractive institutions and runs Eritrea as his own private property; hands over favors and seeks patronage and ruthlessly punishes for any lack of loyalty. There are no formal institutions that place restrictions on politicians’ actions and make them accountable to citizens.
Extractive economic institutions thus naturally accompany extractive political institutions and there is a strong synergy between the two. Furthermore, this synergetic relationship introduces a strong feedback loop: political institutions enable the PFDJ elites controlling political power to choose economic institutions with few constraints or opposing forces. They also enable PFDJ elites to structure future political institutions and their evolution. What Issaias has announced in his recent interview about the secret committee that is mandated with the preparation of “his new constitution” is in line with these kinds of efforts (---- በዚ መሰረት ድማ ንዕኡ [ቅዋም] ክዓምም ዝቖመ ሓደ ኣካል ኣሎ). Extractive economic institutions, in turn, enrich PFDJ elites, and their economic power and wealth that helps consolidate their political power and dominance. Eritrea has suffered heavily under this kind of vicious cycle for the last 24 years.
Today, the Eritrean state has failed and is absent from the lives of the Eritrean people in the sense of providing public goods (protection/security, education, health, justice, welfare, and national identity). When the state fails to provide basic public goods and continues to pursue reckless policies that transfer a large fraction of resources from the population to the ruling cronies (becomes a kleptocratic state), people look for support from neighbors, friends, families, local groups (communities). It is also widely known that the Eritrean Diaspora population is the main provider of livelihood in Eritrea (remittances cover a large part of household budgets for the majority of Eritrean families back home). Even with such generous help from its Diaspora population, the average household per capita consumption expenditure in Eritrea has been deteriorating for the last two decades (see the table below). And such a failed state phenomenon breeds a monolithic narrative that believes that the crisis created by PFDJ regime is part of some wicked scheme directed against certain region (s), which we know is not true. Yet, in this kind of space, regionalists are hoping to nurture, deepen, take a more rigid form, accelerate their regional politics, and strengthening parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness.
The major culprit for generating regionalism and identity politics in the Eritrean political landscape is primarily the undemocratic nature of the Eritrean regime, which suffocates the political space. The irony is just as the PFDJ regime continues to mete out injustices to the Eritrean people, few people are jumping on their high horses, promoting regionalism instead of being involved in a constructive partnership with the forces of change and advocate for democracy and rule of law in their country. Indisputably, the solution for Eritrea’s ills squarely lies in dismantling the kleptocratic regime and replacing it with a democratic system of governance in which real power lies in the hands of the people of Eritrean and in which justice and rule of law with all its features become the solid foundation of Eritrean life. One can argue about how best this noble aim can be achieved. A good starting point in the search for solutions to this problem is to initiate a discussion among Eritreans about the dynamics and viability of “regional mobilization” as an answer to the quest for democracy and justice in Eritrea.
Let’s start with asking the right question: What would have to be true for regionalism or regional mobilization to be the right and viable answer to the quest for democracy and justice in Eritrea? What would have to be true for regional or identity politics to be the right “medicine for the disease”? The different assumptions that are made by “regional entrepreneurs” in promoting regional mobilizations and the respective validities of the assumptions have been presented in the 25 December 2014 Editorial of EPDP titled: State Failure and Identity Politics in Eritrea: Is Regional Mobilization the Answer? Here, let’s reverse-engineer “Regionalism” and see if it is the right medicine for the disease (decay and disintegration of the Eritrean State). For regionalism or regional mobilization to be the right medicine, it would have to be true that regional or identity politics should promote nationalism, national unity, rule of law, democracy and social cohesion in Eritrea.
History is awash with evidence (Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Mali, Lebanon, Iraq, etc.) that strong regional identification often results in the exclusion and marginalization of some other groups from the mainstream of national politics and the economy. Different groups compete for the control of key political and economic machineries, and once in power they adopt policies and provisions that empower and favor some groups at the expense of others. In the absence of well functioning democratic institutions, the groups that are excluded may engage in violence in an attempt to enter into both political and economic market. The first group may feel threatened with the loss of the previously acquired privilege, may engage in counter violent behavior – the cycle of violence and counter violence continues. Consequently, regional hatred, regional cleansing, and genocide may ensue. In this context, regionalism embraces particular identity and becomes a deeply emotional basis of mobilization that not only distinguishes one group from another, but also demonizes other groups.
Regionalism also promotes regional outbidding and threatens the unity of the nation-state. Since regional identities tend to be invested with a great deal of emotional and symbolic meanings, regional entrepreneurs have strong incentive to harness such identities as a political force, and to use regional demands as the base instigator of constituency mobilization. This often results in the failure of democratic politics because regional outbidding creates centrifugal forces that overwhelm the moderate political center. Moreover, regionalism could act as an instrument of group consciousness (primordial or instrumental) that promotes one’s sense of being and pride over others, which in turn may lead to regional tensions and conflicts. This may increase the regional sensitivities that in turn threaten the harmonious inter-regional relations, the national unity and harmony, progress and the integrity of Eritrean nationhood.
The bases for regionalism or regional groupings in Eritrea are the Italian colonial legal administrative regions that had been developed solely to serve Italian interests. Thus, the basis for the creation of communality is a set of beliefs instead of a biological trait or differences in ancestry, religion or language. There is also a significant crosscutting among the different segmental cleavages (linguistic, religious, and cultural) of Eritrea due to the assimilative power of complex population movements, displacements, and intermingling effects of modernity. What we have in Eritrea today is a mosaic and mixed plural society. Only very few people can claim that they are 100%, say, Serewetay, Akeleguzetay, Hamasienetay, Barketay, Senhitetay, etc. It is difficult to specify boundaries that demarcate regional territories on the basis of these ascriptions. The extent and intensity of regional self-awareness and the level of external ascription also vary a great deal across the different administrative regions (Awrajatat) of the country. Hence, regional mobilization could not be an effective tool to bring justice, rule of law and democracy in Eritrea. Instead, it may endanger peaceful coexistence and proper management of diversity. On a similar note, many of the ethno-linguistic cleavages of Eritrea are too small polities to serve as optimal unity of collective choice. According to the CIA Factbook Demographic Statistics (2010 estimate), the ethno-linguistic composition of Eritrea is as follows: Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, others (Afar, Beni Amir, Nara) 5%.
The exercise of reverse-engineering regionalism leads to the conclusion that regional mobilization is a wrong medicine to the disease that is crippling Eritrea and its future. Eritrea is bleeding to death by the day at the hands of a ruthless dictatorial regime. In order to design an appropriate and winning strategy to avert this danger and to reverse the process of societal decay, it is imperative for Eritreans to fully understand the nature and characteristics of the PFDJ regime. The synergies between extractive political and economic institutions of PFDJ have created a vicious cycle, which seems to persist. Breaking this vicious cycle and replacing it with a “virtuous cycle” – synergies between inclusive political and economic institutions – is the solution. EPDP strongly believes that the fundamental contradiction that should take precedence in our struggle for justice, rule of law and democracy in Eritrea is the one between those who want to continue to promote the “vicious cycle” and those who want to break the “vicious cycle” and replace it with a “virtuous cycle” – between the dictatorship and injustice, and pluralism and justice, respectively. Differences that emanate from other societal cleavages, such as religion, culture, language, region, historical background and memories, etc, do not and should not constitute as basic contradictions in the Eritrean society. Since inclusive and plural political and economic institutions allow and encourage the participation of the great majority of the people, and also distribute power broadly in society, such issues (differences) are addressed by the normal process of the democratic transition under the “virtuous cycle”. EPDP wants to underline that the solution to the Eritrean quagmire is to dismantle the dictatorial regime and to replace its absolutist and extractive political and economic institutions by a pluralistic and inclusive political and economic institutions by establishing a united front of the democratic forces of Eritrea, both inside the country and in the Diaspora. No democracy is possible in Eritrea if people associate themselves only with the same region or identity; democracy is possible when we establish a struggle that cut across all forms of regional or tribal or religious identities. Let’s “play to win” instead of “playing to play”.
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 AfricaMonday, 05 January 2015 17:01 Written by Zekarias Ginbot
……...in Part I, I described how the aspirations of the Eritrean people have been dashed by PFDJ over the last 20 years and how the national service has ended up becoming a modern day slavery. I believe the Ethio-Eritrean border war, commented on by readers of Part I, has been used by PFDJ as an excuse, but as to who started it is beyond the theme of my article for now. In Part II, I continue to reflect on my own experience while inside Eritrea including the closure of the University of Asmara.
By the end of year 2000, an opportunity came along for an overseas study for undergraduate and graduate programs. It was rumored that the Eritrean authorities had to spend the money given to the nation by UNDP. Not sure of the accuracy of that rumor but they decided to send students to South Africa for undergraduate and postgraduate programs. I was among those who got that opportunity. But then, we were asked to produce a 150,000 Nakfa guarantee for return after completing the intended study program. This created shock-waves. “…after years in school and then the national service, and now 150,000 Nakfa!” Students who came back from the war front lines found out that their government, the PFDJ, did not trust them despite the determination they showed in protecting the country with their lives. The memory of colleagues including fresh graduates, who died in the war, was very vivid at the time. But PFDJ officials and the likes, including Dr Wolde-ab Issak, did not bother about the effect of their policies on student moral and nationalism.
The return-guarantee requirement was later dropped for undisclosed reasons but it did left scars in our minds and on our families’ relationships. I know family relationships that are broken to this day as some members were not willing to risk money or property to guarantee their next of kin’s return from South Africa. I know how difficult decision it was for anyone involved given the unpredictability of PFDJ policies within the country and abroad. Under PFDJ, this scenario is similar to that of someone abandoning the national service from his/her military post and then his/her family member being arrested for it.
Many students were indeed sent to South Africa for a scholarship which was a remote controlled program by PFDJ. They managed it like what they do with their high school program in Sawa. When we departed from Eritrea, we were told what to study and there was no proper orientation. Some of us ended up in colleges and universities that did not provide the type of study we were assigned to. Many students were made to wait idle for 6 month, doing nothing, until another university was identified. Some of us were forced to join study programs we were not interested in and this created unnecessary stress. The worst of these was when students were told to finish their program of study on the originally prescribed time without considering problems the students were facing. As a result of these, some students were forced to return to Eritrea before completing their study program: wastage of money and precious time.
Things went from bad to worse when Mr Gerahtu Tesfamicael was assigned Eritrean ambassador to South Africa. Instead of trying to solve problems, he created more confusion among students. Innocent-looking Mr Gerahtu made personal friends among students to spy on student loyalties (looking innocent and making friends is his special talent). He managed to suspend stipend of many students. Some students who applied for entry visas to travel to Europe or America were abducted from their residences and deported back to Eritrea. This is something that one would not expect but PFDJ are good in doing evil. They managed to corrupt South African security personnel for their evil activities. It was also worth noting the request made by Eritrean authorities to the South African academic institutions not to issue student certificates and diplomas on completion of the study programs. Although some of those institutions refused such a request, others did not and the certificates and diplomas were actually sent back to Eritrea. That means some students were forced to return under the arrangement described.
There were many PFDJ sponsored propaganda meetings held during my two years M.Sc. program in South Africa, one of which was with Isayas Afeworki, the Eritrean president in Durban in July 2002. I was one of the students who asked the president about the deteriorating situation in our home country, concerning the national service in particular. The president was in the country for other purpose and an arrangement was made for the students to meet him. In my humble question, referring to the social effects of the national service on parents and participant’s own families, I indicated that the program could be handled better. After explaining how the program was run, the president told us that each national service participant was paid 1300 Nakfa per month. It was a white lie.
We, the students in the Durban meeting, knew that the president’s response to my question was a deception and sarcasm as most of us were members of the national service program before we came to South Africa. That meeting was also the occasion when we were told not to come back home if we chose to do so as the government could hire expats from Asian countries. It was a very discouraging message and it was a clear indication that the authorities were not interested to build the capacity of the nation. Last week, 13 years after our Durban meeting, I heard the president make sarcastic pronouncements about the constitution that was drafted and approved by the people and then shelved away by him. He tried to act as if he understands the importance of a constitution better than anybody else. All these things show how irresponsible and blatant liars president Isayas and his PFDJ clique were then and are today when they communicate with the people.
I take this opportunity to pay my tribute to my fellow student, Hussein Mohammed, who put forward a question to the president at the Durban meeting, and died later tragically. He asked the president about his father’s arrest and disappearance. He was polite in stating the question. I am sure anyone of us would ask the same question at the time if our parent was taken away by security personnel and disappear. He just wanted to know if the president knew about it and when his father would be brought to court if he did anything wrong. The president’s response was hostile and threatening. Although Hussein’s death was in a car accident, he suffered tremendously as a result of what followed. His stipend was suspended and he couldn’t continue to finish his study program. As for me, by then I had already completed my master’s program and was planning to return to Eritrea. Despite all the challenges I had gone through and the fact that the Eritrean president showed up his ugly personality in the meeting described above, I was still blindly optimistic about my country and returned back. I thought I would contribute and make a difference in the lives of my countrymen especially the young.
I returned to the University of Asmara at the end of 2002 and started to work as a lecturer. By then, my friends whom I left in Asmara working as journalists including Mattewos Habteab, Medhanie Haile and Yusuf Mohamed Ali were already imprisoned (and their fate remains unknown to this date). These men were brilliant, young and motivated new graduates from the University of Asmara and, like many other innocent Eritreans, they were taken away from the society because they believed in freedom. It was also the aftermath of the mass arrest of the University students. After their release from Wia, the students were traumatized and were not in a proper mental status to learn. I found the students calm and non-responsive. Under ideal and western-world standards, they should have been de-briefed and rehabilitated first (I do not know which type of world PFDJ belongs to!). I do not wish these type of cruelty to the sons and daughters of PFDJ supports so that their parents would see what PFDJ stands for but these are facts of everyday live in PFDJ’s Eritrea today.
Like any other staff at the university, despite the obvious challenges, I continued to carry-on teaching. The university was already under threat of closure. Some Eritrean expats from the diaspora who used to work for the university had left. Dr. Welde-ab Issak, the then president of the university, did not return from an overseas trip in 2004. Following this, the academic administration and the non-academic management offices became rivals; one reporting to the office of the minister of education and the other to the president’s office; one giving promotion to academic staff and the other withdrawing it. None of them bothered of the threat of closure of the university, the future of the staff or the students. Money of us felt helpless and PFDJ managed to fully infiltrate the university at all levels.
I did not know where Dr. Wolde-Ab Isaac has been since he left the University of Asmara. But last year, I found out that he was working for a certain US college in California, and as I expected, as an acting president. This power hungry person always goes for administrative posts despite his qualification in science. I do not mean this is a taboo but from my experience, Dr Wolde-ab does not have administrative qualities. He would be better suited for a military general than an academician or administrator. He was an arrogant person who did not have any relationship with his staff or the students and was better known for intimidation of staff at the University and demobilization of government employees without compensation in other government institutions.
While at the University of Asmara, Dr Wolde-ab did not care about academic issues. I don’t remember him chairing a discussion on academic issues during the time I worked as a lecturer but only PFDJ sponsored functions. Every time someone approaches him with a question, he does his best in belittling the individual by going into side issue instead of addressing the concerns raised. No one denies that he is an excellent orator but he uses his talent only to intimidate others. When I spoke about him to people who knew him while he was at the Uppsala University in Sweden, their response was, “…well, what do you expect from Wolde-ab”, no surprise at all.
Back to my personal issues: in 2004, I was offered an opportunity to pursue a PhD program at the University of Cape Town where I obtained my master’s degree before. But then the management at the University of Asmara refused to let me go. As we all know, the immigration office in Eritrea considers exit visa applications if accompanied by employer’s institutional letter of support. They use such kind of bureaucracy and tactics to legitimize their suppressive administration, and hence I could not get that letter. When I came back from South Africa at the end of 2002, I was called at the university’s management office to tell about my experience. I believe my honest communication at the time was taken out of context and above all, I was questioning the wisdom of the country’s president while in South Africa.
In 2006, after 4 years of working for the university, I was again refused permission to leave for a PhD scholarship. To make matters worse, the University was officially closed in September of that same year and the academic staff were told to report to the other colleges run by the military. We, the staff were required to sign a document to guarantee compliance with the working environment at the MaiNefhi College or at the other sister colleges. That signing included bringing a parent or a spouse to sign to guarantee compliance. It was a serious matter as we all knew the intension of the authorities. On top of all these non-academic and degrading procedures, the working environment became so bad and unbearable for the staff and the students who were brought there. It was under these circumstances that I was forced to leave my family and my country by taking a dangerous route into the Sudan.
……..Part III will follow
Peace and Prosperity to the Eritrean people!!