Liberty Magazine Issue No. 58

Saturday, 31 August 2019 11:37 Written by

Bi-Monthly English Organ of the Eritrean People’ s Democratic Party - EPDP

Picture showing the burning houses in the Nuba neighbourhood in Port Sudan on 21 August 2019 (ST photo)
August 28, 2019( KHARTOUM) - The streets of Port Sudan were calm on Wednesday after the resumption of intercommunal clashes on Tuesday evening in some residential area of the Red Sea coastal town.

The city has been the scene of days of fighting during which firearms and white arms were used in ethnic violence. Last week the intercommunal clashes lasted from Thursday until Saturday evening.

Sudanese authorities, on Tuesday, sent for the second time additional military reinforcements from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to the eastern Sudan city to control the security situation an put an end to the clashes between the Beni Amer and Nuba residents.

Eyewitnesses told "Sudan Tribune" that calm returned to the city on Wednesday, after a night of tension in the town as a result of renewed skirmishes between the two parties on Tuesday evening.

They confirmed that the burning of houses - free of residents - on Tuesday evening affected several houses in the neighbourhoods of Riyadh, Dar Al-Naeem and the Al-Mattar.

On the other hand, security sources confirmed the arrival of RSF troops to be deployed in the troubled areas to establish security.

The Central Committee of Sudan doctors (CCSD) announced on Monday that the clashes of Port Sudan left 37 dead and dozens of injuries.

The report said that the hospital emergency departments in Port Sudan received 126 injuries ranging from mild to moderate, and the critical injuries requiring surgical intervention were transferred to Osman Dagna Hospital.

The Red Sea Governor, Major General Essam Abdel Farraj, and the State Director of the Intelligence Service have been relieved by the Sovereign Council on Sunday after their failure to control the crisis.



August 25, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Americas Tags: MilitaryWarStrategyNational SecurityDefense Department

The United States need not leave Djibouti, but it is time to consider a Plan B for otherwise a single whisper from Beijing to Djibouti’s president could cripple America’s ability to defend itself and its allies.

by Michael Rubin
BERBERA, SOMALILAND—Djibouti’s role in U.S. national security has for decades been inversely proportional to its size. The tiny East African country has long been a logistical hub for the U.S. military. Its airfield helped supply U.S. forces in Somalia in the early 1990s, and U.S. Navy vessels visited its port frequently. Because Djibouti—a French colony or territory for nearly a century before its 1977 independence—hosted French forces, the U.S. military could utilize the French infrastructure when necessary.
Recommended by
The real import of Djibouti to U.S. security calculations, however, came after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the George W. Bush administration formed Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) first to coordinate and conduct regional stability operations and then to oversee counterterrorism operations in both Yemen and across the broader region. The Obama administration’s growing reliance on drone strikes—many of which it launched from Djibouti—only increased the country’s importance. Since formally arriving, the Pentagon has invested several billion dollars in Camp Lemonnier, today the largest U.S. military base in Africa and the keystone of U.S. Africa Command operations, hosting four thousand soldiers, sailors, and Marines spread over five hundred acres.
The United States, of course, has not been alone in recognizing Djibouti’s strategic position. The French initially carved what now is Djibouti out from greater Somalia because of its position and harbor. The British had established a coaling station in Aden to support the United Kingdom’s military and commercial interests in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Djibouti—with a natural harbor just 150 miles away from Aden—served much the same purpose as the French sought to keep Madagascar, Mauritius, and other regional interests secure. The Suez Canal, of course, made the Bab-el-Mandab chokepoint adjacent to the country even more important. Over the decades, technology may have changed by Djibouti’s strategic position did not. Today, in addition to the United States, France maintains a presence and hosts German and Spanish troops at its base. Italy and Japan also have facilities, and both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also rent space. China, meanwhile, has built a major new base in the country as it expands its interests in the Indian Ocean basin and Africa. Iran has, in the past, also sought to make inroads but was forced out because of U.S. and Western pressure.

What goes around comes around, however. To date, China has tolerated the presence of its geopolitical competitors in Djibouti, and the Djiboutian government has been happy to leverage its location to collect rents from as many outside powers as possible. But, not every investor in Djibouti is equal. China has financed a water pipeline for Djibouti, as well as a railroad to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. While U.S. aid to Djibouti peaked at $31 million in 2017, a Chinese company signed a preliminary $4 billion natural gas deal with Djibouti that same year.

That aid disparity might be enough to tip the scales toward deference to Beijing’s interests, but Djibouti’s corruption makes a tilt toward China—should Chinese authorities demand it—more likely. Djibouti has had only two leaders since its independence—Hassan Gouled Aptidon ruled the country with an iron fist for the first 22 years after its independence. Upon his death, his nephew and handpicked successor Ismaïl Omar Guelleh took over, and has run the country ever since. Corruption remains a major problem in the country, with few deals able to proceeds without Guelleh or his relatives personally benefiting, if not in bribes then in business contracts which any Western country would consider a conflict of interest.

It seems, however, the Trump administration like the Obama administration before it remains in a state of denial. The Pentagon has invested so much money into its Djibouti facilities that it is hard to imagine let alone justify to Congress that those funds were in effect wasted. Inertia also remains a problem. For more than a decade, diplomats and the Defense Department turned a blind eye to the reality of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for fear that to acknowledge reality would mean recognizing the vulnerability of the U.S. presence at Incirlik Air Base. The Pentagon likewise continues to treat its facilities at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as a get-out-of-jail-free card for Qatari terror sponsorship for fear that holding Doha to account would risk U.S. access.

With time, however, U.S. military planners expanded U.S. access to facilities in Romania and Bulgaria, as well as northern Jordan in order to offset reliance on an increasingly erratic Erdoğan. While the Pentagon continues to double down on Qatar, nearby Bahrain could provide an alternative. Not only does it host the U.S. Fifth Fleet but, during Operation Desert Storm, Bahrain’s Isa Air Base hosted four times more American planes that Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base does now.

With China able to out leverage the United States in Djibouti at any time, it behooves the Trump administration to find an alternative to Djibouti now. Ethiopia is no recourse, both because it has no port and because Chinese investment and trade likewise ties it far more to Asia than to the West. Eritrea hosts a United Arab Emirates port and may cooperate with Israel as well, but an uncertain political transition, poor facilities, and a horrendous human rights situation make a U.S. presence untenable. Somaliland, however, could be an alternative. Its main port, Berbera, hosts one of the longest airstrips in Africa. During the Cold War, the United States maintained a military presence and, as one official in Berbera quipped during a recent trip, NASA’s contract for facilities on the airfield technically remains valid and so they could return “tomorrow.” While the United Arab Emirates is building a base, Somaliland authorities remain frustrated at the opacity of the UAE contract (signed with a previous government) which, 

regardless, is not exclusive. Berbera is a deep-water port able to accommodate most U.S. ships.

Most importantly, Somaliland authorities want the United States there. As China and Russia both make approaches to Somaliland, the democratically elected, Western-leaning Somaliland government has been holding out for the United States, although it cannot do so indefinitely. The problem to date has been the State Department. Somaliland has been functionally independent since 1991, when it revoked its union with Somaliland and reclaimed its 1960 independence. While the United States recognized Somaliland then, the State Department now pursues a bizarre and expensive one-Somalia policy, effectively cutting off direct dealings with Somaliland for fear that interaction with Somaliland might anger Mogadishu, whose government cannot even control its own capital city. This deference is ridiculous on many levels, both because the Somali government in Mogadishu is more theoretical than real in its ability to control and govern, has recently deferred to China itself, has flirted with terrorism and, last but not least, is neither equal to Washington nor should it defer its national interests to Mogadishu.

Rather than risk American security and interests, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., and U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto should recognize that military ties have never equated to formal diplomatic recognition: Just ask Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, or Taiwan. In both the Middle East and East Asia, however, a generation of officials recognized that they should prioritize American security and defense above more mundane and tendentious concerns.

Putting all America’s eggs in one basket—and an increasingly shaky one at that—is not a strategy to protect America’s interests in the fight against terrorism, Iranian proxy groups, Al Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State. The United States need not leave Djibouti, but it is time to consider a Plan B for otherwise a single whisper from Beijing to Djibouti’s president could cripple America’s ability to defend itself and its allies.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


EPDP 2019 - A Short Profile

Thursday, 22 August 2019 22:44 Written by

The 3rd and Unity Congress of Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Eritrean National Salvation/Hidri, convened between 29 July and 1 August 2019 in Wiesbaden, Germany, adopted political documents which, inter alia, agreed to continue calling the unified party as EPDP.

August 21, 2019 News

Source: Somali Affairs

Eritrea reportedly training secret Somali force


The Federal Government of Somalia transported 200 young men from the Aden Ade International Airport in Mogadishu to Eritrea yesterday morning.

The information received by Somaliaffairs says that the youth were part of 600 young men the government had been gathering in Shirbow in the past few days.

The plan is to have these young men, when they return from Eritrea, to secretly operate in Mogadishu and replace the (Shield and Spear) Force.

Their training in Eritrea is being kept secret but they will replace the existing force for heavy operations.

Security experts we asked about this issue say the development carries great risk for the country’s security, especially in Mogadishu, and that an already existing force is being destroyed.


 ዙር ፈንቅል + ይ ኣክል +  ሳዋ ኣይንወርድን + ቀዳሞት ተቃለስቲ ንደሞክራስያዊ ለውጢ= ኤርትራ

 The Eritrean conflict is intra-state conflict originating from early statehood and now after liberation in organizing state and governance. The Eritrean post- liberation state organization process was an exclusive not accommodating the Eritrean diversity. Eritrea today is ruled by a coterie political elites of the same interest preventing others from joining.

 The internal conflict is identity- based on differences of ethnics and combined by unjust policies political, economic, social and cultural rights. Most conflicts of the world today are intra-state conflicts much less amenable and emotionally charged by Eritrean political elites.

 This article will try to illustrate some tools for conflict management inside the opposition forces for democratic change.    

ኤርትራዊ ሓይልታት ንደሞክራስያዊ ለውጢ ኣብ ኤርትራ                                                                                                                                                  

The Eritrean democratization process is still in its initial phase or is only at its rhetorical stage. After more than ten years’ the outcome of these waves of accusations and blames led to more disintegration in the camp of the Eritrean opposition forces for democratic change.

Conflicts are escalating between different personalities and clientelist politics both inside the political and civic organizations. The Eritrean forces for democratic change are in uncertain and conflict-prone unable to work within the current situation and prepare for the future.

How can we descalate these conflict –prone attitudes? How can the Eritrean forces for democratic change build trust by joining their efforts? This article will argue on some approaches that can help us come together and reunite our efforts in the following fields:

- political approaches

- diplomatic relations

- popular mobilisation

- media

- economy

How can the opposition manage joint political affairs

The historical circumstances behind the renaissance of most of the Eritrean opposition organizations makes them closely related to their  respective old programs, and even a large number of the opposition leaders are historical leaders, to the extent that the spirit that influenced the political discourse and the leaders in the era of struggle against colonization still more or less reflected in the political performance of the Eritrea Government and the opposition alike, and this discourse undoubtedly instilled in the Eritrean people, particularly the  younger generation that has emerged in the beginnings of the 21st of the century, not to mention the  generation born after the independence of Eritrea at home who haven’t been acquainted with the opposition and its political discourse, consequently lacks the needed stimulus to participate and support the opposition, therefore the political  discourse of the opposition must undergo a radical change of mode or paradigm shift  through broader modernization in concepts and  terminologies, and that should be reflected in the practical performance of the political forces and civil rights’ organizations.

 The opposition today requires a political discourse that would combine the history with the present, highlighting that the values of democracy are fundamental rights that doesn’t allow compromise, founding its political discourse on the concepts of human rights, the political  discourse must attract the wishes of the  new generations to  encourage them participate in the bid to highlighting the benefits of the moral and material meaning of home, the opposition’s discourse must make use of the modern media communications which would surely attract our young generation, This discourse is based on: -

1- To stress the legitimate right of the Eritrean people to own their political decision and share the wealth of the country and to take their deserved part in ruling over their country, by the well-defined means of democracy methods and the right to enjoy justice by the virtues of the law that they established through their representatives in the parliament.

2- To focus on the concepts and values of democracy and human rights.

3- To pay much attention to the civil society, especially the associations of youth and women, and to involve them in the formulation of the political discourse so that they would be empowered enough, because they know how to conduct a successful dialogue to win over their peers.

How can the opposition gain the popular confidence?

- civil -disobedience------------- ይኣክል

 -Joint Popular mobilization.......ሓባራዊ  ሕዝባዊ  ምልዕዓል

Since the Eritrean  masses as stakeholders would directly benefit of the democratic change , then the opposition must mobilize the entire sectors of the Eritrean Public at home, as well as abroad in the process of change through the mobilization and raising public awareness, the political and civic organizations which are leading the endeavours  towards change  should recognize the differences in the political programs and coordinate a mechanisms and consolidate a unified political discourse to accelerate the project of democratic change in Eritrea

Today the Eritrean public needs a glimmer of hope that could encourage them to work for democratic change, they need a leadership that could convince them about the credibility of the struggle for change, alas the opposition leadership seemed to be dominated by the differences over secondary issues that dominate and hinder its unity on the key issues and consequently keeps the public away from any mass action, public mobilization must be based on the following:-

1- Build-up of credibility through positive attitudes and behaviour on the part of the political leadership interacting with the public.

2- Paying much attention to the suffering of the public and provide alternative solutions, especially the issues relating to the legal status of refugees and migrants, particularly with countries that have good relations with the opposition

3-Recruiting the public in the branch-offices of the opposition and mandating of leaders that can serve as role models to help the public come close up to the opposition, and not the kind of leaders that scare people away from the ranks of the opposition.

4- The establishment of service sectors, that could serve the public such as education and health services, wherever Eritrean communities exist, and to refrain from providing such public services according to one’s political or organizational affiliation.

5- Establishment of grass-roots associations such as youth, women, workers and other sectors and to give those institutions a real attention through professional understanding and practice.

6-Establishment of branches combined of members of collective umbrella of the Eritrean national council for Democratic change/ENCDC and EPDP to furnish information and programs for the public to ensure improving it beyond the organizational differences.

Joint diplomacy/international relations

Countries are no longer an islands isolated from each other in our era of intertwined interests, as the foreign policies of countries are driven by interests, therefore, it must be well-understood  that foreign counties would  have to take their respective positions towards Eritrea according to their political and economic interests, perhaps it is an ironic that the foreign policies of the Eritrean Regime had to play a  catalyst helpful role on the part of the opposition  to pursue a constructive productive and effective diplomacy in their struggle for change, but the Eritrean opposition ,despite the just and legitimate cause in the struggle to bring about democracy, but it has shown incapability to  win the sympathy and support of  foreign states, the opposition have to make use of the diplomacy based on the know-how of the modus operandi of international relations which had been administering the world today, the interests of countries with national sovereignty, and international organizations attends to the interests of international security, regional organizations that sponsor the security and interests of the countries in the region, as well as non-governmental organizations that has become of great influence in international politics and overseas companies with a significant impact on the process of political decision-making.

Therefore any formulation of diplomatic action plan must be based the above mentioned backgrounds, it would be helpful to point out some important guideline here bellow:

  1. A diplomatic action built on positive interaction, that is to say, there are parties in the world who have their respective stakes in Eritrea, who need to be convinced that the opposition can be faithful to their interests as long as not inconsistent with the national interests of Eritrea, therefore countries which their interests have been damaged by the Eritrean Regime will cooperate with the opposition, but first, the opposition must confirm its credibility and seriousness

2- A diplomatic action built on negative interaction, and we mean that there are parties in the world that Eritrean Regime constitutes a source of concern for their respective national security, whether serious or minimal concern, such forces would be more than happy to watch the Eritrean Regime disappearing, they have genuine interests in the disappearance of this Regime due to the keenness to their respective national security,  but these countries cannot risk to establish relations with the opposition unless ascertained in the seriousness of the opposition, for fear that the establishment of such a relationship might deteriorate the internal affairs of their respective countries, the Eritrean Regime is notorious in exploiting the internal contradictions of foreign countries, which constitute a threat to the security of those countries, the seriousness of the opposition would be associated with its political discourse and its mechanisms.

3- A diplomatic action built on bilateral policy and attitudes, where some countries are in harmony with opposition on their stance towards many issues, attitudes towards public issues is inconsistent with the positions of the Eritrean Regime, therefore compatibility with opposition or contradiction with the regime, is stimulus for diplomatic cooperation between the opposition and the foreign nations.

4- Diplomatic functioning based on lobbying through local communities, civic organizations and individual relationships, where every vote counts on the part of the Western countries in times of elections, the grouping of communities and activating civic organizations or take advantage of individual relationships can influence and stimulate the policies of Western states towards Eritrea.

5- Benefit from Non-governmental Organizations of certain areas of concern, such as human rights organizations, and organizations concerned with freedoms of religion or press, or transparency and those NGOs fighting corruption, and even the relief and health humanitarian organizations that the Eritrean Regime refused to give access to providing aid to the Eritrean people, all these factors could be valuable for the diplomatic advancement of the opposition if used properly.

The Eritrean opposition need to muster the factors that manipulate world politics through a specialized and skilful apparatus the make use of its political and administrative authority, and perhaps the most important aspect in this regard is appoint united-external-political unit composed of united delegation

The following points might be useful in this respect.

  • Formation of diplomatic apparatus for the Eritrean forces for democratic change to run the international relations with political and administrative competency and capabilities.
  • Consensus on the features of the external political discourse by all components of the opposition/ ENCDC and EPDP
  • Coordination of the foreign policies of the political organizations through a united committee consisted of the external relations officials of the ENCDC and EPDP organizations. With the task of making ENCDC- EPDP joint foreign policy a non-partisan policy through the evaluation of external policy functioning, exchange of information and proposal of plans, and benefiting from the relationships of organizations and individuals in this area.
  • Coordination with the civic organizations that support the overall objectives of the opposition, especially in Europe, America and Australia, and take advantage of their relations, and to mandate the civic organizations to implement and illuminate the foreign policy of the Eritrean opposition.
  • To draw a maximum benefit from the partnership’s presence in the capital of the African Diplomacy Addis Ababa, where the African Union Head Quarters is located, beside a high-ranking diplomatic missions of the most important powers, the ENCDC- EPDP joint diplomacy should approach these countries by taking advantage of the public events that these missions held as well as the occasional events held in the host country , Ethiopia, and to constantly send messages in the occasion of public National Holidays of diplomatic missions.
  • Establishing a joint website so that it could be a reference to all the questions that may arise in the mind of any policy-maker or a diplomatic mission, as well as writing leaflets carefully prepared and in different languages.

Joint  Media development strategy

In today's world, which is dubbed as the “age of information evolution”, though the media of the Eritrean opposition is not commensurate with the magnitude of the cause it is raising and the challenge it is facing, despite the progress that opposition media has registered in general, but that is not enough to deliver the message of opposition, especially when the regime it is opposing has an information outlets that are considered the most prominent strengths of the regime.

even the improvements that opposition’s media outlets have shown are due to efforts without any coordination which is not enough to deliver the message of the opposition , most of the oppositions media outlets lack professionalism, most of the member opposition organizations have their own media outlets which lessen the effectiveness of the spirit needed for change, even the oppositions media outlets are often used to highlight the secondary political contradictions between the various organizations , we could point out the following points in this respect:  

  • Formulation an information policy with clear goals and instructions to convey a convincing message through all available information means.
  • Tolerate secondary contradictions of political and civil forces, and focus on the overarching challenge of removing the dictatorial regime in Eritrea.
  • Coordination of work between media organizations and the signing of the Code of Conduct for the media outlets, so that the media war between the organizations, degradation or questioning of the principles, personal attack would be perceived as a red-line.
  • Development of the radio through the creation of an independent radio with working-hours for as long as possible pursuing a dynamic approaches in conveying the opposition’s message to resist the Regime and to deliver opposition’s message in an intelligent way.
  • Diligences in founding a TV-channel to convey the goals of the opposition and reflect the suffering of the Eritrean people, and work to highlight the abuse of the regime against our people.
  • Establishing opposition Satellite TV challenging the PFDJ’s ERITV.
  • Develop opposition websites on the web and make it more professional and more easily viewed, and more substantive and meaningful.
  • Pay much attention to the Internet to benefit from groups on facebook, Twitter and other tools that gains the attention of a large number of sympathizers.
  • The importance of training and the adoption of assigning media work according to individual competency and not organizational affiliation.
  • Opening up communication with TV channels, news agencies, global and regional newspapers and magazines and all that can contribute to delivering the message of the opposition.
  • Use the universal language in the media, in terms of focus on the concepts of human rights, democracy, transparency and good governance.
  • Documentation of the regime’s Violations, and reporting the evidences in figures and images because it makes the message of the opposition more credible and acceptable to the recipient.
  • adoption of mechanisms and means to evaluate the feedback such as surveys, questionnaires and others to determine the effect of the message on the recipient

Joint Economic Development strategy

The biggest dilemma of the opposition is how to finance its activities, as it is known , that,  those who lack financial sources cannot  fully own their decisions, The people of Eritrea have had an honourable history in financing and supporting the Eritrean revolution, therefore the opposition need to explore extraordinary alternative plans to attract support and to discover funding sources, its economic plans must not depend only on funding sources, but in drying-up the support of the Regime, especially as  the Regime draws-in support from neutral places where the opposition exists.

We can refer to the following points in this respect:

  • Authentication of the relationship between the opposition and the public, encouraging the people to bear the responsibility of regime change as the sole beneficiary of the change, this can be achieved only through a high degree of transparency and openness, and building bridges of trust between the opposition and the public.
  • Establishing a constructive relationship with countries that can accumulate with the political positions of the Eritrean opposition, then to make use of these relations in opening economic cooperation to finance the activities of the opposition
  • Presenting partnership projects with organizations that have relations with the Regime such as the European Union in order push them towards parallel treatment between the Regime and opposition, through pressure by voters in the European countries, and to benefit from these projects in financing the opposition in particular with regard to the entrenchment of the values that form the agenda fixed in the concerns of the European Union and organizations alike.
  • Cooperation with NGOs on human rights, freedoms, gender, transparency etc., and enter into partnerships with them to serve the common goals of the organizations and the opposition alike.
  • Search for investment projects, and not necessarily to be at the centre level, but can be done at the branch level, so that the opposition activities can be financed by its own projects.

The above points are relevant to improving the financial capabilities of the opposition; the following steps are to cut off the sources of financing of the Regime.

  • On the official level, by persuading countries and organizations that sponsor projects in cooperation with the Regime until it stops financing of such projects, or at least could proceed funding the Regime’s projects but after imposing its own terms and conditions,  to prevent the Regime from using such funds in the oppression of our people.
  • At the grassroots level to stop the tax imposed by the Regime on Eritrean nationals living in Diaspora, and projects that the Regime claims to support the families of martyrs and the disabled, especially since the Regime is using the means of blackmail and intimidation in the collection of such tax which contradicts the laws of the countries in which the Eritrean communities live.


Please sign this petition at here is the link

Below attached is the flyer and the tigrinya version of the petition. 

Adiam Haile-Rufael

Solidarity with Eritrean Bishops, Nuns, Clergy & People of Eritrea

In the month of June, 2019 the Eritrean PFDJ regime, led by Isaias Afwerki, confiscated all Hospitals, medical centers and clinics run by the Catholic Church. According to the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat communique, this year alone 21 healthcare centers were confiscated and in previous years 8 were nationalized; resulting in 29 healthcare centers forcibly seized by the Eritrean government. These healthcare centers were almost exclusively in rural areas and small towns, where government healthcare is virtually nonexistent. It is important to note that “approximately 200,000 patients a year seek medical treatments at Catholic medical centers in Eritrea (Fr. Mussie Zerai, Global Sisters Report)." The Catholic Church in Eritrea provided healthcare services to all citizens regardless of their religious background and it ran 20% of the country’s healthcare system. In the last two years, the government closed the Holy Savior Secondary School, a seminary preparatory high school jointly administered by the four Eparchies, and religious congregations in the capital city of Asmara. The Catholic Bishops, nuns, and clergy serve the most vulnerable members of the society: the sick, poor, the elderly, women and children, and run orphanages, also maternity wards all over Eritrea. The recent forcible seizure and closure of Catholic Church run hospitals and medical facilities has left patients stranded without medical treatments, many of them in need of dire medical attention. Simultaneously, the medical staff and administrators, which include the religious (nuns) and clergy were evicted and forcibly evacuated from the healthcare premises, where they resided. The steps taken by the Eritrean regime is counter institutive and insensitive to the needs of the citizens, especially the vulnerable. 

Through its social services arm, the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat (ERCS), the Catholic Church, in Eritrea has a long tradition of commitment to the human development; serving the people’s economic, social and health needs without discrimination or religious preference. However, the Eritrean regime has been running a low intensity persecution of the Catholic Church for more than 25 years; and the recent actions committed by the regime is not new to the Eritrean Catholic Church. Though the Eritrean regime claims to be secular; respecting religious freedom, and its stance towards religious liberty has been antagonistic. For example, the first targets of religious persecution were, the Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, 7th Day Adventists, etc. These denominations have had established Churches in Eritrea for decades. The Eritrean regime has also deposed the duly elected Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios (90 years old) and placed him under house arrest. Another notable figure, the honorable Sheikh Haji Musa Mohammednur, who was 93 years old, was also arrested, jailed by the Eritrean regime, and subsequently died in a prison, in Asmara, on March 1, 2018, for his resistance and strong stand against the regime´s oppressive policies. Yet the regime still denies interfering in religious affairs or committing religious persecution. When the regime has persecuted individual believers, Church institutions or other religious establishments; local resistance and international reaction has been very limited emboldening the PFDJ regime, led by Isaias Afwerki to make the next brazen move.   

We, Eritrean Americans residing in your district strongly condemn the shameless actions, committed by the Eritrean regime, against the Catholic Church; confiscating healthcare centers, which are used to provide vital services to the most vulnerable members of the Eritrean society.  We ask for strong measures to be taken against religious persecution of any and all religious faiths committed by the PFDJ regime, led by Isaias Afwerki. A year ago, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace accord; however, the people of Eritrea have not seen any fruit following the agreement. In fact, the situation worsens and the youth continue to flee the country, due to the regime’s oppressive policies. This direction is dangerous and against centuries old religious freedom and tolerance in Eritrea. Unless there is international pressure to change its behavior, the regime, will continue its oppressive policies even more aggressively than ever; with unimaginable long-term consequences, paling the tragedy of Somalia, Yemen and Libya. We must not allow such illegal and immoral actions by the regime against the Catholic Church and any or all religious faiths practiced in Eritrea. Therefore, we urge you to take strong and unequivocal action against the PFDJ regime, led by Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea; and stand with those who are suffering and being terrorized. Religious freedoms, liberty and human rights of any accord should not be violated no matter where it takes place. Let us stand on the right side of history. We ask your respective offices to work on the following plan of actions:

  1. Request the Eritrean regime to reverse its unlawful, inhumane, immoral action of closing and confiscating, Healthcare centers, clinics and hospitals run by the Catholic Church in Eritrea;

    2. Free all individuals or groups incarcerated or placed under house-arrest due to their religious faith in Eritrea;

    3. Respect and follow international human rights laws, religious freedoms & liberty, and implement the democratic rule of law in Eritrea.  

Sincerely, Eritrean American Ge'ez Rite Catholics

Published in The Star

Africa’s most authoritarian school

Saturday, 17 August 2019 06:19 Written by

August 16, 2019 News

“It’s just slavery. You toil day and night and you get nothing,”

Source: Mail & Guardian

Systemic abuse: The Sawa graduation ceremony. Every Eritrean student attends the school in their final year. ‘You don’t understand if it’s a school, or a military camp,’ says one former student. (Yemeni G Meskel)
Systemic abuse: The Sawa graduation ceremony. Every Eritrean student attends the school in their final year. ‘You don’t understand if it’s a school, or a military camp,’ says one former student. (Yemeni G Meskel)

By law, every single student in Eritrea must spend their final year of high school at the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School and Vocational Training Centre — no matter where they are from or where they attended classes before. The school is inside a military camp, however, and students have no guarantee that they will ever be allowed to return to civilian life.

According to the Eritrean government — led by President Isaias Afwerki since independence from Ethiopia in 1991 — the policy is a kind of radical egalitarianism designed to level the educational playing field, ultimately ensuring that all students have equal access to university, and consolidating the “harmony and social cohesion” of each new generation.

But students themselves tell a very different story, describing a system of systematic abuse, torture and repression that has forced hundreds of thousands of young Eritreans to flee their country.

“You don’t understand if it’s a school, or a military camp,” said one former student. “Sawa is hell: they do everything to make you want to leave,” said another.

Sawa is the name of the military camp, and is how most students refer to the school that is based there.

Satellite Imagery of the Sawa military camp, including the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School, recorded in January 2015.
Imagery © DigitalGlobe – Maxar Technologies 2019; Source: Google Earth

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released an 84-page report detailing the experiences of students at Sawa. The report is an unprecedented glimpse into what daily life is like at the school, and an insight into what the harsh environment is designed to achieve. “Eritrea’s secondary schools are at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population,” said Laetitia Baeder, who, as the lead researcher on the report, conducted interviews with dozens of former students.

‘Punishments were so hard’

Sawa is located in inhospitable, isolated terrain near Eritrea’s western border with Sudan, where temperatures in summer can reach up to 40°C. It is divided into educational and military areas and, in total, can accommodate up to 30 000 people, according to the ministry of information (Eritrea’s current minister of information did not respond to a request for comment for this piece; nor did Eritrean authorities respond to repeated attempts by HRW to obtain comment).

At the beginning of each school year, grade 12 students are bused in from all over the country. Most, but not all, are over the age of 18; according to HRW, some are as young as 16. On arrival they are divided into groups that mirror army formations, and each given a plastic plate, cup and utensils. The food — mostly lentils and bread — is notoriously poor.

Military training begins immediately. “From the first month, the alarm rings at 5am. They make you run to the toilet, you had five minutes to wash — if we had water, which wasn’t always the case — five minutes to put your uniform on. You get punished if you don’t manage,” one former student said. “We would have military training until 8am … The military trainer is always with you; he stays in the dorm. The [physical] punishments were so hard; I was desperate to escape them and so I would try to stick to the rules.”

According to HRW, the year at Sawa is divided into one or two months of physical fitness training and military discipline; four months of military training, which includes weapons handling and a three-week “war-like simulation exercise”; and six months of academic teaching.

In addition to these responsibilities, however, students are expected to perform manual labour such as cleaning and carrying supplies, and also to assist with farming at the state-owned Molober farm, 7km from Sawa. This leaves very little time for actual studying.

Students are punished for even minor infractions, such as oversleeping, or for complaining about their conditions. Punishments include — but are not limited to — being beaten with sticks, being left in the sun for long periods of time, and being made to roll around on the ground while being beaten.


For female students, the dangers are even greater. Referring to Sawa and other military training camps, the United Nations commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea found in its 2015 report that “Women and girls are at a high risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence … They are often forced into concubinage by superiors in the camp.”

‘It’s just slavery’

The end of the school year brings no respite. Students with high marks may be allowed to go to one of the country’s seven tertiary colleges, while the rest are forced into Eritrea’s involuntary and indefinite conscription program, which has been described by both former conscripts and rights groups as a form of modern-day slavery. A university degree merely delays the inevitable, with graduates still required to participate in national service once they have obtained their degree.

Although conscription is officially capped at 18 months — six months of military training and six months of national service — in practice it can last for several years or even decades. Conscripts are given no say in the work they are required to do, which can include everything from accounting to farming to construction. College students are often assigned to be secondary school teachers, even if they have no teaching experience or subject expertise. The pay is paltry, the food is still bad and there is no legal entitlement to any leave.

“It’s just slavery. You toil day and night and you get nothing,” said Dawit, a former school teacher, speaking to the Guardian in 2018.

Young Eritreans have come up with creative solutions to avoid national service, such as deliberately flunking Grade 11 to avoid being sent to Sawa; or, for women, by marrying young and becoming pregnant. But these are far from foolproof: periodic police and military raids — known as giffas in Tigrinya — round up people who are perceived as trying to avoid conscription.

There is no provision for conscientious objection in Eritrean law, so “draft dodgers” are often jailed. One student, who tried to escape national service in 2014, described his experience to HRW. He was 14 at the time.

“I spent six months in Gergera [prison]. The cell was about 4mand there were 180 people in it. We would put up our sheets and sleep on them. No windows, no light. Never allowed out. Only to go to the toilet and to eat.

“I was held with detainees of all ages. Some detainees were there for escaping, some for trying to evade national service. [Because] I was young and injured, they just held me for six months and then released me. But most are held for six months and then sent to military service,” he said.

Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that thousands of young Eritreans are fleeing the country every month. Half a million Eritreans now live in exile, mostly in neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan, from a population of just five million — that is, 10% of the country’s citizens.

Many make the perilous journey to Europe, braving the civil war and human traffickers in Libya and the treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean: they have calculated that the risks are worth it for the chance of a better life somewhere else.

So much for the “harmony and social cohesion” that the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School and Vocational Training Centre was supposed to deliver.

“Ending abusive and open-ended national service, reining in military officials responsible for abuse, and allowing students to determine their futures will be key to Eritrea’s prospects,” said Bader. “People who see that they have a bright future in Eritrea are less likely to need to flee.”


Looked at one way, President Isaias’ rule is more fragile than ever. Looked at another, his grip on power is only getting firmer.

eritrea opposition meeting

For many years now, the rituals that surround Eritrea’s Independence and Martyrs’ Days have revealed a government trapped in its own history and unable to articulate a vision for the future. This year, however, the hypocrisy of President Isaias Afwerki’s statements was even greater than usual, magnified by the impacts (or lack thereof) of last year’s peace deal with Ethiopia.

For almost two decades, the regime in Eritrea used the threat of war with Ethiopia to justify its repressive policies. When peace was struck in 2018 therefore, there was much optimism that change may be coming. The economy also received a welcome boost from the opening of the border. Yet a year on, those hopes have been dashed and the border has re-closed. While the president may say Eritrea’s future relies on the “quality, expertise and experience” of its population, thousands of energetic young people continue to leave each month.

According to some commentators, however, not everything is the same. Some argue that the stark reality of life in Eritrea has become even harder to bear for many following this past year’s disappointment and that desire for change is growing among Eritreans both inside the country and in the diaspora.

These observers and activists suggest that the opposition to the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) government is gaining momentum. But is it?

Eritrea’s rising tide of opposition?

Those who claim that Eritrea is seeing a rising tide of opposition look to various trends.

Outside the country, for example, the anti-regime #yiakl (“enough”) campaign of has grown, amplified by the youth. Anti-government protests outside embassies and UN offices continue to swell. Furthermore, in anticipation of imminent regime change, diaspora groups are preparing transition plans, while journalists and academics have collectively implored the regime to make political reforms in the belief this is a rare moment of opportunity and openness.

Inside Eritrea meanwhile, reports similarly suggest that dissatisfaction is becoming more public. New graffiti has emerged calling for the end of indefinite national service and pamphlets that echo the sentiments of the #yiakl movement are being distributed. Some government officials have been disassociating themselves from the PFDJ in response to popular frustrations, and ordinary citizens are said to be becoming more vocal about their patience reaching breaking point. This has led The Economist, among others, to conclude that “Eritrea’s gulag state is crumbling”.

It is perhaps in the PFDJ’s own behaviour, however, that we see the strongest evidence that it is under threat. In recent months, the government has severely limited internet access and, by extension, news of neighbouring Sudan’s popular uprising. It has maintained its closure of Catholic health clinics, arguably to contain the influence and reach of one of Eritrea’s only semi-autonomous and outspoken institutions. Meanwhile, President Isaias is said to be further consolidating his inner circle of loyal cadres, with the attempted assassination of General Sebhat Ephrem read as a sign of an ever more fractured political elite.

All these developments, the argument goes, are clear signs of a spooked regime.

More of the same?

The above suggests that the writing is on the wall for Eritrea’s regime, but this expectation might be misguided for several reasons.

To begin with, it should be noted that commentators have heralded the impending end of Isaias’ regime several times over the years. When scores of soldiers in Asmara seized the headquarters of the state broadcaster in January 2013, for instance, many – though by no means all – claimed it was an attempted coup attempt, though it ultimately catalysed no broader insurrection.

Similarly, many have read into previous protests or criticism of the regime a tidal shift that never materialised. Anti-government sentiment spiked after its relative silence following the deaths of hundreds of Eritreans off the coast of Lampedusa in 2013. Eritrea’s Catholic Church has called for political reform intermittently since 2014 and escalated in recent weeks following the government’s closure of its medical clinics. In late-2017, unprecedented numbers took to Asmara’s streets to protest against government interference in an Islamic school. In many of these instances, observers have seen the beginning of the end of the regime that is still yet to come.

This also highlights the fact that condemnation of the government is not new in Eritrea. We have not seen a repeat of the open criticism the group of 15 high-ranking officials (who became known as the G-15) expressed in 2001, but Isaias and the PFDJ have been the butt of jokes and graffiti throughout the 2010s. In Asmara, the ineptitude of the regime is a regular theme of conversation, to the point of boredom for many, while genuine government supporters are hard to come by.

Eritreans’ long-standing levels of frustration are perhaps best captured by the numbers fleeing the country. People have sought asylum from the PFDJ for decades, but numbers peaked in 2014 when an estimated 5,000 people left each month. These flows are one reason that opposition numbers in the diaspora continue to grow.

Isaias consolidating control?

This context makes it harder to conclude that today’s dissent against the regime is uniquely large, even though it might be uniquely loud, amplified by new technologies. However, the argument could go even further. Some new developments suggest that Isaias may even be consolidating his position.

For example, the government has recently struck some business deals in the mining sector and accepted development finance, including from the African Development Bank. Though unlikely to change ordinary Eritreans’ lives, this could alleviate some pressures on the government’s budget.

At the same time, shifting international dynamics could also strengthen Isaias’ hand. The peace deal with Ethiopia changed little for most Eritreans, but it did validate the PFDJ’s insistence that Eritrea has been illegally occupied all along. Moreover, it led to the cancellation of the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Eritrea and opened new opportunities for investment and engagement.

Off the back of this, Isaias is looking outwards and continuing to court allies. Eritrea’s membership of the Human Rights Council and Chairmanship of the Khartoum Initiative this year signals its re-insertion into international diplomacy. Asmara continues to project itself as a regional mediator, most recently through its engagement with the Transitional Military Council in Sudan. And senior Eritrean diplomats still shuttle back and forth from Gulf States in search of allies and investment, though shifts in Red Sea regional interests over the past year may have made these partners somewhat less desirable.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back

So is the PFDJ under threat? The simple answer to this question appears to be: Yes, in different ways, but not necessarily more so than in the past.

The regime may have lost the excuse of Ethiopian hostility and UN sanctions to defend its actions, but it has seamlessly inserted new reasons to justify its repression and the population’s ongoing hardship. Chief among these is that it will take Eritrea time to recover from a period of great adversity and re-establish itself on a sustainable path of its own determination.

As we have seen, many citizens in the country are unconvinced, though exit rather than domestic opposition remains the preference for now, as before. By contrast, foreign governments seem somewhat more persuaded by Isaias and have, amid the Horn of Africa’s changing geopolitics, appeared sufficiently reassured to gently re-engage.

In this context, in which the government is haemorrhaging support domestically but gaining some strength internationally, it is hard to see what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is difficult to work out which actors could gain enough leverage to either transform the PFDJ or to oust it altogether. Change may well be afoot in Eritrea, but it is by no means clear that it is going in the direction the regime’s critics would hope