(EritreaAt24 Series: May 21st) ERITREA: No Weapon can Defeat a People Decided to be Free
…The birth of the State of Eritrea was not a miracle but rather the product of “wisdom and foresight” by patriots who abided by a transition process that led to a non-violent process of Eritrea’s independence…”-US diplomat Mark Baas
Eritrea’s independence came in 1991 when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Army (EPLA) rolled into Asmara, the Eritrean capital, ending the 30-year Armed Struggle for Independence. Eritrea’s independence was accepted by the US led international community with great reluctance, and for the last 24 years, there have been several attempts to thwart Eritrea’s independence, violate her sovereignty and disrupt Eritrea’s nation building process. In addition to a sustained and concerted effort to distort the unparalleled heroic history of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), now the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and the misrepresenting Eritrea’s national identity -Eritreanism has come under relentless attack.
Nation building requires among other things these three-a strong political organization to act as the vanguard of the people, a unified population, and a clear vision. Eritrea has all three and more. The EPLF’s base was uniformly strong across Eritrean society and it developed into a national institution with a mass character during the protracted struggle for Eritrea’s independence. The EPLF had effectively been a government-in-waiting, a “government in the jungle”-mengsti ab beraka-for quite some time before independence was finally achieved. The Front:
… accomplished extraordinary things with meager resources. Despite the continuing absence of sustained external support, the Front steadily improved its military capacity, while simultaneously building basic infrastructure (construction, transportation, communications), promoting economic development (agriculture, animal husbandry, commerce and trade), delivering social services (education, health, emergency relief), and campaigning to alter fundamental power relations within rural society (land reform, marriage reform, restructuring of village administration)…
The Front which enjoyed legitimacy and broadly based support in the Eritrean society, had within it a committed competent caliber of dedicated political and administrative cadres, who were easily mobilized to fill the gaps in the institutions of government when the EPLF took control of the country.
…the selflessness, discipline and honesty of the EPLF cadres smoothed the transition in circumstances of extreme economic devastation and social dislocation…”
This strong reserve of seasoned leaders at the national and village level were ready and able, to embark on the arduous task of nation building. Across Eritrea, these dedicated sons and daughters who served in the liberation war, now are working side by side the younger generation who are honing their skills and rebuilding their beloved nation from scratch. Understanding Eritrea's development strategy requires knowledge of Eritrea's rich history, and Eritrea's diverse cultures, norms and social traditions. Non-pecuniary motivations such as love of people and service to country, self -reliance, dignity and self-esteem, values cultivated during the long struggle for Eritrea's independence, remain the driving force and guiding principles today, as they did then…
By unifying the religiously and ethnically diverse population to rally behind the struggle for Eritrea’s independence-the Front established a key foundation for nation building-UNITY.
The National Charter says:
…it is primarily necessary to build a national government which ensures unity and equality of the people of Eritrea, rejects all divisive attitudes and activities, places national interest above everything else, and enables participation of all sectors of Eritrean society. All political establishments must be built on a national basis, and all sectarian political tendencies must be categorically rejected. All forms of discrimination and domination, including ethnic and regional, must also be rejected. The diverse cultures of Eritrea should be a source of power and unity. The national system should be secular, separate from religion, yet respectful of the equality of religions. In short, nationhood must be the basis of all political institutions and policies…”
With national unity achieved and strengthened over time, and with a committed generation of freedom fighters on hand, the Front, with its conscious polity, embarked on the arduous task of nation building.
During the struggle for Eritrea’s independence, and during the early formative years of statehood, the Government of Eritrea introduced judicious policies on religion, language, land reform, gender equality etc. in order to preserve and enhance the unity of the people. After independence the Government of Eritrea also instituted the National Service program and the Warsay Yikaalo Program for development, but the naysayers ridiculed the programs. Today all the programs have borne measurable results in the improvement of the people’s standard of living and have enabled Eritrea to lay the necessary economic foundations relying mostly on internal resources. Frantz Fanon understood the importance of national unity and wrote in “The Wretched of the Earth”:
…The mobilisation of the masses, when it arises out of a war of liberation, introduces into each man's consciousness the idea of a common cause, of a national destiny, of a collective history...the building of the nation is helped by the existence of this cement, which has been mixed with blood and anger….”
Eritrea has got it… The international community which has spent billions on peacekeeping missions around the world purportedly to secure peace, stability and security in nations emerging from conflict did not have to spend a penny on Eritrea in 1991 because, the EPLF was not only capable of securing its own territories, but it also secured Addis Ababa and some key towns, so that Ethiopia would not disintegrate into chaos and mayhem following the flight of Megistu to Zimbabwe and the crumbling of the Derg- military regime, as Somalia did after the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime.
The absence of a strong unifying Front or an indigenous political organization rooted in its own cultures and traditions, can have disastrous effects on a nation, even if there is strong international support as we have seen in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia. Today, the existence and vitality of the PFDJ in the nation building process have become even more apparent with the escalation of hostilities against Eritrea and its people. It is the existence of the PFDJ, a strong organization rooted in Eritrean society, a stabilizing force underpinning Eritrea’s economic, social and political development, which has prevented Eritrea from descending into chaos and disaster. It remains the stabilizing linchpin of Eritrea’s political system today…as such, it has borne the brunt of the various destabilizing agendas directed at Eritrea from the various quarters and bad mouthing the People's Front from the very beginning has the order of the day for many a group who do not wish Eritrea but ill-will.
Eritrea’s mass organizations such as the National Union of Eritrean Workers, the National Union of Eritrean Women (1979) and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (1979) which were established during the long struggle for independence, and had their roots in Eritrean society were also undermined and vilified as external entities attempted to establish their own footprints in the young nation. When the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) began the task of organizing the youth in the vast Eritrean Diaspora, Eritrea’s enemies were petrified. The cable sent by Ronald McMullen, the US Ambassador in Eritrea, exposes this fear:
…Eritrean youth in the diaspora are a divided community. For those that support the GSE, their unwavering dedication likely stems from their isolation as a minority in another country and from the ever-present hand of the Young People´s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) to enforce a "proudly Eritrean" identity. The YPFDJ bills itself as a movement to build "strong, conscious, and patriotic Eritrean youth." The sub-goal is to strengthen support abroad for the PFDJ and the GSE… Social networking sites abound with YPFDJ groups (37 groups on Facebook and a newly formed Twitter account as of October). Although many YPFDJ gatherings are merely cultural exhibitions or parties, the youth involved are indoctrinated early on in pro-GSE propaganda, thus further fueling many diaspora youth´s overt infatuation with Eritrea and vehement defense of the GSE…”
Obviously the good Ambassador was not losing sleep over YPFDJ cultural exhibitions and parties, but like the others who want to undermine the movement and the caliber of its members, underestimates the importance of the values and principles- national unity, active public participation, the human element, linkage between national and social struggles, self-reliance, and the strong relationship between the people and the leadership, which are producing miracles in Eritrea today.
Eritrean unity remains at the heart of Eritrea’s peace and political stability, economic development and exemplary harmonious culture of ethnic and religious tolerance and respect. The peoples unity being the first and foremost prerequisite for a peaceful and prosperous country, strengthening it has been one of the fundamental themes during the struggle for Eritrea’s independence and remains central today in Eritrea’s nation building strategy. The Government of Eritrea has instituted policies to strengthen the unity of the people through education and culture. Unfortunately, as with all other programs and policies in Eritrea, no stones have been left unturned in order to disrupt the unity of the Eritrean people. Much time and resources has been spent to create a divide between the people and government and also within the population along religious and ethnic lines. Eritrea’s religious institutions have been attacked by both Christian and Islamic fundamentalists alike.
Eritrea and its people have, in the last 24 years, have faced US-Ethiopia engineered UN sanctions in 2009 and 2011, undeclared economic sanctions that persist to this day, a sustained and ferocious orchestrated media attack on its economic, social and political strategies for development, insidious plots to disrupt the people’s unity and arrest Eritrea’s economic development through sanctions and sabotage, a destructive Ethiopian war of aggression, a 13-year long Ethiopian occupation, and a dangerous and insidious campaign to drain its human resource capacity by an organized trafficking network of colluding states such as Ethiopia and Djibouti, United Nation’s agencies, such as the United Nation’s Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and members of the Eritrean Quislings League (EQL).
Every country has its Quislings League-internal enemies who work with the enemy, and Eritrea is no different. Eritrea’s quislings are seasonal and predictable; they only make their appearances when their handlers are cornered, and when they feel their livelihood is being threatened. The Eritrean Quislings League (EQL) is:
…an alliance of jilted and scorned individuals, of like-minded defeatists, self-serving defectors, deserters and draft dodgers, human traffickers, disgruntled runaway diplomats, pedophiles, rapists, deceitful counterfeiters, information launderers and an assortment of shameless scandalous opportunists disguised as 'journalists', 'human rights' and 'democracy' activists. These pawns serve as runners for western fundamentalist Christian cartels, Western agencies and NGOs. These self-professed 'intellectuals and professionals', and pseudo-intellectuals who engage in academic dishonesty, a loathsome miscreant mercenary Eritrean elite have spent the last 15 years slavishly parroting prepared anti-Eritrea propaganda, in exchange for pitiful stipends…”
The EQL- the “Eritrean Faces”, are considered useful to serve to advance agendas against the State of Eritrea- because of their access and understanding of Eritrean culture and psyche.
The individuals who serve as the “Eritrean Faces” formed several Astroturf organizations in cyberspace, and were directly or indirectly funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Amnesty International and the media outfits such as the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters San Frontiers (RSF). They mushroomed in cyberspace in 2001, but other than milking US and EU taxpayers, have found no support among the Eritrean society or in its vast Global Diaspora Communities. In violation of the African Union and UN Charters and international law, Eritrea’s sovereign rights, its people’s right to self-defense and right to development, and most importantly, the right to live in peace within their own internationally recognized borders continue to be undermined and violated.
Eritreans are constantly baffled by the misrepresentation of the Front, its policies and the Eritrean people by agencies and individuals who rely on the EQL for their information on Eritrea. Let us take a look at some of the statements made by those who insist on distorting Eritrea’s realities:
… we think that the whole population wants independence. They may not understand what it means…We are worried about Eritrea because we are not sure that differences among different groups can be kept under control. Everything could be destroyed there if people begin fighting each other. When the EPLF takes over Asmara, they will have a difficult burrito, because they have to keep the people together. Some of the Muslims will favor separatism but there is no strength in unity among them on this issue…”--Meles Zenawi in his interview with Paul Henze, April 1990
The Eritrean nationalism, a by-product of recent history, is based essentially on the negation of Ethiopianism. Prior to the Eritreans bitter experiences with Ethiopian authorities, an all-Eritrean sentiment barely existed. Today, although their sentiment is unquestionably strong the Eritreans have yet to prove themselves able to build an all-Eritrean movement. Their young nationalism, however sincere, is apparently still too shallow and rootless to help Eritreans overcome a historically rooted sectarianism and the temptations of destructive radicalism. Ethiopian nationalism, in contrast, stems from 20 centuries of flexible and pragmatic continuity.”—Haggai Erlich, The Struggle over Eritrea 1962-1978, Haggai Erlich, 1983, P. 20.
…Although it seems that loyalty to the Eritrean national identity has not diminished, Eritrean citizenship has lost much of its appeal [...], especially among young people that are about to serve their compulsory military service. Therefore, national identity could start to fray…"-Alexandra Dias
…in the eyes of the Eritrean leadership [...] Eritrea, with its patiently disciplined population, resembles a hardened battalion of stubborn soldiers". The leadership's "insistence on pursuing their ideology of "self-reliance" may thus turn out to be at best counter-productive, and at worst disastrous. The government simply cannot afford to scare away donors, NGOs, and UN agencies (not to mention foreign investors) by adhering to a nationalist narrative based on "stubbornness”-(Christian Bundegaard)
…If the new proclamation [Eritrea;s Proclamation on NGOs] results in the closing down of the few independent local NGOs as well, starvation threats will rise to top…"-An international NGO 2005
…most of the population will have no personal memory of the struggle at all, and calls by members of the ruling party to remember their heroic contribution will simply fall on uncomprehending ears. In some cases, as with the national service scheme in Eritrea, deliberate efforts were made by the ruling party to inculcate into rising generations the values of struggle, discipline and dedication to the cause that had driven their predecessors, but – try as one may – the post-liberation situation is so different that this objective is almost impossible to achieve…”-Christopher Clapham
…the Warsay Yikealo Development Campaign is an attempt to contest the cultural spaces of the various social groups by superimposing the ideology of the armed struggle on the young generation. It is forbidden to practice one’s religion in the military service, and the rich variety of language and culture is merged into a superficial performance of cultural dances presented during state holidays, which cannot cover the predominance of Tigrinya language and culture which dominates life in the national service, reflecting the power structure within the ruling elites within the government and military…”-Nicole Hirt
Etc. etc. ...
Eritrea’s self-reliance principle has garnered the most space in the volumes produced about this young nation. Lest it is once again misconstrued, let us take a look at what the Front has to say. In its 1983 document, "The Experiences of the E.P.L.F. in Pursuing the Policy of Self-Reliance on the Economic Field, the Front clearly defined Eritrea’s self-reliance principle:
…The pursuance of a policy of self-reliance is essential for the total independence and liberation of a society. Politically, it is the only means to complete freedom. Economically, it is likewise the only means…that enables a people to develop their economic potential depending on their own material and human resources. Socially, it is an essential liberating process, emphasizing as it does working cooperatively and collectively to satisfy your own needs. Dependence breeds subservience and lack of self-confidence. Freedom from dependence enhances a people's independence of thinking, innovativeness, perseverance and pride in work and struggle. In pursuing a policy of self-reliance, these attitudes permeate and accelerate the development of every aspect…”
The last 24 years, as Eritrea developed its nascent institutions, built human capacity and embarked on an ambitious development program in a very hostile international environment, it was this principle that has enabled the young nation to not only survive, but thrive.
Despite the unprecedented, and unprovoked, hostilities by the US led international community, Ethiopia and its surrogates in the EQL, and a sustained two decade long vilification and defamation campaign by the above mentioned groups and individuals, the people and government of Eritrea have not only survived, but have managed to create miracles. Today, Eritrea remains a stable and peaceful haven in the turbulent Horn region, and its hard working and determined people are on track to meet 7 out of the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have achieved food security, greatly improved literacy in its adult population, extended life expectancy for both men and women, reduced child mortality, improved maternal health, eradicated polio and malaria, reduced incidence of HIV-Aids etc. etc admirable achievements considering the hostilities and the many attempts at sabotage.
The formative years since independence, although a very short transitional period of statehood, have provided Eritreans an invaluable lesson for generations to come. As Eritreans around the world celebrate Eritrea’s 24th Independence Anniversary, and the people and government take stock of Eritrea’s challenges and opportunities of the last couple of decades, Eritrea’s message to the world remains the same:
…[to those] who give aid and support in the name of Christianity or Islam that such aid or support is of no use to us; we do not want it. We want to assure them that they will be only wasting their resources in vain. To those Eritreans who want to serve their personal interests using religion as an instrument, we wish to not only remind them that their opportunism is shameful but that they will also be remembered as criminals in the history of our people and in the eyes of the world…”
The above is from the 1971 EPLF document Nihnan Elamanan ….
Eritrea’s vision for the future remains the same as it was in 1991:
…Our vision is for Eritrea to become a country where peace, justice, democracy and prosperity prevail. Our vision is to eliminate hunger, poverty and illiteracy from Eritrea. Our vision is for Eritrea to preserve its identity and uniqueness, develop commitment to family and community care, and by advancing economically, educationally and technologically, find itself among the developed countries. Our vision is for Eritrean society to be known for harmony among its different sectors, gender equality, love of country, humanity, discipline, hard work and love for knowledge, respect for law and order, independence and inventiveness. Our vision is to perform miracles in peaceful nation-building as we did in the war of liberation…”
It may have come as a surprise to some, especially the younger generation, to see the extreme hostilities of some states against Eritrea and may even be surprised by the silence and acquiescence of the United Nations and its tentacled organizations to the anti-Eritrea campaigns, and some may even succumb to the pressures and believe Eritrea can’t do it alone…but history and the experience of the last 24 years have shown that Eritrea can-the obstacles placed may prolong the journey, but it will not arrest Eritrea’s progress….
The distinguished Eritrean scholar, the late Tekie Fessehazion, in his 2000 article, “In defiance, Eritrea was born; in defiance, it will live forever” said it best:
…Since the late forties one or both of the nuclear powers have tried to abort Eritrea's birth as an independent state. In fact had the U.S had its way, Eritrea was not supposed to exist as an independent entity, and if it existed at all, it could be allowed to live only as an appendage of Ethiopia. Eritrea was born in defiance, against the wishes of the U.S and the international community. Those who did not want to see Eritrea born then should not now be expected to do a thing to see it live. Yet Eritrea will live, simply because its people will make sure it does. In the end it matters not whether the world likes it or not, Eritrea is here to stay. Eritrea lives…”
Who could have imagined, in 1991 for instance, that the course of events would make this country the master of its own destiny? The will and resoluteness of the Eritrean people have been tested. Eritrea is standing tall today because of the determination, steadfastness and tenacity of its people who have rejected all machinations and attacks against their beloved nation…and just as it was back then… no weapon can defeat a people decided to be free!
Zelealemawi zkri N’Semaetat Eritrea-Eternal glory to Eritrea’s Martyrs
Awet N’Hafash-Victory to the people!