Articles - English

Currency, Naizghi, ENCDC & Libraries

Monday, 12 March 2012 04:55 Berhan Hagos

     

 
De-evolutionizing Eritreans

The recent announcement by the Central Bank of Eritrea (Shabait January 16, 2012) that it is issuing “colored” currency notes is tantamount to, in the words of PIA, de-evolutionizing the Eritrean population.  It is to be remembered that when Eritrea issued its own currency some fourteen years ago, a concerned citizen asked PIA during one of those rare town hall meetings as to whether ‘one-color’ currency notes wouldn’t confuse the illiterate population.  PIA’s response was dismissive as always, “the US has the same one color currency, and besides, even a monkey can differentiate among the one-colored currency notes.”  One supposes that 20 years of PFDJ rule has turned the population less intelligent than monkeys. 

State Palace & Ministerial Meetings

Shabait, March 09, 2012:  “A meeting of the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers that convened today in the State Palace conducted deliberations on …” This is up-scaling from Denden Hall, where imperial words are creeping into PFDJ vocabularies in anticipation of officially crowning our own Augustus Caesar, Emperor for life.

It is always amusing to read Shabait reports telling us that the dozens of Ministries presented their reports and that the cabinet engaged in extensive discussions over the reports - all in two days with plenty of coffee breaks.  But again, if these ministries achieved little in the past year, then they can have extensive discussions over nothing!

Naizghi:  Persona-Non-Grata (Posthumously)

Refusing Mr. Naizghi’s remains to return to Eritrea is yet another manifestation of PIA’s vindictive nature.  Despite being PIA’s loyal hit-man for over three decades, an altercation between PIA and Naizghi some eight years in a bar that resulted in Mr. Naizghi’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Russia for medical treatment is one explanation for this latest episode.  This is, after all, PIA’s Eritrea – not a country of rule-of-law but where decisions are made on the whims of one man – Sophia’s Rule-of-the-Jungle.

Mr. Naizghi is a man who has been out-of-favor for a number of years, possibly among other things, due to Mr. Naizghi’s personal insult of PIA that resulted in the above mentioned altercations.  PIA is a type of person that holds grudge, just as PIA did to Min. Petros Solomon by also imprisoning his wife, Mrs. Aster Yohannes.  At least, Mr. Naizghi was allowed to live out his last days in London in a half-a-million dollar house he purchased earned on five thousand Nakfa a month.  One indication that Mr. Naizghi had already fallen out favour is that PIA didn’t give him the same hundreds of thousands in medical allowances as Mr. Alamin (Secretary of PFDJ) who received medical treatment in Dubai or Mr. Zemhret in Italy.  Mr. Naizghi used British taxpayers’ money to seek medical treatment.  Moreover, it is rumoured that Mr. Naizghi made both supportive and critical comments about the political state of Eritrea while in London, which must have created consternation among the regime supporters and surely reached PIA’s ears.

Equally amusing is MESKEREM.NET’s campaign to address the late Naizghi’s predicaments.  This is what happens when one has an exaggerated view of oneself in thinking that meskerem.net is an indispensable tool to PFDJ’s propaganda machine and thus that its campaign would be brought to the personal attention of PIA himself, a man who has been belligerent and ignored even his most trusted loyalists and other external powers with significantly more influence.  Will PIA respond to Meskerem.net’s cyber campaign?  So interesting and yet so sad that we are still in learning phase, so far away from the politically mature phase.

As this article was being written, at one point for couple of days, it was even more amusing how Meskerem.net was slowly pulling out its Naizghi story from its front page.  Meskerem.net’s latest vogue is to keep its major headlines splashed on its front pages for weeks and yet the Naizghi story, which it had been crusading on, had been relegated to one liner on top of its front page without conclusion after five days.  Then another couple of days later, the one-line campaign was converted to another round of full page campaign.  We are getting dizzy, what is goin’ on Meskerem.net?   Does meskerem.net ever think that it has any more political influence than the tens of thousands Eritreans and foreign powers that have aggressively campaigned against the regime? 

The most prolific and astute writers in Eritrean cyber world, Saleh Younis, said it best in his latest article on Awate.com, “[s]o the question will not be how long it will take for Isaias Afwerki to answer the “respectful question of the people” as meskerem.net put it; but how long will it take for meskerem.net to realize the futility of the campaign and remove the ticking clock? I think I am going to start my own ticking clock to see how long it takes for meskerem.net to remove its ticking clock. Clock starts: now!”

In some twisted way, Mr. Naizghi’s fate must send yet another chilling reminder to all PFDJ cadres that they are all expendable under PIA.  It is also a cruel reminder that Asmara Rose’s “Law of the Jungle” manifests in the most pity way in Eritrea.  Our deep beliefs in rule-of-law are tested by how we treat those accused of crimes. 

In the end, PIA’s final word on Mr. Naizghi is, “Who is Mr. Naizghi?  I have never met this person.”

Beneficiaries of Cyber articles & remote control politics

Over the past six years, this writer has been throwing in his share of articles on Eritrean opposition websites to add his two-cent worth of views and opinions.  The biggest beneficiary of this writer’s articles has been the writer himself.  At the risk of deflating the egos of many cyber writers, those opinionated and self-righteous articles convince no one, except those already convinced of same, other than to create further ill-will. 

If a cyber opposition writer uses the cyber forum as an open debate against oneself, sort of thinking aloud, as a means to refine one’s own assumptions, biases and inconsistence through self-debate and inviting others to criticize one’s own inconsistencies then that writer can learn a great deal.  Moreover, open self-debate allows others, at least those inclined towards self-reflection, to question their own inconsistencies and gaps in thinking.

This writer has been accused of supporting certain political organizations or individuals.  These are a type of people that must label one first as ELF, EPLF, right, left, liberal, neo-con, social conservative, or belonging to or supporting certain organizations before engaging in a debate.  Labelling allows for clumsy mud-slinging based on existing political rhetoric rather than on an effort to fully understand the full range of debates and arguments that may exist.  If it is solely about seeking power then reduce political messages to mud slinging, but for the vast majority of us the debate should be far more complex and engaging. 

No one is worse and an epitome of what is wrong with old Eritrean opposition politics than ALENA.  This writer is engaged in toxic and cesspool politics that turns every well-meaning political activist and advocate into cynical or apathetic ones.  It is about politics of destruction rather than positive engagement, constructive criticism and healthy debate.  What ALENA is oblivious is that many Eritreans, including this writer, still believe that PIA is a hero of our liberation struggle and that, arguably, PIA played an instrumental role in winning the cause of independence we all supported.  Of course, the dedications and perseverance of the over 200,000 Eritreans under the banners of ELM, ELF and EPLF also played decisive roles in our win.  The fact that PIA’s true colors have emerged publicly especially after 2001 doesn’t take anything away from pre-1991 PIA.  Blood, vindictive politics, twisted ideology and stale propaganda were the hallmarks of both ELF and EPLF during the struggle; as is with all revolutions, post-liberation governments and political struggles throughout the history of man.  In the end, there is plenty of PIA in each one of us!

Bitterness and passionate hatred has no place in our struggle because what has befallen to Eritrea isn’t an exception but almost the rule of human history and behaviour.  We shouldn’t be consumed by our own propaganda designed to mobilize the population.  Once we accept our fate as a historical journey that we must travel as all other societies have done, then we have taken the first philosophical and realistic journey towards creating grassroots democratic society.

Regardless of how much we may dislike or distrust any political figures or organizations, their concerns should never be dismissed outright.  We should listen to ethnical and religious with specific concerns about the future of Eritrea should not be dismissed.  In formulating solutions, all concerns should be heard and addressed regardless of who is expounding them or formulating them.  The only caveat is that it remains critical that those who formulate these solutions and execute them should also be the same ones who must live the consequences of these solutions.  No remote control politics!

This writer has become wary of those who believe in big governments, like the opposition political parties that think that their well-intentioned and benevolent political platforms that implicitly advocate for big government, is the only way to assure the success of a nation.  In reality, the third world has learned big government is just euphuism for unworkable grandiose plans tied to big sticks against its population without the corresponding socio-economic prosperity nor safety of the rule-of-law.  It is about the elite’s ambition at other people’s expense!

Why ENCDC is doomed!

At the outset, and yet again, it is important to add a caveat to this political discussion.  Solutions are found in free thinking rather than limiting the debate out of concern that some may get offended.  Today’s Eritrea is in dire situation that begs for solutions that are beyond politeness but without being disrespectful.  

Out of politeness, one could title this topic “the Challenges of ENCDC” but this wouldn’t evoke the same emotions as describing an activity as “doomed”.   Challenge implies that through certain efforts that they can be overcome, whereas “doomed” has finality despite any efforts. 

Unfortunately, no one has the crystal ball.  If ENCDC is to succeed and create a stable and democratic Eritrea then it is for the benefit of all us.  ENCDC stakeholders have as much right as anyone else to propagate and work towards “their” vision of Eritrea.   The debate remains on the prudence and practicality of their efforts and political platforms rather than on their rights to engage in activities that moves their agenda forward.

First of all, ENCDC is built on the same principles and formula as PFDJ’s Eritrean National Assembly, which was composed of 75 PFDJ Central Committee members and 75 ‘publicly’ elected people’s representatives.  In reality, many of these people’s representatives that got elected were ‘retired’ EPLF fighters or their associates, just as many of those ENCDC’s ‘civic societies’ that were given seats in ENCDC are allied to certain EDA members.  Not too many complained of PFDJ’s National Assembly because democracy is after all work in progress, as same arguments are being used for ENCDC.  ENCDC follows the same formula in that 60% is allocated to political organizations (as opposed to PFDJ’s 50% formula), and the remaining 40% from the civic societies are representatives whose interests were closely allied to the 60% political organizations.  Of course, ENCDC is claiming that its 60% political parties are different than PFDJ’s because it is accommodating multiple political parties.  This is an illusionary argument.  Examining substance vs. form, PFDJ’s single party held together a much wider spectrum of political views within it that could have been easily broken up into multiple parties.   The bottom line is that we are dealing with the same mind sets.  It would be a great leap of faith to believe that ENCDC would change its PFDJ-type formula and modus operandi in post-PIA Eritrea.

Some may argue that PFDJ Central Committee and its Eritrean National Assembly were door mats for PIA, but in reality there were significant internal frictions among pro-dictatorship and pro-democracy forces that eventually led Eritrea to enter into the Dark Ages.

ENCDC’s efforts are noble in that it is an effort to find new ways to mount an effective campaign against the regime.  However, in analyzing whether ENCDC’s efforts are doomed to fail, we need to ask few simple basic questions – what is ENCDC’s strategy to remove the regime and then become a legitimate successor to the regime?  Can ENCDC succeed where EDA has failed?  Aside from structural differences, is there anything that distinguishes ENCDC from EDA?  To date, in reality, ENCDC has been trying to promote its legitimacy by being as inclusive as possible without relinquishing EDA’s agenda. 

But legitimacy is a tricky proposition.  It would be understandable if ENCDC is to use its Awassa Conference to claim legitimacy for its propaganda purposes, but it would be foolhardy to convince itself as truly legitimate representative of the people of Eritrea or even of the opposition camp.                

Despite all the rhetoric, ENCDC’s political lifeline and sole strategy are based on using Ethiopia to do its proxy fighting.  But this strategy is foolhardy and doomed to fail.  We have to understand that, as gratifying as it may seem, no amount of diplomatic and economic isolation will bring about the fall of the regime.  Political and economic isolation didn’t cause the fall of Castro, Kim, Saddam or many other despotic regimes.  It took external military action to bring down Saddam, Pol Pot, Taliban and Idi Amin, just to mention few.  If ENCDC is hoping for Ethiopia to invade PIA, despite recent Ethiopian tooth rattling, it is daydreaming.  PMMZ has more to lose from invading Eritrea than a desperate regime in Asmara that is itching to gamble everything it has on ‘all-in’ bet.  For Eritreans, any external invasion means another tens of thousands of sacrifices, and betting on political vacuum with unknown outcome. 

In recent history, aside from external military action, only public uprisings have led to regime change.  Liberation movements, such as Eritrea against Colonial Ethiopia, African National Congress, and other anti-colonial movements are flavours of the 1960s. 

Again for clarity, as Mr. Mesfin Hagos said during one of his recent interviews, there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance from the Ethiopian regime.  The challenge is how to receive assistance from the Ethiopian regime without abandoning one’s own agenda while avoiding the perception that the Eritrean opposition is just a door mat for the Ethiopian regime and its unknown hidden agenda.

A year ago, this writer had predicted that ENCDC would face major challenges within two years unless it reformed to reflect today’s realities.  In keeping with that prediction, ENCDC will either disintegrate within one year or continue its lethargic pace without any results.  But again, ENCDC doesn’t have any performance targets other than to be a bride hidden away from the public and being fattened until it hopes is the wedding day!

Commentary:  Some may wonder why this writer hasn’t commented on EPDP’s and Coordinating Committee of Eritrean National Democratic Forces (ENDF) activities and that the criticism is solely focused on ENCDC.  ENDF’s efforts are hampered by ENCDC’s activities because opposition messages are clashing and thus creating confusions among the general population.  Either ENDF’s and ENCDC messages must be synchronized to most prudent ones, or the message of peaceful struggle with clear strategies need to take root once all other hodgepodge campaigns have proven futile.   

WHAT NEXT?

Meetings and more meetings of the same people discussing the same things for gazillion times do not constitute action plans.  ENCDC can conduct endless meetings telling its participants how bad the regime is or how many other successful meetings it held, but it won’t advance opposition’s struggle against the regime one bit forward.  ENCDC has no credible strategy!

In fact, ENCDC has created one lethargic organization by allowing its member organizations to abdicate their individual efforts to the coalition.  For instance, the excuse that ENSF gave for abandoning its annual Kassel Festival is that holding such an event outside ENCDC would weaken the coalition.  But instead of abandoning the festival, a proactive opposition would have converted the ENSF Kassel Festival to ENCDC Kassel Festival. 

So can any one tell us what all the discussion clubs masquerading as political organizations do? 

Five Strategies for Success

First Strategy:  Weaken the power base

If we are unable to penetrate and weaken the regime’s power base, we will surely fail.  A viable strategy to remove the regime must be based on 1) identifying the current power base in Eritrea and 2) inciting a revolt against the regime through well tuned messages to that powerbase.  Instead of seeking in vain the path of least resistance to wage our struggle, we should redouble our efforts and concentrate on refining our strategy to achieve our aim of removing the regime and transitioning into a democratic system of government.

Some may say that we can weaken the regime by reaching out SOLELY to the public.  This is about day dreaming by those who primarily seek vindication against their former comrades than struggling to transform Eritrea.  It is about replaying 1982 all over again! 

Identifying the key power base in Eritrea:

  • EPLF veterans – some 25,000 civil servants and zonal administration personnel make up the backbone of the regime.  Most support the regime more out of necessity than support for its brutal policies.  The regime ensures that the veterans’ survival is tied to its own existence by instilling insecurity about their uncertain future.   Unlike the EPLF soldiers in EDA, these veterans have larger proportion of disgruntled members who feel that PIA has usurped their struggle for creating an economically prosperous and viable democratic nation.
  • EPLF soldiers – some 30,000 soldiers are veterans of the struggle for independence and also face the same dilemma as the EPLF veterans.   Most live below the poverty line with uncertain future.
  • Warsai – some 300,000 who have been in trenches and hardships for the last 12 years and whose service to the nation exceeds the number of years many of the EPLF and ELF veterans have been in trenches.

The wild card in this game is,

  • Diaspora Eritreans – PIA has waged effective propaganda by televising Diaspora meeting that falsely project that he still commands strong support among the Diaspora population, leading to demoralizing effect on the domestic audience.

There is no other power base in Eritrea

  1. There is no organized ethnic or religious based forces in Eritrea.  The iron gripped regime will ensure of that.  Any efforts to replicate Eritrean insurrection of the 1950s and 60s spreading from the lowlands to the highlands won’t work.
  2. ELF has no power base in Eritrea.  The under 25 year olds that make up three-quarter of the Eritrean population vaguely knows EPLF, let alone ELF.

I ASK MY READERS TO CHALLENGE MY UNDERSTANDING OF POWER BASE IN ERITREA, AND THE SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPORTANCE OF THIS POWER BASE TO EFFECT OR STIFLE CHANGE IN ERTIREA.   

LET US CALL A SPADE ‘A SPADE’!   Solutions aren’t found by nipping or nibbling around the corners.

The question is, if Arab Spring Uprising is to be replicated in Eritrea, can ENCDC become the instrument of change?  The simple answer is “no” because ENCDC continues to be viewed as primarily an ELF organization that can not connect to the EPLF veterans and soldiers, and an old generation ENCDC leaders that can’t connect to the young Warsai generation.  In addition, the perception that ENCDC is a puppet of the Ethiopian regime will perpetually pit it against Diaspora Eritreans who are duped into believing that their number one enemy remains Ethiopia and beyond.  It is three strikes and out!

Diaspora opposition can structure, restructure and re-re-structure but until it restructures enough to connect to the power base in Eritrea, ENCDC is doomed to fail.  Flawed messages, poor leadership and poor perception can’t be overcome through superficial reorganizations that are resistant to fundamental change in thinking.  Organizations should be built and structured around strategies, not the other way around.  The original proposal to turn ENCDC into 60% civic societies and 40% political organizations was more prudent, and which most probably the more prudent Ethiopian regime must have proposed, until EDA cried foul two weeks before the National Congress was to be held in third week of October 2011.  We need prudent strategy and then build our organizations for that sole aim only.  In fact, the Ethiopian regime has a better understanding of power dynamics and how to effect change in Eritrea than ENCDC in that it tries to widen the Eritrean opposition movement by inviting “intellectuals” and “Eritrean youths in refugee camps”.

ENCDC, especially EDA, is too heavily weighed by those who can NOT reach out to the above power base.  For EPLF veterans in Eritrea, the perception remains that EDA is about re-waging an old war, and this perception will go to the graves with them, and are loath to jeopardize their livelihood by supporting EDA/ENCDC.  Thus, as far as EPLF veterans are concerned, ENCDC with EDA-heavy is NO ALTERNATIVE AT ALL, and hence doomed!  For Warsai, EDA is about old timers who do not have any connections with them – hence doomed!

To address the First Strategy:

  • Vigorous campaigns telling Warsai & Yikealo hat change doesn’t mean that all their years serving the regime doesn’t mean wasted years and that their well-being is critical to success of democratic Eritrea!
  • This includes, keeping PFDJ & government enterprises for the next 15 years until its employees are able to find alternative employment
  • Full pension rights for all tegadelties & later for the Warsais
  • Etc…


Without such firm commitments from the opposition camp, no change agents are willing to risk their livelihoods for unknown future.

Those political organizations that can reach out to these power bases are the only ones that can wage an effective campaign against the regime. 

Second Strategy:  Promote and Allow Younger Generation to Take Leadership

Petros’ Compromise Solution for Change

One step further, a new broader coalition would be most effective if it took ELF-EPLF political tug war out of the equation and put the younger generation, those under 45-year olds, in leadership roles and the veteran leaders providing mentorship only.  

This was Min. Petros Solomon’s solution – let us all remove ourselves from leadership and immediately hand it over to the young generations.  Min. Petros was telling those who were competing for power that the best compromise to avoid destructive competition was to hand over power to the younger generation.  The same dynamics are at play within the opposition camp and that Min. Petros’ Compromise Solution for Change applies equally to the opposition camp.

The younger leadership will make many avoidable mistakes but they can only learn through mistakes.  As they do not carry excess baggage, they can learn quickly from their mistakes.  In addition, we will all be more forgiving towards mistakes from the younger generation than the older generations.

However, retiring the older leaders doesn’t mean relegating them into oblivion but rather they can play supportive roles, not unlike the ‘Mandela’ factor.

Scepticisms about bringing the younger generation into leadership positions within political organizations and ENCDC arise from suspicions by competing veteran politicians who suspect that their political comrades are trying to replace them with younger generation and then eventually monopolize power by outwitting the inexperienced younger generation within their own ranks.

Action Plan:

  • Give greater roles, including leadership, to younger generations (younger than 45 years old) within political organizations with specific targets in the next six months
  • Give greater roles within broader coalitions with specific targets in the next six months


The future of Eritrea, a prosperous and democratic one, can’t be built by those who believe that anything more than what is required for survival is a luxury.  New generation is needed to bring change in Eritrea!

Third Strategy:  Create Transparency, Exercise Prudence and Show Political Maturity within Opposition Camp

The past two years of EDA/ENCDC have been textbook examples of political mess from those with five decades of political experience.  What new lessons can one learn when one is too busy making the most basic political mistakes? 

As manifested during the recent debacles within ENCDC regarding Mr. Daniel Tewelde, postponement of the National Congress meeting and then the fiasco over Mr. Teklai of Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS), the so called veteran ENCDC leaders have difficulties learning the basic ingredients of politics – transparency and effective public relations.  ASSENNA.com attempted to contact the leaders of ENCDC regarding why the October 2011 meeting was postponed but only to be ignored.  The cries for answers pertaining to Mr. Daniel Tewelde fell on deaf ears.  AWATE.com complained about its repeated requests to ENDCDC leadership about Mr. Teklai’s appointment to the ENCDC failed on deaf ears.

Where is the transparency?  Where is the accountability?  The slippery road begins when excuses are made to ignore transparency and accountability.  If ENCDC tries to bury burning issues out of fear that it may weaken the opposition camp, then we have paved the way for another totalitarian state.  “Hade Hizbi, Hade Libi”, used both by the regime and opposition, has become euphuism for twisted belief in unity based on secrecy for sake of “success”, “overlooking smaller breaches for larger good”, etc…, a slippery path into the abyss.

Worse is EGS’ entanglement in its efforts to put its man, Mr. Teklai, in ENCDC.  One would expect an advocacy group would be the first to advocate for rule-of-law but, instead, has become, apparently, its violator.  At the very least, if it is following proper procedures, it has an obligation to explain why EGS’ actions didn’t contravene its own mission.  It is also disappointing that AWATE.com, which would normally overlook errors committed by groups and organizations it supports, would pick this fight more out of vindication against EGS than as vanguard of the rule-of-law.  Although advocacy groups and private media have the responsibility to push for transparency and accountability, one’s mission should emanate from deep convictions and serious beliefs than as tools for vindications.  AWATE.com’s obvious obsessive hatred of EGS, which it helped establish but then quit, is yet another glaring example of what is wrong with the opposition camp.  If we don’t remain focused on our mission but instead keep adding to our excess baggage then surely we shall fail.  We become part of the problem rather than the solution!

The tragedy of these episodes, i.e. Daniel & Teklai, is that ENCDC may have had valid reasons for its actions, but its poor public relations (PR) created unnecessary ill-will which creates doubts on the capabilities of its leaders.  For instance, judging by Amb. M. Nur’s explanations during interview with one of the cyber radios on Mr. Daniel Tewelde’s case, I agree with the commissioner’s decision to remove Mr. Daniel from position as commissioner but not necessarily from the Congress.  Likewise, I am not sure if Mr. Teklai’s response to AWATE.com is correct in that instead of chastising Awate.com for not contacting him first before Awate.com wrote its article, Mr. Teklai should chastise ENCDC leadership for failing to engage in proactive and effective PR if such issue is a potential landmine.  Why can’t we handle PR in a proactive manner rather than reacting in the most negative manner that leaves ill-will? 

Commentary:  the EGS, Awate.com, etc… that are considered outside political organizations have become entangled in both covert and overt political wrangling that this writer and many other feared would happen to civic societies and other non-political advocacy groups.  By directly engaging in political activities, perception dictates that they be seen as part of the political institutions masquerading as advocacy groups.  The question is, what is the difference between civic societies and political organizations if civic societies are part and parcel of the political process?

Democracy isn’t just about ballots.  It is a culture! Aspiring Eritrean politicians must understand that if our basic democratic political system is to work, we have to accept the fact that every citizen, i.e. other politicians, reporters, ordinary citizens, have every right to be cynical and to question the decisions and acts of politicians and their government.  In fact, it is not only a right but a duty of every citizen to question the decisions of its politicians and government.  If politicians feel slighted because people aren’t trusting them blindly or taking them at their own words, surely we are headed towards dictatorship. 

One other example of Eritrean aspiring politicians that scares one is an article written by one the North American commissioners who stated that the Kunama movement isn’t a secessionist movement because the leader of the Kunama leader told him so, when in fact their secessionist agenda nearly succeeded in the last Congress.  Apparently, this commissioner can write very well and is most likely either well-read and/or well-educated and yet to think that an aspiring politician believes that a casual comment by a leader is a word-of-bond while remaining oblivious of the political wrangling of the last 15 years is absolutely shocking!

Political judgement and trust go hand-in-hand.  When one begins to question the political judgement of its leaders, then trust is the first casualty.  It is like riding on a bus driven by someone known for poor driving.  If by some luck one doesn’t end up in a ditch, still and for sure one will have eaten through one’s fingernails by the time one gets to the final destination. 

If the current leaders are incapable of learning even the most basic tenets of politics, why not hand over power to the younger generation and let them learn from their own mistakes to become tomorrow’s leaders?

It is high time to hand over power to the young generation (Strategy Two) in order to wage effective campaign over the regime today and to create a whole new generation ready and capable to take over tomorrow’s Eritrea.  EPDP, ENSF, ELF, ENCDC and all other old political organizations have no role in their present form other than to perpetuate yesteryears politics.  These old organizations’ valuable experiences can be better used to assist the young generations on supportive roles by creating and assisting a broader coalition of Eritrean youth movements in North America, Europe, South Africa, Middle East and Australia to take the lead roles.  Youth-to-Youth for tomorrow’s Eritrea (Strategy Two) should be today’s order of business!!   These Diaspora youths can reach out to their peers in Eritrea, while garnering NO ill-will from other power bases within and without Eritrea.

A democratic Eritrea won’t be built when those who fought for and preserved its independence have nothing because they stayed in trenches while others left the country only to return with plenty of cash to throw around in Eritrea.  Until we address these, we are doomed!  Let the next generation of young people deal with it the most prudent way, not tomorrow, not today but here & now!

Action Plan:

  • Establish a task force to investigate the inherent problems within broader coalitions and make the report public.  This will have the added effect of discouraging opposition leaders from burying issues in the future.
  • Establish criteria for recognizing news media organizations and equal treatments be given
  • Require leaders of broader coalitions to respond to queries from established opposition news media within two weeks.

Fourth Strategy:  Simplify Political Messages

ENCDC’s temporary rejection of their proposed National Constitution is a step in the right direction.  Generally, EPDP’s and Coordinating Committee of Eritrean National Democratic Forces (ENDF) have simpler messages that leave little for debates and more focus on action.

Political messages that complicate the opposition struggle include,

  • Advocating for armed struggle, which is differentiated from internal and public insurrection.  There are no white knights in a struggle to establish democracy other than the general population to take ownership of its political future.  Anything else is about replacing one evil with another!
  • Political platforms with complicated agenda for ethnical, religious, land, government structure and other issues should be left for another day
  • Discouraging political rhetoric based on yesteryears, personal grudge and divisive politics.  As satisfying as it is to see your neighbor’s house that you loath is burning, surely the same fire will engulf you!  Don’t play with fire as it will eventually consume you.

Our propaganda campaigns remain weak because it is based on harping on one theme: how bad the regime is!   By now, no Eritrean needs to be told how brutal the regime is because each one of us are directly or indirectly victims of the regime.  However, the regime has managed to wage effective propaganda through the followings,

  • Promoting its negligible development projects as if they are about to transform the nation.  Yet the opposition camp has allowed the regime to make these false claims unchallenged.  Comparisons can be made to Ethiopia’s developmental efforts to deflate people’s perception of Eritrea’s growth [as this author has been trying to do].
  • Continuously showing Diaspora Eritreans gathering and dancing to PFDJ organized events.  Opposition events remain poorly publicized.

Action Plans:

  • Engage in aggressive propaganda lockstep with the regime
  • Simplify message by abandoning political agenda based on “being all things to all people” which satisfies no one!  Return to the minimum political programs!


Beauty is in simplicity!

Fifth Strategy:  Broaden the Campaign

ENCDC has no strategy to broaden its campaign.  Conducting meetings aren’t action plans. Most of the campaigns to date have been demonstrations at PFDJ festivals and events.  As important and critical as these activities are, some of the most effective campaigns have come from individual efforts.  For instance,

  • Elsa Chyrum and her organization (HRCE) have campaigned for Eritrean refugees with tangible results.  In addition, she was responsible for bringing complaints to UK police against the late Mr. Naizghi.
  • Mussie Ephrem and his colleague brought complaints against PFDJ in AU’s Human Rights Council and won.
  • Swedish journalists harassed the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm leading to the Ambassador’s bitter complaints.
  • A private citizen in Toronto, Canada won a judgment in court to have the local PFDJ office pay back 2% and bond payments

Similarly, EPDP members have recently brought complaints against the regime over the 2% payments.

European courts are amenable to bringing Heads of States to court, as for example Pinochet of Chile in Spanish Courts. 

Action Plan:

  • Require every Eritrean political organization and civic societies to bring at least one complaint or petition against the regime and its supporters to local courts every year.  This could be over 2%, abuses received in Eritrea or in Diaspora, etc…  The purpose is more about frustrating the regime and its agents by dragging through the courts rather than winning.

Ethiopia growing much faster than Eritrea

I have stopped watching PIA’s interviews.  I watched about 15 minutes of PIA’s recent interview more to hear his tone and demeanour than to listen to his message.  It is indeed a great sacrifice on the part of Saleh Younis (SY), who is the most and probably the only witty cyber writer whose articles are always captivating, to listen to the entire six-hour “so called” interview – more like staged speech on scale of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.   Leaders prone to 6 hour speeches have achieved nothing in history.

In SY’s article, he mentions PIA’s claim that current total capacity of 120 MW of electricity isn’t sufficient to meet Eritrea’s supply.  That is understatement of the year.  Tigray, with about the same population as Eritrea, built a new 300 MW hydro power plant during the same time.  Forget Ethiopia, we aren’t even competing against Tigray, which has at least 4 times the capacity.

Ethiopia has spent over $ 1 billion USD to develop Ethiopian Airlines during the last 20 years, including a $ 200 Million USD cargo terminal, other upgrades to the terminal and airplanes.  Eritrea hasn’t spent $1 billion on its infrastructure development in the last twenty years.

Ethiopia has increased its cement production to 8 million tonnes per year, with projected increase to 15 million tonnes per year by 2015, while Eritrea’s cement factory just started producing 350 tonnes per year.

Eritrea’s railway line is right out of museum, remnant of 1890 Italian technology, unable to be used commercially nor becoming a source of income through tourism.  In the meantime, Ethiopia is spending over $ 1.2 billion USD to expand its railway line to Djibouti with additional lines to Tigray (i.e. 556 km from Awash-Weldiya-Mekele) and southern Ethiopia to be completed in 3 years.  Eritrea has 90 Kms of unusable Italian era train tracks to Ethiopia’s NEW 2,395 kms.  In addition, construction is underway of a 34.25 km Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit.

Shabait, January 30, 2012 – “Gerset Agricultural Project Producing Bountiful Tomatoes”  - tells that this PIA Hobby Farm that took 20 years to construct and is supposedly the bread basket of Eritrea is growing “bountiful” tomatoes over 105 hectares.  Being generous, 105 hectare produces 45 tonnes of tomatoes per hectare per year, which translates to 4.7 million kilos of tomatoes per year.  After including spoilage and other losses, this translates into less than 1 kilo of tomato per Eritrean per year. That is pathetic!  Twenty years later, less than 1 kilo per person per year!  The same article indicates that the project covers 2,000 hectares which is pittance.  Twenty years and tens of thousands of Warsai-Yikealo for 2,000 hectares – pathetic!

In contrast, Ethiopia is investing heavily in the agricultural industry.  Although the sustainability and environmental impact is questionable, and that the Ethiopian regime is probably scorching Southern Ethiopia for quick profits, nevertheless, the regime is ambitious in its economic venture.  Along with its flower industry and Indian investors in various agricultural projects, Saudi Star Agricultural Agency is investing $2.5 Billion in Gambela region to grow one million tones of rice every year for export to the Gulf States, and expects to generate over $1 Billion in revenues every year.  Of course, the people of Gambela (Anuak) are paying the price through forced resettlement.  It is worth noting, like PFDJ, EPRDF claims that all Ethiopian lands belong to the State.

The enthusiasm over gold is misplaced.  Eritrea doesn’t earn, and won’t earn, more than $200 Million from these mining activities, and all these monies will be deposited in PIA accounts in Fubong bank.  Eritrea’s population has increased by at least 1 million in the last 20 years, and that extra $200 Million translates into $200 per year of the generation born since independence – and that is pittance.  An extra $200 Million per year is only $40 per Eritrean per year, and it isn’t too difficult to understand that $40 per person per year doesn’t get one too far.

The list would be too tedious to repeat here but suffice to say, Eritrea is being left way behind!  PIA’s hodgepodge Maoist ideology of Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, which PIA remained infatuated since his stay there in mid-1960s, remain the guiding principles of his leadership.  As these Maoist ideologies have failed miserably in China and elsewhere, and similarly as Warsai-Yikealo has become a taboo label erased completely from today’s PFDJ drumbeaters, all of today’s hoopla will be thrown down the annals of Eritrean history as the failed, lost and tragic years.

Libraries in Eritrea

It is suffice to say that PIA’s efforts to educate and develop Eritrea can be summarized in three words – “look at libraries” in Eritrea.

According to Chief Librarian of Asmara Public Library, [“Efforts underway to upgrade Asmara Public Library”, Shabait, February 8, 2012], it imported 17,000 books in about a year-and-half, which is about 1,000 books a month.  This is pittance!  Especially in an age when knowledge is increasing in leaps and bounds, frequent updates of books are needed.

Since independence twenty years ago, PIA has NOT built a single library in all of Eritrea.  The couple of new libraries opened in couple of towns were privately funded and poorly funded.  The small libraries opened along with the ‘military colleges’ are name only and have few outdated books.  The 17,000 books the Chief Librarian mentioned are mostly gifts from private donors.  PIA has not spent a single penny to improve, modernize and maintain libraries across Eritrea to meet ever growing student population. 

Shabait, February 25, 2012 “Asmara Public launches digital service”, we are told that Asmara Public Library recently inaugurated an expanded Physical Library and Digital Library, as well as improved Internet service.  The director of the library indicated that readers will have access to e-books and other sources of information alongside the digital services.

Although this is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t take twenty years to continually improve the library system.  Still, the current efforts remain inadequate and reflect the regime’s deliberate efforts to weaken Eritrea’s education system.  Closer analysis will show,

  1. The couple of public libraries are equipped with handful computers in a city with student population in excess of 50,000.
  2. Internet bandwidth remains awfully limited making connections very slow, thus accessing e-books next to impossible
  3. Most e-books worth reading or education purposes require some kind of payments for the right to use.  For a regime short of hard currency, paying for e-books is luxury.

Education without books is life without air!


Berhan Hagos
February 27, 2012

Articles - English

Reporters Without Borders

 

The Arab Spring has given new impetus to an increasingly active online diaspora’s hope for change. The regime, which has totally cordoned off the country and continues its indiscriminate repression of the population, is somewhat overwhelmed by the Net’s influence on Eritreans based abroad. It is now waging its propaganda war on social networks. Pro-opposition websites have been targeted for cyberattacks on an unprecedented scale.

Self-censorship, difficult Web access, and limitless terror

In this totally freedom-deprived country whose privately owned media were shut down in September 2001, the Internet remains the only space left where Eritreans are free to voice their opinions. Its use, however, is still very limited. Dictator Isaias Afewerki has imposed a climate of terror that has led the few Eritreans brave enough to connect despite technical obstacles and surveillance in the cybercafés to rely on self-censorship (Read the Eritrea chapter of the 2011 “Enemies of the Internet” report).

Leading diaspora websites such as Assenna.com, Asmarino.com and Awate.com are inaccessible mainly because of the slow bandwidth speed. No independent site is currently operated from Eritrea. Those living abroad who post writings on “banned” websites often have to do so anonymously as a security measure.

Not just content to terrorize his country’s population, the President is trying to target exiled dissidents with the assistance of certain friendly foreign governments. Sudan-based Eritrean editorial writer and journalist Jamal Osman Hamad, editor of the Internet website adoulis.com, was released by the Sudanese security forces in Khartoum on December 16, 2011 after being detained more than eight weeks. Known for his criticisms of his country’s leader, he was arrested on October 24, 2011, less than a week after Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki paid an official visit to Sudan – a visit during which the latter and his Sudanese counterpart inaugurated the opening of a road linking their two countries. On October 17, 300 Eritreans had been expelled to their native country without their cases being referred to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Are the new media generating an Eritrean Spring?

The regime took a very dim view of the Arab uprising and the fall of presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mouammar Kadhafi, whom it supported. It forced the state-owned media to ignore these events and was prepared to cut off Internet access, just as the Egyptian regime had done during the height of the Revolution, in the event of domestic unrest. The regime also has been concerned about the social networks’ potential as a rallying tool for diaspora Eritreans. Unlike their fellow citizens who remained in the country, diaspora Eritreans are much more up-to-date on the latest Arab revolution developments, which is reviving hopes for a political change in Africa’s “North Korea.” The movements organized by the opposition in the last few months in streets around the globe, and in diplomatic channels, are a new phenomenon.

From March to May 2011 in particular, exiled Eritrean communities held peace rallies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence and to protest against the dictatorial regime. In Australia, Great Britain, the United States, Egypt, and Ethiopia, the slogan was “ENOUGH!” These demonstrations were coordinated primarily by the Facebook group “Ashab Yourid Isqat Isaias Afewerki” (“The People Want Isaias Afewerki to Step Down”).

Opposition Eritreans living abroad have also decided to involve Eritreans who had remained at home in a special way. Youth groups such as Eritrean Youth for Change (EYC) and Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC) called upon Eritreans in the homeland to “empty the streets” of Asmara as part of the “Arbi Harnet” (Freedom Friday) campaign launched in early February 2012.

Daniel Gebremichael, one of the campaign organizers, stressed on Awate.com: “We also needed a channel of communication between diaspora activists and the people back home to begin to open up a bit. So you can say that [this movement] was inspired by the Arab Spring, but was heavily influenced by the political culture in Eritrea.” He added that hundreds of phone calls were made by volunteers to Asmara and other cities in the country, and text messages and emails were sent to inform Eritreans about this campaign and invite them to rally. The 10,000 plus subscribers of the EYSC and EYC Facebook pages were contacted. YouTube video clips were uploaded to convince people to take part in this call for democratic changes in the country. Daniel Gebremichael believes that the effort produced positive results. The initiative apparently received messages of support from people contacted on-site. Most of them who could be reached were so frightened that they just listened. But the important thing is that the message got through. The announced goal was to call 5% of Eritrea’s more than 230,000 telephone lines.

Yemane Gebreab, the President’s top political advisor, and leader of the incumbent party, was cornered after being spotted in a Manhattan pub by young Eritreans who wanted to question him about people gone missing in the country, and who criticized his support of the dictator. The event was filmed, posted on YouTube, and – to the authorities’ consternation – relayed by thousands of members. According to Awate.com, various forms of the video have been viewed tens of thousands of times: a hard blow for the regime’s propaganda machine.

Start of a cyberwar?

The government is still waging an online offensive against such criticisms. Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu, and Yemane Gebreab, are coordinating online propaganda, disinformation initiatives on the Internet, cyberattacks against opposition sites, and crackdowns and pressure on the regime’s opponents. They have decided to occupy the social networks’ terrain and to confront their opponents there by disseminating their own pro-regime messages. One of the Facebook pages concerned is Eritrea First, which, as of early March 2012, boasts 2,500 friends and whose motto is “The nation always comes first.”

An unprecedented wave of cyberattacks struck several websites critical of the regime in early December 2011. Most of the opposition sites, including Assenna.com, Awate.com, Asmarino.com, were blocked for several days. Hackers allegedly attacked these sites’ databases in a vain attempt to delete their archives, but pro-government sites such as Meskerem.net, Alenalki.com, and Dehai.org were spared – a new censorship episode with which it would be difficult not to connect the Asmaran regime.

These attacks were perfectly timed, when the targeted sites were speculating on the President’s end-of-year speech, and the UN Security Council was broadening the sanctions imposed on Eritrea for its presumed support of Somalia’s Islamist insurgents.

 
Articles - English

Press Release

Press Release

Few days ago, it came to our attention that a joint letter from the Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS) and the Network of Eritrean Civil Societies in Europe (NECS) was sent to the British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameroun in the relation to the Conference on Somalia organised by the British government and that took place on in London. While writing to the conference organisers, be it in support or otherwise, it is in principle a good idea, especially that we as Eritreans are not indifferent to the sad Somali reality. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we clarify a few points regarding this letter. 1. CDRiE is one of the organisations that make the EGS and as such, we consider it our right to be consulted and this applies to all organisations within EGS. 2. Instead of limiting the scope of the letter to expression of solidarity with the Somali people and applauding those who try to alleviate their plight, the contents of the letter express positions of highly contentious political nature which some member organisations may not subscribe to. We in CDRiE certainly do not subscribe to such a position. 3. CDRiE strongly believes that the problems across the Horn of Africa are intertwined and that only holistic regional and international approaches would achieve sustainable peace and stability. We are cognizant of the fact that the Eritrean government’s policy does not serve the interest of peace in Somalia or in the region, but we are also equally aware that the Ethiopian government’s policy on Somalia is not better if not worse. It is a policy that does not serve the interest of peace either in Somalia or in the entire region. From our point of view, singling out one culprit without mentioning the other or willy-nilly presenting giving the impression that Eritrea’s and not Ethiopia’s proxy war in the region is a problem is not only contentious but partisan. 4. This is not the first time the EGS Executive Board makes public statements and expresses positions of political nature with which we disagree with. This is the result of the decision-making process which the EGS has adopted and which we believe is incompatible with the nature of an umbrella civil society organisation. It is our firm belief that an umbrella civil society organisation which is a confederation of independent organisations should make decisions based on consensus and/or clearly defined guidelines. So far, the EGS has been acting more as a unitary organisation when it is not. We hope this does not happen again. Finally, we hope that the above points are taken as a positive criticism and pave the way for a constructive dialogue aiming at producing harmony within EGS. It is our desire to see EGS remain united and play a more effective role in mobilising Eritreans in favour of peaceful transition to democracy, rule of law and justice.

Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea – CDRiE

The Executive Board London 28.02.2012

Articles - English

Press Statement

Press Statement

We in CDRiE are saddened to learn that Mr. M. Ali Ibrahim, member of the Central Committee of the Eritrean Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) has disappeared in Kassala, Sudan on 14th of February 2012 and that his whereabouts remains unknown to this date.

Mr. M. Ali Ibrahim is a well known in Eritrea. He is veteran of the liberation struggle and was a prominent personality in the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in the pre-independence period. Even though he spent much of his life fighting for Eritrean independence, he has been one of the many veterans denied the right to lead a normal life in the country they fought to liberate. Because of the EPLF’s and later its successor, the PFDJ’s ‘winner receives all’ exclusionist policy, instead of returning home to celebrate the victorious outcome of the Thirty Year’s War, he has been forced to continue fighting for freedom and democracy from exile.

Given his background and the available unconfirmed information, it is strongly suspected that his disappearance is most likely politically motivated.

We in CDRiE would like to express our compassion with his family and his colleagues. As CDRiE is fundamentally opposed to any form of violence except in self-defence, we unequivocally condemn those who are responsible for his disappearance. 

In view of the fact that the disappearance of Mr. Ibrahim occurred within the sovereign territory of the Sudan, we urge the Sudanese authorities to hold an urgent enquiry into this disquieting development. We also call on the Government of Sudan to make sure that such appalling occurrences do not recur ever again. If such sad incidents ever occur again, not only are they likely to damage the long-standing friendly relations between the peoples of the two sisterly countries, but will also blemish the government’s long-standing reputation of providing protection to Eritrean refugees and political activists. In recent years, many Eritreans who came to Sudan to seek safe haven and succor have been victims of kidnapping and human trafficking. Although we are aware of the constraints facing the government, no efforts should be spared to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized members of humanity who come to the country to escape from the open-ended national service which has over time degenerated into forced labour. 

We also wish to take this opportunity to call upon the international inter-and-non-governmental organizations and governments to contribute to the resolution of this deplorable episode.

Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea – CDRiE

The Executive Board, London 23.02.2012

Articles - English

International Commission on Eritrean Refugees

International Commission on Eritrean Refugees

ICER  Action Alert

February 9, 2012

Volume 2012,   Number 5

NEWS ALERT: Eritrea Hostages Face Organs Harvesting By Kidnappers; Christians ... - BosNewsLife

Hope fund: African refugee sees opportunity in new life in America - Florida Times-Union

Refoulement of refugees from Somaliland to Ethiopia - Gadaa.com Oduu - News

Until our hearts are completely hardened - Haaretz

Sana'a. Airline official to deport Eritrean refugees stranded in airport - Tolerance

Eritreans Call for End to Human Trafficking of Migrants - Voice of America

Israel Immigration Program Gets $160 Million - Huffington Post

 

Eritrean refugees are still in the hands of robbers in the Sinai, in the border area between Egypt and Israel

ICER ALERT

ICER has confirmed that 3 Eritrean farmer laborers were kidnapped from Guluj a small town near the Sudanese-Eritrean boarder by Rashaida human trafficker and shipped to Sinai where they are asked to pay 30,000 for their release. In addition 12 persons fleeing Eritrea were handed over by the Sudanese border guards to Rashaida human smugglers at the border and are already in Sinai where the Bedouin hostage takers are demanding the same amount. Among the 15 Eritrean hostages in Sinai 2 are dead and one lost his mind as a result of sever torture administered by the criminals. In addition a young girl from Shire Ethiopia is kept under perpetual bondage for failing to pay the ransom money asked by her tormentors. The perception that the Bedouin release their hostages after exhausting all means to extract ransom money is completely bogus.  

Articles - English

World Report 2012: Eritrea

World Report 2012: Eritrea
Events of 2011
Downloadable Resources: 

Eritrea marked 20 years of independence in 2011, but its citizens remain victimized by one of the world’s most repressive governments. They suffer arbitrary and indefinite detention; torture; inhumane conditions of confinement; restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, and belief; and indefinite conscription and forced labor in national service.

Arbitrary Detention
Since September 2001 or even before, Eritreans from all walks of life—government officials, leaders of government-controlled labor unions, businesspeople, journalists, and national service evaders or escapees—have been jailed for explicit or inferred opposition to President Isaias Afwerki and his policies. The number of Eritreans jailed for such opposition is difficult to confirm, but ranges from 5,000 to 10,000, excluding national service evaders and deserters, who may number tens of thousands more. Twenty prominent critics and journalists have been held in incommunicado isolation for a decade; nine are feared dead.

Prisoners are often held indefinitely without access to family members, prison monitors, or lawyers. There are no public trials and no appeals. Persons inquiring about a relative’s whereabouts risk being jailed themselves.

Families are punished for the acts of one of its members, especially for draft evasion or desertion. The family is given no opportunity to defend itself. Families are fined Nakfa 50,000 (US$ 3,333) for evasion or desertion. Those who do not or cannot pay are jailed and may have property confiscated.

Forced Labor and Other Abuses in “National Service”
Since 2002 Eritrea has misused its national service system to keep a generation of Eritreans in bondage. Service is indefinitely prolonged, extending for much of a citizen’s working life. Pay is barely sufficient for survival. Recruits are used as cheap labor for civil service jobs, development projects, and the ruling party’s commercial and agricultural enterprises. Female recruits have reported sexual abuse by higher-ranking officers.
Thousands of Eritreans, mostly of younger generations, flee the country because of the harsh conditions in national service. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in early 2011 that 220,000 Eritreans, about 5 percent of the population, have fled. During a visit to a refugee camp in Ethiopia in mid-2011, an assistant high commissioner said she was shocked to see such a “sea of young faces.” The new refugees included a significant number of unaccompanied children, some as young as six-years-old.

Among the most prominent defectors in 2011 were 13 members of a 25-member soccer (football) team who refused to return after a regional tournament in Tanzania. Such defections are not new. In 2009, 12 soccer players absconded in Kenya. Earlier in 2011, fearful of further defections, the government refused to allow a soccer team that won a first-round game in Eritrea to play a return match in Kenya.

A UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea found strong evidence that high-level Eritrean officials facilitate escapes to earn hard currency: “People smuggling is so pervasive that it could not be possible without the complicity of Government and party officials, especially military officers….” Military officers charge about $3,000 per person for a border crossing and up to $20,000 for smuggling escapees through Sudan and Egypt. According to the UN group, receipts are funneled through Eritrean embassy staff into a Swiss bank account.

Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment
Escaping Eritreans, including prison guards, report that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in detention are systematic and routine. Aside from severe beatings, punishments include mock drowning, hanging by the arms from trees, being tied up in the sun in contorted positions for hours or days, and being doubled up inside a tire. One investigative technique is to tighten handcuffs so that circulation to the hands is cut off and pain from the swelling hands becomes unbearable.

Many prisoners are held in unlit underground bunkers and in shipping containers with broiling daytime and freezing nighttime temperatures. Prisoners are held in isolation or are packed tightly in severely crowded cells. Food rations generally consist of lentils and a bread roll once a day and tea twice a day. Deaths in prison from torture, disease, inadequate food, and other harsh conditions are frequent.

Freedom of Expression and Association
The government destroyed Eritrea’s private press in September 2001 and arrested its journalists. Since then propaganda outlets run by the Ministry of Information—television, radio, and newspapers—serve as the only domestic sources of news. Information inconsistent with President Isaias’s preconceptions is suppressed. It took a month for government media to mention the Tunisian, Libyan, and Egyptian revolutions. When they did, it was to assert that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government deserved to fall for not adopting Isaias’s policy of self-reliance.

According to Reporters Without Borders, four additional journalists were detained in 2011 and remain in custody: Neibel Edris, Ahmed Usman, Mohammed Osman, and Tesfalidet Mebratu.

Internet access is available but difficult. Penetration is under 4 percent, primarily through cyber cafés in Asmara. Users are closely monitored. Some users were reportedly arrested in early 2011.

No political or civic organizations are permitted except those controlled by Isaias’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). Nongovernmental public gatherings of over seven persons are prohibited. Critical questions at government-convened meetings constitute grounds for arrest.

Freedom of Religion
In 2002 the Eritrean government banned religious activities, except those organized by four registered religious organizations: Sunni Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea. It deposed the Orthodox patriarch in 2005, has held him in house arrest since 2007, and chose his successor. The government also appointed the current Sunni mufti.

Adherents of “unrecognized” religions are seized in raids on churches and homes and imprisoned and tortured until they renounce their faiths. Jehovah’s Witnesses are especially victimized. As of April 2011, the Jehovah’s Witness media website lists 51 Witnesses incarcerated as conscientious objectors, for participation in religious meetings, or for unknown reasons; three conscientious objectors have been imprisoned for 17 years.

Usually reliable sources who monitor religious persecutions reported continuing persecution of religious practitioners in 2011. Thirty members of an evangelical Christian church were arrested in Asmara in January. In May and June authorities reportedly arrested over 90 members of unrecognized Christian churches, including 26 college students. Two women and one man in their twenties, arrested in 2009 for participating in prayer meetings while serving in national service, reportedly died in captivity at military camps in 2011. A 62-year-old Jehovah’s Witness arrested in 2008 died in July, a week after he was placed in solitary confinement in a metal shipping container.

United Nations Sanctions and Horn of Africa Relations
The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 for providing political, financial, and logistical support to insurrectionary groups in Somalia and for occupying Djibouti territory it had invaded in 2008. In 2011 the council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported that Eritrea was still funneling funds through its embassies to al-Shabaab and other groups fighting the UN-recognized Somali government. Although Eritrea had withdrawn from Djibouti territory by 2011, it continues to hold 19 Djiboutian prisoners of war to whom it has not permitted third-party access.

The Monitoring Group also concluded that Eritrea had sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to bomb an African Union Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, in January 2011. Eritrea and Ethiopia have been bitter enemies since Eritrea began a border war in 1998. The bitterness continues partly because of animosity between the leaders of the two countries, and partly because Ethiopia refuses to vacate land that a neutral boundary commission, whose decision both countries agreed would be binding, held belongs to Eritrea.

Key International Actors
Eritrea received modest amounts of foreign aid from China (in the form of soft loans), the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Libya, and Qatar in recent years; no loans or grants were announced in 2011. The European Union provides some development and emergency assistance, but the bulk of this remains undisbursed because of concerns about transparency and accountability.

The Isaias government lost a key political and financial supporter with the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. The emir of Qatar and president of Sudan remain important supporters. Qatar is financing a four-star resort on Dahlak Kebre island, not far from a notorious underground prison. In October 2011 Sudan refouled over 300 Eritreans without screening them for refugee status, ignoring an agreement with the UNHCR calling for such screening.

Eritrea in 2011 began to re-engage with other African countries, announcing that it would rejoin the regional organization, the Intergovernmental Authority for Growth and Development.

Eritreans who fled the country in 2011 report a lack of food and soaring prices for what food remains available because of a serious regional drought, but Eritrea insists it needs no food assistance. It has not allowed access by humanitarian organizations to assess needs. In 2009 Isaias privately told the UN Children’s Fund that Eritrea was suffering from famine even as he publicly denied food shortages. It continues to receive UN funding for health, sanitation, and safe-water projects, but it ended its relationship with the World Bank in 2011.

Isaias told Eritreans in May 2011 that international NGOs harbor “a pathological compulsion for espionage.”

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