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September 1: A Reflection from Eritrea

Asmara, Eritrea

September 1: A Reflection from Eritrea

Yesterday, as I walk the sunny streets of Asmara, highly grateful for the nice, cool, periodic breeze, I cannot help but notice the great number of banderas (flags) waving elegantly atop city buildings, from apartment balconies, perched upon storefronts, and from streetlight fixtures. Likewise, taxi-cabs and merchants’ windows are adorned with stickers or posters of the red, green, blue, and gold. Today is not just another day on the calendar. It is September 1st; a national holiday, an occasion filled with patriotism and utmost pride, and amongst the most significant days for Eritreans of various ethno-religious stripe, young or old, male or female, and within the country or across the world.

And why exactly is September 1st such an important day for Eritreans? Quite simply, it marks the beginning of the tortuous, winding, sacrifice-filled road that ultimately ended with independence and Eritreans having a bandera that they could proudly call their own. There is no May 24th without September 1st.

On September 1st, 54 years ago, the Eritrean independence movement transitioned from street demonstrations, non-violence, and peaceful protest, to active, armed resistance – going against all logic. September 1st is a day to reflect upon and remember the monumental contributions and immensely heroic exploits of the thousands of freedom fighters – those mythical, legendary men and women who spent over thirty years in the barren, dusty, rocky deserts and harsh mountains of Eritrea, persevering in the face of adversity and ultimately delivering freedom against all odds.

As I walk, I think.
September 1st is about confronting adversity and overcoming it. It is about being faced with challenges or problems and persistently seeking solutions. It is about perseverance, contribution, and sacrifice. 

Of all the independence movements throughout Africa in the 1900s, only two emerged “victorious” militarily, Zimbabwe and Eritrea. Furthermore, of those two, only Eritrea was able to do so via an outright military destruction of its colonial oppressor (rather than a negotiated settlement, ala the Lancaster Agreements).

Importantly, not only was Eritrea’s struggle the longest African independence war of the 1900s, the three decades long struggle targeted far more than just political emancipation. Rather, it sought to usher in a complete and radical socio-economic and cultural transformation of society, destroying all outdated, harmful, traditional structures within society. As just one example, women would no longer be viewed as inferior and subservient, but as fully equal and key contributing members of society.

Today, although a large number of African states have been “politically” independent for decades, many are still mired in economic dependency and shackled by the oppressive chains of neocolonialism. Corruption, nepotism, and theft reign, while tyranny, subjugation, persecution, and repression are all unfortunately far too common. Moreover, even with an abundance of precious natural resources, the African continent has remained poor and continues to suffer from the many blights of underdevelopment. Across the continent, resources, which could promote development, have instead fueled conflict and bred vast inequalities, while foreign exploitation has sustained debilitating poverty. Sadly, independence has only translated to being in-dependence.

In stark contrast however, Eritrea has maintained control of its considerable resource endowments, firmly grasped the reins to its national and economic development, and is navigating a pragmatic, peaceful path towards true national emancipation, social-based development, and a tangible, sustainable improvement in the lives of its people.

As I sit in Shida square, I realize how it is in this context, as well, that September 1st is so very significant. Not just as the mark of the beginning of the struggle towards freedom, but also as an important reminder of the continuation of the work towards independence and development. Thus, September 1st is additionally about understanding the immense example set by those before us, and striving to bring about the prosperous, harmonious nation that was sought so many years ago. Reflecting on September 1st here in Eritrea, one quickly sees how the journey toward that vision continues.

It is apparent when visiting the dozens of dams that are found across the country. Small and large, these are filled not only with the muchappreciated rains that fall from the sky, but the sweat of thousands of upstanding, hard-working young men and women.

It is apparent on the long, winding paved roads, so critical for development, that connect the towns, villages, and cities. Driving along, one may overlook how these roads were not always there, their place being assumed by mountains, rock, desert, and bushes.

 After only a moment’s reflection, one understands how these vital roads are only possible as a result, again, of the great efforts of so many who remained (and still are) dedicated and perseverant.

It is apparent in the classrooms, in the elementary schools or institutions of higher learning, filled with young minds eager to learn and acquire the means to improve themselves and their country. As per an anecdote told to me by a proud professor with experience teaching across Africa, the West, and Eritrea,

“The students here (Eritrea) are hungry. In other places, ten minutes prior to the end of class, papers begin to shuffle, books begin to close, bags and zippers are opened, and students’ eyes peer anxiously towards the clock. In Eritrea however, no matter how early or late the class, the entire classroom remains utterly transfixed upon my every word and movement, right until the very last second. Not just that, even after the bell rings, they plead to forego recess or break-times, in order to be able to continue the lesson!” 

It was also quickly apparent when I had the opportunity to speak with a young, recent Sawa graduate, weighing no more than 130 pounds soaking wet, and a nearly forty-year veteran of the independence struggle. After separately asking them each how it felt to have played such a positive role in the country, both smiled and confidently responded (nearly verbatim), “I am not done… there are still so many things I hope to do in order to contribute to building my country.”

“Yes. Yes,” I think to myself, now traversing the narrow lanes of the shouk (marketplace), absorbing a wide-ranging array of sights, sounds, and smells.

September 1st is about confronting adversity and overcoming it. It is about being faced with challenges or problems and persistently seeking solutions. It is about perseverance, contribution, and sacrifice. 

Not just within the context of the long struggle that brought freedom, but also in terms of the ongoing work that seeks to produce a prosperous, harmonious future.
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September 1: A Reflection from Eritrea Reviewed by Admin on 5:00 AM Rating: 5

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