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Understanding Eritrea’s struggle for development

Eric Dreitser at the YPFDJ conference (Photo credit: Elias Amare)

By Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

Recently, the YPFDJ held its annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, we are privileged to speak with Eric Dreitser, a prominent independent journalist and political analyst, and one of the marquee speakers at the conference. Dreitser shares his thoughts on a range of topics and helps to contextualize Eritrea’s focus on self-reliance, independence, and development.

Could you share a little about your background and your work? 

I am an independent journalist and political analyst based in New York City. I am a regular contributor to RT, TeleSur, CounterPunch, TruthOut, New Eastern Outlook, Global Research, Press TV, and a number of other media outlets. My written work has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and has appeared in many publications internationally.

My academic background is varied: BA in Art History, Master's in Creative Writing (MFA), and Master's in Education (MS.ed). I founded my website after the beginning of the Occupy movement in which I was active. It became an outlet for my politics and writing, an avenue through which my activism and interest in political analysis could come together and, hopefully, positively impact issues both in the US and globally.

What first got you interested in issues of international affairs, politics, security, conflict, etc. In your eyes, why are these topics so important? 

This is a complicated question because, in many ways, I have always been interested in these issues. Even as a young child I remember being fascinated with the news and global events, geography and history, politics and economics. As I matured, and my political outlook evolved, I began to incorporate these interests into what could be called a more coherent ideological framework, and began to see the connections between all these issues; put simply, I evolved a worldview, one that could be described principally "Third Worldist”. The more I studied political and revolutionary theory, history, and related topics, the more I came to realize the importance of being a principled and dedicated revolutionary in my own right, one who could use his mind and other natural abilities to help comrades and oppressed people around the world.

I came to see the connection between empire, colonialism, and the situation of the world today. Being born in 1983, I came of age in the early post-Cold War period, a time in which it had become unfashionable to talk about Empire and colonialism, as if these systems had simply disappeared, had become relics of a bygone era. On the contrary, the more I closely examined our world, the more I came to understand the nature of the contemporary manifestations of these systems, and I began to explore those countries and peoples targeted by them.

This is not to say that I view all conflicts and political and geopolitical issues solely through an ideological prism. I also highly value analysis that attempts to present an objective viewpoint (the extent to which this is actually possible or desirable is the subject of debate, to be sure). Rather, this is to provide some context for understanding why I take so seriously issues such as the Eritrean struggle which, sadly, is not regarded as important by most people in the "West" or the "Global North."

 In recent years you've done some work on Eritrea…what was your introduction to the country? 

I had read a bit about the independence struggle and the EPLF, but wasn't terribly familiar with the history of the country, the relationship to colonialism both from Europe and Ethiopia, or any of the other vital issues. But I began to research the history on my own, and built off the work of people like my friend and colleague Thomas Mountain, and began to see the importance of Eritrea in the international context. And of course, I understand perfectly that those countries demonized, vilified, and sanctioned by the US and its allies are generally doing something that undermines their agenda.

In looking at the issues carefully, it became clear that Eritrea was attempting to develop itself both economically and socially outside the hegemony and domination of the Empire, that it sought an independent development path that set it apart from nearly every other African country of the post-colonial period. And, as such, it was clear to me that the country had to be defended, that it deserved to have my voice in support of it. For me, Eritrea is more than simply an African country that is doing things its own way. It is an important example that the legacy of national liberation, and true independence in Africa is not dead, that it has not simply become passé.

I understand you recently attended the YPFDJ conference in Las Vegas, what were your impressions? What was your presentation about? 

I was deeply impressed with the conference for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the thing that stuck out to me was the energy and enthusiasm of the young people in attendance. So many of them seemed genuinely interested in learning and exchanging information, not simply because they're patriotic and are imbued with a sense of pride in their country and culture, but also because they feel the need to be actively engaged in the struggle of the Eritrean people. This I found very striking. There did not seem to be the apathy and resignation that I've encountered with so many other groups of young people. I taught 16-18 year old students for a few years, but I rarely, if ever, saw the level of engagement and interest that I saw with the youth of the conference. This gives me hope in the future of Eritrea and the struggle for its true political, economic, and socio-cultural independence.

My presentation focused on a few of the points I've already mentioned, specifically about Empire and how it operates in the 21st Century. I discussed the institutions and means by which the Empire exercises its hegemony, how it coerces and dominates smaller nations, and the agenda behind this. I examined why Eritrea has been targeted (e.g. the danger of a good example), and the various ways in which Eritrea has been attacked.

One particular area that I discussed was propaganda and the use of information (and disinformation/ misinformation). I discussed the corporate media system and how it relates to the Empire broadly, and tried to convey just why Eritrea is smeared publicly by everyone from CNN and the BBC to the United Nations.

But my discussion was not simply about lamenting the unfair media coverage, it was (hopefully) to inspire young people to action, to help them to understand that their role in this ongoing struggle is also to counter the propaganda, to put themselves on the front line of the information war, and to utilize and leverage all platforms at their disposal, from social media such as Face book and Twitter, to creating blogs, and websites, podcasts and YouTube channels, to bring the truth about Eritrea to as many people as possible. I discussed the importance of creating solidarity networks not only within the Eritrean Diaspora community, but also within their schools, peer groups, circles of non-Eritrean friends, etc. In other words, I discussed the critical importance of "mainstreaming" Eritrea.

Finally, one other critical aspect of my presentation was the importance of international solidarity work.

The general public is either unaware of Eritrea or has a large misconception about the country. Why is this so? How can this be remedied?

There are a number of factors accounting for the lack of knowledge about Eritrea. Most people in the West simply have no concept of African peoples, they know little about the nations of the continent, about their struggles, etc. What little they do know is completely distorted through the prism of controlled corporate media and its propaganda machine. In effect, the media serves as an arm of the Empire, acting to shape narratives and discourse, to frame what is acceptable and what is not, to construct knowledge and determine what truth is and what are lies.

This fundamental aspect of media - control of information and knowledge construction - is what has to be undermined through organization and activism. This was part of my presentation, namely that those who *DO* know the truth about Eritrea, and who are not afraid to speak it, must become part of the counter-narrative. They must utilize their own media, their own grassroots networks, and their own communities to not only denounce the lies, but to counter them. Narratives are only as strong as the belief in them. Once that is eroded, the narrative falls away. That is the job of activists, be they Eritrean, like my comrades at the conference, or non-Eritreans who stand in solidarity, like myself.

Thank you so much, Mr. Draitser. We highly appreciate your time, greatly admire your work, and hope that you will visit us in Eritrea soon.

Thank you. I look forward to it. 
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