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Eritrea: Sawa and National Service over the last 25 years


Sawa and National Service over the last 25 years
Simon Weldemichael
July 2019

In Eritrea national service is viewed as a rite of passage to adulthood and a training ground for building good citizens and national unity. National service provides the practical and experiential education that can’t be found in formal classrooms. It yields anything good for the security, prosperity and tranquility of the country and its people. Eritrean national service reshapes the life of Eritrean society in fundamental ways and accomplishes much-needed national tasks such as defense, development and security. At its core, national service is said to have a successful experience of instilling the basic Eritrean values upon the young generation.

The national service of Eritrea is the biggest national institution and national practice that brings together hundreds of thousands of Eritrean youth in service to meet the country’s critical needs in social, economic, cultural and political sectors. Service to the country and community has a long tradition and strong foundation. ktet, wefera and maetot are part and parcel of Eritrean people and are a common socio-cultural practices. In addition to the well-known national service, there are also supportive programs and interventions like summer campaign of secondary school students. Every summer, students are participated in various activities of public safety and environmental protection. The summer campaign run by ministry of education has two broad goals: one is to provide direct beneficial service to the country and the other is to produce positive effects on the young students in areas that include civic engagement, volunteerism and life skills.

One year after the formal declaration of independence the government of Eritrea has launched a compulsory national service for all men and women of Eritrea. Pursuant to the proclamation of national service, adult men and women of Eritrean youth are continuously going to Sawa to undertake their duty. Sawa has become the center of gravity of Eritrea. It has become a center of training to make Eritreans everything- a gun carrying soldier, a machine operator worker, a skill hunter developer and a scholar of great learning. Post-independence of Eritrean youth are in service for a quarter century to continue the already started nation building, to make the future better and secure and to prepare for uncertainty among many. During the struggle for independence Nakfa was the symbol of perseverance and determination and a point of reference for the freedom fighters. After independence Sawa has become the symbol of readiness, training and defense and point of reference for the Warsay generation. Sawa produced militarily and academically competent young men and women responsible for development and protection of the country. Until then 32 rounds have reached to and trained in Sawa. Sawa proves to be the heart of Eritrea that supplied the national veins and arteries with instant and powerful blood of trained youth.


Sawa as an idea was developed as president Issayas Afewerki noted “[not] because we anticipated wars or other hostilities. On the contrary, it came as a continuation of the political process on the basis of which Eritrea was built throughout the armed struggle” (ECSS, 2010). Today it has become an endemic to see nations and societies across the world to disintegrate and degenerate. In Eritrea the national glue has been so strong and Eritreans of all age and group are serving, working, learning and living together in unity and harmony. Sawa and national service has cemented the national unity of Eritreans that was started in Sahil. It has become a tradition for adult men and women to go to Sawa and perform national service in the military and civilian positions. Without exaggeration I can say that Sawa and national service permitted the imaginary political community of Eritreans to know each other in person.

Sawa is misrepresented by outsiders as a military training camp where everyone was punished and sexual abuse was systematically employed. Attempts have been made to associate Sawa with harsh conditions and the possibility of sexual abuse. This was deliberately fabricated to defame the institution and obstruct the national path of Eritrea. This dirty heap of falsehood is now demolished by the current statistics of women in Sawa and the testimony of the confident and free Eritrean girls. Whoever denies this fact has the right to say, but on our part Eritreans will not let anyone walk through our mind with dirty ideas. No one can attach negative connotation to the thing that we have already attached positive connotation. Sawa and compulsory national service makes the military and civil service of the country the representative of Eritrean society. Military and community service is shared equally across all segments of Eritrean society. This unity and equality in service besides averting external threats, it becomes an instrument to create a cohesive national identity and rebuilding the country.

Sawa is a place where we interact with our past, understand our present and foresee our future. Eritrean Youth are inhaling the rich history of the revolutionary generation and smelling the cheerful future in Sawa. It teaches the art of patriotism and nationalism, innovation and modernization that are equally needed for the reconstruction of the country. In this sense, Sawa represents the perpetuation of the nation building process that initiated during the hard years of liberation struggle. Sawa will continue to serve as Mecca and Jerusalem for the adherents of Eritreanism, where every faithful must visit at least once in his/her life. Sawa teaches Eritrean youth to abandon thinking on a day to day and individual level. It teaches to transcend to the ultimate meaning of life. It gives hope and help to understand the present and to sense the future. In this sense, Sawa provides telescope to see distant and microscope to recognize the imperceptible.

Sawa and national service served as social glue which is critical to Eritrean society in the hostile and dissoluble region. By getting citizens together and involved in national duties they encouraged civic engagement and civic responsibility. In Eritrea the rights enjoyed by citizens are accompanied by duties and responsibilities typically exemplified by the completion of nation service. In the past the freedom fighters that fought for independence are called national heroes and nowadays, Warsay who participate in the development and defense of the country got a medal of heroism.

National service in Eritrea is perhaps unique and noble experience of success in Africa. The objective of the service is based on an ideology of the reconstruction of the country, strengthening of the economy and development of a joint Eritrean identity across ethnic and religious lines. From 1994, military training has been introduced in the national service, and both women and men between 18 and 40 years are required to perform service. Initially the service time as mentioned in the proclamation of national service was 18 months. For the last twenty years, as a result of the non-implementation of the EEBC decision and the “no war no peace” situation the service time was extended. On face of existential threat posed by TPLF and the unjust international sanctions, Eritrea compelled to take the uncommon path. The common resounding explanation “the indefinite nature of the national service” is incomplete without mentioning “the indefinite nature of hostility against Eritrea”.

National service is a way of strengthening the civic ideals of public service and community sprit through voluntary participation. The notion of youth providing some form of service is becoming part of Eritrean youth. The need to give to others, the need to feel that I’ve done something for the country, has become the motivation for every Eritrean youth to participate in national service. Eritrea is now proceeding to voluntary youth participation in national issues. Sawa and national service become effective routes towards voluntary involvement and strengthened the bond between the youth and the community. Sawa and national service teaches the love and service for Eritrea, responsibility and duty and the priority of community and national interest above personal interest.

Sawa and national service played a great role at forming a disciplined society with self-confidence and faithfulness towards the nation. Sawa has produced thousands of trained men and women always prepared to face any trial and challenges that would face Eritrea. Now it becomes clear to everyone that Sawa has played significant role in physical fitness, character building and nationalism of Eritrean youth. Sawa and national service teaches skills and instilling values. The teaching of Sawa is an intentional and pro-social approach that engages and integrates youth with Eritrea’s past and future. The dream and imagination that young men and women turning eighteen to ask ‘Where am I going to serve?’ have now become a reality. Eritrean youth are now willing to contribute in a far greater level than ever made in the past.

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Eritrea: Sawa and National Service over the last 25 years Reviewed by Admin on 8:14 PM Rating: 5

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