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Eritrea – on unique and challenging path to political and economic emancipation


 Photo: Independence Day festivities in Asmara (Credit: Natnael)



Eritrea – on unique and challenging path to political and economic emancipation


By Kidane Eyob


In 2018, the courageous and visionary Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Dr Abiy Ahmed came to power following the popular uprising and declared that Ethiopia accepts the final and binding verdict of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC)  and publicly called for peace with Eritrea. The Eritrean president, Isaias Afeworki reciprocated by accepting the call for peace bringing an end to the 18 years of ‘no war no peace’ stalemate.  Weeks later, the two leaders signed the seven-points peace agreement in July 2018 and formalised the peace accord. Soon, diplomatic relations were re-established, flights between the two countries resumed and telephone lines were reconnected and the required legal and ground work is being carried out for trade between the two countries to resume. Eritrea and Ethiopia can now focus on nation building and economic integration of the Horn of Africa for the benefit of the peoples of the region. With the establishment of the transitional government in Sudan and the wind of peace blowing in Somalia and South Sudan, the future of the Horn of Africa looks very promising. 


At the time Eritrea achieved its independence, almost 30 years ago, most African countries were plagued by poverty, diseases, ignorance, corruption and conflict in spite of their rich human and natural resources. The root cause to this tragedy was attributed to the political, economic and social policies and programmes prescribed by the West and their financial organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank. These policies and programmes had miserably failed to bring the desired development and social justice. After nearly 60 years of independence, most African countries are still in a similar state of despair, in fact others are worse off now than they were at the time they gained their independence. 


The Eritrean government was determined not to make the same mistakes and decided to pursue ‘homemade’ and independent political, economic and social policies and programmes that were developed during the 30 years of armed struggle for independence. At the heart of these policies and programmes are the pursuit of ‘self-reliance’, ‘unity in diversity’, ‘food security’ and the promotion of ‘social justice’. The Eritrean government pursued these policies at the risk of facing the ‘carrot and stick’ consequences if they fail to follow orders from the West and their financial organisations.   


The ‘carrot’ usually comes with strings attached and is in the form of food and financial aid that decapacitates the local agricultural and manufacturing industries. Additionally, there are loans with extortionate interest rates that African countries can’t afford to pay back and consequently remain hooked indefinitely like drug addicts. African leaders are also bribed, corrupted and then blackmailed into serving the interest of the West and their corporate organisations.


The ‘stick’ also comes in many forms and the Eritrean government has been on the receiving end of this ‘stick’ which included but is not limited to intimidation, diplomatic isolation, economic sabotage and politically motivated unjust UN sanctions using fabricated accusations that the Eritrean government supports Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia. Surprisingly, even a German bank pooled out from a lucrative business, on the last hour, after agreeing to give loans to a Canadian mining company, Nevsun Resources Ltd so as to sabotage the first gold mine in Eritrea at Bisha. However, in spite of this hurdle and using revenue generated from shares in the international market, the Bisha gold mine commenced production in February 2011 as planned.


Furthermore, there was a well-coordinated and systematic human trafficking crimes committed to drain Eritrea’s human resources, particularly the youth. EU countries were suddenly giving Eritrean youth asylum and full refugee status almost automatically luring tens of thousands of Eritrean youth to leave their country in search of better life in the West. Sadly, thousands of them perished crossing the desert to Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. The corporate media also played a pivotal  role in portraying Eritrea as ‘hell on earth’ in fact, some went as far as labelling Eritrea as the ‘North Korea of Africa’. Even though Ethiopia belatedly accepted the final and binding verdict of the EEBC, Eritrea’s territories still remain occupied because of TPLF's intransigence and lawlessness in Ethiopia. The so called ‘experts on Eritrea’ usually, Western academics, journalists and diplomats, predicted  that Eritrea will be ‘a failed state’ on several occasions over the last 20 years using the corporate media’s platform but to their dismay, Eritrea came out victorious frustrating their resources and undermining their false prophesy.  


Against all the odds, Eritrea continued to exist as a viable and independent country in a volatile region both economically and politically and was even able to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals ahead of time. The various developments achieved by Eritrea in the construction of vital infrastructures in agriculture, education, health, transport, fisheries and mining using its own human resources have become a good example to the rest of Africa. To promote equality in diversity, equal opportunities and social justice, health care and education (from primary to university level as well as vocational and technical training) is free of charge in Eritrea.


In the last 20 years, some economically influential countries as well as multinational organisations have defied the advice given by the West ‘not to engage with the Eritrean government’ for allegedly non-existent security reasons. These countries and organisations have, after careful consideration and professional assessment of the realities on the ground, decided to reject this inaccurate Western diplomatic advice ‘not to engage with the Eritrean government’ and invested in Eritrea in partnership with the Eritrean government. In a matter of few years these countries, organisations and the Eritrean people had become the main beneficiaries of the abundant natural resources in Eritrea and for the first time in the history of Africa, the Eritrean government was in a 40:60 joint-venture deal in the first gold mine at Bisha with a Canadian mining company, Nevsun Resources Ltd (60%). Sadly, some African countries only get 2% to 10% share from their mines while the foreign investors syphon over 90% of the revenue out of Africa and into the West.


These foreign investors in Eritrea, were not disappointed and they loved their stay in Eritrea because Eritrea is very peaceful, free from corruption, no ethnic and religious conflict despite the fact that the population is 50% Christians and 50% Muslims. 


In 2021 the Colluli Potash mine will start production, this deposit happens to be the largest Sulphate of Potash (SOP) in the world and is 200 years’ worth of potash. Based in Australia, Colluli Mining Share Company (CMSC) is in a 50:50 joint-venture with the Eritrean government. In the near future, other African countries will also realise that they too can achieve what Eritrea has, political and economic independence, food security and the promotion of social justice. 


Historical account


Eritrea is in fact roughly the size of England, has a population of about 5 million and is located in the volatile Eastern part of Africa, also known as the Horn of Africa. Eritrea has around 1200km of Red Sea coast, about 350 islands and shares borders with landlocked and second populous country in Africa, Ethiopia (110 million), the Sudan (45 million) and Djibouti. On the other side of the narrow Red Sea, lies Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiya. This makes Eritrea one of the most geographically strategic countries in the world as the Red sea is a very busy passage of commercial ships carrying oil and other commodities to and from the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.


During the scramble of Africa, Italy colonised Eritrea, Somalia and Libya and declared that Eritrea is its colony in 1890. The Italian colonial policy was different to that of the British and the French. The Italians established an apartheid system of segregation and arrogantly believed that Eritrea was another Italy abroad and built first class infrastructures and established modern irrigation system of agriculture and manufacturing industries. The capital, Asmara, the Italians called ‘Piccolo Roma’ (little Rome) has one of the biggest concentrations of art deco buildings of 1930s in the world, in fact in 2017, the city was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


During the Second World War, Italy allied itself with Germany and as part of this war, the British Army in Africa, fought and kicked out the Italians out of Eritrea, Somalia and Libya and Eritrea remained under British Military Administration for ten years from 1941 to 1951. During this decade, the British are remembered by Eritreans for looting almost everything the Italians built including port machinery, factories, warehouses and cable wire transport system that transported goods from the port, Massawa to Asmara (120km). This looting was partly documented by a British Historian Sylvia Pankhurst and was assessed to be several tens of millions of pounds at the time. The worst crime the British government committed against Eritreans, however, was when they conspired with the US government to deny Eritreans their right to self-determination and manipulated the UN to federate Eritrea with its giant neighbour Ethiopia against the wishes of the Eritrean people. Note, Ethiopia was not colonised by Europeans, hence did not benefit from the industrialisation and infrastructural developments as Eritrea and other colonies did. 


While the Europeans were exploiting the natural resources of their colonies in Africa, the US had none. Soon, some of the US oil companies realised that Ethiopia was not being exploited by any European country as it was not colonised and took advantage of the vacuum and an insecure but cunning Emperor Haile Selassie who also had his own sinister motives of illegally gaining access to the Red Sea for landlocked Ethiopia. The US government and the Emperor were partners in crime and the British were willing to facilitate this on the ground in Eritrea. In fact, it is believed that one of the main reasons the British looted Eritrea’s infrastructure and factories was to mislead the UN that Eritrea cannot exist as an economically viable country in Africa, therefore, Eritrea had to be federated with their ally Ethiopia. The other reason was to benefit from the revenue they generated after selling the machinery they looted to their other colonies including Yemen, Kenya and Pakistan.


In 1952 the US Ambassador to the UN John Foster Dulles made the following statement to justify their crimes against the Eritrean people:


‘’From the point of justice, the opinion of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia’’.


In 1943 the United States Army established their military base known as Kagnew Station in Asmara. Asmara has a very high altitude, around 2,325 metres (7,628 feet) above sea level and this helped the US intelligence to intercept the Soviet Union analogue communication system during the Cold War. Interestingly and by coincidence Ambassador John Foster Dulles died on 24th of May, the day Eritreans celebrate their independence day.  


Ten years of British Military Administration was soon followed by ten years of federation with Ethiopia from 1952 to 1962. During the Federation period, Eritrea had an elected parliament, multiparty democracy, the first Trade Union in Africa and free press. On the other hand, Ethiopia was in its feudal state of governance and this forced marriage between these two neighbourly countries was not compatible to say the least and was doomed to fail from the outset.  The cunning Emperor soon started to interfere in the internal affairs of Eritrea and used intimidation, coercion, religion and at times assassinations to silence and kill Eritrean activists and politicians until he finally and unilaterally annex Eritrea by abolishing the parliament, banning political parties and free press and made Eritrea the 14th province of Ethiopia in November 1962. When all these crimes were taking place the international community and the UN watched in silence and to the contrary the US financially and materially supported the Emperor.


In the early 1960s, the Pan Africanist leaders had split into two main groups, one led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and the other by Jemal Abdunnasir of Egypt.  The cunning Emperor Haile Selassie volunteered to be the respected elder and peacemaker and invited the two groups to Addis Ababa for talks and gradually Addis Ababa became the Headquarters of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).  One of the founding pillars of the OAU that was agreed during these discussions was that ‘African countries must honour the boundaries as demarcated by their European colonisers’. The second was ‘non interreference in the internal affairs of a member country’. Once the cunning Emperor learnt these pillars of the organisation, he decided to annex Eritrea and force Eritrea to be part of Ethiopia in November 1962 before the OAU was formally established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 32 signatory governments.


In 1940s and 1950s the Eritrean people pursued peaceful struggle to achieve their right to self determination but this failed to bring the desired freedom. Eritreans lost hope in the peaceful struggle and on the 1st of September 1961, shot the first bullets to start the armed struggle against Ethiopian military occupation, the biggest army in Sub-Sahara Africa. This was to become the longest war in Africa and dragged on for 30 bloody years until Eritreans won the war against all the odds and achieved their independence on 24th May 1991. Over 65000 Eritrean men and women were martyred and tens of thousands disabled during this protracted and bloody war. To give this freedom a legal conclusion, Eritreans conducted a UN supervised referendum in April 1993 when 99.8% chose independence. Eritrea declared its independence and the international community reciprocated by recognised Eritrea’s independence. 


During these 30 bloody years, the OAU was silent because they considered the conflict to be an internal affair of Ethiopia exactly as the cunning Emperor had planned. The West and their organisations were supporting successive Ethiopian governments both militarily and financially but ignored Eritreans’ right to self-determination.  Although its African and Eritrean tradition to be self-reliant, it was during these desperate 30 bloody years for independence that the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) developed these virtues of self-reliance and independent political and economic policies as well as unity in diversity, the promotion of social justice and equality between men and women. 


30% of the EPLF freedom fighters were women, perhaps the only women in the world who gained equal status as men when they fought and paid the ultimate price for freedom side-by-side with their men comrades. Indeed, it was these virtues and policies that helped the EPLF gain overwhelming support from the Eritrean people inside the country and abroad and finally the EPLF delivered independence.


From the outset, the Eritrean government had a clear vision and pragmatic short- and long-term programmes that wholly relied on its human resources. To facilitate this, Eritrea introduced mandatory National Service for all men and women after the age of 18 in 1994. Every year about 20,000 men and women from all over the country go to the training centre known as Sawa for academic, social, political, technical and military training where the youth get the kind of theoretical and practical educations that revolutionises the hearts and minds of the youth and so far 33 batches of young men and women have successfully completed their training. Sawa has become a melting pot for the Eritrean youth promoting ‘unity in diversity’ as well as developing confident, patriotic, selfless, disciplined and industrious youth who are playing pivotal role in defending the sovereignty of Eritrea and the construction of vital infrastructures such as roads, dams, schools, hospitals and solar power stations all over the country.


In 1997, the federal state of Tigray introduced a new map depicting its boundaries with other federal states in Ethiopia. Also, contrary to the Ethiopian constitution, it made illegal changes to the international boundaries with Eritrea by including huge portions of Eritrean land inside Tigray federal state. The redrawing of the boundaries was part of the jigsaw for the establishment of the Republic of Tigray. The regime in Ethiopia that was dominated by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) had also drafted the Ethiopian constitution and inserted Article 39 to facilitate the legal secession of the Republic of Tigray with huge fertile land it grabbed from the neighbouring federal states and Eritrea. A year later and seven years after independence, Eritrea was dragged into a ‘border war’  with the TPLF regime in Ethiopia led by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. 


This regime was a client state of the US and had been given two missions to deliver, to bring a regime change in Eritrea and Somalia. After Eritrea foiled three rounds of first world war style of human waves of attacks by the regime’s army between 1998 and 2000, the two countries finally went to the Hague for a final and binding legal verdict to bring a legal conclusion to the conflict. During this war nearly 20,000 Eritrean men and women were martyred defending the sovereignty of Eritrea and over 100,000 Ethiopian men were killed invading Eritrea so as to bring a regime change. To add insult to injury, the TPLF regime deported more than 80,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin from Ethiopia and confiscated their properties and businesses committing ethnic cleansing crime against humanity.


In April 2002, the border commission in the Hague delivered its final and binding verdict but the TPLF regime rejected the verdict as a tactical method to maintain a ‘no war no peace’ stalemate situation so as to weaken the Eritrean government and eventually bring about a regime change. This tactical method was coupled with UN Sanctions, diplomatic isolation and systematic and well-coordinated human trafficking to drain Eritrea’s human resources. Ironically, these tactics employed by the TPLF regime backfired and a popular uprising by Ethiopian youth brought about a regime change in Addis Ababa 2018.


Repeated efforts to bring about regime change in Eritrea failed miserably and frustrated those who engineered and plotted these conspiracies. The ‘border war’ failed to deliver the desired ‘regime change’ in Eritrea and plan B had to be initiated. Plan B was to place politically motivated sanctions on Eritrea using fabricated accusations that the Eritrean government supports Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia. 


On the 8th October 2009, the UK Ambassador to the UN John Sawers, called for sanctions to be applied against Eritrea for unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations that Eritrea supplies weapons to Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. In his speech, Ambassador John Sawers made references to the evidences fabricated by the UN Monitoring Unit that was established by the Bush Administration diplomat, Dr Jendayie Frazer. First and foremost, the evidences referred to had neither been independently verified nor presented to the international community for reasons that were not disclosed at the time, however, some of the accusations include but are not limited to the allegations that Eritrea had 2000 soldiers in Somalia supporting the Al Shabab terrorists. These allegations were proved to be fabricated beyond any doubt. This is very similar to the Weapons of Mass Distraction (WMD) fiasco, that Iraq had the capability of attacking Britain within 45 minutes. We all know the real reason why US and UK attacked Iraq.


On Christmas Eve of 2009 the US Ambassador to the UN, Dr Susan Rice delivered the UNSC Resolution 1907 to place sanctions on Eritrea. Subsequently, and  to add insult to injury and weeks before Christmas 2011, the UNSC Resolution 2023 were declared renewing the sanctions placed on Eritrea. Here is a link to the open letter I wrote to Dr Susan Rice at the time.


The efforts and sacrifices of the Eritrean people in the last 20 years in overcoming the challenges posed by the unjust UN sanctions and the coordinated psychological warfare is incredible. Eritreans both inside the country and in Diaspora stood in unison for the final and binding verdict to be implemented, for the unjust UN sanctions to be lifted and for rule of law to prevail in the region. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to state that all of the aforementioned victories and achievements were made possible because the Eritrean people are the most united, resilient, patriotic, selfless and politically conscious people in the whole wide world. And, either by coincidence or divine intervention, it has taken the Eritrean people 30 years of armed struggle to achieve their independence against all the odds and another 30 years of resilience and sacrifices to defend their sovereignty and gain political and economic emancipation.


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