In commemoration of our indepenence day

On May 24, Eritrea will celebrate its twentieth birthday as an independent and sovereign nation. On the 24th of May 1991, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Army (EPLA) marched victoriously into the national capital, Asmara, bringing to an end the century-long oppression and subjugation under consecutive foreign occupations of our land and people. Not only did the EPLF promise the Eritrean people that the phenomena of oppression, lack of freedom and violation of human rights would forever be relegated to the dustbin of history, but also independence would usher in a new era where peace, tranquility, prosperity and social justice would prevail. These were the main core values that motivated our people to fight a heroic defencewar against a country that had sub-Saharan Africa’s strongest army.[1]

While we all celebrate this historic day, it is legitimate to ask ourselves where we are as a nation and whether we have done enough to undo the injustices our people had suffered and to improve their quality of life.  

On 24 May 1991, the people of Eritrea welcomed their victorious liberation army with unprecedented and colourfuljubilation and they have been celebrating Independence Day every year since then. This year being the 20th anniversary has special significance. We believe that we have reached the time to look back and evaluate our collective performance as a sovereign nation. It is also appropriate to look at the reality on the ground soberly and objectively.

The following may in a nutshell summarisethe reality on the ground:

1.      twenty years after, Eritrea is still being ruled by a translational government which according to Article 3 (2) of Proclamation No. 37/1993 was supposed to remain in power for a maximum of four years;  

2.      the constitution that was ratified by the Constituent Assembly in May 1997 has been collecting dust since then due to the government’s refusal to implement it; 

3.      Eritrean borders have been battlegrounds on several occasions and the deleterious impact of the last dispute still persists detrimentally affecting the nation;

4.      not only are many of the pre-independence refugees still remaining in the countries of asylum instead of returning to the country they love, but contrary to expectation, not only has independence failed to stem the flow of new refugees, but Eritrea has become one of the highest refugee-producing countries in the world—thousands of Eritrean youth have been fleeing the country facing imminent risks to their lives—with potential detrimental consequences on the future of the nation;

5.      the entire generation of Eritrean youth is locked in an open-ended conscription with no prospect for demobilisation contrary to the spirit and letter of Proclamation No. 82/1995 which stipulates that the duration of the national service should be nothing less or more than 18 months—the national service has over time degenerated into indefinite forced labour;

6.      notwithstanding that the Transitional Government had unequivocally declared, ‘Eritrea’s economy must be a market economy’[2] and ‘the private sector is the lead actor in the economic activities of Eritrea,’[3] the government’s deliberate and hostile policies have killed the private sector and the PFDJ’s poorly managed and inefficient firms have gained full  monopoly in all the sectors and not surprisingly, the national economy is in the sorry state it is in;

7.      the Government’s appalling human rights records remain among the worst in the world reflected, inter alia, in large numbers of arbitrary and incommunicado detentions where family visits are prohibited and tortures and inhuman treatments are widespread; and

8.      the government’s myopic and misguided policies have left Eritrea being among the most isolated countries in the world.

The above list can be extended. It is important to realisethat the enormity and complexity of the external and internal challenges Eritrea faces should neither be understated nor stereotyped because the former may lead to smugness and the latter to oversimplification and frivolity. Both attitudes that are manifest in the opposing sides of the political spectrum are undesirable and imprudent.  

In spite of the bleak picture painted in the preceding paragraphs, there is still hope to salvage the situation. A basic requirement for this is the need to extricate ourselves from the grip of small-mindedness, the ‘sound biteculture’ and sub-national loyalties and projects. Instead, we need to work tirelessly for the common good of our nation. We need to organiseourselves in pursuit of the core values our people fought for—freedom, democracy, equality, human dignity, the sanctity of rule of law and human life. Although the government bears the lion’s share of the responsibility, all of us have the duty to work tirelessly to put Eritrea on the right track.

It is never too late to:

·         implement the ratified constitution;

·         introduce reforms guaranteeing citizens’ fundamental democratic and human rights;

·         free or bring to justice all political prisoners in the country;

·         limit the duration of the national service to 18 months as stipulated in Proclamation No. 82/1995 and demobilise and reintegrate all those who have performed their national duty;

·         demobilise all citizens who have been  condemned to serve ‘for life’ without remuneration and consequently stem the flow of tens of thousands of refugees;

·         pursue economic policies that provide enabling environments for domestic and foreign investors in which the Eritrean Diaspora could play important roles as conduit of foreign investment and/or as investors; and

·         introduce political reforms that would lead towards the establishment of a democratically elected government

In spite of the hardship and severity of the suffering they endured, Eritreans have demonstrated an admirable sense of dignity and perseverance hoping that the government would realiseits folly and make amends by changing its course. Hitherto there has been no sign that it would hand over state power to a democratically elected government as it promised during the war of independence and during its ascendance to power.

When their patience runs out, the Eritrean people who have a heroic history of rising against repression and domination will say ‘enough is enough.’  Whether the Eritrean people say ‘enough is enough’ and the time when they are likely to invoke this slogan is, inter alia, the function of inextricably inter-linked multiple and complex domestic, regional and international considerations.

The single most important consideration in all this is the presence of a legitimate and credible opposition which single-mindedly prioritisesEritrea’s national interest, as well as the interest of every citizen regardless of his or her ethnic, religious or regional identity.

The Eritrean people have suffered long enough to understand that it is imprudent to relinquish the little they have in favourof the uncertain future which they fear may plunge the country into a bottomless abyss—the adage the devil you know’ springs to mind. Whether we like it or not, the prospects for political change will remain as remote as ever unless the alternative is far more superior to what is already there. This is an elementary truth not nuclear physics. It is also vital not only to realisebut also embrace the fundamental truth that change is nothing, but the unfolding of what is there.  

Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea – CDRiE

The Executive Board

London 20.05.2011

See C. E. Welch (1991) “The military and social integration in Ethiopia,” in Dietz, Elkin, J. an Roumani (eds.),

Ethnicity, Integration, and the Military. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, pp. 151-178

[2]EPLF, ‘A National Charter for Eritrea for a Democratic, Just and Prosperous Future’.

approved by the Third Congress of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, Nakfa, February 1994.

[3] The Government of the State of Eritrea, Macro-Economic Policy, November 1994

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