As Eritreans look back on 2015, it is fair to say that they have come full circle, have had everything thrown at them and come back to the time tested values and principles that have enabled them to achieve success against all odds. Eritrea’s values and principles, cultures and traditions.
Volumes have been produced to give Eritrea and Eritreans a new image by the mainstream media, the NGO and religious “networks”. The people of Eritrea everywhere have put up a resolute collective defiance against the assault. The attacks spared none. Everything from Eritrea’s budding and nascent political institutions to the established cultural and social institutions, to its people, especially the youth, including Eritrea’s tight knit Diaspora communities were targeted. The assault began a few years into Eritrea’s independence and the last decade was fast and furious.
The people of Eritrea have been subjected “hard power” and “soft power” attacks at various times in their history. They have seen violence, warfare, and terror attacks. Ogbazgy A. Asmerom in his 2011 article, “Eritrea: The Land of Determination, Perseverance, and Sacrifice”, sums it up:
“…Turkish rule was brutal; Egyptian administration was ugly; Italian rule was racist; British administration was maliciously armed with “divide and rule” tactics; but Ethiopian occupation was the worst of all, the culmination of every brutality. It was as worse as it comes. Ethiopian successive rulers had killed, tortured and brutalized Eritreans…”
The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) called for the people of Eritrea to undo the effects of colonialism consciously-to rid Eritrea of the physical aspects of colonization, ending Ethiopia’s in 1991, but also the psychological, mental, and spiritual aspects which still plagues some.The struggle continues…
Thousands paid with their lives and many more were injured and maimed during the long and bitter struggle for Eritrean independence which ended on 24 May 1991. But just a few years into independence, the people of Eritrea had to once again defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity when Ethiopia launched its aggressive war of invasion and occupation in 1998-2000. Eritrean determination, steadfastness, tenacity, sacrifice and unity were once again needed, to overcome this “hard power” attack. But before the ink on the Cessation of Hostilities Agreements signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000 had dried, the “soft power” attacks on Eritreans was launched.
Joseph S. Frye, who coined the phrase “soft power”, says:
“… Soft power co-opts people. It is a form of power – a means of pursuing national interests … When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive …”
Eritreans were actively targeted and lured by the “attractiveness” of western culture, political ideals and policies. It is fair to say that many were influenced …
Kenyan intellectual Ngugiwa Thiong’o, in his book ‘Decolonising the Mind’, calls the weapon of choice, the “cultural bomb” and says:
“… The effect of the cultural bomb is annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.
It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own. It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces which would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral rightness of struggle. Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish …”
Led by western anthropologists, international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Christian Fundamentalist groups such as the Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors and others, and the western media conglomerates such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Guardian, and Reuters in tow, claiming the mantle of universal human rights and humanitarian goals, all joined in the orchestrated “soft power” campaigns of vilification and defamation, against the State of Eritrea and its people.
Adopting the rhetoric of human rights and international law in their many publications and by couching political attacks in legal terms, these groups and individuals sought to create a veneer of credibility and expertise for their claims.
Unlike the many initiatives organized and funded by Eritreans in the Diaspora, these efforts were funded via large grants provided by the Europe Union, European governments, and prominent foundations including George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US State Department.
Western anthropologists led the assault with “scholarly” papers that presented Eritrea as the “Giant Prison”, where “Dreams don’t come true”. The western media said that Eritrea’s youth would rather die in the sea, than work and serve the people of Eritrea “indefinitely”. Eritrea’s National Service Program and the Warsay-Yikaalo Development Program (WYP), Eritrea’s strategy for development were labeled “slavery” and said the youth were denied “freedom to leave” their country at will. Eritrea’s cultures, values and principles on self-respect, self-reliance and dignity were obsessively maligned and undermined. Eritrea’s rich and long established religious institutions were presented as being “backward” and adherents, especially the youth, were encouraged to embrace “modernity”, represented by global projects such as the “Joshua Project”. Eritrea was targeted by the global proliferation of new religious movements and “evangelical Christianity” emanating from the Bible Belt in the United States and Europe.
Reports were produced by westerners to enable their “understanding of transnational processes of Eritrea and the Eritrean diaspora”.
Through various publications in academic institutions and think tanks, Eritrea’s gallant history and those who sacrificed life and limb to liberate Eritrea, as well as those working to rebuild their war torn nation, were maligned and denigrated, and their incredible achievements undermined.
Eritrea’s youth paid the heaviest price; lured to “greener pastures”, they instead found themselves in hostile environments.
Some wasted their youthful years in squalid refugee camps, and others in Europe’s migrant camps and detention centers, and many in underground nuclear bunkers separated from the population. Suffering at the hands of human traffickers, some served as helpless pawns for political agendas, but sadly thousands perished trying to reach the promise of Europe …
Eritrean identity, history and cultures as well as it’s tried and tested value systems were targeted and undermined. Suffice it to present a few phrases from the volumes produced over the last 15 years by western anthropologists on post-independence Eritrea and its nation building strategies:
“… In summer 2002 the government announced the socalled WarsayYikealo Development Campaign [WYDC]. The younger generation is referred to as warsay, meaning “inheritor” or “follower”. While yikealo denotes a wise elderly person, a term the government uses explicitly for the fighter generation. The younger generation is supposed to follow in the footsteps of the former fighters by internalizing and practicing the values of self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication to the Eritrean nation in the form of unlimited and unpaid service…” – (Nicole Hirt)
“… the WarsayYikealo Development Campaign is an attempt to contest the cultural spaces of the various social groups by superimposing the ideology of the armed struggle on the young generation. It is forbidden to practice one’s religion in the military service, and the rich variety of language and culture is merged into a superficial performance of cultural dances presented during state holidays, which cannot cover the predominance of Tigrinya language and culture which dominates life in the national service, reflecting the power structure within the ruling elites within the government and military…” – (Nicole Hirt)
“… It has rightly been observed that even before 2001 Sawa, the national military training centre in a remote location in the western lowlands, received considerably more attention and investment than the UoA, Eritrea’s only institution of higher education…” – (Tanya Muller)
“… Although it seems that loyalty to the Eritrean national identity has not diminished, Eritrean citizenship has lost much of its appeal […], especially among young people that are about to serve their compulERITREA: The people’s Resolute Defiance sory military service. Therefore, national identity could start to fray…” – (Alexandra Dias)
“… The leadership’s “insistence on pursuing their ideology of “self-reliance” may thus turn out to be at best counter-productive, and at worst disastrous. The government simply cannot afford to scare away donors, NGOs, and UN agencies (not to mention foreign investors) by adhering to a nationalist narrative based on “stubbornness” – (Christian Bundegaard, 2004)
“… most of the population will have no personal memory of the struggle at all, and calls by members of the ruling party to remember their heroic contribution will simply fall on uncomprehending ears. In some cases, as with the national service scheme in Eritrea, deliberate efforts were made by the ruling party to inculcate into rising generations the values of struggle, discipline and dedication to the cause that had driven their predecessors, but – try as one may – the post-liberation situation is so different that this objective is almost impossible to achieve…” – (Christopher Clapham)
The “cultural bomb” was unleashed on the Eritrean people. The subversion of the peoples’ minds and lives continues under various guises; the mantra of “human rights”, “democracy”, “freedom of movement” etc. etc. are being raised to subordinate national laws, principles and values. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Eritrean people – one that Eritreans should never relinquish.
So as we enter 2016, the clarion call for Eritreans everywhere is what it was, way back then. It is time to go back to the basics again – ሓፋሽ ይንቃሕ ይወደብ ይተዓጠቅ! … or in the words of Ngugiwa Thiong’o, Eritreans everywhere:
“... have to confront this threat with the higher and more creative culture of resolute struggle … weld even more firmly the weapons of the struggle contained in their cultures… have to speak the united language of struggle contained in each of their languages…. discover their various tongues to sing the song: ‘A people united can never be defeated‘…”