By Amanuel Biedemariam,
Eritreans in the Metro DC area gathered in Washington Marriott on the 8th of December for Mekete Meeting that Eritreans hold regularly all around the globe. What made this gathering unique however, was the fact that the weather was terrible. The region was hit with rain, sleet, freezing-rain, snow and windy-cold weather prompting for major alerts and street closings. Undeterred by the bad weather, however, Eritreans gathered to express support for their people and government, show unity and to get updates on current developments. They gathered to make a statement of unwavering commitment.
The room was full of huddled Eritreans eager to hear updates from Mr. Berhane Ghebrihewot Charge d’ Affairs of the Embassy of Eritrea DC, Dr. Tesfay Aradom’s and Dr. Ghidewon’s lectures on subjects of import that can impact the security, sovereignty and Eritrean unity. It also included updates on the developments of the Lampedusa victims by Simone Mariotti and touching poems by Ayahun Kidanemariam and Girmay Yohannes. It was a spirited event and lasted nearly five hours.
The event started with remembrance of Eritrea’s heroes and, after brief introductory words by the head of the Mekete organizing committee Mrs. Freweini Tekeste, Mr. Berhane took podium and briefed Eritreans. Brief summary of Mr. Berhane’s briefing:
Mr. Berhane said he was not sure how many will show up considering the weather alerts and said, this shows the will and determination that these many Eritreans showed up ignoring terrible weather conditions. After independence in 1991, our armed struggle may have ended but our struggle continues because of the persistent challenges designed to weaken and destabilize us. Citing examples of instabilities in the region, Mr. Berhane warned, we must be careful about those who claim to be human rights activists with motives by stressing, “To date there exist no organization that genuinely works for human rights, ” and added, Eritreans foiled these attempts because of our united-strength and by challenging them head on. “Mekitkumo.”
Eritrea is working hard to ensure better future for the youth by focusing on building the nation particularly the future of the youth that is building the future. However, the enemies are desperately trying to sabotage our youth, progress and attempting to divert our focus, energy and resources on those outside the country. These enemies are hard at work to accuse Eritrea for many human rights related issues. The reality however, these are criminals that Eritrea will hold accountable for many crimes. It is therefore high time that Eritreans expose these enemies and call them-out for what they are. These people are conducting their campaigns based on pure lies and fabrications and we have to tell them that they are lying and challenge them. Mr. Berhane continued, we have to call, “Thief, a thief, otherwise they will think it is ok and continue.”
On the diplomatic front the GoE has been working hardest. With the U.S. we have been asking for constructive engagement and their tone is changing particularly after the last UN session. They are speaking with encouraging “Words.” In our region and at the AU we have made tremendous stride. In fact one can conclude that most of the countries, particularly the members of IGAD view matters our way. Ethiopia is the current chairman of IGAD and sensing the change is refusing to call for a meeting essentially holding the organization hostage. Regarding Ethiopia, Eritrea has steadfastly stood by the EEBC binding ruling of April 13, 2002, unfortunately, Ethiopia, has refused to honor the ruling and is still occupying Eritrean sovereign territory thus hindering the possibility of normalizing relations.
The question, why are they changing their tone now? It is our Mekete. Your efforts are bearing fruit to the point that they are seeing things our way. You have worked hard and as a result beginning to see fruit of your efforts.
We have made progress, achieved successes at a moment of great adversities, shortages, and we have done more with meager resources. It is true that Eritrea is slated to be the third fastest economy and it is happening because we have created the foundation and structures necessary with the focus on people and ensuring ownership of our resources.
In Africa everything is for sale. Most African countries sell their telephone systems and all their resources to foreign entities. To the contrary, Eritrea is selling shares to Eritreans to ensure ownership. There is a lot of room and we-all need to participate for its success. And added, the GoE has been striving to improve electricity supply by doubling the capacity and beyond. Mr. Berhane said that the PFDJ is being reinvigorated in line with the current development stages.
About Eritrean unity, Mr. Berhane said, unity is not physical. It is based on our minds, hearts; it is based on our collective experiences, beliefs, stands and goals. Therefore, we must all think for our country and her future-progress. And exposed, the current talk about unity is farce because they are trying to create teams based on ethnic and religious teams.
Dr. Tesfai Aradom presented, “The Human Rights Council (HRC): A Political Tool? The Case of Eritrea.” Dr. Tesfai exposed the politically motivated HRC Report 20/20 orchestrated by arch enemies of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the US, in a draft resolution written by Djibouti, Somalia and Nigeria to give appearance of African support. UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Eritrea Sheila B. Keetaruth’s assignment was politically motivated move to make a case on Eritrea based on fabrications and from the start her bias was obvious.
Dr. Tesfay stressed, Ms. Keetaruth finished her scathing report in 10 days based on accounts of Eritrean enemies-based in Ethiopia. Her report was based on lies, fabrications and from rumors the anti-Eritrea elements have been writing. Dr. Tesfay presented data that exposed her outright-lies by comparing it with factual data from UN and other records, and exposed the logic behind her farcical report. To mention some:
The goals of her reports are to make a case at best to hasten or for the continuation of the sanction in place and destabilize Eritrea in pursuit of US/Ethiopian agendas. Ms. Keetaruth went further and made recommendations that violated the sovereignty of Eritrea outside her mandate raising serious questions regarding her motives and the integrity of the report. Ms. Keetaruth recommended that the mining sector’s income be taken out of the hands of the GoE and handed to a third party that essentially managed Eritrea’s economy.
This, because, according to her report, based on interviews with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia she conducted, she concluded nearly all families in Eritrea have experienced a politically motivated imprisonment or death of a family member. Ms. Keetaruth has never been to SAWA, presented no evidence, and yet managed to write,
“Owing to the harsh conditions at the Sawa military camp, students commit suicide or fall ill and die. In one year, two girls died. For having failed to clean the bathroom, a female student was punished by being forced to roll over on the hot ground, thus sustaining severe burns to her body. Unable to bear the pain, she leaned on a live electric wire and was electrocuted. Her friend, who was trying to rescue her, also died. When students die in Sawa, their bodies are buried in a graveyard with no tombstones. Parents are rarely informed about the death of a child.”
Ms. Keetaruth’s report had no regard to facts or the reality in Eritrea when she lied,
“The only university in the country, the University of Asmara, was closed in 2006. Regional colleges, which are administered by the military and linked closely to military training and political indoctrination, are the only option for post-secondary education.”
Regarding minority rights Ms. Keetaruth reported,
“The Afar consider that they are targeted as a community and are discriminated against given that the Afar region has suffered from lack of development and security for the past 20 years. The Kunama assert that they have been marginalized, a situation that has brought about disparities in their access to such basic social services a health care and education. They are subjected to extrajudicial killings, death in custody, arbitrary arrests and detention, expropriation leading to destruction of their traditional way of life and displacement. UNHCR, 2007 announced that 700 ethnic Kunama refugees from Eritrea were settled in America from the Shimelba Refugee Camp.”
These are examples of some of the accusations and fabrications Ms. Keetaruth reported. Dr. Tesfay said he was dumbfounded about the report on higher education because he said, “Like many others, I go to Eritrea and teach in these institutions,” and clarified, Eritrea has increased access to higher education from 5,000 in 2004 to 18,000 in 2012 by establishing Eritrean Institute of Technology, Halhale College of Business and Economics, Hamelmalo Agricultural College, Adi Keih College of Arts and Sciences, College of Marine Sciences and Technology and Asmara College of Health Sciences, Orotta School of Medicine and Dental Medicine.
Regarding Sawa Dr. Tesfai stated that Ms. Keetaruth’s report was designed to, “Denigrate and sabotage GOE’s efforts to cultivate youth who are patriotic, conscious, dedicated and, productive citizens. It is a matter of national security and sovereignty.” He said all nations would like to build such institutions and cultivate responsible youth and Eritrea is not sending the youth for hardship rather they are in Sawa for education and to train to defend their country.
About her claims that Kunama and other minority groups suppression, Dr. Tesfai stated that the aim to isolate these minority groups in the Afar in order to ascertain Weyane’s agenda to use Afar issue to gain access to sea and youth Kunama to invalidate Eritrea’s territorial claims.
Her report attacked many aspects of the Eritrean way of life and Dr. Tesfai explained that Eritrea’s foundation is solid and cited, based on World Health Report (WHO) the life Expectancy in Eritrea is 65, the highest in Sub Sahara Africa. The Status of Education in Eritrea if we take literacy as example Eritrea has the high Literacy Rate at 80% compared to 39% for Ethiopia. If we look at the prevalence of HIV/AIDS 0.6% for Eritrea the lowest in Africa compared to 16-20 % in Addis Ababa. Dr. Tesfay stressed, Eritrea has reached the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on Child Mortality Rate, Improving Maternal Health and combat HIV/AIDS and on track to meet others.
Dr. Tesfai’s report methodically exposed the lies and used the opportunity to educate the true picture of realities in Eritrea in depth while exposing Ms. Kettaruth’s intentions, motivations, methodology and evidences or lack there-of. He then closed by urging Eritreans to remain vigilant.
Dr. Ghidewon Abbay Asmerom gave detailed account on how religion is used as political tool. Citing a quote from Jomo Kenyata, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. As we closed our eyes to pray they had the land and were left with the bible.”
Dr. Ghidewon explained in detail how religion is used politically to create a divide, confusion and to manipulate with the sole purpose, ensure dominance. Dr. Ghidewon’s moving account is hard to recite however; the core of the message was “Country above religion” and that we must expose the hired representatives’ that are parading as religious leaders and priests. He also exposed their relation to Ethiopia.
Simone Mariotti gave a moving account of his experiences in Italy. Mr. Mariotti went to Agrigento where they had people coming to identify their dead family-members of the victims of Lampedusa. He helped the families with translation and going to the cemeteries to find the burials. Recalling the cries of the mothers and families, Simone was teary-eyed when he spoke pained about his experiences in Agrigento. Mr. Mariotti said, “What I uncovered of the realities on the ground when I arrived in Agrigento was completely different than the accounts we were receiving in the US.” He said,
“We received one-sided information based on biased journalists and the anti-Eritrean elements accounts that all the victims fled military service. The reality however, majority of those who died were kids, mothers, older men and women not in military services. Some of the saved were kids and some that served in the military.” Mr. Marriotti continued,
“I have heard what Keshi Mussie told journalists and that is what they aired. Keshi Mussie told journalists, “These people are fleeing from oppression, unlimited military service and forced labor.” The journalists were deliberately asking those with negative sentiments against Eritrea. My colleagues and I were ignored. We wanted to present our views and, we were ignored deliberately. Undeterred, however, we were giving-out flyers and made efforts to present our views independently. All the anti-Eritrean elements were running to get attention from foreign journalists as helped the victims and their families but these efforts were ignored deliberately.”
Mr. Mariotti then urged Eritreans to encourage their families to remain in Eritrea because there is a drive by individuals like Meron Estifanos to leave the country.
Dr. Tesfai asked, “What does Mekete mean? It is not just a word. It means strength, in spirit, defiance, patience, resilience and action. Mekete is challenging the strong and the lies of the powers.”
The people that gathered were the embodiment of Mekete. They understood their roles and came to make loud statements of unity and victory. They came in defiance of the conditions and the pressures. They came to send statement that echoed, “As the Camel marches to victories, the barking dogs will be quashed like pests.” As Freweini Tekste said, “2014 will be the year the enemies will be buried.”
Eritrea will march forever in victory on the name of the martyrs. Awet n-Hafash
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