By Dr. Metkel Yebiyo,
On the 28th November, Brian Hayes, a member of the European parliament hosted a successful thought provoking conference on the youngest African nation Eritrea.
The main focus of the event was to explore the vast opportunities and sustainable rapid developments and innovations in Eritrea. Ambassadors and officials from a number of countries including Ireland, the UK, Germany and Sweden attended the conference. The event included a series of presentations and an interactive group networking session.
The presentations focused on the significant challenges, opportunities and innovative developments. These comprised presentations by Brian Hayes MEP; Pat Murphy, Head of Environment Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc; John Weakliam, CEO of VITA; Yemane Ghebremeskel, Eritrean Minister for Information; Mr Hans Stausboll of The Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO); Christine Umutoni, a UN Resident Co-Ordinator/UNDP Representative; and Paul Donaldson, CEO of Danakali.
Brian Hayes opened the conference by providing a quick introduction and highlighting the primary objectives of organizing this platform.
Pat Murphy discussed the bilateral memorandum of understanding agreement signed with the Eritrean government. This is a five year contract concentrating on increasing food production and establishing a research centre.
The research in food production is mainly focused on potatoes with the goal of raising production from 10 tonnes to 30 tonnes annually. He added that a replica food research centre to that existing in Ireland will also be established in Eritrea to conduct research on increasing food production and cross-breeding of cattle.
During this time, student exchange collaboration programmes between Ireland and Eritrea will be established by forming a linkage with the higher education institution in Eritrea.
VITA has been operating in Eritrea for 25 years and has been working on providing clean water and eco-friendly stoves (Mogogo Adhanet). John Weakliam presented on the positive outcome of the Green Impact Fund, which is a €2 million social impact investment project. Through this project, carbon emission per household would be reduced by 200,000 tonnes and over 10,000 families have benefited from this efficient stove that does not require wood to burn. Additionally, he also highlighted the benefits of solar panels which will cut down the costs and carbon emissions of using kerosene.
Furthermore, in spite of the failure of the so-called “Guarantors of Peace” who pledged to effect implementation of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) decisions and in spite of the numerous stumbling blocks that have been imposed against Eritrea including sanctions, John emphasized that the international communities such as the EU have a lot to learn from Eritrea.
The EU is changing its approach accepting that Aid does not work, and nobody believes in hand-outs. He stated that Eritrea is the first country to stand up and say we don’t need hand-outs, just help us to help our people and the Eritrean government believes in Trade partner not Aid partner.
John concluded his talk by resonating that Eritrea is absolutely open for business provided that the business is community led, not EU dependent and provided it is adding sustainable value to socio-economic development in Eritrea.
Christine Umutoni has presented on the positive experience of UNDP and the relationship with the Eritrean government, in setting out proposals and ensuring delivery. Eritrea is one of the few countries in Africa that is making steady progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
She underlined that the intentions of the UNDP are to concentrate its efforts in achieving the remaining MDGs which are spearheaded by tremendous community involvement as stakeholders. Also women’s representation in the community representatives is growing.
The Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) is responsible for designing European international cooperation and development policy and delivering aid throughout the world. Hans Stausboll spoke on the important engagement progress achieved in the past few years. He acknowledged that the EU has been very slow in engaging and collaborating with Eritrea, and hopes that the two parties can work better for the benefit of the population of Eritrea.
Hans re-iterated the need for continues engagement and dialogue between Eritrea and the EU, he added that the EU is very keen to continue engaging with Eritrea and to support the country to move forward on their development, albeit that concerns for human rights issues linger, such as the Commission of Inquiry (COIE) report, delay of elections, luck of communications etc.
However, the EU also notes Eritrea’s positive steps of accepting the UPR recommendations, involvement in curbing of the migration crisis through the Khartoum process, and its eagerness to work on the European development Fund projects (EDF 11).
The Eritrean mining sector has been the area of attraction for many international mining companies and support institutions active in the mining industry, hence the last presentation given by Paul Donaldson addressed the fast development progress of Colluli potash project in Eritrea.
The potash extraction project led by Danakali is a vast project which contains a 1.1 billion tonne ore reserve with potential to last for up to 200-years. Its production will have a massive impact on the agricultural sector of the country enabling it to increase the quality of fertilisers. The company has been operating in Eritrea since 2009 although it is yet to begin extracting minerals. This project has the potential for creating jobs for up to 300 Eritreans by 2018. Danakali is aware of the environmental concerns of mineral extraction and aims to conduct environmental impact assessments to tackle this, as well as providing corporate social responsibility to encourage a safe working environment.
Finally the floor was given to the audience to express their questions and comments to the panelists.
Dr Bereket Fessehatzion used this opportunity to ask Mr Hans whether the EU gather its information regarding the human rights situation in Eritrea solely from reports such as COIE or does it also take into account the opinions of their representatives in Eritrea?
Michel Collon Belgian writer and journalist from the independent information team recognized the positive spirit of this collaboration programme and said he was really pleased to hear the panellist introducing this hearing saying that Europe has a lot to learn from Eritrea. Because he said that as a journalist when you hear the television and read the newspapers, this seems exactly the contrary that Eritrea should only learn from Europe and nothing more.
The Eritrean government is continuously fighting the battle against mainstream media disinformation, Michel told the meeting as a journalist, who has studied political crimes; when the world bank went to Eritrea and said we are going to write your programme the Eritreans said sorry we are able and we know the situation here and we will write our programme and this has been considered as a major political crime by the international communities.
Dr Mohamed Hassan, a former Ethiopian diplomat in Washington, Beijing and Brussels, as well as an MP representing the militant Belgian Labour Party, raised a question of why does the EU insist on demonizing Eritrea but is not ready to compel Ethiopia to respect the human rights of its citizens and is the EU aware of the toxins from the massive flower plantations that are causing cancer to the communities residing around those areas?
Mebrak Ghebreweldi, Director at Diversity Resources International (DRI), also raised an important point she said that there are a lot of youths that leave Eritrea but a lot that also remain. Many young people I know are in the national service and have been so for almost 10 years. They may not be happy but they are hopeful that they will rebuild the nation. It is a choice whether people want to remain in Eritrea or flee, it is also a choice whether people want to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean or not.
Two misguided young Eritreans Zara and Daniel who were accompanied by two Dutch ladies so called human rights activist, regurgitated the Commission of Inquiry report on human rights.