By E Abraham,
COERCION is everywhere; coercion and bullying through successive wars of aggression, to political and economic isolations, to demonizing negative PR campaigns, to unjust and unfair UN sanctions, to human trafficking…the list is endless. The latest stunt, a sequel to the human trafficking campaign, in the form of a ‘human rights report’ by the UN’s ‘commission of inquiry’, is nothing but another one of those coercive campaigns. Coercion, to make Eritreans forget their history including the repeated and orchestrated injustices and abuses of their basic human rights at the hands of the so called ‘international community’, which in actual fact is the West lead by the USA.
Eritreans are being coerced and bullied in to making them forget the times when the whole world sided with Ethiopia’s Imperial ambitions and denied their basic human rights of self-determination or outright independence as was offered to every other ‘country’ that was coming out of the grips of colonial Europe. The following infamous quote from the then US ambassador to the UN, John Foster Dulles, as a representative of the De facto leader of the western world, sums up the disdain with which Eritreans were held.
“From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and the considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally Ethiopia.”
Justice Vs. strategic interest of the United States. By now, it has become common knowledge that strategic interest and not necessarily justice would continue to define US relationships with not only Eritrea but also the rest of the world as a whole.
Confronted with such unjust, unfair, arrogant and at the same time ignorant and short sighted decision of the West, the Eritrean youth didn’t waste time before they organized first themselves then the entire population of Eritrea. They embarked on one of the deadliest and at the same time perhaps the smartest liberation wars the world has ever seen. They ultimately won the war but not without sacrificing the lives of those of Eritrea’s best and brightest and sustaining unimaginable sufferings and loss of opportunities by the entire nation.
The West had ample opportunities to side with Eritrea’s just war for independence, not so much to right the wrong but because for the most part of the struggle (17 years to be exact) Ethiopia had been under an absolute Marxist government which would have made it a legitimate target for both ideological and geopolitical reasons. One would expect the west to have taken the opportunity created by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in helping remove the Marxist government in Ethiopia to ultimately counter the Soviet Union’s expansion in to Africa. Well, that did not happen for reasons only the west could understand and explain.
But the most disturbing aspect of that period in Eritrea’s history is that, human rights organizations, the mainstream media and the UN, which are shedding crocodile tears for the ‘slaves’ working at Bisha gold mines today, had been dead silent when Napalm was raining from Eritrean skies, indiscriminately killing children, women, young and old. One would be right in believing that what happened to Eritreans during that period was a perpetration of an organized crime against humanity, where the East (the Soviet Bloc) supplied the weapons, logistics and the money; the Ethiopians provided the troops, and the West just turned a blind eye and made sure that there was a total media blackout of the ongoing atrocities. One can only wonder if, even then, Eritrean independence could have been perceived more dangerous than the combined threat from the expansion of the Soviet Union in to Africa and the excesses of the Marxist government in Ethiopia.
This silence and indifference of the ‘international community’ to the plight of the Eritrean people was again on display when more than 80,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were deported illegally from Ethiopia and nearly a million Eritreans were internally displaced and are still living in makeshift camps following the recent war of aggression by Ethiopia. Talking about the human rights of Eritreans without considering the plight of nearly a million people who are unable to go back to their villages because the ‘international community’ is unwilling to shoulder its responsibility of enforcing the decisions of its own court of arbitration (the EEBC) is dishonest.
Now, instead of being offered formal apologies and compensations, the Eritrean people are being bullied in to making them forget this shameful history of the ‘international community’. To add insult to injury, those same governments, institutions and media organizations are turning around and crying out loud as advocates of the human rights of the Eritrean people. They began preaching that Eritreans were in the direst situations and needed to rise against their government that is led by the very people who fought them tooth and nail to bring about an independent nation that every Eritrean is proud of.
When, unsurprisingly, that message fell on deaf ears, they went back to their old tricks of economic sanctions and political isolations in the hope that the resulting hardships would put a wedge between the people and the government of Eritrea. This hasn’t worked either and will never work, because the people and government of Eritrea literally live together and know and trust one another so well that it is impossible to put a wedge between them. This mutual trust is unbreakable because it is a rock-solid product of more than half a century of bonding through thick and thin.
More than half a century ago or soon after WWII, after the realization of the changing times and not out of benevolence; the European colonial masters started giving out ‘independence’ on silver platters to all or most African countries. In most cases, indigenous governments (complete with their flags, national anthems, trained police and army) were ‘set up’ by their former masters. The few exceptions such as Zaire (present day Democratic Republic of Congo) and Somalia, which attempted at a semblance of home-grown representative governance were brutally brought back to earth pretty quickly; and more than half a century on, they are still paying the price for their audaciousness.
Eritrea, on the other hand, had to fight a bitter war of liberation for 30 long years and had to earn its independence with the sweat, blood and precious lives of its best and brightest sons and daughters. With all the unimaginable sufferings, sacrifices and loss of opportunities the protracted war of independence brought about, it also presented Eritrea with a unique opportunity to learn to rely on its own resources and to be able to chart its own independent path with regard to its political, social and economic development programmes.
And without exaggeration, it is this legacy of the liberation struggle that sets Eritrea apart and equipped it to overcome the seemingly perpetual challenges it has been facing and no doubt will continue to face in the future. This is an enormous asset not only for the generation that took part and accomplished the feat but also for generations of Eritreans to come. One cannot put a value or price tag on the knowledge that ‘you have done it before’ and the self-belief and can-do attitude this brings to Eritreans as a people.
The people of Eritrea magnanimously understand this fact, its magnitude and implications. Eritreans
also know for a fact that this is the most important part of their history that they are being asked to forget. They are being coerced to make them forget their extraordinary unparalleled history of resilience and triumphant accomplishments both during the war for liberation and since independence. All the negative PR campaigns in the major media outlets, via the so called ‘think tanks’, ‘commission of inquiries’ etc., are aimed at neutralizing this sense of history and a futile attempt at putting a dent in the pride of a people that has achieved the unthinkable. In return, those same entities that have been throwing countless hurdles in Eritrea’s path are offering a ‘fresh start’ complete with ‘a flag’ and ‘a national anthem’. Eritreans are being offered mediocrity in exchange for their extraordinary history.
The people of Eritrea have always known and will never forget the fact that theirs is a great nation with a huge untapped potential. A great nation being rebuilt out of the ashes of a long bitter war for justice and human rights. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that perhaps others may have also known this fact for a very long time. The highest world body (the Security Council of the UN) with the urging of the only superpower in the world, would not want to place multiple unjust sanctions on a “tiny” and “impoverished” country based on a completely fabricated and false pretext. It just does not make sense. One has to be perceived to be a threat of some sort to be persecuted at such a high level.
Eritreans are also well aware of the fact that Eritrea, geopolitically speaking, is sitting on a prime real estate that has been and will continue to be the source of some unwanted attention from the powers to be. The self-reliant and fiercely independent political culture, cultivated during the struggle for liberation purely out of necessity, has proven to be a potent weapon in terms of fending off some of those unwanted attentions. In consolidation of that political culture, post-independent Eritrea has been strictly following a policy of what could be roughly described as “impermeability to foreign interference” and “non-response” to outside pressure/inducement (corruption by another name). By sticking to these core principles, Eritrea believes that it is slowly but surely marching on the right track and absolutely feels vindicated by the outcomes of recent western experiments in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, South Sudan etc.
By the same token, Eritrea’s troubles with the west, particularly the USA arise mainly from this strict adherence to a self-reliant and independent political path offering little room for interference and kowtowing. Eritrea is unapologetic in that, at this moment in time, there doesn’t appear to be any feasible alternative to this time tested and proven political principle that continues to serve it extremely well. Eventual changes, therefore, could only be possible following a corresponding change in the circumstances that necessitated its existence in the first place. Circumstances and genuine concerns, such as those which continue to make Eritrea feel that its sovereignty is under constant threat, should change first.
One way of changing those circumstances would be through trust building measures that could help restore Eritrea’s confidence in international justice and fairness. Instead of isolating and demonizing Eritrea, providing it with a platform to voice its grievances as well as share its challenges and success stories would be a good start. Enforcing the EEBC’s demarcation decisions and demanding the unconditional withdrawal of Ethiopia from sovereign Eritrean territories would be another good start. Reversing the unjust and unfair UN sanctions would be another one. These are changes the ‘international community’ could easily make happen and which would have far reaching consequences on the security, wellbeing and human rights of the people of Eritrea.
Eritreans as a people rightly believe that their basic human right of getting justice is once again being frustrated by the ‘international community’ and not by their government. If the West and particularly the USA is really serious about the welfare and human rights of the people of Eritrea, they should be willing to listen to Eritrea’s concerns and genuinely engage the government of Eritrea as partners for human rights, peace, justice and development.
Those Washington wizards whose job is tossing between “justice vs. strategic interest” should also realize that even on account of strategic interests of the USA, keeping the stable and tranquil Eritrea on side, in a region that is fast becoming chaotic and unpredictable could pay off in both the short and long term.
In the meantime, however, no amount of coercive tactics and no amount of bullying could make the people of Eritrea forget their history. On the contrary, the people of Eritrea will continue to uphold and use their history as a perspective with which to wisely scrutinize the present and meticulously craft their future; a future that is so bright it is hurting eyes already!