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The Report Card On Eritrea’s Turtle Economy

What is the role of governments? That is: when should a government’s coercive power be used? The answer is on a continuum: on the one side is a classic libertarian view which argues that the only time a government’s coercive power should be used is to protect the private property of citizens (Locke) and/or to protect them from one another since man’s nature, absent a collective agreement, is to live a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” (Hobbes) On the other side is the view (Lenin) that a vanguard party should have total coercive power to transition a proletariat-led revolution from socialism to communism (Marx.)  All the Maos, Ho Chi Minhs, Mengistus, Meleses and Isaiases of the world have done is to tinker with Marxism-Leninsm to give it a local flavor: we don’t have a proletariat, but we have lots of peasants, so we will just replace “peasants” for “proletariat” in our revolution.  In this long continuum between Locke (individualism) and Lenin (vanguard-led collectivism), there have been countless varieties and experiments and, by the time Eritrea came into existence, it was still looking East for its model: the Asian Tigers. That is: an authoritarian government with a strong hand in the national economy and its development policy. The question then is: is the Asian Tiger model the right one for Eritrea?  And, assuming it is, has the Eritrean government delivered results?  And, if it hasn’t, why hasn’t it?

Berhane Woldu, who writes for Capital Eritrea, says that the Eritrean government is, indeed, showing results. (Eritrea’s Unhurried Development, March 23, 2013.) Berhane argues that many of the complaints Eritreans make about the phase of development in Eritrea are based on their observation of Asmara but it they were to venture out to rural Eritrea, they would witness the development.  Within the Eritrean context, argues Berhane,  “freedom translates into having supply of clean water, electricity; being able to live in a decent home and having a good job, to be able to send our children to school and have accessible health care for all covering the whole country regardless of how remote or inaccessible the area may be.”  He goes on to say that in the first decade after independence the Eritrean government had invested “over a billion US dollars on infrastructure, power plant, roads, dams and social services (schools, hospitals, clean water electrification)” and that, as a result, Eritrea “was registering 7 to 10 % growth” but after the 1998 war, it had a huge trade deficit because there was no foreign investment and huge resources were diverted to national defense.  Nonetheless, goes on Berhane, the government’s focus on four sectors– agriculture, infrastructure, health, and education—is paying off. And the government, he points out, has done this without relying on foreign aid. After itemizing the amount spent on building roads, hospitals and schools and the prioritization of irrigation-based agriculture, animal husbandry, honey farms, Berhane asserts that food sufficiency has been achieved; export based economy is being built; six colleges and a university are enrolling thousands of students, and the achievements in healthcare have been remarkable:

“Access to health care is available in an area of 10 kilometers radius. 75% of the population lives in an area of 5 kilometers from a health center. HIV/AIDS is the lowest in Sub-Sahara Africa 96% of children receive the necessary vaccination. 95% of the urban and 78% of the rural area now have clean water. Eritrea in the last 15 years have eradicated communicable and non-communicable diseases i.e. Malaria, Polio, Small pox and many other. Has lowered infant mortality rate and is providing good health services in all corners of the country.Eritrea’s health expectancy stands at 65 years old the highest in Africa.”

Berhane Woldu’s defense of the Eritrean government is quite a relief: it is at least based on data and not the usual “take three Hadnetna! pills and call me in the morning”  emotional blackmail.

But even if we were to accept his definition of freedom within Eritrea’s context, there are a few problems with Berhane Woldu’s article.

First, there are no sources for his data. Given that he is defending the performance of a secretive government which doesn’t even publish its annual budget, his paper may be a good advocacy piece, but if it is going to be debated, the information has to be sourced. For example, when Berhane says that Eritrea’s economy “was registering 7 to 10% growth”, I have heard this oral report from many government officials in 1998, 1999, 2000 (I am pretty sure I have taken it at face value and written about it, too), but none has bothered to refer to a published report by any number of reporting authorities—IMF, World Bank, etc. Berhane has the burden of proof of showing that Eritrea’s economy grew 7-10% every year from 1991 to 1997 and I do not think he can carry that burden.

Second, there are assertions made that are simply not factual. When Berhane says “Eritrea’s health expectancy stands at 65 years old the highest in Africa”, I presume he means Eritrea’s life expectancy. If so, the information provided by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)  just recently contradicts his information. For one thing, Eritrea’s life expectancy is 62 and not 65. For another, Berhane probably means that the number is “highest in sub-Saharan Africa” because Egypt (73.5), Algeria (73.4), Tunisia (74.7) and Libya (75) all have higher life expectancies than Eritrea. But even if he were to qualify it by saying that Eritrea’s life expectancy is “the highest in sub-Saharan Africa”, he would be wrong because Madagascar at 66.9 and Gabon at 63.1 exceed Eritrea’s life expectancy. Similarly, when Berhane says that Eritrea’s development is less reliant on foreign development assistance than others, his assertion is not based on facts but the usual government sloganeering. In point of fact (as will be shown in the table below), foreign development assistance accounts for 7.7% of Eritrea’s Gross National Income whereas it is 5.5% of the average Low Human Development (poor) country.

Third, the author does not have a useful benchmark when talking about investments. For example, when he says that the Eritrean government invested “over a billion US dollars” (source?) in education, hospitals, roads, etc, he has no point of reference: what is a billion US dollars as a percentage GDP? And, does that compare favorably to that of similarly situated countries?

Fourth, there is a great deal of data missing in his report. If we are going to have an honest debate, it is important that we list the entire data and then give credit where credit is due and place blame where it belongs. Let’s list the entire data first, then have an analysis and drill down into the data and  have an honest debate.

The Complete Data

The UN issues many reports and the one that most authoritarians love—because it has nothing to say about elections, human rights, free press, etc—is the Human Development Index (HDI). This is the same source that government boosters use when they are talking about how the government has eradicated malaria, measles and dramatically reduced infant morality rates. If one is going to use a source to make a point, isn’t it fair that the same source be used to make a counterpoint?

The UN divides the world into four categories: Very High Human Development, High Human Development, Medium Human Development and Low Human Development (LHD). The idea is to enable readers to do an apple-to-apple comparison: is the country showing improvements year-over-year? How does the country compare to other countries in the same category?

Let’s review the data together. In the table below, the first column is the item being measured; the second column shows the data for Eritrea; the third shows the data for the average of all low-development countries, and the last is the reference of what page number a reader can find the data in the United Nation’s Human Development Index Report 2012. ( Where no direct comparison can be made (number of engineering graduates, HIV prevalence, for example), I have not included the data.   The UN does not always us the same base year but there is consistency in the years being compared. (2010 Eritrea vs 2010 LHDC, for example.)



Average of Low Human Development Countries


Index 2012




Index 2010, 2011

0.342, 0.346

0.461, 0.464


Life Expectancy



p. 158

Mean Years of Schooling




Expected years of schooling




GNI per capita




Maternal mortality ratio



p. 170

Adolescent fertility rate



p. 170

Female seats in national parliament



p. 170

Labor force participation – Female



p. 170

Labor force participation – male



p. 170




p. 177

General government consumption expenditure as % of GDP



p. 177

Health as % of GDP



p. 177

Education as % of GDP



p. 177

Military as % of GDP



p. 177

Debt service as % of GDP



p. 177

DTP immunization



p. 181

Measles immunization



p. 181

Underweight children



p. 181

Infant mortality rate per 100,000



p. 181

Under 5 years old mortality per 100,000



p. 181

Malaria mortality per 100,000



p. 181

Cardiovascular death from 1,000 death incidents



p. 181

Physicians per 1,000



p. 181

Adult literacy rate (> 15 population)




Primary education rate



p. 185

Secondary education rate



p. 185

Tertiary rate



p. 185

Primary school dropout rate



p. 185

Employment rate



p. 189

Homicide rate (per 100,000)



p. 189

Foreign Direct Investment Net inflows



p. 197

Dev Assistance as % of GNI



p. 197

Total reserves minus gold as % of GDP



p. 197

International inbound tourism in thousands



p. 197

Personal computers (per 1,000)



p. 201

Internet users (per 1,000)



p. 201

Fixed/mobile phone subscribers (per 1,000)



p. 201

Population living in degraded land



p. 201

Drilling Into The Data

Now, let’s group all the favorable data and unfavorable data and see if we can reach any conclusions.

Favorable: Eritrea’s life expectancy, maternal mortality ratio, adolescent fertility rate, labor force participation, debt-service, DTP/measles immunization, infant morality rate, adult mortality rate, death from malaria and cardiovascular disease, adult literacy, primary school dropout rate, employment rate, foreign direct investment inflows are all better than the average low human development country.

Unfavorable: Eritrea’s mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling, GNI per capita, GDP per capita, government consumption as % of GDP, health as % of GDP, education as % of GDP, military as % of GDP, physician to population ratio, underweight children ratio, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, homicide rate, development assistance as % of GNI, total reserves as % of GDP, international inbound tourism, personal computers ratio, Internet use ratio, fixed/mobile phone ratio and percentage of population living in degraded land are all worse than the average low human development country.

First, the easy part.  Budgets reflect government’s priorities. One can see clearly from the above that the government’s expenditure on schools and hospitals is not as impressive as Berhane makes it sound by citing absolute values. The real question is what is the percentage allocated to schools and hospitals from the annual budget? And how does it compare with the other poor countries? It is nothing to brag about: it is lower than what the poorest countries spend.

In the field of education, the data is alarming. Eritrea’s education (at the primary, secondary, tertiary), its mean years of schooling, its expected years of schooling is below that of the average least developed country in the world. This is because the budget allocated to the military is 15 times that of the average least developed country in the world. One may say that Eritrea has no choice but to do that—but the last country to keep saying that for an unsustainable period was the Soviet Union and it is not a country anymore.

In fact, if one looks at the good data by discounting the absurdities (yes, apparently, we have women parliamentarians who are just as invisible as their male counterparts) one can see a clear pattern: almost all the good data is something that can come about in a command economy and top-down militaristic society. Do we even need to comment on the high “employment rate” in a nation with endless conscription? If one were to superimpose the data of Eritrea over that of Cuba, it would show the same projectile. The military—including the US military—is quite good at mobilizing resources and people to contain diseases and build infrastructure. On the other hand, military governments and police states tend to create societies with high homicide rates and—perhaps surprisingly to those who always say Eritrea is a “very safe” country—the homicide rate in Eritrea is higher than that of the average poor country.  Police states are also obsessive about controlling information which is why Eritrea’s computer ownership, phone ownership, Internet access is below that of the average poor country. Lastly, police states are incapable of improving the national economy because they are reluctant to allow a class of people they do not control–businessmen, entrepreneurs, investors—to create an independent power structure. This is specially so in Eritrea when you have a government that sees every businessman as a mark: a potential swindle.

Credit Where Credit Is Not Due

I am sure you have heard of the joke which was made at the expense of a Diaspora-grown Eritrean who visited Eritrea. He came back to Europe to talk about all the “developments” that the government is responsible for, and he was particularly impressed by this huge cathedral which it built in the middle of the city—the  “Cathedrale” built  in 1923.

Similarly, whenever the supporters of the Eritrean government cite statistics to show that “we have come a long way, baby”, there is a tendency to exaggerate not just the accomplishments since 1991, but how bad things were in 1991. The common phrase used by the Eritrean president (dutifully repeated by Berhane in his article) was that Eritrea started from a “zero economy” or “less than zero” in 1991. “Less than zero” is what Congo was after Mobutu left: people at each other’s throats, no infrastructure, and what little infrastructure there was, completely demolished by the long civil war. This was not the case in Eritrea in 1991. Whatever its other crimes (and it had plenty), the Derg did not destroy Asmara; and all the infrastructure built by the Italians was mostly in place and functional—some of it is in worse disrepair now, actually, than it was in 1991. And in 1991—this is something of both tangible and intangible value—there were tens of thousands of Diaspora Eritreans eager and willing to come home with their money, their education and, most importantly, their goodwill towards the government. It is self-serving and highly inaccurate to say that Eritrea started out with “less than zero” at independence.

Now, if one is going to give credit to the Eritrean government based on statistics, then, it is important to show that the government either (a) vastly accelerated something good which was happening or (b) dramatically reversed something bad that was happening. Can this be shown in Eritrea?

When one places data in context—looking at trend lines—then the government’s achievements are less impressive than they appear at first glance. Let’s take the celebrated case of low infant mortality rate in Eritrea. This is something that the government trots out as its ultimate trump card because, we are told, Eritrea started from “less than zero.”  But, it so happens that this is one of the most well-documented statistics and one can find the infant mortality rates for Eritrea going back to at least 1955.

The UN uses five-year averages to calculate its infant mortality rates. That is, it issues an average for 1975-80, 1980-1985, 1985-1990, etc. What the data for Eritrea shows is that between 1955 to 1990 (the years before Eritrean independence), the five year averages of infant mortality rate changed from 176 to 104.48.  That is, Eritrea’s infant mortality rate in 1990 stood at 60% of what it was in 1955. Between 1990 to 2010, Eritrea’s infant mortality rate in 5-year averages changed from 89.79 to 53.88.  That is, Eritrea’s infant mortality rate in 2010 stood at 59% of what it was in 1990. In other words, although the government has reduced the numbers (the absolute value), the rate of decrease has not been any better than Eritrea’s performance when it had “less than zero” infrastructure or institutions. To put it even more bluntly, Isaias Afwerki’s performance in this regard is almost identical to the performance of Haile Selasse and Mengistu Hailemariam. We don’t know which causes we can rule in for Eritrea’s good numbers,  but one thing we can rule out is the claim that the responsible party for the change is the government of Isaias Afwerki.

Waiting for an African Lee Kuwan Yew

If you are wondering how Isaias Afwerki became a totalitarian, we should remember that there were many Eritreans—even now, there are many—who believe that until Eritrea gets on firm footing, it does not need political pluralism and elections: it needs a “strong leader” who will focus laser-like on the development of Eritrea.  They do not see any contradiction at all in calling for authoritarianism in Eritrea while living in the freedom of the West because, to them, this is like pointing out  that it snows in Europe and it rains in Eritrea.  So, they will say, what’s your point?

From Berhane’s definition of what freedom means from an Eritrean perspective, it is clear that he is not a big fan of political pluralism, free press, an independent justice system, in Eritrea just yet.  Those who think that new countries need a strong leader until they get on their feet have always admired Singapore’s Lee Kuwan Yew. They see in Isaias Afwerki Eritrea’s answer to Lee Kuwan Yew because of one superficial thing Lee Kuwan Yew shared with Isaias Afwerki: a reputation for bluntness. For example, this is what Lee Kuwan Yew told The Economist a month after Eritrea’s independence:

The Philippines had democracy from the word go in 1945. They never got going; it was too chaotic. It became a parlour game-who takes power, then who gets what spoils. Or take India and Ceylon. For the first three elections after independence, they went through the mechanics of democracy. But the lack of discipline made growth slow and sluggish.

Sounds like something Isaias Afwerki would say about Nigeria. Or South Africa. Or Egypt. Or Ethiopia. Or Kenya. Or…

The difference: 22 years into his leadership, Lee Kuwan Yew had transformed Singapore. He could afford to badmouth the Philipines and India because he had dramatically improved his people’s quality of life.  But just because he can badmouth his neighbors, Isaias Afwerki is not Lee Kuwan Yew. He has had 22 years of running the country and he has not taken the country one step forward. The only thing Isaias has run so far is his mouth—and the prison system for anybody who opens his mouth against him.  It can’t get any more dramatic than this: 22 years after independence, Eritrea’s GDP per capita is 1/3 that of the average poor African country.  Lee Kuwan Yew was an Asian Tiger. All we have is an Eritrean Turtle—not only does he move painfully slow, he has a tendency to withdraw into his shell at the first sign of a threat and just plain stop moving.

Clearly, the model that Isaias Afwerki is following—that of the authoritarian leader who shouldn’t be interrupted by the “chaos” and “power obsession” of multi-party states—is not working. Rather than encouraging the government to show transparency in its budget, and in all monetary and fiscal policies, but,  instead, to collude with it and to selectively pick data without sourcing it, without benchmarking it, without comparing it with the data for countries that Isaias Afwerki regularly ridicules does not serve the Eritrean people. Please don’t feed the beast. We don’t have the time to be unhurried—we have a lot of catching up to do and first on our to do list should be to demand that Isaias Afwerki find a job more suitable to his skills, whatever those are. Because, clearly, anybody else can run the country to the ground, as he has. The turtle has been flipped over, and it refuses help to right-size itself—while mistaking its leg movements for meaningful action. Don’t applaud a flipped-over turtle: it can’t hear you, anyway.

About Salyounis

Saleh Younis (SAAY) has been writing about Eritrea since 1994 when he published "Eritrean Exponent", a quarterly print journal. His writing has been published in several media outlets including Dehai, Eritrean Studies Review, Visafric, Asmarino and, of course, Awate where his column has appeared since the launch of the website in 2000. Focusing on political, economic, educational policies, he approaches his writing from the perspective of the individual citizens' civil liberties and how collectivist governments and overbearing organizations trample all over it in pursuit of their interests. SAAY is the president and CEO of a college with a focus in sound arts and video games and his writing often veers to music critique. He has an MBA from Golden Gate University and a BA from St Mary's College.

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  • Salyounis

    Selamat all:

    Defenceweb has interesting stats on Eritrea’s national defense as a % of GDP.

    The most dramatic one is this: “The defence budget was estimated at $290 million in 2006, or 6.3% of GDP.”

    As recently as 2003, the defense budget was 20.9% of GDP. This means that either the country’s GDP has increased dramatically, or the defense budget has decreased dramatically, or a combination of the two.

    Or, it could just be all wrong, as some of you have indicated since defenceweb is probably run by the CIA:)


  • Dear Sal,

    I am simply reposting the hereinbelow previous post of mine just because i felt you are trying to run away from the core of your article about the reports issue. I know my English would not sutify you, however, your i believe your entelect would not get challenged to grasp my message.


    If you know how UNDP and the two Washington institutions gather and publicize information, and at the same time the government’s stands (official stand) in sharing information sharing with this institutions, it would not be difficult for you to know that you and the one you have argued in your article are discussing on estimated data’s. The last MDGs report which is formally processed and jointly endorse by the two parties was in 2006. Since then there is not official MDG report of UNDP and Eritrea apart from the UNDP partial estimations that does not follow its own principal procedures of information gathering and publishing system. Hence, you can find the last reports of UNDP with lots of volatile and at times contradictory progresses as you try to highlight the weakest links of Berhane, especially in his selection of sources to enrich his argument.
    In addition to this even I can also assure you all the reports about the GDP growth of Eritrea in the last three years are also not qualified for the standard citations. They absolutely do not reflect or grasp the full picture of the economy and are simply calculated from the turnover born from mining reflects on the reports of the mining companies in the country. That is why the president officially nullified it in his previous 3 interviews.
    What you should not miss is these all ongoing reports by the organizations you have mentioned are by and large part and parcel of the Washington work. And the institutions are simply reflecting to what and how it wants portray countries. I don’t have any doubt on your awareness on how and through what procedure a countries report should be drown on those reports according to the modalities of the organizations. And I know you are aware countries have also right to refrain whatsoever information they want to withhold for whatever reasons. This can’t be a justification for those renowned institutions to produce unfounded reports and misled the people throughout the world. The bud thing is you and the one you have argued in your article are misled and misleading your readers for different interests.
    With regard to your points about the president’s interview about several points I can only guess he said all that stuff to elucidate that we are far behind from what we want to achieve. Otherwise, what is done is not simple considering the challenges we are facing including the border issue which the countries you have mentioned have never encountered in their initial stage.
    Reply ↓

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Meron:

      Ummm, when I don’t respond to something, I am not running away. It either means that somebody else has said what I wanted to say (in this case Serray did) or it means I can’t say more on the subject without repeating myself. But since you insist:

      1. Yes, all World Bank projects in Eritrea have been completed or discontinued, but that does not mean that the IMF and the World Bank are totally frozen from any connection with Eritrea, as you are trying to imply. Just three weeks ago, the IMF met with East Afritac* (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) in Dar es Salam to discuss capacity building for, among other things, financial reports. Eritrea was represented. Just ten days ago, South Africa (on behalf of many sub-sahara African countries including Eritrea) wrote to the IMF to discuss reconsideration of some of its policies. (You can find all this in the IMF website.)

      2. If the data I presented is not reliable because the data of the UN is not reliable, can you suggest a more reliable source? Can you tell us what the source for Berhane’s article is and why it is more reliable?

      3. If the IMF/World Bank have such hostile attitude towards Eritrea, why are they reporting that Eritrea’s GDP growth for 2012 would be the second highest in the world? Remember the 9.8% GDP growth that was propagated everywhere last year? It came from the World Bank and IMF. If their source is not reliable, why was every pro-government website, media outlet, social media, pumping it up?

      4. Don’t worry too much about the president’s interview. I only mentioned it to tell you that you can have either independent sources of information (third-party) or you can have self-reports (which are always in the form of Presidential interviews, since our Finance Minister, and other relevant individuals never speak.) The self-reported news is always exaggerated. Remember, in one interview Isaias said that “we are #1 in Africa.” So, you can either have third party reports–whose imperfections can be criticized, corrected, rectified–or you can have self-reports–coming from a government which is never audited, and doesn’t have a check-and-balance system and accuses all its critics of treason.


      * The funny thing about these meetings is when Eritrea shows up, Ethiopia doesn’t When Ethiopia shows up, Eritrea doesn’t. This was Ethiopia’s turn to be absent.

  • Fara

    Sal AA,
    As usual, desperate and still betting on Eritrea to fail. It was a big deal when eritrea lined to buy bread in Asmara one time. You made a big to do about it. That passed. Eritrea is far removed from it. Now, obviously you upped the ante. What are you going to say tomorrow when you Brhane write about more developments that he witnessed from eritrea unlike you who could never see the country. I guess when info gets scarce challenging Eritreans in Eritrea is a preferred way to try to remain relevant. Sad

    • semere Andom

      Hi Fara and Meron:
      You see we can debate if Eritrea is better off under PFDJ and Isaiais until the cows come home, but it is all futile. Having said that DIA has all the opportunities to succeed even with the skeletons in his closet from the ghedli era. Eritreans were ready to move on, remember their fallen heroes for eternity. But pride got in the way, here is poor Isaias Afewerki’s plight now as penned by another Isaias very long time ago
      “ How art thou fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning star? How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations?”

  • Sabri

    Selam Salih,

    For me the most important thing is in choosing the right direction, the direction that leads to expected welfare and democracy. Then there is always  risk, high or low in the process. Risk free system doesn’t exist. 

    As i mentioned before the system we have in Eritrea needs to be reformed. I agree there is high risk in the current structure. My connotation of capable/strong government is my basic principle on how to bring genuine democracy in Africa. It doesn’t necessary associated with the current gvt of Eritrea. The current government have many structural faults which doesn’t fit in my understanding of democracy.  

    My question was: What kind of foundation do we need inorder to have functional democracy in your view?  And please say more on precaution measure you mentioned above. 


    • Serray

      Selam Sabri,

      Please allow me to interject. What does a capable/strong government mean? I can understand the capable part but it is the strong part that confuses me, more so when paired with capable. A gun is bad enough but an automatic one is worse. A government is at best an enabler, a facilitator. A strong one tends to get in the way if it is militantly or economically strong (I don’t know what politically strong government means). Military strength is alway a trade-off. Let alone a tiny country like ours, even big ones must sacrifice a huge chunk of the nations resources to maintain it. Economically, communism (even pfdj) has shown us that a strong government will always be corrupt because when wealth is controlled by people who didn’t create it – have no sense of propriety – it creates a privileged class that disfranchises the people to maintain its position. If you are talking about strength in terms of bureaucracy or justice, that is more of a function of capability than strength.

      Your capable/strong mix always results in dictatorship. It is not by accident that you reject democracy right now (liberal, imported or western) in favor “actual participation of people in economical, political, social and cultural affairs and in processes”. When we talk about democracy we are talking about a form of government, aren’t we? When you load democracy with things it is not, aren’t you playing a stalling game?

      Eritrea is a lab which proved the divergence of capability and strength. The regime is strong, not only did it inherit shaebia military strength, it added to it all the economic resource the nation has. What didn’t result in eritrea is a capable government; the government became strong but this very strength made it incompetent. Once you make a government strong, don’t expect it to be nibble or humble. Whatever you do, don’t expect it to agree to passing the power to replace it to the people.

      If you see the relationship between people and government as a partnership, those who argue for making the government strong first in order to empower the people leave a lot for chance. Given the history of capable/strong governments, once strong, governments like to remain strong. Government is a necessary evil necessitated by the sheer number of people in a jurisdiction. Its efficiency (capability) rather than its strength determines its usefulness. If I misunderstood your idea of ”strong”, please correct me by concretely defining strong.

    • Salyounis

      Selam Sabri:

      You asked:

      My question was: What kind of foundation do we need inorder to have functional democracy in your view? And please say more on precaution measure you mentioned above.

      And when I answer that question, you will have another question, right? There is really no need to mystify democracy–what I am trying to tell you (without much success) is that those who try to mystify it, those who try to make it look that some special, customized, organic seedling that has to be special-engineered is needed for Eritrea have an agenda–or are confused by those who have an agenda. The agenda, by sheer coincidence (wink) happens to be about buying themselves time to rule without scrutiny, accountability or consent from the governed for years or even decades as they explain how the seedling which they have not planted is waiting for the right weather to grow.

      Democracy is like any other field of study–constitution drafting, engineering, medicine, etc–it has its experts, and its novices. (It wasn’t the Hafash, that drafted Eritrea’s constitution, it was the experts.) And the most critical foundation to bring about functional democracy in Eritrea is to have the desire to have one, and the willingness to fight for it and to not accept any excuses for its delay in its implementation. Once you do that, then it is the people’s job to negotiate the parameters and the pre-cautions for building an enduring democracy–one of which might very well be that we will never have a “strong” government.


      • Sabri


        You are answering my questions. Thank you. Why do you think that I will ask another when you answered it clearly? You seems to be very suspicious. Saleh, I’m not here to mystify things. I don’t have hidden agenda. I’m not confused by those who have hidden agenda. These things are only in your mind.  It has nothing to do with me. 

        It sounds like that you’re leaving the whole responsibility to the people without defining the role of the government.  In any country governments have roles and responsibility. And when it comes to a poor country like Eritrea the primary role of the government should be finding a means to eradicate poverty. That is its responsibility and that is where its legitimacy rests upon.  For this reason it doesn’t need to negate democracy. Only responsible governments care for the well being of their society. We have seen what irresponsible governments have done in Africa in the name of democracy. That is enough. Those who sing the song of democracy without taking any tangible measure to transform their society are not democrat at all. Yes, we need democracy and that democracy will never have meaningful function unless it is linked to economic, social and cultural development of the country.  Democracy must have tangible role in the development of the country. The idea of strong and capable government is all about this.  To say that is not to mystify. 


        • Salyounis


          And that’s where we disagree. The job of the government is NOT to eradicate poverty. Once you have accepted that eradicating poverty is a governments job you have given it a mandate to do whatever it deems necessary to eradicate poverty. Mengistu was “eradicating poverty” when he was moving people by the tens of thousands from poor land to fertile land. Stalin was “eradicating poverty” when he was killing people by the millions. The function of government is to be the guardian of personal liberty and personal safety. The rest, including deciding on what exactly the job description of the government is, and for how long, is the responsibility of the people. The people, their churches, mosques and any association they form as free citizens voluntarily.

          The lesson of Africa is not that we had incompetent, uncaring, thieving governments. Those we can fix. The problem was that they had rigged the system that they made it impossible to fire them.

          Sabri, no disrespect, but I am not fighting suspicion etc. I am fighting boredom. Everything you are saying– including how democracy should stress function over form– is a song and dance I have heard for years and years. If you look at this monstrosity of a mafia, killer regime we have and then tell me well they are doing a good job with infrastructure and healthcare, to me, that’s like telling me that Charles Manson has nice hair or he seems to have followers.


          • Sabri

            It is good to know where we disagree, Saleh. And it is good to know your stand regarding the role of the government. Thank you.

    • Asmara Eritrea

      A country’s economy at par with the turnover of a corner store? Only a banana republic led by economic illiterate individuals could sink so low. Who would want to invest in a country run by a group of mafia?

      I am a blue blooded true and true Eritrean but would never dream to invest a penny in my own country whilst the so called government remains in power. Frankly and without sounding too arrogant, I could potentially raise millions of dollars to invest but not in a country run by a godfather. Would rather direct corporate to invest anywhere in Africa but Eritrea. Would rather die than going to my homeland whilst this corrupt regime of misfits is in power.

      Eritrea for ever, death to the dictator.

  • Sabri

    Selam Saleh, 

    Interesting. Almost the same year  I wrote long article on how Eritrea can combine Democracy with Development. 

    Well, I don’t think my understanding of democracy pave way to dictatorship. If you understand me correctly I want full-fledged democracy with all its good merits and values materialize in Eritrea. But we can’t bring such kind of democracy just by one proclamation and change of government. Regardless who govern Eritrea we need stable foundation where we can build democracy. It is much easier to introduce the structure of democracy than its content. That is what we have seen in many developing countries after the fall of Berlin wall. 

    If you see all those countries who today has functional democracy they invested a lot of time and energy to build and consolidate their democracy. Almost all of them had the one I call strong and capable governments. Take for instance Sweden. It is a country generally acknowledged by the world as the owner of democracy and equality. The foundation of the current Swedish democracy has been taken root seriously under the leadership of Social democratic party who created modern Sweden and governs the country in almost 70 years continuously.   Particularly at the beginning of the foundation process one of their leader sit in power in 21 years. Having dynamic strong party and visionary leader is important. With dedication, hard working, love of a country and admirable vision they are able to create the justice and democratic system they have today. Without having such kind of strong/capable government with strong visionary leader Sweden wouldn’t have reached its current level. Having strong/capable government didn’t led to authoritarianism as you envisioned. 

    At the initial period of modernity that includes both democracy and development focusing on building the foundation is essential. That can only be done by having strong and capable government. If there is other alternative I’m open to hear. Yet, I never found other convincing alternative. If you have bring it out and convince me. 

    Please don’t mix up my understanding of democracy with what you mentioned African traditional way. What I’m saying is we need justice and democracy but inorder to have it we must create the necessary condition that brings workable and meaningful democracy. 

    The question is if the current government of Eritrea is strong/capable as I envisioned? I think the current government share my understanding of democracy at least at theory level. Practically the government is way behind to be enlisted as capable/strong government. Partially they are trying to follow and implement their philosophy but that is not enough.  This government should be reformed. Indefinite imprisonment, taking hostage the youth indefinitely has to be stopped immediately. 

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Sabri:

      Whenever people talk about the difference between “imported” and “organic” I am reminded of two things: cars and constitutions. In this post, I will try to address that, along with some of the points you have raised so far—what I agree with, what I disagree with, and why I think endorsing the Eritrean government is an endorsement of authoritarianism/dictatorship. Since you have qualified some of your endorsements of government policy with caveats (“first of all I don’t accept imprisonment without charged indefinitely as it is practiced by the government of Eritrea”) some of what I am saying is not directed to you but to those who have given—and pledged to give—their unqualified support to the Eritrean government.

      Cars And The Eritrean Constitution

      In the mid-late 1980s, I used to work for a company which had a policy that its employees must not buy imported cars—that every car has to be “Made in the USA.” Organic. With globalization, the distinction between imports and domestic kept getting blurred and every year we would get a list—an increasingly long list—of which cars are ok to buy (foreign cars assembled in the USA) and which cars are forbidden (cars almost entirely assembled outside the USA.) The HR bureaucracy was trying to figure out where each part was made, assembled…and they ended up creating laughable lists that people followed not because they were reasonable but companies have what governments have: coercive powers to affect your ability to eat and have shelter☺

      Fast forward to the mid 1990s. Some of Eritrea’s brightest children gathered to write Eritrea’s constitution. Without exception, all were versed in Eritrea’s customs and culture and the importance of organic development. They created a constitution which they passed around to the people then gave to a constituent assembly, then back to the people, then to the national assembly. And the ONLY thing that they introduced that is supposedly organic and respectful of Eritrea’s customs is that elected officials would take their vows not on a holy book but in the name of the martyrs. And the people said no. That’s it. The rest of the constitution is indistinguishable from that of any other country. The only “custom” it respected was the EPLF-custom: that the infrastructure of the state should resemble the infrastructure of the EPLF. And, of course, the infrastructure of the EPLF was copied (i.e imported) name-by-name (Central Committee, Executive Committee, Politburo, Political Commissar, etc) from the Soviet Union. Then the TPLF copied this name-by-name from the EPLF but shshshsh… let’s keep that on the down-low, as the kids say nowadays.

      So all talk about domestic vs organic is really something that is a stalling tactic, which has the added benefit of giving people empty flattery that their customs/culture are so unique that a new wheel has to be invented just for them. Yes, there are superficial differences–like, for example, Germany can say Nazi parties are forever outlawed in our country–but not when it comes to the essential parts. There is universal agreement on the rest. I find it amusing that even the things you give credit to the government–infrastructure building, healthcare–is all using IMPORTED tools and that it is ok to import everything from every field–medicine, geogology, education, engineering–because that’s what civilizations do. The only thing that can’t be imported happens to be the one thing the government wants a monopoly on: how to govern. Or, more accurately, the only way to govern in Eritrea is using the one thing we imported from the graveyards and museums of the Soviet Union.

      The Balance of Power

      Your model of government is one that is “strong and capable.” This strong and capable government has “strong discipline and dedication.” It assembles meetings and it asks people for their input. Then it executes. When it fails, it corrects its errors. To be “strong and capable” it has to have the power to execute. It should “address the urgent need” of the people. The people have a right to criticize what it does—because your pre-requisites are that it has transparent institutions—so long as they are not violating national security.

      Beyond the fact that you are demanding very high standards of this mythological government (it is strong, capable, disciplined and dedicated)—mythological because the more the power, the more the temptation to be corrupted—you are tilting the balance of power in favor of the government and against the people. This government you are describing is paternalistic—it resembles the one we have where people are assembled in a “seminar” and told “the objective situation on the ground”. This government you describe is omnipotent and omniscient. It sets conditions for when and how it should be criticized. Because it is powerful, it has punitive powers, it is coercive and instead of fearing the people, the people fear it.

      Moreover, it appears that you are talking about a Central government. There appears to be no room in your discussion about devolving power to localities. It doesn’t discuss what happens when the people are evenly-divided about a decision, or are unclear about which path to follow (normally solved via votes.) It is really Isaias Afwerki’s definition of democracy. He has said often that, to him, democracy means people participating in the decision-making-process of the government. One of the things they can’t decide is whether the government should continue to govern.

      People’s participation in self-government does not have to be driven by the government. I am sure you have read Tocqueville “Democracy in America” but for the benefit of those who haven’t, Tocqueville, a French citizen, toured the United States in 1831 and wrote two books, the latter focusing on the role of civil society in self-government. He talks about how everywhere he went he saw townships having meetings to discuss what we now would call infrastructure building. He was writing this to contrast how a republic succeeds (US) or fails (France.) The township meetings that Tocqueville describes resemble a lot more like the “Bayto/mejlis” meetings traditional Eritrea had than the “political seminar to discuss objective situations on the ground” that the Eritrean government has. So the railing against imports is not just wrong on principle but also wrong on the facts: the system we have is imported from the Soviet Union, the system we should have would be building on Eritrean customs and culture by taking out all outdated traditions (womens rights, for example.)

      One can argue that the Eritrean traditional predisposition, especially in the Eritrean highlands, is to having “strong” authoritarians. (The EPLF cadres used to contrast lowland culture and highland culture on matters of governance—way back when it was still safe to discuss those issues without being called “Tihte Hagerawi”) But even if one argues that a strong central government with a strong head of government is what Eritrea needs and what they crave for, that does not in any way argue against liberal democracy. As long as the strong head of government, belonging to a strong party, is elected—-has the consent of the people—-and subjects himself/herself to the indignity of asking their consent to continue governing, and as long as he or his party are not so powerful that they can arrest, torture, kill—all in the name of “national security”—well, then if it is the will of the people, the ruling party can be the ruling party for decades—-as was the case in Sweden or Mexico. I still wouldn’t like it, but I would have to consent to the will of the people. That, really, is the definition of democracy: consent of the majority, with a healthy respect for the views of the minority. You can’t quantify majority and minority without votes. That simple.

      The disappointment that I feel is that those of you who seem to be very impressed with the government’s performance don’t say or do enough to influence it to modify/temper its behavior. This can only mean two things, both of which are bad: you do not have the power to influence (which means you have shifted the balance of power so heavily in the government’s favor that you are not citizens but subjects) or you have accepted these atrocious crimes the government commits as collateral damage, a necessary price to be paid for the sake of development (which means your values, your priorities are questionable.) In either case, it is an endorsement of dictatorship.

      All the best,

      PS: Would love to read the article you wrote which you referenced to.
      PPS: By coincidence, Shabait has an article about the 0% malaria rate in Eritrea. It mentions the World Health Organization (WHO), a UN agency. So, it appears it is still Halal to mention WHO but not UNDP 🙂

      • Dear Saay,

        Is this a comment or article? Your argument could have been framed in article form. Sabri has not clear principled argument. what ever we read in his argument is not a well founded thought whatever that might be. It is all “enklil” until he comes with well researched argument that shows his crystal view and stands as to the reality of our nation.

        • Salyounis


          It is neither an article, nor a comment. It is a blog:)

          Let’s wait to hear what Sabri has to say. The willingness of people to close their eyes to “temporary injustice” as long as there is “development” is fairly common. I often say that it is impossible to understand partisan politics unless you are a sports fanatic. Both have a need for what psychologists call “self-expansion.” Self-expansion explains not just partisanship but the new craving by some Eritreans to be a part of Ethiopia’s glory (real and assumed:) This, of course, would never have happened if Ethiopia was governed as badly as Eritrea is now:) Do you remember a single Eritrean claiming Ethiopia’s “habesha” heritage when Mengistu was in charge? Me neither.


          • Saay,

            I like the following line : “partisan politics and sports fan are fanatic.” Yes indeed. BTW why is the issue of development Sabri keep bringing to abstract the issue of democracy, when in reality, there is no any kind of development in Eritrea. Issayas is not even a benevolent dictator to begin with. You see saay if there was economic development in Eritrea, the issue of democracy would have been nonexistent; because Eritreans are apolitical by nature.

      • haile

        Saay (also Sabir can add to this)

        My first question is that saay presented an interesting plot of democracy (x) vs income (y) yesterday. Do you agree that the plot describes regressive relationship as opposed to causative one? By regressive I mean that it is obvious there is positive relationship between the variables, however sabir’s argument would lead to better income causes higher democratic standards, while yours would say better democratic standards cause higher income. Politically, this are real differences of opinion we see abound. So, can you clear me on that understanding of your respective positions?

        My second question is something that puzzles me a great deal. What is the relationship between the law and HR? Is the meaning of justice the same from legal point of view and that of human rights points of view?

        And, a neither here nore there observation for today, Why is the UN HR rapport going to ET and DIJ, instead of Israel and Egypt… both former are at war with ER…wouldn’t this compromise technicalities?

      • Sabri

        Dear Saleh,

        Since you are talking about imported/organic democracy i think it is good to see the tenets of illiberal democracy. 

        Illiberal democracy takes the form of an argument that supposedly global standards of democracy and human rights are in fact based on western culture rather than universally valid forms; that these standards whatever their utility in the west may be inappropriate in non western cultures. The proponents of this argument says people in non-western culture think interms of collective and not individual values. These societies are not built on the individual but on the family. This indicates that responsibility to the collective takes precedence over the individual’s self interest. It is on the basis of this conception that the individual is defined in communal terms, and the morality comes prior to liberty in non-western societies. I think similar statement is included in the Eritrean constitution. In short, individuals have determinate duties rather than abstract rights, enshrined in liberal democracy.  

        I don’t fully agree with the proponents of illiberal democracy. They miss one important point. Culture is not static. It is dynamic, moves always, it evolves. At one point the culture of one society perhaps doesn’t fit with the individual rights  of liberal democracy. But that doesn’t mean the non-western  society is forever doomed to not accept individual rights. 

        I believe most of the rights included in liberal democracy have universal character regardless the society is collectivist or individualistic.   Nevertheless, as it is in every sphere it has it’s own evolutionary process. The essence of liberal democracy, I believe, is  intimately related to economic development, well being of the society, education etc.  The essence of liberal democracy works best when these things shows improvement. That is why we need one mechanism who prepare the ground. According to my understanding that mechanism is capable/ strong goverment. Through this mechanism it is possible to create united and developed country with a strong economy providing optimal services and a high standard of living and culture. 

        Saleh, I think you judged me wrongly. You wrote “you are tilting the balance of power in favor of the government and against the people.” I know some strong governments manipulates the institutions of democratic participation by pervasive use of rewards for acquiescence and punishment for opposition.  That is why I prefer to add the prefix capable.  I’m not the proponent of authoritarian government or I don’t believe my understanding of capable/strong government necessary lead to dictatorship. If you understand me correctly I’m mostly interested on the foundation/base that provide workable democracy, that sustain the best values of liberal democracy. Most people when they discuss democracy they put great emphasis on its form. I don’t agree creating the form alone brings democracy. 

        You are right I didn’t write on how power devolve to localities. Shortly my understanding is this: strength in government or it’s ability to get things done in a positive sense emanates not from its  capacity for dictation or repression, but rather from its popular support, legitimacy and participatory nature. 

        I would like to correct you about your last paragraph. I’m not a typical supporter of the government. Actually, I’m more critical than supporter. Because of my critical views those who  support the government unconditionally view me as an opposition. Nevertheless,  whenever I get an opportunity I tried to enter in  dialogue with  officials of higdef. 

        Lastly one question. What kind of foundation do we need inorder to have functional democracy according to your view?  

        Mis bizuh selamta,

        PS: I will try to find the article.

        • Salyounis


          There was an article yesterday about how Eritreas own, cyclist Natnael Berhane, became the first black cyclist ever to join the worlds elite cyclists. If you ask him how he got there, I am sure he would say he started out the same we did: a lot of pedaling and falling and picking yourself up.

          You can’t have a functional democracy without going through some sort of dysfunctional democracy. You just try to take precautions to make sure the dysfunction doesn’t tear the country apart. Fortunately for us, the accumulated knowledge of how to avoid that is massive— assuming, of course, we are willing to “import” that.


          • Sabri


            Why do I need to import something I know it will be dysfunctional and have no guarantee that it will be functional in the future either? You wrote “You just try to take precautions to make sure the dysfunction doesn’t tear the country apart.”  Would you please say more about how you think that precaution looks like? Also, I’m waiting your answer to my question in my last post.


          • Salyounis


            This is a common mistake and I regret that you, too, made it: the choice is NOT between guranteed and risky; the choice is NOT between risk and no risk. The choice is ALWAYS between one kind of risk and another kind of risk. Between a low risk and a high risk.

            The system we have in place now, which you have given qualified support to, is, in my mind a significantly higher risk: the whole well being, stability of the nation is vested on one man who is so indispensable to the system that even naming a Vice President is considered dangerous. And whether you like to admit it or not this form of government we have in Eritrea is an import. It’s imported from all those totalitarian governments who have no transparent succession/transition plan for the expiration of the head of government. In pol-sci, there is a name for them: “family dictatorships.” When you agree to the principle of contracting out governing to one party, and the party subcontracts out executive power to one man(or, more likely, the man dominates everything in the party to the point that party is a hollow shell) that is the recipe for family dictatorships. See also: Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Azerbijian, Togo, etc etc.

            What was your question again?

    • semere Andom

      It is very hard to follow your line of thinking. For your support of strong government you cite Sweden. But Sweden’s social democratic party did not rule Sweden by infringing in the rights of citizens and the 21 years of reign was always assessed and validated by the checks and balances intact, the pillars of democracy fully functioning.
      First you have to get your head around the fact that Eritreans fought the bloody war, paid heavy sacrifices not just to be ruled by Eritreans, yes some say Eritrea for Eritreans, but this was not a license for replacing of Amhara speaking by Tigrinya speaking despot. To my mind the struggle was waged to reclaim our God given dignity, to say whatever we want, to roam freely from Himeret Kolboy to KoAtit.
      Your strong government line is just a euphemism for benevolent dictatorship.
      Strong, dynamic and visionary leadership in an environment with even the pillars of democracy fledglingly implemented is a harbinger of the inevitability of justice and peace. But strong, dynamic and visionary leadership in an environment such as ours is the anti- thesis of struggle the people waged. I do not want to anger a visionary who is slowly going blind (Ismail Omer Ali for his recent debate stifling effors), but the seeds of our situation has already germinated during the struggle and the line of defense was, we need strong leadership, justice and democracy can wait.
      We always remeber the gallant heroes who died, but what we forget is they died with their freedom snatched
      So this concept of strong government is just sweet coating for the PFDJ line that what we need is food, roads and dams, not democracy.
      No one expected Eritrea to be in par with the USA in mere 20 years, but there is no excuse for not planting the seeds and future generation could have refined it and everyone would have been better off. Both out of closet and in closet PFDJ supporters abhor South Africa, they say so what if one black person is elected president. Do you consider SA to be good model or a mess?

      • Sabri

        Selam Semere,

        Thank you for the comment. You wrote “Your strong government line is just a euphemism for benevolent dictatorship.” We need genuine democracy that care the need of the welfare of the society and I contend that can be realized by capable/strong government without resulting in dictatorship. To the contrary we have seen many developing countries who accepted the crude definition of liberal democracy consolidate authoritarianism through election. I don’t find any of these developing countries who choose (many times by force)  to implement the western type of liberal democracy shows improvement in neither democracy nor development.

        The democracy which the west supports is essentially the liberal democracy which the west is so keen to universalize. It accepts easy and remarkably flexible standards of pluralism and free elections. To all appearances, the west had been generally satisfied with the form rather than the content.

        Democracy is best realized in essence through the actual participation of people in economical, political, social and cultural affairs and in processes. The realization of this substantive democracy requires the empowerment of people, that is to say, people have to possess political, economic and cultural powers to be active players, to be meaningfully involved in the affairs of their country. In short, economic, social, and cultural democracy had to be linked with political democracy. Democracy cannot function without requisite institutions, and strong/capable government which is characterized by  a broad-based, stable and strong political system is the best guarantee for this kind of democracy.


  • Saleh Gadi

    Dear Sabri,
    “Since most of the issues you raised are connected to the issue of Democracy & Development, i would like to say something short about it without delving in the long theoretical discussion.”

    I am afraid that is exactly what you ended up doing: wallowing in long theoretical discussion.

    I hoped to read an insightful comment from you, but I failed to find any. Your comments sound as if you are talking about some imaginary country we are planning to create somewhere, sometime in the future. Saleh’s article specifically addressed Eritrean issues, but you are commenting about democracy and development in the abstract without coming home to Eritrea (if you are responding to the article). See, I am afraid your comments lack context, they do not add value to the debate at hand. Context is important. If this is an intellectual wallowing on your side, I can understand. Please stay in Eritrea and if you must mention other countries and experiences, find a way to relate them to what is happening in Eritrea.

    • haile

      Sal and Sabri,

      It is good point that sal brought it out to the open, ane ewn yhamiyeka neire eye sbri. Very detached from the issues at hand. Sal wants you to focus your brilliant mind to Eritrea’s case. ane ewn wsK keblela, in fact focus it to the imminent collapse of the regime at home (not in diaspora!). Seriously, things are going from bad to worse, recently an 8hrs mandatory wardia of banks and other govt. offices was introduced to the tasks of the peoples militia. This is 4hs a night kolel, 8hrs a day wardia, 3 hrs taElim. I am not sure which ones are daily or bi-weekly though. The internal frustration is unbelievable. In the event of sudden change of situation, what do you think would happen? Let’s focus it to this side of Eritrea (sorry there is to many sides to Eritrea…:-))

    • Sabri

      To Salih Gadi and to all of you who are interested in my post. 

      Saleh younis asked me to give my explanation on strong government and liberal democracy. He is right before we are continuing our discussion it is important to clear the terminology we are using. And  the aim of my last post was to clear those terminologies I used in my previous post solely focused on Salih Younis questions. I’m expecting to continue or return back to our original discussion after this. But Gadi seems expecting something else while the purpose of my last post was another which led him to disappointment. I’m sorry. 

      • haile


        After Nuremberg it was determined that “I was following an order” is not admissible sir 🙂

      • Salyounis

        Selamat Awatistas:

        Emma, Haile and SG: I hear you loud and clear. You fear this discussion becoming an esoteric discussion and want us to re-focus the conversation back to Eritrea. In fairness to Sabri, he was was answering my question: I am the one who was introducing (what I considered to be a) necessary definition of concepts so we are not talking past each other.


        Before I deal with your preference for a “strong, capable government” (and please note it is a preference, and I hope you agree with me that those who don’t agree with your preference should not be denied visits to their country, or denied visitation rights by their family) I want you to take a look at a chart that plots democracy on the y-axis and national income on the x-axis. Take out all the yellow (rich countries who got rich by an act of God) and then tell me what you see. Hiji Grm!*$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=100;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=5.59290322580644;ti=2009$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1jiMAkmq1iMg;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=0ArfEDsV3bBwCdGQ2YlhDSWVIdXdpMmhLY2ZZRHdNNnc;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0XOoBL_n5tAQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=282;dataMax=119849$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=-10;dataMax=10$map_s;sma=49;smi=2.65$cd;bd=0$inds=i68_p002009akak


        * Emma, you called me Fihira; this is an inside joke (Fihira got a Raimok award for his song “Hiji Grm”, a terrible song that Saleh Gadi Johar likes for reasons only known to him.) I did no digging on this link: a friend sent it to me and it was stored in the “hmm, this is interesting” file.

        • Sabri

          Thank you Salih. I don’t know if I give you an impression that I’m for the dictatorship. No, I’m totally against it. People should be encouraged to air their voices not be punished. It is everybody’s  right to agree/disagree with me. Feel safe.  

          Regarding the link I’m not able to open it. Right now I’m using my phone. Will check it in computer. 

          • Salyounis

            Ahlen Sabri:

            I don’t think you understood me: I am seeking clarity, not reassurance:) I want to array your beliefs–your value system–and then to show you that although dictatorship may be personally repulsive to you, the sum total of what you believe and what you value actually empowers dictatorshp. But I am getting ahead of myself.

            When I write about these issues, for me, the biggest challenge is dealing with deja-vu. It is not easy but that’s when we need to read Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“there is nothing new under the sun.”) In March 1997 (that is 16 years ago–before my son was born:), Ismail Omar Ali (Pointblank) and I were on one side of a debate* on the subject of “democracy.” And on the other side were people talking about how it just wasn’t the right time yet because of Sudan’s Islamic fundamentalism, Somalia’s anarchy, the likelihood of organizing on the basis of religion/ethnicity, and the indispensability of Isaias Afwerki’s charisma. Nothing has changed in 16 years other than: the mortal threat of “Sudan’s Islamic fundamentalism” has been replaced by “Weyane’s aggression.” At the time, I quoted an Economist magazine report on an African conference (attended by 50 African politicians including heads of states) to strengthen democracy in Africa. They reported: “Nor was there any mention of traditional African systems of government, democratic or otherwise, which still have much influence on the continent. `These so-called traditional African ways were just ploys to hold on to power,’ said one young opposition leader.”

            Yep, they were ploys then; they are ploys now. And, at current pace, we will be having the same discussion 16 years from now. (Maybe we will be talking about a new leader who is new and just has to be given enough time to navigate his way around.)

            * you can read the debate, mostly civil, here:


        • Saay,

          The “Fihira” issue…you could do it by your own or you could collect it from your connections. Either way you couldn’t escape from being Fihira. cheers!!!!!

  • Dear Sal,

    If you know how UNDP and the two Washington institutions gather and publicize information, and at the same time the government’s stands (official stand) in sharing information sharing with this institutions, it would not be difficult for you to know that you and the one you have argued in your article are discussing on estimated data’s. The last MDGs report which is formally processed and jointly endorse by the two parties was in 2006. Since then there is not official MDG report of UNDP and Eritrea apart from the UNDP partial estimations that does not follow its own principal procedures of information gathering and publishing system. Hence, you can find the last reports of UNDP with lots of volatile and at times contradictory progresses as you try to highlight the weakest links of Berhane, especially in his selection of sources to enrich his argument.

    In addition to this even I can also assure you all the reports about the GDP growth of Eritrea in the last three years are also not qualified for the standard citations. They absolutely do not reflect or grasp the full picture of the economy and are simply calculated from the turnover born from mining reflects on the reports of the mining companies in the country. That is why the president officially nullified it in his previous 3 interviews.

    What you should not miss is these all ongoing reports by the organizations you have mentioned are by and large part and parcel of the Washington work. And the institutions are simply reflecting to what and how it wants portray countries. I don’t have any doubt on your awareness on how and through what procedure a countries report should be drown on those reports according to the modalities of the organizations. And I know you are aware countries have also right to refrain whatsoever information they want to withhold for whatever reasons. This can’t be a justification for those renowned institutions to produce unfounded reports and misled the people throughout the world. The bud thing is you and the one you have argued in your article are misled and misleading your readers for different interests.

    With regard to your points about the president’s interview about several points I can only guess he said all that stuff to elucidate that we are far behind from what we want to achieve. Otherwise, what is done is not simple considering the challenges we are facing including the border issue which the countries you have mentioned have never encountered in their initial stage.

    • Serray


      The point Sal was making is, given the available data, the regime is failing and Berhane was making the opposite point by pulling numbers out of thin air. What is your point; that both are equally wrong? There are no published reports about prisoners but one can roughly project the number of prisoners in the country..I can tell you how. For a stagnant or backward moving country, information could be projected using past data. You can freeze or apply a negative rate or slightly positive rate on most past date points collected in the past.

      The regime suffers from delusional belief that if it hides something, nobody will know about it. The Djibouti conflict is a good example. If there is a war between sudan and eritrea tomorrow, it is a statistical certainty that isaias started it. By the same token, since the regime led by a flipped-over turtled is stagnant and can not move forward, adjusting for population growth, greed, corruption and mismanagement, one can arrive at a reliable data using available pre-2007 information.

      But I was curious about your last paragraph. If isaias wants to “elucidate that we are far behind from what we want to achieve” he should first apologize for failing to achieve these and many other goals instead of listing his failures like it is somebody else’s fault. Even more annoying is your next sentence; we didn’t “encounter” the border issue, the flipped-over turtle created it. Unlike the UNDP information, this one actually was argued, decided and published and the regime played ball. With such compelling information available to you, you still managed to make it sound as if it is some vague, undecided and controversial issue. If UNDP is given complete access, I bet you little will change…the beauty of statistics is its ability to project from small sample or known past data.

  • Sabri

    Dear Saleh,

    You put very interesting and important questions. With your enquiry one can write a dissertation without exaggeration. The concept of democracy didn’t get clear cut definition by scholars until today. A lot of books has been written by scholars on the issue of democracy vs. authoritarianism, collectivism vs. individualism. Yet, we don’t have common and universal understanding on the issue. The debate is still continuing. Anyway I will try to give you my understanding. Before I do that I want to clear some points. 

    First of all I don’t accept imprisonment without charge indefinitely as it is practiced by the government of Eritrea. This has nothing to do with homegrown democracy. 

    Secondly I don’t agree the lack of civil liberty practiced in today’s Eritrea is imported. I will elaborate it later on. 

    Since most of the issues you raised are connected to the issue of Democracy & Development, i would like to say something short about it without delving in the long theoretical discussion. As I mentioned above there is no clear-cut definition of democracy & development. No matter how we define democracy for me democracy especially when it comes into developing  countries it should address the urgent need of the people and  should have some kind of role in solving the problems. Democracy should be related to the issue of development. It has to be intertwined with the people’s day to day activity. Democracy should focus in its contents rather than in its structure. It should have a vital role  in the life of the people.  I believe both democracy and development can coexist peacefully.  Especially in an atmosphere where democracy and development are at their infant age there should not be conflict among them. The structure of the government should accommodate both entities. Let’s say the government have one plan to implement in the rural area of the country. If the people are consulted right from the beggining they will definitely cooperate with the plan of the goverment happily. But it is the responsible of the goverment to create mechanism that enable people to participate in every activity of the development plan of the government. And it is only strong (and I should add capable) government that are able to do these things. I say strong and capable government because strong government alone is not guarantee for either democracy or development. I would say the Singaporean type of government is classified as strong and capable. 

    Strong and capable governments owns strong institutions which are guided by the principle of transparency and accountability. Strong and capable government know clearly what its priority is, know exactly where they are heading towards, it take necessary measures when it is necessary. Example, if it  see movements which threatens the development process of the country it should act accordingly. Strong and capable governments are characterized by having strong discipline and dedication. 

    Long before the existence of liberation movements undemocratic structure has been existed in Eritrea.  True liberation fronts introduced new concepts and new ideas which never existed before but that doesn’t mean they are the first one who imported authoritarianism in Eritrea. If you mean the system they are imported/introduced exacerbated the situation it is another thing. I’m aware that good values like Baito,  higi endaiba etc. existed before but they are not developed. Here again strong and capable government helps to consolidate the good values of the society. 


    • Salyounis

      Selam Sabri:

      I will wait a while to give others an opportunity to join and advance our conversation. In the meantime, consider the following two statements:

      (a) The Eritrean government is performing strongly in improving Eritreans quality of life, particularly in the areas of infrastructure building and healthcare–although some claim that it continues to arrest people without charges and detain them indefinitely affecting almost all Eritrean families.
      (b) The Eritrean government continues to arrest people without charges and detain them indefinitely affecting almost all Eritrean families; yet, some claim that it is improving Eritreans quality of life, particularly in the areas of infrastructure building and healthcare.

      This is not an exercise in grammar (dependent vs independent clauses; conjunction clauses, etc. 🙂 It is how the supporters of the government* and its detractors view Eritrea.


      * saying “government” just to use its dictionary definition. Later on, we will negotiate which adjective–authoritarian or totalitarian–is more appropriate to the one in Eritrea:)

      • Abe z minewale

        Let me do some guessing here. The state of California @ one point was telling its people IOU. Does that mean the government was getting help from another state via federal government? Now I think the economy of California is getting what are the Californiaians saying about the tough time they endured still “bitsifrna”.i don’t think so it should be BeEdLna. By z way I am not American I wish I would be

    • Selam sabri,

      Any political term has it own origin and the factors that drive and bring them into existence. In the thread above in response to Sal, you have said that “there is no clear-cut definition of democracy & development.” Is this from the political house of PFDJ? Since development is broad in its scope and there is no necessary link with democracy I will leave it aside and tackle to the term “democracy.” Democracy has a clear delineated definition. Democracy is the rule of governance or in other words it is a system of governance of “the rule by the people and from the people” which by the way was advanced by the Athenian leader Cleisthenes in the year 507 BC. So it has a creed and its meaning from the inventor himself.

      Furthermore, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote the following regarding the essence of the term itself: “In democracy there is first that most splendid virtue, ‘equality’ before the law.” Though the “equality” Herodotus described was limited to a small segment of Athenian population, that segment in itself becomes the essence to the definition of the term democracy in a broader sense to a wider segment within a prescribed and inscribed population in the world we live in today. So Sabri there is no arm twisting in the definition of democracy. I think every one of us has to have a clear understanding about the subject matter before we utter on the well established political terminology. BTW if you have the knack to invent a term that defines the nature of governance of PFDJ have the blessing from us, but don’t distort the meaning of democracy to fit to the nature of PFDJ.

      • Sabri

        Selam Amanuel,

        As you put it correctly there is a broad and universal understanding of democracy. However, the definition stemmed from Athen is too broad and it gives to different interpretation. Everybody, including scholars interpreted it differently. 

        • Sabri,

          The meaning and tents (principle) of democracy is clearly defined and is generally held as virtuous governing principles. Show us the different interpretations by Rhode scholars without going around the bush. Or come with an article of your study and we will see how to scrutinize it.

          • Sabri

            It is a good idea Emma. I will think about it.

  • Dear Sal,

    UNDP data’s are simply collected by UNDP offices in respective countries collaboration with focal national ministries. However, in the case of Eritrea, the cabinet formally told that it will not share its data with UNDP or other instruments of the Washington institutions and declared whatsoever data comes from this part is not right at all. With regard to IMF and WB (the Washington institutions, it is being 4 years since the Gov. quite their usual PRSP recommendation and sharing Data’s. So the data’s you are using are simply estimated by the Washington institutions and published to please you and your likes. In short, the information you are using is by and large false and baseless but guess and estimation.

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Meron:

      But these are the same sources that supporters of the government use to tell us about the grand achievement of their beloved government. How malaria was eradicated, life expectancy increased, child mortality halved, etc. It is the same source that government-supporters use to tell us how Eritrea is one of the few nations on track to reach the 2015 Millenium Development Goals (MDG.) So it is all useless? The GDP/GNI reports come from IMF/World Bank whose directors MEET with the Eritrean government (in secret, I presume, because publicizing it would violate the bitSifrina legend. Here’s one “consultation” they had in 2009:

      If you don’t think the UN data is reliable, can you point me to a more reliable source? Because, outside the UN, all we have are the annual reports (which come in the form of Interview with His Excellency President Isaias Afwerki) around New Year’s Day. These are not actual vs budget comparisons or actual vs goal comparison (because the budget and the government goals are a state secret.) They are just an oral report. And in those interviews, well, one of the hazards of having to live up to your reputation of being “blunt” is you have to be blunt. And here’s what I learned in December 31, 2011, ie, after 20 plus years of ruling the country unimpeded:

      1. Development: development in the West (Western Eritrea) is near zero. Those were his words.
      2. Private Sector: There will no be private sector in Eritrea until a huge middle class encompassing 85% to 90% of the population is created. That was in December 2011. By late 2012, this policy was revised and they were scrambling to invite the private sector: please come and save us.
      3. Energy: The 120 Megawatt power plant we have in Hirgigo is not adequate. (No kidding: we could tell from all the brown outs and black outs.)
      4. Housing: There is great shortage and something must be done. (No kidding)
      5. Fisheries. We export nothing because we haven’t built capacity and industrial fishing has not been developed. That is 20 years later.
      6. Food: It is expensive because of speculators. Something must be done.
      7. Education: We have inadequate curriculum, labs, computers, teachers particularly in remote areas. (It takes special gall to do everything you can to chase teachers and potential teachers and then complain that you have shortage in teachers.)



    • semere Andom

      Hi Meron;
      Does the false data also apply to the data that favours Eritrea?

  • L.T

    Why you all here so upset when you hearing about good Eritrean image and your ille thinker adivse can’t help you into a better health.
    your bad dream over Eritrea comes from your bad life I guesse.Eritrea is your house and family.

  • Daniel T

    Since when did the rejectionist accept any thing positive that come out of eritrea before they mount coordinated frontal cyber attack from their trenches in western capitals. I read Berhane article with interest and witness the facts first hand. The development in eritrea might not mean any thing for those of us who critic from the comfort of the west but it means a whole lot for the country as recent as few years in the verge of famine to achieve food security rearly seen in drought redden sub Saharan africa. Yes it is a big deal for the peasant of eritrea to get clean water not far from his village . Yes it is a big deal for a farmer to get preventive clinic not far from his village. Don’t take my word see it yourself in utube the farmland of gashbarka ,the roads in the highlands the projects in the Red Sea cost.yes it is a big deal for a nation to achieve this and symuntinously fight a war of extinction and come out on top. I read Berhane article written in a plain English not complex economic jargon that can be understood by average Eritrean that understand the geopolitics of the region . eritrea is a long way from a development that we see here in the west but it is in the right path to sustainable bottom up growth guaranty the survival of the nation. The vocal minority is far from the theater to be taken seriously and ceased to exist as a viable alternative. We like it or not tranquil and peaceful Eritrea is marching forward despite the empty critics of the west and the Trojan horse of the south .

  • TiETiE( Shiro bubble)

    Hunger and half stomach is really bad. KemU KbL TegagiYu. KebDu ZeyTseGeBe HzBi diet KtMhR AgeB.

  • Boku

    Truly sad. As “Eritrean” you can’t see, feel or experience the economy or its impact. You are relegated to comment on it as an outsider. I guess the best way to glean on matters now is by responding to those who are living and enjoying the economy and contributing to it like Berhane Woldu is. I do no envy your position. Aywegahtilkan fekera tiray koyna idka may amuikha.

    Enjoying it

  • Lula

    No Eritrean believes UN statistics when it comes to Eritrea. UN is basically controlled by the US. The UN means US. No ifs or buts.

    The UN has never been fair to Eritrea and is always trying to show Eritrea in a bad light. I don’t take any of those figures you cited seriously. What I do know is Eritrea’s economy is growing by a healthy amount. And doing it the right way. You can take that to the bank!

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Lula:

      So, when the UN says that Eritrea has one of Africa’s highest life expectancy, one of the lowest infant mortality rates, one of the lowest maternal mortality rates, one of the highest DTP and measles immunization programs, one of the lowest mortality from malaria…I shouldn’t believe the UN? Or, are you saying I should believe them only when I like what they have to say but I should discount what I don’t like to hear?


      • haile

        saay and lula

        Statistics are as good as statistics goes. The quality of data for certain aspects of their reporting is far better than others. Where they have presence, as is UNDP, all related primary data are more reliable. Whereas, other areas as pertains say, economic activity, they are at a disadvantage since they would be unlikely to obtain budgetary data from a budget that doesn’t exist. So, I guess it is not the UN rather the data that may be questioned, if at all. Generally speaking, weak and unreliable data is better than no data and having to depend on 03.

        By the way I heard recently that our currency, the Nakfa, is not accepted in many places in Tessenay (forget internationally). Why does Tesseney have the option to opt out of our common currency is a mystery!

        • Salyounis

          Selam Haile:

          The irony is that the economic data is kept a secret from the people but not from the IMF, the World Bank and other creditors. Everybody else knows, except Eritreans. Consider this: in 2009, Eritrea had joined a club with dubious distinction: the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) club. Its public debt was 142% of its GDP (down from 175% the year before); its inflation was nearly at 35%. Do you think your average Isaiaist knows that? Hell no. The IMF recommended that Eritrea get “debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.” Did it? Well, we will know in a year or two. What is important here is that while the Eritrean government was consulting with the Directors of IMF on December 2009 about what to do with its financial mess, it was telling Eritreans that all they need is more Mekhete and Nkid Tray.



          • Dear Saleh,

            You are really “fihira ika”… you know how to dig into the hidden house of PFDJ and the country we call it home. Eritrea the “heavily indebted country.” Where is the “bitseferena” then. No question at one point they will request “debt relief” from the multi-lateral debt relief initiative. BTW this data should have been part and parcel of the article in itself for it makes your argument strong.

          • Salyounis

            Selamat Aman:

            Don’t be too impressed; I cheated:) You see, I had the IMF link saved: it was for an article I was going to write about the “investment conference” that was held in Eritrea. I was going to write an article to show that it was all futile, a fad that will come and go, like many other investment fads that have come and gone, because it is all based on falsehood of bitSifrina, etc. That it was all a new scam, a new pyramid scheme. Then Forto 2013 came and nobody was talking about “investment” anymore so the article died:)


    • Saleh Gadi

      Dear Lula,
      You made outrageous claim and told us, “Eritrea’s economy is growing by a healthy amount. You can take that to the bank!”
      You are optimistic. Remember that even beggars do not accept false coins. Could you please collect any amount of your claim and “take that to the bank”? Any bank. Then come back here and tell us if any of them accepted it.

    • TiETiE( Shiro bubble)

      the US is the one paid the highest amount of money for UN. The American are right to control the UN since they have right to know the highest amount they paid. these corrupt and dangerous like Esayas Afewerki must be kicked out or scrutinized. The American money should not used for Dictators and human right abusers.


      1. He failed in school and nothing to do. so he decided to go compensate his sadness. It is not bad to try something different when one thing does not work. I appreciate his doing that, to think new idea for contribution. But the dishonesty and cruelty he did I hate the most.

      2. He and his brothers or siblings used to fight in their home because they did not feed well there was food shortage in the family and the esayas siblings never grow up well feed. they had grudge between them all caused by food shortage.
      Esayas borther the mentally ill never formally said selam to easyas after esayas come up from Gedli with victory. Rather the brother disapproved esayas leadership and called Eritrean are fooled by esayas. People said because he was crazy infact he was functioning with some of his mind very healthy even if he was mentally ill.

      3. Esayas in 1972 finally decided to surrender to Ethiopian soldiers and give up his Tegadalay career. But the Tigre tribe fighters stopped him. He was impressed by their loyalty and their devout activity such as bringing weapon, food, and medicine from sudan. Esayas quickly suddenly changed his mind.
      Now he is dictator.

      • haile

        Tie Tie

        “He and his brothers or siblings used to fight in their home because they did not feed well there was food shortage in the family and the esayas siblings never grow up well feed. they had grudge between them all caused by food shortage.”

        So would you conclude that IA is the most experienced person when he advised the nation to “consume less calories”?

  • Sabri


     As you know the Washington consensus is based on liberal ideology and they are trying to impose this belief in our world regardless of culture and level of development. Deliberately or not the proponents of this ideology dismiss one glaring fact. The system that created liberal democracy is mainly based on the necessity of strong government. Today’s developed countries would never have been reached their current development level without having strong government. And building strong government is full of ups and downs.  Ironically when some developing countries try to create their own strong government they are called dictators and authoritarians. The fact is you need strong base if you want to build something stable house. 

    It is interesting that you mentioned Lee Quan Yew. Singapore under the leadership of Lee Quan Yew with its popular People’s Action Party (PAP) have been built very strong government right from the beginning to develop the economy. PAP has been very authoritarian but it deliver remarkable results in the short period of time. Singapore under PAP was not a dictatorial system as some tried to convince us. There has been fair election throughout the era of PAP where PAP won most of the time. People genuinely chose PAP and were willing to be governed by benevolent authoritarian government because they see change in their life. They see PAP delivered what it is promised. There was a kind of consensus between the government and the people. In the 1980s when the young new generation demands change the government introduced some controlled change. The 1970s Singapore and today’s Singapore is different. Today Singapore is more liberal. But the system is still controlled by PAP and Lee. Today Lee is a well respected statesman who spend most of his time by giving advice to both developed and developing nations. 

    The point I want to show is strong government at the beginning of development is important and necessary. Giving priority to the basic needs of the people like education, health and food security is very crucial. Particularly at the initial period of development.  Liberal democracy unless it is seated in a stable and strong foundation it is doomed to fail. Calling those countries who give priority to the importance of strong government rather than to the liberal type of democracy is wrong. What is important is to see if these countries are really delivering what they are promised. Measuring these countries exclusively focusing on weather these countries have multi party system or freedom of expression is wrong. The current trend forget providing basic necessity is the same as  fulfilling basic human right. Plus building strong government demands to have transparent and accountable system at least in the front of economy. This by itself is democracy. 

    Viewing Eritrea from this perspective I don’t see any wrong from the basic philosophy of the government of Eritrea. They are trying to build a strong and stable nation. The controversial thing is the coercive method they are applying. This should be seen in the context of national security.  I agree national security must comes first but at the same time I admit there are a lot of wrong things that must be corrected. For instance, Criticizing the government without compromising national security should be encouraged. 

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Sabri:

      Based on anecdotal evidence–of ordinary Eritreans I had conversations with in the first 7 years after Eritrea’s independence, of letters to the editor that The Eritrean Exponent* paper I published briefly received–I will concede that my views were in the minority: the overwhelming majority of Eritreans agreed with your view that Eritrea needed a “benevolent dictatorship” and Isaias Afwerki had the right mix of authoritarianism, care for the country and competence to be our Lee Kwan Yew. And most of the people advocating this prescription were intelligent, well-read people, and many of them had studied the governments of Africa very closely. The argument was that there are individualistic societies (Western) and collectivist societies (Asia, Africa and South America) and the models for Eritrea should be the Asian Tigers: authoritarianism during accelerated development and phased-in liberalism after a certain development threshold has been met.

      Now the thing about being Africa’s Lee Kwan Yew is that there is an expectation on you to deliver results. And this article was about all stating that he hasn’t delivered results. And when people do not see results, they are reminded that they got the worst deal: no democracy, no civil liberties AND no economic development. It is like bringing a coach who everybody agrees is temperamental and abusive but is hired because of his winning record. When he can’t win, what else has he got? So, he gets fired. There really should not be a taboo about firing people: it is not personal at all: not everybody is great at every job. Isaias Afwerki can have a nice pension and pursue his hobby–woodworking, sightseeing–and leave the governing to people who have the vision and temperament for the job. I don’t know who that is; all I know is it is not Isaias Afwerki.

      Finally, you said, “criticizing the government without compromising national security should be encouraged.” But Sabri, you know that authoritarian governments (and all governments, for that matter) are adept at classifying everything as pertaining to “national security.” For example, if I say that Eritrea is spending way too much, way above its means for national security, am I compromising national security? 🙂


      * a tiny little magazine published 1994-1996. Circulation: unknown.

      • haile

        Selam saay

        “Isaias Afwerki can have a nice pension … leave the governing to people who have the vision and temperament for the job. I don’t know who that is; all I know is it is not Isaias Afwerki.”

        Now is this a side kick at the nascent vocal opposition, sporting many high profile “conferences” for almost over a decade and half, and all it has to show is a headless chicken for it 🙂

        • Salyounis


          Nah, I was just answering the anticipated question of “and who do you have in mind to replace him?” by saying, “no one in particular, because Mr/Ms No-One-In-Particular could not do worse than what we have.”

          Laugh all you want about the “vocal opposition” (as if “vocal” is a derogatory word), but one thing they have learned from all their conferences is the art of LISTENING. That alone is an improvement over who we have:)


          • haile


            The lough was on the metaphoric and literal alignment of the “headless chicken” analogy. “vocal” is used as an identifier rather than a derogatory swipe. “Listening”??? come on now….in fact lack of it is the one and only one common factor they share. An opposition that stands at 35 or more, and the very meetings they call is to identify those they don’t want to listen to and to eject them to form yet another group. I use the “vocal opposition” in an attempt to differentiate them from the “silent opposition” that are waiting to see the back of them.

          • yegermal

            There is no such thing as “silent opposition”. Those who chose silence in the face of what they deem wrong and unjust are simply cowards. One cannot oppose in secrecy! Not for decades anyway!

      • Sabri

        Selam Sal,

        I understand your point. One question. You concluded he doesn’t deliver the expected result. But if he, like Lee, succeed in delivering results should you follow him?

        I think we have to be careful when we evaluate the government’s effort to deliver results. Eritrea started good but the 1998 war reversed the whole. The post 1998 period is characterized as no war no peace. As a result of it Eritrea is forced to invest heavily in defense. It consumes almost all of the nation’s wealth. Despite all these problems what have been achieved yet  in the field of infrastructure and the work done in the field of health is really amazing. Is the result recorded yet satisfactory? No. Is the result delivered match the expectation? Far from it. I see the whole issue in the context of Eritrea’s reality on the ground. And your statistical report should be seen within this context. The good thing is the development strategy Eritrea choose to follow since 1991 is not changed. 

        • Salyounis

          Selamat Sabri:

          No, sir, I wouldn’t. China has done wonders in lifting the quality of life of the Chinese, but it still remains a stifling hell-hole when it comes to liberty–and this decades after economic liberalization. I always find it amusing that people who rail against copying the West have no problem at all in copying a people that have even less in common with us–China–and who happen to have copied practically everything that lifted them from the West:)

          About war and its impact on the economy, if you are going to use Lee as a model, well, Eritrea wasn’t the only one which had tense relationship with its neighbors. Singapore did too–with Malaysia and Indonesia. But Lee handled it much more intelligently (and cheaply) than Isaias Afwerki did. So, if you are going to use Lee as a role model, use him also for his military policies.

          We are going to have to disagree on your assessment about the results. I provided support to make my case that the results are dismal–our GDP per capita is about a 1/3 of the poorest nation in the world–it would be helpful to our debate if you would.


          • Sabri

            Hi Saleh,

            Thank you for answering my question. From your answer and from your previous articles I can see you are the fans of liberal democracy. I also support the values included in the liberal democracy. The question is how to we put it in place in the country like Eritrea. We can’t import it because it is not a commodity. The best option we have is to create the necessary condition so that the ingredients of liberal democracy grow in our soil naturally and organically. The necessary conditions are those foundations that will bear and sustain the fruit of democracy. And this takes time. It is part and parcel of nation building process. It is here where I see the importance of building strong government/state.

            Regarding Singapore, I think it is dangerous to compare Singapore with Eritrea. The difference is huge. To mention some of it: Singapore’s national party PAP is born in the environment of Cambridge and Oxford universities by highly educated Singaporean elites in England while ours is a continuation of long armed struggle. The condition/atmosphere where Singapore is developing is totally different. Right from the beginning PAP is formed by highly educated politician/scholars. Meritocracy has been their main principle which accelerated their economic development. In Singapore what counts is merit more than anything else. No wonder their institutions are administered by highly competent people. The conflict you mentioned that Singapore had with its neighbor Malaysia is not comparable to the conflict Eritrea is immersed with its neighbor. The first leaders of Singapore in considering the fragility of Singapore voluntarily asked Malaysia to be federated with. Malaysia said ok and they were federated but just after a year they realized they have totally different approach on the issue of governance especially on how to govern multi ethnic society. Lastly Singapore declared its independence without any problem. The rest is history.
            Regarding your reported statistical results I don’t have to say more about it. As I mentioned in my previous post I see it in the context of the reality of Eritrea.

          • Salyounis

            Selamat Sabri:

            I think we are using words without defining them and we are mixing a bunch of issues. It might be helpful to define them and separate them into their component parts:

            1. To “sustain the fruit of democracy” you see a pre-requisite: “a strong government/state.” What is your definition of a “strong government/state?” What must be done (and when) to plant the seed of democracy? Is it time-dependent? (a decade, two, three more) Is it phase-dependent? (a creation of a large Middle Class–whether that takes 10 or 100 years from now)

            2. What is “liberal democracy”? Are you talking just about political pluralism or the entire civil liberties package? If civil liberties are something that is time or phase-dependent, what is the “collateral damage” that is acceptable to you during the nation-building process? Dozens of political prisoners? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Torture? Imprisonment without a day in court? And depending of what is your threshold of acceptance, what are you willing to do when that is crossed? Wait for it to self-correct? Respectfully point it out? Ask about it once in a “seminar” and then accept whatever answer you are given?

            3. You say we can’t import liberal democracy because it is not a commodity. Is authoritarianism/dictatorship a commodity? Can it be imported? If it can, is that desirable?

            Just so you know where I am coming from, I believe that civilizations borrow, steal, adopt from each other. In Eritrea, the authoritarianism/dictatorship we have now is not homegrown or organic at all. All of Eritrea’s instruments of authoritarianism were imported. The collectivization and nationalization was imported from the Soviet Union. The techniques for the erasure and re-invention of identities was imported. The instruments of torture were imported. The instruments of indoctrination were imported. The instruments of stifling debate were imported. The two Fronts had thousands of educated and self-educated brilliant Eritreans whose job was to translate (import) the language of authoritarianism and the its infrastructure (vanguard party.) So, please don’t mistake what we have for something homegrown: it was imported from the graveyard of dying ideologies (North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet Union, England) and assembled in Eritrea.

            My point is if you take Eritrea and its culture/traditions, the leap from its culture/traditions to liberal democracy is much shorter than than the leap to the authoritarianism that is being practiced now. So when one who has imported every tool of oppression and is armed to the teeth tells me that I can’t import my tools of self-defense, it is clear that he’s got nothing against imports: he has a problem with my assertion of my right to self-defense.


    • semere Andom

      Hi Sabri:
      Your comments tell me that that you are in favor of `benevolent dictator“, there is no benevolence in dictatorship, this is a just a name that the west gives to dictator they love.
      Isaias have been given the chance to be a dictator for a while until the roots for democratic transition sprout. Eritreans knocked on the doors peacefully and respectfully. Naively they asked him penetrating questions at the meetings he used to hold, some of the opposition organization even dissolved their military wings as they figured the transition to democratic governance should be achieved by the mighty pen and not with the barrel of the gun. Eritreans really had high hopes for the EPLF.
      Finally the G-15, his partners in crimes and armed struggle wanted peaceful transition and wrote letters to him and their constituents.
      So DIA was giving those chances. All this examples are that the people were peaceful and showed deference to him and EPLF and “aydeferiwon
      This reminds me of a story I read long time ago about an Egyptian poet named Ismail Basha who was in love with a woman called Asma and he penned the following lines:

      terQtu al-baba hata Kela Metni
      wo- Kele-metin ya Ismaila sebra
      wo qulTu leha ya Asma eLa sebri

      The people have knocked on Isaias`s door until their hands were fatigued and they were and are still told to be patient. Now they run out of patience.
      How long do you think the formation of `strong government ‘last until it surrenders to the people?
      I invite my friend Semere H to translate this to Geeze 

      • Saleh Gadi

        Semere, a classic one by Ismael Sabri Basha, I am volunteering an English translation though it doesn’t sound even close to its Arabic original. The poet cleverly apllied word-play morphing his second name with its Arabic meaning. The poet’s second name is Sabri, which translates into PATIENCE in English. Unfortunately, any translation cannot reflect that:

        I knocked at her door until my muscles ached
        And then, she talked as I was in pain
        She said, “patience, Oh Ismael Sabri.”
        I replied, “Oh Asmaa, I consumed all my patience.”

        • semere Andom

          Hi Saleh,
          Well done. How about in Tigrayit ? it capture the meaning better than English.
          I have forgotten about his word play with his second name.
          There are multiple word plays especially when you say the lines. The are word plays with Asmaa, Ismail, kela-metni (my muscle ached) and kele- metni (she told me)
          ‘Ya Asmaa Ela sabri (oh, Asmaa my patience has been exhausted) and ya Ismaila sabra (oh , Ismail please patience)

      • Sabri

        Selam Semere,

        I’m not in favor of dictatorship weather it is benevolent or not. But I’m in favor of the government who give priority to the basic need of the people. I’m in favor of the government who works not only to solve current problems but who see far in the future. Building a nation is a very complicated issue. Many can be disappointed on the way. You can’t fix it easily. There is no short cut. 

  • Dear Sal,

    Let me say “feng shui” for those who read your article with a smile and make it our day. This is one of the its kind and a “rare substance” that goes to the heart of PFDJ deception, to demystify and of course, by scripturally implicit and explicit facts, to give light to the shadow or otherwise shattered economic development of the evil party.

    First thank you for bringing Berhane’s article to the “public scrutiny.” After reading his article I found it that it is neither food for thought to the intellectual Eritrean pool nor it gives differential effect in the mind of the bystanders. The gentleman had the audacity to pick any number and percentage to make his case without showing how his data is evolved to which baseline his data is to be compared with. After all the GOE has never had a budget and its Appropriations to their institutions (if they have at all) in the last 20 years, in order the public to weigh for the so called development that Berhane is bragging profusely without the basic information upfront. Sal it is a remarkable exercise on your side to expose the intellectual dishonest to PFDJ backing intellectuals.

  • T..T.

    If it is crony economic system, the favored business owners are the outcome of a policy that legally favors these wealthy people as members or friends of the party in power. But, here, Isayas is the party and the favored are his generals. The whole design is to put the Whole of Eritrea and its people like a ring on his finger.

    In a crony economic system, the favored business people are favored with creating monopoly of goods and ability to drive competitors out of business. But, here, Isayas is the one who owns the monopolies under his non-existing party internally. Like the border crossing ruling, whoever attempts to cross the border gets a rain of bullets so also whoever attempts to compete with Isayas’s businesses faces disappearance or a bullet to head.

    Like any other third world country, Isayas was advised by the west that crony capitalism was a solution for recovery and stability of Eritrea. That signal attracted many Eritrean Higdef or innocent investors from abroad. However, Isayas’s fast and hard interventions broke the tacit promises and soon due process and individual economic rights went into drain. Invested capital, in response, started to fly back to where they came from through black markets and, as a result, the currency Nacfa got bombarded worse by Isayas’s bombs than the city Nacfa was bombarded by the Ethiopian bombs.

    Now, with the youth on the run to avoid the whips and bayonets of Isayas, even the infrastructures will be in ruins. From village to city revolutionary development surely changed China. It simply failed in Eritrea because it lost all the senses of revolution that make it work. Isayas chose Ghedli forever in lieu of Sewra (revolution) and there it is where he lost the difference. The guy (Isayas) does not want to grow. He wants to lick too much of chocolates out of the Eritrean youth. And, the youth don’t want so much to be sucked off from womb to tomb. So, what is now? In an empty country, even a dollar divided among those left behind make them look like wealthier than their yesterday.

  • semere Andom

    You are also for given just for invoking Shawshan Redemption in your message to me yesterday 🙂
    One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the corrupt prison warden and Andy Dufres exchange verses from the scriptures to suit their own perspective of their situation
    When you see Isaias personally sign cheques when awarding money to athletes and still hear learned men actually believe that Eritrea is doing is very good is another question I wrestle with along with the victimization of Eritreans and lack of meaningful fight as you mention.
    I agree with you that the fighting spirit has not been reduced to the level of “Red”, and this article, which is firmly anchored on data, is bacon that illuminates our darkest hour. There is still hope. If we stop hoping there is danger that we will sell our birth right to liberty and dignity to the first bidder, as some followers of the Christian Faith* believe that Esau did not want to live in a distant hope and sold his first born right to his brother for a lentil soup and thus he lost the blessing of his father.
    Articles such as this and the human trafficking one, no matter how much we disagree with, must be embraced.
    All Awate Team is not wrong, it is only Sal 🙂
    *do not rebut me for using this term, I am being sarcastic

  • Hayat Adem

    That is very informative. Who would dare to say he/she could argue more convincingly than you? For swing guys, it is a done deal- the issue is settled. For guys like Birhane, it will never be. tinfer aytinfer tEl’ iya!!! I hear Birhane saying, “but we don’t trust data, indicators, indices etc coming from UNDP or UN-other.” You are expected to convince such guys. You don’t need enough data and solid analysis to convince such guys. They are part of the small losing coalition and they come to you by themselves when their going gets tough for them. The flipped-over turtle expression is as sadly funny as it is a powerful pointer to Eritrean reality.
    “Ms. Turtle, what are doing?”
    “You idiot, don’t you see what I’m doing. Of course, I’m running fast. Tigrigna diyu zired’aka- yiwunChef endie zelekhu!”
    “No, you are on your back and kicking the air and not moving. Can I help and set you back on your foot?”
    “Nope! No way! I do it myself. But honestly, I didn’t know I was on my back. Why are a lot my supporters cheering me up then? ayashuu!?”
    “I don’t know. But it will take you a long time get back by yourself. let me help!”
    “Get lost! Ayedliyeninnn! kid tifa’e anta CIA”

    Thanks Sal

  • Kokhob Selam

    is such important information reaching our people?

  • Michael Tzerai


    The ‘HGDEF Intellectual’ is obviously defending the indefensible. No argument he brings can stand a serious scrutiny like you have done. Infrastructure development, if indeed there is such a thing as ‘an equitable infrastructure development across regions of Eritrea’, then after 20 years, it would start to bear fruit in socio-economic and political and cultural development. Put another way, you can’t have an infrastructure development of 20 years with out the attendant development in commerce, trade, tourism, education and civil liberties. Let’s say we do have this outstanding job done by hgdef in infrastructure development, it is a huge miss use of scarce resources of a poor country like Eritrea for this investment not to have any positive impact on all the indexes you have listed above. In fact, it is a monumental testimony to the failure of HGDEF.

    From the experience of people who worked with HGDEF, they are not familiar to projects approach based on feasibility studies and sound approach to project development. If all the projects that hgdef did were brought to scrutiny, a lot could be classified as ‘the road to no where’ type of projects that are done based on the whim of the dictator or one of his cronies.

  • henok

    Well said

  • Salam Saleh,

    I don’t know much about the development situation in Eritrea and I certainly grant that it is not quantifiable interms of budgetary allocation and data, but if the Eritrean people – fresh from Eritrea recently – I’ve encountered in Europe are to give me any indication, the country has done remarkable job in its education aspect. Most of those Eritreans I met have high school education, and great number of those are college educated. They’re multilinqual also, perfectly speaking English, Arabic, and so on. Evidence of this is how Eritreans quickly integrate in host countries compared to Ethiopians, Somalis, and other low income countries.

    What does this indicate? The education system in Eritrea, though not perfect, is good.

    Someone might argue that those I’ve come into contact are the elite – those that could afford to travel to Europe and elsewhere and not the average Eritreans. I grant that even though the conversations I had with them is different: they were, mostly, average Eritreans.

    This led me to conclude that Issias Afewerki will become a victim of his own success, like Ben Ali of Tunisia, who created a large pool of educated youth but couldn’t employ them. For the time being Issias is ‘recycling’ them to the army as one Eritrean commentator possits it, but for how long?

    One other aspect the Eritrean regime should be given credit (I think) is its agriculture program. Famine in Eritrea, it seems, is a thing of the past – thanks to the regime’s effective irrigation program.

    I might be wrong though. This is my two cents.


    • Salyounis

      Ahlen Nuradin:

      There are anecdotes, and then there is data. If you met Eritreans, recent arrivals from Eritrea, who are “perfectly speaking” Arabic, well you stumped me. The inadequacy of Arabic language education in Eritrea was admitted to even by Isaias Afwerki in an interview with state TV just over a year ago.* And because the government has adopted a “mother tongue language” education policy, and because it is fiercely opposed to parents’ demand that their kids be taught curriculum in Arabic (to the extent of arresting its biggest advocate Idris Aba Arre), I would be surprised if the people you met who are fluent in Arabic learned it in Eritrea.

      The other thing you need to remember is that the country had one accredited-internationally-recognized university which had such a good reputation, its graduates had a relatively high acceptance rate when they wanted to continue their education elsewhere. That university has been left to decay and it has been supplanted by vocational schools. I am a strong proponent of vocational schools but they should suplement and not supplant academic universities and colleges.


      * I wrote about this, including a rate compliment of Isaias Afwerki (shock) in this article:

  • bn- erytrea

    “Lee Kuwan Yew was an Asian Tiger. All we have is an Eritrean Turtle—not only does he move painfully slow, he has a tendency to withdraw into its shell at the first sign of a threat and just plain stop moving.”

    if one can write Quotable Statment like that, he for sure will be forgiven for using too many differnt fonts in this rather brilliant myth buster article.

    all the best.