Last week, Eritreans were utterly shocked to learn of the tragic death of hundreds of Eritreans on a boat, as they left Libya to cross the Mediterranean. This week, Eritrean families are learning of the loss of a family member. Like all Eritreans, we are directly affected by this death: we have direct family members who are in mourning. We convey our condolences to all Eritreans. But as tragic as the death is, and accidents DO happen, it would be naive to pretend that it is not a consequence of decisions. A series of decisions taken by Isaias Afwerki and his cronies: of choices they made to consolidate their power. And the choice they made was that they would rather empty out Eritrea of its primary asset–its citizens, particularly its youth–than to make any changes to the way they have been “governing” Eritrea. It is the PFDJ’s refusal to demoblize Eritreans; it was their decision to close the University of Asmara; it was their decision to arrest journalists; it was their decision to suspend the implementation of a constitution; it was their decision to close all venues for a life that is not dependent on their slave labor that has forced Eritreans to leave their country by the tens of thousands.
Naive people may say that it wasn’t just Eritreans, but also Ethiopians, and Somalis, and West Africans and citizens of the entire sub-Saharan Africa that are leaving their homeland for “economic reasons.” But it is a matter of degree: Eritrea has a small population, between 4 to 5 million, and for the last decade, we Eritreans have accounted for most migration, on a per capita basis, than any other nation on earth. More than Ethiopians, Somalis, Kenyans and all the other countries that the PFDJ and their rabid fans make fun of routinely. This is not because Eritrea is the poorest; it is simply because it is a country that is governed the worst. To state this obvious fact is not to “politicize” the issue as some confused people looking for elusive acceptance think: it is to hold people accountable for their actions.
What does Isaias Afwerki value most? Himself above all else, of course, and his power second. But what else? When he is prioritizing issues and making choices, what comes first before the other?
He dragged Eritrea to war. How important is land to him? And this war resulted in the death of tens of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. How important is that to him? And following the war, tens of thousands of Eritreans, mostly youth, have left the country. How important is that to him?
Isaias Afwerki has given countless interviews–with one topping the other in its vulgarity, crudeness and plain embarrassment– that shed light on his hierarchy of values. But there is one meeting he had with students in South Africa, in the year 2002, that gives us all the clues we need as what he thinks about lost land, Eritreans vanishing, civil liberties, and religious freedom. About Eritreans who have been made to disappear. And what “globalization” really means to him.
This report came to us from an Eritrean attending a South African university in 2002. We translated it to English and published it the same week. (You can find the original article at our archives at http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/628/9/.)
Here’s the exchange between Isaias Afwerki and Eritrean youth in South Africa as reported to us by a student who chose the name of “Harnet Seb”:
Meeting On July 8, 2002
Student: Regarding those in prison, when will they be presented to a court of law?
Isaias: Who was jailed? When?
Student: My father.
Isaias: How do you know?
Student: We have no news of him. He is missing.
Isaias: What is his name?
Student: Dr. (Muslim name)
Isaias: If there is no news, then he is in jail. Perhaps he had contact with traitors, Talibans or Jihad.
Student: So, when will he be presented to a court of law?
[Refer to updated footnote below for identity of the student who asked the question]
Student: Why did you close the churches?
Isaias: Because they have foreign influence. From what little I know, [he continued about the introduction of religions in Eritrea it was tiresome].
Student: What will come of the people whose land, water and woodland has been taken over (He was taken aback by this question)
Isaias: People whose land has been taken over….?
Student: I mean, the border issue.
Isaias: It seems to me, mankind is more precious than land or woodland…there is a little land that has been taken in the Tsorona area; it is not much. We will relocate the people in a land of their choice. The government will also provide assistance. As for me, mankind is above all else.
Student: What measures will be taken to encourage the people here to participate in the Warsai Yekaalo Initiative? If it is, as it were, work for 150 Nakfa, isn’t it preferable to choose to stay here?
Isaias: I had anticipated this question. When I was leaving Asmara to come here, they told me, lest you vanish, to meet with you and advise you to come back home. I told them, “let them try!” Globalization is Equalizer. If there is money, there is no problem. You can import people. In the past, we looked for and couldn’t find laborers and construction workers. We imported them from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and India. Yesterday, we were looking for five architects and we brought them from the Philippines. If we cannot find a professor, we go to India and import him. So, if one says, “I want to go to America,” let him try it.
There were no more questions. They announced, “Time is over” and we stopped.
Update 1: from a reliable source: The name of the student who asked the first question regarding the disappearance of his father is Hussein Mohammed Said. [His father, Dr. Mohammed Said, was in jail then.] The student died in South Africa less than a month ago.
Original report at: http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/628/9/