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We Knew it Was Wrong…

We knew it was wrong…we just didn‘t know its name was slavery…

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” Abraham Lincoln, speech, Mar. 17, 1865

I‘ve been tamed to accept servitude and captivity systematically for quite a long time and I am sure most Eritreans of my age did too. It might sound odd to say, but you never knew you were under dictatorship, nor did it occur to you that you as a human being deserve to own your life, to speak your mind, chose and do what you please. The kind of people we were: with high and promising hopes and total trust on their government and with almost no suspicion of being betrayed…that is how naive people like us young Eritreans were. We too slow to understand enslavement; we only understood it too late in the day.

The indefinite military conscription, denying us basic freedom; the continuous raids on our once safe and delightful streets, imprisoning people belonging to certain religions and the extremely cruel mistreatment wasn’t something that made our hearts nod in agreement…but it took us some time to understand the full extent of the slavery, disguised as national service. It is only now that we have come to realize that we were nothing but mere slaves of the PFDJ regime.

It all began when we were forced to join the compulsory and indefinite military service at the age of 16…yes, in a nation like Eritrea that age is the stage where you and your innocent childhood dreams and hopes part ways, instead of being well cultivated to dream big and achieve our potential while contributing to the redevelopment of our country.

There was a time when our neighbourhoods were cheerful and full of laughter of youngsters, and the streets we used to stroll around felt safe…there was a time when the very air we breathed was hopeful, where everything was ‘normal’, where the future was all promising …a time we thought it was all well and good…until it wasn’t. Our hopes and aspirations for a great Eritrea, however, fell crumbling and vanished with the crippling effect of the indefinite national service.

The war with Ethiopia has been used to justify the open-ended conscription in the military … However, it has been more than a decade since the signing of the Algiers treaty that ended the war. Yet the unlawful exploitation of the labour of the Eritrean youth continues to be carried out under the guise of national service with irreversibly destructive effects on the Eritrean society. Instead of encouraging and motivating people to redevelop and rebuild Eritrea by securing peace, law and order, the regime decided to repay our selfless contributions and sacrifices by condemning us to an eternity of slavery, brute and suffering.  Our labour has been forcefully exploited to serve the interests of elite members of the clique and works that hardly benefit neither the people nor the nation; all with mere pittance. And so we run away! We the youth have responded by fleeing enmasse, crippling the productive and defensive capability of our nation.

When they denied us the right to express our frustration with our voices…we spoke with our feet! We fled in every direction we could, deserted our once hopeful nation. For many the journey never had a happy ending. Oceans opened up to become graves, people turned into beasts to prey on us.

Even after surviving all that the expectation is to remain silent and disappear into a new type of slavery. Not me!

I refuse to shut up and continue to serve through 2%…I refuse to be slave anymore I risked my life to set myself free, so I will live free.

Many, including the young people of our age, who call themselves YPFDJ find the act of running away from your own country by taking extreme measures strange. They have never experienced the life the national slavery. They are surprised to see us fleeing and annoyed to hear us call our national service experience as slavery.  Now we are, simply, saying enough!

Actually, it would be strange if we didn’t (say enough!), when all you get for your hard work and sacrifice is mockery , when all your blood and sweat  is for the pleasure and enjoyment of some pretentious ‘patriot’ on their adventurous trip to Eritrea , when you are condemned to serve until God knows when without questioning a thing, when muffling the screams of despair is all you can do to relieve your indignation, when families are told to survive with 10 dollars a month, when one is only allowed to see his family once in a year or two , when the whole generation is stuck in the military and forced to give up on education, career, job , future, marriage, and family. It would be strange if you didn’t run away; risking everything. You can’t help but run away when running away is the only thing that could keep life aspirations alive.

In a world of extreme tyranny like ours, it is more than safe to assume that our years would be totally cheated off us, and we would be condemned to work and struggle for the rest of our lives without any appreciation, credit, respect or  reward of any sort. This would not have been that bad had we contributed to the prosperity of our people, the peace of our nation and anything positive that would have made our parents be proud of the sacrifice that was demanded of us.

We have had to slave for the regime with docile commitment without enjoying even the most basic of the rights of human; the right to live. Had we seen a glimpse of hope rather than our situation and that of our people deteriorate by the day, had we seen the fruits of our exploited labour take Eritrea forward, things may have been different.  But all we got was being pushed and pulled in all directions. That I now, know is what oppression does to those at the bottom of the heap.

And now that we are able to openly condemn the national slavery…people from some corners are telling us we were not slaves but veterans and unashamedly persuade the brothers and sisters we left behind to continue serving not their nation, but the interests of a regime and the elite members of the clique that continues to enslave us and condemn us to nothingness.

Like their dancing on the corpses of our fallen brothers and sisters hasn’t been enough, like taking pride for the roads and dams we built for free wasn’t enough, as though being denied basic rights isn’t sacrificing all, like gambling with our lives isn’t the ultimate low …they are telling us we should consider it an honour!

My advice to such people is to go and try to live a single day not knowing when you will be in charge of your destiny again, go a single year without knowing when you will be allowed to see your parents, go a single week knowing the screams that came from the prison cell was your best friend that  shared your bunk bed , go a single month toiling to build roads and bridges with mere pittance that others will use and enjoy as you toil endlessly and then come back and tell us how honoured you felt!

I sure am glad that God invented humour to save us all from going mad!

People who have not been through what we have been cannot tell us what we were, nor can they order us to stop condemning our own predicament of slavery. We are not inventing slavery, we are finally calling it by its name and we are saying it all loud.

This is us pouring out our frustrations…frustrations that we had only shouted through our teary eyes and running feet.

So, please do not tell me I am a veteran. Don’t you call the slavery I had been condemned to a national service, it’s quite overbearing and insulting to tell one whose fate was already decided for him; to the slave woman with inadequate payment and apart from the warmth of her family, to the young man with no future to look forward to, to her whose labour was opportunistically exploited to shut up and not to tell their story. Because this grieving heart has a story of pain, sadness and hardship that you are either ignoring or have no idea about! …We were slaves until we ran away and there are so many we left behind and some died and that is all there is to it.

About Luwam Estifanos

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  • Naod Samiel

    Luwam, you left Eritrea when you were, what, 21? Be honest. You didn’t give anything to your country. You were educated and then you ran off. I agree with you that people shouldn’t tell you you’re a veteran, because you’re not one.
    But you are a talented fiction writer, I’ll give you that. You should use put your imagination to better use than this. Speaking ill of your country is easy money, I know that, but there are more honorable ways to make a living, even in these hard times.

  • merhaba

    I’m glad she did this and i’m glad ppl are regurgitating it. It is SO far removed from reality that it will show the ridiculousness of the smear campagin against beloved ERITREA. For every 1 oportunist there are 10,000+ patriots and time will expose these evil do’ers.

  • Rodab

    Luwi Haftey,
    Good job on your interview today. I can predict that in the future you will hold top government position to serve our people. Minister Luwam ab zihabeto qale-meHtit…kibehal’yu.

  • Salam Tesfamikael

    I want to know why more Eritreans aren’t saying this. I want to know why those people that die at sea are called ‘trafficked’. Who traffics them when the often spend all they have to get on those boats. I want to know why Eritreans living abroad don’t question their govenerment and instead attend the independence day celebrations and pay their taxes. If you are Eritrean, then the likelyhood of having a friend, family member or even a passing acquaintance who sought asylum is quite high…and yet most including myself have yet to do or say anything. To you Luwam, I salute. Your words were so very eloquently written and I have heard the exact same words from different individuals who had nothing to gain from sharing their experiences. I hope your words reach many more Eritreans and encourage them, if nothing else, to be more critical and questioning of the government instead of quietly paying their taxes…
    ‘I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive, in a situation like that, is to collaborate with what is going on.’ Howard Zinn

  • Yeman

    Luwam Shikor,
    Your message is so powerful and we heard it loud and clear.Lets keep up the fight until we get back our dignity.WE ARE WITH EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

    • peace

      I actually think luwam is way wrong and she does not know , what she is talking about.
      we eritreans can not and will not be sold by such immature idea. we need change but not what luwam and her financers are wishing .

  • bruck

    Dictator Isaias afewerki is not who he say’s he is

    • Naod Samiel

      Ethiofuture? You’re not even trying to hide it.

  • Abraham Tewelde

    Amen sister, i am rally proud of you Luwam. God bless you and your family for telling the truth as it is. For those YPFDJ crowds, u have try it one day then we can trust you how you love ur country.

  • sara

    hey, i have news for you… The government of united Arab emirate which most of us know the city of DUBAI has declared a national service program for every able 18 years old emirate,
    remember this country is very rich in oil resources and the city of Dubai is a hub for all the so called lassie fair economy..
    if i use the definition given by some parties for the Eritrean national service as SLAVERY, what would the emirate-es will call theirs.. SLAVERY… i doubt.

    • Luwam

      Hey I have answers for you ……1- We went to Sawa at 16! 2- We are defining it as SLAVERY because it’s indefinite and free labor exploitation …….like I have mentioned above , for 10 bucks. 3- It is definitely not serving the nation at all ! 4- Fixed and fair National Service is every where ……what we want to stop is the endless Slavery that is driving us into nothingness ! It is pretty clear why it is called slavery on the article btw.

      • dawit

        What do you call the Tegadelti who fought the Ethiopian colonial army supported by Super Powers for 30 years without a penny and may be eating a piece of bread every other day, walking up and down with bare foot, paying arms and legs? They paid dearly for Eritrea’s political independence, all Eritrea ask the present generation to help to bring economic independence so that the next generation will have a house with two garages and two cars. Is that too much of sacrifice?

        • Goytom

          Their sacrifice and hardship is not what is debated here. But rather what young eritreans are enduring today. Today a national slave works for $10 a month for pfdj owned companies like segen and enamco under the the guise that its national service when in fact it is benefiting a small group.
          Someone who went to sawa in 97 is still in sawa. Someone who went to sawa in 05 is still in sawa and there is no end in sight. What happens to his dreams of a an education, a career, a family. The tegadalay of yesterday knew what he was sacrificing for but why do the young eritreans like luwam sacrifice for. In a time of peace why do they have to sacrifice like this. For who’s benefit. Well she answered it and she is right. IT IS SLAVERY.

    • future

      Eritrean National Service is a slavery because it is endless you are exlpoite all yours till death. not only Dubai even in first world civilaized coutery there is a national service for fixed time as it is a national obligation

    • Said

      national service till the end of my life?

  • Serray

    Selam Luwan,

    Thank you and it is about time your generation articulate clearly the conditions of your existence as slaves in sawa. But that is only the first step. The reason it is taking a long time to change the system is the dual nature of your tormentors. For your parents, the murderers, rapists, human traffickers are still freedom fighters. If what happened to your generation happened under dergi or haileslasie, it wouldn’t have taken 20 years to figure out that the national service is actually slavery.

    I know it is unfair but your generation has to fight on two fronts: the murderers, the rapists and the human traffickers who enslave you, and the part of the population who who value the land more than the people, the ghedli romantics who justify anything as long as you wave the flag in front of them while screaming ethiopia!, ethiopia! Remember, it took the silence of your parents and the sheer savagery of tegedalti to enslave your generation. To free the young it will take shaming the former and defeating the latter.

  • Yacob

    Well done 4 telling the truth

  • Samuel N.

    Great narration. Thank you Luwam.

  • Issayas

    send them home-there is no dollar left for-they should work at home build streets and schools for some KICHA. Those are lasy people, they think they can go somewhere in the west and they can get what they want. SEnd them home as soon as possible. Start war with some neigbours and give them kalaschincows- then they will respect live as it is-no heaven its just a dream illusion.

  • Nitricc

    I hate to break the bad news to you Luwam. The National military service in Eritrea is there to stay for life. You can complain, protest, criticize, whine, and nag till the cows come home. If you are brave, why don’t you stayed home and fight what ever the wrongs are? Now, you said you are free, although, I could have asked you what does mean to say “FREE” but I know you have no clue. So, I promise you Sawa is to stay for generations to come. Like everything else, it will be reformed but rest assure, it will be one of the magnificent institution. In the Mean time have fun with your “FREEDOM” what ever that means. Now you have made it, enjoy your X-box and leave Sawa alone.

    • Yoda Ydyxz

      I’m shocked there are actually people who think the way you do!!!

    • Marc Osteric

      Tell the ypfdj xxxxxxx to leave their xbox alone and pack up and head to sawa to serve ahem I mean slave for isaias.It is cute to be nationalistic and brag about Eritrea from the safety of the USA you people blame for every ill. Is pfjdites hate the US so much why don’t they all go back to Sawa and eat dirt with beles sauce?

    • Haile

      Nitric go try it

    • Yeman

      I still have to come across anybody that supports the NEVER ENDING SERVITUDE and SLAVERY as Luam put it meticulously but you seem to advocate strongly for the continuation of the brutal slavery that condones rape,torture,extortion,incarceration and summarily execution by those dirty and coward commanders that called themselves “tegadeltti’. Could it be that you enjoyed the rape by the dirty so called “tegadalay’ at the boot camp?

    • taye

      the german IIIrd reich was meant to last for a thousand tear…

  • Luwam

    Thanks a lot every one for the warm and helpful encouragements . This article is meant to bring the National Service Slavery in Eritrea in to light and aware as many People as we can about the “National Slavery in Eritrea must stop! Full Stop! ” and get People to contribute on what ever way it suits them and sign and share Our petiton With Family and friends . I believe this is the least we can contribute to voice Our concerns for Eritrea and it s People. Please visit the Campaign website http://www.stopslaveryineritrea.com/ and sign and share the petition. http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/national-service-slavery-in-eritrea-must-stop-full-stop.

    • Ermias

      Courageous…Very loud and clear.Proud of you Luwam for stating the Facts and telling the truth.The PFDJ purposely came to destroy the country…One thing The Eritrean people didn’t understood is…..
      1 The soul of the country is destroyed.
      2 The Family structure is destroyed.
      3 The communities are destroyed
      4 The Eritrean identity is destroyed
      Everything is destroyed.

  • sealm

    Thank you Luwam, for standing for and speaking the truth.

  • Yemane Johar

    Luwam, we hear you loud and clear. Proud of you!

  • Horizon

    The rulers of the land exploited their body, enslaved their minds and destroyed their feelings of being young. They took away their happiness, the right to dream of the future, and they told them that there is only sacrifice, and a never ending one for that. They made the young lose their humanity in the inhuman world they created for them.
    Unfortunately, few managed to tell their story. It is a story written in tears, sweat and blood of the children of Eritrea, a story of sacrifice to glorify the few Eritrean elites, who came to rule over the people without their consent. They (the leaders) tried to create a deaf, blind and brainless society, so that they can use them as robots, creatures that are supposed not to think but only to obey and serve, a society of zombies.
    On top of this, it is most unfortunate that there are others, their own kind, the heartless, who from a comfort zone tell the victims that it is worth it that many should suffer, so that the few elites could satisfy their ego and live in glory and luxury.
    Fortunately, injustice cannot live forever, and justice always triumphs over it. Darkness will be replaced by light, tearful eyes will shine with happiness, and people will come to understand that those who ask for sacrifice will never sacrifice themselves, because they are exploiters
    of their innocence.
    The future belongs to the young, the open minded and those who believe in life, and not to those who idolize death, martyrdom and eternal sacrifice.

  • Rodab

    Hello Luwam,
    You’ve done a splendid job with your timely message. I myself served 18 months of national service when it had a “legitimate” duration, if you will. Today it has become, and I agree with your charactrization of it, something else. Unfortunately this stiuation will continue to persist so long the current system is in place. And the reason is this: Eritrea doesn’t have export to generate hard currency, and the government is in bad terms with the rest of the world and so it can’t get loans, grants, agreements etc. But it somehow has to survive and to do that the burden is completely thrown into the shoulders of Eritreans inside and outisde. From the inside, every able body is rounded up for free labor. From the outside, a full time treasure/cash-hunt is in motion. With the absence of any one of these two, the only remaining option meant to do what normal governments do which is to create economic relations with nations and financial institutions to help lessen the burden on the Eritrean people and to make Eritrea a productive nation. And the current system is out of steam to do that. This is where it becomes essential not only for new ideas but for fresh blood. Peace!

  • StopSlavery InEritrea

    This article is part of the Stop Slavery In Eritrean Campaign Series.
    Visit the campaign website http://StopSlaveryInEritrea.com to learn more

  • Tuum

    Well said shikorina

  • Taher

    Great well said,”go a single week knowing the screams that came from the prison cell was your best friend that shared your bunk bed”. An Arabic say literally goes , ” whose hand in water is not like whose hand in fire” and I add do not redefine hell to one who actually experienced the real hell and survived to tell. Bless you and your likes…

  • Samson Hadgu

    Thank you LE. I hope it knocks on the conscience of our fake diaspora patriots and they feel the suffering of our brothers and sisters who are wasting their youth in servitude without any respite. I call upon the fake diaspora patriots who question us, “Adi mis men gedifkuma metsikum?” to prove their loyalty to the regime in Asmara by sending their kids to Sawa.

    “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
    ― William Wilberforce

  • asia jobe

    Luwamina, you are indeed the voice of the voiceless. Bless you Princess.

  • asia jobe

    wey ane deqey…. Speechless…. Princess,pls accept my hugs wrapped with love

  • Yonas

    Great article Luwam. One can easily see the difference between living under dictatorship and living in democracy.
    People as young as you are do not have the opportunity to analyse, think freely and decide what they want if they are in Eritrea. Under that slavery, you always expect orders to eat, wake up, travel, and permissions to visit family and even get married. Means, in the back of your mind something is telling you that you have some one to think for you, not you think for your self. They enforce that mentality since the age of 16,
    the age where humans naturally start learning leadership and independence.
    This is why we are against National Slavery.
    I applaud you Luwam and encourage you to come up with more articles.

    • lemlem

      you can not be a veteran and a traitor as the same time so change you name to hadamit natinal service in eritrea will be for ever”

      • Belai tewelde

        lemlem, You must feel very ashamed to have written such garbage. You seem to be very undemocratic and opportunistic. Se has written what she observed and no one knows where you have been all this time.