Going over the Eritrea-Djibouti Peace Agreement with a fine-tooth comb

An English rendition of an incisive Amharic article written by Meles A
Translation By Dilwenberu Nega
July 07 2010

Daniel Gebrai is an Addis Ababa born and bred Eritrean. No sooner had Eritrea declared her independence from Ethiopia than Daniel rushed to Asmara with hopes and dreams. However, he never thought that what he was about to encounter once he settled down in an the independent State of Eritrea was going to shatter his hopes and dreams into smithereens. He soon found himself frog-marched to Eritrea’s infamous military training centre for conscripts at Sawa. When Eritrea’s unprovoked aggression against Ethiopia turned into a full-scale war, Daniel was detailed along the battle-field where he was captured by Ethiopian troops. After spending brief periods at POW Reception Centres in Maikental (Tigrai) and in Dedessa, Daniel was made to return to Eritrea. Yet again, Daniel found the rigours of life in Eritrea wholly unbearable. On one occasion, strolling along Asmara’s “Neber District” – Amharic for “Used to be District” (so named because the area had quickly turned into Eritrean deportees’ favourite hang-out where gaggles of former Eritrean businessmen often reminisced about what they “used to” own while in Ethiopia: garage, villa and factory), security forces arm-locked Daniel and whisked him off to join Eritrea’s “Warsa Yikaelo” – a youth brigade recruited predominantly from among those born during the period of Eritrea’s struggle for liberation. However, harsher living and working condition soon prompted Daniel to contemplate fleeing to neighbouring Ethiopia. While out on a reconnaissance mission, Daniel and like-minded friends of him, eloped into Ethiopian territory and sought refuge. Today, though Daniel resides in a Refugee Camp in Mai Ayni, Tigrai, he is content by the fact that he is able to pay visits to the homes of his former friends around St Mary’s Church in Arat kilo – his birth place and an area where he grew up and spent much of his adulthood.

These ‘punishments of life’ found in chaotic Eritrea, far from being isolated cases, are, in fact, the lot of hundreds of thousands of mainly young Eritreans. Eritrea’s strict observance of its draconian “shoot-to-kill” policy which applies indiscriminately to all caught attempting to enter to safe and sound Ethiopia, as well as the practice of throwing those caught fleeing to the Sudan to rot in Eritrea’s ubiquitous prisons, notorious for their dreadful living conditions, have both failed to halt the Eritrean exodus to near and far places. Nor, for that matter, has EriTV’s interminable portrayal of life in Ethiopia as infernal, succeeded in deterring Eritreans from seeking refuge in Ethiopia. According to official statistics, the number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia now stands at 51000, out of which 4000 are soldiers. Mind you, this figure does not include the tens of thousands of other Eritreans who go to incredible lengths to flee to other parts of the world. According to one of the most influential sociologist of the 20th century, Robert K. Merton, people who live in societies under totalitarian rule are exposed to lack of happiness, life insecurity and haunted by constant feeling of grieve. Consequently, they consider fleeing to a place of refuge as a one and only option left for them. The Government of Eritrea’s wrongful policies have exposed its people to great misery, and the nation, itself, is today separated from the family of civilised and law abiding nations. Today, 36% of Eritrea’s youth suffers from war-related mental illness. Eritrea, itself, has turned into a colossal prison. President Isais places blame for all of Eritrea’s woes on America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and, yes, you guessed it right, good old Ethiopia. The unadulterated truth, however, is that it is none other than the Isais-led Government which is the alpha and omega of Eritrea’s political and socio-economic predicaments.

I don’t like it when all is quiet

Eritrea is a tiny country with a very weak economy and a Government that has failed to transform the quality of life of its people. Yet, however, like a fighting bull, Eritrea enjoys transgressing willy-nilly into the paled turfs of its neighbours. Eritrea had caused havoc to reign in the region by mounting aggressions on all its neighbours, and when that plan goes awry, it resorts to arming opposition groups from neighbouring countries. Today, Asmara is hub to rebel groups from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad etc. The Government of Eritrea’s actions of recruiting, training and funding foreign opposition groups is not confined to the region. Siere Lanka’s influential daily, “Colombo Times”, once reported that Eritrea had been arming the Tamil Tigers rebel group. Former Lecturer at Asmara University, Mohammed Kiyar Umer, once noted that the Eritrean Government has now become Horn of Africa’s anarchical force. New York Times’ correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, on his part, emphasized that because Eritrea suffers from chronic warmongering, it now has become a war profiteer nation. Jeffrey claims that President Isaias does not like it when everything in the region turns quiet.

Many keep asking how Eritrea can afford to give support in cash and in kind to foreign rebel groups at a time when its economy is strangulated, when its export sector is virtually non-existent, save its export of chaos and instability, and at a time when the Government continues pressing its already poor farmers to sell their produce at extortionate price only to the state. These, indeed, are the burning questions of our time. One source of income is, of course, the 2% levy imposed on all Eritrean employees – similar to what we, Ethiopians, had to go through during Derg’s “Call of the Motherland Campaign.” The second source of income comes from the booty of its interventionist incursions. Wherever there is commotion and instability, the Eritrean Government springs out of nowhere to cream off ‘dividends.’ Its involvement in the Democratic Congo’s civil war resulted in Eritrea milking away enormous amount of diamond and gold. It is an open secret that the then Eritrean Ambassador to Brussels – and believe it or not to Kinshasa (adios geographia!) - Ande Berhan G. Michael was engaged in the unethical act of stacking the Embassy’s diplomatic pouch with diamonds and gold before dispatching it to Asmara. According to Uganda’s daily, “New Vision,” the Eritrean Government, trading as “Eritrean National Insurance Corporation,” has recruited its intelligence staff and are engaged in exploitative trade in the area. The Indian Ocean Newsletter, on its part, accused the Eritrean Government of debasing its status to a Commission Agent. Furthermore, last year’s statement by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) accused the |Government of Eritrea of being a proactive proxy to Al Shabab and Hizbul Izlam in Somalia.