By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
by Henri Fourcadis’, Media Part
Henri Fourcadis’ article on his blog is in French titled – Erythrée: La vérité est ailleurs. Its direct translation means: “The truth is elsewhere” .
In the light of the conflict now between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which is likely to flare anytime, this piece would attempt to provide essence of Fourcadis’ article, if no one cares for my rusty French, which has benefited from machine-assisted translation.
“For some time, Eritrea has been the subject of too many criticisms and [in days] in June the United Nations Human Rights Council will consider the charge of “crime against humanity” against it. If you dig things, as I did because of the opportunity I got, you would not rest content on what is commonly spread, as there is a different truth to discover.”
This is taken from the author’s lead paragraph, which is the following:
- “L’Erythrée est sujette depuis quelques temps à beaucoup de critiques et le Comité des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies étudiera en juin la qualification de ce qui lui est reproché en « crime contre l’humanité ». Si l’on creuse les choses, comme j’en ai eu l’occasion, et que l’on n’en reste pas à ce qui est communément répandu, on découvre alors une toute autre vérité…”
He continues to state what has led him to that conclusion, with these words:
- I have met Eritreans in their country, Eritreans in a refugee camp waiting their application to be processed and after attaining legal status, also personnel of non-governmental organizations as well as Eritrean oficials in Asmara. And here is what I have discovered.
I must begin this be reminding you what Eritrea is all about. It is little recognized/understood country in the Horn of Africa, located between Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti and facing the shores of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is situated in a strategic location in this conflict-prone region and the gates of the Middle East adjoining the Suez Canal.
Eritrea was Italian colony up until the middle of the second half of the 19th century. Following Italy’s defeat in the Second World War, the Organization of the United Nations decided in 1952 to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia. The latter annexed Eritrea in 1962. Thus began a war of independence that lasted several decades until its end in May 1991. In 1993, Eritrea became independent and was recognized internationally.
Since independence, some territorial disputes have emerged in particular with Ethiopia. This conflict ended by 2000, when the Algiers agreements was reached, whose border demarcation Ethiopia has rejected. This necessitated UN arbitration in 2003 and deployment of United Nations peacekeepers between the two states. To this day, Ethiopia rejects this arbitration continues to occupy part of Eritrean territory. Many Ethiopian provocations take place regularly in this border area imposing a climate of tension in Asmara (the Eritrean capital) to remain in constant alert keeping the country in a state of emergency, despite the theoretical end of the conflict presumably resolved by UN agencies.
Eritrea is a country of just over six million people with a total area of 121 320 km2. Ethiopia meanwhile has an area 10 times that and a population of 91 million. It is understood that the balance of power may worry the Eritrean authorities, especially when Ethiopia clearly says it does not accept the boundaries established by the international community, thereby continuing to occupy part of its neighbor’s territory.
Owing to this, the Eritrean government expects Ethiopia attack at any time. Let us not forget the strategic location of Eritrea, by the sea, which since independence has deprived Ethiopia of its own the port. This has necessitated Ethiopia to use Djibouti for its imports and exports. Eritrea is a mountainous region with massive deposits of metal (gold, copper …). Therefore, Ethiopia has every interest in annexing Eritrean territory again.
Due to this state-emergency and precariousness of their independence, Eritrean headed by a regime that has to be strong. Democracy is not yet possible given the influence and pressure maintained by Ethiopia with the support of some countries still in search of influence for the interests of their economies, like the United States of America. The State of Eritrea is too afraid of losing its real sovereignty by the use by these foreign powers tools of democracy (media, NGOs, political parties) to take power.
Due to this state of emergency, Eritrea’s independence is precarious, thereby necessitating Eritrea being headed by a strong regime. Democracy is not yet possible, given Ethiopia’s pressure, supported and maintained by some countries in the like of the United States of America that still seek influence to serve their economic interests. The State of Eritrea is too afraid to lose its national sovereignty on account of the these foreign powers using the tools of democracy (media, NGOs, political parties) as an excuse and take power.
This can be discussed from the point of a Marxist independence movement, that now is the government which is wary of the influences of the western world. The result is that the economy is weak and the country poor. Nevertheless, the government takes care of the needy, as there are none starving in Eritrea. The state organizes free distribution of basic commodities. School and university and access to the health system are free.
Given the very weak economic activity and the state of emergency, the country and its people are in a permanent mobilization to meet national needs and the defense of the country. Thus, each Eritrean citizen after a 18-month military service is assigned to public service. This is a kind of paid civil service, with low pays the state provides; the duration of such service is variable, sometimes running several years.
The Eritrean government is a target of much the criticisms and accusations. A Commission of Inquiry has been set up by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The Commission has presented its damning charge through its chairman Mike Smith and the Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth.
For several months, we have seen in many media Eritreans described as people fleeing the regime running their country in search of refugee status. Sometimes certain media relay the number up to 5000 a month. This is a delirious number, since it means 1% of the Eritrean population flees the country each year. When we study things more closely and investigate all the world surveys, ie the Eritrean government, “refugees” before their application for political asylum and later the personal framing the NGO receive, the Eritrean population there in Eritrea, one perceives a different truth.
Let’s start with the number of migrant. How can some organizations advance the number 5000? Well, because many African relatives or countries bordering Eritrea claim they are Eritreans. Why do they do this? Just to get political refugee status, since it is always given to an Eritrean easily and it is Eritreans that flee the regime. If they do not do that, Sudanese, Ethiopians and others would see themselves escorted to their respective countries, as they are presumed not being in “danger of death”.
You see that the situation is paradoxical. Since asylum is given easily, Eritrean to present themselves as being in danger.
Their country is closed to journalists and NGOs, it is very easy for them to tell what they want. There is no way of verifying whatever they say. Since things work so well, the same story is recycled. And if an applicant to a refugee status makes a mistake in his account, it is common that the translator corrects him/her to tell the story that has the best chance of acceptability. If ever the opinion was not positive, it is recommended that it was a translation mistake and another attempt is made to tell the right story.
So why do they flee?
Eritreans flee because they want to escape the civil service. This is a service which can last long and that somehow prevents them from starting their lives. They also flee because the economic situation is very precarious. The average wage is less than $100 per month. Young people who have not experienced war of independence may feel less inclined to accept the state of emergency in which they live constantly, especially since they have access to all the imagery and Western dream Internet facilitates. Contrary to what might be imagined, Asmara, capital of Eritrea, is filled with cafe providing access via computers or wireless internet. Eritreans utilize Facebook a lot. The connection is certainly slow, but it is there and it is a window on the outside world. One can understand these young people who aspire something else. This also is not true for all, many Eritrean youths prefer to stay to participate in the maintenance and development of their country.
The Eritrean government is aware of this and knows that this strategy is, in part, orchestrated by its neighbor, Ethiopia, with the help of the United States. Several emails released by WikiLeaks shows clearly that the Ethiopian government maintains contact with the CIA about destabilization of Eritrea. The CIA determines for its partner how to facilitate desertion of Eritrean youth. All this requires, among others, the establishment of opposition websites that boast the ability to obtain political refugee status in European countries. This provides a housing allowance and a … This is why for a few months, the Eritrean authorities organized visits to their country to reporters to show the truth. They also made a tour of influential European capitals to make their voices heard. The country also seeks to gradually open up to some foreign investors: Canada, Italy, Qatar, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia … It is understandable that the US wants a piece of the …
For those who want to read the entirety of the article, the link is provided here
UN Eritrea Commission of Inquiry seeks Security Council to refer Asmara to ICC Prosecutor