News of Eritrea

Written and complied by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63-65)

How bad is the famine?

Eritrea officially says that it has enough food and that it is not suffering from drought or famine. It had a good harvest, say officials. Because Eritrea is closed to reporters and many aid organizations, first hand information is difficult to come by. Eritrea’s neighbors are suffering from famine, so the assumption is that some of those problems might be operative across the border.

But aid groups say there is some evidence that Eritrea has serious food problems. According to the BBC, there is an increasing trend of acute malnutrition in children under five in many areas. Satellite imagery from weather monitoring group the Famine Early Warning System shows below average rainfall from June to September, which is the main rainy season for Eritrea. This shortfall comes after years of severe drought in consecutive years. The human impact is to be found in northern Ethiopia. Emaciated Eritreans are crossing the heavily militarized border at the rate of 900 a month, according to journalists in the region.

Who’s jamming whom?

Jamming of radio broadcasts seems so, well, Cold War, 20th Century. But it is still a matter of considerable controversy on the Horn of Africa even in this age of internet and computers. Last March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that Ethiopia was testing jamming equipment and felt it had a right to block harmful broadcast, especially Voice of America’s Amharic service.

Now Eritrea, hardly a country that is a paragon of free broadcasting, claims that its enemy Ethiopia has been jamming its satellite broadcasts. In a statement loaded with ironies, Asmelash Abraha, Director General of Eritrean Television, said that Ethiopia “is continuing its hostile policy of blocking information disseminated from Eritrea . . . [by] engaging in jamming and interfering activities.”

He added that Eritrea has “both legal and organizational responsibility to ensure uninterrupted service for the satellite broadcast for which Eritrea has made heavy investment, and thus take legal action against the Addis Ababa regime which is conducting illegal jamming activities.” He added that “regimes that conduct such airwave banditry are those which lack courage and capacity to face the truth being disseminated.”

Come on home. All is forgiven

President Isaias Afewerki in Sudan

In an interview with Sudan state TV during a visit to Khartoum, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has said that he will guarantee the safety of tens of thousands of young people who have fled the country to avoid forced conscription in the military. Isaias said that any citizen willing to return home is welcomed. He assured that no returning Eritrean would be subjected to any harm.

Political repression and military conscription have pushed thousands of young Eritreans to flee their country. Eritrean national service is mandatory for all citizens both male and female aged between 18 and 48 years. Every month thousands of young Eritreans risk their lives attempting to sneak across the country’s heavily militarized border into neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan.

Currently Ethiopia houses over 60,000 Eritreans in four refugee camps. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated in 2011 that there are over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, with around 1,600 crossing the border every month.

In the past, the Eritrean President has dismissed concerns that his country is seeing a large number of youth fleeing the country, labeling them as “a bunch of traitors.” It’s unclear why Isaias had this change of heart.

In the same interview Isaias, who is the first and only head of state Eritrea has had since independence in 1993, rejected calls to conduct national elections. He said his country won’t hold elections just to please the West. Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has not held an election. The Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice, which led the revolution, has since become the only legal political party.

2 responses to “News of Eritrea

  1. I’m sorry to say, but your blog is filled with deliberately false and misleading information about Eritrea.

    Say, for example, when California suffered a severe drought from 1985 to 1991, how many emaciated Californians do you know who crossed the border into Mexico ? Since when does drought equate with famine? For your information, droughts are natural phenomena, but famines are man-made.

    Yes, there was a drought in Eritrea in 2011, but thanks to the government’s drought management plans the people of Eritrea were well-prepared to cope with drought events, in which thousands of dams, mini-dams and reservoirs were already built throughout the country to harvest rainwater and to boost irrigation, enabling Eritrean farmers to harvest crops three times a year. Unlike the farmers in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, Eritrean farmers no longer depend on rain-fed agriculture, and when a drought hit the region, the Eritrean people are unaffected. It’s also worth noting that Eritrea is the only country in Africa that does not receive foreign-aid. The country’s unique self-reliance program is what distinguishes Eritreans from other Africans who survive on food handouts from the “generous” West.

    I’m an American of Eritrean origin and I’m thankful and forever indebted to the 5 million American men, members of The Civilian Conservation Corps that operated from 1933 to 1942 during the great depression in the United States, in which young men between the ages of 17 and 23 were put to work camps assigned to various conservation projects earning thirty dollars a month, twenty-five dollars of which was sent home to their families. The young men planted millions of trees, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, took part in pest eradication projects, built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas and assisted American families hard-hit by the depression. Any American who criticizes Eritrea’s nation building process most likely doesn’t know much about US history.

    In 1991, when Eritreans earned their hard won independence from Ethiopia, they inherited a nation ravaged by three decades of devastating war, racked by poverty and unimaginable suffering. To make matters worse, 7 years later in 1998, Ethiopia invaded Eritrea with the aim of undoing its indepenence, and Eritreans once again found themselves in yet another devestating war. They however bravely foiled the three invasion attempts, killing over 170,000 invading Ethiopian hordes in the process, but the war did have a devastating effect on the Eritrean economy. Under such situation, the introduction of a Civilian Conservation Corps-like program in Eritrea was not an option, but it was the only way to build a nation from scratch while maintaining a strong national defence force to provide deterrence against Ethiopia’s unprovoked aggression. Can you blame them?

    If you’re wondering why the poster child of famine and world’s second poorest country,Ethiopia, keeps invading Eritrea, all you have to do is read the following brief history.

    After Second world war, the United Nations conducted a lengthy inquiry regarding the status of Eritrea, with the superpowers each vying for a stake in the state’s future. Britain, the last administrator at the time, put forth the suggestion to partition Eritrea between Sudan and Ethiopia, separating Christians and Muslims. The idea was instantly rejected by Eritreans. The United States point of view was expressed by its then chief foreign policy advisor John Foster Dulles who said:

    “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.” —John Foster Dulles, 1952

    WikiLeaks Reveals US Twisted Ethiopia’s Arm to Invade Somalia

    If you would like to see peace in the Horn of Africa, Vote for Congressman Ron Paul in 2012.

  2. Come on home. All is forgiven
    What is good for the goose is good for the gander, they say. You look at the speck in Eritreans’ eyes but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Let me help you.

    In 1977, President Jimmy Carter, in his first day in office, fulfilled a campaign promise by granting unconditional pardons to hundreds of thousands of American men who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War by fleeing the country.

    All in all, about 500,000 Americans went abroad in the late 1960s and early 70s to avoid serving in the military. Some 90 percent went to Canada where, after some initial controversy, they were accepted as legal immigrants. In addition, about 1,000 military deserters found their way to Canada. For its part, the U.S. government continued to prosecute draft evaders after the Vietnam War ended. A total of 209,517 men were accused of violating draft laws, while another 360,000 were never formally charged.

    Those who had fled to Canada faced prison sentences if they chose to return home. In the end, an estimated 50,000 draft dodgers settled permanently in Canada.

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