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
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.