ON MAY 24, 2015, Eritreans around the world will celebrate the 24th Anniversary of Independence Day.
Eritrea deserves to celebrate. The struggle for Independence came at great cost and sacrifice. There is hardly a family in Eritrea that has not lost a loved one as a martyr for the cause of freedom.
But, the struggle for Eritrean Independence did not end on the day the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) moved into Asmara declaring a free Eritrea. In the ensuing decades Eritrea has needed to be vigilant in the face of great opposition from a consortium of nations seeking to undermine the hard-won freedom of Eritrea. Unjust economic sanctions, invasion of Eritrea’s borders, and a calculated campaign of misinformation in Western media were the weapons of choice—still used—in an effort to undermine the aspirations of the Eritrean people for self-determination.
The Eritrean people have persisted against all odds. The sacrifice of the Eritrean people in the cause of freedom continues. Economic hardships endure because of unjust sanctions. Young people have, until recently, endured more years of national service in defense of Independence, than any people should have to bear.
The tide is turning. The efforts to undermine Eritrean Independence and the dire predictions of its imminent demise have come to nothing. The Eritrean path to self-determination is yielding promising outcomes in education, health care and governance. Just this week, Eritrea is publishing civil and criminal codes reflecting the rule of law structured in a way to reflect the cultural and historical values of its people.
The world is taking notice. Embassies and diplomatic missions from other nations are opening in Asmara, Eritrea. Former detractors of Eritrea in the West and especially the European Union are coming to recognize that the cause of Eritrea is just. The mythology that Eritrea is a supporter of religious extremism in the Horn of Africa has long been debunked. In fact, Eritrea has been a bulwark against extremism in the region. In the Country of Eritrea major religions co-exist peacefully and extremism in the name of religion has not gained a foothold.
Eritrean Independence Day 2015 would be a good time for the United States to join the global community that is forging respectful relationships with Eritrea. Herman Cohen, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs stated in 2013 that it is “time to bring Eritrea in from the cold.” It is in fact, the United States that will be ‘left out in the cold’ if it fails to move away from supporting dictatorial regimes in the Horn of Africa while ignoring the emergence of Eritrea as a signpost of hope for an Africa that charts its own post-colonial course.
Our experiment with constitutional democracy in the United States is still unfolding and maturing after 239 years of our own battle for Independence. It was only 50 years ago—nearly two hundred years after the war for Independence– that all citizens in the United States were given the legal right to vote. The struggle for economic justice and racial harmony is ongoing. In a nation that brags—with historical inaccuracy—to being the ‘world’s oldest constitutional democracy’—we still struggle for all people to be free to participate in democratic processes and have the right to vote honored.
In defending its sovereignty and its right to self-determination, Eritrea has made mistakes. The pathway to Independence has been strewn with metaphorical landmines—not unlike the real landmines that were once sown in the war for Independence. A search for better economic opportunities has precipitated an exodus of many from not only Eritrea, but other countries in the region.
Eritrea is going through many course corrections. To anyone making the effort to journey with the Eritrean people, it will be self-evident that the country is purposeful toward caring for its people. The well-being of its people—along with the defense of its Independence–is the predominant national agenda that defines Eritrea.
We would do well to respect that the Eritrean journey of Independence is only 24 years old. On Independence Day 2015, we celebrate the significant gains that have been made in a relatively short period of time. Women in Eritrea have more rights guaranteed under the law, than do women in the United States. The sacrifice made by the women of Eritrea to gain Independence coincidentally won unprecedented respect for the rights of women.
Wherever you are in the world, join the great celebrations that will rock cities and villages across Eritrea. Dance in the streets to celebrate the hard-won Independence of Eritrea. But dance—and march–in the streets also for the rightness of the cause of all people who seek to chart their own course without being dominated or oppressed by others.
Join the celebration. For one day–on Eritrean Independence Day 2015–all those who believe in the cause of self-determination and the right of a people and nation to chart their own course, are Eritreans!
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“As of now, everyone agreed there was nothing going on between Eritrea and al Shabaab. But the U.S. didn’t want to lift sanctions. I contend that this was just because of Gayle Smith’s personal animosity [with Eritrea].” – Herman Cohen, former U.S. ambassador to Gambia and Senegal.
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Dr. Samuel Mahaffy is a U.S. Citizen, born and raised in the country of Eritrea. He serves as a Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association and is a founder of the East Africa Institute.