By Beaton Galafa,
A United Nations report on migrants daring death in their thousands on the Mediterranean earlier this year shocked the world. In Africa, we shook heads as we failed to understand how an Eritrea at peace with itself would be such a great exporter of refugees through leaked boats across the Mediterranean. It was hurting.
A month later, there was some real bad news on Asmara. This time, there was a little shift from the misery suffered by the common Eritrean, to the elite. Their president, Isaias Afewerki, was reported to be the least richest president on the continent. It was very unprecedented for a leader who’s stayed in power ever since Eritrea attained independence from its powerful neighbour Ethiopia in 1993.
But, this never found a way out through any powerful media house. We learnt it through the social media as well as some underground news sites. It wasn’t worth a news article in the mainstream media. Afewerki wasn’t reported to have amassed billions of wealth throughout his stay as president. That’s what longest serving presidents in Africa are supposed to do. Then, it qualifies to be news.
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Afewerki can therefore only be made devil through one way for now: gross violation of human rights against his own people. The UN Report is the basis. Isaias Afewerki, the Horn of Africa’s most evil man alive, has been deemed responsible for the mass exodus of Eritreans from the very country they liberated with gushes of blood. Afewerki is responsible for the labour camps in the country, and execution of defectors.
Some Eritreans however took to the social media to trash the UN report. It had massive flaws they said. For example, the inquisitional UN Commission never at any time set feet on Eritrean soil. According to the Commission of Inquiry, the chair of the commission sent a letter to the President of Eritrea to express its wish of visiting Asmara but they got no response. It further said that the commission gave up after two more failed attempts, deeming it Eritrea’s unwillingness to cooperate.
Then, the commission went on to interview Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. These are people seeking asylum in Europe for various reasons: Socio-political woes and persecution among others. And in Ethiopia. Anyone who’s fully aware of the hostilities between these two nations will understand that it’s like interviewing a North Korean defector in Seoul about the plight of commoners in Pyongyang. Plus, reports have been emerging that most of the migrants fake their nationalities when on transit to Europe because it’s easier for them to gain refugee status when they mention Eritrea as their homeland.
You rarely hear of good news from Eritrea except when one Daniel Teklehaimanot earns himself a Polka Dot jersey at the Tour de France. All you will hear is that Ali Abdu is providing proof of his country’s links to Al Shabab. You will only hear of Eritrea again when the United Nations has released a report faulting the country’s human rights record. And, when boats ferrying desperate souls to Europe sink.
There’s a systematic pattern it appears, that targets Asmara’s fall. The country’s system of government is largely modeled on China. There’s state control of everything. One party rule. And, it is the only country in Africa where being a minister requires that you make sacrifices that can’t be imagined in our Western-modeled democracies. Eritrea even beats China here if this is true. Such information only comes from those within Eritrea, those that believe their socio-economic plight can only be changed by themselves at home.
But to us out here, Eritrea is about conscription. Eritrea is about national team footballers abandoning return flights for far much safer East African havens. It is about seconding war torn Syria in the number of refugees sinking in the Mediterranean trying to crossover to camps in Italy and France and in between the two. Whoever controls the media is afraid of Eritrea. They fear that Asmara might export the revolution to other nations. They know a democracy modeled on our former colonial masters has failed Africa, and that we are coming into such a realization too.
So, the best way to go about it is interviewing migrants who are fully aware of the luck that goes with being an Eritrean refugee in the West in terms of being granted asylum. The aim is to keep Asmara incarcerated so its system doesn’t register any impact. They are afraid once the continent borrows a leaf from Asmara, there will be some real progress with the spirit of nationalism that lies in it. This is why some Eritreans back home believe most of the stories about thousands of Eritreans leaving home are bogus. Or, they are simply mountains that await justice to dwarf them back into mounds.
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* The above article was originally posted under the title Vindicating Afwerki: Watching Eritrea crawl from another angle