ERITREAN GLOBAL SOLIDARITY 5thSYMPOSIUM
George Town University
March 9, 2018
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to tell you briefly about how the new leadership of the newly restructured Forum for National Dialogue is embarking on some exciting projects designed to help all of us become more engaged and more effective in our campaign for democratic change.
Our objective in the Eritrean opposition in general and the civil societies in particular has always been to advocate for democracy through dialogue, engagement and participation: Mobilize, Organize, and Democratize.
Although we still have to do more and more is in store of us, we are at a point where we could see light at the end of the tunnel. We have achieved much and there is plenty that we should be rightfully proud. For one, we have made the business of the opposition as mainstream as it can be in our diaspora communities. Eritreans have to explain why they support the regime but not why they oppose it and that is not a small feat in a culture where dissension is regarded as treason. I am sure most of you vividly remember how we were mistreated and vilified by our respective local communities when we spoke out in the aftermath of September 18, 2001. We have come a long way—being in the opposition is now a badge of honor and I am happy to see that all of you are wearing it proudly today. Make no mistake, this is not the work of few individuals or groups or organizations. This is the result of our collective efforts and a testimony to our tireless and unwavering commitment to the values of human dignity and basic human rights. Quite often, we don’t pause to appreciate the positive changes we have made and have been making, for these changes come and have been coming in small and incremental manner, but it is exactly the aggregate effect of these small steps that will get us to our destination. Each and every one of you should be proud for standing tall and I, for one, am very proud to count among you. Thank you for being you and for being on the right side of history.
I can’t emphasize more that our success as people is grounded in our collective commitment to the values of peace, justice, freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy. It is these values that inspired and sustained our long struggle for freedom and enabled us to finally realize our national sovereignty. These values, however, have been shamelessly trampled upon by the current regime and have, unfortunately, been let go to join the long catalogue of unfulfilled aspirations. Our liberators have turned into our tormentors and Eritrea, a once promising young nation, has become the poster-child of what is wrong with Africa.
But this setback is not the end of our story; we can still change it; our resolve to fight is still strong. We, Eritreans, are not known to easily give up; we have an indomitable spirit, and once again, we will rise like the proverbial phoenix and claim our rightful place amid democratic, just and prosperous nations. Against all odds, we have succeeded in the past; and there is no doubt that we can do it now. All that is needed is mobilize and organize our people and lead the way for action. Once again, we need to believe and dream big. Today more than any other time in our history, we need to be smarter and focus on actions that get results. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and stop sweating the small stuff. It is time that we create the broadest possible platform to unite and work for our common goals. What unites us is far stronger than what separates us. In fact, we need to cherish and celebrate our differences, be they political, social or cultural, because it is in these differences that our liberties lie and thrive.
Let me tell you how excited I am to talk to you about how the Forum for National Dialogue is working to break barriers, unite the opposition and shorten the life of tyranny. In 2018, we are planning in good faith and with all the due diligence, to once and for all, convene an all-inclusive meeting to remedy the disunity and fragmentation which has bedeviled the opposition for long; and we need every Eritrean to participate and take charge.
There should not be any Eritrean left out or left behind. We're all equal stakeholders.
This is a collective enterprise and it is only right that we shoulder the burden together, so we can reap the benefits together. What we collectively do today will determine what kind of tomorrow we will have.
The unity initiative is one piece of a greater strategy to get us to victory. We need a united and national opposition if people are to believe in the change we advocate. We need to be guided by the lessons learned from other nations’ successful transitions from authoritarianism/tyranny to democracy; and strive to ensure that democracy is “safe for” Eritrea and Eritrea is “safe for democracy” and I am very happy that you’ve been able to convene this important symposium. All these activities are tributaries to the river where our democratic ship is sailing on. We should not care about who organizes a symposium or who undertakes a particular project, as long as we agree on the goals and underlying principles. This symposium is organized by the Eritrean Global Solidarity, but I feel as much a part of it because I believe in it and that is why I, as the new CEO of the Forum for National Dialogue, didn’t hesitate to respond in the affirmative as soon as I received your invitation. This event is as much as mine as it is Seyoum’s, Amanuel’s and Fozia’s.
As the end of last year, the Forum for National Dialogue convened a conference under the theme of Transformative Collaboration. It is a simple idea that encourages multiple organizations to work together under a common vision and nobody embodies this spirit more than my friend and older brother Seyoum Tesfaye, and my friend and spiritual leader, the one and only father Athanasius whose love for his flock and church is not only contagious but inspiring. When I see fr. Athanasius I see the future of a brighter Tewahdo Church, and by extension Eritrea. EGS has demonstrated good judgement by asking fr. Athanasius and Mr. Abdella Suleiman to be its keynote speakers. Mr. Abdella Suleiman is not only an icon of our liberation struggle but a man whose humility and gentleness is as refreshing as it is authentic. His willingness and readiness to be part of Eritrea’s solutions and not its problems is admirable and worthy of emulation. Last time, I spoke with him was when we were making preparations for our Nairobi Conference. He was not able to join us for reasons beyond his control, but I am really happy to see him here.
I think most of you are aware of the work that we did in organizing the congressional hearing on Eritrea. As an academic and a man of faith, we ask Fr. Athanasius to speak on religious persecution in Eritrea and the only condition he gave us before accepting our invitation was that he be allowed to speak on behalf of all Eritreans and not just the Tewahdo Church. I remember telling him, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” We couldn’t have chosen a better representative, and this is what we mean by collaboration.
At about the same time, I also called Seyoum Tesfaye to inform him of what we were doing. He was genuinely happy and the first thing he told me was that he was going to get me in touch with some of his contacts in the congressional staff and see if he can arrange some meetings for us. He did, and our event was much more successful because of his contributions. This is what we mean by collaboration. We don’t want people to dissolve their organizations—all we want is for all of us to work together for the sake of our common goals. This is what we mean by collaboration.
Before I conclude, let me just briefly mention some of the projects we’re working on. Our media project people have just concluded their study and submitted their recommendations. We’re no longer airing radio medrekh, it stopped broadcasting on January 31st of this year. We are restructuring and overhauling the whole thing and when we resume, we promise you a much more effective and sustainable media. The project will need the support of all of us. The media is the most effective way to reach our people inside Eritrea and we cannot afford not to have it. But the media, by itself if not enough. We need to build a bridge that connects the covert opposition inside Eritrea with the overt opposition in the diaspora. We need to be relevant to the people we mean to serve.
In the final analysis, we need to ensure that the future is to our liking. Towards this, we need to prepare ourselves intellectually and organizationally. We have the Strategic Studies and Research Committee tasked to conduct data and evidence driven scientific studies and make policy recommendations.
There are plenty to be done and endless opportunities for all of us to collaborate in projects of our choice. It is crucially important that we constantly remember that almost 2/3 of our population is under the age of 40 and we’ve an enormous obligation to create an environment where the new generation can stand up and step up to honor the past and build a bright future.
For more information, please visit our website, medrekh.org, and learn more about us and if there is something that you want us to embark on, please let us know and if you’ve a project that you want us to work with you, you wouldn’t find a better and more enthusiastic partner.
Let’s work together. Let’s collaborate. We owe it to ourselves and to our people.
Thank you so much.
Semere T Habtemariam
Chief Executive Officer
Forum for National Dialogue
Veronica Almedom's Speach at the UN-Human right comission
Dear Madam Vice-President, Madam Deputy High-Commissioner, Distinguish Delegates,
It is often raised by the Eritrean delegation that the process of nation-building is in the heart of the government’s mission. As its name indicates, nation-building is obviously not the project of a few. It ordinarily embraces the contribution of every single individual in the society. Just in the same way as the human body operates, every organ has its distinctive function and it would be senseless to assume that one single organ, like the heart for example, could take over the functions of the lungs or the kidney.
Madam Vice-President, Madam Deputy High-Commissioner, Distinguish Delegates, allow me now to go back to discussing Eritrea. PFDJ, which is a political party driven by its very distinctive ideology, has been acting as though it could represent all the functions and all demographic groups that exist in Eritrean society: from young to old, from the public sector to the private sector, from the judiciary, to the legislative, to the executive branch, and to the army. From education to religion, to information, etc. Such brutal dominion over all aspects of a given society would profoundly hurt a population and its cohesion. And this is one of the vicious circle of oppression in which the Eritrean society has been trapped in. So far, exile has been their only safeguard, given the lack of robust and effective governance mechanisms at national and continental levels.
For the past 5 years, I’ve had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time with unaccompanied Eritrean minors living in Geneva and other areas of Switzerland. From the moment I began this work in 2013 till today, five years later, not much has changed, only that the situation in the country has gotten significantly worse. It has certainly not been the same narrative upheld by the Eritrean government, but as we say : “the story, as recounted by the lion, is not going to be told in the same way as the one told by the gazelle”.
The fear of being subjected to ill-treatments is a recurrent threat that I hear when I ask Eritrean teenagers why they left the country. Also, the fact that the government of Eritrea imposes one single, very formatted model to a population of 4 million people is not only objectively unsustainable as it increases pauperization, but also because it profoundly goes against the natural rights of every individual to be the sole architect of their destiny, dreams and aspirations.
One would think that indefinite national military service, a hugely rights-restrictive measure, would at least yield a highly lucrative or results-oriented purpose. However, the sacrifice of national service that is delivered by thousands of Eritrean youth is not even being translated into gratifying results that benefits the nation. Quite the contrary, the infrastructure is deteriorating, as electricity shortage is common even in places like hospitals.
So, my question goes to Mr. Ambassador: According to your party and its views, what effective value does this model of society bring? What sustainable benefit can Eritrea gain from this system of governance when you see a clear pattern of exile over the years, when you see disgraceful trade deals made to exchange your nationals for pecuniary gains?
What we see of the Eritrean government, when discussing internal issues, is lack of fulfilment of its obligations, grave violations of the Constitution or inertia. Indeed, there has not been any recovery in nearly 17 years of political oppression, no initiation of a dialogue with its civil societies, no creation of at least economic incentives to keep the youth at home.
This lack of commitment to the supreme rule of law, to public service and to the Eritrean people is not acceptable. The deliberate institutional disarray in favor of the politics of the belly is not acceptable. Treating Eritrean soil as a private property by extracting gold or selling the port of Asseb to foreign entities, without the consent of the people of Eritrea, notwithstanding the unethical and immoral nature of this transaction, is not acceptable.
These arbitrary and irresponsible decisions do not reflect the general will of the Eritrean society. Rather, it is being brutally forced upon them and the entire world sees it.
So, no one should be surprised of such country specific mandate which moreover remains the sole remedy for Eritrean victims and human rights defenders to be heard and to report on the ongoing institutionalized abuse.
The current situation of the Horn of Africa is quite unstable, fragile, complicated and very concerning. Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya don't have stable democracies and Somalia does not even have a functioning state. The instablity in the region has afforded the dictator in Eritrea some room to flex his muscles and gain some relevancy. Isaias Afwerki is exploiting the instabilites in Somalia and Yemen by creating alliances and renting out Eritrea's ports and territories. The port of Assab has been rented to the UAE and the KS to bomb Yemen, a country Eritrea shares strong historical and cultural ites. This is purely done to put some revenue in the coffers of the regime and not to promote Eritrea's national interests.
On the pretext of fighting terrorism, the West is also turning a blind eye to all the Human Rights violations in the region. Isaias is perceived as the glue that is holding Eritrea together and without him, the country will descend into chaos and be another Somalia, and so they argue. In the name of avoiding another state collapse in the region, the West is eager to appease the dictator. It is a terrible trade-off and vicious cycle that perpetuates dictorship and puts democratic change on hold.
Eritreans and the people of the Horn of Africa must find a way to get out of this vicious cycle and claim their place among democratic nations.