Eritrea: A Generation Driven to Extinction
A Generation Driven to Extinction
While words like “tragedy”, “suffering”, “torture”, “imprisonment”, “death” and “grief” have become almost synonymous with Eritrea, this African nation that once was the beacon of its people’s hope and prosperity during the early years of independence has now plunged the very same unassuming people that welcomed the tyrant and his thugs with open arms into new echelons of misfortune and ill-fate never before witnessed in this modern day and age.
In recent years, the influx of Eritreans of military conscription age attempting to flee the country across the borders has reached biblical proportions. According to UN records, in 2012 alone an estimated 258,000 Eritreans left the country. Common sense rules that not all those Eritreans will have necessarily made it to safer shores. One can always count on the inhospitable terrains of the Sahara Desert, the hostile reception in Libya, the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and, most of all, the barbaric Bedouins in Sinai playing gods and demanding huge sums of ransom money for kidnapped Eritreans or threatening to harvest their organs to have a final say on how that figure shrinks.
The crime of these ill-fated human beings is that they were born into a land run by a brutal regime that roams the land lawlessly, seeking destruction, misery and more bloodshed. These Eritreans are well aware of the dangers that accompany their journeys across the borders. They know there is a very distinct possibility they may never make it to the other side. It is no secret that there is a shoot-to-kill policy issued by the Isaias Afwerki Administration against anyone caught trying to flee. These Eritreans know some don’t survive the scorching heat of the desert. They know there is a good chance they could drown in the sea or be kidnapped by Bedouins who are also affiliates of the regime in Eritrea. They know their chances of survival are as good as one buying a scratch card and winning the jackpot. Such is the magnitude of their sufferings inside their own motherland, however, that they are, in fact, willing to take that chance. The big Western superpowers can gloat all they like about their prowess in advocating for the respect of human rights. They can all sing from the same hymn sheet and profess to be doing enough to fend off systematic ethnic cleansing, genocides, torture, and what have you. These superpowers need not look any further than Eritrea to see how they have miserably failed.
This week, in the space of five days the world has witnessed two very similar disasters. The first saw 13 Eritreans drown in the Mediterranean after they were thrown overboard by their smugglers who needed to shed “excess weight” to keep their boat afloat. Still numb from that experience, Eritreans were left shell-shocked once again when another boat caught fire days later. The death toll has already surpassed 300. Global news stations have been reporting, highlighting the bitter truth that most of the victims were from Eritrea. How is it remotely possible that in a world of over seven billion, most of the victims continue to be from one tiny nation of five million? To add a bit of perspective, Eritrea only makes up 0.07% of the entire world population. China and India put together make up 36.8%. When was the last time anybody heard Indians and Chinese had died trying to flee oppression in their respective countries? Why isn’t anybody asking questions? Why aren’t there any alarm bells ringing?
If we can’t stop these small boats from shipping our people to their deaths we should at least carry out a public awareness campaign informing our young men and women of the dangers of travelling by sea and get them to invest on lifejackets as a matter of necessity. We must see to it that no Eritrean ever gets on board any of these vessels without a lifejacket on.
The horrific scenes that unraveled in the aftermath of the disaster reduced grown Italian men to tears in Lampedusa. The country declared a national day of mourning and the decent residents of the port town held candlelit process in memory of the dead. Back in October 2011, Israel agreed with Hamas to release 1,027 prisoners in order to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, one Israeli soldier who was held captive by the latter. Compare that to the stance of the repressive regime in Eritrea whose best attempt to acknowledge the loss of lives in the Mediterranean was to air a story, not even in the national news section, but rather in the international news, reporting that a boat containing “illegal immigrants” had capsized resulting in the drowning of those travelling on board. There was no mention of the victims’ nationalities. This is an affront, not just to the dead victims, but to their families who had to watch the news on TV in horror like the rest of the world and yet with nobody to turn to and seek clarification as to the whereabouts of their loved ones.
Having said all of the above though, it is my strong conviction that finger of blame must be pointed at all the Eritreans groups that call themselves opposition parties. For quite a while now, it has been a foregone conclusion that no good could ever come out of the regime in Eritrea. And that leaves Eritrea and its people with only one possible option. Whatever little hope is left for the country surely has to be pinned on those that oppose the autocratic rule of Isaias Afwerki and his PFDJ party. But time and again, we have witnessed that most within the opposition camps are equally culpable of the crimes against humanity by prolonging the sufferings of the people they claim to advocate and fight for. There is a terminal cancer that has plagued these camps. Most of them are too preoccupied and desperately trying to grab hold of the very same thing that Isaias Afwerki is desperate to hold on to: power! How they can continue to bicker against one another and throw their toys out of the pram day in and day out because they are not in power, how they can continue to divide opinions by playing various wildcards that come in different sizes and shapes namely regionalism, ideology and religion is beyond comprehension. Their conscience should be haunted by the knowledge that all these deaths could have been prevented had they put a united front against the root cause of ill-administration back home rather than fighting each other. Every opportunity that goes by fighting one another is a missed opportunity to put a permanent end to these endless deaths of our people.
The PFDJ’s reign has been undoubtedly prolonged by the spineless inaction of the opposition camp characterised by divisions. One area where the regime in Eritrea has so far excelled and remains miles ahead of the opposition is in the fact that all its operations remain unified. The regime and its supporters remain in sync. The regime may have internal cracks and we have seen many of these cracks unravel over the years, but nevertheless the regime continues to put a united front at least in public. And what does not make sense is if they can stand united for the wrong reasons, what in the world is stopping us from standing united for the right ones? The recipe for success is unity. If the opposition can put their differences aside and come together to focus on the singular objective of toppling tyranny, Eritrea stands a very good chance of coming out at the other end fighting for its sovereignty. It doesn’t matter who heads that opposition group, it doesn’t matter what region its leader comes from or what religion they follow. Heading an opposition group set up to fight Isaias Afwerki’s regime does not under any situation translate as “heading the government-in-waiting”. The next government will be set up by the people, from the people and for the people. It’s the people that will decide their own fate.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. We need to stand together hand in hand to raise the profile of Eritrea. It is no surprise that the United States and the European Union have no tangible relationship with any of the groups within the opposition because there are so many of them. If we want to be taken seriously and get noticed, we need to put a united front. We owe that much at least to our people, to the victims of tragedies and, most of all, to the martyrs who gave their lives in the hope of averting further bloodshed in the land.
We really need to shove the message down the world’s throat that lives are needlessly perishing. Doing nothing is no longer an option.