Eritrea: Emptying of a Nation

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Apr 7th, 2014

Bereket Alazar

We have barley entered the spring season and boat loads of migrants many of them (or dare I say most of them) from Eritrea and Syria are risking their immediate safety to gain a perpetual one. If this early wave of boat migration to European beaches is sign of the things to come, then we should all be ready to witness the highest number of Eritrean refugees to ever make it European beaches in a single year and with that the many tragedies to come with this beaching. Then, we will all change our Facebook profiles to candle lights to signify our grieving hearts for a couple of weeks and soon we will forget and move on.  I am not being pessimistic here, I am just another realist.

I was just checking the World Bank’s yearly data for net migration and specifically that of Eritreans. You can simply Google it. I was quite surprised when I saw the numbers.

While skimming through the table I can see that the net migration rate for Afghanistan was a staggering (-) 399,999 for 2012. This basically means that there were 399,999 more emigrants leaving the nation than immigrants coming to settle in the nation. The number for Ethiopia is (-)66,001 – more migrants leaving than returning. The same number for war ravaged Syria is whopping (-)1.5 million again more migrants leaving the nation than returning to the nation. Well by now you know where I am going with this, so I say check the number for Eritrea. Apparently per the data provided by the regime in Asmara some (+)55,000 more Eritreans have migrated back home than the ones running away from it. I know what you are thinking: either the data was collected from a parallel universe where Eritrea is a beacon of hope or the government of Eritrea is fibbing and the World Bank has bought it (or they were forced to buy it).

In 2004 a simple statics was collected in Eritrea (by the GOE) to estimate its population. This by the way was no census. The crude statics was collected from ID cards, memberships, district resident information etc…. The final estimated tally analyzed was so dire that the responsible ministry decided not to release them in fear of two problems. The first being a reduction in the UN’s  “non-aid funding” for projects, as these are dependent on population size. The less people you have in a given developing nation, the less funding that the nation would get for its projects from the UN and its agencies. The regime in Asmara which has for the most part “shunned” aid in the media was not ready to see its funding from UNDP, UNICEF, WHO and World Bank halved. The second reason is the damage such a release of information would have caused on the collective Eritrean psyche, if it were to come out that its population has actually been over estimated and that it actually was not 5 million and in fact it was little more than half that – about 3 million at best.

Hence given this dire condition and a fate bequeathed to a slowly dying nation, tell me would you expect the Eritrean government to be honest with the net migration rate and population size? I think not.

The population decline in Eritrea has been linked to the grand experiment, AKA national service, AKA national slavery. Eritreans mostly the young and the young adult are literally forced to throw away their future both socially and economically and are enslaved by the Asmara junta under the auspice national security. These men and women would have simply given up on their future and completed their “national duty” if it were not for the grave injustice they have witnessed under the sever bondage. Most have been punished, jailed imprisoned and have seen good men and women die for small infractions. Many have tried to escape their bondage and some have died trying. Some are kidnapped on their route, held for ransom, sold as slaves by criminals. Many have drowned at sea, died in a foreign jail, raped, tortured, beaten, starved to death, butchered for their healthy organs. For the vast majority of you reading this blog, this is not news to you. To those of you, who find this information news to you, I recommend you un-glue yourself from Entertainment Tonight and Jeopardy and join the real world.  For now just Google, Eritrea, Sinai and kidnap altogether and you will be introduced to my sphere.

There is a facade the regime wants you to see; and that is mostly Asmara – a crumbling capital where Italian modernist architecture is slowly seeing its eventual demise. The city’s infrastructure is badly worn out and the Italian Era water and sewage mains are crumbling. I am amazed that they have survived 80 plus years. The gas fueled electricity coming all the way from Hirgigo at best comes intermittently, its unannounced disappearance affecting everything. When accused of mismanagement of resources the regime in Asmara is quick to show case a hastily written article by a certain Thomas C. Mountain or another western Maoist still stuck in the cold war mentality. They will claim Asmara is the only crime free city in Africa and that its Italian era cafés remind them of their trip to Europe in their Hippie days. That is the façade.

The regime will also throw in diga projects with few pictures taken from different angles which makes you wonder as to why there is water shortage in Asmara with so much water held in these diga’s (or diga after you figure out the camera trick). They will throw in road projects (most of them rarely used), a new international airport with no international flights, etc…

Thus noted however, I do not want to take credit away to whom it is due: the enslaved youth who built these infrastructures with their sweat and blood. An airport built in the middle of nowhere is still an airport. A road leading to nowhere is still is a road. A four or five star hotel serving scorpions and few regime minions in the Dahlak Archipelago is still a hotel. Bad mismanagement and poor planning has led to its construction but those that built it while getting paid mere pittance have shown what they are capable of. But all these projects are still a façade.

The real picture lies in the countryside – the bread basket of the nation – the heartbeat of the land that makes Eritrea. The vast and fertile highlands of Eritrea are getting emptied of its most precious resource its man power. A recent immigrant to Canada told me that things actually are really bad. So bad so that people have to wait for able bodies  to be found so as to dig graves because the old cannot dig one to bury the dead. Vast numbers of the small family and community owned farms are running afoul because the young men responsible for framing these are doing national service or if they are lucky have left the nation for any pasture (forget green or greener). Children are growing fatherless, single mothers are raising children with little to nothing.

The saddest fact is this. The vast majority of those leaving the nation are young men (about 90% of them). The vast majority of the young women have kept put. Hence the two genders responsible for procreating the next generations of Eritreans are not meeting – talk about a demographic nightmare in the making.

A nation is being literally killed without bullets fired – mass execution of the third kind. I am not being an alarmist: the facts at hand clearly are cataclysmic. When a nation with one of the smallest populations in Africa ends generating more boat people in the Mediterranean than a war ravaged and totally destroyed Syria with a much larger population, then one needs to sit down and ask the question, “What gives?” Each and every Eritrean reading this article has a very close relative if not an immediate family member (or members) making their way out of Eritrea or a refugee camp as we speak. So you tell me my Eritrean folk, shouldn’t we be all alarmed? Are we all Ok while watching Eritrea’s “painless” death? Or am I just fear mongering.

Even the culprit (PFDJ, AKA the regime in Asmara) knows that the mass migration of the youth is the most serious problem to ever have faced Eritrea. It cannot come outright and fight this issue publicly as this means accepting its failure and agreeing with the fact that youth are voting with their feet. But it has come out as far as to blame the western intelligence services for dragging the youth out of Eritrea by its collars. I have yet to hear a single Eritrean youth or young adult claiming that he/she was convinced and persuaded by “western sympathizers” to leave the only home he/she knew. Nonetheless regardless of their reasoning, the regime is admitting youth migration as a major problem. It is also showing cracks in the ranks with some of its officials and cronies publicly admitting that their grand experiment (national slavery) is not successful. Some of them calling it a disaster behind closed doors.

I have often asked the question as to why an organic revolution has not happened in Eritrea. The fact is, all (I mean ALL) revolutions are ignited by the youth and the young adult (go through our brief written human history and see for yourselves). In the case of Eritrea, the ones that barley made a squeak in the short lived protest of spring 2001 were simply made examples.  The Asmara regime made sure that these student will NEVER organize again by dismantling the University of Asmara and shipping the student’s to Wi’a, one of the most unforgiving desert prisons in Eritrea. A few died and the rest were demoralized. Since then the vast majority of them have left the nation leaving the revolution at the hands of the elderly.

We, the Eritrean folk have faked a deep sleep for far too long. We have witnessed the unrelenting hemorrhaging and we seem to be fine with the fact that the nation is being drained out. We are not seeing the bigger picture. It is time we wake up and stop the nation’s slow death.

So, what next? What can be done to solve this problem? The antidote for this pickle we find ourselves in is simple: stop the hemorrhaging. Formulating this antidote on the other hand is very complex and I really don’t have the answer for it other than knowing that it needs to happen. I know it is easier said than done but nothing in life comes easy. Consequential  and monumental decisions always require some sacrifice.

A joke I heard a few years back goes that DIA has the only key to the airport. And he will be the last one to turn off the lights lock the doors and fly out of that nation. The way things are looking right now, that joke ain’t funny anymore.

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