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Here’s hoping the Egyptian revolution fares better than Eritrea’s

Posted on 3 February 2011 | 10:02am

As I was reading about Egypt weaving and now fighting its way towards change yesterday, into my inbox popped an email from an Eritrean.

It reminded me that I was one of the few people from the UK ever to have met Isaias Afeworki, president of Eritrea.

This is true. I met him 23 years ago when I was a journalist and he was head of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. He was young, (42 at the time) charismatic and passionate about the fight for liberation from Ethiopia. Back then, people did not say ‘goodbye’ as they left each other – they said ‘see you in Asmara in Liberation Day’. Liberation finally came after a 30-year struggle which saw upwards of half a million lives lost, and Afeworki became Eritrea’s first president in 1993. He is still there, and celebrated his 65th birthday yesterday.

But the hope generated by change has not been followed by the change itself, at least not if you look at some of the key indicators.

– Two thirds of Eritreans are malnourished. Only the DRC can ‘beat’ that.

– The Mo Ibrahim Index ranks Eritrea as the worst country in the world for human rights. It is a one-party State and the inconvenience of elections is currently put to one side because they are ‘polarizing’.

– Reporters Sans Frontieres rank Eritrea at the bottom of their press freedom index, behind North Korea.

– Eritrea is now second worst in the world for education provision according to the Global Campaign for Education. That was saddest of all, as I recall how central education – and particularly education of girls – was to their fight for freedom. One day we were driving through a deserted area of the country and came across a group of young girls and older women being taught to read in a makeshift classroom under a copse of trees.

At least they are not losing their sense of humour. The email from my Eritrean ends ‘On the plus side: Eritrea has a great cycling team.  Daniel Teklehaimanot has qualified for London 2012 after a storming performance at the 2010 African Continental Championships in Rwanda.’

I am not making a comment on Egypt in painting that rather grim picture of where violent change took Eritrea.

That visit more than 20 years ago made a big impact on me. I met so many people risking their lives for a change they believed in. Their cause seemed overwhelmingly just. Liberation Day came. But are they more free? The answer is a depressing one.

So here’s hoping the change that comes from the energy now coursing through Egyptian veins leads to a better place than where they are now.

  • Ehtch

    Egypt is an old country, well old. Has it got the most continuous name for a country, does it hold the record? Seems it to me.

    And that is what captures our imaginagion the most about all this – even the middle-aged rioters on the streets being interviewed seem like Cleopatras and various Ramesees.

    Hope they sort it, and not let it decend to Francos 1930s Spain.

  • Dave Simons

    I don’t believe that all revolutions necessarily lead to dictatorships, but I am worried that a people that has been denied democracy for at least thirty years will be ill-equipped to develop it in a short time. We’ve seen euphoric crowds tasting freedom in the squares of capital cities elsewhere – China 1989 for instance – but the spontaneous ad hoc organisations that developed were soon crushed by the organised violence of old regimes, or they were quickly transmuted into new regimes which were in many ways as bad as the old. Given a choice between evolutionary and revolutionary change, I’m sure most of us would opt for the former – anything for a quiet life – but unfortunately some people are debarred from that choice.

  • Ehtch

    Are you going to Cardiff tonight Alastair, to see the Norman Lords being thrashed by the old romano-brits? Or has Burnley got an important game on this weekend? Ah yes, Delia is visiting this Saturday, of course.

    There’ll be plenty of bigwigs there tonight in Cardiff, though, Alastair…

  • Thank you for raising the subject of Eritrea. It doesn’t get nearly enough coverage in the UK.

  • Miriam

    How I remember 2003 when I was at work arguing in favour of the Iraq war because I wanted people to be free of Saddam and his sons and to enjoy proper democracy. The anti-war liberals would try to explain to me that people in these countries don’t want democracy and it was not part of their tradition (there are people alive today in the UK who remember a time when women couldn’t vote, so that is not really in our tradition either, but hey ho). How I would love to meet these liberals now and find out just what they make of what is going on in Egypt right now.

  • Dan1 Smith

    Your mate and paymaster TB took free holidays from Mubarak and still continues to call him a great bloke. What happened to shame?

  • Abtekle

    Who/what are the Mo Ibrahim Index and Reporters Sans Frontieres for Eritrea? By what mechanism are they judging Eritrea? Who gave them the right to judge? Who is behind these organizations and what is the purpose? What about you? Who is paying you? What have you contributed for the independence of Eritrea and what makes you think you can play godfather of Eritrea? There is freedom of speech in Eritrea and no Eritrean right is abused. But we would like to remain vigilant and be strict on what goes into our media because there are people like you who are poisonous whom we need to filter out and eradicate. We do not need to do fake elections like the one you have in Ethiopia and Kenya to show the existence of “democracy” in Eritrea. We do elections only if we want to!!! No one tells our government when/what it should do except the people of Eritrea!!! A thirty year or more friendship with the United States didn’t help Egypt and/or Mubarak. A new Africa (that you may not be comfortable in) is emerging.

  • Eritrean

    You must be deaf and blind to say no Eritrean is abused. Or maybe you have not visited Eritrea since the Ethiopians left.
    Our youth is either in military camps or dying on the dessert to try to flee for a better life. Shame on you!

  • Danny

    Abtekle why don’t you live in Eritrea? You seem to like the brutal regime there. I will buy you a one way ticket to Eritrea.

  • Tigist

    Type your comment here.Danny you from Tigrai!!!!!!!!!!!! Sounds like it I even regret responding to you giving you an ounce of my attention……..

  • Abtekle

    This is in reply to the person who calls himself ‘Eritrean’.

    You said that I “must be deaf and blind to say no Eritrean is abused” and that I may “have not visited Eritrea since the Ethiopians left”.
    Since the Ethiopians left? Ha! Ha! Ha! You mean life in Eritrea was better before the Ethiopians left??? You know, Danny said he will buy me a one-way ticket to Eritrea and I love that, and I accept. But FYI, I travel to my beloved country, Eritrea, at least once a year. However, I will let Danny know that he rather buy a one-way ticket to Zimbabwe for you because you seem to be missing Mengistu H/Mariam.
    Listen, I don’t believe that you are Eritrean. Neither your name nor your nationality is Eritrean because it is very unlikely for a true Eritrean to say what you said. However, you are not the first non-Eritrean who wants to be named after someone or something that has to do with Eritrea. The “Emperor of Tigrai”, Legesse Zenawi, named himself Meles after an Eritrean activist, Meles Tekle, who was killed by the Ethiopian government in the 70s. During the students’ movement in the 70s, the real Meles Tekle has made several famous speeches to university students, according to documented stories. One famous quotation taken from one of his speeches says: “Go to the north and teach him how to write and he will teach you how to shoot!” Today (2011), if you go to Eritrea, they will teach you both how to write and how to shoot! However, after taking his seat at the Addis Abeba palace, Legesse was asked in an interview how he came to choose the name Meles as his nom-de-guerre. He said that the name was picked out of a hat and assigned to him by a mere chance. And then he went on to say that he doesn’t really know who the real Meles was and that he thinks Meles “probably was a student activist”. From that interview, you can see that Legesse was having a difficult time explaining how an Ethiopian “Emperor” came about choosing an Eritrean name for himself. So the morale of this story is, don’t call yourself Eritrean if you are not one. Don’t call yourself Meles if you are going to be wishy-washy about it.
    It doesn’t really matter, however, whether you are Eritrean on not to have an honest discussion with me. But I do not think that your intention is honest and therefore any further communication may be useless. However, bearing the preceding statement in mind, let’s assume I’m willing to discuss things with you and allow me to ask you the following few questions:

    1. What does being an Eritrean mean for you?
    2. Where is Eritrea located and what is the implication of that?
    3. After the 1993 referendum, the people of Eritrea pledged to introduce multiparty democracy and free markets. Parliamentary elections were scheduled in December 2001 but were postponed indefinitely. What do you think happened that led to this sharp changes in course? Do you think this happened because the Eritrean government suddenly became undemocratic and ‘brutal’?
    4. Do you think the war over Badme is really about Badme? Do you think the current government of Ethiopia has other hidden agendas behind the curtains of Badme?
    5. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War ended in 2000 with a negotiated agreement known as the Algiers Agreement, which assigned an independent, UN-associated boundary commission known as the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), whose task was to clearly identify the border between the two countries and issue a final and binding ruling. Along with the agreement the UN established a temporary security zone consisting of a 25-kilometre demilitarized buffer zone within Eritrea, running along the length of the disputed border between the two states and patrolled by UN troops in the mission named UNMEE. Ethiopia was to withdraw to positions held before the outbreak of hostilities in May 1998. The peace agreement would be completed with the implementation of the Border Commission’s ruling, also ending the task of the peacekeeping mission of UNMEE. The EEBC’s verdict came in April 2002, which awarded Badme to Eritrea. However, Ethiopia refused to withdraw its military from positions in the disputed areas, including Badme, and also refused to implement the EEBC’s ruling, and the dispute is ongoing. Why do you think Ethiopia is refusing to withdraw from our land? Who gave the power and the confidence to Ethiopia? The United States supports the Algiers Agreement and says that the EEBC’s ruling should be implemented. However, the US is reluctant to actually have this ruling materialized.
    6. So what do you think? Do you think we should remain vigilant and do everything necessary to protect our country? Do you think Eritrea needs our help? Don’t you think every Eritrean should receive military training and be ready to defend his/her country from what may come? Are you tired of working for your own country and freedom? Is it boring? Do you hate your own country because it is not giving you much? Do you hate Eritrea because it’s a poor country facing a difficult time? If I ask you to name a price on the love of Eritrea, how much would it be? Do you think you would have told me a different price if Eritrea was pumping oil at this very moment? Come on my brother, if you are a true Eritrean I know what your answer would be to each of these questions. Think about it, what is education without a country? What is a “better life” if you don’t have a country? I don’t think immigrating to and working for other countries that didn’t even want to recognize your very identity would be considered a better life. For your information, however, Eritrea never ceased to provide its citizens access to education and healthcare even during this difficult time. Food may not be available in abundance in every corner of Eritrea, but we have an excellent mechanism of maintaining food security. No Eritrean dies of famine. No Eritrean lives on handouts. No Eritrean eats from a garbage can!
    7. The Ethiopian government continuously makes false and fabricated accusations against Eritrea. Why do you think this is so? Why demonizing the Eritrean government? What’s in it for the “Republic of Tigrai”?
    8. The people of Eritrea are not divided and/or organized along ethnic or religious lines. If there is one country where the fighting of extremists and terrorists is priority when it mattered, it is Eritrea. Unfortunately, however, some Western countries such as the United States made accusations against Eritrea to the contrary. But why? I hope you know the answer.

    My dear brother, I want you to remember, though, that I never said life is a piece of cake in Eritrea. Life is never a piece of cake in any country let alone in a new, 20-year-old country that is struggling to succeed against all odds. Remember also that I never said that participating in a national service is as easy as going to a night club. More than a few people may not like to participate in a national service. But national service is not a choice. It’s a duty. It’s a duty in Eritrea and it’s a duty in the United States, the U.K., Italy, etc. It is a duty that me, you, our children, and the children of our children need to accomplish whether we like it or not. As long as the threat remains, we need to be vigilant. And when we believe that the threat to our national security is gone, then the focus of our national service may switch from a military to something else important at hand. But I promise you, the national service of Eritrea will always be there. The national service of Eritrea is a window of opportunity that gives you access to a unique and tremendous amount of knowledge about your country that you may not get somewhere else.
    The war/struggle for independence is still more than a memory in Eritrea. The most important thing in this world is the truth. And the truth is always with us. Time will fix the rest.

  • Abtekle

    I have posted an excellent coverage as a reply to the person who calls himself “Eritrean”. You are invited to read. Please invite your friends so it will “get nearly enough coverage in the UK”. Which one is your first name, “Visit” or “Eritrea”? Or are you a travel agency named “Visit Eritrea”

  • Yonathan

    1st of all how dare you say Eritrea’s education is getting worse, this is from world bank http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19yIGjH3joE i recommend u watch it with a white horse or johnnie walker in your hand, it might just upset you. Even nomads in the red sea region get access to edcation in “makeshift” schools. Second, health care has improved then many places in africa who recieve cripplin aid and have been there longer then us..even in remote villages with primary health centres and referals nearby etc. Life expectancy has risen major, malaria has been reduced by over 85%. Dams, water resorvoirs, fog water projects (1st in the region), sea water farms, roads, peace and security within, improved agriculture, rebuilding cities, mining, fisheries, boat factories, etc. Maybe in the last 20 years, you yourself have had some issues and been going down hill especially since the accusations about you on the iraq war. So, Mr cambell, please visit Eritrea again and see for yourself instead of talkin what you are not too sure about lately, you have too much in your plate I think ur confusing us with some one else. Isnt all the above i mentioned more important to a country 20 years old then some bloody free press?? We are in a rebuilding stage, we have been wronged again, you know it, u havent even mentioned that Ethiopia still occupies our land which our HEROES have fallen for and fought for and the international community fails to bring it up or acknowlege it but some squeeq and tweet when its one bad thing about Eritrea. It just shows you are biased, … i am not sayin we are perfect, even your not but we have done what’s best for our country and continue to do so, even whats best for the long run…. we are still on the look for the back stabbin ethiopian leadership and co….dont forget we trained them, gave them shoes, medicine etc, they hate to see Eritreans united cause they were divided since they stole aid money in 1985 famine themselves …. its called Inferiority Complex so they will get $$ to do or say anything.. I was born and raised in ethiopia to Eritrean parents, we lost everything we had in one day by being deported out through denakil depression ..just like many ethiopians in gambella are losing all they have now cause there land is being given away to shady foreginers who grow food in that fertile land and ship it away to their own country while the people get USAID.. .. I think people hate us cause we dont do that or anything similar to that..Have yu written anything about that?????????? Please refrain from writting another like this until you go there and visit yourself.

  • Wedi Ere

    Ha Ha Ha!!!
    You should stick to Tony Blair stories! If you insist on writing, then get the facts right. Just because we don’t do it your way does not mean it’s bad.

  • MYRIAM

    ALTHOUGH ERITREAN ENEMIES CAN NOT SWALLOW THAT ERITREA IS FREE YES ERITREA IS FREE.ERITRIA IS BECOMING HEAVEN ON EARTH. THANKS GOD AND THANKS FOR OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO PAID THEIR LIFE TO LIBERATE US,IT HAS BEEN 20 YEARS SINCE OUR LIBERATION DAY BUT OUR MEMORY IS STILL FRESH WHEN WE THINK ABOUT MAY 24,1991 OUR BIG LIBERATION DAY! MAY BE IT IS TIME TO REVISIT ERITREA SO YOU CAN BE A WITNES WHAT ERITREAN PEOPLE ARE ACHIEVING AFTER INDEPENDENCE AND ENJOYING THE PEACE AND FREEDOM. NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN BETTER THAN US THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FREEDOM AND SLAVERY BECAUSE WE BEEN THERE FOR SO LONG
    AS A WRITER YOU ARE NOT GOOD OBSERVER.TECHNOLOGHY MAKES IT EASIER TO GET INFORMATION ALTHOUGH YOU ARE FAR AWAY BEHIND.JUST TO UPDATE YOUR SELF I WILL ASK YOU THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND I WILL PROVIDE YOU TOOLS TO GET THE ANSWER.
    HOW COULD YOU COMPARE FREEDOM AND SLAVARY? HOW COULD YOU COMPAIRE DICTATOR MENGISTU AND MUBAREK? HOW COULD YOU COMPAIRE 30 BLOODY ERITREAN STRUGGLE WITH 3 WEEKS EGYPTIAN DEMONSTRATION?
    YES IN THIS CORRUPTED WORLD ,THE SOCIETY IS NOT INTERSTED IN SEARCHING GOOD NEWS BECAUSE IT IS NOT GENERATING MONEY.FORTUNATLY, THERE ARE FEW GOOD PEOPLE
    WHO ARE EXITED TO KNOW ABOUT OUR SUCCESS STORY.
    NOW IT IS YOUR TURN TO LEARN ABOUT OUR HAPPINES OF BEING LIBERATED. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW OUR STREETS ARE SAFE FOR EVRY ONE WHO WALKS.MANY OUTSIDERS WHISH TO BE ERITREAN AND WHISH TO DO WHAT ERITREANS DO. YOU HAVE GOOGLE TO SEARCH ABOUT ERITREA, CHECK OUT WHAT WORLD HEALTH ORGANZAION SAYS ABOUR ERTREA UNDER THE TITLE NO CHILD IS LEFT BEHIND IN ERTREA. READ THE NEW BOOK (THE ERITRAN PRIDE) CAME OUT RECENTLY. VISIT LONELY PLANET.COM. THEN WE CAN TALK.

    GLORY TO ERITREA AND ERITREAN PEOPLE.
    PEACE ON EARTH.

    MYRIAM

  • sanay

    I have read all the comment in this site,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, what a shame to see, that
    kind of writing. Guys I have got one Question ” What is freedom ” you need to answer this question first before you get emotional,,,,, and try to manipulate people with your stupid ideas.
    This question is not for those who want freedom it’s for the people,, that they don’t know what they are talking about, this is for the regime that who is in power. We didn’t expect that to happen to us from our fellow Eritrean. That kind of life is not for us and I will not call it freedom I will call it simply exile. Not freedom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Yacob

    I felt your blog post was:
     Divisive :
    Your post is entitled “..fares better than Eritrea’s”. What made you claim the Eritrean independence as a bad example of a revolution? On your blog you have stated that over half a million lives were lost in Eritrea during Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean land. As you witnessed during your trip to Eritrea, even though Ethiopia was supported by the West and East alternatively, however, the Eritrean people’s resilience did win their peace, freedom and independence, that is why we can have no one deny it or take it away from us. Eritrea was annexed based on misinformation from people like you. The Eritrean people are well informed now, whatever misinformation you are giving, and it won’t work.
     Based on plagiarism:
    One of the comments on your blog comes from an anti-Eritrea website (http://www.visiteritrea.org/blog/?p=986) (Who pretends to be from Eritreans and are currently doing a bad spin about Eritrea); their blog entry was written on the 2nd of February 2011.
    On their blog they wrote:
    • 2 in every 3 Eritreans are malnourished (a statistic only surpassed by the DRC)
    • The Mo Ibrahim Index ranks Eritrea as the worst country in the world for human rights. (Even Somalia was better.)
    • Reporters Sans Frontieres rank Eritrea at the bottom of their press freedom index
    • Eritrea is now second worst in the world for education provision according to the Global Campaign for Education

    And you have copied this as:
    “- Two thirds of Eritreans are malnourished. Only the DRC can ‘beat’ that.
    – The Mo Ibrahim Index ranks Eritrea as the worst country in the world for human rights. It is a one-party State and the inconvenience of elections is currently put to one side because they are ‘polarizing’.
    – Reporters Sans Frontieres rank Eritrea at the bottom of their press freedom index, behind North Korea.
    – Eritrea is now second worst in the world for education provision according to the Global Campaign for Education. That was saddest of all, as I recall how central education – and particularly education of girls – was to their fight for freedom. One day we were driving through a deserted area of the country and came across a group of young girls and older women being taught to read in a makeshift classroom under a copse of trees.”
    Of course with different formatting, bullet points and a slight improvement of the English; you did not make any reference to their website though. You claim to have received a message in your email inbox about Eritrea, was the email from the ‘visiteritrea’ spin team?
    Your blog is incomplete perhaps as it was limited to the content of the email you received. Please allow me to expand your horizon about the key indicators of Eritrea.
    • Eritrea is expected to be the growth leader in 2011, as identified by the Economist with an expected GDP of 17% . You may read the article on the website: http://www.finfacts.ie/irishfinancenews/article_1021275.shtml
    • The Mo Ibrahim Index and Reporters Sans Frontieres are commissioned reports that are financed by those who have harmed Eritrea by annexing it with Ethiopia and this fabricated report has no indication of the reality. Yes, an outsider or anyone else who wants to undermine Eritrea’s independence has no freedom in Eritrea and that is good, we are happy with that.
    • Eritrea’s education is still exemplar with a spirit as you witnessed during the freedom fighting time. I really don’t want you to go back to Eritrea ever again unless you have a change of heart but for now you may search on Google using the key words “One childhood”; the video from World Bank will confirm “The award-winning documentary One Childhood relates the Eritrean success in supporting the development of its children through seamlessly delivering a school health programme, even in the most inaccessible communities, as a direct consequence of a strong partnership between the education and health sectors.” As confirmed also on the website http://www.schoolsandhealth.org/Pages/OneChildhood.aspx
    By the way, Eritrea has a textbook example of creating motivation for school kids as every school leaver who scores the full mark gets a laptop and those who manage to score a high mark receive cash incentives. It is a proven way that has made every school kid to get motivated and work hard for it.
    Moreover, I would say that the Eritrean television programmes are more focused on education in various forms including quiz competitions between school children, university students and teachers from various parts of the country. Please be assured the Eritrea’s education system has been exemplar especially since 2003, according to my personal observation.
    As identified by the website http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/MUMA-89H3P8?OpenDocument “Eritrea is one of the four African countries said to be on course to achieve Millennium Development Goals five on Maternal Health – reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio and reaching below 350 deaths per 100,000 births by 2015 since 2005.” A bit more googling will show you some more of Eritrea’s other achievements in health care such as its exemplar Malaria Eradication by more than 80%, also Eritrea has:
    • a Strong Army that is ready to defend any attack including a commissioned report, article or blog that aims to misinform about Eritrea
    • A united people
    • A successful TV that is available 24/7 worldwide and online http://www.eastafro.com
    • Etc. etc.

    On your blog you have said “That visit more than 20 years ago made a big impact on me” My question to you is, how have you really contributed to Eritrea with that impact that you had?

    Please re-write your blog with the genuine key indicators and a major section of public apology to the Eritrean people!

  • Abdi Hagos

    With all due respect, sir, I really do believe that you owe an apology to the peace loving people of Eritrea.
    Your article is almost completely misinforming. If you don’t like the president, Isaias Afeworki, well, that is one thing. But to misinform people and discourage the hard-working Eritreans inside Eritrea who are trying to make a difference in Education and Health Care, is another thing!!
    FYI, these two are at the top of the highly important goals to the government and all Eritreans who care about their people.
    Mr. Campbell, I strongly urge you to read [again] at least one of the replies to your blog (the reply by ‘Yacob’ says it all) and rewrite something about the foolish comparison you tried to make between Eritrea’s HARD won freedom/independence and Egypt’s quick [although important – it seems] revolution.
    Your reputation, regarding Africa, is in question. Save it while you have the chance, because ‘… the truth shall make you free…’

  • Issayas Adhanom

    Good Job!!!!
    Proud of ya!

  • Garry_briggs_ij

    Perhaps a World Health Service could result from all this chaos

    garry_briggs_ij@yahoo.co.uk

    Regards

    Garry Whitworth Briggs

  • Jon

    There goes another Eritrean. Anyone who critisizes the Govn’t is either opposition or enemy. For Christs sake when the F are people like me who have been through all the flawed policies of the gov,nt ever gonna be heard with out being called names. I beg u and your people listen to criticisms if the country is to progress as u claim it to be!

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