Visit the new AsenaTv Website

Eritrea: A decayed revolution

By Owei Lakemfa ERITREA is a relatively unknown African country. Little news filters out. In October 2012, I wanted to pay with a hundred dollar bill in a Washington supermarket, and the cashier declined. He asked

By Owei Lakemfa

ERITREA is a relatively unknown African country. Little news filters out. In October 2012, I wanted to pay with a hundred dollar bill in a Washington supermarket, and the cashier declined. He asked me to pay with a smaller denomination, which I did not have. Noticing his features, I asked if he was of African decent. He asked if I knew Ethiopia. He said his country is near Ethiopia. I asked, Eritrea? “Yes” “So why didn’t you simply say you are from Eritrea?” “I tell people, and they never seem to have heard of such a country”

I assured him that his country is on the African map with capital in Asmara, the major port in Massawa and Isaias Afewerki as President. He seemed shocked. Excitedly, he called his supervisor and co-workers who all happen to be Eritreans to see somebody who knows their country.

The following year, I stayed in a hotel in Lusaka, Zambia. Having a few extra days to kill, I decided to ask for a discount. I was told to see the manager. Given his features, I asked if he was Ethiopian, Eritrean or Somalian. His face lit up. “You know Eritrea?” “Of course”. We discussed about his country and he said even in Zambia, very few people had heard about his country.

If the country is so little known today, imagine the situation in 1980 when it was part of Ethiopia. At that time, there was a hot debate amongst radical elements and intellectuals in Nigeria over whether to support the indivisibility of revolutionary Ethiopia under Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam or the bloody war of Eritrea to secede. The Eritrean struggle was led by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) a group of left wingers who had clipped the wings of the rival Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) a conservative group supported by the Arab world.

I was then a student in the University of Ife, UNIFE (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and there were Ethiopian and Eritrean students on campus each explaining their own side and wanting support from Nigerians. Internationally, Ethiopia was on solid ground; Africa wanted post-colonial states to remain intact. Also, Ethiopia hosted the Organisation of African Unity ( now AU) which stood for African unity. Additionally, it had succeeded in portraying the Eritrean struggle as an attempted ARABAZATION of the Red sea.

Also, Ethiopia was one of the most consistent supporters of the liberation struggles in the continent. To worsen the Eritrean case, the EPLF was revolutionary. This alienated it from the Arab States and the West, while the revolutionary government in Ethiopia had the backing of socialist states like the Soviet Union and Cuba.

But the Eritreans in UNIFE led by Wolde Yitzak, a professor in the Pharmacy Department argued that the Eritrean Question was a case of de-colonisation as the country was an Italian colony, seized and stripped as a war booty by Britain following the defeat of Italy during the Second World War. They argued that despite a referendum in which Eritreans voted for independence, the United Nations issued Resolution 390 of 1952 federating Eritrea to Ethiopia.

That ten years later, Emperor Sellasie abolished the Eritrean parliament and annexed the country. So the issue, as far as they are concerned is one of the right of a people to self-determination in accordance with fundamental human rights. A question was, given the overthrow of feudalism in Ethiopia, why can’t they work with the new revolutionary government? The Eritreans said they tried but that the Mengistu government was no less hegemonic.

To verify the claims of both sides, there was the need to send an independent person to Ethiopia who will also go into the war zone to meet with the then rebels. Dr. Dipo Fashina of the UNIFE Philosophy Department offered to undertake the dangerous journey. During the 1981/82 academic session, he went to Sudan and crossed into the rebel held areas, and then the war front. He met the EPLF hierarchy including current president, Isaias Aferweki.

His report was that the Eritrean leaders, fighters and people he met were bright men and women; strategic and determined fighters, brilliant analysts and radical socialists. Eritrea he said, was an Africa promise, and recommended that the EPLF be supported.

A combination of factors including the Eritrean war and two civil wars, led to the collapse of the Mengistu government. In a UN-supervised referendum in 1993, 99.83 percent of Eritreans voted for independence. But the Eritrean revolution has not delivered. Eritrea was no doubt isolated during its lonely war of liberation; unfortunately, the country seems caught up in that isolationist psychology. Like China, it shut its doors to be self-sufficient before facing the rest of the world, but unlike China, it is not developing. Rather, it seems decaying and reminds me of Cambodia under the Pol Pot revolutionaries. Cuba has also faced serious isolation even by fellow Latin Americans, but it delivered to the people. That is why Cubans are ready to lay down their lives in defence of their revolution. In contrast, Eritreans are fleeing in droves as if pursued by devils. Israel alone has some forty thousand Eritrean refuges while monthly, an average three thousand Eritreans are said to be fleeing monthly, mainly to Sudan. Eritreans are also high in the number of refugees making the perilous sea journey into Europe.

I was in Asmara in 2015 and saw a society stalled in time; weary–looking people in the streets who seemed caged and resigned to fate. A major source of worry is the mandatory military service which has an entry point but not an exit one. Its 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia over a patch of land, left some 19,000 Eritreans dead and a broke and broken country. Eritrea today, remains on a war footing with the strain of maintaining some 4,000 troops in the demilitarized zone and 120,000 on its border with Ethiopia. Unemployment is very high, wages, even of bank managers, very low. Eritrea has to recreate itself; to be revolutionary is not to be wedded to poverty and underdevelopment, it is to deliver dividends to the people.


Review overview
  • T.Yitbarek January 15, 2016

    ኩሉ ፍጡር ናይ ነብሱን ናይ ደቁን ይሓስብ ኢዩ።ኣብ ዓለም ዘየሎ ኣብ ኤርትራ ጥራሕ ዝርአ ፍሉይ ነገር ግን፥ወላዲት ዉሉዳ ንህግደፍ ኣሕሊፋ ትህብን ትሸይጥን ኣላ። ስለዚ ሰውራ ኢርትራ ጥራሕ ኣይኰነን ምሽሚሹ ዘሎ። ንሕና አውን ከም ኣካል ናይ ህዝቢ ዓለም ፍሉያት ክንከውን ኣይንኽአልን ኢና፥ አንተዀነ ንውላዱ ኣሕሊፉ ዝህብ ወላዲን ወላዲትን፥ቀሺን ዓለምን ኣብ
    ካልአ ከቶ ኣይተራአየን። ስለዚ ሕብረተሰብ ኤርትራ ብሕልፊ ናይ ከበሳ ተወላዲ መሽሚሹ ክበሃል ይግብኦ።

    • k.tewolde January 15, 2016

      God bless Mr.Yitbarek, yes we are a unique society, especially the highlanders “KETELTI AHWATOM, SHEYETTI DEKOM”,I coin them this name because,a general gets an Suv and a villa he is ready to slaughter his people,a woman gets 50 nakfa she is ready to become a neighborhood jasus, for 70 nacfa an old man with unsteady gait is willing to carry a gun and hold post in the city overnight, a colonel who is not satisfied with his monthly income is willing to transport youngsters for few dollars and drop them off in the hands of bedewin for organ harvesting……….if this is not the epitome of a decaying society, what is? This is what HGDEF delivered to the Eritrean people.Thanks to the tyrant who is not remotely related to me, and citizens like me.

      • WEDI DIMBEZAN January 16, 2016

        T. Yitbarek & K.Tewolde ,

        I said similar to what Yitbarek stated and I got lots of hate ,but truth be told ,I would rather be told the ugly truth than the invented “We shall triumph ,crap”..sad but true..
        Bravi both of you

        • Wedi Zere January 18, 2016

          Tseba siteyu Ahwat,
          It has been long ago since we proved to the world that we are “land of the slaves and home of the cowards”That’s who we are and that’s how we go to our graves dying 100 times while death is once. All the good narratives we heard growing up about us (Eritreans) turned out to be a false narrative.

  • BER January 15, 2016


  • Hito January 15, 2016

    Woldeab Yizthak is the Yes-man of Isaias who destroyed the only university in the country. Shame on so called Eri intellectuals who still are in support of the most evil regime eritreans ever experienced. They prefer to lick a dictators ass in faustain deal to build summer homes in Asmara.

  • Kemal January 15, 2016

    Eritrawi mukan zehfurelu zemen….

  • AHMED SALEH !!! January 15, 2016

    HGDF government announced to raise pay salary into triple amount from
    their current income . Good news is better than the long wait under
    financial hardships .
    But our people shouldn’t settle for self serve interest in comparison
    of long term issues which need critical attention . European Union was
    involved in talks with our government to find solution on recent refugee crisis and it might be result of agreement reached with more than 200 millions dollar deal . The point is ; our people must look for permanent
    solution that secure the future of next generation . Otherwise money by itself only won’t bring happiness and stability in life .

    • Semere Gaim January 16, 2016

      Based on pfdj cadre, Mr.Alem Goitom’s news and the rate of exchange,
      $85.00 X 124,000(the number of troops based on this article)
      monthly expense = $10,540,000.00
      $200,000,000.00/$10,540,000.00 = 18.98
      Hence, that money is enough only for less than 19 months. Based on that one can conclude that THERE IS OTHER SOURCE other than the European Union’s money.

      • AHMED SALEH !!! January 16, 2016

        Semere Gaim
        If we calculated the earned wealth from cheap labor exploitation , we
        can guess that HGDF governing party have means on other sources .
        Imagine if in a country under rule of law people ask for back pay retribution of 120,000 victims . At least 300 nakfa each a month .
        120,000 × 300 = 36,000,000 nakfa /month
        36,000,000 × 12 = 432,000,000 nakfa/year
        Let say for ten years we are talking about scary number worth of
        4.3 billion nakfa . No wonder people without outside help live in
        poverty .

  • Akal January 15, 2016

    Dear Mr. Lakemfa: I am a veteran of the Eritrean war for independence. I joined the war in 1976. I am writing to disagree with two statemts in this article:
    1. Your article incorrectly states the ELF was getting help from the Arabs but you implied the EPLF was not getting help from the Arabs. Well, I was an EPLF fighter. EPLF was getting a lot of help from the Arabs. For example, a lot military weapons was provided by South Yemen, Iraq and Libya. At one point Isaias, the current bloody dictator, was observed eating a lot of canned food, date (fruit)etc from Libya. At that time the fighters did not have anything to eat. They had to go to the civlians to ask for food. Isaia had a lot food stored at that time and some people complained and were killed as a result. EPLF was getting a lot of help from the Arabs. Kwait provided with fast boats.
    2. The article stated the EPLF was progressive. The EPLF was never a progressive force. But the EPLF was so good at deceiving the EPLF fighters, the Eritrean people and the world. By all means, the EPLF was very reactionary. For example the leaders were telling the mostly young fighters to be careful of educated people, that Eritrea woul be better of without educated people, that being educated in the west was useless. They were preparing the fighers to be enablers of their dictatorship. They were telling the fighters that there was no need for control and balance in a goverment. As continuation of their reactionary measures, they closed the only university in Eritrea. Most of the thing that is happening in Eritrea was planned way long time ago in the 1970s.

    • k.tewolde January 16, 2016

      Akal, in retrospect,I wish I knew you then, I would have crossed the barriers between us,hug you, and sit with you and work out a plan to prevent this demon into leading us to this nightmare we are in today.Truth is liberating,truth will set you free, let’s all speak the truth,our nightmare will cease to exist.God bless.

  • k.tewolde January 15, 2016

    “….weary looking people in the streets who seemed caged and resigned to fate.” This is powerful depiction of a foreign observer, it hurts, on the contrary,the diaspora Eritreans who go there to visit in a summer say “ADI SIBUK ALO”.What kind of glasses do they give them when they land at the airport?

  • Afo January 16, 2016

    We Eritreans we have to blame ourselves. Period.
    If we ourselves do not fight to free our country from this evil Isaias no one will. Our mothers and sisters are crying for help but the boys are not responding. Ethiopians have a saying kewere aygegnm fre. Slezi were yakl. Tewedadibna bhabar hzbnan hagernan nedhn.

  • Hagherawi January 16, 2016

    “To worsen the Eritrean case, the EPLF was revolutionary. This alienated it from the Arab States and the West … ”

    “The Eritrean struggle was led by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) a group of left wingers who had clipped the wings of the rival Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) a conservative group supported by the Arab world.”

    The EPLF claimed it was not supported by Arab countries because of its ideological orientation (leftist) or because the Arabs preferred the ELF because of it reactionary nature (conservative) and Islamic or sectarian tendency.
    These are pure lies. The EPLF had officially recognized offices throughout the Arab world. In Lebanon in was allowed to operate clandestine operations of smuggling small arms with the support from Syrian intelligence. Both EPLF and ELF benefited from military training in Syria and Iraq. The EPLF had offices in Kuwait and Emirates and it received financial assistance and collected donations from public. In Saudi Arabia and Sudan the EPLF run its own businesses. In Sudan the EPLF delegates passed through VIP gates like foreign diplomats. Almost all members of its foreign offices used Somali passports.
    Despite all that the EPLF always lied to its constituencies about its relation with Arab countries. It told them: “we are alone, Arabs hate us, they prefer ELF because its a Muslim organization … etc”.
    Unfortunately, many ordinary Eritreans and Westerners believed these claims were true.

  • merhawit January 17, 2016

    Thank you Owei Lakemfa for the illustrious summary of the eritrean struggle for self determination and the current descent to the ridiculous occasioned by the ineptocratic rule of the pfdj and isaias afewerki. When all hope against hope had long become an apparent vanity in eritrea under pfdj, I could only arrive at the logical resume that the pfdj was a replica of the khmer rouge and isaias afewerki an incarnation of pol pot, the only difference being the time and the places of occurence.
    Whereas cambodia’s tragedy was much more intense, it was, however, put in check in time by the combined internal forces supported by a decisive neighbor. In pfdj’s eritrea men of solitaire stature and education are murdered or thrown to the dungeons, and the multitude is humiliated and reduced to lose character and personality thru fear, intimidation and exposure to the daily material want. We have thus in eritrea a tired, traumatised and demoralised populace that had consumated all its energy, it seems, in the struggle for national self determination. There is a plethora of opposition parties and organisations, but they are divided, and mostly moribund and ineffective. The eritrean fate, the terminus ad quem, thus remains uncertain, even if the pfdj would soon crumble on its own accord.