Visit the new AsenaTv Website

The Sarcasm, Denial and Lies of the Eritrean authorities: a personal account on the National service, the closure of the University of Asmara and the Scholarship program in South Africa – Part III

Zekarias Ginbot February 3, 2015   …… Part I, I described how the aspirations of the Eritrean people have been dashed by PFDJ over the last 20 years and how the national service has ended up becoming a

Zekarias Ginbot

February 3, 2015


…… Part I, I described how the aspirations of the Eritrean people have been dashed by PFDJ over the last 20 years and how the national service has ended up becoming a modern day slavery. In Part II, I continued to reflect on my own experience while inside and outside Eritrea including the closure of the University of Asmara. This final part, Part III, is about my own escape and life experiences outside Eritrea.

Part III

The closure of the University of Asmara in September 2006 was the ultimate disappointment to the university’s staff and students and to any Eritrean who understood the value of education. The university did not have new admissions then for two years, so the closure was in the making. But some people thought second year students might be sent to the university from the MaiNefhi College. We thought those students especially the ones in the natural science fields would require practical laboratory training to qualify for the degrees and diplomas as there was no laboratory setting at MaiNefhi. It is worth to note here that there was no communication in advance between the ministry of education and the university community until the last minute. The plan to close the university was just a rumor. This is common under PFDJ administration rather than exception. They first propagate rumors to measure public response and their cynical directives follow. They also use these same methods to propagate fear among the people.

When I came back to Eritrea as a fresh master’s graduate from the University of Cape Town at the end of 2002, I had never thought all these could happen. I had big ideas and a big motivation to work at the University of Asmara and contribute my part. But PFDJ had its own plans for the University, and they still claim that the University was not closed. Some of my teachers, who became colleagues later, at the University of Asmara, who taught for years were forced to leave the country and some of them were put aside. It was a sad occasion to witness the University closed after about 50 years of turbulent existence. Even the Ethiopian rulers did not dear to close it during the war for independence. Instead of strengthening the existed and established university, PFDJ chose to close and substitute it with sub-standard, military-run colleges. This has not been heard of in any other country as it is difficult and takes a long time to establish an internationally accredited institute like the University of Asmara was. Its closure and the issues associated with it has been described by many colleagues; I have just raised the subject here as my own tribute to what happened.

I always defended my coming back from South Africa when friends challenged me, but I really regretted when the university was closed. As I indicated in part II, I actually went to MaiNefhi for a couple of days when ordered to do so and was given courses that I was supposed to teach. I saw the students being treated like prisoners in a compound surrounded by military check-points. There were reports of beatings and military punishment of students who tried to jump over the fences. The moral of the students was at its lowest point and the situation was getting worse day by day. In my meeting with my would-be-students at MaiNefhi, I actually told them that I was not going to continue to teach them. I gave them some course material to help them with whoever was going to take over the course. I felt very sorry for them but what else could I do! PFDJ made it difficult for all of us. By then, some close colleagues have already left the country. It was not an easy decision; I had to leave and my family had to re-locate. I had to find someone who could assist me to escape. All these had to take place in a short period of time and without attracting attention of security agents.

I arranged for my escape to the Sudan but then my guide-to-be, who lived in Keren, was identified and abducted the night before the planned departure date. When I called, his terrified wife picked up the phone but then she was scared to tell me what happened. I was forced to tell her the travel plans on the phone so that she could tell me the truth. Then I had to talk to the person who introduced me to the guide about the situation and to get an advice. This latter person confessed to me what he knew; he himself had suffered tremendously in the hands of PFDJ security agents before and that he had to safe his own life. He decided to leave with me and we had to leave the town immediately before security agents capture us. We observed suspicious movements of people around the place where we had an earlier appointment with the then-captured guide and we had to hide. We left the town of Keren, but after three days’ journey towards the west, we lost our direction and were captured in the town of Teseney. It was night; we approached the town thinking that it was Kessela, the Sudanese town near the Eritrean border and were captured by the security agents.

The border security agents took our ID cards and were taking us, I did not know where to, and I told my colleague that I had to escape (using my tribal language). He was a welder by profession in his 50’s and I was a 36 years old university lecturer at the time. I thought they were to kill me not because I have read more X’s and Y’s than him, but because they would consider me more threat. They would also think I would tell my story louder if I survive the punishment and above all, I was already black-listed in their books. I did not wait to hear my colleague’s response. I jumped over the fence into a compound and continued to run from one house to another until I got to the edge of the town. People in Teseney and in other towns in the lowlands of Eritrea sleep outside, in front of their house and when I jumped into their yards some woke up and wondered around and their dogs barked. I believe this made it inconvenient for my pursuers to shoot me or re-capture me. I am sure I also out-run them as I was running to safe my life. I continued to run out of the town for a couple of minutes more and then laid down on the ground to avoid visibility as the moon was so bright. I could see, about 150 meters away, my pursuers searching the houses on the edge of the town.

I stayed laid on the ground for some time until my pursuers moved to the next neighborhood and then walked further away from the town. I did not know where I was and I had to stop and sit for a while to determine the direction from the movement of a shade of a stone against the moon light. It took me three more days to reach to safety. The distance between Teseney, the Eritrean near-border town and Kessela, the Sudanese town on the other side of the border was not that long but I was badly injured and dehydrated; and I had to travel at night only. I survived as I was able to drink water and eat some food on the second night when I met a farmer who was staying at his farm. He had a little left over from his dinner and I am very grateful to him to this day. It is in my wish-list to meet this person in the future and thank him for the water and food he provided me at the time of need.

I become very emotional and my body shakes when I remember my escape into the Sudan, but when I tell people about it including the details I left out in this written testimony; I get the feeling that some people might see it as a fiction. But when I tell this to fellow Eritreans who escaped in similar manner, they tell me of more horrific stories including the friends they left dead on the way. These days, I started to think of the kind of determination in the Eritrean youth to get away from the unjust PFDJ regime and I am struggling to find the reason as to why we do not show that kind of determination and take the risk to defy the regime inside Eritrea!. Wouldn’t the latter be more effective in solving the country’s problems like what has happened recently in some Arab countries? Is it possible that PFDJ, through the obligatory national military service and dirty propaganda, has instilled fear in us to see them as untouchable? I have my own assumptions on how PFDJ would react to an uprising, but I still need help to understand this and readers’ feedback will be invaluable.

In Eritrea, I heard many people cursing the ministers and local officials for all the misery but not Isayas Afeworki, the president. They thought that these officials were the spoilers and that if the president knew of the issues he would have solved them. I asked people in high office and found out that the president actually gets every detail of what happens in the country by a special group of people. So, he knows everything. But I also found out that the ministers and higher officials who chair meetings in the country and listen to people’s questions and grievances actually do not dear to tell the president what the people are complaining about. They just want to be seen as capable of decision making but talking to them can only put you in trouble. They can make you arrested and you can be forgotten there.

After leaving Eritrea, I meet Eritreans in the diaspora who blindly support the Eritrean government regardless of what is happening in that country. This undermines efforts by individuals and organizations who are working hard to awaken the people working for the system back home. There are also some ex-government officials who have abandoned PFDJ recently and claim that they themselves were in danger while in Eritrea. Some of them were terrorizing the people there. They now raise ethnical and tribal issues to indicate that PFDJ works on these bases and that they were discriminated against. We knew about these claims but they were the enforcers of such practices and they should have acknowledged and asked for forgiveness first. Furthermore, their ethnical and tribal disclosures are not helping others who are working hard to unify opposition against PFDJ, the dictatorial regime at home. It is worth to note that PFDJ itself is doing its best to divide the diaspora so that there could be no united opposition. Their supporters in the diaspora also pursue propaganda to show that there is no better option for Eritrea other than PFDJ.

I want to revisit here is the exodus of young people from Eritrea. It is shame that, despite our population size, we make up the second highest percentage of asylum seekers in the world at the moment. I do not believe that the Eritrean government is willing to address the root cause to stop it any time soon as they have already blamed other parties for promoting it. This issue will continue to affect us all for the foreseeable future. What I would recommend is to increase public awareness on the Eritrean situation wherever we are so that other countries could exert pressure on the Eritrean authorities to respect the rule of law. We need to make it clear to the world that there is no rule of low in Eritrea and our people are suffering in the hands of PFDJ government. Some European countries, such as Denmark, are getting the wrong information about the situation in Eritrea, primarily by talking to the Eritrean authorities or third parties that are not directly affected or involved. They are not talking to the right people and that we are not doing enough to expose the PFDJ regime.  We need to convince these countries that the information they are getting from the Eritrean authorities is wrong and that they should investigate properly. We know what happened to those who were deported before.

Today, I am an associate professor with a PhD degree, trying to hold onto the passion I had in education despite being an asylum seeker in Europe. I believe I would have done a better and morally satisfying job in Eritrea than what I am doing now if PFDJ did not create the obstacles. The purpose of my testimony is to contribute to the efforts undertaken by other Eritrean individuals and organizations in increasing public awareness of the evil PFGJ. I believe a lot has been done to challenge the ‘Hade Wdib, Hade Hizbi, Hade Libi’ (One-Party-One-People-One-Heart) false propaganda of PFDJ. But we need to do more to convince Eritreans inside and outside the country that PFDJ can no longer deceive us and use the stalemate in the border issue with Ethiopia as an excuse to chock the Eritrean people. The Eritrean people deserve better. PFDJ should understand that there will be a time when they will face the consequence of their actions. In this regard, there is not going to be a better lesson in life than what has happened in Libya. There are still better options PFDJ could pursue rather than arrogance, deception and intimidation. The situation is already close to no turning point. The Eritrean people want real freedom, and they paid a huge price for it.

Peace, Freedom and Prosperity to the Eritrean people!!

Links to the Previous Parts:

The Sarcasm, Denial and Lies of the Eritrean authorities: a personal account on the National service, the closure of the University of Asmara and the Scholarship program in South Africa – Part I

The Sarcasm, Denial and Lies of the Eritrean authorities: a personal account on the National service, the closure of the UNIVERSITY of Asmara and the Scholarship program in South Africa – Part II

Review overview
  • Berhane February 6, 2015

    I really appreciate your courage to get where you are right now. Hopefully you will get a chance to help the Eritrean People on your capacity as Professor. I hope that EPRDF puppy SOFIA TESFA MARIAM read your story ofcourse she will deny it all as she is a mouth piece for Essayas. With that ugly expression, lack of trigrigna and horrible tigrigna accent will sayh “Tesabotat …..”

  • Daniel February 7, 2015

    Half of the Officials, Generals, University Professors and students who participated or place their signature in the above decision or what have you are lining here with you.
    Tell the world straight in the eye who are complaining
    Now And who were the perpetrators who sent the teachers home.

  • oromay February 8, 2015

    The question is not lack of awareness about what is going on.Almost everybody knows what the regime is doing. The crucial and most important task to be done is sweeping and clearing of infiltrators and paid agents within the opposition camp. Opposition forces need effective leaders, not arrogant, fixated, stagnant persons.Right from the very beginning, Eritreans lack leadership quality. This is a serious flaw! Some may think that leadership means coercion. Wrong concept. To get job done,all need is to impress other through charismatic leadership.

  • oromay February 9, 2015

    I have a good friend of mine whom I depend on him for critical information about the dysfunctional behaviour of the gorilla regime. He has been Keen observer on the blunders,malicious actions and intents of the self appointed group was inflicting on the innocent and clueless public. Here are some of the sad events.
    1. UoA
    A. Academic staff
    B. Students
    2. Civilian attack

    To name and shame accomplice in crime…the guy who literally denied that the only internationally recognized higher education in the nation wasnot a university. Hypocritically, he claimed to be critic to his boss on the matters the university affairs. I couldnot believe my ears when he asserted that he was working according to the letter and spirit of the law. Hmm, which law?. In his recent interview he told us that the University had no its own charter and he drafted a brand new one, recruited and attracted 150 PhD and Masters holders and he liked rule of law? Sarcasm!

    To resume the ill intention,an other new brush succeeded and worked even harder in the destruction of the university and its student population to please his master thereby get promotion to his dream post, ministerial position, which was finally a nightmare for him.

    Not only this, but also he volunteered to dismiss long served aged household breadwinners.In fact, some of them took their lives out of desperation. In the disguise of Singabore,the deception was to digitalize Eritrea and attract PFDJ well wishers.
    Mind you, the regime was at its infant stage.

    The whole idea is to keep ignorant young generation.

    3.former military structures

    4.Flash points war,military adventure

    5.Civil vs Military admin rivalry

  • rezen February 10, 2015

    Disclosure 10 Feb 2015): This commentary was posted on 6 Feb but deleted within an hour by the Moderator. I assume it was due to its length. I am now heeding the advice of our friend MightyEmbasoyra to a commentator to ‘divide his commentary into two parts”! Here, I am taking that advice and split my commentary into two parts without a single correction/addition/etc. I hope it is acceptable to the Moderator. If not, I take it with grace. ————————–
    Subject: The Sarcasm, Denial and Lies of the Eritrean authorities: a personal account on the National service, the closure of the University of Asmara and the Scholarship program in South Africa – Part III
    By Dr. Zekarias Ginbot, 3 February 2015

    Commentary: 6 Feb 2015

    To: Dr. Zekarias Ginbot
    Greetings and Congratulation! You are a ‘fighter’! And you made it.
    Luck, that mysterious element of Life, has also something to do with your success but that is NOT all. It is your determination and intense focus to achieve ‘something’ that you desired deep down in your soul that made all the difference. Specifically, through this focused determination you made it to save your Life, to gain your FREEDOM, your LIBERTY, and to use the OPPORTUNITY to advance your professional desire up to achieving doctoral degree! I hope you are an example to others.
    What I want to point out in a round-about way is that if individuals or people as a whole: a) define their objectives (desire) without emotion; b) set realistic priorities of actions; c) develop realistic and effective plan to arrive at the objectives; and finally d) execute the plan with the greatest determination and stamina until the objectives are achieved. There is no secret to success – it is already there, ready to be harvested if properly executed. Are Eritreans [in particular, Diaspora Eritreans of the highest level of modern education in the Western Hemisphere and anywhere else] ready to cooperate with each other, design, plan and execute their objectives? Let us be honest to ourselves. I leave the answer to the Readers. I have mine.
    What is sad is that Eritrea is not lucky enough to benefit from so many countless individuals ’out there’ who are ready to pitch-in for the development of the country. It is a mystery that urges us to look at the reactionary development of the last fifty years. Pure hearted and gallant Eritreans have sacrificed their LIFE for a cause that they thought was worth fighting for. Alas, in my opinion, it was the greatest Houdini Act in the last century perpetrated by protagonists who were, and still are, advancing their respective agenda. Over three-hundred thousand [300, 000] souls perished; the country devastated; and it is still being evacuated by the greatest exodus that the world is witnessing – even to the so-called ‘enemy’ country, with free university education as a bonus too!!!! Who is responsible for such a crime? This question must be asked a thousand times and must be answered. Otherwise, Eritrea will never be truly FREE, INDEPENDENT, DEMOCRATIC and PROGRESSIVE country. >>>cont’d on Part II

  • rezen February 10, 2015

    Part II

    This brings us to one aspect of the problem i.e. the indigenous government who cares nothing for the people of the country. Issayas Afewerki Abraha being the self-appointed president, and absolute ruler, is a major factor that intense focus should be directed at him and his government. There is no question about that – and he too knows it! By the way, the theory about: knowing the objective; planning of the objective and execution thereof with intense FOCUS is what Issayas did with Eritrea from the very beginning! He has extraordinary ability to focus on anything he desires; ability to understand the psyche of the Eritrean people; never trusting anyone; never forgetting his enemies and extraordinary cruel vindictiveness for any reason. This brings us to a question that was posed by a person that I admire for his economy of words in his commentaries for every occasion but loaded with inherent mountainous message! Here is what he wrote on the subject matter:
    “Did anyone exactly know why isiayas closed it [Asmara University]? Is that because he doesn’t want to see many thousands of brilliant youths gathered in the middle of the capital city or he just wanted to ruin Eritrea? I always think which one of these were his first pick.”
    Hi MightyEmbasoyra! As the expression goes: I have to hand it to you! Indeed, you deserve a “cappuccino” with all the “aroma” and pleasantry! Here is my very short answer to your questions: To me, both are synonymous. If yes, be informed, my favorite prize is በራድ ሻሂ!!! Smile!
    Finally, the last word to Dr. Zakarias: THANK YOU for that gem of a photo. It is, I am sure, a reminder of sweet memories to many. And that, I am afraid, is what Eritrea is going to be –just a memory – unless Eritreans come to their senses and forget about their cancerous parochial matters and concentrate on the essential and urgent aspect at hand. THE END

  • Zekarias February 11, 2015

    Dear readers,
    It is really motivating and energizing to get these kinds of feedback from like-mined fellow countrymen, friends and colleagues. We all have gone through positive and negative experiences over the last decade or two. I know we have a lot to share and discuss to promote positive change in our country but with the understanding that things don’t change overnight and that we have to be persistent. It is good to have forums such as for this purpose. To Rezen, yes, many of us have sweet memories associated with that building but the scare caused by its closure won’t be erased for years to come.