Unfiltered Notes: Blood Gold — Western mining companies enabling tyranny in Eritrea
With dreams for a better future all but shattered, Eritreans have been fleeing their country in droves giving Eritrea the unenviable distinction of becoming one of the world’s biggest prisons and exporters of refugees (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/17/eritrea-human-rights).
With dreams for a better future all but shattered, Eritreans have been fleeing their country in droves giving Eritrea the unenviable distinction of becoming one of the world’s biggest prisons and exporters of refugees (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/17/eritrea-human-rights). The regime’s terrorism against its own people spares no one. Peacefully demonstrating disabled veterans were brutally mowed down in the early 1990s. The cold and calculated message conveyed by Eritrea’s dictator, Isaias Afworki, at the time was if he can be that barbaric to disabled veterans who made Eritrea’s independence possible, then anyone who dares to ask for freedom and justice will fare no better.
Thousands of courageous Eritreans who dared have disappeared since. And those under 50 are condemned to a life of slave labor under an endless national service program — supposedly designed to safeguard Eritrea’s security. To get it out of the way so they can get on with the rest of their lives, young people willingly signed up for the program when it was first announced with an 18-month limit in 1994. Sixteen years later, denied of all forms of personal freedom to lead normal lives, they find themselves trapped and betrayed.
Not surprisingly, those who can are leaving to “anywhere but here” facing harsh deserts and high seas in the process. And that is after surviving the regime’s shoot-to-kill policy. 335 Eritreans who braved the Sahara desert drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to cross to Italy on March 22, 2011 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/03/lampedusa-african-migrants-feared-dead). Hundreds more perished in Egypt’s Sinai desert trying to reach Israel. Incapable of feeling the pain of his own people, Isaias and his blind followers routinely mock these victims as people going on a picnic.
Western Companies – Lifeline to Tyranny
Western mining companies, mainly Canadian (Nevsun) and Australian (Chalice Gold), now prop up Eritrea’s tyranny further extending the misfortune of the people. Given the current situation in the Arab world, a Western firm would be widely ridiculed if it openly praised Gaddafi or Assad. Sadly, praising Eritrea’s dictatorship brings no such shame.
Mr. Clifton Davis, The CEO of Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd (NSU-TSX), says “there is no government corruption in Eritrea” (http://www.capitaleritrea.com/business/nevsuns-ceo-makes-the-cover-of-resource-world/). This is morally and factually wrong. To give Mr. Davis the benefit of the doubt, maybe he does not realize Isaias already owns all the resources of the country and doesn’t have to ask him for bribes directly. But contrary to Mr. Davis’s assertion, government corruption is so pervasive the regime has ruled the country opaquely without a budget for the last 20 years. Courageous Eritreans who demanded accountability and transparency about their country’s affairs and its finances have all disappeared — many presumed dead after years of no news of their whereabouts (http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/eritrea-prisoners-conscience-held-decade-must-be-released-2011-09-19). Corruption at the top is flagrant running the gamut of embezzlements, contraband trade, human trafficking and rampant sexual abuses of young women.
It can be said with almost 100% certainty that Nevsun is using slave labor in Eritrea today. And how does this happen? The regime, through the many companies it owns, assigns itself to be a subcontractor for foreign firms like Nevsun and collects full worker salaries that appear reasonable by ILO standards from them. It then pays the poor Eritreans it has subjugated to slavery under the guise of national service, 400 Nacfa per month — the equivalent of less than $10 USD at current real market rates.
What can $10 per month buy you? A young family of four, if it has the luxury of three meals a day, and bread is all the family had every single day, the 400 Nacfa will not even last 10 days. That is with nothing left for vegetables, eggs, milk, shelter or other basic necessities. And how do people survive in this severely mismanaged country? The lucky ones have relatives outside who can support them. Those who don’t, suffer all the indignities of poverty including begging.
As hopeful as Eritrea’s gold rush may sound at first glance, very little if any, is expected to trickle down to the people. As it has been doing with Eritrea’s meager resources during the last 20 years, the regime will squander the gold revenues too – to fund internal and external terrorism. Luckily, some now understand the true nature of the regime and the UN has sanctioned it as a sponsor of (external) terrorism. To Eritreans under its direct control, however — especially those under 50 – infliction of fear and terror have always been its ever present trademarks.
What Eritreans hope Canada and Australia would do
Although Eritreans bear the primary responsibility of deposing the oppressive regime, they also need moral and material support from the world at large. The UN is doing its part to tame the rogue regime partially. Similarly, the Canadian and Australian governments can play a decisive role to support the Eritrean people in their struggle for freedom and justice. A couple of months ago, England was able to free four of its citizens the Eritrean regime imprisoned for six months. The UK’s threat to declare the 2% embezzlement tax the regime imposes on Eritreans abroad illegal was all it took for the regime’s bombastic posturing to fizzle out. If Canada and Australia use the same threat and make it stick, Eritreans victimized by this criminal regime will be forever grateful. The press of the free world can also help by keeping officers of Western companies and their PR departments to be truthful by challenging them when they make outrageous statements that are offensive to the people victimized by unelected regimes they happen to be partnering with. Dictators are horrible creatures. Glorifying them with positive attributes they don’t possess, as Mr. Davis did, only adds insult to injury.
Eritreans do understand Nevsun and the other mining companies are in the business of making money and should be rewarded for the risks they take in their endeavors. The shady character it is partnering with in Eritrea increases the risk even more. In fact, Nevsun itself was a victim of the regime’s erratic leader when it was kicked out from Eritrea in 2004 (http://www.resourceinvestor.com/News/2007/10/Pages/Nevsun-Flies-on-Bisha-Go-Ahead.aspx) that shareholders need to be keenly aware of. Second, it is possible but unlikely Nevsun can accelerate recovery of all expected profits before the regime falls to minimize the risk. If not, it would not be unreasonable to imagine a future Eritrea that feels no obligation to fully honor contracts that enabled this regime to inflict so much misery. That day of reckoning could arrive suddenly as it did in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Syria and Yemen should be next and Eritrea, hopefully, not far behind.
To accelerate the arrival of that day, the Eritrean opposition and civic organizations must create much stronger alliances than before. Activists have started puncturing the regime’s bombastic balloon as Eritreans in London did recently in a meeting organized by the regime’s ambassador there. Isaias is now in New York for UN’s 66th session and to rally his worshipers who have, so far, failed to feel the pain and the crushing poverty of their own people – pain and poverty perpetuated by their hero. It is time Isaias and his puppets faced the music of their peers in the Arab World. And little by little, the regime will be no more brightening Eritrea’s future.