20 May 2020
Eritrea Focus’s Response to Fetsum Abraham’s article “The renaissance of Eritrean Intellectualism in relation to Eritrea Focus”
On 17 May 2020, Fetsum posted an article on Assenna website with the above title which can be found by clicking here: https://assenna.com/fetsum-the-renaissance-of-eritrean-intellectualism-in-relation-to-eritrea-focus/
Fetsum’s article and carried by Assenna is very constructive and much appreciated. And it raises a number of important issues.
Clearly, a united response to the dictatorship in Asmara is long overdue. Planning for the day after is of the utmost importance if we are to build the new Eritrea which we all long for, that is at peace with itself and its neighbours. Eritrea Focus, bringing together as it does human rights groups and activists (Eritrean and non-Eritrean) is doing what it can to help in this process. To this end, we commissioned papers at the end of our April 2019 conference from scholars on a range of issues that can assist in this endeavour. They are designed to allow a smooth transition from dictatorship to the rule of law, so that the Eritrean people can at long last enjoy the fruits won for us by our martyrs.
It is not going to be easy achieving these objectives and an independent and democratic government of Eritrea will face enormous challenges.
Colonisation, our own internal civil war and the intolerable repression of our own government since 1991, has had a terrible impact on Eritrean society. Our people paid a huge price during years of conflict; bravely fighting for our independence and then in the brutal border war with Ethiopia. On top of this there has been the exodus of hundreds of thousands, fleeing the atrocious human rights that prevail in our country. Every Eritrean knows this; fewer have acknowledged the physical and psychological toll it has taken on us all. At the same time, Eritrea is situated in an unstable, sometimes hostile and unforgiving region. Asserting our nation’s interests has never been easy.
Papers dealing with these issues will be put before a conference from 29 June to 3 July this year. The conference will, unfortunately, have to be a virtual meeting, given the prevalence of Covid-19. It will also be narrowly based: an attempt to get these issues debated by small groups to try to thrash out the problems. Once the papers have been finalised, they will be made public and can be openly debated. We plan to hold a third conference at which they will be formally presented to a wider audience, hopefully in late 2020.
This represents the intellectual effort that Eritrea Focus is concentrating on. In addition, we are working with politicians in Britain and further afield to try to maintain the pressure for reform and democracy in our country. We have initiated a case against the UK Government for funding aid through the European Union that uses National Service conscripts in a form of slave labour. To highlight the issues of forced labour and human rights abuses we work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, for which we provide Secretariat support. We also work closely with a number of NGOs in Europe and North America to challenge forced labour in the extractive sector and in collaboration with them, produced the first report of its kind in 2018. We have kept up contacts with the Tigrayan authorities to try to reduce the pressure on Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia. Other initiatives are under way, with our international allies.
It is – however – beyond the scope of Eritrea Focus’s remit to initiate an alternative Eritrean government. In saying this we are not suggesting that an alternative administration should not be established to step in once the current dictatorship falls. Quite the opposite. We are happy to encourage and assist such developments. But Eritrea Focus is an organisation that includes non-Eritrean supporters. The future government of Eritrea is something that only Eritreans can decide upon. Members of Eritrea Focus are welcome to participate in this important work as individuals, but as an organisation we must necessarily stand aside.
We trust that Eritreans, and supporters of Eritrean freedom, will appreciate and accept our position.