In a pattern never seen before – Eritrean Diaspora around the world launched an ongoing Campaign themed “Enough!”, “NO To Dictatorship – YES To Justice!”.
The Campaign caught all Eritrean Opposition Groups & Civic Organizations by surprise – with none claiming the initiative. The Campaign is driven by ordinary Eritreans with no affiliation to the traditional opposition political parties, civic movements and known activists.
Since it’s start in February, the Campaign continues to galvanize many citizenries and got momentum in unprecedented way. In its first month it has attracted Tens of thousands participating. The number is estimated to increase as the Campaign is going viral on social media. More diverse Eritrean communities are adding their support to the Campaign – including scholars, religious leaders, former fighters, former national service members, women, migrants, refugees, entrepreneurs, Civic Organizations & Opposition parties. Eritreans in the age group 35 and younger – both genders – seem to be taking the leading role. The Campaign is unique in that it gave voice to those known as ‘silent majority’ – who through the years kept silent for different reasons.
“Enough!”, “NO To Dictatorship – YES To Justice!”
Running on social media, the Eritrean platforms are live with the Campaign Slogans, Messages and Images. Most Eritreans are participating in the Campaign by posting and sharing messages of support on Facebook. Many others could be seen employing other forums like Instagram, Youtube and Twitter.
Eritrea has No implemented Constitution, active National Assembly Nor a Free Press. The current Government and its President are in power since the country’s Independence in 1991 – violating all legal means to remain in power. Religion, movement, expression – the Government violates ALL civil liberties.
It is also be recalled that the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, in June 2016, found that Eritrea’s Government was guilty of “crimes against humanity”. The Human Rights Council noted “with grave concern” the government’s continued use of “arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention in extremely harsh and life-threatening conditions, of persons suspected of evasion of national service, attempting to flee the country or unable to produce identity documents, exercising the right to freedom of religion, or freedom of opinion and expression.”
As a result, Eritrea is the second refugee producing country, after Syria. It is estimated 15-20% of Eritrean population now resides outside the country. The Campaign participants would mostly consist of this group.
Though several demands, the Campaign is demanding Reform, Release of prisoners, Implementation of the Constitution and An end to Indefinite National Service term. One participant asked to comment on the Campaign explains, “We have had enough, no other people in the world can endure the injustice Eritreans face at home. I understand there is hundreds of Demands. But if we do the first things first, like Constitution and rule of law – we can slowly get our country and livelihood back.” This sentiment seems to resonate with many other active participants.
“the goal of the Campaign is to break the fear”
Asked what the Campaign tends to achieve, another participant stresses the intention is not just to break the fear and silence of the Eritrean Diaspora, but to galvanize support and show of solidarity with activist who are trying to challenge dictatorship in Eritrea. He noted that participants should not underestimate the role of the Diaspora Eritreans in inducing change inside the country. …… He confidently explains further, “the goal of the Campaign is to break the fear. We were living in constant fear from the Government in Eritrea. Diaspora community still exhibits the fear – years after migrating to another country! In this campaign, people are using true name, profile pictures and videos to criticize the regime. You see, people fear no more.”
Changes All Around
Eritrea political situation has remained stagnant for the last twenty years, owing to the unresolved border clash with Ethiopia. Many would believe the regime has used the ‘No war – No Peace’ stance with Ethiopia as excuse to declare a De-facto State of Emergency, and halt all democratic processes in the country. The Peace Deal – signed between Eritrea & Ethiopia, in July 2018 – would naturally bring Eritreans new hope and Expectations for Reform.
The Peace Deal – signed between Eritrea & Ethiopia, in July 2018 – would naturally bring Eritreans new hope and Expectations for Reform
The country in the south – Ethiopia – has had its fair share of struggle against the previous regime, accused of grossly violating human rights of its citizens. Since coming to power in 2018, the New Prime Minister has implemented several political reforms. He has released thousands of political prisoners, released all journalists from custody, brought to justice accused of violating human rights, invited armed opposition groups to the country to compete elections peacefully. Sudan – west of Eritrea – has now seen months of revolt by it’s people. Their Demand for the resignation of the country’s long time dictator seems close to conclusion. The President, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, has recently relinquished his chairmanship of his Party.
Eritreans are curiously following the development in the region, and specifically their immediate neighbours. The developments in the region has created a reasonable Expectation, for them to see Reform in Eritrea. What is been witnessed in Eritrea so far has not pleased many Eritreans. The government has made it clear – it intends to do no Reform at all.
They Should Eat Cake – Government Response
It took the Government few weeks to respond to the Campaign demands. To the surprise of many, the Information minister finally issued – in tweeter – a response to the Campaign. According to the Government in Eritrea, the Campaign could only be initiated by ‘Enemies of the country’. The Eritreans participating in the Campaign could only be one of two types – that Anti-peace or Confused of the developments in the region. True to its governance style of fear, another official from the Ruling party also repeated similar sentiments. He blames the Campaign participants for being ‘enemy agents’ running a smear campaign against the country.
Diaspora Eritreans believe all reforms should be internally driven – but wish to play an important role in telling the story of the people inside the country. One active Campaign participant claims to have received a message of solidarity from inside Eritrea. Internet connectivity inside the country is one of the lowest in the world – Eritrea ranking the lowest. The very limited number of people who could afford and use internet fear being monitored. Of the 6% Eritreans who have mobile phones, only 1% go online (Bloomberg Businessweek data, 2014).
Ever since the events of the Arab Spring Revolution, the Eritrean Government seems to have kept note of the tool it utilized. By keeping the internet connectivity rate in the country, the Lowest in the world, the Government is actively trying to curtail the Campaign’s prospects of spreading internally.
Though not yet reached the tipping point, the Eritrean spring is in the making!!