Month: August 2018

(Published in Africa is A Country; Aug. 13, 2018)

So far, the only real beneficiaries of the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea are Ethiopia and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

Despite the breathless headlines of the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, nothing substantial has come out from Eritrea, as yet. Eritreans, who have been endlessly waiting to hear of any policy change from their government, are about to give up.

Since Eritrean officials never cared to give any real information on the agreement between the two countries, the only news is coming from Ethiopian media. Eritreans inside the country have had to watch Ethiopian TV channels to stay informed. The Eritrean diaspora is ceaselessly refreshing the Twitter handles of Ethiopian officials. The only time Eritrean leaders have communicated about the rapprochement was to inform residents to show up in public places to welcome state guests. While regular direct flights between the two countries have resumed, and normalization of inter-state relations progress at a swift pace, Eritreans are still held hostage and reduced to mere observes in their own affairs.

The first Ethiopian flight to Asmara carried many Ethiopian investors who came to explore the Eritrea’s business landscape. Eritreans are denied this privilege.  Since 2003 import and export businesses have been banned in Eritrea. The subsequent targeting of Eritrean nationals with capital under different pretexts, have resulted in Eritrean investors steadily fleeing the country. The extremely unfavorable conditions for businesses, coupled with a construction ban in May 2006, have pushed almost all Eritrean investors to relocate to South Sudan, Angola, Uganda and other African countries. Click here

(The New Yorker; By  August 2, 2018)

Some think his new embrace of peace is motivated by self-interest. Unrest has grown in Eritrea over the last year, and Afwerki may see peace with Ethiopia as the surest way to maintain power. Eritrean exiles question whether he has actually changed. “In his last speech, he did not mention the most awaited issue: military service,” Abraham Zere, an Eritrean journalist and the director of pen Eritrea, told me. “Afwerki is probably buying time to make small adjustments, that might seem semblance of changes such as opening trade and allow free movement within the country, but I doubt he is ready to make any fundamental policy changes such as ending the indefinite military service or releasing all political prisoners.” Click here

(TRT World; by Zeynep Sahin–June 12th, 2017)

The UN likens Eritrea’s forced conscription – sometimes for decades at a time – to slavery. Hundreds of thousands have fled. Here’s why.
Eritrea has been consistently one of the top five biggest source of refugees in Europe for the last decade.
Eritrea has been consistently one of the top five biggest source of refugees in Europe for the last decade. (TRT World and Agencies)

“The youth can’t establish family as no one knows what the future holds; they can’t do business as it has been outlawed for more than a decade; they can’t get proper education as there is systematic impediment against quality education; even if they study they can’t get decent jobs later as they are all required to work on national service,” Abraham Zere, Executive Director and Chief Editor of PEN Eritrea, told TRT World.

“Nationals are denied of all forms of basic freedom such as freedom to worship, freedom to associate and organise, freedom to express themselves, etc. Such renunciation of all forms of freedom is coupled with total disregard for the rule of law and the smallest means of supporting oneself.” said Zere.

Zere said there were currently about 12,000 Eritreans in Uganda; 150,000 in Ethiopia, around 30,000 in Israel, and 125,350 in Sudan, as of 2015. In that year, more than 47,000 Eritreans applied for asylum in Europe.

“The neighbouring countries can barely sustain themselves and each one of the host countries in Africa are known for their notoriety of maltreatment of their own citizens,” Zere told TRT World.

“Europe too is currently plagued with economic hardship and a great surge of anti-refugee sentiment,” he added. Click here

(The New Yorker; By –Dec. 12th, 2016)

Athletes from the national team plan a mass defection.


“Eritreans who were living under the Ethiopian occupation never felt at ease,” Abraham Zere, an Eritrean journalist who lives in exile in the United States, told me. “It has always been ‘us’ and ‘them.’ ” When resistance movements formed, in the north of Eritrea, the crown’s Army punished their supporters, killing villagers, burning homes, and slaughtering livestock. By 1961, Eritrean fighters had gathered in the mountains near the Ethiopian border, in a maze of underground bunkers that contained hospitals, a school, and living quarters. It was an uneven fight: Ethiopia’s population was more than ten times that of Eritrea. Ethiopia had arms and equipment from the Soviet Union and the United States, while the Eritreans were forced to capture munitions from their enemies. The war affected everyone, Zere said. “My family was often hiding from the continuous bombings.”

He also shut down independent media, jailing editors. In 2010, after an Al Jazeera interviewer challenged him, he called her questions “a pack of lies.” Then, according to Zere’s reporting, he returned to his office and slapped Ali Abdu, the information minister, while his staff looked on. Two years later, Abdu defected while on a trip to Australia. Afterward, his fifteen-year-old daughter, his brother, and his elderly father were put in prison.

On Harnet Avenue, I visited an ornate, four-level theatre called Cinema Impero, where people often gather to watch soccer games. In midafternoon, fans were scattered across the seats, engrossed in an English Premier League match that played on the giant screen. The fans sat in rapt silence, periodically bursting into shouts and cheers. Soccer is immensely popular in Eritrea, featured prominently on state media and dominating the discussion in public spaces. “It is a way of escape from the frustrating reality,” Zere, the exiled journalist, said, “and a refuge to discuss safe issues that will not draw attention from state security.”

“Most Eritreans—refugees and those inside the country alike—are living in extended limbo,” Zere, the exiled journalist, said. “Home has turned into a source of deferred dreams and destitution, characterized by brutal dictatorship, while fleeing is becoming equally challenging.” Refugees who flee the Horn of Africa face the risk of torture, rape, and murder by smugglers in the Sahara, and then a treacherous journey by sea.