For the last two decades every misrule committed by the ruling regime in Eritrea has been justified as part of the unavoidable costs of the unsettled border conflict and Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean territories after the bloody border war of 1998-2000 followed by 18 years of standstill.  Over their impatient Waiting for Godot, Eritreans have been deprived of their liberty, human dignity, and prosperity: the rectified constitution was shelved; military service made indefinite; businesses kept on hold; construction was banned; schools have been militarized; the only university was closed; the country has turned into a penitentiary state with numberless underground prisons, and the list goes on.

Then to everyone’s surprise Godot arrived in July last year.

The peace deal with Ethiopia marked the culmination of an indefinite waiting. This signaled the crumbling of a realm built on a foundation of excuses. It was further reinforced by the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Eritrea and allowing the country to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, effectively ending any possible excuses the regime could produce.

Many Eritreans who have visited their homeland after the peace deal have shared an uncanny observation: a widely felt sense of zombification among the citizenry. That is a perfect recipe for the regime to continue its repression unchallenged.

Any expectation that Afwerki’s regime would follow the positive example of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reformist agenda has faded. After the peace deal, most countries and stakeholders hoped to hear that the longstanding Eritrean mass exoduswould immediately end. As unpublished reports from Ethiopian Affairs for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) indicate, when the Ethiopian borders were opened in September, between 1,200 and 1,600 Eritreans were arriving at Ethiopian refugee camps each week until the borders were closed on Christmas.

In the fast-changing geopolitical developments in the region, major powers are aligning with the repressive regime and it leaves the already tarnished Eritreans at a worse stage. The only meaningful resistance (at least visible) facing the Eritrean regime comes from the very large Eritrean diaspora community that serves as an offshore opposition. Click here to read

(Published in Toward Freedom; Feb. 21st, 2019)

Demonstrators in Khartoum march to protest against the Sudanese government’s subsidies cuts and austerity measures on January 16, 2018. Credit: Sudan Tribune / HRW

In December 2016, when activists in Sudan called for a two-day protest to oppose the then spike of prices, including stay-at-home strike, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir challengedthem to come out to the streets: “This regime will not be overthrown by keyboards and WhatsApp.”

That is exactly what protesters did two years later. Sudan has been ravaged with protests since mid-December 2018. People are taking the streets daily to demand Bashir step down after 30 bleak years of deplorable economic conditions and a dire political situation.

The embattled president recently uttered a similar but re-packaged message. Exactly in the same town of Kassala, which seems his only base of support, he told his supporters: “Changing the government and changing the president will not be through WhatsApp nor Facebook, but will be through the ballot box.”

Sudanese people are very much aware of Bashir’s sham elections where average voters could not even name a single contender. The tyrant neither arrived nor stayed for 30 years in power with ballots. In addition, Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Unlike 2016, when protesters scattered after the president’s challenge, this time they were prepared to face live ammunition and tear gas, unarmed. Click here to read the whole article.

(Published in Carniege Council for Ethics in International Affairs; December 30, 206)

In addition to groups that primarily serve as platforms for political debates, there are also other important social media groups for the thousands of young migrants. Most Eritreans take the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route to get to Europe. They use social media, particularly Facebook, Whatsapp, and Viber, to navigate the routes, exchange information, and support each other. As the journey entails terrible risks, starting with leaving the country and then dealing with multiple smugglers and human traffickers along the way, shared information is crucial and Eritrean social media platforms frequently contain posts about safe routes from the Sudan to Libya and from Libya to Europe. If certain routes are particularly risky, those who have survived and are safely in Europe will quickly share their experiences and advise others to avoid them. Posting photos, names, and contact details of malicious smugglers, accompanied with detailed descriptions of their misdoings is also very common, so that others can stay away from them. Although the possibilities of false allegations are inevitable, this kind of information-sharing is literally life-saving.

Hundreds of Eritreans have been dying each year along the Mediterranean and Sahara routes and social media platforms are often used to make public appeals to save endangered or trapped groups or to get support for families of the deceased. Since Eritrea is a highly communal and interdependent society, responses to such appeals have been very encouraging and crowd-funding targets are quickly not only met, but surpassed.

After reaching their destinations, mainly in Europe, many Eritreans also share information about the policies of the host countries on social media. Either in closed groups or publicly, it is very common to read messages of communal support and tips on how incoming brothers and sisters can use available resources or reach the relatively better countries in Europe. Information may include the conditions of political asylum each country accepts or the offers/challenges available in the most common destinations Click here to read the article from Carniege Council