For many years Eritrea was part of Ethiopia. After going through a series of colonizations, including Italian until World War II, and the British, who captured Eritrea in 1941 it became federated with Ethiopia in 1952. Eritrea became an Ethiopian province in 1962.
A civil war broke out against the Ethiopian government, led by rebel groups who opposed the union and demanded independence for Eritrea. When in 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front deposed the country’s communist dictator Mengistu Haile Merriam, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, without Mengistu’s troops to battle against, gained control of Asmara, the Eritrean capital, and formed a provisional government.
In 1993 a referendum on Eritrean independence was held, supported by the United Nations and the new Ethiopian government. The voters opted for independence and Ethiopia recognized Eritrea’s sovereignty on May 3, 1993 and sought a new era of cooperation between the two countries.
But this did not last. The two countries soon started fighting each other over border demarcations.
The United Nations later accused Eritrea of attacking Ethiopia.
But after achieving sovereignty, the leadership of Eritrea’s war for independence soon turned on its people, its neighbors, and its own professed ideals.
Isaias Afwerki, the guerilla commander and now Eritrea’s president, proved repressive, authoritarian, with a penchant for war.
After its liberation from being a province of Ethiopia, an Eritrean constitution was adopted but never implemented. Elections were never held, and civil liberties never fully allowed. Skirmishes with Yemen and Djibouti ensued, as did a temporary break in relations with Sudan. Years later Eritrean announced support for Islamist rebels in Somalia, for which the United Nations Security Council in 2009 imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on Eritrea.
The grave and persistent repression of President Afwerki against his own people has quickly and effectively changed the hopeful tide that Eritrea’s newly found sovereignty had begun. In the beginning, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans, scattered all over the world, especially in Ethiopia, returned home to help rebuild their country. But President Afwerki turned against his own people, beating them, jailing them without trial for years and murdering them for no reason. This has once more proven the truism of a headline Time Magazine published in 1975: “In Africa, things always go backward.”
Today and over the past several years, most of the same Eritreans who flocked back to help rebuild their newly sovereign nation have been fleeing the country, seeking refuge anywhere they can be welcomed, even if in the most excruciating conditions. Thousands, especially young, bright Eritreans, are fleeing the country every month, when they can get away, but many, especially those trying to go to Ethiopia, are shot on the spot.
Worse yet, thousands of Eritreans are drowning in the Mediterranean in a fatal attempt to enter Europe.
United Nations has lately been very critical of the Eritrean Government over it’s mistreatment of it’s citizens; but that government has been heavily critical of the UN for this.
How can an African leader, particularly President Afwerki, be so mean-spirited, so inhumane, so wicked to his own people? What is he trying to accomplish? There is nothing he can do to gain anyone’s respect around the world—nor do we think he even cares. But to what avail? Why would a leader be determined to take his own country through the dark ages of despair, hopelessness, retrogression and death, in the same way Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor did Liberia?
We call on the United Nations, all the leading governments of the world—the United States, the People’s Republic of China, the African Union, the European Union—to bring pressure to bear on President Afwerki and Eritrea to change their ways, return to sanity and stop mistreating their own people. If they refuse, then economic and trade sanctions should be imposed to intensify the pressure.
Maybe that will work but failing that, pressure should continue to be mounted against this despicable regime until positive change can come about.