Eritrea: A Different Perspective

As I get ready to attend the United Nation’s 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women as a part of Eritrea’s delegation led by National Union of Eritrean Women’s President, Tekea Tesfamichael, I think it’s important to address the latest media blitz scrutinizing the state of Eritrea and highlight my perspective as a dialectical materialist and member of the diaspora.

As a young Eritrean living in the United States and a proud product of the Eritrean people’s struggle and liberation movement, conversations around freedom, justice, self-determination, and sovereignty, were dinner table conversations growing up. This is common throughout the Eritrean community due to our previous generation’s collective organizing and spirit to wage an anti-colonial struggle against imperialist powers. Our grandparents lived through Italian colonization, Haile Selassie’s illegal annexation and occupation of Eritrea, the fascist Derg regime, and many even managed to witness Eritrea’s independence. My grandparents passed away in a free and independent Eritrea. 

However, stories about freedom fighters and the way EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front), an organization based on values of collectivism and national liberation, had organized the Eritrean masses to engage in class struggle are not what you usually find in the mainstream media today. Human Rights Watch has reported that “Eritrea’s government remains one of the world’s repressive, subjecting its population to widespread forced labor and conscription, imposing restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion, faith and restricting independent scrutiny by international monitors.”

It is worth noting that Human Rights Watch (billionaire funded) was originally called “Helsinki Watch”. It was created to monitor the “human rights abuses” of the Soviet Union and was vehemently anti-communist. By its very inception, HRW was an American project dedicated to building an industry about “human rights” to serve as a front for US Imperialism post cold war.

From Libya and Iran, to Venezuela and Cuba, human rights have served as the moral dimension for war, oftentimes serving as the pretext and justification for United States actions. The argument we tend to hear is that while the US is “flawed”, somehow this empire is fundamentally good so any civilian casualties or war crimes the state department commits are more or less, incidental. However, the same cannot be said for any country in the global south without the labels, “despotic dictator, or authoritarian” being used.     

So how we talk about human rights is important. The atomic unit of propaganda is not lies, its emphasis. As principled leftists, we must investigate how human rights discourse is framed. In a society dominated by capitalism, these are questions we must ask when confronted with a media blitz on reported atrocities around the world and the hashtag activism that soon follows:

  • How do we define human rights?
  • What human rights violations are prioritized?
  • Who has the moral and legal authority to arbitrate those?

Why aren’t we talking about human rights when the US sanctions Syria? When Yemen was invaded? When the working class dissent is actively being repressed? We ask “what are human rights?” but we should be asking “who is deemed human?” 

We must name the antagonism of humanity…and that is capitalism, imperialism and all other predatory formations that arise.  

Political freedoms are often what comes to mind when we discuss human rights in mainstream media but what of the right to clean, drinking water, employment, housing, food, security, sovereignty? If we had to include those, that would disrupt the current framework of human rights because that “ideology” focuses on the individual. This idea has served as the catapult to spread liberal democracy all over the world and continue the same legacy of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. When we completely change our relationship to the earth’s resources and frame them in the categorization of a right rather than a commodity, that insists on a community-wide structure of distribution of such resources.

Eritrea is not devoid of facing the same issues as other African states when it comes to combating neocolonial economic structures but I wonder why isn’t Eritrea on the news when various UN agencies report that the state of Eritrea has been on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on decreasing maternal mortality rates or, when the office of UN Women reports on how high literacy rates are across the board between men and women, and how overall life expectancy is much higher than Eritrea’s counterparts like Rwanda and Senegal.

This is not meant to be a competition between African states who face the brunt of neocolonialism, but rather a more holistic perspective on what Eritrea has achieved despite decades of economic warfare and regional destabilization. The Eritrean people should not be punished for exercising their right to self determination, independence, and sovereign equality as the UN Charter claims to promote.

As I attend these sessions at the United Nations aimed at discussions on how to achieve gender parity, this is what I keep in mind for the Eritrean diaspora:

Sanctions are a form of  mass murder, imposed on a structural or institutional level. We must look past “surface level” showings of imperialism and look more at the indirect forms. The slow destruction of livelihoods, of the means of survival, and even political resistance and organization in subordinated nations. The question of removing sanctions on an African country is also part of the issues women face.

We have to realize that we cannot mobilize against the military violence alone, nor demand that violence stops and call that ‘peace’. We know from the postwar situations in the Horn of Africa in the past decade, that the destruction of a country’s infrastructure produces more deaths than the military violence by itself. What we need to learn is that death, hunger, disease and destruction are currently a daily reality for most people across the planet. More than that, structural adjustment – the most universal program in the world today, the one that, in all its forms (including the African Growth and Opportunity Act), represents one of the most contemporary faces of capitalism and colonialism…and that is also war. War on women, children, and all people a part of a subjugated nation.

So what is the role of the Eritrean diaspora? To defend the Eritrean Revolution, build international solidarity and to commit to an ideology, a political line that seeks to bring about social, economic, and political equality. 

I can’t wait to report back on what I’ve observed this next week. Stay tuned.

More from this Writer

Gual Erey is an Eritrean who is an organizing member of the Horn of Africa Pan Africans for Liberation and Solidarity. She works with the organization to strengthen class consciousness amongst the Horn of Africa diaspora and unify on Pan Africanism and Anti-Imperialism principles. She has engaged with Black Alliance for Peace in discussing the Challenges in Intergenerational Black Radical Movement Building.