Our Finest Hour

About Eritrea - History & Culture

It is a Wednesday morning and I’m standing in my bedroom. The windows are open and it is cold. I don’t mind, however. I’m lost in thought, trying to come up with the words to describe what the day has in store for Eritrea. I begin thinking about my first year in college.

It was 24 December 2009 when our political science instructor informed us that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had imposed sanctions on Eritrea the previous night. We all had our faces buried in course handouts and books. We were too busy studying to know what had happened the night before. Of course, we were mindful of the long history of unjust and unwarranted actions against Eritrea by the UN and certain members of the international community.

After that announcement by our instructor, the day’s course outline was forgotten. Instead, the entire class was engaged in discussion. What did we do? The answer was nothing. Then why sanctions? No reply.

That particular question remained with us for several years. Before we received answers, the UNSC broadened the sanctions on Eritrea two years later. Once again, questions were asked? What did we do? Nothing? Why sanctions? Nobody answered. Where is the truth? Again, nobody replied.

What is truth? This question has been asked in vain by many thinkers in the past. No one was able to present the right answer. For some, truth is relative, while for others it is absolute.

In one of my previous articles, I divided truth into two categories. Higher truths, which are unreachable except through faith and lower truths, which are within reach of man’s finite mind. But suppose there is such thing as absolute truth, says the skeptic, what is it exactly? Can the human mind grasp it? The idealist replies by saying that God is absolute truth. But according to most religions, God, being infinite, remains unknowable or unsearchable. So how can the finite human mind ever expect to understand an infinite mind? And if truth is relative, it means we have shifting standards by which to distinguish truth from error.

This may put us in a dilemma. But not politicians, who seem to rejoice in the fact that if there is no clear demarcation between truth and falsehood they can do whatever they please with impunity.

Let’s, for the time being, leave higher truths to philosophers and concentrate on lower truths, which can be understood but are not necessarily always practiced by the layman. Man has all the time been either burying or distorting the truth wherever and whenever he found it. Truth is sweet to the just but a bitter pill to swallow for the insincere and the wayward.

For instance, a cursory look at the UNSC Resolutions 1907 and 2023 shows that the sanctions were part of a series of misguided decisions taken by the UN targeting Eritrea, under pressure from the US. Notwithstanding the redundancy and repetitiveness of the content in the resolutions, the key objective was to portray Eritrea as a rogue and recalcitrant state, which deserved the ire of the international community. For Eritreans, not only were the sanctions illegal based on groundless allegations, they also once again exposed the UN’s obsessive need to hide the truth from the world.

However misguided the decisions against them were, Eritreans remained resolute and firmly committed to their principles. Six years after the first set of sanctions were imposed on Eritrea, I was in my final year of college and wrote my dissertation on the UNSC’s sanctions on Eritrea, examining the basis for sanctions and analyzing their impact. This coincided with Eritrea’s celebrations of 22 years of independence, on 28 May.

Nine years after the sanctions were first imposed, I am working in one of the highest government ministries in my country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the years since the sanctions were first imposed, I completed college, wrote my dissertation on the sanctions, and then worked in foreign affairs, which provided me an opportunity to work for the removal of the sanctions.

There is a proverb in our country which states that,a “if you bury the truth upside down, it will definitely spring right side up.” Another proverb is, “unheeded truth may get thinner and more fragile with the passage of time, but it will never shrivel or break.”

The problem is that what is considered truth by some may be seen as untruth by others. Unless people want to deceive themselves, it is not that difficult to distinguish truth from falsehood. One may cheat others from time to time, but it is difficult to cheat yourself even just for a second.

Another problem is that some people lie so often that they begin to believe their own lies. This can be seen when someone sees a black stone as a white stone or hot charcoal as an ice cube. What’s more, when he or she touches the charcoal with their fingers, they don’t get burned. Pathological liars can even work miracles.

We tend to consider lies as darkness and truth as light. It has even been said that when the universe came into being, there was more antimatter than matter. More darkness than light or more lies than truths. The world is now filled with the darkness of lying and deceit, so much so that for many lying is regarded as absolutely necessary in order to succeed.

With greed long regarded as one of the virtues needed to acquire riches, fame, and power, it is little wonder that lying is now cherished by those who lust after power and domination. Despite the obstacles and challenges, Eritreans were committed to the truth.

It has also been said that truth is resilient and that it will never break. Truth, even when buried, will eventually sprout. November 14, 2018 is when the truth about Eritrea finally began to emerge. The UNSC voted unanimously to lift the unjust and illegal sanctions against Eritrea. The country was vindicated and its enemies were once again beaten. The truth has prevailed. During the last nine years, we Eritreans fought, as we have done throughout history, to prove our detractors wrong. In many ways, it was our finest hour.

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we resume work. Quite fittingly, Yemane Gebreab stated, in front of the United Nations General Assembly, “the struggle continues, indeed today more than ever, the struggle continues. We have hard work ahead of us and we will redouble our efforts and work towards achieving our goals.”