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Economic, social and cultural transformations (Part II)

Even though the EPLFs primary task has been to wage armed struggle to free Eritrean people from the colonial yoke, it has not shelved the objective of economic, social and cultural transformation, as this is an integral part of the revolution. Thus, it has been making steadfast effort to implementation the policies and objectives outlined in its political program. The improvement of the live hood of the masses through economic transformation was a task the EPLF has begun to tackle before its first congress and to which it accorded greater importance after the congress. Since over 80% of Eritrea people depend on farming and livestock raising, the improvement of their lives takes priority. When large rural areas and most towns were liberated, much needed changes in the tenure of land were made and land redistributed in a manner that benefited the majority. The aim of these measures which were taken parallel with the formation of popular institutions was the improvement and expansion of agricultural and livestock production. Land disputes between village and nationalities were also solved by mediation. Modern farms formerly owned by the Ethiopian government and its foreign collaborators were brought under the control of the EPLF and popular institution in order to save them from disuse and improve their productivity. Steps were taken to ensure the right of land less poor farmers and women to own land, so as to enable them to improve their economic lot and to became free and self-supporting citizen. The EPLF worked to rehabilitate large disuse farms and to open up cultivable land for production. It encourages the people to pull their man power and material resources, form cooperatives, solve their common problem and increase their produce. To protect animal resource, it provided veterinary services. It also begun to provide agricultural training programs as well as production and technical assistance to alleviate the shortage of agricultural implements and improve the farmers capacity to produce farm equipment. Efforts were also made to improve irrigation canals and other water control systems. In order to ease the problems of the masses, the EPLF participated in many productive activities, Studies and research were also started to help improve the implementation and result of agricultural plans and projects.

When in mid-1978 the military situation changed infavor of the colonialist Dergue regime due to the intervention of the Soviet Union and its allies and the EPLF withdrew entering a defensive stage, many of its agricultural developments projects had to be suspended. Compared with the possibilities, our achievement until, then were small because of shortage of time, the very slow state of agriculture, shortage of skilled and other personnel, and the EPLFs scarce financial and material resources. But, the message that was passed and the awakening of the people’s interest were big gains. Through the enemy offensive halted or slowed down most of agricultural development programs, the projects in the area outside enemy control, which was limited to the towns and area along the main roads, continued at various levels.

After the strategic withdrawal, the new situation dictated the mobilization of resources to ensure the existence and continuity of the revolution. But even then, the EPLF did not abandon its agricultural developments programs. And after smashing successive enemy offensives guarantying the security of its base area and passing into the large stage of large-scale offensives, it reactivated the programs. In the past four years, apart from the effects of the Dergs barbaric and destructive offensives aimed at crushing and dispersing out people, drought devastated farm production causing wide spread hunger. The EPLF, therefore, had to pay greater attention to agricultural developments. Hence, long term projects including provision of seed and farm implements, resettlement programs, rehabilitation of disuse farms and opening up new areas for cultivation expansion of veterinary services, implementation  of land use, extension and afforestation projects, contraction of dams, ponds irrigation channels, and exploration and drilling of deep wells to provide drinking water and for irrigation, and introduction of vegetables growing and poultry production to improve the nutritional and cultural level of the people were carried out and expanded. To alleviate the pressure of the EPLF on the national resources, serious efforts were made so the EPLF would not only support itself but also assist the people through intensified participation in agricultural production, as well as by raising the Agricultural Department capacity to utilize modern technology and machinery, produce farm implements and conduct research.

In this very large undertaking, not all projects met their targets. The main causes were the Dergue’s incessant acts of distraction, followed by the lack or scarcity of machinery and material and financial resources. Even though many non-governmental aid agencies played an important role in alleviating the shortages, their contribution fell far short of the needs. Moreover, the international community and especially governments, which should have seen the issue in humanitarian and in political terms, failed to give it the barest attention. The Eritrean people and the EPLF were, therefore, forced to bear the burden almost on their own. Let alone in times of war, but even in time of peace, agricultural developments projects are long term and require vast inputs. This is all the more so as the cultural level of our people is low, particularly in the areas where pastoralism predominates and cultivation has not been developed. In fact, one of the reasons why EPLF’s agricultural development projects have not induced substantial changes is primarily because they are carried out in nomadic areas where it is difficult to change the life style of the people. Moreover, agricultural developments projects have been affected by limitations in related sectors of constriction transport…..etc.

Extensive infra-structure, which played a key role in the construction of a national economy and improvement of peoples live hood has been one of the objectives of the EPLF’s economic program. Before the strategic withdrawal, though in a limited way, the EPLF began to reactivate agricultural and industrial development services, including the construction of roads, dams and irrigation structures; operation of electricity generating plants, telephone, water and transport services; and the construction and rehabilitation of schools, hospitals and stores. The growth of the enemy’s destructive capacity after the withdrawal did not stop our construction work but made their expansion all the more necessary. The base area, as the center of our economic activities, was given priority for road construction and within a short period extraordinary roads were constructed through the rugged, mountain terrain of Sahel. Roads linking the expanding liberated and semi-liberated areas were also built. Construction work was very difficult since it was carried out on rocky terrain and depended on manual labor and rudimentary tools. In the past few years, however, the demand for machinery and other tools was met by equipment captured from the enemy, bought or obtained from donors. This has enabled us to undertake bigger construction projects and implement them efficiently.

Much progress was also made in the construction of buildings (for schools, hospitals, garages, workshops, stores, residences, etc.). As well as dams, wells and irrigation canals. The introduction-albeit slowly- of construction, drilling and brick making machinery as well as necessary materials has pushed construction work forward. Training programs were also designed and put into effect to meet the demand of professional and skilled personnel
Production of basic consumer goods and work tools is an important part of the EPLF economic program. Over the past few years a plastic shoe factory, a plant for producing sanitary towels, wood, spare parts, and metal good work shops, electric generating plants and distribution lines, as well as workshops for sowing cloths and hides material were set up and their production and services expanded. Due to financial and other limitations, only a few of the factories and workshops that were planned have been set up.

The EPLF gives high priority to developing transport facilities, as transportation is the life blood of the economic life of any nation and greatly influences its economic development. Curiously, the war despite its destructiveness, has contributed much to the EPLF experiencing in this sector. The transport equipment captured from enemy before, during and after the strategic withdrawal served as a basis for the EPLF’s transport services. But it did not come anywhere near satisfying our needs. Repair and maintenance of our vehicles, supplies of spare parts, fuel, tires batteries were essential demands.

To effectively utilize what was available, it was necessary to set up garages and workshops, properly use transport materials, ensure constant supply of spare parts, as well as retread tires and manufacture car batteries in the field. Several of these projects were successfully completed. The deli vary of emergency relief supplies to drought affected areas was an additional burden on our transport services. The cooperation shown by non-governmental agencies and humanitarian organizations in this regard was substantial. Yet our transportation service has not been able to meet even basic needs. The EPLF has also given due attention to the use of pack-animals since transportation demands in densily populated areas even where roads exist could not at all times be met by vehicles. Veterinary services were expanded and pack-animals rearing projects planned. But our effort to improve our transport capability in this area was not was successful, primary due to the drought but also because pack-animals remained prime targets of the Ethiopian regime.

Other factors have also restricted the growth of our transport services. Driving by night, which is a must, hastens vehicle decoration and reduces efficiency. As goods are generally hauled in one direction, fuel and other items used up on the return trip are virtually wasted. Limited financial resources, the unavailability or difficulty of obtaining spare parts are additional constraints. Although great emphasis was to the training of skilled personnel and considerable success registered, the department of transportation was affected by efforts to entice (through promises of jobs and good pay) its skilled personnel to desert. Finally, very little was accomplished in the EPLF plan to improve sea transport due to financial and human resources limitation and security problems.                            

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