What a year it has been for the world. We saw increasing insecurity in countries formerly known for their safety, growing climate change, deepening economic crisis, expanding emerging markets at the expense of some larger powers, growing global migration that has surpassed World War II levels, deepening despair in the Middle East, emerging of newly elected US President, passing of Cuban Revolution figure Fidel Castro and the list can go on. Eritrea, also,
had a quite unforgettable year in 2016, a combination of challenges and success stories. After the New Year’s celebration and the Geez Christmas in early January, Eritrea was quickly immersed into events, diplomatic work, conferences, new agreements, and reforms, with everything culminating in the silver Jubilee anniversary of Independence Day. In today’s last issue of the year, let’s look at Eritrea in review of 2016 through its major headlines, particularly related to cooperation, divided into two parts, Eritrea profile presents its first part.
- Part I
- January, the month of new resolutions…
As the tradition suggests, many promise themselves to take upon resolutions for the New Year such as starting to go to the gym or starting a new project. In Eritrea, after a colourful New Year followed by Geez Christmas, it was time to go back to the routine. However, this was a special routine in 2016: a year to reflect on achievements, challenges and way forward while entering its Silver Jubilee Independence Anniversary. It’s a somewhat different routine with important changes and one of them at the top of discussion to local dwellers… Yes, I am talking about the banking reform and its redemption and regulation of the circulation of Nakfa currency notes highlighted in President Isaias Afwerki’s interview with local media on January 22nd and 23rd. People starting to use the banking system which was unknown to many before, a more regulated flow of money and citizens are trying to adjust to this reform on the first month of the year. January, known to be the time of wedding fuss, while newlywed cars stroll around town, on the other side, diplomatic relations began in force with the visit of the Assistant Secretary- General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN, Ms. Kyun-wha Kaang, where she held discussions in strengthening engagement and cooperation between the Government of Eritrea and the UN. As the year reflects the 25th birthday of the nation, for the occasion, the symbolic independence torch started its journey on the 15th, going through all regions before reaching final destination on May 24th in Asmara.
- February, between love and victory…
February, the month of lovers with renown Valentine Day and a month of history with the liberation of Massawa, which opened the door to Eritrea’s independence in 1990. In commemoration of the heroic feat of the Fenkil Operation, the port city of Massawa hosted festivities on the weekend of the 10th February through cultural shows, sport competition, theatrical performance, and local food and beverage. Work continued for Eritrea with the hosting of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Workshop on “Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Sensitization for Reporting Institutions”. A first of its kind in the country and came at a critical juncture, in line with the banking and financial reform. Diplomatic efforts continued under the lead of Foreign Affairs, Minister Osman Saleh, and his visit on behalf of Eritrea’s President to the Sudan.
Diaspora also started the year effectively by organizing a workshop on Eritrean natural resources development in the UK inviting mining companies operating in Eritrea and prospective investors. In terms of cooperation and investment, February was specifically in the headlines in regards to the signing agreement between the European Union (EU) and Eritrea worth 200 million Euros within the infrastructure, energy and human resources management sectors, while credentials of 14 ambassadors were handed to President Isaias Afwerki on the 21st of the month.
February was also highlighted with the candidature of the city of Asmara to the World Heritage List submitted on the first of the month. At the African Union Headquarters, Eritrea also received the 2016 African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Award in recognition of the country’s progress in fighting malaria and meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target for malaria eradication. Award and triumph continued with Eritrea’s decisive victory in the 2016 African Continental Cycling Championships for the sixth consecutive year, and won the men’s elite team time trial competition at the African Continental Cycling Championships, held in Morocco.
- March, women as the society’s pillar…
While President Isaias Afwerki departed to Qatar for a working visit on March 15th, Foreign Minister, on his side, addressed the 31st Convention of the Human Rights Council at the UN Headquarters in Geneva. In his speech, he stressed that Eritrea “welcomes genuine partnerships and is responsive to those who seek to engage it in good faith and for mutual good and benefit” and with this motto, the beginning of the year already gave a glimpse of Eritrea’s multiplying efforts regarding its diplomacy in 2016.
March, as the tradition as it, Eritrea celebrated March 8th, the International Women’s Day as a national holiday, making Eritrea one of the few countries in the world recognizing it as a national day. In fact, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) in partnership with the UN in Eritrea, multiplied their diplomatic efforts by holding two side-events at the UN in Geneva on March 11th under the theme of “the Role of Eritrean Women in Development, Gender, Equality and Empowerment”. The second one held at the UN in New York on March 22nd was entitled “From Grassroots to National Action in Combating Gender Based Violence in Eritrea”. Successful events in the diplomatic world were echoed with wonderful events within the country. One of them, the 7th festival of the Institutions of Higher Education launched at the EIT College in Mai-Nefhi was colorfully celebrated with the theme of enhancing the importance of higher education as agent of development.
- April, between conferences and reminders of the past…
April, while Christian faithfuls were in the middle of their fasting, during the European Easter break, Eritrean youth organization in the diaspora known as the Young People Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ), a more than a decade aged organization, holds a conference at that time of the year in one of the European cities. This year, Italian branch of YPFDJ was the host in Montesilvano under the theme of “Integrated Mekete for Sustainable Development and Equal Partnership”. Besides this conference, major ones happened within the country. Hence, the Pharmacovigilance advanced course as the first of its kind in Eritrea accommodating professionals in the sector coming from all corners of the globe, sharing experiences with local professionals and students for the promotion of drug regulation.
A second one, the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) hosted an international conference in partnership with the International Trade Union Confederation of Africa (ITUC) under the theme of “Decent Work Agenda in Eritrea”.
In economic terms, Chinese Sichuan Company bought a 60% share of Sunridge Gold Mining Company while Eritrea signed the Paris agreement on Climate change in New York. A busy month combined with major sport events such as the Tour of Resilience for Development a cycling tour organized in line with the jubilee anniversary.
April 13th, reminded us of the Eritrean- Ethiopian Border Commission (EEBC) and its 14th year since its signing. However, the ongoing occupation of Eritrean territory by Ethiopia remains until today. April, also marked the 25th year of the final offensive for the total liberation of the country, which took place in Dekemhare.
- May, a silvery colored month…
Easter came at the crossroad of May Day celebration in Eritrea. It gave a special glimpse and a feeling of festivity starting from the early morning prayers, enjoying a traditional coffee time with loved ones followed by delicious meals and laughter while it was the day to remember workers. At the Eritrean Naval Base in Gedem also, the Easter Holiday was fervently celebrated with concerts, food and drinks. NCEW organized its May Day Commemoration at the Baroko Textile Factory with the slogan “Strong Organization for a Productive Union”. While the independence festivity took place the whole month, the UNDP in Eritrea marked its 50th anniversary through a fieldtrip inviting ministries’ representatives, UN agencies to showcase development projects in food security and agriculture in the Anseba region. Further, the National Afforestation Day and 10th Anniversary of Eritrea’s Green Campaign via conference and activities. Abroad, while Eritrean communities were also celebrating the independence month, Diplomacy continued. In fact, Eritrea attended the World Humanitarian Summit Ministerial Conference on Sustainability of Migratory Phenomenon in Istanbul, Turkey, without failing to recall on the 69th Session of World Health Assembly in Geneva as well as the signing of an agreement to strengthen cooperation ventures in the health sector between Eritrea and China.
Art performances, shows, artists from all around the world, wonderful lightning, carnival depicting Eritrea’s last 25 years, movies, and concerts were the highlights of the month with thousands of visitors from abroad joining the crowd. Nostalgia mixed with joy reflected the mood of the celebrations. The symbolic torch for development and resilience, after its circuitous route through the six regions of the country made its way to the 24th May’s official ceremony at Bahti Meskerem Square in Asmara with the lightning of the giant torch by Athlete Zeresenay Tadesse.
- June, a turbulent month…
Diplomacy and PR work were at their peak in June both from officials as well as civil society groups in the diaspora. As such, after a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Human Rights Council on June 2nd, stating that, “Eritrea has called on UN Human Rights Council to stop the ‘Commission of Inquiry’ (COI) from preventing a fair hearing on the human rights situation in Eritrea by preemptively releasing its report to the public”.
While the Muslim faithfuls celebrated Eid-Al-Fitr Al Mubarek after a month of Ramadan fasting, people, both Christians and Muslims, go to their friends’ or neighbors’ to enjoy the festivity. Locally, diaspora who came to visit Eritrea in conjunction with the jubilee anniversary held an important meeting with PFDJ officials in Asmara where more than 500 called present. June 11th, was also the National Conference on Combating Child Marriage, an African initiative to combat such practices where stakeholders and presentations on cultural beliefs and impact on girls were part of the discussed. Important books depicting Eritrea’s history were inaugurated such as Dr. Tekeste Fekadu’s “The Roads to Asmara”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Yemane Gebreab, Presidential Advisor, delivered a press statement at the UN in Geneva in response to the COI’s report. In line with it, the Eritrean Global Action for Justice led a petition to oppose new injustices against the people of Eritrea where more than 200,000 signed. Statements continued with Foreign Minister Osman Saleh at the 32nd session of the UNHRC in Geneva on June 14th. Social media was swamped with the hashtag #IStandWithEritrea, media campaigns, articles multiplied. June was surely tremendous for Eritrea and Eritreans and a rising anger and sadness after the Ethiopian attacks on Eritrean soil in Tsorona where 18 Eritreans were martyred as announced by President Isaias in his speech delivered on Martyr’s Day. People gathering at the Martyr’s Cemetery in Asmara could not hold their tears by hearing the news on this day of remembrance. A day later, more than 10,000 Eritreans and friends of Eritrea gathered together in Geneva to protest against the COI report and the continued illegal occupation of Eritrean territory by Ethiopia.
Besides the PR efforts and the continued challenges Eritrea faces, June 2016 was also reflected with the Kerkebet Dam being ready for operation improving the livelihoods of local communities and enhancing agricultural potential in the region of Gash Barka.
Already a mid-term year full of challenges and successes… In our next issue, we will see how the last six months of the year 2016 resembled. Until then, Happy New Year 2017!