Public diplomacy differs from traditional diplomacy in that it involves interaction not only with governments, but with nongovernmental individuals and organizations. Public diplomacy can be conceived as the public face of traditional diplomacy.
Traditional diplomacy seeks to advance the interests of a country through diplomats’ private exchanges with foreign governments. Our public diplomacy seeks to promote the national interest of Eritrea through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign audiences. The nature and conduct of public resistance -“hzbawi mekete” – of Eritreans is unique in many respects. The free and spontaneous association of interested and committed Eritreans who often stage demonstrations in western capitals against injustice reflects the popular adage that “Every Eritrean is an ambassador of Eritrea.”
During the struggle for independence, one foreign journalist who came to the field asked tegedalay Isaias Afwerki about the number of freedom fighters. Isaias replied “three million.” The journalist was amazed by the response received from the revolutionary leader and demanded further elaboration. He was told that every Eritrean was battling against Ethiopian colonization. Likewise, after independence, the Eritrean government knows that every Eritrean is an ambassador of the country and acknowledges and appreciates their individual and collective efforts undertaken for the interest of the country.
The purposes of public diplomacy, among other things, are to influence opinion in foreign countries, promote cooperation, encourage dialogue, and support positive engagements. The public diplomacy performed by the Eritrean diaspora helps pave the path in the often impenetrable forest of international relations. It helps reveal the true image of Eritrea, while erasing many of the misconceptions. Eritrea’s respect of justice has been well expressed by the various demonstrations staged after every injustice directed against Eritrea. It is hard to overlook or ignore the mass demonstrations of resistance against the Weyane invasion, the silence of the international community and their double standard measures, the unjust and baseless sanctions, and the recent mass demonstrations against the politically-motivated human rights allegations.
The public diplomacy of Eritrea is based on protecting the independence and sovereignty of the country, backing up national development projects as well as supporting the families of martyrs. The active participation and steadfast support to the homeland that is being shown by the Eritrean diaspora continues to be a major source of power and resistance for the country. The Eritrean community in the diaspora is characterized by a continued and keen interest in events taking place in their homeland. In addition to their regular technical and financial support, they are the front-line diplomats who help describe and support the actions and events taking place in Eritrea. The national role and contribution of the Eritrean diaspora in branding the image and reputation of Eritrea is not to be taken lightly. In diplomacy, the image and reputation of a country are public goods that can create either an enabling or a disabling environment in international relations.
The history of public diplomacy of Eritrea dates back to the pre-independence era when Eritreans in Europe, America, the Middle East, and other places organized themselves to become the source of political and economic support for the Eritrean revolution. They spread the message of our struggle and made considerable contributions toward winning independence. Besides the peoples’ appreciation and deep yearning for independent Eritrea, the EPLF’s wise and intensive mobilization and activities aimed at increasing people’s familiarity with the homeland by turning around unfavorable opinions plays a great role in creating the strong Eritrean community in diaspora. Recall that the Eritrean diaspora also took part in the 1993 public referendum that determined the fate of the country.
The public diplomacy of Eritrea has accumulated the necessary power and experience to enable it to survive in the jungle of international politics. It has shifted many unfavorable opinions, increased and sustained people’s familiarity with the country, created objective and positive perceptions, and allowed others to strengthen ties with the country. The annual festival of Eritrean communities, national holidays, and the establishment of Eritrean centers and clubs provide an opportunity to display our national products and showcase our ideas to the world. These and other national activities of Eritrean communities enable the country and the people to promote a better understanding of Eritrea in other countries as well as to increase mutual understanding between the people of Eritrea and the people of other countries.
Before independence, the Eritrean diaspora’s sound of justice and independence succeeded over the reckless stance of international actors and Ethiopia’s colonial domination. This legacy of resistance and tenacious call for justice continued after independence in turning the great dangers that independent Eritrea faced during the Weyane invasion and the subsequent political, diplomatic and economic manipulations. Eritreans around the world stood alongside those in the country to resist the coordinated Weyane invasion and continued hostile acts.
The public diplomacy of Eritrea has also made considerable progress in building and strengthening networks with foreign citizens who are committed to helping achieve our foreign policy goals. Many foreign citizens are becoming friends of Eritrea and many support the country. Foreign citizens who are friends of Eritrea frequently visit Eritrea and share their perceptions with foreign audiences. This helps to counter the distorted image of Eritrea and may prevent foreign citizens from being misguided by the false narratives. Thus, the role of public diplomacy in dispelling disinformation and misinformation is paramount. It is safe to say that public diplomacy has been a central pillar of Eritrean foreign policy. Creating and maintaining our relationships abroad with thoughtful leaders and personalities who can influence the conduct of international affairs requires continued commitment in public diplomacy. The peaceful, inclusive, tolerant and communal nature of our public diplomacy is one of the impenetrable protectors of our national interest.
Public diplomacy is targeted at a wider group of receivers than traditional diplomacy, in which a narrow group of diplomats engage in particular affairs. However, public diplomacy involves two-way communication. In this case, it is the hope of every Eritrean who desires a better future to see the passionate Eritrean migrants establish and sustain a strong community to represent our beliefs, hopes, values and principles across the world and share the true picture of Eritrea abroad. In doing so, the previous generations of migrants should bear the responsibility of integrating and supporting the new migrants.
The activities of the Eritrean community in the diaspora are not restricted to building relationships with foreign countries. They also work to help each other overcome the difficulties of migration and support networks that enable one to maintain his/her sense of national identity. As a result, even the young that were born there can easily integrate with the local population. Currently, the Eritrean diaspora are engaged in multifaceted activities. While many other diaspora communities across the world restrict their contribution to personal remittances, the Eritrean diaspora engage in inculcating the language and culture of the homeland to the young, overcoming the financial difficulties of the homeland, providing technical and professional assistance, and participating in the politics and development programs of the country.
As part of the coordinated efforts made to arrest the development programs of Eritrea, actions were undertaken to isolate and disintegrate the Eritrean diaspora. However, the joint call for justice and “hzbawi mekete” of Eritreans can never be muted. It is quite telling that while various entities have constantly sought to eliminate the 2% rehabilitation and recovery tax, many Eritreans in the diaspora actually give much, much more (e.g. 5, 10, and even 20% of their income). What would they say if they knew that many of the Eritreans in the diaspora proudly wear the national symbol in their necklace? Many writers who have tried to describe the Eritrean diaspora use terms like “long distance nationalism” and “transnationalism.” However, despite their research skills and academic titles, they have been unable to understand how Eritreans abroad retain deep passion and love for their country.
Unity is the foundation and pillar of Eritrean national identity. We must strive to maintain the unity of our communities and nation. The proficiency and continuity of Eritrea’s public diplomacy is centered on unity. Eritreans abroad are all true ambassadors of the country, working to protect and advance our national interest. May unity persevere, and the love of our land and identity be with all Eritreans around the world.