What a year it has been for the world…and for Eritrea. The country has gone through a year of challenges and successes. Stronger diplomatic ties have been registered. New economic agreements have been signed.
The capital city, Asmara, entered the UNESCO World Heritage list. Financial reform continues and public diplomacy in the diaspora prospers, despite the numerous obstacles that the transnational network is facing. Mobilization campaigns keep on moving forward. 2017 was definitely a year of transition for Eritrea. In the second part of our review, we look back from May onward, with a focus on diplomacy and cooperation.
May, celebrating Eritrea
The month of May correlates with the independence anniversary of Eritrea and in 2017 the theme focused on “Laying Pillars for Vibrant Growth.” Every year, celebrating the anniversary is often done alongside many false stories about Eritrea spread by the international media. During this period, activities in the diaspora are at their peak. Seminars, independence celebrations and activities, including sports events and forums, help highlight the country’s achievements and outline ways forward. Meanwhile, in Eritrea, the month started with the International Workers Day on May 1st for the 25th time. The commemoration took place at the premises of the Asmara Brewery under the theme of “Strong Organization for Robust Association.” Members of the diplomatic corps, UN agencies, government bodies and members of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) alongside workers of the factory gathered together. The event was an occasion to remember the importance of respecting the rights of workers. The General Secretary of the NCEW, Mr. Tekeste Baire, highlighted the significance of enhancing job opportunities and the spirit of work to be passed on to younger generations.
Soon after, Eritrean diplomats including ambassadors, consuls, secretaries and charge d’affairs paid a visit to development and historical sites in the Southern Red Sea region. It was an occasion to get an update of activities on the ground and to report back to their respective communities. Diplomatic activities continued in May with the visit to Egypt of a senior Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh. The delegation held discussions with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sameh Shoukri, on areas of common national interests. Meanwhile, the “Belt and Road” initiative forum took place in the People’s Republic of China where Mr. Hagos Ghebrehiwet, PFDJ Head of Economic Affairs, participated. The summit of heads of states was an important opportunity to strengthen relations among Asia, Europe and Africa.
Locally, Europe Day was celebrated at Casa Degli Italiani in Asmara. Ministers, PFDJ officials, members of the diplomatic corps, UN agencies and invited guests took part in the colorful event. Former Head of the EU Delegation, Ambassador Christian Manahl, reminded guests that “security, peace and prosperity depend more than ever before on cooperation”. The timely speech was followed by a tree planting event the day after at the outskirts of Asmara, in Berik subzone.
The month continued with National Forestation Day convened on May 15th under the theme of “Let’s Bequeath Green Environment to Our Children”. It was commemorated in the capital. This day remains important for the country as it aligns with its priorities in preserving the environment and ensuring food security. Tree planting, an assessment of achievements and ongoing challenges were discussed. Minister Arefaine Berhe of the Ministry of Agriculture reminded the participants to develop further community-based agricultural and forestation activities nationwide.
Further, more than 4,000 youth took part in a month-long training workshop on the preservation and history of cultural heritage led by the Asmara Heritage Project and the NUEYS. President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive two hour-long interview with the local media on the occasion of the Independence Day anniversary. He first discussed regional relations, especially those with Egypt, and the role of Egypt within the region. He also responded on the discourse of military alliances in the region, calling them a “throwback to old times; it represents an outdated philosophy. We have no desire or appetite to entertain and resurrect concepts of military and security alliances/blocs in the Horn of Africa that existed not only in the past 25 years but also before and that did not contribute to regional and international peace”. President Isaias continued his interview by looking at the Ethiopian government’s repeated announcements to draft a new policy on Eritrea: “They have and continue to use Eritrea as a scapegoat in order to deflect attention from the domestic opposition that they are facing. They accuse Eritrea of ‘acts of destabilization’ and these days of ‘collaborating with Egypt and other forces to that end’”. The Eritrean President continued by talking about at domestic issues related mainly to the access of water and electricity.
A forum was organized by the Eritrean Embassy in the UK under the theme of “Enigmatic Eritrea; Engagement, Investment and Development in the 21st Century”. Diplomats, media outlets and guests were invited to share information and showcase Eritrea’s true image to the British public.
Celebrations continued nationwide and in the diaspora. Community gatherings, carnival and daily performances at cinemas, and open-air concerts in the capital city were held for the joy of the inhabitants and visitors. The National Holidays Coordinating Committee multiplied its efforts to make the celebration a success, concluding with the official ceremony at the Asmara Stadium on May 24th. “Building pillars for growth” was the theme of the year and colorfully depicted Eritrea’s entrance to a new phase of development and its will to multiply efforts in promoting the true image of the country and boosting its economy. While Eritrea celebrated its anniversary, Eritreans started the Ramadan fasting season. Notably, for the joy of inhabitants passing by the Grand Mosque Kulafae Al- Rashidin, tables full of delicacies were available for the Iftar.
June, remembering Eritrea’s fallen Heroes and celebrating Eid Al-Fitr
The month of June often coincides with UN meetings. Accordingly, in June 2017, President Isaias conveyed his message to several heads of states in regards to their influence within the UN Security Council to rectify the injustices against Eritrea due to the imposed sanctions and the ongoing violation of Eritrean sovereign territories by Ethiopia. Soon after, Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Head of the Eritrean delegation, gave a statement at the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his speech, the Ambassador reiterated the stand of the Government of the State of Eritrea on accusations made by the Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetaruth, denying “drought and hidden famine” among other accusations and he urged the Council to “end this charade once and for all”.
Simultaneously, the Ministry of Health launched its 2017-2021 strategic plan providing guidance and prioritized areas for action. With the motto of “education for all”, higher educational institutions were in the middle of their graduation ceremonies starting with the Massawa College of Marine Science and Technology, where about 130 students – including 49 females – graduated. Later on, 140 graduated from Wina Technical School in Nakfa, while more than 400 graduated from Denden Commercial School.
In June, fake news continued with a false press release in Arabic on a counterfeit Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ letterhead regarding alleged ties and relations with Arab countries.
In the diaspora, activities continued with, for instance, the 3rd congress of YPFDJ held in Italy while Eritrea’s Ambassador to South Africa and Southern African countries, Mr. Saleh Omar, gave a seminar to the growing Eritrean community in Angola on its role and the situation back home.
On the eve of Martyr’s Day, Eritreans gathered to light candles in remembrance of fallen heroes and in the morning hours, as tradition dictates, a march was organized in the capital towards the National Martyr’s Cemetery with the President, ministers, PFDJ officials, diplomats and thousands of people holding candles and flowers. Many activities were organzied around Martyr’s day. It is the time of the year when Eritreans pay special tribute and also contribute further to a special fund for the families of those who sacrificed – both locally and abroad. In Chicago, the Eritrean diaspora contributed 231,116 USD towards the Martyr’s trust fund between 2004 and 2017. The planting of tree seedlings and a campaign for the construction of terraces were also organized in connection with Martyr’s Day nationwide under the lead of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Soon after, a new motor oil recycling plant was established by Total Oil Company at the port city of Massawa. Gen. Sebhat Efrem, Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Tesfai Ghebreselassie of Land, Water and Environment took part in the ceremony where the company said that it is part of the effort to ensure environmental safety in Eritrea.
The month came to an end with the colorful celebration of Eid Al-Fitr when the faithful gathered at Asmara’s Bahti Meskerem Square. Sheik Ibrahim al Muktar, General Secretary of the Central Office of the Eritrean Eftae and Islamic Affairs, wished a happy Eid and called on the Eritrean people to support the needy and wished development and peace. Other events for the occasion were celebrated such as in Ghinda subzone.
July, celebrating Asmara’s inscription and graduations
July was the month of an important celebration. Asmara was finally inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland. The long-awaited recognition put the capital city among 90 heritage sites registered in Africa. Locally, Eritrea celebrated the Africa Week hosting different African countries and their embassies through cultural exchanges and sports competitions.
While the Sawa 12th Matriculation students and all Colleges celebrated their graduations, the month started swiftly with the work visit of Eritrean senior delegation to Kazakhstan. During the meetings, the two parties agreed on areas of cooperation including trade, investment in mining, agriculture and transportation. A few weeks later, Eritrean President and senior PFDJ officials held talks with the Chinese communist party putting a focus on the responsibility of the party in regards to justice, peace and stability in the region and at global scale as well as the strategic partnership between the two parties. Soon after, the newly constructed Mai Nefhi Sciences College came to completion after an agreement signed in 2014 between the Government of Eritrea and the People’s Republic of China.
Also, H.E. Saleh Omar, Eritrea’s Ambassador to South Africa and Southern Africa, took part at the conference of African City Mayors in Pretoria. In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted Asmara’s heritage and the efforts undertaken to mark the capital city as one of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The inscription was followed by an event organized by the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the UN in Vienna for the occasion with more than 200 guests present to listen to presentations led by Engineer Medhane Teklemariam from the Asmara Heritage Project.
Activities continued in the diaspora with the photo exhibition hosted by the Eritrean Embassy to France depicting Asmara’s art deco. Meanwhile, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) conducted a national symposium assessing the past 25 years for the organization and its way forward, with various stakeholders from ministries, civil society groups, and UN agencies taking part.
Afterwards, the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers held its mid-year meeting at the State House to discuss reports of ministries and ways forward. Soon afterward, a new agricultural laboratory was inaugurated at Hamelmalo College of Agriculture, with the former UN Resident/ Coordinator, Ms. Christine N. Umutoni, and Arefaine Berhe from the Ministry of Agriculture taking part.
Celebrations continued with the annual festivals in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. As tradition dictates, thousands participated in seminars, sports events and cultural performances.
In July, false news about Eritrea also continued. In response to Aljazeera’s article titled, Eritrea: Anecdotes of Indefinite Anarchy, Mr. Paulos Netabay, Head of Eritrean News Agency, offered a stern response, calling for the media outlet to “refrain from its biased stance…”
The month ended with the meeting of Eritrean Ambassador to South Africa and Southern Africa, Mr. Saleh Omar, and Malawian ministers to strengthen bilateral ties. The ambassador also presented his credentials to the country.
August, rainy month and colorful festivals
The month was busy, with high school students engaged in summer campaigns such as planting trees and other civic duties across the country. Festivals also continued in the diaspora, including in Scandinavia, Canada and the US. In Eritrea, it was also time for the National Festival. This year was celebrated under the theme of “Our Heritage is Testimony to Our Identity”. The festival helps depict Eritrea’s rich cultural diversity and harmony. August, as it is the rainy season and thus more prone to malaria, also saw malaria prevention week. The week involved several awareness campaign-related activities nationwide and an assessment of past achievements and potential obstacles.
The National Council of Eritrean Americans held its annual congress under the theme of “Engagement of Generations for Development Partnership” where hundreds from around the country came to participate. Ambassador Saleh Omar met with Namibian officials to strengthen relations.
Meanwhile, a high delegation, including Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab, met with the Rwandan President in Kigali. The Eritrean delegation conveyed a message from President Isaias Afwerki to congratulate President Paul Kagame for his election victory. The two parties also discussed bilateral ties, regional concerns and prospect of the African Union.
It was definitely a period full of activities and events for Eritrea, festivals, graduations, and more diplomatic activities. In the next issue of Eritrea Profile, we’ll look at how the year 2017 ended for Eritrea. Until then, Happy New Year 2018!