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. The year 2017 was definitely a year of transition for Eritrea. As we just entered the New Year, in the final part of our review, we look back at the last quarter of the year, with a focus on diplomacy and cooperation.
- -September, coinciding with holy and historic days and Eritrea at the UN
The month of September is special in Eritrean history. It is the month the armed struggle began on September 1st, and 2017 marked its 56th anniversary after the first shot by Idris Awate, one of the founding fathers of the struggle for independence. September also hosted holy days for both the Muslim and Christian faithful. Eid- Al Adha al Mubarek, Hejira year 1438, was celebrated nationwide with the official ceremony held at Asmara’s Bahti Meskerem square in the early morning hours for the Salat led by Sheik Ibrahim al Muktar, the Managing Director of the Office of the Mufti. Sheik Ibrahim, in his speech, called for peace and for the people to keep the spirit of harmony.
Later, on September 11th, Geez New year, known as Kudus Yohannes, was celebrated nationwide. A televised event was held in the town of Senafe with the cooperation of the Southern region and the Ministry of Information. His holiness, Abune Lukas, General Secretary of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, gave his benediction. Holy day continued in late September with the observance of the Meskel Holiday or the Finding of the True Cross at Asmara’s Bahti Meskerem Square, where the General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church led prayers and religious hymns around a bonfire.
In September 2017, a senior delegation of World Council of Churches paid a work visit to Eritrea. The delegation held meetings with religious leaders of the Eritrean churches including the Eritrean Orthodox Church Synod, Bishop of the Eritrean Catholic Church, and President of the Lutheran Evangelical Church. The Office of the Eritrean Eftae and Islamic Affairs sent their message of solidarity. The meeting aimed at developing common understanding to ensure peace and harmony among societies. The senior delegation appreciated the existing religious tolerance and harmony in Eritrea.
In diplomatic terms, activities continued during that month with the participation of Eritrea’s senior delegation at the Tokyo Cooperation on African Development Conference (TICAD) held in Maputo, Mozambique. Eritrea’s Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Estifanos Afwerki led the delegation with his counterpart, Mr. Saleh Omar, Eritrea’s Ambassador to South Africa and Southern African countries. The three-day meeting aimed at supporting structural economic development including diversification, ensuring sustainable health system and promoting political stability in which the Eritrean delegation expressed its readiness to cooperate in areas of common interests.
September also coincided with the UN General Assembly of Heads of States in New York where Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh addressed the 72nd session. The Foreign minister stressed on the responsibility that all countries share despite the division and unequal share of power. “We share responsibility to address the fundamental problems of our common world. Certainly, the mighty and wealthy should shoulder bigger responsibility as they command vast power and resources”, the Minister said. He also called on the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions imposed on Eritrea affecting its development path. Soon after, Minister Osman Saleh also addressed the UN General Assembly meeting on Appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. In his timely speech, Foreign Minister said “the Eritrean government has for years called for an independent international body to investigate human trafficking in the Horn of Africa with an aim to bring those responsible to justice. Eritrea’s repeated requests to the UN Secretary General and UN Security Council to initiate such an investigation remains unheeded…” Diplomacy continued with the visit paid to the Chadian President Idris Deby by Minister Osman Saleh and Mr. Yemane Gebreab, Presidential Advisor. They delivered a letter from President Isaias Afwerki on the need to reform the African Union and enhance regional cooperation, among other areas of concerns for the continent.
While the Eritrean community of Frankfurt celebrated the 20th anniversary of its establishment, the Eritrean Community of Germany held its sports festival at the beginning of the month. Various seminars were also conducted by Eritreans in the diaspora including the Canadian communities in Edmonton and Calgary under the theme of “Strong Eritrean- Canadian Communities to Support Education and Development in Eritrea”.
The Cabinet of Ministers held a meeting at the State House. The one-day meeting aimed at reviewing progress and deliberate on new programmes in the education and health sectors primarily. The President briefed the ministers on diplomatic developments and the tensions and waves in the region.
Later on, President Isaias Afwerki met with the Eritrean National Cycling team and gave them words of encouragement for the participation at the 90th World Cycling Championship in Norway, where the Eritrean team participated for the third time.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Eritrea held a seminar in the capital under the theme of “the Belt and Road initiative and China- Eritrea Pragmatic Cooperation”. The Chinese Ambassador to Eritrea, Mr. Yang Zigang, and his advisor as well as Mr. Hagos Gebrehiwet, Head of PFDJ’s Economic Affairs, gave briefings to the senior government and PFDJ Officials and representatives of Chinese corporations operating in the country on the economic cooperation between the two countries and the strategic location of Eritrea for the initiative.
- -October, between international days and President’s interview
World Tourism Day was observed in Eritrea with a focus on Asmara and sustainable tourism for development. On the occasion an activity and pictures depicting Asmara’s art deco were showcased. Meanwhile, in the diaspora various seminars and events took place. Minister Osman Saleh, on his part, held a seminar to the Eritrean community in Washington DC where he discussed recent diplomatic developments and the ongoing role of the diaspora in public diplomacy activities.
During the month of October, President Isaias Afwerki talked to the local media, where internal and external affairs were discussed. The media quoted some of his words as follows: “consolidating investment in human capital is the indispensable multiplier in the nation-building drive”, “promoting the importance of awareness, organization and equipping ourselves is a culture or a value system we have nurtured for a long time” and “since we cannot live in isolation, we have to make our modest contribution for the stability and peace in our neighbourhood”.
An editorial, entitled The Politics of Religion was published responding to some fake news on Eritrea’s so-called “lack of religious tolerance” by looking at the history of religion and harmony in Eritrea.
In October, many international days were observed such as the World Food day and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In 2017, an event took place in Embaderho subzone under the theme of “Change the Future of Migration. Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”, and it was attended by ministers, members of the diplomatic corps and UN agencies.
Soon after, the Bank of Eritrea issued a legal notice 129/2017 to limit the amount of Nakfa holdings for travellers leaving Eritrea as part of the ongoing financial reform.
- -November, welcoming the freezing temperatures with more lights
In November 2017, the UN Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights took place at UN headquarters in New York where Mr. Amanuel Giorgio, Charge d’affaires of the Permanent Mission of the State of Eritrea to the UN, gave a speech highlighting that the special rapporteur appeared for the fifth time before the third committee in an informal setting “whose biased work against Eritrea has been clear. Her mandate, he added, was tabled and spearheaded by countries with known hostile stance against Eritrea with the aim of ‘demonizing’ and isolating Eritrea under the guise of human rights concerns”. Meanwhile, in the same city, the Eritrean community took part in the African Heritage Expo where they promoted Eritrea’s history and heritage.
The Eritrean communities of Jeddah, Riyadh and Qatar held their annual festival while a youth organization, known as Eritrean Group for Action held a meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, under the theme of “Let’s Practically Contribute
Our Share in Building Prosperous Eritrea”. Similarly, YPFDJ South Sudan organized its congress with the theme “Globalization and International Relations”.
In the meantime, Eritrea’s Ambassador to France, Mrs. Hanna Simon, attended the 39th General Assembly of the UNESCO in Paris from October 30th to November 14th. Then, the Permanent Mission of the State of Eritrea to the UN in Geneva organized a panel discussion under the theme of “Beyond Refugee Crisis and Human Trafficking, Youth Perspectives, in the Horn of Africa with special focus on Eritrea”. Diplomats, investors and invited guests from various countries attended the event where Mr. Adem Osman, First Secretary of the Eritrean mission, briefed the audience on Eritrea’s experience over the past six years and the indifference of the international community to the continuous violation of Eritrean sovereign territories and the imposed sanctions, among others issues, impacting the country’s development endeavors.
Minister Osman Saleh continued his diplomatic work by addressing the 8099th Meeting of the UN Security Council in New York. He underlined the lack of evidence in the recent SEMG report and called for the sanctions to be lifted. “Regional peace and security in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea is first and foremost the responsibility of the countries in the region. Eritrea will continue its constructive engagement and contribution towards ensuring peace, amity and progress in our region”, the Minister concluded.
In Eritrea, the Cabinet of Ministers held a meeting on November the 11th at the State House to discuss the parameters and procedures to follow for budgeting and better alignment with national development priorities for 2018. The meeting also addressed the question of salary augmentation, and the President said that priority would be given to employees in the public sector. The expansion of renewable energy, including electricity power supply, water supply, ensuring fuel supply, investment on livestock and marine resources and agriculture were among the other areas discussed.
Soon after, the Ministry of Information made a press release on the “Unwarranted sanctions on Eritrea to be rescinded” in response to media fuss calling for reinforcing sanctions on Eritrea after the release of the SEMG report in which any proof of support to Al-Shabab continued to be unfounded.
Similar fake news on Eritrea occurred simultaneously on this month with the protest of high school students in the streets of Asmara where the mainstream media and social media quickly divert the reality with fake facts without proof.
Later in November, the awaited inauguration of the Hirgigo Power Plant project took place. The 98.6 million USD project which was implemented by the Chinese SFECO Company, has the capacity to increase the supply in electricity by 60% and by 46 megawatt. The inauguration went in line with the installation of 300 solar powered street lamps so far in the capital, illuminating the city at night.
The end of November was in conjunction with the celebration of Eid Al Mawlid and simultaneously with the annual Christian pilgrimage of the Saint Mary “Hidar Tsion”. Both were celebrated colourfully few meters apart, at the Al- Khulafa Al- Rashideen Mosque and St. Mary Church respectively.
- -December, ending the year with more diplomacy
The last month of the year was the time for annual reports and plan for the year 2018. In terms of diplomacy, Mr. Hagos Gebrehiwet, PFDJ’s Head of Economic Affairs, led a senior delegation to the World Political Parties Meeting in Beijing where he presented Eritrea’s anti-corruption experience to the audience. Later on the Eritrean Ambassador to the AU, Mr. Araya Desta and Eritrea’s Ambassador to the EU, Mr. Negassi Kasa, participated at the 5th AU-EU Summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The meeting was held under the theme of “Investment on Youth: for Accelerating Comprehensive Growth and Sustainable Development”.
Diplomacy continued in December but at home; this time when President Isaias Afwerki received credentials of six ambassadors at Denden Hall in Asmara which included Ms. Susan Ngongi-Namondo, the UN Resident/Coordinator, Mr. Toshitsugu Uesawa of Japan, Mr. Michael-Christos Diammesis of the Hellenic Republic, Ms. Agrina Mussa of the Republic of Malawi, Mr. Daniel Cavegn of the Swiss Confederation and Mr. Ramiah Yogarajan of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
To end the year 2017 beautifully, the Eritrean Airlines began flights from and to Asmara-Cairo and Rome on December 9th giving broader choices to travellers.
Soon after, a new Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Diagnostic and Operation centre was inaugurated at Orotta Referral Hospital in Asmara. The project, worth 15 million Nakfa, was a partnership between the Eritrean government and the German MEDCARE association.
As part of the ongoing work on developing renewable energy, a 2 megawatt solar power plan was installed at Adi Halo, Dubarwa subzone, led by E-Tech. The Manager of E-Tech, Major Aklilu Habtemariam, said that there is a plan to upgrade the solar power to 4 megawatt in Adi Halo while similar projects are ongoing in Kerkebet, with 8 megawatt, and in Gergera with 4 megawatt.
The year ended with members of the diaspora in various countries having meetings. The community in Holland met under the leadership of the Eritrean Ambassador to the EU and Benelux countries, Mr. Negassi Kasa. Likewise, Ambassador Saleh Omar met with the community in Angola while the Charge d’Affaires at the Eritrean Embassy in Israel, Mr. Solomon Kinfe, gave briefings to nationals in Beersheba regarding their role and contribution to Eritrea and the importance in strengthening organizational capacity and unity among members of the community.
We have now entered a New Year, 2018, and looking back at last year’s achievements and challenges is key to understanding the path Eritrea is taking this year. Let’s fill the 365 days with success, peace, harmony and a healthy Eritrean society.