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Views and Musings

1. Hizbi Eritrea: congratulations and the way forward…

Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to lift the nearly decade-long international sanctions on Eritrea. The news led to the outpouring of widespread joy and excited celebrations among Eritreans, both across the country and in cities around the world. I was in my hometown, Asmara, in maekel ketema (city center), with several friends and colleagues when the news first started filtering in. Banderas (flags) were quickly planted outside all shops and buildings, in public areas, on windows and balconies, and on many cars. People driving in cars excitedly honked their horns and passionately waved flags out of their windows. There was also a live outdoor concert held at Bahti Meskerem, the large public square. People of all ages came together to sing, dance, cheer, and celebrate the latest positive development for Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. Bright smiles and laughter were abundant and the atmosphere was one of extreme happiness and joy.

As I watched Eritreans proudly celebrate the lifting of sanctions and in the days since then, several thoughts have come to mind.

First, congratulations must go to the people of Eritrea – the soldiers, the youth, the civil workers, the elders, the farmers, and the mothers and fathers. This latest development can only be regarded as an undeniable victory for them. Do not forget that the international sanctions were just one part of the larger strategy devised by foreign adversaries to isolate and weaken Eritrea, hoping to cause its collapse, implosion, or submission. However, the people of Eritrea stood strong, never wavered, never flinched, and remained firmly committed to their core principles and values. Few could have withstood all that they confronted and overcame. They truly deserve the greatest credit and unreserved respect.

Second, it is quite interesting that, much like during the period shortly after Eritrea and Ethiopia first came to peace, in the days since sanctions were lifted there have been numerous analyses and comments outlining what Eritrea’s next steps ought to be. However, it is extremely difficult to overlook the fact that many of these comments and analyses emanate from those who for years strongly supported sanctions on Eritrea, even in the absence of a scintilla of supporting evidence, or who have regularly penned the country’s obituary, in various instances confidently predicting its ever-imminent economic collapse, looming state failure or disintegration, or announcing that it was definitely about to “blow” if not already imploding. The notion that those who contributed to years of injustice against the people of Eritrea or who were so abjectly wrong in their analyses about the country or the region should now somehow guide the conversation or dictate the path forward for Eritrea is beyond preposterous. To use a phrase from Shakespeare’s King Lear, “That way madness lies.”

Undeniably, Eritrea faces significant challenges. At the same time, however, Eritreans are not naïve. They are fully aware of the immense challenges ahead and the considerable work that lay in store. Eritreans, also, are not daunted. The fact that they have been able to withstand and overcome so much for so long serves as great inspiration and a reservoir of strength for the journey forward. And, as per Aeschylus’ maxim, “Suffering leads to wisdom.”

Of course, it should be noted that Eritreans are also highly welcoming and appreciative of any genuine help or support. However, do not doubt the fundamental fact that the future of Eritrea is in the strong, capable hands of the Eritrean people. They – and they alone – will be the ones to map their future and move the country forward.

2. Ensuring the rights of children: a moral imperative and something that just makes sense…

Earlier this week, on 20 November, International Children’s Day (ICD) was celebrated in many countries around the world. Through resolution 836(IX) of 14 December 1954, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be observed, “as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children.” It also recommended that the Day was to be observed as a day of activity devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the UN Charter and the welfare of children around the world. Additionally, the UNGA suggested to governments that the Day be observed on the date which each considers appropriate.

However, the date 20 November would stand out as important, since it marks the day on which the UNGA adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history, sets out a number of children’s rights including the right to life, to health, to education and to play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence, to not be discriminated against, and to have their views heard (UNICEF n.d.).

Ultimately, ICD challenges us to change the way we view and treat children. It reminds us that children must be approached as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

In the last edition of Eritrean Profile, articles by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Eritrea’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW), written to coincide with ICD, highlighted some of the significant progress that has been made in Eritrea to protect children’s rights and improve their welfare. In Eritrea, children are regarded as the country’s most important resource and considerable efforts are being made to build a country where every child is in school and learning, safe from harm or danger, and able to fulfill their potential. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly discuss two key reasons why those efforts to protect and promote children’s rights and welfare are so vital and must be continued.

First, protecting and ensuring children’s rights is a fundamental moral imperative. It simply ought to be done, since it is right and a value in itself. In addition, however, it makes socio-economic and developmental sense, with a considerable amount of research demonstrating that there are numerous benefits to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and welfare.

Take, for example, Eritrea’s significant investments in early childhood nutrition, health, and development. Not only do these efforts serve to promote and ensure various children’s rights, they are also critical in helping improve Eritrean children’s cognitive and physical development. Ultimately, this can lead to better educational performances, reduced susceptibility to illness, enhanced future productivity, and increased wages when children become adults. Of course, when more people are working and paying taxes, government revenues increase and the state has more to spend on or distribute to its people (e.g. developing infrastructure or providing social welfare). As well, investment in early childhood health and development has been shown to reduce crime rates, engagement in risky behavior, and the need for welfare (UNICEF 2012).

Another useful example is how, despite being a young, low-income, developing country, Eritrea provides free education for all children, regardless of their background. Not only does this help ensure that children’s fundamental and inherent rights to education are realized, it is also an important investment in the nation’s future.

For instance, better education status has been shown to be associated with lower disease burden, improved individual-level productivity and skill-sets, higher wages, and positive externalities on the whole society and economy. Furthermore, ensuring rights to education and equality by investing in girls to help them move to higher levels of education helps them to achieve greater lifetime earnings that can translate into higher GDP for the country. In fact, according to Richard Wolff, a respected American economist, “the single most important factor shaping the future of any economy in the world is the quality and the quantity of the educated, trained labor force it produces.”

As outlined in the insightful articles by the UNDP and the MLSW, Eritrea, despite facing many obstacles and significant challenges, has made considerable progress in protecting children’s rights and improving their welfare. At the same time, however, it is important to recognize that a great deal more remains to be done. Safe, healthy, happy, and well-educated children are the foundations of sustainable development and a bright future. In order for Eritrea to develop in a sustainable manner and establish a thriving, equitable society, it must work to ensure that the basic rights and needs of its children, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, are met

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