The Ramifications of COVID-19: Summer without Diaspora
In Eritrea, summer, extending from May to early September, is a season filled with annual national festivities that have a great value for Eritreans.
To mention some of the great events: the celebration of Independence Day (May 24) and Martyrs Day (June 20); graduation ceremonies for the various institutions of higher education, including Sawa; the welcoming and sending-off of students to Sawa; the Sawa youth festival and Expo national festival; the arrival of the Eritrean Diaspora; and the anniversary of the start of the Eritrean armed struggle (September 1st). The presence of the Eritrean Diaspora on these occasions adds unique color to the bright mosaic of the Eritrean culture.
In Asmara, summer is associated with the prevalence of the seasonal cactus fruit, beles, the Eritrean Diaspora and rainfall. The three come together to flood the streets of Asmara during summer. This summer, though, one is missing, the Eritrean Diaspora. Of course, they are only absent physically not emotionally. People have already felt their physical absence. Some are even tempted to say, “Can summer be summer without the Diaspora?” The three guests of summer – rainfall, beles and the Eritrean Diaspora have a great symbolic value in Eritrean society, and contribute to the country socially, culturally, and economically.
Due to the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, various occasions are not celebrated as usual. The streets of Asmara, the coast and islands of the Red sea, the mountains and plains of the countryside all yearn for the Eritrean Diaspora. This summer is passing without seeing the Eritrean Diaspora walking in the streets of Asmara with their friends and relatives. Asmara, included in the world heritage list, known for its serenity and beauty, is missing the presence of an important part of the Eritrean population. Every summer, the Eritrean Diaspora, particularly the youth, come to their home country to strengthen their bond with Eritrea and contribute to the ongoing efforts of national reconstruction. The Eritrean Diaspora have a strong connection with their country and their engagement in national affairs dates back to the days of the liberation struggle. Their direct and indirect social, economic and political contributions have played a great role in winning the struggle for independence, resisting the TPLF war of aggression, and overcoming the unjust sanctions. Providing all kinds of support to the motherland from long distances is a unique characteristic of the Eritrean Diaspora.
Covid-19 has helped the world in certain ways to see and understand the secret of Eritrea’s resilience and perseverance. The national strength of Eritrea emanates from its solid and united people who have a long tradition of i resistance against human made and natural disasters. Coronavirus has hindered the Eritrean Diaspora from making their usual annual visit of their homeland. However, their physical separation has not impacted their emotional attachment and nationalism.
It has become a norm among the Eritrean Diaspora to increase their financial and political support whenever natural or human-made threats are looming against the state’s national security. After the first case of Coronavirus in Eritrea was reported in March, Eritreans living abroad organized themselves to help the government and the people ameliorate the pandemic-related challenges. Their active and conscious participation has helped the government in making quick responses to cope with the horrible impact of coronavirus.
The Eritrean Diaspora have maintained a strong sense of belongingness and attachment with their home country. Their extraordinary participation in the reconstruction and protection of their country attests to their commitment and loyalty. The Eritrean Diaspora is an important extension of the people living in the country. When news of the pandemic was heard, Eritrean Diaspora professionals communicated their expertise to their fellow citizens in the country on ways to combat the virus. The national mass media, particularly the radio, served as a channel that connects Eritreans living inside and outside of the country to exchange their experiences and know what they are doing. The relationship between them and the shared national feeling they enjoyed is strong. Eritreans residing inside and outside of the country have a common understanding regarding the basic national issues such as the national security and unity. The ‘one people, one heart’ mantra is an expression that signifies the agreement of Eritreans on matters of national security and identity.
Through economic, political and diplomatic support, contributions for development projects, the martyrs’ fund, and now the Covid- 19 fund, the Eritrean Diaspora have reaffirmed their feelings of membership in the nation. These practices evoke a feeling of inclusion in the homeland. Even though the Eritrean Diaspora are living outside the territorial borders of the country, they are part of the imagined Eritrean community. I would like to provide the famous definition of a nation as proposed by Benedict Anderson: a nation “is an imagined political community” to help you view the particular fact of Eritrea through a universally accepted description. The Eritrean Diaspora, which constitute a considerable portion of the population, are part of this ‘imagined political community’ and they have labored assiduously for the security and dignity of this community.
Although their emotional attachment has been subject to international conspiracy for many years, the Eritrean Diaspora have always robustly resisted it. This robustness is driven in good part by Eritrean nationalism, which causes them to rally around the government. The conspirators have discovered this when their intrigues, intimidation and harassment failed to spur division and cut off the national cord of Eritreans. In an attempt to cut the life cycle of the coronavirus, Eritrea has implemented very strict measures of lockdown that have had promising results. To ameliorate the economic problems of the most vulnerable people, the Eritrean Diaspora is making significant contribution. The monetary contributions to the Covid-19 fund has no parallels. Medical workers living in Europe and America have given advice and lessons through various mass media outlets, and various Diaspora organizations raised money and sent important medical equipment to aid the healthcare system. These contributions reinforce the Diaspora’s membership and involvement in national affairs and give the local community and the government strength to control the pandemic. As a result of the coordinated efforts, Eritrea is the only country in the region with the lowest number of cases and no coronavirus-related deaths.
Eritrea is currently at war to protect the life of every Eritrean. All relevant government bodies, youth organizations and health workers are on the frontlines to contain the spread of the virus. The citizens at large continue to comply with the restrictive guidelines, in spite of myriad difficulties, to bolster the fight against the pandemic. According to my personal observations, during the last four months, remittances of the Eritrean Diaspora have increased tremendously; another hallmark of Eritrean innate traits of unparalleled compassion and solidarity with their fellow citizens.
At last, Eritrean nationalism has no borders. It serves like a glue to hold the Eritrean society living inside and outside of the country together. We have many stories that show that Eritreans are a kind of people strengthened and bolstered in times of difficulty. The participation of the Diaspora in the homeland affairs during critical times is unprecedented and will help us to establish a bright future. Physical separation has no power to endanger the emotional bond the Eritrean Diaspora have with their country.