Analayse Asmara There is something surreal about Asmara.  It’s as if it should not have been there in the first place and feels like it was there forever.  It has a tragic history of being hijacked by anyone who set their foot on it… that goes for Eritrea too. 

Why does each and every episode of its history end in tears?  You figure that one out for yourself but I am of the opinion that generation upon generation of brutalisation has rendered its capacity to recover almost impossible.  Just like Asmara, most Eritreans have difficulty trying to locate why they are where they are.  In other words, every generation that takes ‘residence’ begins from scratch (just like Eritrean fighters always used to say) to gradually repeat whatever went on and on – say 25 years earlier.  All you need to do is see where half of the population ended up with no hope of return and those who do seem to be leading a double life. 


Referring to that twister of ‘identity and identification,’ a good friend who read Analyse Asmara – Part 1 rephrased that by saying, “Your perception of yourself is different from the way other people see you”.    

If Asmara has lost its own reference point – or, its centre of gravity – does it not, somehow, reflect on the current state of Eritrean identity?  Is instability part and parcel of its heritage?  Is that why its incessant and off-centre identification so emotionally charged to the extent that Eritreans, however hard they try, end up dancing to displacement?  Why are they so alien to compromises and perpetually unable to sustain a reconciled state of nationhood? 

Why has emigration or exile become the norm at the expense of abandoning whenever one has it right under their nose and only to wish they were back where they used to be? 

There is always a social/cultural cost to be paid for migration and that is where the rift opens and we all begin to see other mirrors.  Whenever resources (of material and social kind) at a point of origin are rendered useless and an unsuspecting destination is flooded by a massive intake of migrants or emigrants, there will always be a shift in the balance of power at both ends.  However, resource is there forever in all its forms.  But when there are no mechanisms of maintaining a degree of fairness and consistency in the viability of the rule of law in human societies, there is bound to be an imbalance of sorts that usually cuts across the whole social strata accompanied by violence and invisible injustice. 

Out of the blue, a psychological gulf did materialise in Asmara in the ‘40s and ‘50s when the Italians left in droves.  When the previously powerless rural migrants suddenly acquired properties and jobs they could only dream of, they did feel the power surge.  They took over Asmara in their tens of thousands, became business men and owned whatever they could put their hands on.  Property was affordable and jobs were everywhere for the taking – just the exact opposite of what is happening around the world right at this moment. 

This is our country, our land and our city!  That sounds like the slogan of that era.  They must have felt the glow in their bloodstream… let alone in what they saw.  It probably looked like a peaceful transition from a colonised state to an early stage of a free market economy over a period of ten short years.  They never had it so good. 

How can one accommodate or internalise a new urban identity with a loaded rural background running in one’s veins?    

The easy way out was to take a short cut.  They chose not to identify with it [the rural element] by denying or eliminating traces of one’s make-up or upbringing.  Anything that ignites unpleasant memories of the perceived ‘backward’ culture has to be shunned, ignored, laughed at and downgraded to a level of insignificance.   

Listening to the generation that was born and brought up in Asmara in the ‘40s and later, one can tell that so much negativity has been absorbed on countryside values or style of living. The trend was to push oneself to aspire and indulge in being ‘urbane’ or mutate to a newly manufactured Asmarino.  Denial became the entry fee or a way of life for the new generation and, sixty years later, it’s happening all over again in a totally different mental setting. 

What an upgrade and to what kind of software?   

Asmara became the Disneyland where everyone headed and pretended all was well… a happy-go-lucky kind of attitude was in vogue.   

Instead of combining the redeeming features of a rural lifestyle and probably be taxed for it for the advantages acquired for a new style of living, putting a mask of an urbane persona became the dream ticket to a new heaven.  It’s really not that different from changing the background set in a theatre play.  All of a sudden, one absorbs a different and magical aura – similar to experiencing a conversion ‘on the road to Damascus’ – from a pagan or a heathen mindset to a brand new ‘religion’ in lightning speed. 

Now and in real time, we have a new breed of ‘Eritreans’ with a double citizenship status under their belt, a dubious character on their shoulders and with Eritrea as their natural holiday resort in mind.  They even behave as if it is their rightful property.  They are the new ‘converts’ for whom the idea of Eritrea has become a revelation of the 4th kind where the nation state and religion are one. 

Has it?  Would you kindly analyse that? 

If you can manage to inject – with very few words and after hours of hard talk – down their ears, their brain would switch to a denial mode and they would say, “All is well and you (whoever you are) are being over concerned”.  They behave as if they have gone blind, deaf and brain dead.  They don’t have the slightest idea that their own parents or grandparents did the same thing decades before.  Let’s not forget that long before Asmara ‘occupied’ by Asmarinos, Eritreans of old used to describe Italians with that kind of venom.   

That would probably serve as circumstantial evidence as to why ‘colonisation’ as such is not really the main cause or culprit of injustice and racism is not as easy to decode in black and white.  It’s all about the colourful lies we propagate to fool or convince ourselves into believing or justifying that whatever we are doing now is right and just… till death do us part.   

The burning and global issues that are currently under inspection can be grouped within the following key concepts: liberty, justice, global economy, sovereignty, resources and their equitable distribution, regional peace and environmental sustainability.  The outrage on injustice always hits the roof when practices behind these concepts are not applicable, at fault or not addressed in a way that normalises relations within a community of cultures, among peoples or nation states.  But that is another story for Part 3 of Analyse Asmara that will question fundamentals of the emotionally loaded ‘armed liberation’ of Eritrea and its aftermath. 

Life begins now or so they thought 

Rural based cultures have a long history of self-reliance.  Nation states don’t.  That is why Eritrea uses that slogan while denying the origins of where it came from.  For better or worse, they have survived centuries of hardship and good times.  They developed cultures, languages, social practices and even a legal system that worked for them with the minimum resources (in comparison to what some individuals own these days) they had, a way of life that survived through all sorts of deadly trials. 

The city is not the origin of society. 

“When I retire,” says an Eritrean who was in his mid-50s, “I’ll start farming business in the countryside.  I am fed-up of city life”.  That was in the 1970s.  And guess where?  Asmara of course!  He never made it back to Eritrea itself.  He ran out of time.  The social/political environment wasn’t conducive for him but he wouldn’t have been able to figure out why he couldn’t. 


Only because his next generation were starting life from scratch… all over again! 

Where?  In the city!   

And in that new context, cultural values – from traditional religion to an agricultural mode of living – became suspect of being backward or rural-oriented.  Migration was not only physical.  It drove some to delusions of civilisation within the confines of their delimited acquisition or, shall we say, inheritance. From there on, the urge took root for a desperate search to hang on to a memory of trying to figure out why your feet should be covered in synthetic socks (not even cotton) before putting the shoes on.  Either way, the shoe couldn’t quite accommodate the foot.  

Maybe that could be the reason why the next generation migrated to the countryside to liberate their feet in plastic sandals and somehow brought it back to city centre of Asmara. 

Ignored values 

Back in the late 1970s, young boys and girls were rejoicing soon after they heard the news that the Eritrean Liberation fighters captured Mendefera, Keren and other towns and villages from the Ethiopian armies.  That was big news then… not that different from what people get excited about when they read/see the latest news about extraordinary achievements… like… take your pick.  There are too many of them these days. 

It’s reported that a mother who witnessed such a childish celebration told her kids to shut up and think again.  She said, “The Ethiopian soldiers have mothers as well”.  There was silence – not that they understood what she was trying to say but they just held back their outburst all the same.   

If that is what a mother is capable of, it just shows some women are probably more endowed to build bridges among peoples of traumatised societies.  Men are generally good on the physical plain and that they are built more prone for war, combat and constructing bridges for the same end.  It has to be acknowledged that different societies have different modes of address in these kinds of disturbing experiences. 

By the 1980s, it is claimed that 30 percent of Eritrean fighters were women.  What are the chances of recovery for the next generation?  Now we know - the higher the number of women in combat, the lesser the chances for a future generation to stand on its own two feet. 

On top of that, all one has to do is discourage or downplay the idea, practice and level of education.  The less people know, the easier they submit to manipulation.  At best, all one has to do is provide the minimum stage of awareness with a series of manipulated information… the whole purpose being to stretch time to infinity and reduce knowledge to ignorance

The fundamental flaw of the Eritrean liberation is that it was served under the code of silence and discouraged education or those who were educated.  No wonder the current Eritrean national media serves the same old god of truth – the one and only truth – of total control.  Wherever and whenever it is on air and propagated with vengeance, there will be a number of truths that will rest buried under. 

The irony is that it’s all in the name of those who died – the guarantors of security for those in power. 


Displaced centers and dislocations 

It is possible that Eritreans experienced displacement within their own confinement long before the word ‘exile’ became a popular currency. 

If we can just scratch the surface and look carefully at the recurring events in the history of Eritrea, they can be grouped into four main categories: conflict, displacement, euphoria and denial – CDED – but not necessarily in that right order.  It inevitably throws the whole idea of the Eritrean project (a holiday destination to some and a prison compound to others) to another level of debate: how to get out of such kind of predictably unpredictable seasonal dislocations? 

In the 1940s, a superiority complex (call it euphoria, if you like) must have developed in the minds of the new ‘Asmarinos’ [residents of Asmara] that gave way to a false sense of security which, in turn, put people from a rural background under extreme pressure to change or lose their capacity to engage in a meaningful engagement with their newly acquired bonanza.   

Can you imagine how difficult it can be to relate that kind of exposure for the first time?  All one has to do is play dumb, make up stories and pretend what one isn’t or wasn’t to get some status and earning potential and have it all… there and then.  It was hard work alright but those where the good old days – some would say. 

During the 50 years of Italian occupation, the two main paid ‘professions’ that were available for Eritreans were being a soldier (or some sort of law enforcer) and a house keeper.  And as of the ‘60s and ‘70s and in the name of ‘Liberating Eritrea,’ those two ‘vacancies’ were the dominant occupations one could get – in the countryside of Eritrea.  The soldier (fighter) was in the wilderness fighting for free while a huge number of Eritreans abroad (mostly women) were working as house keepers footing the ‘liberation’ bills at the expense of their own families and their future. 

History loves to repeat itself.  Does it not? 

As it always happens, again and again, those who had ‘superior’ ambition took the ‘shaky’ but temporary reigns of power to dominate and oversee the management of human resources and dispense justice at will. In tune with that communist ideology of new and imposed value systems – let’s ‘civilise’ the countryside, liberate the nation and invade the city – became the brand new motto of the new Eritrean generation of that period and all they had to do was migrate to the rural areas to fight and give hope for the next generation and come back to fulfill a dream.   

These were young people who couldn’t even grow their own food and it was in tune with so many other peoples of the planet undergoing violent change.  If you weren’t part of that trend, you would be seen as an outsider and a coward.  On the other side of the fence, there is a mushroom of a new army of religious ‘soldiers’ who show no sign of tiredness and hell-bent on converting any moving life-form.  If you are unwilling, then you are doomed.  “God be with you but that it’s highly unlikely,” they would say. 

The road to hell is a one way street with two lanes and whichever choice you drive, you end up being lost in space.  Somehow, it felt like not worth living in the present and it became worth dying for the after-life or for a free Eritrea. 

Well, there you have ‘the righteous’ and ‘the leftist’ unable to reconcile on anything.  One says, ‘we are not of this world,’ while the latter were convinced that the world is flat as far as their eyes can see.  Those in between were ignored for good and reason went to sleep. 

Looking back, it is easier to see that history is not an outsider at all.  It is what we have done on playback – except that it’s told by someone else and it’s as if we were not there in the first place.  How weird is that?  Could it be that we were powerless to do anything or probably overwhelmed by it all?  Is the same thing happening right now – a repeat of the same cycle? 

It is not that different from what is happening with some ‘Eritrean’ youngsters born or bred in the Western world who may be unable to figure out what their parents in Eritrea were going through over the last 50 or 60 years.  Just like their own parents of the ‘50s and ‘60s, most of the Asmarino-kind would only expose or familiarise their children to the superficial countryside elements – typically the food type, the traditional dress and the dance.  Unfortunately, the language is too difficult to transmit and that is exactly where the fracture is.  Where there is no sensible communication or miscommunication, there is bound to be a massive misunderstanding.  Lost in translation doesn’t even get that close. 

How deeply inorganic could it go? 

The ‘liberation’ fighters who joined the armed struggle from ‘urban’ areas for the independence of Eritrea had to give up their socks and shoes and settle for plastic sandals only to lose their lives in the process.  The rural mindset that was dying hard to be ‘urbane’ was matched by the city slickers trying to revolt against parents who suffered a psychic gulf only to pass it on yet again to a new generation that was at odds with its heritage – like driving on a road where the traffic is heading the other way for the wrong reason.


Another trauma started all over again along a different groove.  

Soon after the de-facto independence of Eritrea in 1991, the ‘liberators’ swarmed Asmara (just like their parents in the mid-40s) with their Kalashnikovs and post-traumatic disorders and took over the city as if they had the right to be there from time immemorial.  The road to Asmara has always symbolised the long trek to paradise, a promised land and the whole bloody idea of liberty.  Now, nothing could stop them from having whatever they wanted or missed.  This is the perfect time to enjoy ‘life after death.’ 

So let it be! 

In retrospect, no precaution was taken to manage the mixing of these ‘die-hard’ survivors with civilians all over Eritrea.   

These soldiers should have been given support to help themselves recover from a traumatic ordeal.  The government had the option to set up a programme in which the fighters could have voluntarily participated in psychological rehab where they could recover their lost selves to a certain degree.  All that was offered by the Government of Eritrea was cash… ten thousand Nacfa [Eritrean currency] for each fighter for all the time spent fighting.  That was around 1994.  In 2009, it would amount to not more than $500.00.     

“Thank you for all your troubles but no more demands or questions!  As of today, you are on your own... bye bye”.  That was the message from the Government.  Most of the fighters took the money and kept their mouth shut.  But there were others who are not yet acknowledged for even being existing… let alone being recognised or compensated. 

On another front, after Eritrea became a nation state, Eritrean migrants from urban or rural backgrounds and who somehow managed to flee the conflict flocked back to buy properties or establish a business in Asmara.  Probably millions of dollars have been lost in such ventures simply because the Government of Eritrea has discovered the weakest link to bleed a severed artery and bank on a long buried trauma – a homesickness that won’t go away. It [the government] is so heavy handed in demanding expatriates to fulfill so many ‘legal’ requirements in terms of taxes and ‘identity’ documents in an extremely inefficient management system that eventually discouraged those who were potentially capable of contributing to Eritrea’s future development.  Not even those promising investors from the western world were spared.   

The internal bleeding is still going on unless a remedy can be found. 

The physical or mental migration to Asmara is one of major sources of ailments and refusal to acknowledge or appreciate a rural or agricultural root is one of the deadly bacteria by which the trauma is propagated and sustained.  How many Eritreans living abroad understand the underlying concept of taxation and its function in maintaining social order in Asmara, the smaller towns and the countryside as a whole? 

Thousands of Eritrean migrants pay a voluntary (or revolutionary) 2% tax of their earning to the Government of Eritrea through their embassies abroad.  Heaven knows where that money was and is still being spent.  Most of them don’t even have the common sense to ask simple questions.  

What do we get for 2%?  A name on a register, perhaps!  Or is it just blind loyalty and ignorance just like in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and so forth? 

Masked identities 

Eritreans have migrated virtually everywhere but are still in a state of hiding or incubation.  Most claim to be proud of their country of origin.  They honestly believe that it fought 30 long years of armed struggle in the name of social justice.  Almost two decades later, “It will take time!” they say when there is actually nothing to show for it.  It’s easy to see the systemic injustice that materialised after all the fighting but hard to locate the justification.   

However few in number, these masked identities have been so deafening in their act of denial (and still are) despite their negative effect on securing the justice for which (according to them) thousands gave their lives.  Whatever vested interest they have (although relatively evident), we’ll eventually see for real. 

The Eritrean identity is a new mask by which these new breed of Eritreans put a mask to identify and associate themselves with Eritrean ‘martyrs’ or the long forgotten ‘sacrificial lambs’ and it somehow cleanses their ‘sin,’ their presumed absence or doubly neglected negligence, wash the guilt and excite a dead conscience to absolve themselves.  All one has to do is light a candle once a year in their name and one is cleansed – all in the name of the unknown dead… done. 

Where else can I invest my money now? 

Asmara has become a collection of new home buyers, tenants, landlords, evictors and speculators.  The trend began a couple of years after independence (1993) and the numbers are stabilising now or probably going downhill.  A tax-evading Eritrean in Diaspora is the new home-buyer – an off-shore investment for a second home.  No wonder the Government of Eritrea acts more like a stingy landlord than a fair distributor of national wealth.  They all look alike anyway. 


It’s the age-old sentiment of owning the dream house in Disneyland.  Just like the fathers or grandfathers of the ‘40s and ‘50s indulged themselves when they swarmed Asmara, the current generation of Eritreans are doing the same old thing immaterial of the oppressive government policies.   

It could be an obsession that can never be satisfied unless one acquires a base or owns a house or houses.  In such kind of unhealthy circumstances, it is probably a symptom of insecurity that only feeds itself by perpetuating injustice and supporting an unjust government that commands so much power to the extent of swallowing or confiscating any investment without any legal ground to justify it. 

So many Eritreans in Diaspora have lost their investments but very few have the courage to talk about it.  No wonder they feel ashamed and by not relating what really happened, they don’t realise they are committing yet another historical blunder that kills off hopeful prospects. 

Could it have something to do with the memories of basic living lifestyle they had in the rural areas or the sentiments of feel-good factors and the goodies residents of Asmara enjoyed without having to think that hard? 

There are a huge number of individuals from various corners who seem to have resigned into believing that the Eritrean project is a hopeless endeavour while refusing to acknowledge they had, directly or indirectly, contributed something in making it inevitable.  Too much brewing of emotions and less of common sense has been going on for some time. 

You can always tell. 

The real identities behind the mask that define Eritrea are out there in the countryside.  Unfortunately, they have been pushed over the cliff and relentlessly discouraged to positively identify with their heritage and build on it.    

Eritrea has been subdivided into zones or, more or less, into wind-direction indicators while Asmara sits on the central zone.  If whatever is happening goes on a bit further, the whole country might end up being labelled by Zone 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 – Asmara being ‘ground zero’ with all its historically fascinating buildings still in place.   The new chart or label was introduced by the Government of Eritrea with the intention to justify the more important ‘lack of identity’ and get rid of the age-old associations Eritreans have with their home counties and the reason behind being ‘national unity’.  Now, less and less Eritreans know who they are or where they came and are only interested in being refugees in other countries. 

Silencing Asmara 

No wonder Eritrea’s future, which always ends in Asmara, was shut down just a week after 9/11.   Together with the imprisonment of at least 11 high-level government officials who went public in demanding reform and called for change, all private media outlets were closed down on the 18th of September 2001.  A minimum of 16 journalists were put in prison within a few days.  In hindsight, the Government of Eritrea was fully aware that the international community wouldn’t be able to react simply because New York was the centre of global attention.    

‘Stuff happens,’ as they usually say without having to show the courage or the need to take responsibility.   

It hasn’t recovered since then. 

For all the wrong reasons, Asmara has become a holiday resort for the gullible and a corrupted heaven for those who would stop at nothing while local residents have no jobs, adequate food, water and electricity supply and, most of all, the security to feel at home in their own hometown. 

In a strange way, Asmara always catches or reflects the mood of Eritrea.  Whatever is in exhibition there, if one can really open his/her eyes and look through a magnifying glass, it would only be a matter of extrapolating the contours to the other regions in zones 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth.  But my friend Abdurahman disagrees.  He says that Keren, his hometown, could also serve as a forecasting model for what is eventually going to happen in Eritrea.  All you have to do is study Keren of the ‘70s, he says.  Given the chance, maybe more Eritreans would come out and say the same thing about their own towns and villages.   

To prove his point, Abdurahman related a story about what the Eritrean fighters did after they ‘liberated’ Keren from Ethiopian troops back in the late ‘70s.  Within a short period of time, he says, they [the fighters] established small businesses right next door to existing ones to the extent of driving a few out of business.   

I would call that kind of engagement another form of ‘occupation’ rather the historically applauded term ‘liberation’.  In that sense, the armed struggle for the ‘liberation’ of Eritrea could also be perceived as another ‘campaign’ to occupy Eritrea under the guise of liberating the people of Eritrea.  This time however, the ‘new occupiers’ were brothers, sisters and ‘fighters’ who were (or still are) more keen to take orders than question the motive or hidden agendas the leadership had in mind at that time.   

Further down the road, the villages gave their young men and women to the ‘liberation’ effort.  In the name of ‘national liberation,’ it gradually sucked the life out of every community its ‘armed struggle’ sneaked in.  What is happening on the ground, in the villages, towns and the capital Asmara supports that observation.  It serves as a pile of evidence, in a way, that this consistent and oppressive outcome has sustained the delusion of liberation that ended in less and less liberty for all.  The project of ‘self-reliance’ was nothing more but a byword for ‘pillage’ and endlessly recycled for the consumption of a select few.  

In other words, it should come as no surprise that Asmara is not the seat of power anymore.  It is the port of Massawa for now… the road to dictatorship in Eritrea was planted long before Eritrea became a nation.  That, in short, is the state of Eritrea… but there will more on the origins of Eritrea in Part 3.  

Identity crisis 

How is one generation different from or identical to a previous one? 

Growing up in a different environment should obviously result in a different identity and we shouldn’t ignore that the word ‘environment’ is loaded with all sorts of variables and influences that condense into certain forms of behaviour. 

Imposing and enforcing the one and only ‘identity’ at the expense of all the rest does go against the grain and invites, over the long term, an identity crisis and coercion.  

If you could post an advert offering a thousand dollars to an Eritrean who lives in Eritrea and is proud of their country at this moment in time, thousands would come to claim the prize in shame and leave the country in no time. It is another way of saying, not unlike most exclusive properties in Asmara; the country’s resources are up for sale – including its citizens – just like those young people who are going through the national service for an indefinite period are being used as slave-labour with little or no pay.  In addition to their military duties, they are called to work in all sorts of projects – from construction to passing security information.  It’s reported that quite a number of women (on military service) work as housekeepers and sex slaves for military officers… all in the name of national security.  

The idea of identity is safe when it’s capable of accommodating multiple others.  It requires respect for the other for its cohesion.  Any government that promotes and endorses a national policy on one grand identity at the expense of smaller ones risks community breakdown and, to say the least, should eventually prepare for a national meltdown or perpetual conflict among broken identities.  That is what the Government of Eritrea, if you can call it a government, is extremely good at.  It has managed to establish and prolong crisis of identities as a permanent fixture on Eritrean citizens in the name of national identity while invoking dead martyrs to stir up guilt and validate its own standing. 

It is a sick joke for the price that was and is still being paid. 

Those who are suffering from such kind of ‘identity crisis’ have, obviously, no intention or common sense to locate the causes and hence, not even ashamed to defend a corrupt government that claims self-reliance while sucking the blood out of poor and helpless people.  They have become multiples of one cloned from a frame of mind that equated the idea of national security to its own survival.  Whenever the one and only identity goes supreme, there is always a heavy price to pay. 

Where does Asmara fit into all these? 

When Thomas Keneally wrote ‘Towards Asmara’ back in the ‘80s, he wasn’t far from the truth.  Why he came up with that title is beyond me.  He was probably trying to articulate the road to power or that Eritrean fighters at that time were expressing so deep a sentiment about Asmara and kept their spirit up looking at a mirage in the wilderness of Eritrea.   

There could possibly be another explanation that transcends the liberation struggle and accommodates another insight. 

When the Italians occupied Eritrea, they looked down on the locals.  When the locals took over, they looked down on people from the countryside.  When the Eritrean fighters entered Asmara, they looked down on both – on the residents of Asmara and those from the countryside. 

But “Free Eritrea!” used to be the slogan that kept the liberation movement going.  Looking back, not many Eritreans could have expected what that ‘freedom’ had in store.  Is it not true that ‘freedom’ resides in realm of the imagination and perceived as the light at the end of a tunnel but is seldom that weightless when it shines.  It often has a blinding effect.     

Asmara is a place where one can close their eyes shut and assume ‘higher’ powers to look down on anyone of their not liking while being captivated by a glorious past that has no relevance in the present.  It’s a zoo of a kind – behind bars and without enough space to roam around.  No wonder Eritrea is often described, these days, as an open prison.  It’s the ultimate city of denial – a Disneyland where one cannot even afford to suffer from amnesia.  Maybe it has something to do with the air quality. 

That is probably the one last thing a person can say to evade responsibility.      

It wasn’t me! 

You can say that in Asmara but you have to produce an ID.  They call it the ‘walking paper’ and not the ‘working’ paper.  Even if you walk around for days, you find the work.  You would probably be imprisoned for walking with out a ‘walking’ permit.  Even the fish are unemployed. 

Can you imagine a population of 4 million and in a country with a thousand kilometres of coastline where a regular fish diet is not yet part of the main dish? It’s not even that popular when the Easter month of Lent comes to the highlands in March or April!  You can forget the fish for the rest of the year.  In short, there is seems to be no demand while the supply is so abundant behind the rhetoric or claim that Eritrea is a self-reliant nation whenever it [the government of Eritrea] feels like it.  

The government programme on fish industry began a few years after independence (1993).  Like all other projects, it was staffed with unskilled high level management team who couldn’t see the tree in the forest.  The main focus was on export.  Even that was on a minute scale.  The produce of the few private fishing enterprises was very low while their catch wasn’t bought on time.  Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries was incapable of approving an industrial storage space for frozen fish in addition to not being able to provide an efficient transport system from the Port of Massawa to Asmara on time for international flights to European markets.  What was left, if it could be delivered on time, was sold in local markets along the road.  Not much effort has been witnessed to make seafood part of the national diet and not much can be said about the fish industry either.    

But think about that again.  Eritrea is in need of desperate food aid and refuses foreign assistance while blaming the UN or the western world for not donating or showing some muscle to solve a deadly border conflict with Ethiopia for which the Government of Eritrea accepted responsibility for igniting the border conflict in the first place.   

Something must have seriously gone wrong somewhere. 

National security and sovereignty always come to the rescue as an acceptable ground of engagement when a mask of emotional memory is put on.  Some Eritreans take it as valid for whatever reason.  Referring to the 30-year armed liberation struggle, some argue or keep on daydreaming that Eritrea has a history of self-reliance.  Unfortunately, it is a short history with so many loopholes in it.  Should we not wonder then when part of the Government of Eritrea has taken permanent residence beside the sea but incapable of providing fresh fish from the Red Sea and secure the supply of food and set national policies and incentives to improve national health for the Eritrean population? 

Let’s not even raise the issue of salt either!  In terms of exporting salt, the Red Sea is probably the saltiest sea (after the Dead Sea) and Eritrea shares the most strategic location along with other few nations.  The salt mines of Massawa have seen better days during the Italian occupation.   

On another front, Reporters Without Borders reports that a high-level Eritrean government official and resident of London has been under investigation for crimes against humanity for sometime.  He [the Eritrean official] is reported to be using the National Health Service for free.  He can travel back and forth from Eritrea to Britain as he wishes and it is, of course, within his rights. 

However, whenever those same rights are extended to Eritreans or citizens in Eritrea, it’s a different story. 


Maybe we should not be surprised or shocked anymore.  All one has to do is go back to the origin of those kind of species.  

Scramble for natural resources 

Most African states, soon after they became independent nations in the late 1950s and ‘60s, got their theories of nationalism all scrambled.  They assumed and propagated that colonisation was the one to blame and used the race card, exploitation, religious affiliation and ethnic identity as justifications to control African peoples and resources.  But they [most African governments] eventually smarted up to realise that race, religion and ethnicity could be used, all over again, as the most convenient and handy tools to acquire more power and control ‘national’ resources.  All you have to do is cut through shades of skin colours, ethnic, regional attachments, affiliations to religious belief systems and, of course, stand beside or along lines of arbitrary national borders and sedimentary identity elements.  At a huge cost to their own people and themselves, most African governments eventually managed to establish a superhighway right to the hub of the resource base… the land and its mineral resources.   

Eventually, the primary cause to fight and restore the rights of the people on the ground was gradually ignored.  Land resources became more precious than the people.   

Every human spirit is part of that resource simply because it thrives in nature.  Unless we have something else in store, whenever the quality of the land, water or air gradually diminishes, we are bound to eventually feel the pain.  It’s as simple as that.  But ignorance is seldom put under scrutiny.  It’s always used, ignored or forgiven... or rewarded.  That is probably why education, knowledge or public information is usually given minimum attention.  It is less taxing to keep the people uninformed.  It serves the interest of the few. 

Some African governments are not working hard enough to address the unintentional or deliberate man-made ‘fires’ along their borders or neighbourhoods because they were basically designed or structured for short-term benefits some 60, 50, 40 or 30 years ago.  That is quite some time after so much fanfare on their independence celebrations.  Most have not yet fully recovered and Eritrea is not doing any better either.  

When the Government of Eritrea talks about self-reliance and that Eritrea’s precious resource is its own people, they are only trying to dig into some sentimental grooves that excite emotions in the hearts of people who tend to go blind or deaf and only to fail yet again from differentiating between the imaginary, the now and what is in store for the future. 

Asmara always does serve as that symbol… or himbol… for that never ending scramble of resources.  Once again, the people are told it is for their own benefit and forced to wait for...yet another day. 

Gabriel Guangul

14 April 2009

Related Analyse Asmara – Part 1