The other day I was just watching channel 4’s unreported world – how young Eritreans flee the country, cross the border to Egypt, end up smuggled to Sinai only to face more dangers as they make a dash to the Israeli border. Quite a heartbreaking documentary film!
I was in Juba two weeks ago and I can say that I saw another side of the Eritrean nature there. I do not know how it happened but a group of Eritreans are ‘controlling’ the Juba economy. That, without exaggeration, blew me away. They own the majority of hotels in the city, everything to do with construction work, water industry, restaurant, transportation and import export business and more. In the street I was staying I counted eight major hotels owned by Eritreans. The hotel I was staying at was owned by an Eritrean – it is called Star Hotel. I paid $130 per night for a pre-fab room! BTW, all the rooms are container-like pre-fabs or cheaply constructed rooms with corrugated roofs (they resemble small houses in Asmara). Guess who live in those hotels? SPLM army officials with 6-7 armed body guards - long term lodging. Literally, the hotels are like small army barracks.
The Eritreans I observed there were cliquish, befriended the SPLM generals, pay bribes generously (so I was told), smuggle in young Eritrean girls and so forth. Many of the electricians, carpenters, builders, contractors, engineers, plumbers ... all are Sawa (military camp in Eritrea) graduates! At one stage I saw over one thousand youngsters at one place partying – a totally Eritrean affair (with Eritrean music, food and all).
Where did the Eritrean businessmen get the money to start with? That is a big mystery!
Strangely enough no one speaks of politics – at least I did not hear one single comment about the regime back home. The owners of big businesses are ‘Eritreans’ who, I was told, haven’t severed ties with the government in Eritrea; I would say they belong to the ‘quiet’ group of people. I also heard an Eritrean Insurance broker, I think he is the manager of National Insurance Corporation of Eritrean (NICE) – by the name of Zeru Woldemichael, has set up an insurance company in Juba. Why?
One local person described the Eritreans as Mafiosi. They make quick money, lots of it, wire it to Arab countries, do not employ the locals, and their trading partners are none but other Eritreans in Uganda. It is all in the ‘family’. What I saw there, again, ‘blew me away!’ One really needs to watch what is happening there. Juba is being exploited to the maximum and the generals, who drive nothing but four wheel drives, are enjoying their cut. The majority of the population are left high and dry. I am very concerned ... that is instead of being proud of my countrymen who are raking sacks of gold in by the thousands .
I think the Eritrean government is behind this ‘gold rush’ operation.