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Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Wednesday, 22 November 2017


Celebrating Eritrean Independence Day in London 2017

Q & A on Eritrea

Ruby's work is focused on Business and Human Rights. She retired as a Partner to focus on her work as a non-practicing solicitor, consultant and accredited mediator. In relation to Eritrea, her work focuses on Business Ethics, Responsible Corporate Citizenship and Stakeholder Engagement.
Q: what are your Perceptions of Eritrea?
  • The narrative on Eritrea is distorted and unbalanced, especially in the mainstream media and at times premised on "fake news". Only a few people, largely activists, are granted a platform to speak on Eritrea. Activists generally carry out good work if this is used as an instrument for subversive political and geo-political agendas. Some activists have a desire to defend human rights and ensure that they are protected by the Eritrean people, while others seek unwholesome agendas such as regime change through subversive means. Further, many of the human rights groups and activists that engage on Eritrea priority and focus on civil and political rights on socio-economic or cultural rights. An example of the government's exemplary work in the area of ​​MDGs and now the SDGs. Civil Political rights are fundamental; however, in the context of such a war, poor and developing country, the real and immediate needs and priorities must be understood in order to understand Eritrea and importantly engage constructively.
  • You can read and write about the international human rights reports, and you are entitled to the human rights, that is, if we are to truly represent and respect the human rights of the Eritrean people, otherwise she adds, we are viewing Eritrea through a western and arguably post colonial mindset and repeating our mistakes.
  • There is allegedly heavy migration and trafficking from Eritrea, however many claiming to be from Eritrea are predominantly from other countries suffering egregious human rights violations such as Ethiopia.
Q: International relations and foreign investment?
  • Sanctions are taking their toll on the Eritrean people and are not legally justified due to the lack of evidence of links with al-Shabaab. 
  • The UK government's involvement as a person on the UN's Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) is not a matter of tension in relations between Eritrea and the UK. However, the UK government has a good place in the Netherlands for the review of sanctions. The USA wants lack of evidence to be corroborated with a field trip by the SEMG. Suggestions that the SEMG should be allowed in the country are countered with the glaring fact, that there is no evidence to warrant such an inspection. No doubt wider geopolitical considerations are in place for keeping the sanctions in place.
  • With respect to the border dispute, Ethiopia has respected the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, this is not acceptable on our part, especially when we are espouse adherence to the Rule of Law.
  • Relations with the EU and other developing countries, with the President accepting credentials from a number of countries. The key issues of sanctions, the border dispute and portrayal of the country in the media must be addressed for real progress on engagement. The government's attitude towards foreign investment is to move away from traditional investment routes involving the World Bank or institutional lending at high interest rates. Eritrea has a strong desire to be resilient and stand on two centuries in contrast to other African countries that are seeing the negative impact of dependency and rehashed western economic development policies. This includes Ethiopia, which has been propped up by the USA and with disappointing results. 
  • As to the USA we remain hopeful that the policy will change to provide the space for constructive engagement and especially since the departure of Susan Rice and now the potential for Trump administrations proposed non-interventionist international policy for Africa.
Q: What are your views on Civil society and/or the opposition?
  • There is fragmented opposition, and it is primarily emotive and subversive. There is a need for better, fact-based engagement instead of sensationalism. 
  • There are very few NGOs operating in the country and many of them are focused on economic development. Eritrea is sensitive to the way in which political NGOs can be held for other subversive activities.
Q: The Business environment?
  • Transparency International (TI) ranks the country in the context of its Corruption Perceptions Index, however this is due to TI's rating criteria, rather than the actual evidence of corruption. I have spoken to a number of individuals including Canadian, Australian, British, Swiss and Italian businesses.
  • There is no transparency surrounding mining revenues albeit Nevsun Resources Limited publish their revenues. The government's criticism of this issue is a security risk especially in relation to its relations with Ethiopia, with regard to the government's not disclosing specific details on its intelligence / military / defense funding budget for security reasons.
  • There are a number of western companies operating successfully in Eritrea. These include Nevsun, Danakali, Andiamo, Chinese companies and Italian companies as well as Irish based NGOs.
  • Nevsun has 20 years of experience in the country, including 10 of which were in exploration. During this period high standards in mining were developed at the behest of and in conjunction with the Government of Eritrea. Nevsun has carried out a number of Human Rights Impact Assessments and has been established as a template for responsible mining and engaging the Eritrean Government's agenda to ensure a sustainable mining industry.
  • A company that wishes to be involved with the government must be direct and open about their agenda. Appreciate the context, issue of fair and balanced reporting and on ground reality, visit the country and meet with various ministers and undertake due diligence.
  • Care must be tasks with the term 'forced labor' and national service. Often readily used in the West, this can be misleading especially when so many Eritreans have completed the service as a character building / self actualising experience. However, what is of concern is that the EEBC decision has left the Eritrea relying on its key national resource, its people, to defend itself against Ethiopian instigated incursions and skirmishes. Hence the "indefinite" nature of the National Service. 
  • Nevsun has not experienced expropriation or change of contracts. Its project is a 60/40 equity share with the Eritrean government, a fairer distribution than is the case in other African and developing countries and the government is looking after its resources and people rather than illicit and corrupt practices prevalent in other countries.
  • The political situation is seemingly stable. A regime change could be an institute, especially institute on subversive agendas. There are rumors of a potential successor to President Afwerki.
Q: what's your experience of day-to-day reality in Eritrea?
  • The country is egalitarian; One does not see officials leading luxurious lifestyles.
  • Eritrea does not belong to any other African country and the Eritreans are resilient and extremely connected to the diaspora.
  • In relation to countries facing extremism, such as Yemen, for instance, it is peaceful and it has not experienced any form of religious extremism. 
  • Eritreans have suffered greatly and sacrificed much through the “long struggle”, the fight for independence, border wars and the recent skirmishes with Ethiopia. Every single Eritrean has been impacted by the struggle. This creates a subliminal and unsaid national consciousness as amongst its people - a strong nationalistic identity - the Eritrean psyche,. This is something, we in the West fail to understand.
  • Reporting in the media and the ground reality could not be diametrically opposed.
  • The UNDP has done good work through the MDGs, SDGs in terms of access to health, poverty reduction and the environment are tangible.
Q: what are the Relations with Ethiopia?
  • US foreign policy seeks to maintain regional stability by partnering with strategic countries such as with Ethiopia. Substantive funding has therefore been provided to Ethiopia. This has further polarized and harmonized relations between the two countries.
  • The system of national service has been maintained to fulfill the needs of the sovereign territory by placing soldiers at the border with Ethiopia. The West continues to fail to address the issue of enforcing the EEBC decision or removal of the sanctions which is going on. Eritrean people and crippling Eritrea's development as it would with any other nation.
  • There have been recently border skirmishes instigated by Ethiopia as a means of distraction from domestic political affairs. Both sides have suffered losses. Whether there is potential for a full blown conflict will depend very much on how we in the West are following the Ethiopia adheres to the EEBC and the removal of diplomas and diplomas. axis instead of utilizing an out of date divisive foreign policy.
  • I have not visited the Colluli project, which is further South. As a concern of the recent border skirmishes and impact on the Project, the key zones of contention are located closer to Asmara, including the Cassus Belli, the town of Badme. 
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