Date: Tuesday, 03 March 2020
Just today the news comes, reported by various Italian sources, starting from the main national newspapers, of six Italian teachers forced to forced quarantine once they arrive in Asmara , the capital of Eritrea. According to what reported in the various articles, they would have been forced to impose the quarantine even without coming from the contagion areas, that is the notorious "red zone". The complaint was made first by the UIL School for Africa, on behalf of its representative Rossana Di Bianco, who told how the six teachers, together with the son of one of them, were transported as soon as they arrived in Eritrea in a health facility outside the city, together with citizens of other countries, in a dilapidated structure and worse still in conditions of promiscuity.
The description provided by Di Bianco to Adnkronos is in fact the following: “On Saturday morning, on the plane coming from Italy there were six teachers and the son of one of them, returning from a week's holiday in Italy. Among them also the principal of the Italian school of Asmara, nobody from the 'red areas' of our country. According to what was established by the Eritrean authorities from February 29, our compatriots were blocked as soon as they got off the plane and transported by ambulance to a medical center outside the city to carry out the quarantine. A quarantine far from western standards ", because it took place" in a dilapidated structure, with three-bed rooms and one bathroom, with "rationed" water and in a situation of promiscuity with citizens from other countries. Besides, none of them were swabbed. " For these reasons, the UIL asked the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs "effective responses to the critical issues present in many foreign realities and that our school staff abroad is guaranteed the application of provisions on the state of quarantine that have no impact on dignity and on the fundamental rights of our compatriots ".
It is also true, however, that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs had warned the rights concerned, like anyone else, to postpone a possible trip or return to Eritrea, precisely because the current situation related to the spread of Coronavirus does not have such clarity as to allow safer choices or behaviors. The notice had been given with an e-mail which explicitly asked to extend the period of stay in Italy pending the situation to be clarified or otherwise improve, and in this sense it cannot be said that it was a rash idea or characterized by excessive alarmism.
Moreover, at this moment, many countries towards those coming from Italy are adopting protocols and treatments to say the least severe, often even just unjustified: they range from African countries such as Nigeria to Middle Eastern countries such as Israel to nations of Eastern Europe and others. So why should scandalize if Eritrea also does it, which, moreover, in the event of extensive contagion, would have to face that problem alone, without counting on anyone's serious or credible help, and with means that are still far from being considered infinite (and maybe even with someone's free irony)?
This does not mean that the Italian government has not made a mistake: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for starters, should have kept the extension of the stay of those teachers in Italy at its own expense, and at the same time activated constructively with the Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Italy and with the Eritrean authorities in Asmara to arrange their easy and safe return as soon as the situation has advised it. Failure to do so, in this sense, denotes a very serious unpreparedness and amateurism on the part of our government, even if in its partial defense we can also say that the internal situation of our country, always due to the invasive Coronavirus, slightly under pressure.
For the rest, Eritrea has made headlines in our newspapers for another issue of even more serious seriousness. In recent months, from Asmara, the news that the government intended to place the various religious structures under its control, starting with those active in education and health, has certainly raised and raised many concerns. It has been quite some time since the first news about it began to arrive, but obviously it is still being talked about . Having followed the history of this country for years, and having also summarized it, albeit briefly, in a small monograph which was already published several years ago ( "Eritrea, Avant-garde of a New Africa"), I know that it is certainly not a novelty but that as usual we want to interpret it in a malicious and interested way.
As soon as it became independent in 1993, Eritrea had to defend itself from the attempts of Osama bin Laden's men, stationed in Sudan, to penetrate its territory to establish a new base and a new cornerstone that would become the theocratic state they had always wanted. The country, still very fragile and weakened by a thirty-year war of independence against Ethiopia, managed to reject the guerrilla war which was an anticipation of what would be seen years later in countries such as Libya or Syria, or in areas like Sinai, the Caucasus or the former Yugoslavia. The defeat suffered on that occasion by al Qaeda forced the latter to head to Afghanistan and the tribal areas of upper Pakistan, where he found the protection of the Taliban who in the meantime in Kabul had replaced the Mujaheddin.
Always a very short time later, Eritrea rose to the headlines of the international news for the measures taken against Jehovah's Witnesses and extremist Christian groups who did not recognize the authority of the State, endangering their security at a time when the international encirclement to his detriment was beginning to get stronger and stronger because of his economic policy opposed to opening up to the International Monetary Fund and even the war with Ethiopia was now a fact.
These episodes showed how, in Eritrea, safeguarding the secularism of the state and of society was considered a value to be defended at any cost: in a country made up of nine ethnic groups and different religious denominations, this imperative should be more than understandable and not need then further explanations. No ethnic or religious group should ever have a predominance over others, to the point of making themselves coincide with the state.
The case of the Catholic Church, and likewise of the Coptic one, was therefore inevitable. In Eritrea, health and education must be for the benefit of all, the right of all, and not only of a particular ethnic or religious group. In this sense, the authority of the State over the institutions responsible for providing these services is fundamental and must not be judged negatively, because moreover this has always been the case in many European countries and that also many people and political groups, in the our Italy, in turn, complain (while complaining, at the same time, because Eritrea does, when instead they should consistently with what they profess to applaud).
Moreover, right now Eritrea, like many other countries starting with those of the Horn of Africa, is experiencing an important challenge against a historical cataclysm, one of the well-known "biblical plagues", or the arrival of locusts . For a country that has the utmost care about obtaining and safeguarding food self-sufficiency, the one against locusts is a war that is anything but to be taken lightly. In this sense, a way to find or improve dialogue with Asmara could be, for us Italians and Europeans, to provide help on this issue.
It has been noticed, for example, that the best weapons against grasshoppers are not pesticides, but those of biological, natural type; China, which saw grasshoppers also appear in its innermost region, Xinjiang, not by chance resorted to ducks, putting a hundred thousand of them on the track. It is believed that a single duck, a very robust animal, can eat even more than two hundred locusts in one day. Introducing the ducks extensively and massively also in the Horn of Africa could provide help, even if we are talking about an animal that still needs a quantity of water and therefore cannot be introduced in too arid environments, as instead there is they are both in Eritrea and Ethiopia or Somalia. But, where it was actually possible to introduce them,
In short, if we want to regain an estimate by Eritrea (after the promising beginnings of 2018, when Prime Minister Conte and the then deputy minister Del Re visited Asmara, Italian-Eritrean relations have stalled again, fueling other unexpected disappointments), perhaps it is also appropriate to come up with some good ideas and to make honest and concrete facts follow beautiful words and good intentions.