Eritrea: Independence day reflections

Friday, May 24, marked the 28th anniversary of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia -Eritrea’s proudest and happiest moment when it finally threw off the shackles of colonialism once and for all. The memory evokes in us a sense of liberty and freedom, but as we learned from bitter experience independence does not equal freedom. While freedom is impossible without independence, one can have independence without freedom. On May 24, 1991, Eritreans did not become free. What happened then is simply a transfer of state power & its organs from one entity to another. In other words, ownership of the land called Eritrea and its administration changed hands from a foreign entity (the Derg) to a domestic one (EPLF). In fortunate countries, independence is quickly followed by an era of freedom. Unfortunately, it didn’t in Eritrea though for a while after independence, such a scenario had seemed possible when EPLF, firmly ensconced in power, solemnly declared:

“The people of Eritrea have forever altered the course of Eritrean history and launched a new phase in the struggle for democracy, equality and freedom” (Eritrea: Birth of a Nation, 1993)

It soon became evident, however, that the above were empty platitudes that EPLF never intended to honor. Far from fulfilling the above promise, EPLF/PFDJ/GOE launched a reign of terror that in terms of sheer brutality and savagery arguably surpassed the worst years of Derg and Haile Selassie regimes combined. Victims of occupation throughout their history, Eritreans are not strangers to suffering but in no period in their long history was their misery self-inflicted as was the case in the years after independence. Twenty-eight years after independence, Eritreans are still searching for the ultimate fulfillment of their aspirations. Alas, the day they commemorate territorial independence is also the day they commiserate the dictatorship that gobbled it whole. It is thus with a heavy heart and mind-numbing frustration that Eritreans reminisce this Independence Day anniversary while also lamenting the great opportunity that was lost in the “post-independence” era. Picture this for a moment:

Eritrea is free. Not just independent but also free. Gracious in triumph, EPLF has invited all Eritreans including former ELF leadership & fighters to return to Eritrea. Responding to the call and eager to serve the country they have longed for years, refugees & expatriates flock back to Eritrea flooding the country with talent, wealth, and experience. Eritrean government cedes power to a civilian government and an inclusive constitution is ratified & implemented. Trade, farming, and businesses flourish as never before. A new, vigorous, and healthy political debate rages on in the country, but all sides are unarmed. Citizens roam freely from one corner of Eritrea to the other secure in their persons and property. Parents bring up their children in peace and sleep soundly confident in the knowledge that their children will be there when they wake up. Carefree, teenage boys and girls prance about playing, learning, and blossoming into fine adults under the loving care of their parents. Independent and free, Eritrea breathes contentedly and is at peace with itself and its neighbors.

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This piece was orgianlly published in, an independent Eritrean news outlet