(EritreaAt24 Series: May 14th) Eritrea: Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Eritrea is about to celebrate its 24th birthday. This is a country that has come about and is protecting its being against all odds. Prior to and after achieving its independence Eritrea has had to face so many challenges, some of which were directly related to its very survival as a nation. Neighboring Ethiopia’s acts of aggression and illegal occupation of its sovereign territory, UN sanctions imposed based on false charges; Ethiopia’s refusal for the past 13 years to fully implement the final-and-binding verdict by a panel of international jurists relating to the Ethio-Eritrean border; and, of course, the various measures of arms embargo taken against Eritrea by certain countries unilaterally and multi-laterally are examples of some of the major challenges that the relatively young African nation has had to face and is still facing.
Relentless efforts have been made by the Government of Eritrea and Eritreans in the Diaspora to meet these challenges head on. On one hand, official proactive diplomatic measures have been taken by the government, and on the other hand, Eritrean Diaspora communities have been conducting nonstop public awareness campaigns to counter a well-coordinated campaign of demonizing Eritrea by the minority regime in Ethiopia and its Washington lobby.
What is noteworthy in all of these is that Eritrea and its people have developed a distinct ability to turn challenges into opportunities. During the armed struggle for Independence there was no power to speak of that stood for the Eritrean people’s right to self-determination. While Ethiopia was being supported by 4 of the 5 veto-wielding powers of the UN Security Council, we were left to fight it alone. We faced the largest and most powerful army in Sub-Saharan Africa, led by highly decorated Generals educated in the best war colleges in the US, France, and UK, advised by the best military strategists of the Eastern Bloc countries, armed with the latest fighter jets, rockets and missiles the USSR could supply, and with thousands of napalm and cluster bombs in store courtesy of the Americans and Israelis, together with the fact Eritreans were outnumbered 1:10. For sure this was a huge challenge, but we changed it into an opportunity by capturing from and using the deadly enemy’s arsenal against the enemy and thus managing to single-handedly defeat Ethiopia and achieve our independence on 24 May 1991.
After independence, the powers that had worked hard to frustrate the emergence of Eritrea as an independent nation had known fully-well they could not count on the Eritrean Government to do their dirty business in Africa. As a result they propped up an unpopular minority regime in Ethiopia and worked hard to isolate and encircle Eritrea. They encouraged the lawless regime in Addis not to implement the final and binding EEBC demarcation decision so as to keep Eritrea on a war footing and hold It hostage. Furthermore, they imposed an illegal arms embargo to tie Eritrea’s hands behind its back with the intention of rendering it incapable of defending itself against another Ethiopian aggression. Their other sinister hope and plan was to force the Eritrean economy into collapse. These too were challenges, but they are being turned into opportunities owing to the efforts, resilience and long-suffering of the Eritrean populace at large and its youth in particular. Eritrea today has comparably better health and educational services, higher access to clean and safe drinking water, better road networks that cover the whole country, and is in a much better position to secure food for itself than all of its neighbors.
The very same anti-Eritrea powers are also hell-bent to drain Eritrea of its youth. They are committing naked aggression against Eritrea by encouraging, overtly and covertly, the youth to leave their country by promising asylum to every one who claims to be Eritrean. By working hand and glove with human smugglers and human traffickers, the Western enablers of Ethiopia are endangering not only Eritrean lives, but also other Horn of Africa citizens who want to pass as or impersonate Eritreans in order to get Asylum in Europe. This, too, is the latest in a series of challenges and certainly the current generation of Eritrean youth, like the generations before it, would change it into an opportunity.
If it was not for this Eritrean ethos of of survival by turning challenges into opportunities, and where challenges are taken as part of life that one should use as a springboard for opportunities, Eritrea would have been like its neighbors to the south, west and east -- failed states or potential failed states. Eritrea at 24, however, is independently and self-reliantly celebrating its being, growing more robust and stronger each year.
Happy Birthday Eritrea!