Foreword by Glenys Kinnock
In 1991, the Eritrean liberation forces marched into Asmera, the capital of Eritrea, ending three decades of a war aged against Ethiopia. Two years later, the triumphant freedom fighters conducted an internationally-monitored referendum, the outcome of which formalised Eritrea’s status as an independent sovereign state.
This was a time of hope and of anticipation of a better future by the people who, as I saw for myself when I visited Eritrea in March 1988, made extraordinary advances in education, childcare, medicine, and agriculture – and this was in spite of waging a relentless, brutal war.
I met many Eritrean idealists like Andebrhan, the author of this book – who subsequently has become a close and dear friend – whose life has been dedicated to promoting, and supporting, the people of Eritrea, and the promise which liberation offered.
After peace eventually came he and others wasted no time in formulating sound economic and social policies designed to guide rehabilitation and the reconstruction of the war-ravaged economy and infrastructures. The Government sponsored a Commission that, through a process involving the broad participation of the population, drafted a Constitution that established sound governance structures, and fundamental rights which had the potential to become the foundation of the country’s future laws and policies. Everything was, it seemed, in place as the Eritrean people anticipated, at last, a peaceful and secure future.
The tragedy is that the independence celebrations in May 1993 can hardly be further from what has become the reality of Eritrea now – where torture, arbitrary arrest and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, and association are the norm.
Elections have not taken place since independence in 1993 and the Constitution has not been implemented, and political parties are not allowed. President Isaias Afwerki has been in office for twenty two years – presiding over a country where access to justice does not exist and where there is imprisonment without trial.
The author of this book, “Eritrea at a Crossroads”, Andebrhan Welde Giorgis has lived through it all – the armed struggle, post-independence, and the profound disappointment which has followed. He had left Harvard University to join the struggle of his people for independence in the early 1970s and I saw how effective, committed, and courageous Andebrhan is when I spent time with him during the war, and later when he was the Ambassador to the European Union, and I was an MEP. He has an impressive record, which has shown his unfailing integrity, courage and devotion to the wellbeing of the Eritrean people.
“Eritrea at a Crossroads” is both a personal story and a unique exposé of the failings of a Government which has brought misery and suffering to its people. In the various leadership positions which Andebrhan has held in the post-independence Government, he has worked to build viable institutions and protect the fundamental rights of the Eritrean people. His frustration, regret and disappointment are evident when you read the chapters towards the end of the book. This is an insider’s personal story, and interpretation of events – which exposes how the country’s President, once viewed as one of a new breed of African leaders, went on to purge many of his former comrades, suppress dissent and civil liberties, and draw political power into his own hands. Now, as we know and as the author points out, the Eritrean people’s right to democracy, human rights and social justice are being rigorously denied.
This book certainly has helped me to understand more about the challenges facing Africa, and Eritrea, and provides much needed information about a crisis festering in Africa. It is a welcome and timely publication, and I trust will provide Eritreans with the evidence they need to hear about one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in the word.
Baronnes Kinnock of Holyhead