The Regime Has Betrayed the People,
and Stolen Money and the Future
Interview: Amb. Andebrhan W Giorgis with Paolo Lambruschi, Avvenire, Milan, 19 July 2016.
This retranslation by Eri-Platform corrects the false claim ascribing that Eritrea hosts Israeli military bases.
A Tigrinya ትግርኛ translation is also available.
Opponent: Former member of the ruling Front, Welde Giorgis argues that the exploitation of the gold mines and potash would kick-start the economy but nobody knows where the money is going.
The former Ambassador: the dictator, complicit in human trafficking
A young State, robbed of its mineral resources and its future by an oppressive regime. The iron-clad grip of Eritrea’s one-party State has pushed away an entire generation. Causing, over many years, a biblical exodus towards the EU and the US, which has had a very high cost in human lives. Andebrhan Welde Giorgis, knows from the inside the secrets of the small and most closed African nation, with the highest rate of migrants in the world relative to its population size of nearly 5 million inhabitants. A founding member of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the single ruling party for 25 years, Welde Giorgis was a member of the Central Committee from its founding until he disassociated in 2006 while he was Ambassador to the EU. He was previously President of the University of Asmera and Governor of the Central Bank. Today, he is a professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Recently, he published a book “Eritrea at a Crossroads” that recounts the history of the country until independence, and the post-independence ‘betrayal’ of the tyrant, Isaias Afewerki.
“I was always inspired,” he says, “by the vision of a free, democratic and prosperous Eritrea and believed the vision achievable after winning independence, now a quarter of a century ago. Then the situation deteriorated: 2001 saw the imprisonment, without charge or trial, of the most prominent Front leaders and senior government officials and journalists. No one knows their whereabouts or their fate. Today, Eritrea is in a situation that is the exact opposite of what we fought for. We have a dictatorship instead of a democracy; and increasing and deepening poverty, affecting everyone, instead of prosperity. So, in 2006, I decided to dissociate from the government that has regimented our society and betrayed our people’s aspirations.
The EU is worried of the incessant migratory flow from Eritrea, with the average age falling. Why are children 12-13 years old, fleeing unaccompanied, risking their lives?
Due to the deterioration of the quality of education at every level, the youth do not have the opportunity to study and prepare for a future. Universal military conscription was intended to last a year and a half as per the Proclamation. It has, however, degenerated into indefinite active military service, with conscripts paid a stipend of about 15 dollars a month, which is tantamount to modern-day servitude. They are denied the right to proper education and normal family life.
Society is subjected to strict controls; the judicial system is dysfunctional; the Special Court, which is packed by people who have no legal training or rudimentary knowledge of the law, has replaced the High Court.
All power is concentrated in the hands of the President, who has become a tyrant. The national economy is controlled by the Front and the local media owned by the State. The regime has turned Eritrea into an earthly inferno, unliveable for the great majority of its people. This situation has forced entrepreneurs, professionals and the youth to flee the country en masse. That is why we witness young people, including children, fleeing the country at grave risk to their lives, facing death from dehydration in the Sahara Desert; drowning in the Mediterranean and Red Seas; falling victim to unscrupulous human traffickers and organ harvesters in the Sinai Peninsula; etc.
Who are the friends of the tyrant?
The reality is that the tyrant has no friends. He has expedient alliances with certain regimes in the region, which provide him with some assistance. These are mere marriages of convenience.
In recent years, Asmera has decided to exploit its mineral wealth. Does this not suffice in guaranteeing development?
Certainly, Eritrea has relatively rich mineral deposits, including gold, copper and potash whose revenues could, if properly utilised, kick-start the economy. The mines are operated by foreign multinationals. The Colluli project would extract potash in Denkel in a joint venture between South Boulder Mines, an Australian mining company that owns 50 % share, and the Eritrean National Mining Corporation (ENAMCO). Nevsun, a Canadian company, has been operating the Bisha Gold Mines in the west in a joint venture with ENAMCO. National service conscripts have been employed in the mines without due compensation.
Furthermore, neither the Ministry of Finance nor the Central back knows where the revenues from the mining sector end up. Only Isaias and one of his cronies know about it. There are reports that the money is stashed away in individual accounts in Dubai, China or Malaysia. We need evidence to ascertain such reports. In addition, there is no published budget and no official information regarding the state of the country’s public finances, government revenues or expenditures.
Is the regime involved in human trafficking as accused by the UN?
Nothing happens in Eritrea without Isaias’ knowledge or permission. He has set up a network of spies that provides him with detailed information on everything that occurs in the country. There are many eyewitness accounts and testimonies of people being transported from Asmera to the border with Sudan in vehicles bearing government and military license plates without inspection at the various checkpoints along the way.