The inspiration for this book stems from a desire to contribute to the existing body of knowledge about Eritrea and the Eritrean people, both historical and contemporary, as well as to the internal debate on the future of Eritrea, from the perspective of an Eritrean freedom fighter. I had initially wanted to write about the Eritrean experience of self-reliance in waging armed struggle for self-determination and in the pursuit of peacetime reconstruction and development as a world-historic heritage of peoples fighting oppression, underdevelopment and poverty while aspiring to advance freedom, democracy and prosperity. Undoubtedly, the Eritrean experience embraces an array of commendable achievements offset by lamentable failures.
My preoccupation with the daily chores of life in public service delayed the realisation of my initial project. In due course, elements of the book gathered as a study on Nation Building, State Construction and Development in Africa: The Case of Eritrea. Published by the German Foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in April 2010, the study was presented to the Parliamentary Working Committee on Africa of the Social Democratic Party, Deutsche Bundestag (German Parliament), in Berlin on 6 May 2010. Since the situation in the new State of Eritrea has steadily deteriorated, failing the will of the heroes of the war of national liberation and thwarting the aspirations, hopes and expectations of the Eritrean people, the work eventually evolved into Eritrea at a Crossroads: A Narrative or Triumph, Betrayal, and Hope.
Coming out at the start of the third decade of Eritrea’s independence, the book seeks to shed some light on the fundamental disparity between the ideals and objectives of the historic struggle for liberation on the one hand, and the reality of independence, demonstrating the failed policies and practices of a dysfunctional government, on the other.
The greater part of my adult life revolved around the axis of Eritrea’s struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity. Set against this backdrop of lifelong engagement, the discourse portrays my own personal perspective enriched by primary and secondary sources, neatly sifted through the prism of an insider’s knowledge and insight. It recounts general events as they unfolded and particular ones which I lived through in a specific Eritrean setting during the armed struggle and after independence. This work addresses issues that have matured and become ripe for open discussion without compromising Eritrea’s national security (as distinct from regime security), the drive for internal change, or the safety of former comrades-in-arms and colleagues. I set these red lines for the work in constant commitment to the interest of Eritrea, to my former fellow freedom fighters, and to the ideals for which we put our lives on the line.
Eritrea at a Crossroads: A Narrative or Triumph, Betrayal, and Hope aims to stimulate informed political debate regarding the prevailing situation in Eritrea and the way forward for the country and its people. Beyond Eritrea, it is intended to contribute to the greater knowledge, deeper understanding and more rigours debate of the root causes and key drivers of the essential fragility of the prototype contemporary Africa state, as demonstrated by recent developments in North and West Africa, and to a better appreciation of the challenges facing its reconstitution. It is a sad commentary that, fifty years after the accession to independence that marked the end of the colonial era, the typical African state remains fragile, dysfunctional and irrelevant to the wellbeing of its citizens. Overcoming the malaise would require restoring its legitimacy, establishing responsible governance and building institutional capacity to deliver.
I am very grateful for several colleagues and friends who reviewed the text of various chapters and offered helpful comments. Avoiding mention in respect of their request, I deeply thank all of them anonymously. I am very grateful to my colleagues, Professor Stefaan Smis and Professor Joachim Koops of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels), and my friend Peter Alexiadis of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, for the helpful comments and advice. I am especially grateful to two compatriot friends and two former comrades-in-arms who, for the moment, will remain anonymous, for their review of the entire manuscript, valuable comments and suggestions. But any errors in fact, analysis or interpretations are my sole responsibility.
Special thanks for Joëlle Aflalo, always there for me in true friendship and constant support.
Last, but foremost, I am deeply indebted to my family. My sons Johannes, Abraham, and Azazi, and my wife Alganesh, provided vital inspiration and indispensible support. Alganesh’s constant advice, assistance and encouragement made the work possible.