Tag Archives: Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front

Sport and Resistance: Lilesa’s Brave Stand for Freedom in Ethiopia

According to the late Nelson Mandela, the great South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, “Sport has the power to change the world.” It brings people together, offering unity and shared celebration. At the same time, however, sport frequently serves as an important outlet for social and political resistance. Specifically, for those suffering oppression, discrimination, and despair, sport is often so significant because it provides a vital means of retaining humanity, dignity, hope, and inspiration.

 

On Sunday in Brazil, as he crossed the finish line to take the Olympic silver medal after a grueling marathon race, Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms above his head. Later, at the conclusion of his press conference, Lilesa repeated the gesture in front of the world’s media. Although at first glance the gestures appeared somewhat innocuous, they were strong and courageous acts conducted in solidarity with the thousands of people in Ethiopia and across the world protesting against the Ethiopian government. Hundreds of anti-government protesters have been killed and countless others arrested by authorities amid the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. For months, hundreds of thousands of people from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups (primarily the Oromo and Amhara) have rallied to protest political marginalization and systematic persecution by the minority-led government. In Brazil, the young Lilesa, from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, not only won silver, he utilized his platform to stand up for justice and emphasized the underlying socio-political significance of sport.

 

For years, the banned colles castelleres (human towers) or trekking excursions and support for FC Barcelona were a reflection of Catalonian resistance against Franco’s fascistic regime in Spain, while support for Spartak Moscow was, at times, seen as a symbol of political resistance against the official establishment in the former USSR. Additionally, in Korea, football within the curricula of physical education created a platform for Korean resistance to Japanese colonialism (Numerato 2011: 109-110).

 

Similarly, in Eritrea, the most popular sport, cycling, became a symbol of resistance to Italian colonialism. The first sighting of a bicycle in the country was in the latter half of the 1800s in Massawa, having been introduced by the Italians. By the 1930s, clubs were being organized, and on 21 April 1937, the first race took place in Asmara. However, during this period, Eritreans were barred from races and clubs due to the segregationist policies of fascism. Not to be denied, Eritreans soon created their own competitions and formed their own clubs. Then, in 1939, a special “trial of strength” was organized by the Italian colonial administrators; Eritreans and Italians would compete together in the same race. In Mussolini’s Italy, sporting success was to embody the greater glory of the fascist nation-state, and the joint Eritrean-Italian race was expected to display the superiority of the colonial master. Instead, like Jesse Owens’ spectacular destruction of Hitler’s Nazi propaganda about Aryan supremacy in the 1936 Munich Olympics, Eritrea’s Ghebremariam Ghebru won the race and shattered colonial myths about Eritrean inferiority.

 

During the turbulent 1960s, in the midst of the growing black power movement, the civil rights struggle, and the anti-Vietnam war movement, Muhammad Ali, widely regarded as the best boxer ever, became a global symbol of resistance to racism, militarism, and inequality. He unapologetically raised troubling questions and forced society to come to terms with civil rights, race, religion, war, and imperialism, defying all convention and the US government (Rowe 2016; Zirin 2016).

 

“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong,” Ali stated forcefully. “They never called me ni–er.” With that, despite being at the peak of his career and understanding the implications, he refused to serve in the US Armed Services. Subsequently, he was stripped of his heavyweight title, convicted of draft evasion (facing a 5-year prison sentence), fined thousands of dollars, and banned for several years. While he would eventually make a glorious return to the ring, it was his strongly principled stand and unwavering activism that truly made him “the greatest” and an inspiration for millions worldwide.

 

In 1968, a year after Ali was convicted of draft evasion, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200 meters, made history at the Mexico Olympics by staging a silent protest against the continuing racial discrimination of blacks in the US. They stood with their heads bowed and a black-gloved hand raised as the American national anthem played during the victory ceremony. Although they were immediately booed and castigated by many, and then quickly suspended by their team and expelled from the Olympics, Carlos and Smith’s brave act, which soon gained much support from black athletes around the world, “shifted dissidence from the periphery of American life to primetime television,” and “was understood as an act of solidarity with all those fighting for greater equality, justice and human rights” (Younge 2012).

 

Although the authoritarian Ethiopian government has attempted to forcibly crush the protests and rules the country through the politics of fear, Lilesa’s gesture embodies strength, hope, courage, solidarity, and defiance, while poignantly illustrating the broader socio-political significance of sport.

 

 

 

Image 1: Fiyesa Lilesa crossing the finish line and showing solidarity with protesters in Ethiopia.

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Image 2: Fiyesa Lilesa showing solidarity with protesters in Ethiopia

Lilesa 2


El Nino in East Africa: Update on Eritrea

In the Horn of Africa, a drought exacerbated by El Niño has directly affected the region, leading to an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. This post presents an update on Eritrea.
According to a recent summary report by FEWS NET (a USAID-funded initiative),

“Consistent and above-average rain over the past few weeks has led to moisture surpluses throughout much of Eastern Africa. Torrential rain is forecast to continue over western Sudan and the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, likely to elevate the River Nile and Al Gash River levels further and potentially resulting in flooding over many areas of Sudan during the next week.”

Furthermore, the report notes that,

“While the abundance of seasonal rain is expected favor cropping activities over many areas of the region, frequent and above-average rain over the western Ethiopian and Eritrean Highlands also raises the Nile and Al Gash River levels and thus increases the risks for river flooding along downstream areas in Sudan. For next week, the probability for above-average precipitation remains quite high…”
As well, a late July 2016 report by the FAO and the Global Information and Early Warning System, Good Prospects for Yields of 2016 Main “Kiremti” Season Crops, details that,

“The 2016 “kiremti” rains (June to September) started on time in Debud, Anseba and Gash-Barka regions, favouring land preparation and planting operations. As shown by satellite imagery, crops and pasture in most inland areas are currently in good conditions due to abundant and well‑distributed precipitation.”
Encouragingly, although vegetation health in some areas in the northern Anseba and southern Gash-Barka regions has been negatively impacted by soil moisture deficits, the report also states that the,

“Latest meteorological forecasts for the period from June to September 2016 indicate an increased likelihood of above normal rainfall amounts over most of the country, with expected positive effects on crop yields.”
This positive outlook is paralleled by the WFP which recently claimed that “the forecasts for the main rainfall season of July-October indicate on or above average rainfall across Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.” This is significant since it should promote favourable and improved crop production and pasture resources across the country. Furthermore, the FAO and WFP’s recently published 2016/2017 El Nino Seasonal Overview, which explores the ongoing and future impact of El Nino, suggests that Eritrea will be “moderately affected.”
Additionally, on 16 August 2016, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, released US$50 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in six neglected emergencies, including Eritrea. Specifically, the press release states,

“An allocation of $2 million will support humanitarian partners in Eritrea in responding to current needs due to arid conditions and poor rains. Additionally, gaps in health care, water, sanitation and hygiene services will be addressed.” Furthermore, the aid will also help address the multi-sector needs of over 2,200 Somali refugees in Eritrea.

Importantly, this will continue to support Eritrea’s broad developmental aims. Notably, the United Nations and various other international partners have had a long presence in Eritrea, collaborating with the Government and other stakeholders to work towards a variety of socio-economic and development priorities. For example, the UN operational presence in Eritrea includes the WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, UNAIDS, FAO, OCHA and UNDSS, while the WFP  maintains a liaison office, and non-resident UN Agencies (such as IFAD, IAEA, UNIDO, ILO, and UNEP) are also represented and work in Eritrea.
In 2015,  US$ 3 million was allocated by UN CERF to support a range of development programmes (e.g. health, nutrition, etc.) in Southern Red Sea (SRS), Northern Red Sea (NRS), Debub, Gash Barka and Anseba regions. This was undertaken in close alignment and coordination with the 2013-2016 Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF). The  SPCF, jointly signed by the UN and Eritrea, focuses on an array of programmes in the nutrition, health, food security, and water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.
As a final point, it is important to properly understand Eritrea’s “unconventional” approach to external aid. Specifically,  Eritrea turns down aid when it does not fit the country’s needs or its capacity to use effectively. Eritrea does not reject external support – it actively welcomes it, but only when it complements the country’s own efforts. The Government has long encouraged aid that addresses specific needs which cannot be met internally, which is designed to minimize continued external support, and which complements and strengthens (instead of replacing) Eritrea’s own institutional capacity to implement projects. This approach is rooted in a strong desire to avoid crippling dependence and to foster a clear sense of responsibility for the country’s future among all citizens.

Unfortunately, this approach is often misunderstood (or even dismissed). Instead, the country’s determination to rely upon itself and promote independence should be encouraged, and external organizations and potential partners should be committed to working with it on that basis.

Figure 1: Total US Foreign Aid – 2016/17 ($US Millions)

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Figure 2: UN CERF Project Allocations by Sector (2006-2015)

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Image 1: Local market in Eritrea

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Image 2: Local market in Eritrea

market

(Image 2 credit: Solomon Abraha [@solomonasmara])

 

 


Multidimensional Poverty – important data from the OPHI

According to former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “wherever we lift one soul from a life of poverty, we are defending human rights. And whenever we fail in this mission, we are failing human rights.”[1] However, in order to combat poverty (and thus fulfill rights), we must understand it. In this context, the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) represents a useful step forward. The OPHI aims to build and advance a more systematic methodological and economic framework for reducing multidimensional poverty in several ways, including: improving data, building capacity, and impacting policy.[2] Amongst the OPHI’s key contributions is its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI provides multidimensional measures of poverty, well-being and inequality, going far beyond traditional one-dimensional approaches to incorporate dimensions such as health, education, living standards, quality of work and more innovative dimensions.[3]

The latest edition of the MPI covers 110 developing countries (a total of approximately 5.4 billion people), and 803 regions in 72 of these countries. The 10 countries with the lowest scores on the MPI were (in descending order, and with MPI figures in brackets),[4]

  • Burundi (0.454)
  • Mali (0.457)
  • Guinea (0.459)
  • Guinea-Bissau (0.462)
  • Sierra Leone (0.464)
  • Somalia (0.514)
  • Burkina Faso (0.535)
  • Chad (0.554)
  • Ethiopia (0.564)
  • Niger (0.605)

Table 1

OPHI: Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014/15*

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Further exploring the MPI reveals what percentage of the population are both MPI poor and are deprived within each particular indicator. For example, the region with the highest rates of people who are multidimensionally poor and simultaneously deprived in nutrition is Affar, Ethiopia, while the region with the most child mortality is Nord-Ouest, Cote d’Ivoire. The region most deprived in sanitation is Karamoja, Uganda, while Wad Fira, Chad is most deprived in drinking water, electricity, and years of schooling. Examining sub-national regions and inequality, Nigeria has the most extreme regional differences in multidimensional poverty: in Lagos, 8.5 percent of people are multidimensionally poor, whereas in Zamfara, the figure is 91.9 percent. It is also noteworthy that nearly 60 percent of people living in the world’s poorest regions are actually not in the least developed countries.[5]

Overall, poverty remains the gravest human rights challenge facing the world today.[6] In combating poverty, the world has “a moral obligation to look more deeply at the issues of poverty so the most marginalised groups or regions [are] not left behind.”[7] The OPHI’s Multidimensional Poverty Index shows not only who is poor but also in what ways, ultimately helping to better understand poverty and shape more effective policies and reduction measures.

 

REFERENCES

[1] LINK

[2] http://www.ophi.org.uk/

[3] The MPI figure given as the percentage of the population in multidimensional poverty multiplied by the intensity of deprivation among the poor.

[4] The MPI figure given as the percentage of the population in multidimensional poverty multiplied by the intensity of deprivation among the poor.

[5] http://www.ophi.org.uk/multidimensional-poverty-index/mpi-2014-2015/

http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/big-new-databank-on-multidimensional-poverty-launched-today/?utm_content=buffer48ab2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[6] http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDAQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ohchr.org%2FDocuments%2FPublications%2FPovertyStrategiesen.pdf&ei=7qC6VNuMHISfggT5pYBo&usg=AFQjCNEVWu9sEZ4nM_K_BEIpGxhQGtulvQ&sig2=maQRjwqrl3-OEjsYzKFbXw&bvm=bv.83829542,d.eXY

[7] LINK

* *Note that MPI ranges from 0-1. However, the scale in Table 1 runs from 0-100.

Explore the OPHI and MPI: http://www.ophi.org.uk/multidimensional-poverty-index/mpi-2014-2015/


World Bank Global Economic Prospects Report: Quick note on Eritrea’s 2015-2017 Outlook

The World Bank cut its forecast for global growth this year. According to its semiannual Global Economic Prospects report,[i] released today in Washington, the world economy will expand 3 percent in 2015, down from a projection of 3.4 percent in June.[ii]

Developing economies are expected to see an increase in growth from 4.4 percent in 2014 to 4.8 percent and 5.3 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively. For Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) specifically, the period 2015-2017 is expected to see real GDP growth (from previous year) of 4.6, 4.9, and 5.1 percent. Influential factors include infrastructure investment, increased agriculture production, and buoyant services, however the positive outlook is subject to downside risks arising from a renewed spread of the Ebola epidemic, violent insurgencies, lower commodity prices, and volatile global financial conditions.

For Eritrea, the next 3 years, according to the report, are projected to produce real GDP growth of 3.0, 4.0, and 4.3 percent. These projections are slightly lower than those by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which projects Eritrea’s growth to be 7.3 and 6.8 percent in 2015 and 2016.[iii] However, even with the discrepancy, the sharp global oil price decline will support improvements in Eritrea’s trade balance (since it is an oil- importer). Specifically, across 2014-2017, the changes in its trade balance due to terms of trade effects are expected to improve by approximately 3 percent of GDP, amongst the largest in SSA (on the whole, SSA is expected to be adversely affected by the sustained decline in commodity prices).

Overall, for Eritrea, as well as other low-income, developing countries, such economic growth can be central to poverty reduction and broader development goals. For example, between 1970 and 2010, growth in average per capita income accounted for three- quarters of the income growth of the poor.3 In particular, a significant part of poverty reduction was attributed to growth in labor income.[iv] Increases in labor income are associated with a reduction in poverty through at least two channels. First, growth in the agricultural sector, the primary source of income for the poor, raises incomes more than growth in less labor-intensive sectors, in particular the natural resource sector. Second, the movement of labor from the low-productivity agriculture sector to the higher-productivity manufacturing and service sectors raises labor incomes, including of those of the poor.[v]

REFERENCES

[i] http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-economic-prospects

[ii] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-13/world-bank-cuts-global-growth-outlook-with-u-s-lone-bright-spot.html?hootPostID=67b113847d7c95651fe373d6cfe324d7

[iii] www.un.org/en/development/desa/…/geo201410.pdf

[iv]a) Inchauste, G. J.P. Azevedo, B. Essama-Nssah, S. Olivieri, T. Van Nguyen, J. Saavedra-Chanduvi, and H. Winkler. 2014. “Understanding Changes in Poverty.” World Bank, Washington, DC.

b) Inchauste, G., and J. Saavedra-Chanduvi. 2013. “Opportunity Knocks: Deepening Our Understanding of Poverty Reduc- tion,” In Understanding Changes in Poverty, ed. Gabriela Inchauste, João Pedro Azevedo, B. Essama-Nssah, Sergio Olivieri, Trang Van Nguyen, Jaime Saavedra-Chanduvi, and Hernan Winkler, 1–12. Washington, DC: World Bank.

[v]a) Kuznets, S. 1955. “Economic Growth and Income Inequality.” American Economic Review 45 (1): 1–28.

b) Chenery, H. 1979. Structural Change and Development Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

c) Ngai, L. R., and C. Pissarides. 2008. “Employment Outcomes in the Welfare State.” CEP Discussion Papers 0856, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics.

 


Mendefera Factory: Menstrual Pads, Education, and Empowerment

It was nice to see Dr. Sleemi’s photo of a factory in Mendefera, Eritrea. The factory manufactures menstrual pads which are distributed to girls in middle and high school. This initiative is important since it promotes equality, empowerment, and general development.

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Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the developing world, millions of girls either skip school during menstruation or drop out entirely because of a lack of hygiene solutions – thus ultimately harming their (and the community’s or the nation’s) potential. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 10% of African girls skipped school during menstruation, with many girls missing up to 25% of the academic year or simply dropping out. Girls failing to complete secondary school are more likely to get HIV or become pregnant when they are young, and they are also more likely to have a greater number of children and earn lower wages. As well, studies have found that girls with access to menstrual pads report benefits to their self-esteem. Furthermore, girls with access to menstrual pads are able to concentrate better in school, witness increases in their self confidence, and they are able to fully participate in more daily activities while on their period. At the same time, they report that feelings of shame, isolation, and embarrassment improved.

As Eritrea continues to focus on a variety of national development challenges (including literacy, enrolment, and educational disparities), programs and initiatives like the Mendefera factory should be augmented and receive support.

web-St-Joe-Keren-girls-300x255

More materials:

Dr. A. Sleemi (MD, MP): @globalgyno

https://fiqre4eri.wordpress.com/category/education/

http://www.path.org/projects/sanitary-pads.php

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/

http://www.care2.com/causes/monthly-joy-access-to-sanitary-products-may-lead-to-better-education-for-kenyan-girls.html


Can the US mediate Egypt and Ethiopia’s water dispute?: US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s lessons from the Ethiopia-Eritrea stalemate.

Earlier this week, US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, questioned several expert witnesses at a hearing entitled “Water Sharing Conflicts and the Threat to International Peace.”[i] While the primary focus of the hearing was on the ongoing Ethiopia-Egypt Nile dispute, an extremely interesting point was raised by Rep. Rohrabacher regarding Eritrea. Specifically, when discussing a potential US arbitration or mediation role in the Ethiopia and Egypt disagreement, Rep. Rohrabacher outlined the US’ failure in arbitrating the Eritrea-Ethiopia 1998-2000 war. Rep. Rohrabacher stated:

“Let’s just note that, we did convince the Ethiopians at one point to agree to arbitration of a major dispute that they were in with Eritrea. And, this happened during the last administration, so you’ll know this is not a partisan remark, but I thought the behavior of our government in that whole episode was disgraceful, and has undermined our ability to arbitrate other disputes in the sense that Ethiopia, the decision of the arbiters went against Ethiopia in their border dispute with Eritrea…and we extracted some kind of other deal with them to help us with some sort of defense related deal…and let them off the hook, basically said they didn’t have to follow their arbitration, which meant the message to all of Africa was you don’t…you better skip out the arbitration because that just doesn’t work, even the Americans are going to discard it, what the result is. That was very sad.”[ii]

Rep. Rohrabacher’s comments raise serious questions about any possible US mediation role between Egypt and Ethiopia. What is further striking is his acknowledgement of the US’ utter failure in mediating the Ethiopia-Eritrea 1998-2000 war. Not only were the US’ actions wrong ethically, they proved to be great strategic blunders, since they led to more tension and conflict. Ethiopia has continued to occupy swathes of sovereign Eritrean territory, in direct violation of international law, and in blatant contravention of the rulings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission.[iii] Moreover, the US’ harmful role was further compounded when Ethiopia – supported by the US – invaded Somalia in 2006, leading to a sharp rise in terror and insecurity in the region.

For over a decade, Eritrea has been the scapegoat for the ills of the Horn of Africa – sanctioned, characterized as intransigent, and bearing the brunt of the blame for the region’s instability, conflicts, and tensions. In direct contrast, Ethiopia has been held up as a strong US and western partner, receiving millions of dollars in aid. In 2011, it was the world’s fifth largest recipient of official humanitarian aid and received $3.6B in total assistance,[iv] representing between 50-60 percent of its total budget.[v] Additionally, Ethiopia’s 2011 share of total official development assistance – approximately 4 percent – placed it behind only Afghanistan.

While it is notable that US politicians, such as Rep. Rohrabacher, have begun to recognize – and publicly acknowledge – their administration’s mistakes in the region, much more tangible steps are required to ameliorate the situation and rectify past mistakes. With Ethiopia possessing a critical dependency on foreign aid, the US should end all assistance to the country unless Ethiopia abides by international law and respects Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

REFERENCES

[i] Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. Water Sharing Conflicts and the Threat to International Peace. 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515. Nov 18, 2014 2:00pm

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O1io-f-itY&feature=youtu.be (begins at 6:20)

[iii] http://www.pca-cpa.org/showpage.asp?pag_id=1150

[iv] http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/countryprofile/ethiopia

[v] http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files


Reza Aslan, Bill Maher, FGM/FGC…and Eritrea – A quick note

Last week, Reza Aslan spoke about FGM/FGC in his debate with Bill Maher. I absolutely loved the smackdown, but was also concerned that Aslan wasn’t overly clear in his comments about Eritrea and FGM/GC. For the record, FGM/FGC – a harmful traditional practice found in parts of Africa and the Middle East – was outlawed in 2007, although efforts to eradicate it were in place during Eritrea’s pre-independence era (ie. early 1970s). Like another traditional, harmful practice, child marriage, not only is it a women’s, child, and human rights issue, it can place females at a high risk for HIV/AIDS through several causal pathways.

Beyond abolishment, Eritrea has also promoted support, awareness, educational, prevention, and recovery programs in both urban and rural areas. Consequently, FGM prevalence rates have decreased, women’s and children’s rights have been better protected, and potential risk factors for HIV/AIDS have been prevented.

Images: Community awareness and Swearing an Oath against FGM/FGC (Eritrea)

Dance-against-FGM-2009 Swearing-Oath-Eritrea-2009

Most exciting, however, are the recent trends. Eritrea has witnessed a change in behaviors/attitudes, and an associated change in prevalence. In some research I’m doing, I’ve come across some amazing figures. Most prominently, in several large population groups/regions, prevalence can range as low as 30%-15% (or below) for girls 15 years old or younger. Considering the practice is a socio-cultural one, dating centuries old, my humble opinion is that this is quite significant, and not inconsequential. The other important thing is that this change is a local initiative, led by women (especially NUEW), although receiving utmost support from the community.

Further information

http://africabusiness.com/2013/10/09/hiv-aids-in-eritrea/

https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/3-ways-increase-girls-education-eritrea


Eritrea: From Trenches and Caves to the United Nations General Assembly

The 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has seen national delegations from around the world convene to debate and dialogue a wide range of topics including, inter alia, a post-2015 agenda, climate change and the environment, conflicts involving ISIL/ISIS, Iraq and Syria, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Gaza, and the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Another important, yet less heralded, meeting occurring is Eritrea’s hosting of a panel on “Innovations Driving Health Millennium Development Goals” – where the country will share the methods for its success. Such a development represents a tremendous leap; only decades ago, Eritrean “society” literally resided within underground trenches, caves in the mountains, and in the harsh, barren deserts.

To the uninitiated, Eritrea’s focus upon and commitment to health began in earnest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during the early years of the protracted war of independence. In developing a medically sound health system, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) prioritized: “…proper nutrition; adequate and safe water supplies; basic sanitation; immunization; the prevention and control of endemic disease; health education and curative services” (Pateman 1990: 222).[i]

Although in 1970 it only possessed a single mobile health unit, the EPLF was soon able to boast: having trained 1600 barefoot doctors and forty-one barefoot midwives (by 1985); 418 village health workers and 150 birth attendants (by 1986); thirty functioning health service stations and twenty-two health centers; forty-one mobile barefoot health units; 320 village health workers; 41 radio technicians; 18 dental assistants; 151 nurses; six regional and one central hospital (Pateman 1990: 22).

Of particular note, the EPLF’s central hospital at Orotta, in Barka, and the pharmacy unit hold legendary, almost mythical auras. The Orotta hospital was often distinguished as the “longest hospital in the world” since it was built into the underground maze of trenches and tunnels,[ii] and it was the scene of thousands of operations performed by EPLF surgeons. Equally impressive, the EPLF’s pharmacy unit was made up of twenty-two members, and “…by the end of 1987 it was producing fourteen types of tablets and capsules – two million per month – and hoping to provide…for sixty percent of the population’s needs” (Pateman 1990: 222) Further, it produced 44 different types of medical supplies, including infusions, intravenous fluids, syrups and ointments.[iii]

Yet, even though these efforts were key to Eritrea’s momentous liberation and embodied the EPLF’s commitment to the health of the population, at independence the country immediately faced destruction upon a mass scale, “…everything was destroyed [and there were]…no roads, no electricity, no water.., no education…nothing was there”; for all intents and purposes, Eritrea started from well “below zero.”[iv]

Since that point however, Eritrea has remained staunchly committed to fulfilling citizens’ rights to health, and ultimately witnessed tangible, positive development outcomes – in spite of an array of socio-economic, regional, and global challenges. Such success is the fruit of a self-reliant approach, a capacity to adapt to adverse circumstances, effective coordination, multi-sectorial, cost-effective projects, community involvement enabling improved health-seeking behaviors and widespread buy-in – and the relentless efforts of innumerable men, women, and children around the country.[v] Who could have scripted how a low-income country, located within one of the world’s most volatile, fractious regions, went from surviving in underground trenches and mountain caves, to sharing the lessons of development success at the United Nations?

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26 September 2014
1:15 PM
Conference Room 5, UN Headquarters Secretariat
“Innovations Driving Health MDGs in Eritrea”
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[i] Pateman, R. 1990. Even The Stones Are Burning. Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press.

[ii] http://blip.tv/somaliachat/eritrean-eplf-health-care-system-during-the-independence-struggle-by-eri-tv-6586349

[iii] http://www.developmentprogress.org/sites/developmentprogress.org/files/eritrea_-_master_0.pdf

[iv] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQJVMpFRKxg#t=2m46s

[v] http://www.odi.org/publications/5179-eritrea-child-health-development-progress

EXTRA SOURCES (health specific)

http://africabusiness.com/eritrea/

http://www.tesfanews.net

http://www.madote.com/2013/12/eritrea-is-making-huge-progress-on-un.html

http://www.madote.com

http://www.odi.org/publications/5179-eritrea-child-health-development-progress

Photo courtesy of Solomon Abraha – @solomonasmara


The Importance of September 1st

Why is September 1st such an important day for Eritrea? It represents the day that the Eritrean independence movement transitioned from non-violence and protest, to active, armed resistance – going against all odds and logic. It is a day to reflect upon and remember the contributions and heroic exploits of the thousands of freedom fighters – those mythical, legendary men and women who spent over 30 years in the barren, dusty deserts and harsh mountains of Eritrea, persevering and ultimately delivering freedom against all odds.

Of all the independence movements throughout Africa in the 1900s, only two emerged “victorious” militarily, Zimbabwe and Eritrea. And of those two, only Eritrea was able to do so via an outright military destruction of the colonial oppressor (rather than a negotiated settlement, a la the Lancaster Agreements). Furthermore, not only was Eritrea’s struggle the longest African independence war of the 1900s, the three decades long struggle targeted far more than just political emancipation. Rather, it sought to usher in a complete and radical transformation of society, destroying all outdated, harmful, traditional structures within society.

Today, although a large number of African states have been “politically” independent for decades, many are still mired in economic dependency and shackled by the oppressive chains of neocolonialism. Even with an abundance of precious natural resources, the African continent has remained poor and continues to suffer from the many blights of underdevelopment. Across the continent, resources, which could promote development, have instead fueled conflict and bred vast inequalities, while foreign exploitation has sustained debilitating poverty. In stark contrast however, Eritrea has maintained control of its considerable resource endowments, firmly grasped the reins to its national and economic development, and is navigating a pragmatic path towards true national emancipation and a tangible improvement in the lives of its people.

Some worthwhile links:

An excellent resource. Everything outlined and detailed. So inspirational.
http://www.dehai.org/conflict/history/birth_of_a_nation.htm

On all aspects of Eritrea’s history, and recent updates.
http://www.myth2014.com/

Video Documentary

Hands down, one of my favorite songs and videos, particularly for the imagery. Watch until the end, “after every dark night, there’s a brighter day.”


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