By Teweldeberhan Gebre
Recently, the presidential advisor, Mr. Yemane Ghebreab, was briefly interviewed by a Deutsche Welle Radio reporter, Linda Staude, from Asmara. In her first-hand account on the life of young Eritreans she has encountered with many people including young workers in the streets of Asmara and the well-known Medeber artifacts. The voices of young Eritreans are clear and that is “leave us to live our lives”. For them life is tough and they are voicing for opening up the labour market to be able to live a decent life. They are saying “no money no freedom no future” as one of the young people in the Medeber Area shouts pointing out that the indefinite nature of the national service is making life difficult.
However, Mr. Ghebreab insists that national service is must because according to him “national service is necessary because it [Eritrea] continued to be threatened by its powerful neighbor Ethiopia and because it is the poorest country in the world.” He also pointed out about the payroll reform because the economy is improved. The fact of the matter is nothing has been improved in the economy rather growth is going down from 7% in 2012 to 1.3% and 1.7% in 2013 and 2014, respectively. According to the African Development Bank (2016), in 2015 growth is estimated around 0.3%. So, where is the improvement? The pronouncement of the payroll amendment is simply to defy international pressure. Despite a year and half since the pronouncement the new salary system it is yet to be implemented. The Eritrean people are not asking for terminating national service. What people is asking is limiting its terms to a level acceptable within the context of the national security.
In the absence of output growth adding salaries and wages simply fuels the already unstable macroeconomic situation of the country. In my article “Eritrea Needs a New Tax System” I indicated that because the real sectors (industry and agriculture) are way behind the non-real sector (service sector) I proposed for the government to tax the service sector (particularly the financial sector) to alleviate the immediate impacts of the payroll amendment while improving its current dare financial position. Overlooking the role of the free market will eventually lead into the collapse of the political system.
In my opinion and by the government’s own admission Ethiopia is not a threat to Eritrea. On 30 December, 2016, the Ministry of Information (MoI) of the State of Eritrea issued a press release complaining on the distorted news by postings by Al-Sharq Al-awast, a London based Arabic and English website. Although the MoI was not right in associating the contributor to the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat website, Abdulrahman Al-Rashid’s article “Opinion: The Ethiopian Dam Between Egypt and Saudi Arabia” was simply trivial. Particularly, when the author says Ethiopia “succeeded in containing Somalia by force, unlike Afghanistan, and it disciplined Eritrea” he simply exposes himself that he lacks an in-depth knowledge of the region.
Therefore, the MoI’s response was not misplaced when it says:
“The mayhem that has afflicted Somalia since Ethiopia’s military invasion in 2006 is a matter of historical record and widely acknowledged by knowledgeable observers of the region. As for Ethiopia “disciplining” Eritrea, the author is either oblivious to contemporary history or an avid apologist of failed aggressors.”
Nevertheless, from the statement of the MoI and in my humble opinion, Ethiopia is not a threat to Eritrea anymore. In contrast, Ethiopia chose to be a client state of the US because it feels unsecured from the threat of Eritrea. Ethiopia is not a military mighty as the West would like us to believe. In fact, Ethiopia has never won a single battle in its recent history be in Somalia or Eritrea. Not only that but also the Ethiopian army was and is infiltrated by foreign army commanders including from Cuba, former USSR, Israel and the US in the name of advisors.
Moreover, Ethiopia cannot fight with Eritrea without a massive financial, military and diplomatic assistance from its masters elsewhere. In 2000, I remember my professor William Demars told us in class that his country, America, spent over US$550 million for the 2000 Ethiopian aggression. When the Eritrean Defense Force announced its withdrawal from its trenches in 2000 he told the class that the war was over indicating the Eritrean tactical withdrawal and defeat of the aggressor supported by his government.
The fact that Ethiopia being amassed by massive popular uprisings and armed conflicts all over the country only strengthens the above argument that Ethiopia cannot be an immediate threat to Eritrea. Thus, justifying national service beyond 18 months because of the threat by the “powerful neighbor Ethiopia” doesn’t hold water and Mr. Ghebreab is in sharp contrast with the press release of the MoI above that Ethiopia is not a threat anymore. The point is the government of Eritrea should improve and change the situation of the youth before it is too late. If the dare situation of the youth continues it will be regretful and the consequences can be massive.
After all, if the government continuously fails to respond to the calls by its people what is the point being in power?