(Natty Berhane)

One of the crimes of the Eritrean ruling party’s that have not made it to the last week’s UN report must be brainwashing scheme of a large number of youth – perhaps a generation.

It is heart breaking to see so many Eritreans, particularly the young, living in diaspora, turn a blind eye, deny and even refuse to acknowledge and sympathize with their fellow countrymen, who trek deserts, drown in the sea, get kidnapped by human traffickers, stranded in refugee camps.

Few years ago, a young Eritrean woman, blogger Rahel Woldeab was asked by Al Jazeera about why Eritreans leave their country, she responded “…Well everyone wants their IPad and air Jordans (Nike shoes).” That incredibly insensitive and insulting remark about her compatriots, which was jaw dropping and startled her interviewers as well as a South Sudanese Model, who was in the penal of discussion.

That was few years ago. Before the the United Nations Commission of Inquiry of Human Rights on Eritrea. Before a whole lot more young people left Eritrea. Before a number of Eritreans were slaughtered with Ethiopians, because of their religion.

Fast forward to 2015. The same young woman was interviewed by the same program on the same network on June 16, 2015 and was asked almost the very same question. One would have thought time would change her attitude, because the plight of her compatriots has much more grown, since the last time she appeared on TV, and this may be the time to understand their concerns and at least to show empathy for their agony. Well, that would be a wrong assumption about this young woman.

This time, she has dropped the IPad and Nike references in relation to refugees and decided to point her finger at Ethiopia and pretty much the entire world. Watching that made me feel sorry for her and many others, who are conditioned to think and see the world just as she does. Never mind that by the UNHCR count more than 300 thousand of her compatriots have fled a county that she, without blinking her eyes portrays to be a ‘slice of heaven’.

Never mind that there are human witnesses, video and audio exhibits to show the horrors of that has befallen on her compatriots in Sinai desert and Mediterranean Sea. Never mind that all that information is at her finger tips. Yet, all what she chose to do was to make a phantom case for a maniac of a “leader” she seems to almost worship, and belittle of her own people, who most of them are her age mates, but only unfortunate that they found themselves in a desert, in a deep sea or in refugee camps living in miserable conditions.

I chose to make her an example of many, who are like her. My Eritrean friends tell me that the Eritrean government organizes these youths, who largely live in American and European cities to indoctrinate them with a specifically hateful ideology, intending to shape them in a manner that resembles cult followers.

In many European countries and America a first generation young persons are always in search of identity that makes them stand out and be proud of who they are among the societies that they are living in, which are not the same with them in skin color and environment that they were brought up in. They look for solace and a shelter to escape from a feeling of being ‘different’. Even to protect them from perceived and real discrimination for just being ‘different’. They seek a shelter to be part of their ‘own circle’ that ‘takes care of them’. Offer them comfort and let them be ‘who they are’.

It seems the Eritrean ruling party (PFDJ) has realized that and did set its trap to bring them to its fold, gave them its own name (YPFDJ) christened them to be its ‘successors’, so they could do its bidding and speak for it. I was informed that, when they visit Eritrea, they get to be pampered. They get to be afforded with a luxury that the ‘local’ conscript Eritreans would only dream of. That way, they would get to be manipulated to tell the outside world that the giant prison is actually a heaven, and those who flee from it do so only to look for IPads and Nikes.Photo - Filmon Zerai and Rahel Weldeab

Following The UN’s Inquiry Commission on Eritrea, many news organizations have covered the horrific detail of its content. As it is customary to “balance” the news, they also invite Eritrean representatives to respond to what the inquiry says. One of those occasions was on CCTV Africa. The Eritrean Ambassador to Kenya, Beyene Resom was asked about the report and responded (reading a script), “…these are disgusting lies….” referring to the report.

A very well informed Eritrean friend of mine told me (and I later confirmed it myself) that the Ambassador’s ex-wife and her brother themselves were arrested and they were never charged, and in the case of his ex-brother in law, he was never heard from, since his arrest. That is what the ambassador called “disgusting lie”. He called a report that tells about the plight of his own family, “disgusting lies.”

Another young female ambassador of Eritrea in France, Hanna Simon, ridiculed the report, as “fabrications”, while it is known to many Eritreans that her sister was one of the victims of Eritrea’s ruling party. How in the world one gets to do that? What kind of soul one has to have to be heartless like that? What has the Eritrean ruling party done to these people that makes them absolute robots that have been programmed to do what it pleases and make them say what it wants?

What the future holds…

These people that I mentioned above, though their number is significant, they are exceeded by those Eritreans, who want this agony to end. Unfortunately, they seem not to be well networked and have no strong allies. Isaias Afeworki and his party may not have long to live. However, what they are going to be leaving behind is two deeply divided societies.

One, brainwashed, financially well off and pledged almost absolute attachment to the regime, because of financial and a good chunk of emotional reasons. The other, poor, angry, lost all of its livelihood, suffered a lot trying to flee the monsters and holds grudge against the former one for not even empathizing with it, when it needed its voice and help. That is a recipe for disaster for the future of the horn and post Isayas Eritrea.

In order to avoid that calamity, Eritreans, who are dispossessed and pushed out of their country and forced to live as refugees, need to be empowered and their confidence to be built. I believe one way to do that is by having them share experiences and pairing them with Ethiopian youth.

When Aboy Sibhat Nega, spoke about what Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD) could do to elevate the people-to-people relations between Eritreans and Ethiopians, especially, by involving Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, I hope he had this in mind. Ethiopian youth have a lot to share. Particularly, about thinking for oneself and avoiding herd mentality, which seems to be affecting many (not all) Eritrean youths.

On the eve of Ethiopian election, a young Ethiopian man standing in the middle of Mesqel Square, looked at an Al Jazeera camera straight, when he was asked, if he had a message to the country’s prime minister, he responded “..Why are you guys lying to us about job creation?…” One can agree or disagree over his question, but his confidence to say what he feels, should be an inspiration to Eritrean youth, who believe that Isayas Afeworki is an untouchable demigod or even do worse, which is to defend him in front of overwhelming evidence that says he may have committed crimes against humanity.

When Ethiopians were abused and mistreated in Saudi Arabia, young Ethiopians went to voice their concern demanding respect for their compatriots all over the world in one voice to the shock of Saudi embassy officials in every country they demonstrated. They created a hashtag that made it to the top, which forced many media organizations to cover the story. They did not abandon their compatriots, because they support or oppose the Ethiopian ruling party. In fact, many supporters of EPRDF screamed at it, because they felt it did not do enough to protect its citizens in Arab countries. This is something that Eritrean youth could learn from Ethiopian youth.

An Eritrean man named Khalid Abdu opened a discussion topic on one of Eritrean discussion forums, when thirty Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians were martyred in Libya. He asked, “…Why are we quite, when thousands die, and Ethiopians react, when only hundreds die?” In this discussion, Ato Khalid remarked that”

“…Ethiopians make their government better by demanding from it…when, there is a report from UNHCR about a boat sunk with many Eritreans in it, Eritrean foreign Minister, calls a UNHCR representative to his office to scorn them about the report. When there is a news report about Ethiopians getting killed in Libya, Ethiopian foreign Minister goes to the house of the families of the victims to pay his respect. Ethiopians make their government do that. We don’t….”

An initiative by EIIPD or any other entity to have Eritrean youth shake off the fear that the regime implanted in them by having a people to people relations to share such experiences and behavior with Ethiopian youth is long overdue.

May be in return, they can teach us how to be better bike riders.


Guest Author

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