In 2008-9 I spent 9 months in Eritrea training English teachers. At the time everyone’s immediate response was “Eritrea? Where’s that?” Now it is a much more well known country, unfortunately for the wrong reason. Most people now know it for the floods of people trying to make their way to Europe on illegal boats from Libya – many of whom are Eritrean. It breaks my heart to think that some of the people I worked with could be on those boats.
I honestly believe that these people don’t want to leave their home country. They are some of the most patriotic people I know. It was in very recent history that they were fighting for independence from Ethiopia a battle that they won in 1991. Unfortunately the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, doesn’t feel that the country is ready to become democratic yet and so has ruled by dictatorship since then.
The Eritrean people have to play by his rules. Long, indefinite periods of national service, compulsory military training before leaving school,one national newspaper and TV channels both perpetuating positive propaganda. When I left food prices were going up due to shortages, there was a lack of water for drinking, and a shortage of fuel for cooking – much of which was influenced by government choices to provide for the army first. There is no freedom of travel between towns, let alone countries.
Having spent time in Eritrea living with the locals (although I would be first to admit in comparative luxury compared to them), I am immensely grateful that I live in a democratic country. I don’t always agree with what our government does but they were elected by the people (I would prefer a fairer system but we voted on that too!). It’s important that we vote. That is how we have our say. That is how we/you can make a change. You may feel that one vote – your vote – might not make a difference but if everyone who thought that turned up on polling day and made a choice things could be very different.