Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia and fifteen years since the end of the armed struggle. Although many are taking part in weeklong celebrations, human rights activists say the Eritrean government has become increasingly authoritarian.
Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s ambassador to the United States and Canada, spoke with VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe about the significance of the day: “Eritrea rising from ashes…justice freedom and independence. The celebration means that Eritrea, as a nation, as a people, emerged from oppression and deprivation of its rights.”
Various media organizations, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, say the government of Eritrea does not provide for the freedom of the press. But Girma refutes these comments. “These people are useless, they don’t know what they are saying because they have never talked to us. They have never even [gone] to Eritrea to see, and so these allegations are from Internet and websites and its baseless…. The freedom of Eritrea was ascertained because for thirty years the people of Eritrea fought with no support; they own the country, the destiny belongs to them, so they don’t need a certificate or approval from Reporters Without Borders….”
The ambassador describes Eritrea’s greatest achievements as gaining independence from a large power and also as the development of infrastructure: “Within the last 15 years, we have finished connecting every single city with asphalt roads; we have built three jetties on the coast…. We have finished building a modern airport which can handle any plane. We have built regional hospitals…. Eritrea’s Millennium Goal by 2015 is 100% reduction of poverty…. Eritrea is going to be a shining example of a country in Africa.”
He says the political status of Eritrea is not dictated by a “checklist of democracy” and that the nation is committed to promoting liberty and freedom of expression. Soon, says Girma, Eritrea will embrace a privately owned press, but at the moment, “We are in a nation-building process, and at this juncture we are fighting for our survival. But our vision is to build a prosperous and democratic Eritrea.”
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