The Lessons of September

Radio Erena: 10 September 2021

September has a revered place in the Eritrean calendar. On its first day in 1961, the iconic figure Hamid Awate and a few of his comrades launched the Eritrean armed struggle for freedom and independence. As the days passed by and the struggle gained momentum, the revolution went forth on the rugged path of history with all its ups and downs. Heroes and heroines had fallen on the road to freedom when the 30th anniversary of the armed struggle had arrived; the country became independent with the cherished sacrifices of blood and sweat.

Few of those who launched the struggle were lucky enough to be around to see their dream come true. That was the saga of the longest independence struggle in Africa. Today, many Eritreans (except the dictator’s supporters) agree that the country they see in front of them is not a replication of the dreams and sacrifices of their forefathers and mothers. Yes. It’s an independent country but not a free one. It was both independence and freedom that our forefathers fought for. These magnificent twins were brutally separated with the scalpel of the ruthless dictator. Eritreans have realized, in a tragic way that independence doesn’t necessarily mean freedom.

September 18 is another landmark in our national calendar. This time it isn’t a date of national pride; but a day of national disgrace. It was the time when the dictatorship went naked down the streets of Asmara. On this day in 2001 and after twenty years of launching the struggle for dignity and pride, the famous G-15 reformist group was rounded up along with the journalists of the nascent Free Press, in what went down the history as the Black Day of Eritrean Journalism.

Constitution, election, and accountability regarding the mismanagement of the border war of (1998-2000) were at the top of the national political agenda presented by the G-15. The group didn’t resolute to violence or ruse to address these issues. It opted for direct encounters with the public through the free press. However, the dictator had an alternative plan as he was laying the trap for the notorious arrests of the members of the group.

9/11 provided the huge smokescreen that enabled him to swiftly arrest the G-15 members and the journalists in a surprise attack. The world was numb with New York terrorist attack, at the same time, the Eritrean security forces were carrying house-to-house arrests.

The lesson of Cyrus the Great immortalized by Xenophon is ironically relevant to the egregious Eritrean current situation. “Freedom, dignity and wealth,” he says: “these three together constitute the great happiness of humanity if you bequeath all three to your people, their love for will never die.” Thirty years under the worst African and world tyrannies, the dictator bequeathed the Eritrean people bondage, humiliation, and poverty and soundly gained its loathing.

September is the month of pride and dismay at the same time, but it is also an opportunity to embrace the fresh winds and thoughts of change.

By Fathi Osman