The majority of Eritreans agree with me that the National service program in Eritrea is important not only to defend the country from foreign aggression but also to revive its economy. Such agreement among the Eritrean people on the importance of the national service has further been strengthen by the 1998-2000 TPLF’s war of aggression against Eritrea, TPLF subsequent rejection of the EEBC verdict, the regime change agenda harboured by various quarters, the international community’s disregard of the rule of law and its tendencies to punish the victim.
It is crystal clear that without the national service program the sovereignty and national integrity of Eritrea will be at stake. However many people also agree with me that the implementation of the national service program has been full of problems. Different publications indicate that since the national service was formally instituted about 20 years ago close to 300,000 Eritreans have fled the country. Although many of the young refugees have made it to Israel, Europe and North America many are still languishing in refugee camps all over Africa.
Others have perished in the Mediterranean Sea, and more disappeared in Sinai or Libya. Those incidents could have been enough trigger for the government to evaluate the implementation of the National service program and institute an effective and humanistic approach to it. The deaf ear the government has given to the continuous loss of vibrant human power, suffering of the family members left behind and largely the inhuman treatment of the refugees are enduring while they are fleeing Eritrea, mainly by human traffickers and organized gangs, is raising many questions. Many people are starting to question the objective of the national service.
Currently there is a very strong belief among the Eritrean people that the objective of the national service may not have been only to defend the country from foreign aggression and revive its economy but also protect the survival of the regime at any cost. There are many convincing arguments that support the latter suspicion. If the government is working to create an army that will defend the country at any time, why is it allowing the flow of large number of well trained national service recruits from the country? Isn’t that contrary to the objective of the national service program? Even those who believe that the objective of the national service is purely to safeguard the country from foreign aggression and rebuild its economy do not have an answer to the previous question. To find the answer to the question it is important to explore the reasons why the youth is fleeing the country. One of the major reasons why the youth are living the country is the endless national service.
By instituting endless national service, the government is telling the youth that if they want to stay in the country their only place is in the Army. If they do not like it they need to leave the country. In fact there is enough evidence that indicates that the leaders in the Eritrean military, directly or indirectly, encourage the national service members to leave the country. When the national service recruits ask their superiors for permission to visit their family the military leaders often indicate to them that the only way out is only to leave the country. They tell them “if you have the courage why don’t you cross the border and disappear from here”. Such push by leaders in the Army does not bode well with the belief that the objective of the national service is only to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country and revive the economy.
It might be true that the government is using the national service agenda to protect itself from any popular uprising like what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and other Middle Eastern countries.
It is using the national service to pacify Eritrea from the youth that could potentially be a threat to the survival of the regime. Hence the most probable reason as to why the government is letting go about 300,000 mostly well trained youngsters who are instrumental to the defence and economic revival of the country is to relieve itself from any pressure that may arise from the accumulation of jobless youth in Asmara and other cities in Eritrea. The Army is instrumental in achieving this objective. If you want to know the history of this strategy you need to go back and see what happened in fall 1993. It was a time when Asmara was filled with youth who came to Eritrea mainly from Ethiopia.
The youth were sent by their parents to Eritrea hoping that they would have a job and education opportunity in the newly liberated country. It did not take long for the youth to understand that it was naive expectation and they may have made a mistake. One day they gathered at the city park area in Asmara and stopped Isaias Afeworki from entering to his office. When he knew he could not make it to his office without taking harsh measures on the youth he came out of his car and asked them what was wrong. They told him they needed education and jobs. After he promised to answer their questions he was allowed to go. Few months later he asked all the youngsters to report to the army units and they did. Although some were able to return and peruse their education, for others the army was a black hole. Later the idea was expanded and led to the declaration of the national service program in Eritrea.
Now days it is a public knowledge that the extended national service, the continuous swift of the youngsters and adults in Asmara and other cities has another objective. To clean the cities from the youth, instil a sense of submission to the government and use the national service to push the youth to leave its country and ultimately protect the government from any revolt. Unless the government changes its policy and allows the youngsters who completed the 18 months national service to remain in the country, there is no way the flow of Eritrean youth to neighbouring countries will stop. Hence in the interest of the Eritrean people the national service program needs to be reformed.
Awet N’Hafsh and Zelealemawi Zikri N’sewatna
Source: Abel Kebedom : Abel101@yahoo.com