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The Politics of Eritrea and the Trans-Mediterranean Death Journeys

The Politics of Eritrea and the Trans-Mediterranean Death Journeys


Nothing is wrong with thinking, especially if the object of your thought is real and so I think in the global north xenophobia is systemic and systematic. In the wake of a wave of trans-Atlantic migration, in which many poor people have perished by attempting that precarious voyage of a lifetime, the world has been treated to nasty European anti-foreigners policies. There is a myth in the global south and Africa in particular; a myth that if one crosses the Atlantic then life will magically become better. But myths emerge from realities; I know no myth that doesn't seek to clarify, explain or project reality. It mean to think that there is some truth to this myth too. The truth is that the global north is developed; it presents humanity with more and perhaps better opportunities in their judgement. Somehow many of those who managed to move to the west have helped sustain such a narrative. I therefore have no problem with Africans, and indeed anybody moving to the global north in search of life’s opportunities. I have an issue with how they are treated on their way there and while there. But I have a bigger problem with what makes them attempt crossing over.

Other than tourism, business and education, I doubt whether anybody would want to relocate from Africa to the global north. Even the weather isn’t the best over there. But that is if Africa was equally developed and it offered competitive life conditions and opportunities. I think the reason for the precarious journeys across the Mediterranean therefore largely lie with us. We may need to start looking inwards. The saying has it that if your children keep going to the neighbours for food, you need to examine your cooking. What is it that is wrong with us? Why are more and more Africans running away from Africa?

The Case of Eritrea

The mere thought of Eritrea evokes various reactions, most of which uncoordinated. Uncoordinated because majority of the people know not much about this tiny horn of Africa state. But to those who know something about Eritrea, the thoughts of this nation are almost emotive. Some call it the North Korea of Africa. Eritrea seems to be preoccupied with the feeling and a sense of national conscious developed around the danger of annihilation. The leadership of Eritrea appears to believe or know, for that matter, that someone somewhere or some state somewhere is out to destroy Eritrea and wipe its people from the face of the earth. Whether that is true or not, we are free to give our own verdict.

Militaristic State

What I know for a fact is that Eritrea is an extremely militaristic state. It is the first African nation to engage women in actual combat. In Eritrea military service is mandatory with recent term extending up to 40 years of age. The government justifies national service as a necessary precaution in case of an attack from Ethiopia; the perceived perennial enemy out to annihilate Eritrea. In such a situation all young people are forced into an often interminable national service. This is forced work that keeps impoverishing many people. The political repression in Eritrea associated with the duty of ‘protection of the nation’ is unrivalled.

High Levels of Poverty

The soaring joblessness and political repression combined with the conscription that forces majority of Eritrean citizens to take up, not only military but also civilian work for very little pay; as little as $2 a day, is a major cause of persistent poverty. The dusty streets of Eritrea are full of dilapidation, with 1970s cars, old and crowded buses, bicycles and carts pulled by donkeys. Majority of Eritreans have, at best contemplated escaping from their country due to high poverty levels. Majority are condemned to hopelessness after long national service and little education.  Many of those who have sought to actualize the idea of running away have had to encounter many challenges along the way, including but not limited to the wrath of the state which include execution, torture and imprisonment.
Conscription continues to drive many young people to poverty and at once away from Eritrea since they do not seem to hold any hope at home. The conscription creates unemployment by default and many young people cannot tolerate that. Due to its repressive nature, poor human rights record, a myriad of conspiracy theories, media shut down, non-existent civil society , Eritrea is not only a political but also economic pariah state. Whereas the country is geopolitically advantaged, Eritrean politics continue to push the country to the periphery of untapped potential with the international community including the UN torn between aid and sanctions. 

Massive Outpouring Eritrean Citizens to the World    

The challenges in Eritrea continue to make many citizens to want to run away. No wonder Eritrea has one of the biggest percentages of people attempting the precarious voyages across the Mediterranean. The mortality of Eritrean citizens in such journeys is alarmingly high. In as far as the situation at home is bad, many Eritreans, will no doubt, see reason to attempt fleeing. Other than attempts to move to Europe and the West in general, Eritreans equally take a lead in illegal attempts to cross to other African countries. Many have been caught in Tanzania and even as far as Zimbabwe trying to find their way to South Africa. Majority of those who are in neighbouring countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania do not engage in formal activities since they are either unskilled or undocumented. They therefore harbour the idea of moving to the global north and to the Middle East where it is believed that non and semi skilled labour is better remunerated than it is in countries such as Kenya.


In as far as the situation in Eritrea is not fixed, we are going to witness more and more Eritreans attempting to cross over. While I think that western systems and structured are xenophobic, I equally think we do not need to have so many Africans attempting to cross to Europe if Africa was a better place. The case of Eritrea only helps us to reflect and look inward. We must work on our own internal politics and economics. We need to better our nations and improve the lives of our people, provide opportunities for them and give them reasons to want to work and stay at home. In as far as home is unpleasant, many will want to seek comfort and even survival elsewhere even when they are fully aware of the dangers involved. I guess that neither water, nor xenophobic legal frameworks will prevent Eritreans and other sons and daughters of Africa from crossing to global north but improved conditions of life at home will surely do.

The Politics of Eritrea and the Trans-Mediterranean Death Journeys The Politics of Eritrea and the Trans-Mediterranean Death Journeys Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on December 25, 2015 Rating: 5

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