Friday, April 24, 2009

Eritrea: Follow Up to Yesterday's Article

My previous article was about Eritrea. According to the BBC, the entire country has a widespread system of forced labour as well as sealed borders. There seemed to be a pattern to the reports. But there have been accuracy issues with the BBC before.The article sparked a string of impassioned rebuttals. Two comments from one reader appeared on and seven appeared on this site. All were impassioned and also civil. The majority were from Eritreans. Between all of the comments were more sources and quotations than I could possibly weigh fairly in less than a week. I will indeed be reading up on this hotly debated part of the world. In fairness to my readers, I have reprinted all comments sent to me in their entirety.

There are many principles and core values at stake in dissecting the issues in Eritrea and the rest of Africa. The value of human life is primary. Too much suffering has occurred in other parts of Africa distant from Eritrea that seem to drag on. The Congo has seen the loss of six million lives in civil war that is into its second on again off again decade. Zimbabwe is a basket case with widespread famine and a worthless currency. I am frankly frustrated. I wonder if white people get more compassion than Black Africans. It really troubles me.

There is also the principle of self determination. The idea of stepping in to solve a humanitarian crisis is a slippery slope. Atrocity stories have been historically used to rationalise aggression that might have avarice as its root. On the other hand are genuine human rights crises. A well intentioned yet ill advised international response to an internal crisis can have lasting and permanent repercussions. So can standing idly by. Rwanda back in 1994 is precisely such a case in point. The world community was worse than useless in that situation, agonising and deliberating while a million people were murdered. What is even worse is that no one sent the Tutsi weapons with which they could have defended themselves.

I am not making any comparison between Eritrea and Rwanda. They are very different conflicts. But there is the lingering anxiety that could be compared to the neighbours of a feuding couple. What are those thumps and screams? Is he beating her? Maybe she is beating him. Maybe they are just loud. What is the right thing to do? Do you call the cops? Or do you knock on the door and ask if every thing is OK? What if you call the child abuse hot line and an idiot social worker turns the home upside down? What if you do nothing and someone ends up in the morgue?

I am inclined towards knocking on the door and asking if everything is OK, not just once but maybe a second time. I lean towards puncturing the silence with friendly greetings, leaving an opening for dialogue. But at a certain point, you have to mind your own business. There are different styles of love, marriage and friendship. There are even divorces that have to unfold in the privacy of a home.

In this analogy,there is noise coming out of Eritrea. The neighbours are worried. There is genuine concern at a puzzling and disturbing situation. We care. And we also respect your independence and right to do things your own way.

I have known and worked with Eritreans over the years. I will be reading up on the situation, the culture and the history. I look forward to doing so. I take accuracy very seriously and welcome the help of my readers in doing so.

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