The “Eritrean irony” is couched in its political trajectory. The Horn of Africa nation fought Ethiopian rule for 30 years, but once independence was secured in 1993, its leader, Isaias Afwerki, rapidly subjected the country to bondage, curtailing all freedoms and postponing democracy, meaning multi-party politics and elections, indefinitely.
Nothing exemplifies the Eritrean irony more than the unfortunate perils its youth have to face in their attempts to escape the bondage Afwerki’s has imposed on them. In a story reported by Laetitia Bader in Human Right Watch, Eritrean youth reportedly prefer to die at sea attempting to cross into Europe than to have their freedoms taken away from them by President Isaias Afwerki. In the story, Laetitia Bader writes:
I met 19-year-old Dawit (not his real name) in Italy. He was among the few Eritreans who escaped unscrupulous smugglers in Libya and reached Italy in 2018 in spite of its efforts to prevent new arrivals. He explained why he took the dangerous journey to Europe rather than finishing high school in Eritrea: “They were making us into slaves, not educating us.”
Since early last year, we have spoken with 73 Eritrean former secondary school students and their teachers to understand why thousands of young Eritreans go into exile. Their answers are clear: back home, they have no freedom or control over their future. “It’s a life in prison, in our own country,” another 19-year-old Eritrean told me.
Since Eritrea’s border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000, President Isaias Afewerki has used the “no war, no peace” stalemate that ensued to justify holding much of the country’s population hostage.
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