Report on Eritrea

by Abuna Zekarias Yohannes
photos by Domingo Sotero

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The following are excerpts from a report by Bishop Zekarias Yohannes, Eparch of Asmara, Eritrea. The report was presented at the Vatican to the June meeting of ROACO, an organization of Catholic funding agencies concerned with the Eastern Catholic churches.

This report was written at a time when preparations were being made to celebrate Eritrea’s first anniversary of peace.

The joy and enthusiasm that accompanied this event are easily understandable. However it is distressing that peace has been achieved after so much suffering – the virtual destruction of the country and the death of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

The fact that arms have been allowed to decide the outcome of the Eritrean problem should be considered a defeat for those international institutions that for 30 years practically ignored the issue. Today we have to deal with a country whose natural and human resources have been reduced to virtually nothing.

Now after more than one year of peace [following the downfall of the Mengistu regime and the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces], it is possible to make a preliminary assessment of the situation, the problems and plans that await the commitment of the nation, and the contribution of the church.

The General Situation. Our evaluation of the political orientation of the Provisional Government [of Eritrea] and its approach to current problems is basically positive.

We are in a transitional period, in view of the referendum that will be held in about one year [May 21, 1993]. Popular consultation has been considered necessary to formalize the independence achieved through armed struggle. The Provisional Government has declared that after the referendum, pre-existing fronts and movements will be allowed to form as legal parties.

In the meantime the government is attempting to offer leadership inspired by the principles of democracy; freedom of opinion is ensured, and the people are free to express views through the press.

A democratic orientation also prevails in the government’s religious policy. While the state intends to be a-confessional, all faiths are given freedom and equality. In its latest meeting the Central Political Committee announced that religious education will be allowed in public schools. Given the plurality of religions in our country, it is still not clear what form and content such an education will take.

The economic situation is extremely delicate and worrisome. The country is emerging from a long political and military crisis in which resources, structures, infrastructures and industrial plants have been dismantled or closed, bringing urban unemployment to the highest rates. War – with its destructive fury – has finished off the urban centers and countryside.

Drought has continued unabated for decades. Once again the rains have failed in most parts of the country. The countryside is just a barren and desolate desert; famine threatens thousands of lives.

Social Problems and Challenges. Reconstruction must start from scratch. The government is confronted with a double challenge: establishing a viable long-term economy build-up while facing the most pressing emergencies caused by the war and recurrent ecological crises.

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