The majority of political leaders around the world have responded to the persistent coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 190,000 people worldwide, calling for increased international cooperation and welcoming any financial, medical and humanitarian assistance available to them. offered by foreign entities to help protect their constituents. That’s why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo happily accepted China has offered to send 1,000 ventilators to its state, and Italy has warmly welcomed hundreds of Cuban doctors who have offered help in the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Similarly, when the founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Jack ma has offered to send hundreds of fans as well as hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 54 African countries, most of them African leaders, such as Ethiopia. Abiy ahmed and from Rwanda Paul Kagame, quickly accepted the donation and expressed gratitude.
The leaders of Eritrea, a country classified 182/189 in The 2019 United Nations Human Development Index, however, surprisingly chose to reject the vital equipment that Ma offered to send them. On April 5, the head of economic affairs of the ruling party, the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) in Eritrea, Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, has publicly confirmed that the Eritrean government has rejected Ma’s donation. Speaking as a fortnightly guest speaker Hagerawi Nikhat (“National conscience”) teleconference, an exclusive online seminar in which senior party officials have the chance to communicate with their executives in the diaspora, the man in charge of the economy of Eritrea said that the country did not want to become a “dumping ground” for “unsolicited donations”. Accepting such offers would be contrary to “the principled position of the Eritrean government, which advocates for self-sufficiency,” he added.
In the same webinar, Gebrehiwet explained that Eritrean management is now trying to buy the medical equipment needed to handle COVID-19 cases in the incredibly competitive Chinese market and organize the shipment of these items to Eritrea on charter planes.
Of course, despite its rejection of foreign aid, the Eritrean government does not have the funds to make such purchases quickly. As a result, he turned to his own long-suffering citizens and launched aggressive fundraising campaigns to make them give the little money they have to the state to help efforts to fight the virus. As a result of these aggressive campaigns, some of Eritrea’s most strenuous citizens, including members of the national service, have already been forced to to make donations. It is not yet known, however, whether these donations have proven sufficient for the country to buy everything it needs to contain the spread of the virus.
Although the Eritrean government has undoubtedly hindered the country’s ability to respond to this public health emergency by rejecting Ma’s generous donations, this was just one example demonstrating its tendency to value its own image and its survival more that the well-being of his constituents, even during a pandemic.
Although Eritrea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, it has not escaped the pandemic. The first case of COVID-19 in Eritrea was reported on March 21stand, since April 28, 39 confirmed cases in the country, of which 19 have recovered according to the Ministry of Health. Since April 1, the country has been blocked nationwide to slow the spread of the virus.
The pandemic has not yet reached its peak in Eritrea, but there are signs that the country is headed for disaster.
Eritrea’s health system is not strong enough to handle a deadly and highly infectious disease like COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, health facilities in the country suffered from a severe shortage of supplies. At times, patients were even asked to buy intravenous (IV) infusions from private pharmacies before being admitted to hospital. The Eritrean government closed all private clinics in 2009. In the second wave of state foreclosures that began in June 2019, it also took control of 29 Catholic hospitals, health centers and clinics. Meanwhile, poor working conditions have prompted many Eritrean doctors to flee the country, causing severe shortages of staff in hospitals.
And the lack of quality public health care is not the only reason why the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have catastrophic consequences for Eritrea.
Although many countries, including some developed countries, are suffering from a shortage of essential products due to the pandemic, the magnitude of the problem is twofold in the case of Eritrea where import and export activities have been banned since 2003.
Since, even under normal circumstances, Eritreans can only buy rationed essential supplies that are on sale in the stores of the ruling party, they could not store them to prepare for the foreclosure. Furthermore, even if the state miraculously succeeded in obtaining additional goods for sale, Eritreans would not be able to make additional purchases as they are not allowed to withdraw more than $ 330 per given month from their own savings. This, despite Eritrea being a monetary economy.
Since the mid-2000s, the President of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki spent most of his time supervising the construction of dams. Yet the country’s major cities, including the capital, still suffer from a chronic shortage of running water and electricity. In August 2018, the regime gathered many tank truck owners. Many of them remain in prison. All water bottling companies were closed in June 2019. This makes it impossible for many Eritreans to follow the hygiene protocols necessary to stop the spread of the virus.
If not impossible, the diet also made it very difficult Eritreans in the diaspora to help family members get home. Eritrean citizens living abroad are required to pay so-called “diaspora tax “first if they want to send goods to their country of origin. Refunding money to Eritrea is also not easy for diaspora members, as they are forced to use an extremely deflated fixed exchange rate imposed by the government to do so.
Eritreans also suffer from a lack of political leadership during this difficult time. While the leaders of most countries hold daily briefings to inform their citizens of the latest developments in the pandemic, President Isaias has not spoken to the people or the Eritrean media for nearly two months after interview to state media in mid-February, in which he did not even mention the growing threat posed by the new coronavirus. His prolonged absence from public life has led to rumors that he is incapacitated or even dead.
Internal sources told me that the president was in the port city of Massawa during his months of absence from public life, because he plans to move his temporary office to Gedem, near Massawa. Sources close to the file also told me that it had been very difficult to reach him during this period. In an extremely centralized system, where senior state officials cannot make any decisions without the President’s approval, one can only imagine the damage caused by the absence of Afwerki during such a crucial period.
After his prolonged absence on April 18, the President suddenly sent a five minute recorded message to the Eritrean people from an unknown place. Afwerki only mentioned the pandemic in the introduction to his message and went on to say constituents that COVID-19 should not ” derail development programs “that its management has undertaken. The president’s message made it clear that the pandemic was only a secondary concern for the government. The Ministry of Information, however, only translated the short section of the message in which the president spoke of the pandemic into English.
As it has become clear that Eritrea will not be able to protect its citizens from COVID-19, rights groups, exiled scholars, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, called on the Eritrean government to release the tens of thousands of long-languished prisoners of conscience overload and unsanitary prisons. Many also expressed concern over the thousands of students living in cramped conditions at the Sawa military training center.
During his online seminar, Gebrehiwet also responded to these calls, calling them “hypocrites”. Rather than offer an explanation of how they plan to prevent the virus from spreading like wildfire in prisons and military schools, he said it would be the best place for anyone who needs to be quarantined.
In response to growing criticism of its COVID-19 response and concerns about the well-being of its citizens, the Eritrean government issued a statement on April 6, accusing the HRC of “harassment” and claiming that the “enemies” of the state is using the pandemic. to lobby for regime change.
Although the accusation that rights groups, media organizations and the UN itself are using the pandemic to push for regime change in Eritrea is clearly unfounded, there is a good chance that this emergency health authorities cause trouble for the authoritarian government of Eritrea.
History shows that public health crises such as pandemics, food shortages or extreme pollution harm all governments, but pose the greatest threat to authoritarian regimes. 1973-1975 Ethiopian famine, for example, was the final trigger that ended the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie in the country. In Sudan, it is Omar al-Bashir’s repeated inability to manage such crises, such as the cholera epidemic of 2017 and soaring bread prices in 2018, which led to the disappearance of his 30-year diet.
The Eritrean government has clearly failed to respond effectively to the greatest public health threat the world has faced in a century. Unless he changes his habits, does not accept help from the world community, and does not take action to save the lives of already suffering Eritreans, he is unlikely to survive this pandemic.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.