By: Afeworki Mekonnen
Last May 24 marked Eritrea's 21st birthday as an independent nation. It was on May 24 of 1991 that Eritrea finally became a free country after 30 years of protracted war of independence against Ethiopia. On that day, Eritrea's liberation army marched into Asmara, after defeating Col Mengistu Hailemariam's army of occupation and forcing its remnants to surrender en mass.
As is the customary practice each year, this important occasion was celebrated with tremendous pomp by Eritreans all over the world. Eritrea's independence-day is an occasion that all Eritreans hold very dear to their hearts and await, each year, with great excitement and anticipation. The countdown to the big day always starts early, as do the celebrations and festivities. And when May 24 arrives there is rupture of joy and a spontaneous flow of genuine brotherhood and camaraderie among all Eritreans, as they celebrate the momentous occasion with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
In true Eritrean fashion, the celebrations feature many of Eritrea's signatory trademarks: rich cultural shows representing Eritrea's nine nationalities; outdoor and indoor concerts by popular entertainers; dance parties in cavernous halls that overflow with irrepressible merrymakers; various outdoor events, including group outings, picnics and sports activities, form the highlights of most of the festivities. And to top all this, there always is a generous supply of delicious Eritrean food to satisfy every reveller's appetite.
Whether it be on this special occasion, or any other regular day, there is one aspect of Eritrean reality that should not pass unmentioned: this is the ever- present recognition by all Eritreans of the ultimate sacrifices that were paid by their martyred compatriots to make this independence day possible. Thus, even as they celebrate the joyous occasion with boundless energy and unrestrained abandon, Eritreans are ever mindful of the staggering cost their country had paid for its independence and the supreme sacrifices paid by their martyred heroes and heroines.
While the foregoing pretty much sums up the genuine spirit of satisfaction and jubilation with which Eritreans normally celebrate their country's birthday, on this particular 21st independence-day celebrations, there was an added feature, which provided a sombre reminder of the endless and undeserved injustices that have been meted out to their country by the US and its Western friends throughout the last decade-and-half. Thus, this year, in parallel with the celebrations, Eritreans staged protest rallies in several major cities of the world, attracting particular attention to the two American-engineered unjust sanctions that were placed on Eritrea in 2009 and 2011.
One of the largest protest rallies, involving thousands of participants, took place on May 25 in the US's capital, including in front of the White House, where Eritreans took Barak Obama to task for his administration's singular role in sponsoring and adopting both of the sanctions against their country. 'Obama, Where's The Change!?' the crowd repeatedly chanted. This is an important and valid question that the American president, who was elected on the strength of his over-repeated promises of 'change,' has yet to answer. What Eritreans find most gulling is that after struggling and bleeding for their independence for thirty long years, and finally winning it, bloody-minded Western governments, such as Obama's, would callously go out of their way to pave the path ahead with jugged stones and rocks.
Eritrea's independence was not given to it on a silver platter, as was the case with many other countries. Saying that Eritrea's independence was won through a bitter and protracted liberation struggle may be a fitting prelude to any discussion of the subject, but the full story of Eritrea's extraordinary real-life struggles and triumphs, studded with the exceptional valour and supreme sacrifices of the men and women who fought in Eritrea's two wars, could never be fully told in one or two, or even several presentations. Especially today, when denial of the truth and promotion of the untruth of all things Eritrean, seem to be the rule in Western mainstream media, Eritreans do not expect their true story to be told anytime soon. Perhaps someday, in a better world and better times - when and if truth and journalistic integrity return to today's much-compromised and disgraced Western media -- Eritrea's epic story might not only be widely talked about, but, perhaps, even made into a deservedly riveting film or two. Until then, however, the splendid spectacle and color that accompany Eritrea's annual independence-day celebration by Eritreans will have to suffice.
And how do Eritreans view the Obama Administration's foreign policy, particularly with regard to their country? The ready answer, 'very unfavourably!', may be an understatement. As the May 25 protests in front of the White House clearly showed, the general consensus among Eritreans seems to be that any foreign policy changes that Obama may have made, especially where Eritrea is concerned, have made him look decidedly worse, not better, than his predecessor. For Eritrea, things have undeniably gotten worse than they ever were, with the coming to power of this president. Eritrean-Americans were swayed