The Eritrean government has launched a comprehensive program of distribution of machine guns and ammunition to the population, especially in the cities. A measure that sows fear and confusion among Eritreans inside and in the diaspora.
By Léonard Vincent
Since Spring 2012, with the usual silent paranoia that characterizes the government of Eritrea has been forcing ordinary citizens to be enlisted in neighborhood militias, according to the testimony of many Eritreans in the country and abroad.
The distribution of AK-47 machine guns to the civilian population raises questions and worries about an outbreak of a civil war. Others saw it as a sign of the gradual collapse of the secretive dictatorship in Eritrea.
Convened by the administration
In Asmara and Keren (3rd largest city of the country, north of Asmara), families received a summons from the regional administrations. Citizens gathered at kebele, the seat of the district administration, and handed receipts for AK-47s and several cartridges, and are told to “defend the homeland against the infiltrators.”
“They have to fill out a form and they are given a plastic card, which must henceforth be their identity,” says a resident of Asmara wishing to remain anonymous and whose father was armed by the government in August 2012 .
Or, in the workplace, supervisors convene employees and, after a short patriotic speech, distribute firearms to older men and women in their 50s or older.
“My father was 65 years,” Negash (the names have been changed for security reasons), an Eritrean living in exile in Canada .
“When his boss began distributing weapons under the pretext of fighting against enemies, all his colleagues were shocked but were scared to ask for an explanation.”
Training in weapons is mandatory. It is given every weekend by soldiers from Sawa military camp in the west, or Wi’a the barrack located near the Red Sea.
“After being summoned, my father, who lost his job as a civil engineer ten years ago when the government closed private construction companies, initially refused to carry a weapon,” said Filmon. Officials have threatened to deprive him of rationing that allows him to buy food in the Dukan Hidri, state stores where prices are subsidized. ”
Arbitrary detention or refusal to provide administration services are common in Eritrea.
Michael’s parents, who live in Mai Temenai near Asmara, are extremely concerned.
“My father is a veteran of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Eritrea (separatist guerrillas who won Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia), says he. He knows how to use a gun but not my mother. And yet, she is forced to hold it. ”
Neither recipients of Kalashnikov nor their families understand the government’s intentions, while shortages basic goods and inflation weigh heavily on the lives of Eritreans.
“I do not know what they want to do, laments Berhane, whose elderly parents stayed in Asmara in June 2012 received their arsenal from a local leader of the ruling party. But it is extremely dangerous and terribly perverse. ”
Launched shortly after the violent incursions in March 2012 by commandos from Ethiopian Afar region in and around the village of Badme, the campaign of arming of the population continues today.
Since the clashes, during which many prisoners were taken by the Ethiopians, the tension is high at border areas.
The death of Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, came to revive the atmosphere of fear in the small isolated country where there are shortages of everything and prisons are full.
“Last Thursday (October 18), employees of the Ministry of Health were gathered at Expo center in Asmara for AK47 distribution, says the head of Asmara. The next day it was the turn of the employees of the Department Education…”
For the Swiss anthropologist David Bozzini , Eritrea specialist attached to the Centre of African Studies, Leiden (Netherlands), the Government is committed to a “strategy of atomization of society.”
“The distribution of arms to civilians is not new in Eritrea, says he. During the years of guerrilla warfare, clandestine cells in the country were equipped with Kalashnikovs. What is new is the arming of the population in cities, primarily Asmara and Keren. ”
To him, President Isaias Afewerki and his clan tend to focus on “building a climate of emergency and power,” while, in the wake of the Arab revolutions, the Eritrean youth began to organize outside the country to destabilize the government through campaigns agitprop.
This would be a way for the regime, strangled financially and politically by international sanctions by the UN because of Eritrean support for Somali Al-Shabaab, “creating artificial tension in the population,” to better hold in respect.
It is true Issayas Afeworki lost with the fall of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, two valuable allies who provided him with such strong political support in the international arena and gasoline, whose lack is sorely felt Eritrea.
“This systematic approach to social atomization is simply a mode of governance of Issayas Afeworki and his government,” says David Bozzini.
Besides the fact that the Eritrean government is convinced that Ethiopia is ready at any moment to launch a military to attack, creating a paranoia state, maintain the suspicions and fears of the neighbor is tactic to deter those who might be tempted to organize to overthrow the regime by force.
The latest information from Asmara also indicate a new step was taken in this mysterious weapons program population.
Now, people would be forced to patrol their neighborhoods, Kalashnikov slung, according to several witnesses and photographs distributed on the Internet by the youth movement of Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC).
On Eri-TV, President Isaias Afewerki is shown at work, during a tour in the agricultural region of Mendefera in the south. Thin but smiling, and he silenced the rumors that regularly give to dying in a hospital in Qatar where he is treated in the utmost secrecy his diseased liver.