Eritrea: Mining Companies and Slave Labor
[With that important call from IGAD for further sanctioning Eritrea, with special focus on the mining companies and the diaspora population, the negative role the mining companies are playing in the region has come into a much-needed attention. What IGAD is afraid of is that, with revenues from the mining projects starting to flow into the Eritrean regime’s coffers, the potential of its mischief in destabilizing the region will grow by that much. But terrorizing the neighborhood is not the only thing this totalitarian regime is capable of doing. With the increase in its revenue, the totalitarian grip under which the Eritrean people will be living will also increase by that much.
The world, for one reason or another, is only focusing on the regime’s behavior of sponsoring terrorism throughout the region. So it will be left up to us Eritreans to highlight the other half of the problem: the terrorism the Isaias regime conducts against its own people. Not only are the companies playing a pivotal role in extending the lifespan of this regime, and hence the misery of our people, but they are also directly involved in the suffering of the people, as seen in the way they let the Eritrean workers in the mining projects get ill-treated.
On April 04, 2010, I wrote an article addressing only one aspect of what has been going on in the mining projects – the slave labor used by the subcontracted companies such as Segen, all of which are government owned. Today, I am reposting that article with the looming sanctions in mind. It is time to remind Eritreans, investors, Western nations from which these companies hail, the AU, Security Council members and the UN body in general the destructive role the mining companies are playing in Eritrea and the region. Other articles focusing on different aspects of the same phenomenon will follow up.]
The gold rush in Eritrea has attracted many Western companies, among them Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd. and Sunridge Gold; Britain’s Andiamo Exploration and London Africa; and Australia’s South Boulder, Sub Sahara Resources, Chalice Gold Mines Ltd. and Gippsland Ltd. And this doesn’t tell all that there is to the involvement of Western companies, for there are many subcontracted companies rushing to get in too, such as AMEC of Canada doing engineering study and Capital Drilling and Geo Drilling of Australia and Boart Longey of Canada doing drilling. But among the stories of the mining boom in Eritrea and the mining companies’ stocks going up and down, the dirtiest secret that has remained untold is the extensive use of slave labor in these mining projects.
As in all kinds of gold rush, the Eritrean one is attracting all kinds of desperados. There are two aspects to this desperate endeavor. First, a totalitarian regime totally strapped of hard currency is giving away all the gold found in its domain in the lowest bid imaginable. While neighboring nations such as Sudan and Egypt demand 50% and 60% of ownership respectively, the desperate Eritrean regime is asking as low as 10% to attract companies that wouldn’t have come under normal conditions. This being an extremely risky area where war with Ethiopia and violence from within (given the numerous armed groups active in the country) could easily erupt at any moment, the regime has felt that it has to sweeten its package to attract Western companies. One of these risks has, in fact, recently materialized when none other than the UN imposed sanctions on this young nation for sponsoring terrorism in Somalia and throughout the region.
On the other side of this desperate endeavor are the mining companies that are more than willing to return the favor. Given the huge profit and high risk involved in this gamble, it is no wonder that from the very beginning these companies are turning out to be accomplices of the regime in violating the human rights of the already terrorized Eritrean masses, in general, and the workers employed in their projects, in particular. For all they want is get their gold out and run. And if that requires accommodating the brutal regime in Asmara in any they can while they are there, so be it. This accommodation gets even worse with some desperado companies, far from the mainstream brand-name ones, rushing to capitalize on this offer of a lifetime. A case in point is Nevsun Resources Ltd whose entire portfolio is made up of one single project in Eritrea – the Bisha project. For this company it is a matter of life and death, a situation that renders it susceptible to all kinds of manipulations by the regime.
Among the many negative roles that these Western mining companies are already playing are the following three:
- Slave labor: The totalitarian regime is known for using extensive slave labor in its “development projects” under that misleading policy of “self-reliance” that every totalitarian system invokes to control the economy and its people. And now, given that almost all of the local companies subcontracted to do various jobs in the mining projects are government owned, slave labor has become a pervasive problem in these areas.
- Forced displacement: The forced displacement of indigenous populations from the mining areas and their surroundings has become an ongoing phenomenon, something that will even get worse if any armed sabotage is conducted in any one of these areas. The scorched earth approach that the regime has been using in the Kunama area is a case in point, where a whole ethnic group has been being targeted to pacify a corridor that it is considered too close to the Bisha mining project to be left “unmonitored”.
- A lifeline to the regime: With monetary aid from outside and revenues from Diaspora Eritreans dwindling, the regime’s hard currency reserve has been totally depleted. If so, with the revenues from the mining projects starting to flow into the PFDJ coffers at a time when the regime is economically challenged, theirs will be the only lifeline that will keep this totalitarian regime afloat, thereby extending the misery of the Eritrean masses unnecessarily for years to come.
The latter has been addressed in my article, [Eritrea Sanctions Watch] Western Mining Companies: Throwing a Lifeline to a Brutal Regime in Eritrea ; in this article, it is only the first one that will be addressed. The second one will be addressed in another article.
There are three things that we need to know regarding the slave labor in Eritrea and its emerging intimate link with the mining companies: (a) its nature – how did it come about and what does it look like; (b) its scope – how many people it involves, and for how long it lasts for each laborer; and (c) its ties with government-owned companies and, by extension, with the Western mining companies. Much of the work being done in the mining projects is, and will be, subcontracted to local companies – construction, food products, transportation, banking, even some drilling, etc – and since the government has already bankrupted all private companies and forced them out of the market, there is no option for the mining companies but to give all the work that there is to these government-owned companies. Since the overwhelming majority of those “employed” by government companies are the youngsters from the army and national service – a pool of about 300,000 at any given moment – forced to work at a salary of 500 Nakfa ($12) per month, the link to slave labor cannot be more direct than this.
The mercantile nature of the PFDJ (the ruling party) has no boundary; all it cares is how to maximize its profit, irrespective of consequences. In its former dealings with foreign entities – NGOs, the donor community, foreign companies, etc – there are three schemes that the government used to exploit their local employees. First, it sets the salaries of workers directly employed by the companies at a low level and pockets the difference. Second, it gets a lump sum of money from the work its companies are subcontracted to do and gives only a tiny fraction of that money to its slave laborers. And third, all the salaries have to be paid in local currency after an extortion of more than 60% in a currency exchange rate system in government-owned banks. We will see how these schemes of blatant exploitation work in regard to the mining companies below.
Before we look at how the mining companies are letting most of the work in their mining projects be done through slave labor provided by the government and allowing the government to get away with its various exploitation schemes, it is important to know the nature and extent of the pervasive slave system that the regime has fostered, perfected and installed throughout the nation to remain economically and politically viable, long before the mining companies have showed up in Eritrea.
Slave labor at national service
It has been about 15 years in Eritrea since an experimentation of Khmer Rouge like proportion has been undergoing under the misleading name of “national service”. It is to be remembered that the first thing the Khmer Rouge did when they “liberated” Cambodia was to empty its towns and cities of its inhabitants and drive them to the jungle to make better Khmer out of them – one that ended in a tragedy of epic proportion. In Eritrea, in a similar experimentation, villages, towns and cities have been emptied of their adult and most productive population and cordoned off in the wilderness in their hundreds of thousands. As in the case of Khmer Rouge, this experimentation is meant to create “better Eritreans” in the image of the guerrilla fighters that “liberated” the nation. The only reason why this experiment has not ended in Khmer Rouge like tragedy of genocide is that Eritrea has very porous borders and these modern-day slaves have been successfully escaping to neighboring countries in their hundreds of thousands.
This totalitarian experimentation is designed to achieve three things: to create a formidable war machine to counter Ethiopia’s hegemony in the region, quixotic as it may seem; to provide endless source of free labor for governmental projects; and to control a population group deemed to be dangerous to the survival of the regime. Emboldened by this foolish experiment, a war that was instigated by the leader of the nation has already resulted in tens of thousands dead and tens of thousands maimed. Ever since then, the whole nation has been at war footing for more than a decade. While keeping them cordoned off in the wilderness under the pretext of “national security”, this bottomless pool of workforce has been the main source for the Sisyphean projects that the regime has been undertaking. Given the indefinite nature of the national service, this has directly translated into endless form of slavery.
It is important for outsiders to know the extent (the number of slave laborers) and the years involved in this totalitarian experimentation of epic proportion. Right now, there are about 300, 000 slave laborers in active “military service”, with hundreds of thousands more in reserve. All of those in reserve have already gone through the grueling years of service and are frequently called back to fill in gaps left by ever-deserting recruits. If we take only those in active service, all of which have been slave laborers for all the years they have been serving in the military, they would make up about 6% of the entire 5 million population. Think now of the US having 6% of its population in active military service doubling as slave laborers: about 18 million of them! And this doesn’t tell the whole story, for every adult person has to pass through that grueling experimentation before he or she is sent back to civilian life or escapes to one of the neighboring nations. This has been going on for about 15 years straight. There are tens of thousands that have wasted their entire adult lives on these slave camps hauling stones, and still remain trapped there. No wonder that Eritrea, despite its small population, has been identified as a nation that has generated the highest number of refugees seeking asylum in the world last year.
Exiles in their own land
The main purpose for quarantining hundreds of thousands of adults (mostly young men and women) in the wilderness for more than a decade has been that of totalitarian control. Once identified as the number one internal enemy of “Eritrea”, this young population group has to be contained by whatever means necessary. As a result, those in national service have acquired all the characteristics of the classical exile. That is to say, “national service” is just an Orwellian name given to “internal exile”. Some of these exile characteristics are [for a more extensive look at the nature of the national service, please read my Sealing off Eritrea: Domestic Terrorism ]:
- Isolation/minimum contact: As dangerous exiles, with poisonous ideas to spread, the Warsai (an Orwellian name – “inheritors” – given to the young generation in the national service) population group has to be kept away from urban population centers where it could potentially create a lot of mischief to the totalitarian regime. So the first step is to isolate them and put them in a safe laboratory setting rendered controllable. Cordoning off hundreds of thousands of them in the wilderness is meant to achieve just that.
- In the image of “liberators”: Once they have been isolated in an ideal laboratory setting of the regime’s liking, the mission of this experimentation is to mold the Eritrean youth – the guinea pigs of this experimentation – in the image of teghadalay (the guerrilla fighters that liberated the nation), with the purpose of making robotic, atomic units out of them that would easily be made to fit into the totalitarian machine.
- Hard labor: As in the case of Siberian exiles, they have been wasting their productive years in modern-day slavery, hauling stones in futile Sisyphean tasks, with the main purpose of keeping the young generation preoccupied, at minimum, and of breaking their spirit, at maximum – both, of course, for control purposes.
- Vigilantly watched over as enemies: In their place of exile, they have been put under constant watch by none other than the former guerrillas (the Yikealo: the Big Brothers); every movement they make is assessed purely for its potential danger to the regime. Any sign of independence in thinking or action is severely punished.
- Indoctrination: As in all kinds of political exiles, the indoctrination of the Warsai generation is essential to PFDJ’s survival, the idea being to create compliant subjects willing to execute the orders of the regime without questioning.
- Physical and mental punishment: Other forms of cruel punishment are also essential to break down this restive generation; those considered non-complaint are subjected to cruel forms of medieval-like torture infamously known as “helicopter”, “otto”, “Jesus Christ” and “almaz” – all innovative ways of tying up the victim to inflict maximum pain. Humiliation (ex: shaving a female Warsai’s hair for “noncompliant” behavior) and isolation are also used. As a result, mental traumas have become normal phenomena.
- Victims of the elements: As in the case of many exiles in many totalitarian systems (the Khmer Rouge come easy to mind), this huge mass of humanity lives in the open under arduous regimental conditions, hard labor, meager food supply and little medical attention, resulting in hunger and malnutrition and various diseases. Many of them are stationed in one of the hottest area in the world.
- Sexual abuse of women: The sexual coercion and rape by military authorities that the female Warsai have been subjected to have resulted in illegitimate pregnancies, illegitimate abortion, illegitimate children, HIV infection, mental traumas and life-long stigmas. Sexual slavery has become a fixture in every military camp, where beautiful women are selected to “serve” the officers, colonels and generals.
- Wasted lives: National service has interrupted the normal life of Warsai – no education, no normal jobs, no raising families, etc – for years on end. There are those who have spent their entire productive life in the national service; 10 to 15 years of life under slavery has now become normal.
- Spiritually deprived: Any inclination in spirituality is severely dealt with; reading the bible is a no-no. The regime has no tolerance to anyone among the Warsai who shows loyalty to others than itself – be it of earthly types (ex: the family) or of heavenly types. Thousands of Evangelical Christians, most of whom are from the Warsai generation, are languishing in prisons simply because of their belief.
- Mass exodus: As every exile would undoubtedly do under similar circumstances, the Warsai are escaping in droves at every opportunity, only to be met with further hardships both inside and outside Eritrea. Tens of thousands are stranded in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan and tens of thousands more have ventured further [in Israel alone, there are more than 8,000].
- Fugitives in their land: Those who have escaped from the totalitarian regime’s laboratory setting but remain hidden within the land lead a fugitive’s life. Most of them won’t venture outside a compound or house for years. The countless informers everywhere and the frequent unannounced round ups (giffa) are meant to apprehend deserters and dodgers before they make it to neighboring countries.
- Shoot-at-sight policy: To stop slave escapees from making it across the border to Sudan or Ethiopia, the cruelest policy the regime has come up with is the shoot-at-sight policy at border crossings. The case of the 12 Mai-Temenai kids (a neighborhood in Asmara) shot at the border recently is a case in point.
- Prisons within a prison: Even though the whole national service is a huge prison, those who are considered not malleable enough to fit into the experimentation are sent to walled prisons. To date, there are tens of thousands of prisoners languishing in hundreds of prisons and concentration camps scattered all over Eritrea, the overwhelming majority of which come from the slave laborers population group.
- Executions and massacres: These too are not uncommon. The massacres at Adi-Abeyto, where more than 50 rounded-up young men were killed, and at Wi’a, where more than 160 young men lost their lives in similar fashion, are two cases in point. Many die in prisons as a result of torture, malnutrition and diseases. Many others are also executed and buried in unmarked graves under the cover of darkness.
- Parental penalization: Even the parents are not spared. The parents of army deserters and conscription evaders are asked to pay a hefty price (50,000 Nakfa) or to go to prison. This is done more with the goal of making a lesson out of them to the rest of the population than bringing back the escapees, most of whom have already made it all the way to safe destinations.
Given the synoptic view of the type of modern-day slavery in Eritrea depicted above, the question that has to be answered now is: Where do all the hundreds of thousands slave laborers work? And where in this picture of total deprivation and exploitation do the Western mining companies come in?
Where do the slave laborers work?
The slave laborers are all made to work in government projects. Two types need to be mentioned here: agricultural and construction projects. The first one is motivated by two needs: to feed a huge army and to grow cash crops for hard currency. In its effort to feed a huge mass of ever-moving humanity, the government has been expropriating fertile farmlands from pastoralists and peasants at an alarming rate. But what is more is that it is using the very manpower needed in the villages to tend their land as slave labor in its own farms. No wonder the villages, strapped both of manpower and land, have been facing one famine after another. The other consequence of the regime’s farming policy is that, given its use of free slave labor in its farms, almost all private commercial farming has been bankrupted. The result is total government monopoly. Now all the big farms are owned by the PFDJ (the ruling party), the army or directly by the government itself [don’t get fooled, they all amount to the same thing]. Government-owned companies running these farms include: Afhimbol Agricultural Project, Alebu Dairy Farm, Gash-Setit Agricultural Project, Homib Agricultural Establishment, Sawa Agricultural Industry, etc.
The other part that “employs” a huge number of slave laborers is construction: of roads, bridges, micro-dams, housing, etc. Many of these projects are either meant to occupy the hands of Warsai or to generate hard currency for the regime. The government has, step by step, systematically killed all private-owned construction companies. Now, all the construction companies working in the nation are owned by the government. Again, one of the effective ways it did to kill private companies was by availing itself of free labor from the huge pool of slave laborers in the national service. Remember that it pays a worker a measly 500 Nakfa ($12). No company would be able to compete with that. To mention some of the government owned construction companies: giant national ones like Asbeco, Bidho, Ghedem, Rodaab and Segen and smaller ones such as Badme, Haben, Mereb, Musa Ali and Sawa.
Now add all the banks (National Bank of Eritrea, Commercial Bank of Eritrea, Housing and Commerce Bank of Eritrea, etc.), the only insurance company (National Insurance Company of Eritrea), most of transportation companies and whatever is left of that most foolish of all its endeavors – Eritrean Airlines – to the government’s ownership list to see how thorough and pervasive this monopolization has become. You could also easily see that whatever is deemed to be a good source of hard currency for the money strapped regime is given priority. Export-oriented agricultural projects and housing projects entirely oriented to the Diaspora community are two such examples. But now the mining projects have come to overshadow these other projects in terms of importance to the survival of this brutal regime and, understandably, slave labor has come to occupy central role in them.
Mining companies and slave labor
Where do the mining companies come into this web of conspiracy against the Eritrean people? The “slavery” link could throw light on the nature of their involvement.
Since Nevsun is the first mining company to go fully operational, one need only examine its project at Bisha to see the extent of slave labor used there – a trend that every other mining company will have to follow. We need to look both at those directly hired by Nevsun and those indirectly hired by the subcontracted local companies to get the full picture. A look at the history of PFDJ’s dealings with local and foreign companies will be essential in figuring out what is going on in Nevsun’s mining project.
National service to the PFDJ’s rescue
As the government keeps expanding national service to include every adult in the country and for as many years as possible, many companies have been facing dire shortages of workers. If a company (or any other workplace) wants to keep a worker considered too indispensable, the government relents under one condition: that the worker does his national service while working in the company. All that this says is that worker will get only 500 Nakfa ($12) to the duration of his/her service, which goes indefinitely for years, while the company pays the rest of the money to the government. At its most bizarre, the government used to do that to its own employees in various ministries. First, it would declare some workers to be too valuable in their workplace to do national service in the army, and then it cuts off their salaries for years, pretending that they were in extended national service. The case of teachers is a notable one. Considered to be indispensable in their task as educators, many were pauperized by the meager salary they were getting for the duration of their service.
Knowing this lucrative business of selling slaves, the government used to target organizations with big monies in the pipeline like the UN, UNMEE, NGOs and foreign companies. The case of HALO Trust comes easy to mind. The aftermath of the war left Eritrea with a huge part of its land planted with tens of thousands of landmines. One of the companies employed to do the clearing of landmines by the UN was HALO Trust, the largest NGO of its kind in the world. Locals were trained to do the actual demining process, mostly from the national service. Given that they were involved in a very high risk job, they were initially paid relatively high wages. As usual, the government protested, and allowed them to be paid meager salary and wanted to pocket the difference. This maltreatment of employees by the government was one of the main contentions between the regime and the company. In the end, the regime, typical of its handling NGOs and other foreign entities that didn’t go along with its various schemes to rob its own subjects, expelled the company from Eritrea.
The regime abhors any substantial amount of money without passing through its hands. The main reason why the regime didn’t want the NGOs in the land was because it felt they were blocking the money from the donor community from reaching its hands. That is why, after expelling them, it championed cash-for-work policy only – a scheme that the EU easily fell into. Given that most of the work was done by slave laborers, most of that cash donated by the donor community went directly to the regime’s coffers.
What we need to know now is whether the mining companies are entering the kind of deals mentioned above with the regime where they allow the government to exploit the laborers working for them and pocket a disproportionate amount of their salaries. What we know now is that when Nevsun Resources Ltd. began directly hiring locals, the median salary was about $300 a month, undoubtedly considered to be better-off salary when compared with the national one for similar jobs. Not surprisingly, the government strongly protested; it wanted the wages to be drastically cut to resemble the local ones. The company reluctantly cut it into half. No one knows for sure if the government is pocketing the difference. Given the track record of the regime in similar dealings, as pointed above, the latter possibility is not pure speculation. But even if this is going on, it would still remain a small part of the story, for the majority of the employees are not directly employed by the companies.
Subcontracted PFDJ companies
When it comes to the question of which local companies to subcontract, for the mining companies it is not even an option. As pointed above, since the PFDJ-owned companies have already bankrupted and forced almost every private company in its field out of the market and in the process monopolized the whole economy, the mining companies will have no other alternative than to hire these government-owned companies; and that is exactly what they are doing. Much of the work that doesn’t require very specialized tasks like transportation, construction, providing food for the local workers and any other menial jobs will be done by local companies. Still, that doesn’t mean all the government-owned companies are involved in non-specialized tasks only; a case in point is Eri-Drilling, owned by Eritrea and South Africa, subcontracted to do drilling. There is no doubt then that the overwhelming majority of the workers in the mining projects are those “hired” by the subcontracted government-owned companies. And that is where the link to slave labor exists at its strongest.
We all know that the much-vaunted “developmental projects” like roads, bridges and micro-dams are entirely built using the slave labor of national service; a free source of labor that the government-owned companies used to kill every conceivable private competition. These PFDJ-owned companies that are now hired by the Western mining companies are availing themselves from the same source of free labor to do their assigned tasks in the mining projects, and the mining companies are looking the other way. In the case of Nevsun Resources Ltd., the government-owned Segen Construction Co. has ended up with the lion’s share.
Senet is a South African company that is given the role of General Contractor, and is subcontracting its work to local and foreign companies. The biggest of the local companies subcontracted by Senet is Segen Construction Co. The company is involved in construction of roads, micro-dams, housing complex and building materials. And typical of all government-owned construction companies, the overwhelming majority of its employees and labor force come from the slave labor pool of youngsters brought from the national service and army. This also holds true for almost every other subcontracted local company.
One need to carefully look at the level of exploitation involved in these schemes. What the slave laborers get on salary is what is given to them as the others in the national service – a meager $12.00 a month. Since the subcontracted companies get their money lump sum, the level of robbery involved in this scheme is astounding. Let’s say that, under normal circumstances, the average salary would be $300. Now, the government would pocket a difference of $288 from each employee – a whopping 96% of what they were supposed to earn.
I mentioned above many government-owned companies involved in various sorts of construction. These will be the companies with the largest number of employees in all the mining projects. Roads that lead to these mining areas, many of which were inaccessible before, are being built by these companies. All the employees working in these areas have to be housed in the vicinity; all the housing projects are done by these companies. Various other projects that require construction are also being undertaken in the mining process itself, and the bulk of that will be done by these companies.
One that needs particular attention is the nature of mining involved in all the mining projects in Eritrea: open-pit mining [the environmental degradation that takes places as a result of open-pit mining is huge, but that is a subject matter for another time]. As the companies sift through one layer of earth after the other to extract first gold, then silver, then copper and last zinc, their open-pit mining will eventually look stadium-size gigantic holes with terraces leading from the ground level all the way to the bottom. For example, in Nevsun’s case, it is projected the first couple of years or so will be used to get the gold and silver out; then would follow the extraction of copper and zinc for the rest of the ten-year lifetime projected for the whole Bisha mining project. The open-pit mining involves a lot of soil moving, terracing and walling; all of which will be done by PFDJ-owned construction companies.
The same holds true with other PFDJ-owned companies, albeit in a smaller scale. Someone has to feed the local employees, and the agricultural companies are the only ones well positioned to provide that service. So is it with other companies: transportation, insurance, banking, etc. Let me say a few words about the latter to highlight the extent of robbery used in the destitution of the workers.
Daylight robbery at the Bank of Eritrea
One of the most effective ways that the regime does to rob money out of its people is the hard currency exchange rate system it uses. So far, the main engine of the nation’s economy has been the large Diaspora community. A great part of the huge remittance sent by the Diaspora community to their families passes through PFDJ hands where an extortion exchange rate system is used to milk the poor recipients of more than 60% of what they are supposed to get. You see, the black market exchange rate system is about 45 Nakfa for one dollar, and it is that exchange rate that really reflects the value of the local currency, the Nakfa.. But the official rate system that the banks use is 15 Nakfa for one dollar; only a third of the dollar’s real worth. Of course, most of the Diaspora community uses the black market, but it is fraught with danger. Besides, since many of the Diaspora community – in tens of thousands – visit their country every year, they are asked to register the amount of hard currency they bring with them at the airport. All that money has to be exchanged using the official exchange rate.
The regime used the same extortion system with foreign entities whenever it could get away with it. Its insistence that an NGO has to put 2 million dollars in an Eritrean bank for it to remain operational in the country was done with that extortion in mind.
Now, let’s return to the mining companies. Take, for instance, the case of those that are directly hired by the mining companies and were meant to be paid, say, roughly $300 a month. First, the government protests and cuts their salaries in half, immaterial of whether it pockets the difference or not. Second, since these companies are not allowed to pay the employees in hard currency, they will have to exchange it first in the government-owned banks [there are no other banks] before they pay their local employees. For the companies, there is no loss; it will always be the same amount of hard currency that they will issue. The loss will be the employees’; it is they who will have to be paid with the extortion exchange system. That is, two thirds of their salary would be lost in the exchange system itself alone. So if we add this to the first robbery mentioned above, we can see that even those directly employed – let alone the slave laborers that work in the subcontracted government-owned companies – would be left with a pittance in their hands in the end.
Now you can easily see what I meant at the beginning when I said that it is not only that the government that is sweetening their packages to attract the Western companies in an otherwise inhospitable area, but it is also the mining companies that are accommodating the regime in every way they can, the most horrible of which is in the role they are playing to keep the culture of slave labor deeply entrenched in Eritrea well and alive.
The goal of this article is not only to inform Eritreans of what is going on in their country in the name of a “mining boom”, but also to inform the rest of the world. First, the democratic nations – mainly Canada, Australia, Britain and South Africa – from which these mining companies hail have to live up to their own expectations. It seems to me to be hypocritical for these governments to approve sanctioning Eritrea, on the one hand, while they keep a blind eye to the unholy alliance struck between their companies and the very regime they want to proscribe, on the other hand. This hypocrisy starts with the US. Even though the German bank that was meant to finance Nevsun Resources Ltd. finally withdrew from the deal for lack of governmental support that had to insure it if it were to go ahead with the venture, in the end it was a US company that rescued Nevsun. This US company must have been given a green light by administration officials, something to the effect that it is OK to invest in Eritrea despite the sanctioning, to be so bold as to buy 75% shares of Nevsun. This is an American gold fund whose name Nevsun company has yet to make public. All this is ironic in light of the fact that it the US that has been the most vocal in sanctioning Eritrea.
Second, this article is also written with investors in mind. The investors should know that their money is being used to perpetuate misery in the land in two ways. Not only is it motivating the totalitarian regime to use all the slave labor it can in the mining companies to maximize its profit to unimaginable level, it will also be using all the revenues it gets from these mining projects to terrorize its own people and the region – the way it has been doing so for the last 15 years,.
And third, it is written with the aim of informing humanitarian and international labor union groups that are at the forefront in the fight against slave labor the nature and extent of slave labor in Eritrea, in general, and the extensive slave labor used in the Western mining companies’ projects that are sprouting all over Eritrea, in particular.