Angry Eritrean youths jeered and booed Professor Gideon Abay in Oakland on Sunday in which he had nothing except praise for government policies in a country which has been described as a “giant prison” by human rights advocates and democratic nations worldwide.
The youngsters were infuriated by the professor’s description that Eritreans fleeing the country were merely lured by better standards of living in the West. Prof Gideon, who has served as mathematics professor in the US for 20 years, was responding to a question from the audience about why so many Eritreans were risking their precious lives crossing forbidding and forbidden African deserts and deadly high seas seeking protection and refuge in unknown lands.
Prof Gideon spoke for about two hours without a single mention of the need for human and democratic rights, freedom of speech and an end to hunger in Eritrea. His central theme was that there could be no talk about the necessity for a constitution or rule of law, elections or justice in the country while Ethiopia continues to occupy the border town of Badme.
According to the Professor, Eritrea’s sovereignty is under constant threat and that there would be no discussion of democratization for an indefinite number of years as long as the border dispute with Ethiopia remains unresolved. His argument appeared to be supportive of President Isaya’s statement over a year ago when he told Aljazeera that there would be no elections in the country for another three to four decades.
When asked whether Eritrea is now where Somalia was 20 years ago under Siad Barre who led his nation to chaos, Prof Gideon said Eritreans were the most united people in Africa and that a Somali type disaster was unthinkable. Eritrean culture and history of struggle allow no room for national discord, he stressed.
The professor had a lot of criticisms to hurl on the US, Europe, UN, the African Union, IGAD (Inter-governmental Authority on Development) and all humanitarian NGOs while painting only a positive picture of the Eritrean government. There was the predictable we-are-right-they-are-wrong attitude throughout his presentation. Gideon who appears more of a nationalist than a politician received warm applause from the audience over his detailed description about Eritrea’s victimization by the super powers spanning sixty years.
There is no doubt that Prof Gideon is well intentioned when denouncing Eritrea’s external enemies arguing that national security ought to be the number one priority. What is worrisome is what he deliberately leaves out from his analysis: That Eritrea’s survival as a nation remains under a more serious threat so long as the government continues to scorn such values as human and democratic rights and press freedom.