SPECIAL FOR AFRICA EXPRESS
Somewhere inside Eritrea, March 15th 2015
Since the start of March 2015 the Eritrean websites: Asmarino, Awate, Radio Erena are reporting on the Eritrean Government’s campaign to demolish houses. The villages and towns that we know are affected, by the current demolition campaign are: Kushet; Adi Abieto; Zelot, Kahawata, Adi Keyh. In Adi Keyh alone 120 houses are scheduled for demolition. The current demolition campaign is not the first and I fear it will not be the last. In the past houses have been demolished in: Keren, Hashela, and Massawa.
This time more people are reacting, more news (i.e. images, voices etc…) is escaping the tightly controlled country. This time people are throwing stones at the authorities and standing in front of bulldozers these are actions and scenes that are reminiscent of the Palestinian rebellions against Israel or the student rebellion in Beijing in 1994.
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From the reports of the Eritrean websites and from friends and family we know that in Adi Keyh shots have been fired and that people have been killed and injured. Confirmation of the number of people that have been killed and injured difficult, however there seems to be consistency around the reports of at least 2 dead and 13 injured.
These numbers are in no way a real indication of the number of victims. The experience of the past is that is that many people faced with such destruction and contempt loose hope, lose their resilience succumb to depression and many commit suicide. Within a very religious and conservative society the act of committing suicide is devastating because the families and friends are never able to share their pain. Suicide happens in Eritrea but it is taboo hence it is never talked about and it is never shown in the records.
Why is this happening? Why the government wants to demolish that houses? The official reasons are:
- Houses have been built illegally
- Building permits have been obtained illegally
- The land is not for residential purpose – therefore building of a dwelling is illegal
- The land use has been reassigned – therefore the current use if illegal
Illegality is the explanation –
On the surface this seems a simple problem – there is a law, the law was not followed, and therefore there are consequences. In fact in Eritrea the situation is not so simple.
In Eritrea the situation is more like this – there is a law, however we ( the Government) will make sure to put you the public in the condition of never being able to access the law or to comply with it and then – without any regard to the role we the Government have played in creating the chaos, the many exceptions to the legal process and generally your misery, we the Government will punish you and if you dare complain we will make you disappear – It is easy we the Government have done it many times now….
According to the Land Proclamation NO 58/1994 all vacant land in Eritrea belongs to the Government Article 3 – State ownership of land. According to Article 4 of the same Proclamation Eritreans only have the right to use land for particular purposes (Article 4 Usufruct Right). The following are the usufruct rights recognised:
- Housing –
- Tiesa – land for housing in own rural village.
In each case when you are allocated land – you have a specific period to use the land for the purpose for which it was given. In the case of land allocated for Housing the Proclamation states that a dwelling must be built within 3 years. If no house is built within the period then the land must be surrendered to the Government. Vacant Land anywhere in the country belongs to the Government
The people whose houses have recently been demolished have not only lost their shelter, they have been damaged psychologically as well as financially. In addition as their plot of land is now technically vacant, they are liable to lose it. As soon as the dwelling is demolished the land is vacant and therefore, technically it reverts back to the Government.
IMPOSSIBILITY OF OBTAINING BUILDING PERMITS OR REPAIR PERMITS
In the current contextEritrean citizens are placed in the impossibility of applying any legality. For years the authorities responsible for issuing building permits have either limited the number of building permits issued or completely frozen the process. This is despite the high demand for housing in Eritrea
In 2008, under the pretext of corruption, the Government arrested the majority of qualified architects, engineers, surveyors then privately operating. We should note that though many were fined and asked to pay retroactive penalising taxes, none were actually brought to court and in many cases those arrested were never even interviewed or questioned by the Government once arrested.
The result of these arrests and subsequent penalties imposed on the building sector professionals is that the building industry in Eritrea is in disarray . Many of the e professionals working in the industry have not been able to recover and have been forced to sell their assets and give up their licences to pay fines and back taxes imposed by the Special Court. The Special Court is a tribunal whose judges are military and are not known, it operates according to conscience, does not allow representation and there is no appeal from it.
Private contractors have been replaced by party /military owned companies that use national service workers at slave labour thus engaging in unfair competition with private contractors, who have to pay labour in accordance with the provisions of the Labour Law. This unfair competition has further disrupted the building sector. The result is simple Eritreans qualified in construction, both from the private as well as the public sector, have left the country. At best you find them in South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. At worst we are losing them in the deserts of Libya or the Mediterranean Sea.
We have lost and are continuing to lose the professionals and we are also losing the qualified labourers / tradesmen. The Goverment is telling us that the national service is training such people but the reality is that it is not. If you want to build anything in Eritrea and somehow you have managed to navigate the on and off again bureaucracy of the building permit and you have found a qualified Engineer, Surveyor or Architect then your next challenge is finding a qualified work force.
It is not around it is sucked into the black hole of the National Service and as I said previously the National Service is not producing a skilled labour force. If you are not a General or a member of the ruling elite then you may have access to people who:
(a) are avoiding the national service;
(b) are of Ethiopian Origins and are desperate for work ;
(c) are doing their national service but are able to work on the sly – a black market if you like .
Basically you are getting your work force on the black market. The Generals and the ruling elite have no problem because they simply use the workforce of the National Service. Unfortunately it is a common site in such places as Asmara to see National Service personnel working on the newly acquired private house of the ruling elite (Generals etc…). The result of such as system is that nobody is legal –
EXPENSE OF AND LACK OF BUILDING MATERIALS – GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS ON THE MOVEMENT OF BUILDING MATERIALS
The bulk of building materials in Eritrea is imported and is very expensive In fact because of lack of hard currency and the resulting restraints on letters of credits for importation, building materials are smuggled into the country.
In addition in an effort to control the sector the Government has put restraints on the internal movement of such building materials as sand and stones ( both available in Eritrea in good quantity)
Given that :
a) To leave land vacant is tantamount to forfeiting your land to the Government
b) Officially more often than not the process of issuing building permits is frozen – that is Government Authorities are stopped from issuing permits
c) Building materials are not easily available and in many cases are accessible only through the black market
d) There is a lack of building professionals in the country due to the persecution of the same by the Government
e) There is a lack access to a skilled work force because the youth is taken up by the National Service and the National Service has in fact de-skilled the population and many young people are leaving the country
The action of the Eritrean Authorities to declare any houses built illegal and to demolish them is questionable. Such actions are particularly questionable when we realise that in the same areas where the houses are being demolished there has been a tug a war between the Eritrean Government and the people since mid-2014.
Specifically, since last year, both the youth and the older people in these communities have refused to report for National Service. In the case of the older people ( up to 65 years of age ) we are talking about former fighters, as well as people who had been demobilised on medical ground. We are talking about people who are of the same generation as the President of Eritrea. Since mid-2014 two generations of Eritreans have defied the order of the President. To force such people to report to the military bases the Government resorted to threats and to arresting family members. The tactic was not successful Not only did the people refuse to report, they also refused to surrender their weapons , which had been given to as a result of a security campaign started in 2008 to train local militias .
The Government’s 2014 efforts to draft the youth as well as the older fighters into the national service was timed to coincide with the harvesting months and impacted on the gathering of the harvest causing losses. In this way a good harvest following the good rains of 2014 was jeopardised by the actions of the Government . .
In December 2014 ERI TV (The State Television) questioned President Isaias on the timing of the National Service round up. His attitude was: “……since training is a priority, harvesting can wait, we can afford weeks and months to do that….. and one has to make a decision. ……….. Regardless of whatever happens to the harvest, the government opted to have farmers lose their crops instead of missing scheduled training…… We made a trade-off.”
Clearly the people did not think that military drill was a priority . Clearly the people thought that the harvest was a priority so they disobeyed. Towards the end of 2014 the matter reached a stalemate with the President issuing a God Father like warning – much in the same tone as he had done in 2001 when the Government Ministers that made up the G15 insisted to correct the direction the government was taking . Twelve of the G15 minister disappeared without any trial and in 2015 it looks like the people of Kushet, Zelot, Kahawta, Adi Keyeh are paying for their defiance and are being made homeless.
 Awate.com – Isaias’ Trade Off: Military Drill as Crops Perish- December 2014