The Meaning of Words (or, Democracy by Any Other Name)

Introduction to Volume #1, Issue 2 of The Sparkplug


The previous issue of The Sparkplug examined the impacts of neo-colonial extractivism and nation-building on the disappearance of Botswana’s Indigenous Khoisan languages. The current issue picks up this thread from a different angle: the disappearance of speech itself under Eritrea’s despotic regime, which has plunged the country’s youngest generations into a brutally imposed silence. 

This issue welcomes back Eritrean-American journalist and author Abraham Tesfalul Zere — who was one of the first authors published by The Green Violin, through a chapbook called Anecdotes of Indefinite Anarchy: Dispatches from Eritrea.

Under the guiding hand of the Ministry of Information, Eritrea shows the world a façade of progress. It flaunts two years of rapprochement with Ethiopia, expanding ports, and an illusion of successfully combatting the coronavirus crisis. Government officials, including President Isaias Afwerki himself, further promote the image of a functional society, manipulating public image through the complicity of Hollywood stars and influential figures who promote the photogenic side of the country, while choosing to remain silent and ignorant of the festering horrors of the regime.

But Zere reminds us of the autocratic reality of Eritrea — a reality that will surely prove to be inconvenient for politicians and international capitalists amid the loosening of global sanctions against the country.

Writers in Eritrea are routinely arrested, jailed and tortured for committing thought-crime; persecuted for what one publishes, but also, still more ominously, for what one doesn’t publish. The assault on intellectuals and the repression of thought, which intensified at the turn of our millennium, has left deep scars on Eritrean society and created a culture of exodus. Indeed, the UN Refugee Agency has estimated that approximately 5,000 people flee the country every month. How much more ludicrous this is to occur under the banner of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice!    

For Eritreans to communicate information about the reality of Eritrea’s regime for publication outside of the country is a courageous act that compels action from those of us with the freedom to speak and to write. For the heavy sacrifice of those who dared to question, write and publish — of their lives, their time, their voices and their bodies — it is a duty to denounce and to speak truthfully across our borders. The Eritrean government, its President and compliant officials, have mounted a wall that they meant to be insurmountable for its citizens, but the people persist. This persistence reaches far, and with it, carries hope.

LK.


Contents

Eritrea: Forget “rights” and speak of duties and responsibilities, by Abraham T. Zere

Canada lifts sanctions against Eritrea, human rights abuses continue, by Lital Khaikin

A glimpse at the current state of affairs in Eritrea: Interview with Abraham T. Zere

* Additional content in PDF and print editions *