Eritreans unite behind cause of rebuilding nation

After nearly 20 years in London, Gebru Tesfamariam returned to his native Eritrea two years ago. An experienced accountant, he came back to participate in the reconstruction of his country which has just celebrated the fifth anniversary of its victorious struggle for independence from Ethiopia. The 30-year war - the longest in modern African history - left the country devastated.

"I was asked to help out by a friend in the department of economic affairs," said Mr Tesfamariam, who has an office at the headquarters of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice. "I was a fundraiser for the struggle while I was in London. Even though it meant leaving my family behind, I felt I had a sense of duty to come back for a few years. People like me can be of great assistance because we're starting from scratch."

His commitment is typical of the selflessness which characterises so many Eritreans. He is working without pay to help realise a vision that more than 100,000 of his fellow countrymen have already paid for with their lives. Countless thousands of fighters were disabled and nearly half a million people fled during the war. The impact of such losses on a country the size of England with only 3 million people, is not hard to imagine.

Most government employees perform two or three jobs. Everywhere you go, people are busy building, repairing. Dr Berekt Habte Selassie, chairman of the commission drafting a new constitution, said there was "an almost demonic determination to get things done". Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in the world with an annual per capita income of only pounds 100, is being seen as a model for the regeneration of a whole continent.

Glenn Anders of Usaid, the United States development agency which has made Eritrea its biggest per capita aid recipient on the continent, said: "This country could be one of the success stories. The national sense of purpose, the discipline of its people, the hard work which is evident in the countryside ... give us cause for hope."

The rock-filled dam being built at Hayelu, a highland farming community not far from the capital, is an example of the infrastructural investment favoured by the government. Rather than using expensive or imported materials, the agriculture ministry is relying on local stone and labour.

In the end, there is something disconcerting, even faintly disturbing about the self-reliance of the Eritreans. The government has already turned down pounds 30m funding from the International Monetary Fund because of reluctance to accept certain policy reforms. It has likewise rejected 100,000 tons of wheat from the European Union because of the pricing conditions attached to the offer.

These are people who want to make their own mistakes and who will not be dictated to by outsiders. For the moment, Eritrea is united by a sense of common purpose. Five years after victory and two years after a referendum which endorsed independence, hundreds of disabled fighters are still living in Asmara's Denden camp. They receive less than pounds 1 per week pocket money. Yet no one complains and no one suggests that their sacrifices might not have been worth it.

It remains to be seen whether this national consensus can survive the social and economic difficulties generated by reconstruction. Plans to develop tourism, marine resources and mining are as yet far from realisation.

If rewards are not forthcoming by next year's elections, the ruling party might find that goodwill is not enough when people go hungry.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam