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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?