Eritrea: An Interview with David Bozzini, specializing in Eritrea

Paris (HAN) July 13, 2014 – An Interview with David Bozzini, Phd, by JOL, countering authoritarianism in Eritrea and in Exile. David Bozzini is an anthropologist specializing in Eritrea.  Interview by Louise Michel D. and Translation by Samuel Araya.

Eritrea: “The paranoid regime”.  Sometimes referred to as the “North Korea of Africa”, the small country in the Horn of Africa just celebrated its 20 independence anniversary last May. However, Eritrea remains one of the most isolated country in the continent. Every month thousands of Eritreans risk their life and flee the country to avoid repression and an indefinite open-ended conscription into the army.

JOL Press: Eritrea has had its independence for more than twenty years, how would you describe the current situation in Eritrea?


David Bozzini : The situation of human rights is grim. True, the country became independent 20 years ago, but freedom is very limited for Eritreans. Most Eritreans dream to flee the country. Government repression particularly increased since the war with Ethiopia in 1998, after which the situation has deteriorated.

The regime then became completely paranoid and the political situation became stiff. Those in power have reproduced a form of governance which they exercised during the years of guerrilla warfare.

JOL Press: Is it the open-ended military service that’s forcing the youth to flee their country—taking such a huge risk on their lives?

David Bozzini : Yes. Eritrean men and women from the age of 18 are mobilized permanently. They are never demobilized and instead are forced to work for the State in its military or civilian institutions.

The only people that are excused from the open-ended military service are people with very serious disabilities such mental disorders and pregnant women. But even this is not always the case, for example I knew an Eritrean that had serious sight problems and was almost completely blind; the army refused to demobilize him for years.

Many young people flee the country before being conscripted. Others, escape while in military training or after completing their military training and being assigned work by the government. The youth are actively searching for a way to escape the country but it takes time and financial resources to organize an escape from the country.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), every month around 4,000 Eritreans arrive at UNHCR center in Sudan. Since 2004, on average between 2000 and 4000 Eritreans flee the country every month.

JOL Press: How about political repression in the country?

David Bozzini : There is no repression on political opposition movements, as there are no organized resistance movements to oppress. Government repression is mainly to force people to stay in the national service and to ensure that they do not flee the country.

National Service in Eritrea is not comparable to a military or civil service as it is practiced elsewhere in other countries. The National Service is a form of forced labor or slavery that is run by the State. Officially, conscripts are mobilized for the purpose of defending the country, but in reality they are assigned to work for the government. They are also assigned to work for companies owned by the ruling party be it in agricultural activities, in infrastructure construction, etc. They are used as labor by the regime and are treated as dispensable resources.

JOL Press: How risky is it for an Eritrean to attempt an escape from the country?

David Bozzini : The government operates a massive system of informants in Eritrea. It is extremely risky to organize any illegal departure from the country for individuals in the national service and individuals soon to be conscripted. The government does not grant permission for anyone of conscription age (or even younger persons) to leave the country legally.

Eritrean border patrols are allowed to shoot at those trying to flee. It is impossible to know how many people have perished this way. People that are caught trying to flee the country are imprisoned in labor camps. Prisoners are made to do hard labor and in appalling conditions. They are made to work in the fields of State farms or on construction sites of irrigation systems and so on. Prisoners are often held in metal shipping containers or underground jails. Many contract diseases during their incarceration and some die because of lack of medical care in detention facilities. There is no trial and no information is given to families of the arrested.

JOL Press: Does Eritrean government benefit to let people go free?

David Bozzini : Beside the existence of a vibrant human smuggling business, it is not in the interest of the State economy to restrict Eritreans this way. Conscripting everyone from the age of 18 for an indefinite period is costly and an army cannot continue to increase indefinitely even in countries that are richer than Eritrea.

David Bozzini is an anthropologist specializing in Eritrea. He currently works at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).


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  1. Here it goes the tyrants dream came true converting our Eritrea into a military state. The delusional maniac seems to be very happy holding a 13 years old beautiful Eritrean teenager on military attire and Kalashnikov. Newsflash Mr. dictator our daughter should be at school holding Physics, Chemistry and math books definitely not Kalashnikov.

    • @Alem and your kinds, Instead of replying on the bias and purposely fabricated content of the item directly I prefered to reply through your comments on the same. The socalled Eritrean specialist of some kind and his interviewers are not saying anything new and they do not represent nor (wish to) acknowledge the real Eritrea and Eritreans, let alone the geopolitical reality on the horn of Africa.
      But if you are really an Eritrean and posses good working ears, eyes and a brain I expect you to know a bit about the history of Eritrea and the challenges that Eritrea faced and is still facing, thus you should have corrected the “specialist” for what he stated was and is not the reality on the grounds of Eritrea.
      ” The paranoid regime”, “North Korea of Africa” “Endless military & national service”, “forced labor or slavery practices”, “2000-4000 Eritrean youth flee the country every month”, countless lies and accusations that are echoing for years without any evidence should be an insult to any real Eritrean with national interests.
      Unless one have a regional based opportunistic ways of understanding Eritrea and her future, which makes one hate PIA and its governments ideology and countrywide development programs. In such case one may be Eritrean by blood but not an Eritrean that Eritrea and her fallen hero’s wishes to see as her son and protector of her soil and coming generation!

      Thanks to those who gave up their lives and those ready to sacrifice, our Eritrea is still marching, against all odds, towards a bright future by creating a united, conscious, strong and patriotic youth that will never be divided, kneel down or used by any external power. For this purpose the government of Eritrea, with PIA as the leader, as always together with the people of Eritrea is working hard on a fast nation building programs that will allow the future generation to become independent & self-reliance. Despite the setback in 1998-2000 and the ongoing obstacles (preserving no-war-no-peace situation, allowing woyane to hold on our land, sanctions based on lies, pulling the youth out of Eritrea or using others to portray as Eritrean refugees,…) that are again purposely created by some external power, its puppets and spread through there corrupted media outlets or journalists, just to cripple our Eritrea, the developments in Eritrea shows on all known measures that it is heading towards the ultimate goal. Building a united, strong and self-reliance state of Eritrea!
      Shame on you and on those who does not want to see the real Eritrea but beats the drums of her enemies!

      Eternal glory to our Martyrs!
      Proud Eritrawi!

      • Corrector, who appointed to confront others or talk in behave of the dictator. If you are a genuine man, tell as your real (agame) name? Don’t conceal your name and talk good of the dick heads.

      • You are in right way brother. Ignore the odds and speak out your voice for freedom and progress. remember most of them are working to be an Eritreans cos of the crises they have. We Eritreans know what is happening in the country.

    • FYI, the “13 years old” beautiful Eritrean girl you are talking about from the pictures is his daughter (our president that is) after graduation of her Educational & Military service in Sawa, Eritrea, like my brothers and sisters have done so. So what you see is indeed a happy and proud father with a very happy daughter showing off to her dad! News Flashing you back?
      Pls check the facts before believing what you see or read and spitting out any rubbish about your country and leaders. That is what they (the specialist and co’s) are specialized on and wanted your likes to echo them!

  2. Mr Aguma…..Don’t you have an Oromo web sight where you can practice your writing and reading proficiency? or you can venture out to your nearest community college, they have free writing workshops.
    “I m not give any damn attention for what the western hatro propaganda as an interview” what ???

  3. Alem, whatever your name is , It seems you got no clue like the so called anthropologist who seems to have done his homework from a week’s stay in Asmara, the rest from the western media. You on the other hand you don’t know a lick about the land (Eritrea) its people and the great strides and achievments recorded with all the booby-traps laid in the path, by those who have brainwashed your likes (turncoats and $$$mercenaries),the Eritrean leadership and Eritreans will keep marching to glory no matter what, reactionaries like you, are a dime a dozen and they always fall like autumn leaves.
    Awet N’ Hafash!!!!!

    • Look you don’t have to get upset and call me all kinds of names. That is very very weak and definitely we cant achieve anything. You don’t know it yet but I believe we both love to see a prosperous stable democratic Eritrea and at the same time it is very evident that 24 years of failed policies, failed diplomacy, tyranny and one man show got us where we are today. We Eritreans have to believe in ourselves, and we know we can do a lot better than this. Our loyalty should be to our people and to our country not to an individual and it might be hard to believe it but yes ISAYAS is a misguided unelected individual.

  4. Recently one of Isayas supporter sent me a nasty email calling me all kinds of names and told me I was not being fair to our Eritrea. The reality is nowadays it is not only me but thousands of us Eritreans in US, Canada, Europe, and the rest of the continents decided our loyalty and aligns to be to the people and our country Eritrea but Not to an individual maniac. Because of our stand against a dictator (ISAYAS) it does NOT make us less Eritreans or traitors.

    Look our problem is not that complicated, it is definitely Not the outside world, our biggest problem is what we have at home, the self appointed, unelected, narcissist maniac (ISAYAS AFEWORKI) as a president, legislator, and judge (three in one) with no checks and balances.
    1-When was the last time Eritreans elected our representative. (Never)
    2-As Eritreans do we have any bill of rights. can a corrupted official throw me in jail without due process, because he or she does not like me?. (Yes thousands of our brothers and sisters are in jail and never ever been to court)
    3- As an Eritrean can I follow a faith of my choice? can I speak freely? can I write freely? (The answer is obviously clear and it is NO, NO, NO). As some of you supporters claim if the dictator has the truth on his side, what is he afraid of, and why is he trying to muzzle everybody.
    4-In Eritrea do we have city, state, and constitutional law that protects our individual rights and a law that governs us. (NO, the maniac dictator is the law, legislator, judge and the executive).
    It is obvious Eritrea can not be a prosperous democratic country overnight but it is 24 years overdue to start the foundation of a democratic process.
    By now…..
    1- we should have our constitution in place. (Not a hash and alcohol addicts common sense)
    2- we should have elected officials (Not a narcissist evil one man show)

    Note. The beautiful 13 years old Eritrean girl on the picture, if she is his daughter (like some of you mentioned) I feel so sorry for having an atrocious criminal as a father, I hope her mother has a better common sense. She does not deserve to be in that military attire and carrying military hardware, rather she needs to be on a white gown in a school lab experimenting on physics, math, chemistry ,biology……

  5. Some of you supporters of the dictator try to scare and intimidate us and try every kind of tactics to spread terror among us by posting our pictures, sending intimidating emails, calling us names, get a grip no body is afraid of you and in my case if you slap my chick once do not expect me to give you the other chick but rather I will break your neck. It is not like we need validation of our nationality by the criminal junta in Asmara.

    Newsflash- It is an honor to be labeled as a traitor by the tyrant and his criminal boogie men.

    Long time ago in 1775 during the American revolution a very courageous legislator from Virginia by the name of Patrick Henry made this powerful speech and I take it to heart.

    Here is part of his speech.

    ” Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, GIVE ME LIBERITY OR GIVE ME DEATH!” Patrick Henry

  6. ‘……… you will continue to sink in the Mediterranean sea unless you adjust & reconcile with your brothers in Ethiopia.

    with greetings from Mekelle’