Why celebrate independence without freedom?

Meron Semedar is a One Young World Ambassador and Eritrean refugee. He currently works with the East Bay Refugee Forum helping to resettle young emigrants in and around San Francisco, USA.

On 24 May Eritreans celebrate their hard earned and costly independence.

Once again however, we can only half-heartedly celebrate as Eritreans continue to suffer at home and many tragically die trying to escape the country’s oppressive regime. Whilst the country's totalitarian dictatorship is pulling together its resources to celebrate, the population live in constant fear and misery and those who flee face all kinds of hardship, torture, hunger and death.

Meanwhile president Isaias Afwerki appears on local and international media and shamelessly presented the independence that came at the cost of tens of thousands Eritrean lives as his personal achievement. In his recent interview on state television, Isaias stated that "the sole party in Eritrea is the People’s Front For Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and if anyone is thinking about forming another political party in the country he/she can go to the moon”

Since 2004, more than 200,000 (myself included) Eritreans have fled the country, preferring this exile to the hopeless conditions at home. Even though most of the refugees are in Ethiopia and Sudan, Eritreans are asking for protection in every corner of the planet. On the issue of the mass exodus of our young people Afwerki simply shrugs “those who left Eritrea as well as those who are planning to leave the country are a burden to us and I do not need them”.

PFDJ continues to fail the Eritrean people both domestically and internationally. Recently there were glimmers of positive change when the head of political affairs and presidential advisor of Eritrea (Yamane Gebreab) gave an interview with Voice of America backing an initiative to thaw tensions with neighboring Ethiopia. However Afwerki as always greeted these suggestions with sarcastic comments.

It seems to me that Afwerki considers democracy to be a meaningless luxury. Independence does not equate to freedom for the people of Eritrea and, contrary to the image of independence that PFDJ project every year, Eritrea and Eritreans are being pulled into deep misery and nothingness by their own government. It may be our independence day but why celebrate without freedom?