The first step after peace must be helping young people
After a peace agreement was signed in July by Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed formally ending 20 years of war between the two countries, an Eritrean Catholic priest said the country needs to focus on opportunities for youth, to stem the flow of emigration. Fr. Mussie Zerai said that the peace agreement has given people hope for the future, but should be followed by guaranteeing freedom, education, healthcare, and jobs to “reduce the exodus of young people.”
“Peace is the base. Now we need to start to build a better future for our youth,” said Fr Zerai, a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder and president of Habeshia, an organization which helps refugees in Italy. The priest, who was involved in the peace-building efforts, said he and others had been trying to promote dialogue as the solution for the two countries. “Now with peace, I hope the country, the government, will start to build this important infrastructure and structure for the country.”
Zerai observed that religion also had a vital role to play since the prime minister of Ethiopia “invited all religious leaders” to become involved in preparing “the people for reconciliation and for tolerance and for good relations between neighbouring countries” following the peace agreement.
Zerai deplored the lack of rule of law over the last two decades but is optimistic for the future. “Our hope is that with peace maybe the internal policy will change,” he said.
The Catholic Church in Eritrea is very active in all aspects of society, including evangelization, charity, education, and healthcare, but faces government discrimination. Zerai said the authorities recently shut down eight free Catholic-run medical clinics saying they were unnecessary, because of the presence of state clinics. This is preventing the Church from serving poor people in those areas. Eritrean Catholics who use the Alexandrian rite make up about 5 per cent of the population and Oriental Orthodox nearly 40 per cent.
Eritrea is a one-party state with a deplorable human rights record. Afwerki has been president of the country since it formally gained independence in 1993. Religious freedom has long been a concern in Eritrea U.S. State Department’s annual report released in May 2018 documented the arrest of hundreds of independent Protestant Christians in Eritrea, where the government reportedly coerced numerous individuals into renouncing their faith.