Samuel Mahaffy was an invited speaker at the 10th Annual YPFDJ North America Conference held in Washington D.C. He shares here his personal reflections on the conference. He writes regularly about Eritrea on his website at www.samuelmahaffy.com and tweets about Africa, Eritrea and peacemaking on Twitter@samuelmahaffy. Dr. Samuel Mahaffy is a Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association. As a nonprofit agency, SUVA does not take any political stands or support any party in this country or elsewhere. The views presented here are the personal views of Dr. Samuel Mahaffy. They are shared for the purpose of providing information on activities relating to Africa as a whole and the Horn of Africa in particular.
Put hundreds of young Eritreans from around the world in one room, along with their dreams and aspirations and add some of the leading experts and thought leaders on Eritrea and what do you get? A very high energy and exciting conference!
The 10th Annual YPFDJ Conference was about the dreams and aspirations of Eritrean young people. It was about identity. It was about community building and consciousness raising. It was about building and sustaining a youth movement that will support a bright future for an Eritrea that is setting its own course, while setting itself apart from Western stereotypes about African countries.
The conference was a rich mix of cultural performances, compelling speakers and celebration of the great uniqueness that is Eritrea and the Eritrean people. To characterize the conference as a political event would greatly undermine the richness that filled three days.
By live link from Asmara, the Capital of Eritrea, Yemane Gebreab, the Advisor to the President of Eritrea, shared updates and remarks in both Tigrinya and English. I was struck by how accessible and candid he was. For those of us in the United States who are used to layers of screened access to political leaders—through press secretaries and legislative and media representative–it is truly extraordinary to hear the leadership of Eritrea sharing so openly and directly with conference participants. Questions were hand-written, passed to the front of the auditorium and answered directly. The long-distance conversation shared both areas in which Eritrea is making great progress and where Yemane Gebreab stated that “Eritrea can always do better.”
Some highlights I heard: Economic development is a priority for Eritrea with an emphasis on production. International relations must be developed in a just and equitable context with respect for Eritrea’s right to self-determination. To look forward to are the emerging Constitutional process and sustainable resource development including geothermal.
Glen Ford, the Editor of the Black Agenda Report, shared a scathing indictment of Western and U.S intervention in African affairs. In regard to Eritrea, he applauded its willingness to stand up to attempts at hegemonic and military domination. He noted that “having the biggest military machine in the world does not give the U.S. moral right” for unwarranted intervention.
My friend, Simon Tesfamariam shared a compelling and incredibly well researched presentation documenting the systematic effort in Western media to discredit Eritrea by promoting misinformation and blatant and calculated un-truths about the country. While he cautioned against cynicism which can make one “intellectually lazy” he rightly suggested that “anything reported about Eritrea in the Western media should be viewed through the lens of a healthy dose of skepticism.”
The presentation of Professor Charles Cantalupo (Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature and African Studies) at Penn State recounted his journey with and deep appreciation of Eritrean literature and particularly Eritrean poetry. Maintaining that the first true African novelist was one from Eritrea, he went on to explain the richness and uniqueness of the Eritrean voice in poetry. In their own words, he shared the perspective of Eritrea’s great poets as storytellers for the country and its people: “Let a thousand stories bloom. But, let not one of them deny, I am a person. I am Eritrean!”
There was hardly a break between speakers that was not filled with the beautiful and heart-full dancing so unique to Eritreans. In the dining hall, I chose to sit at different tables for each meal to hear the stories and dreams of Eritrea’s young people. These young people share a heart and commitment to Eritrea. As I stated in my presentation, “You are Eritrea.” It is their vision, their passion and their dreams and aspirations that will define the Eritrea of tomorrow.
I found new sisters and brothers from Eritrea at the 10th YPFDJ Conference. It was hard to leave this community gathered from across the United States and from around the world. I thank the YPFDJ conference organizers for including me and the participants for welcoming me so warmly.