May 16, 2019 By Marre
HEAVENESE’ expedition to Eritrea is to about to begin.
We received an official invitation from the Commission for Culture and Sports, but we have not received any information concerning our itinerary.
We feel like “information refugees”.
Finally I got an email from Natsuko, who left for Eritrea the night before to make preparations.
In her email, she said,
"Don't be surprised, everyone! Changes have been made to our schedule.
In the initial plan, we were informed in writing that our performance at Cinema Roma was to be held on May, 21st with our performance at City Park on the 22nd.
No surprise. We are dealing with Africa. Anything can happen. Bring it on.
But I'm worried that it's going to be the day of performance right after the second group of our members will arrive.
The schedule is different from the one already printed on our fliers!!!
Oh my… What can we do? That’s life.
Japanese people are not familiar with Eritrea.
Eritrea is a small East African nation, with an area about the same size as Kyushu and Hokkaido.
It is located on the Horn of Africa which is a peninsula on the Red Sea.
North of Eritrean is the place where the renowned figure, Moses parted the Red Sea and miraculously lead the ancient Hebrews as they escaped from Egypt.
On the opposite shore of the Red Sea is the vast Arabian Peninsula where Saudi Arab
and Yemen are located.
The world media tells us that Eritrea is notoriously known as the world’s worst dictatorship where the systematic human rights violations undertaken are unparalleled to any other.
When you search Eritrea on the internet, you will find all sorts of information concerning Eritrea. It says that Eritrea is the North Korea of Africa.
Indeed, since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, the dictatorship of the first president has not allowed any elections to be held.
Isaias Afwerki who fought to win Eritrea's independence, took office as the first president, and remains in the presidency establishing a dictatorship.
An opposition party exists, but as long as elections are not held, there’s no point in its existence.
There is no independent media which is critical of the current regime.
Also, there is a system called "national service," in which citizens are forced to work either in the military or in government related work.
Human Right Watch reports that there is an excessive monitoring system of Eritreans, foreigners and non-Eritreans alike so internal migration is restricted.
Under these circumstances, refugees never stop fleeing Eritrea.
A large number of people flee to Europe by way of neighboring Ethiopia every year at the risk of their lives.
In a refugee camp interviewees accused the Eritrean government of perpetrating the horrors they experienced.
They live in fear and under threat and suffer from a series of abuses such as sudden imprisonment and torture of their relatives.
And there is no religious freedom.
Only Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Islam and Protestant Evangelical Lutheran are authorized, and no other assembly or activity is permitted.
The Christian Today wrote:
“For more than a decade, the government has been persecuting Christians, who make up around half of the population, and other vulnerable groups. According to Persecution Charity Release International, all evangelical and independent churches have been closed, and many Christians tortured for their faith.”
Unauthorized independent Protestant ministers are being arrested in groups.
But is this news true?
It is always the Western media who reports a tragedy.
It is certain that the Eritrean presidency does not praise Western democracy.
But it is the same for other Muslim countries?
Is there an aspect of the Western media that condemns anything that does not meet their standards or is not accepted in the West as evil?
Let’s remember Iraq which was under the dictatorship of former President Hussein and was allegedly called the most inhumane state.
What was the result of the military intervention by the US-led multinational forces in the overthrow of the Hussein regime?
A power vacuum was created, and domestic turmoil turned into a civil war. The situation in the Middle East became fluid, and the Islamic State has emerged from this.
In the first place, is it right to impose Western values on countries with different values from the West? It is undoubtedly true that Western supremacy has confused history.
Can't the same thing be said about Eritrea?
The Eritrean state has officially commented that the media is politically biased and not correct.
the Eritrean Ambassador to Japan, Estifanos whom we owe so much to, has argued that the media is prejudiced.
How is it really?
As far as we've experienced, there is nothing I can find to accuse Eritrea of being the North Korea of Africa.
I'd like to explain the reasons briefly.
First of all, Eritrean Ambassador Estifanos, the initiator and promotor of our Eritrean expedition proves it wrong.
He is a brave man who fought in the war for independence against Ethiopia and was jailed.
He bears bullet wound scars on his head from it, and he is a blatant patriot and a real Eritrean at heart.
He was so impressed with HEAVENESE’ performance that he took time to come to Kick Back Cafe to ask us to go to Eritrea since HEAVENESE had performed in its neighboring country Ethiopia.
He has come to see our HEAVENESE performances many times.
However, the Ambassador Estifanos was especially impressed by the program “To know Nobunaga is to know hip-hop” held on May 22 last year.
It was a program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martian Luther King Jr. with a theme of let’s fight against racism.
Ambassador Estifanos resonated with HEAVENESE' antithesis on racial prejudice, and he negotiated with his home country that Eritrea needs HEAVENESE.
In response to that, we received an official invitation from the Eritrean Commission for Culture and Sports.
His love for Eritrea and and for the whole continent of Africa is very great.
When he contacted his home country to invite HEAVENESE, the Ethiopian-Eritrean peace agreement had not yet been signed. In other words, Eritrea was at odds with Ethiopia.
In this situation, a patriot would not think of inviting a group who had had a successful Ethiopian performance to Eritrea. Ambassador Estifanos’s passion, however, was conveyed to his home country, and his home country shared that desire which resulted in our official invitation.
Ambassador Estifanos knows that I, the leader of HEAVENESE, am a Protestant pastor.
Our music falls into the category of gospel in America.
English-speaking Eritreans also understand the English lyrics of HEAVENESE.
What does it mean for HEAVENESE to be officially invited to a national event and to play music in front of the public and deliver a message in the face of the religious oppression that unrecognized Protestants are being persecuted or imprisoned?
I wonder if independent Protestants are really being persecuted.
Is it true that domestic migration is restricted and they are under intense surveillance?
It is true that when Natsuko, our staff member, traveled a month prior to our trip to make preparations, young local people in the area told her that there was no freedom of speech.
But it seems that they are free to use FB and have access to the internet.
There are certain restrictions.
For example, you cannot get on LINE App which in Japan the most used application for communication.
Also, the internet connection is not good.
However, evidentally people in Eritrea are free to access the world's information to a certain extend
Music seems to be big and active and there is an audition program on their National TV.
I asked Natsuko repeatedly at our meeting after she returned from Eritrea to know if it was actually a despotic state?
Natsuko was not monitored by anyone in the government. She was allowed to meander freely around the city, taking photos that people online say are forbidden. She sent me a lot of pictures.
Certainly, if you want to travel to places other than the capital city of Asmara, you need to apply and get permission. However, it is said that it can be processed and granted on the day of your departure or the next day.
We have received a message from an Eritrean musician who found out that HEAVENESE was coming to Eritrea and wants to collaborate with us.
There seems to be no monitor, no pressure, nothing so far.