May 1, 1998 Halifax Herald

Self reliance: the key to success

The March 30 issue of Time magazine featured an inspiring essay about the resurgence of Africa. It starts:"A new spirit of self-reliance is taking root among many Africans as they seize control of their destiny. What are they doing right?"

Of the many African Nations the essay covers, Eritrea's story is the most inspiring. Johanna McGeary and Marguerite Michaels write:

"By logic, the Nation of Eritrea (pop. 3 million) should not exist. The secessionist province's independence fighters ought never to have defeated Ethiopia in their 30-year-long struggle. They were outmanned, outgunned, abandoned or betrayed by every ally; their cause was hopeless. They won by force of character, a unity and determination so steely not all the modern armaments, super power support or economic superiority of Ethiopia could withstand it. The spirit that saw the Eritreans through 10 years in the trenches of their mountain redoubt at Nakfa has built them a Nation from scratch; since independence was finally consummated in 1993.

"The emergence of Eritrea as a working state in so short a time is a remarkable testament to self-reliance. ‘We learned the hard way," says President Issaias Afewerki, ... ‘that our own sense of purpose, our own unity, our own organized capabilities were the only things that we could count on to succeed.’ Alone in Africa, Eritrea carries little debt and accepts virtually no foreign assistance. Over the past four years, it has asked all but six aid providers to leave, including Oxfam and every religious organization. ‘Its not that we don't need the money,’ says Issaias, ‘but we don't want the dependence.’ Aid, he says, subsidizes but corrupts the government, blocks innovative solutions to problems, so that people do not seek out and use their own resources..."

Unlike in other African countries, and Canada, tribalism and religion are not divisive factors in Eritrea; national pride supersedes them. The Nation's ethnic and religious groups, Christian, Muslim and others, work in harmony for the national good.

Government corruption is practically non-existent. Michael O'Neill, an American advisor to the Commercial Bank of Eritrea, says, "They will not tolerate it in any way shape or form." In comparison, Canada, with its rampant patronage practices, would be considered corrupt.

In this very poor country, there is no begging, no corruption, virtually no crime. Here in our wealthy country, being panhandled a half dozen times, or mugged, while walking around such places as Halifax's Spring Garden Road is not unusual.

In view of Eritrea’s success in avoiding creating among its people a progress-killing dependence upon paternalistic government programs, we should send Canada’s social engineers there for an education in reality. Then we might someday live in a country where people help one another from their own resources, and citizens do not expect government to do everything for them.

Government paternalism in this country has sunk it in a sea of debt and has steered us away from relying upon our best resource for progressive development: ourselves.

As I read about Eritrea's reach for progress, I thought about the plight of Canada's First Nations Peoples, and the plight of First Nations Peoples in the Americas in general.

In Canada, First Nations peoples didn't want the dependency and paternalism they were forced to accept. What we wanted was an end to discrimination, a decent standard of living, a share in the national wealth, and the education and expertise needed to overcome the ravishes of centuries of neglect and persecution. At the same time, our Brothers and Sisters in the United States and in Latin America didn't want the poverty they got either - or, in some cases, the genocide. Why is it so hard for Europeans to treat Native Americans as intelligent human beings?

In Canada, the First Nation’s social problems get uncontrolled money thrown at them. This engenders corruption. Add to the mix condescending paternalistic expertise provided by mostly incompetent, rank amateurs and the problem seem almost unsolvable.

Four decades after a few so-called enlightened initiatives were undertaking by the federal government to alleviate the overwhelming poverty of First Nations Peoples, although living conditions have improved somewhat, we are more dependent today upon hand outs from the federal government for existence than we were in 1960. Real progress!

The Eritrean dream of creating a prosperous country out of a land with few natural resources is well on its way to becoming a reality. To fuel progress, people are making ploughshares and other necessities from the scraps of used war materials. They have a national attitude of: "show me; don't tell me." In view of their progressive attitude, I predict that the Eritrean dream of transforming their Nation from one of Africa's poorest into a have country will be realized!

President Issaias states: "if you teach someone to fish, instead of giving him fish, then he has a sustainable future." It’s time all levels of government in Canada accepted the wisdom of this philosophy and applied the same here.

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 1998   Web Site Map