By Eritrean Media and Information Center
The 2012 Eritrean Festival, which took place form 17-19 August 2012 the Eritrean Festival at the Washington Convention Center brought Eritrean Americans for a weekend of fun and learning. The 3-day event began with a welcoming event on Friday 17 August 2012. For the participants who traveled from cities and towns across the United States, it was night of music and dance.
The Festival was officially opened on Saturday 18th August 2012. H.E. Araya Desta, Eritrea’s Ambassador to the United Nations officiated at the ribbon cutting ceremony along with officials from the Eritrean Embassy in Washington. The delegation then toured the exhibition halls where the many community booths showcased Eritrea’s economic development, arts and crafts, Diaspora activities from the past year and the many vendors who brought traditional clothing, jewelry, CDs, DVDs, T-Shirts and more. The National Union of Eritrean Women hosted a luncheon for the Eritrean delegation and Friends of Eritrea, at the Taste of Eritrea corner. The guests were treated to a scrumptious variety of Eritrean dishes. Filling the air was the aroma of fresh roasted traditional coffee which was served with traditional breads and snacks.
The evening activities began with a moment of silence in memory of Eritrea’s fallen heroes and signing of the Eritrean National Anthem. In his opening remarks, Mr. Ghirmai Berhe, Chairperson of the National Holiday’s Coordinating Committee welcomed everyone, especially those who came from far way cities and towns to share and add to the festivities. He thanked all those who worked tirelessly to organize the event.
H.E. Ambassador Araya Desta in his seminar covered diplomatic, economic and political developments of the past year. He gave the audience updates on the illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on the State of Eritrea, the fabrications and distortions presented by the UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) and related issues. Eritrea’s has embarked on a promising economic future. After 12 years of relentless efforts to rehabilitate and reconstruct the countries vital infrastructures, an environment conducive for investment has been established. The Eritrean Diaspora has the unique opportunity to contribute to Eritrea’s development by investing in the various sectors, including agriculture, mining and tourism.
Throughout the two days, there were seminars and workshops as well as meetings for the various civic and community groups that make up the vibrant and energetic Eritrean Diaspora. A seminar organized by the Mekete Committee-made up of over 15 Eritrean organizations, the Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA) and the Young -People’s Front for Justice and Democracy (Y-PFDJ) was moderated by Ghidewon Abay Asmerom use of soft power in defense of Eritrea’s national interests. The seminar was presented in both Tigrinya (on Saturday) and English (on Sunday). The three presenters are renowned Eritrean intellectuals and they mesmerized the audience with their resourceful information and presentations.
Elias Amare, an Independent freelance researcher/writer, a Senior Fellow with Peace building Center for the Horn of Africa (PCHA), served as an ERI-TV journalist, a senior book editor, Communications Director and cultural attach’ with the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, DC and a long time volunteer community organizer. Elias is the editor of the book ‘Eritrea Art Time’. His presentation ‘Writing is fighting’ showed Eritrean’s long history of using the pen to defend and explain the Eritrean cause. He mentioned notable writings such as Aboy Woldeab’s news articles in the 1940s and the famous handwritten manuscript ‘Nihnan Ilamanan’, in which Isaias Afwerki, described the objectives of the Eritrean struggle.
Asgede Hagos is a Professor of Mass Communications at Delaware State University. He is the author of ‘Hardened Images: The Western Media and the Marginalization of Africa’. He also wrote Media Intervention in Peace Building in Burundi ‘ The Studio Ijambo Experience and Impact as part of USAID’s Greater Horn of Africa Peace Building Project. Dr. Hagos is President of the Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA). Dr. Asgede talked about the corporate media, the agenda setting media, and the deliberate distortions when it reported about Eritrea. He gave examples of its contributions to the vilification and defamation campaigns against the State of Eritrea and its government.
Issayas Tesfamariam is a historian, film director, writer, photographer, blogger, and head of Microfilming Department at Hoover Institution. He is the author of the book ‘Eritrea, Colors in Motion’, producer of the films ‘Asmara: City of Radiance’ and ‘Eritrea an old new nation’. His blog is full of insightful interviews and research posts on Eritrea’s culture, religion and politics. His blog on Pushkin and his Eritrean roots is particularly noteworthy. Issayas spoke about soft power and how Eritrea’s rich culture, traditions and history, including ancient history, could be used to educate and persuade others about Eritrea and define Eritrea’s true image.
Highlights of the festival included the high quality of performers and the flawless organization of the event. The annual Festivals that have been a staple in the Washington, DC area for over 30 years continue to attract great Eritrean talents and have become a ‘creative hub’ for celebrating Eritrea’s musical and artistic excellence. This year’s impressive artist’s lineup included Bereket Menghisteab, the legendary Eritrean musician who was accompanied by Tareqe Tesfahiwot, Aklilu Tefono, Sami Berhane and Dehab Fatinga, and together with a half dozen new up and coming artists entertained the audience until the wee hours of the morning. The musical variety included songs from the liberation era, which evoke memories and a bit of nostalgia.
On Sunday, H.E. Ambassador Araya and Eritrean Embassy officials awarded trophies and certificates those who won in the various sports competitions. Certificates of appreciation were also given to those who contributed to the Festival’s success. The thousands of hours of help by volunteers demonstrate that Eritrean Diaspora festivals are rooted in the social and cultural life of the vast Eritrean community and can only grow with time. This year saw a marked increase in attendance, especially the youth.
Eritrean Festivals in the United States contribute to the cultural tourism in the cities that they are held. Visitors to the city also paid visits to Washington’s museums, monument and other attractions. Eritrean Festivals also have a positive economic impact for local economy. Hotels, taxi cabs, restaurants and service providers benefit from income generated by the Festivals and the thousands who attend these events with their families. As the number of Festival attendees grows from year to year, so does the need for more work to prepare and match their needs. Next year’s Festival is already in the planning.