Sunday, April 28, 2013

Artmey Lebedev's Eritrea Photo Article.

A good Russian friend of mine sent me an e-mail and informed me that Artmey Lebedev, a celebrity Russian designer, an occasional traveler and blogger had visited Eritrea in March 2013. He was absolutely amazed about his visit to Eritrea. Here are the links below of his travel (Use Google Translate to translate his comments) and his design company.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A conversation with Senai W. Andemariam

Attorney Senai W. Andemariam

Part II

Issayas: As you know Eritrea is one of the few countries that had/has its own written customary laws for centuries. A couple of years ago, you and I went to interview Professor Asmarom Legesse at his home. If you don't mind, I would like to quote him at length. In that interview, Prof. Asmarom mentioned the following:

“The most fascinating aspect of the Eritrean Customary Law is its dynamism. Laws are not written in order to be administered by law enforcement agencies. Laws exist as a background to intervention, to mediation, to conflict resolution.The purpose of law is to establish a  framework for conflict resolution. Resolution of conflict is the most important aspect of  Eritrean Customary Law. In my view, Eritrean Customary Law's backdrop to mediation, backdrop to peace making is what is the important aspect. In this regard, customary laws in Eritrea are quite unique. The uniqueness is not that they are customary but that they are written. And these Eritrean customary laws are written by communities and administered by communities, which did not exist in anywhere else in Africa. In Eritrea, we have two traditions when it comes to Eritrean Customary Laws: One is a liberal tradition which believes  that laws are a living thing and you write them and rewrite them continuously so that they remain alive. The other is the onservative tradition, which states that laws are not to be changed as you please, they were written by the founding fathers in the state of sanctity and in the final form, which doesn’t evolve".

So, my question is, are the concepts from the customary laws included in the new Eritrean codes that have been drafted and finalized?

Senai: I had the opportunity to be part of the that very long process and joined it in its final stages of review and finalization particularly in the works on the draft Penal Code and draft Criminal Procedure Code. I was also assigned to draft the Evidence Code. Part of the finalization process was to incorporate, as much as possible, notions of Eritrean customary laws that are: (1) common to the majority of the Eritrean communities; and (2) in tandem with contemporary understanding of the rule of law and human rights. As the good professor told us when you and I interviewed him, there was even a discussion during the drafting process of the Eritrean Constitution to insert a provision on the status and handling of customary laws of Eritrea. What the consolidation team did in part was to give some color to the draft codes (especially the Civil Code and Penal Code) by incorporating such fitting notions of common customary laws into the draft codes. When the resulting final versions which, among a few other modifications, contained these in-corporations were presented to audiences
of the legal community and other concerned bodies, the reaction was very encouraging.    

Issayas: Do communities in Eritrea still practice customary laws?

Senai: It is a hard question to answer because of the different vantage points from which one can look at it. The answer also depends on which aspects of Eritrean customary laws one is referring to. For one who believes that the Eritrean customary laws (as all customary laws) do, in one way or another, try to fit into the prevailing social, political and legal situation of the day, yes the Eritrean communities still resort to a number of customary-law based practices even in matters as significant as settlement of homicide. The payment of blood money (ghar nefsi) is still continuing in the communities and some practices (such as the payment of bride price (ghezmi)) are continuing
despite their prohibition by law more than two decades ago.

However, for one who wants to be a legislative puritan the practice of customary laws, unless allowed by exception, is prohibited under existing Eritrean national law. Arguments are available to support and oppose such prohibition, but what remains at the ground is that traditional societies as we commonly understand them to mean, such as which the majority of our people are, will continue to follow their customary-law based practices and the phasing out of these practices towards ‘modern’ laws will be a slow evolutionary process. A pragmatic solution, such as that being attempted through the now 10-year-old community courts’ experiment in Eritrea, may be to institutionalize some notions of customary laws (especially their procedural aspects) and get them connected to the national legal system.

Issayas: I read a Ministry of Justice report (2011) written in Tigrigna about Eritrean society, culture etc. Would you briefly tell us about the gathering of different elders who represented their respective societies and the final conclusion of the aforementioned report. Honestly, I believe this report should be translated  into English for the benefit of the diaspora in particular and the world in general. It is not just a report of a gathering of people, but also an anthropological and sociological work. Could you tell us briefly about the purpose and the outcome/result of the report?

Senai: I wish I could tell you more about that interesting book which, I gathered, is a small part of the result of many years’ (I think since 1982) of research, interviews and field trips to scores of villages. Unfortunately, I was not part of the team that worked on the project. As someone who read the book, however, I agree with you that it is a must read – – as it is or as translated into English – for anyone interested  to know about traditional Eritrean communities in general. 

 A report produced by the Ministry of Justice 
in 2011 entitled The System of Administration,
Law and Culture of Eritrean Society.

Issayas: You are a member of the editorial team of the Journal of Eritrean Studies. I'm glad that the journal is revived. Would you tell us the background and purpose behind the journal?

Senai: The Journal of Eritrean Studies (JERS) is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal of the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in Eritrea. It was originally published in 2004 by the College of Arts and Social Sciences of the University of Asmara. Until it was discontinued in 2006 with the phasing out of the University, five volumes were published and after more than two years’ of hard work to reinstate it, JERS Vol. VI, No. 1 was launched in December 2012. Hdri Publishers has agreed to be our publisher now. JERS seeks to “promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of key issues relevant to the past, present and  future of Eritrea”. The journal intends to be a publication for 
anyone who wants to read or contribute scholarly articles on Eritrea’s history, culture, politics, economy, society, environment, languages and related methodologies. We have close to 30 well-established Eritrean and foreign scholars serving in its editorial and advisory teams. Those interested to contribute a manuscript can email us at and, for subscription, contact Hdri Publishers at or call them at +291-1-126177.  

Issayas: Senai, again it's always nice talking to you. Thank you for your time.

Senai: Thank you.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A conversation with Senai W. Andemariam


Attorney Senai W. Andemariam

Part I

Issayas: Would you briefly tell us about yourself?

Senai: I was born and raised in Asmara. I joined the University of Asmara in 1995 and earned my LL.B. in 2001 after working as a judge during my university national service. In 2003, I went to Georgetown University where I got my LL.M. Since 2004 I have been teaching law at the school of law here in Asmara. Parallel to teaching law, I have also been engaged in part-time commitments including consultancy works with a law office as well as with the Ministry of Justice. I was also the legal adviser of Eritrean Airlines for a few months.

Issayas: You have been teaching a number of law courses. A lot of people don't even know that there is a law school in Eritrea. Would you tell us about the law school, the students, etc.

Senai: I am a little surprised that a lot of people [if you were referring to active Eritreans] don’t even know that there is a law school in Eritrea. Anyways, there is a law school which has been there for many years. There was a diploma-conferring Faculty of Law before Eritrea’s independence and in 1996 it was elevated into a four-year degree program (2nd year to 5th year). After phasing out in 2007, the school was reinstated in 2010 and at the moment we have close to 90 students in their 2nd, 3rd and 4th year studies.

Issayas: You once told me that you work at Berhane Gila-Michael Law Firm. It is a private practice, right? Are there other private law firms in Eritrea? What kinds of work do you/they do?

Senai: Yes, it is a private, part-time engagement. I work under the supervision of the Senior Counselor Mr. Berhane Gila-Michael, my former lecturer when I was an LL.B. student. I am not licensed to represent clients in courts; however, I provide clients (most of them international) with consultancy and legal advice services. It has been an eye-opener experience which linked me with foreign companies and law firms with interest in Eritrea. In recent years, I have been particularly active in providing legal services to investors in the up and coming mining business in Eritrea. I also advise in aviation and maritime matters. With the range extending from preparing a legal memo for one or two legal questions concerning an interest in Eritrea to preparation of a fully-fledged legal due diligence and beyond, I had the opportunity to advice companies such as Boeing, Morgan Stanley, the World Bank, Zurich Insurance Company, Amazon, Total, Boart Longyear, Antofagasta Minerals etc. and worked in communication with law firms such as Sherman & Sterling, Allen & Overy, Eversheds, Norton Rose, Eversheds and Cassels Brock & Blackwell.   

You can’t say there are law firms in Eritrea as one understands its conventional meaning in the legal services industry, but law offices such as the one I work with engage young law professionals who work in specific fields of consultancy. You can obtain description of the law offices and private practitioners in Eritrea in the databases of the websites of Chambers & Partners, Who’s Who Legal, LexVisio, etc. Eritrean private legal practitioners do all works of client representation and consultancy, contract negotiation and drafting, advice on company formation, preparation of legal documents, debt collection, due diligence etc.

 Issayas: I would like people to buy and read your monograph entitled, "Sustainable Management of Eritrean Traditional Medicinal Knowledge". It's excellent, but briefly, what are the main points of your new monograph?

Senai: The monograph basically argues that since Eritrea has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, it has the obligation, and the fact on ground calls upon the government, to regulate the development of traditional medicinal knowledge which is widely practiced in Eritrea. I had the opportunity to test the thesis in a couple of articles that I published on the subject as well as during my recent presentation at the Second African International Economic Law Network Conference. Just read the following excerpt to understand the magnitude of the use of traditional medicine in the world:

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that traditional medicine, inclusive of herbal medicines, are used in every country around the world in some capacity and that “in much of the developing world, 70–95% of the population rely on these traditional medicines for primary care.” It is also estimated that at least 25% of all modern medicines are directly or indirectly derived from medicinal plants and that regarding certain classes of pharmaceuticals such as antitumoral and antimicrobial medicines this percentage may be as high as 60%. In fact, some sources claim that that nearly a quarter of all pharmaceutical products [which were priced at US$ 700 billion at least in 2008] worldwide are derived from plant sources. There is a global increase in interest in the use of traditional medicine. In 2005 the expenditure on global TM market was estimated at US$ 60 billion; the value increased to US$ 83 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach US$ 114 billion by 2015… 

The reality is the same with Eritrea which is one of the least developed countries in the world. With the obvious dearth of health professionals, the majority of our people make use of traditional medicinal practices including massaging, bone setting, cupping, herbal medical treatment, hydro-healing, thermal-healing etc. for treating various physical, mental and spiritual ailments. The monograph is an attempt not only to bring these practices into the highlight but also to discuss alternatives on how this age-old practice can be sustainably developed and changed into a money-making pool through policy and legal instruments. If traditional medicinal practice is properly exploited, you are looking at health, trade, intellectual property, biodiversity, tourism, cultural heritage and other benefits and through this monograph I tried to show an alternative to do so.

To read some of  Senai's articles: 
Next, part II.