The Way Forward
<<< This opinion piece was posted on Assnna.com on May 28, 2021 >>
The Gigantic Machinery of Isaias
Isaias’s chief purpose in life is not to raise the standard of living or contribute to the welfare of Eritreans, but to stay alive today, so he can outlast and outlive his real and imaginary enemies tomorrow and every tomorrow.
To stay alive and in power today, Isaias will sign any deal, lie, do or say anything, intimidate or blame anyone, use any force, spare no expense or lives. As a matter of fact, that approach in life has worked for him for over fifty years. You see, Isaias learned from experience that his luck might change for the better tomorrow if he stays alive today.
Furthermore, several decades ago, Isaias Afwerki constructed gigantic machinery whose job it to help him stay in power and alive today and every day. Isaias maintains and upgrades the machinery with the lives and future of the Eritrean people. Moreover, to maintain and upgrade the machinery, Isaias spends over 98% of the nation’s budget on: the military, security, prison systems, surveillance, feeding the public daily with misinformation and disinformation; instilling crippling fear in the hearts and minds of the public of what terrible things might happen if he ceases to be the president; teaching the public to hate the TPLF and all Tigrayans; teaching the public to hate the US, Europeans, NGO’s. etc.; planting spies in every military unit, every office or workplace, neighbors, families, even in many households; and on gas-lighting the public, that is, reminding the public that his system of government is the most benevolent and best there is in the entire world.
There is also an unwritten rule in Eritrea that everyone has to abide by – never question the competence or sincerity of Isaias or his government, and never put any blame on him or his system of government for your misfortunes, but on someone else. Put the blame on anyone, or anything else under the sun, including on his closest lieutenants, but never on Isaias or his government.
Blaming others: Since the start of the border war in 1998, Isaias has been conditioning the public to blame the Woyane and the TPLF for all their problems. A considerable number of Eritreans still don’t know that Isaias started the border war in 1998 by invading Tigray and that the town of Baddme had been under TPLF or Tigray’s administration from mid-1981 until May 1998, when Isaias invaded and occupied it. The regime’s powerful media continues to spread this false information: “Had the Woyane not invaded our nation, our nation could have achieved greatness.”
Victims of Circumstances
Eritrea does not have a volunteer military. All members of the Eritrean army are draftees; hence, all, including the commanding officers are victims of circumstances. They are in the military because they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Worse, the Eritrean soldiers fighting in Tigray are involuntary mercenaries without pay. Therefore, Eritrean troops need to be pitied by everyone, including by the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF), and not be condemned.
Likewise, even though the Ethiopian federal soldiers had initially enlisted voluntarily in order to make a living or fend off foreign invaders, they had never imagined that one day a man-child would become their prime minister, who would take his orders from Isaias Afwerki to plunge their nation into a civil war. So, they, too, need to be pitied.
Even the troops of the opportunistic Amhara region are victims of the Amhara political elites. The Elites, most of whom reside in Western democracies, have no plan to set foot in Ethiopia, let alone send their children to fight and die in the war they concocted.
There is no doubt the volunteer Tigrayan army will squash the conscripted Eritrean, Ethiopian federal, and the military of the opportunistic Amhara region. The simple fact is that those who fight the good fight cannot be defeated. Tigrayans are fighting the good fight for their dignity and their very survival as people.
However, in my humble opinion, I will say this: the success of the TDF won’t be measured by the number of Eritrean soldiers it kills, but by the number of hearts and minds of Eritrean soldiers and their families it captures. All Eritreans, including the draftees, even the commanding officers are helpless; Isaias has convinced quite a number of Eritreans that he has a mystical power that alerts him when someone wishes him ill. He purposely spreads rumors about his often meeting with sorcerers with supernatural powers. A significant number in the military are too afraid to hold an ill wish for him in their minds, let alone take action against him.
Again, in my opinion, the success of the TDF should not be measured by how many soldiers its kills. The soldiers are not the enemies of the Tigrayans, and they do not deserve to die in the wars they know nothing about. The Eritrean soldiers are in this war against their wills. Plus, they have been conditioned to hate the TPLF, are too terrified to surrender, or even desert their posts and flee to the Sudan.
While I understand, at this point, the TDF has no other choice but to fight mercilessly fire with fire, I believe there is an additional and potentially a more powerful weapon at the disposal of the politicians and military commanders in Tigray that they can employ in conjunction with the firearms.
Winning the Hearts and Minds – Information War:
Since the start of the border war in 1998, Isaias’s gigantic machinery has done an impressive job convincing Eritreans to hate the Tigrayans and the TPLF. It convinced Eritreans unless the TPLF is wiped out of the face of this planet, Eritreans could never experience a normal life. Therefore, since 1998, more than anything else, it is this hatred for the Tigrayans that Isaias has successfully instilled in the minds of many Eritreans from which the source of his power has been emanating, and it’s this supply line that needs to be cut off or drained away.
To cut off the supply, the politicians in Tigray need to focus their efforts on the undoing of the 23-years-old teachings of hatred by Isaias. It will be an uphill battle, but I believe the politicians in Tigray have demonstrated competence to make it happen, and it will cost a lot less because it has the potential to spare the lives of millions of Tigrayan civilians, as well as the lives of Tigrayan, Eritrean, and Ethiopian soldiers.
The leadership needs to send messages to the people in Eritrea that Tigray does not hold grudges on any Eritrean, and not even on the members of the military and their commanding officers of all ranks. The only enemy of Tigray is Isaias. (Never mention the EPLF as the enemy of Tigray. This is very important: There are many well-meaning Eritreans that still have nostalgia for the EPLF or ህዝባዊ ግንባር.) Tigray does not desire to take away any piece of land from or conquer Eritrea.
To successfully accomplish the task, I believe the leadership in Tigray needs to put in all its energies, resources, and creativity toward reaching out to the soldiers and their families by transmitting or delivering concise messages in such a way that they can relate to and understand.
All Eritreans are familiar with all crimes of Isaias because each one of them has either experienced it or knows someone who has. The leadership in Tigray does not need to deliver new messages; it only needs to set up an echo chamber.
Deliver the messages with humility. This cannot be stressed enough. The messages need to be accompanied with humility.
Here are some of my sample concise messages – listed in no particular order:
When these messages are delivered relentlessly, they may lead us toward educating the soldiers and their families about the real Isaias Afwerki; toward undoing the 23-years-old teachings of hatred by Isaias Afwerki; and most importantly, toward convincing the soldiers and the public to embrace the Tigrayans as their partners in peace, and to getting rid of Isaias Afwerki.
But still, let’s me be clear, and let’s not be naïve here; the messages alone won’t end the war in Tigray.
The Moment of Truth
It was evident to the Eritrean and Tigrayan public that Isaias’s troops were in the middle of the war from day one, commanding and helping the invading forces. However, weeks and months into the war, confusion lingered in many parts of the world about the accuracy of Eritrea’s presence in Tigray. Eritrean supporters of the regime, who live in Western democracies, accepted the truth only after the regime openly confessed its involvement in the war.
Now, it is abundantly clear to the whole world that Isaias is the architect of the war and the de facto commander-in-chief of the military of the three occupation forces: the forces of Isaias, Colonel Abiy, and the forces of the opportunistic Amhara region. It also appears clear that Isaias has no desire to leave Tigray voluntarily.
After all the carnage inflicted upon the Tigrayans by the occupation forces, no nation in this world, no international organization, and no Eritrean or Ethiopian individual has the right or moral authority to tell the Tigrayans how to engage or what method to apply to expel their enemies from their land and end the war.
I am in no position to advise the Tigrayan generals how to defeat their enemies, but that being said, in my humble individual Eritrean opinion, I believe, the quickest way to end the war, to stop the carnage and to spare the lives of poor Eritrean, Tigrayan, and Ethiopian troops could be by taking out the Command and Control Center in Eritrea, while being cognizant of the caveat – it will need to succeed at the first try.
As a native-born individual Eritrean, I support the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF) to take out the Command and Control surgically. Without the Command and Control, the occupation forces will collapse immediately; the war will end; and millions of Tigrayan civilians, as well as many lives of Tigrayan, Eritrean, and Ethiopian soldiers, could be spared. The mothers and families of the poor Eritrean and Ethiopian federal armies will be eternally grateful for the TDF. Even the families of the poor kilil Amhara troops, which are now being cheered on by the Amhara political elite, will be grateful as well.
World’s Sympathy for the People of Tigray
Since the day the world learned about the barbaric acts, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the people of Tigray. The Tigrayans have not invaded or conquered anyone’s land or people. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear and with the brain of the size of a mustard seed understands the Tigrayans are victims of a plot by the Troika, Isaias Afwerki, the Amhara political elite, and the man-child, Colonel Abiy.
However, while the sympathies are soothing to the hearts of many Tigrayans, understandably, there may be some Tigrayans in the TDF or the civilian population who are furious about what Isaias’s soldiers have been doing to their people; therefore, their frustration might tempt them to carry out acts of revenge against Eritrean civilians and troops, now or in the future. But that would be playing in the hands of Isaias. That is precisely what Isaias would want the Tigrayans to do. He can use that to galvanize Eritreans, including those who are fence-sitting. Isaias blooms in chaos, wars, and killings.
If the TDF fails to control even individual members of its army or militia from entertaining acts of revenge on Eritrean civilians and military members, now or in the future, the outpouring of sympathy from the world will dry up as fast as it came through for Tigray. Therefore the leadership needs to discipline its people and be prepared to take stringent and swift actions on those who are tempted to carry out, or consider, or entertain acts of revenge, and it should never attempt to deny wrongs made by its people.
There is no question, the crimes perpetrated against our Tigrayan brethren by Isaias and Colonel Abiy since November 2020 are unprecedented in their characteristics, volume, and intensity in our region’s history. But Isaias is not the enemy of Tigray alone; he has been the enemy of Eritreans for many decades. Many Eritreans are familiar with most of the criminal acts he has been perpetrating in Tigray: The demolition of families, total destruction of cultures, traditions, religions, infrastructure, education, and the imprisoning and killings of thousands of citizens. For many decades, he experimented, choreographed, practiced, perfected, and carried out in Eritrea many of those criminal acts he is committing in Tigray now. However, what makes his crimes in Tigray horrifying to the whole world is that what he had carried out in Eritrea in a period of over several decades, he managed to apply them in Tigray in a period of just six or seven months.
Lastly, politically stable Eritrea will be as essential to Tigray and its future as it will be for Eritreans. In order for the two peoples to establish a lasting peace with free movements of people and goods after Tigrayans drive the occupation forces out from their land, the first thing they need to do is forgive their misguided Eritrean brethren. Isaias has been in everyone’s households and life. Without exaggeration, he has been that powerful.
The phrase “forgive your enemies” is not only a religious text but a proven and pragmatic, and powerful weapon to solve worldly problems and to establish lasting peace.
Eritreans Too Need to Forgive Each Other
Over the many decades, Isaias and his gigantic machinery have stupefied a significant number of Eritreans to do terrible things to others, to their fellow nationals, and even to themselves.
Understandably there may be some Eritreans furious over what Isaias and his government have done to Eritrea, therefore, who may entertain or want to consider acts of vengeance. But acts of violence can only breed another cycle of an act of violence. Eritreans need to learn from the failure of the winner-takes-all selfish politics of Ethiopia.
Again, the phrase “forgive your enemies” is not only a religious text but a proven, pragmatic, and powerful weapon to solve worldly problems and establish lasting peace.
Witch-Hunts and Revenge-Killings
The peaceful transfers of powers in third-world countries often fail because the newly-minted bosses go on witch-hunts and revenge-killing spree on their predecessors. In the process, the new leaders commit even more heinous crimes than that their predecessors, so the cycle of instability and revolutions continues.
The peaceful transfer of power, which had started in April 2018 in Ethiopia, failed because from the outset, the Amhara political elites, who live in Western democracies, had insisted on a witch hunt and revenge killings of former officials. Their wishes came true when in November 2020, Colonel Abiy went on a revenge-killing spree on former government officials and summarily executed or arrested them without charges, and that effectively and permanently put an end to the peaceful transfer of power, which had hitherto been in progress.
The phrase “forgive your enemies” is not only a religious text but a proven and practical tool to solve worldly problems and establish lasting peace and stability.