• Do Not Let Anyone Enslave Your Mind.


In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 16 of 24)
By Yonas Araya

(First Published on Asmarino.com in June 2002)

Living in Paranoia
When in the Field, unlike the way we were constantly told, the EPLF was one of the biggest incarceration camps on earth after Enver Hoxha’s Albania. Issayas was afraid of the educated members, any open contact among his Tegadelti, and any communication between Tegadelti and the public.

He literally put the entire body of Tegadelti in solitary confinement, never allowed the Tegadelti to visit their families, never let them correspond with their family members by mail, and never let parents visit their children. If he ever allowed the Tegadelti to visit their families, he ensured they were escorted or eavesdropped on by trusted personnel. Moreover, he never allowed Tegadelti to read any publications that were not approved and printed by him.

After the EPLF entered Asmara, Issayas’s biggest worry was whether he could extend the centralism, which he had successfully implemented within the Tegadelti, to the entire nation, that is, to make the country the biggest incarceration camp in the world, a system that other communist dictators, such as Enver Hoxha of Albania had successfully implemented.

Right after he entered Asmara, although Eritreans received him with open arms and hearts, his response was full of suspicion. Though Eritreans were overjoyed to see him, his reaction was as though some guilt was playing on the back of his head, as though he was suffering from some fears, as though the Tegadelti were to tell on him to their mothers, and as though everyone would be out to get him.

For that, he started digging in his trenches and fending off his imagined future enemies, people who might deprive him of ruling the nation forever. He immediately declared all the military properties captured from Ethiopia the property of PFDJ, not the nation’s present or future governments.

But also, it seemed that he was not worried about the general public, such as the mothers, the children, and the elderly, as much as he was terrified of the few educated Eritreans. He feared that the educated Eritreans might become a “bad” influence on the Tegadelti. He feared the educated ones, as professionals, could discern the flaws in his system faster than the general public could. Therefore he looked for any little reason that could enable him to muzzle them before they even got started. And he found one:

When the Dergue was occupying Eritrea, it had forced any educated Eritrean or Ethiopian, such as teachers, nurses, and office workers, to join its party, the Ethiopian Socialist Party (“esepa” ኢሰፓ). As such, most educated Eritreans living in the Dergue-controlled towns and cities were made members of that party without their choices.

Issayas wanted to utilize that “crime” to blackmail, silence, and undermine the intellect of the few educated Eritreans or to deny them the vantage point from which to look at PFDJ. Therefore, in 1993, Issayas detained all educated Eritreans who were ex-members of the “esepa” for some months. Then by imprisoning them, he broke their spirit, but also, in the eye of the general public, he made them appear as “public enemies.” Therefore, as “convicted criminals” and “traitors,” they had to live in fear and shame. He caused them to lose the “credibility” and thus the liberty to monitor the exercises of his party. Instead, they had to continually please the PFDJ, knowing they were only on parole. They needed to keep apologizing to PFDJ for letting them “off the hook” very easily with only a few months of detention.

Also, he expelled many experienced professionals from their jobs; thus, like all his predecessors, communist dictators, he chose to start from scratch, that is, by recruiting young adults and training them to commit to PFDJ forever – hence the birth of Sawa.

But that was not enough for him. The man has a suspicious mind and is consumed by greed. Though he deferred the formation of all political parties officially until who knows when, from 1994 through 1996, he registered tens of thousands of Eritreans, young and very old, men and women, in the country and abroad, into his political party as party members, and started collecting fees from each one of them. You see, during those years, the majority of Eritreans were with him; thus, he did not have to go through a house-to-house campaign and register every Eritrean to his party; but alas, the man was too consumed with greed and fear to notice that.

Nevertheless, for Issayas, that appeared effective in stifling all his self-imagined internal enemies. But for his self-imagined external enemies, his old rivalries, he had already laid the ground earlier in 1992 to ban them from ever entering the country with the national ID card that he had issued.

Referendum and ID card:
For Eritreans, the 1993 Referendum was simply a time to exercise their God-given rights, but for Issayas, it was a lifetime opportunity to humiliate and permanently obliterate his old adversaries. To that end, he applied the game of capitulation and humiliation against his old adversaries. For instance, since an ID card would be required to obtain a voting card, he formulated the Eritrean ID card in such a way that the leaders of the opposition would refuse to accept it. He ensured that the ID card was sealed with the name of his front, Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, Provisional Government of Eritrea; the latter would’ve been enough and conciliatory. He knew the opposition leaders would reject the ID because, for the leaders, accepting EPLF’s ID would be equivalent to capitulating to EPLF and renouncing their causes and the membership to their own parties. And when they would not vote at the referendum, he would accuse them of treason and ban them from entering the country forever. But of course, he knew in his heart that if they voted, they would vote for independence.

Therefore, all the campaigns against the Eritrean opposition as traitors, that is, because they have chosen to base in Ethiopia, are only hype; he had long ago, in 1992, denied them permission to enter Eritrea. He had long decided to ban them from ever entering Eritrea.

Will Eritrea Ever Enjoy a True Multiparty System Under the PFDJ?
In the aftermath of Eritrea’s independence, after the EPLF led the nation to independence, I had hoped, despite his dark past that only a few people knew, he would have to fear no one because his final accomplishment, the independence of the country, would erase all his crimes for him; thus no amount of evidence against him could convince Eritreans he had ever done anything wrong. Therefore, I hoped his friends, Eritreans and foreigners alike, might advise him to establish a constitutional government and to hold a fair and democratic election within at least two years.

And for that, right after Eritrea became liberated and while Issayas was so popular, I was chatting with an Eritrean, who joined the EPLF in the early 1970s and stayed with it until 1976, and, in my conversation, I hinted to the person that Issayas should hold a democratic election and set a democratic form of governance in motion.

Well, at that time, the US and the world media were reporting that the communist dictator of North Korea, who was on his deathbed, was preparing to transfer power to his son. Therefore the prediction of the person I was talking with was different, and right on the money, as to what Issayas was planning to do. He said, Issayas would never give up power until he was on his deathbed, and even then, like KIM Il-song of North Korea, he would transfer power to his son.

After he had led Eritreans to independence, I am sure Issayas would know that, even if he were to hold a free multiparty election, he would win by a landslide because, without a doubt, his party would control 90% of the seats. But for Issayas, 90% is not enough, and even 95% or 99% is not enough. He had always known that he could not stand even one dissenting voice; he was not used to it and was not about to adapt to change, as some of us had hoped someone might persuade him to adapt. Again, Issayas cannot tolerate even a single dissenting voice. Issayas formed his own front (company) in 1970 to hire and fire individuals at will. It had nothing to do with rectifying the errors of Qiada al Ama, nor was it for the love of the Eritrean people.

During the Armed Struggle, the Eritrean arena was not in any position to accommodate two political organizations with separate military wings (multi-political party with a multi-military wing). It was believed impossible for two fronts to roam Eritrea without running into each other and clashing against each other. However, at that time, contrary to the wishes of Eritreans, Issayas formed his own political and military wing. He rebuffed when advised that separate political and military wings could lead to civil war and fragment Eritrean unity.

And after the ELF declared military action against two other breakaway fronts, the Osman Salih Sabe’s front, Eritrean People’s Liberation Forces, and the Oboleen’s front, but still the ELF invited him and his party (selfi natsnet) to attend its First National Congress, Issayas chose to integrate his party (selfi natsnet,ሰልፊ ናጽነት) with the breakaway fronts, which the ELF had already declared war on them, then complained to the Highlanders of being persecuted by the Moslems and deprived of his rights to form his front.

And when finally, in 1975 and afterward, after he had already squashed the Osman Salih Sabe and the Oboleen’s fronts and had complete control of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Forces (ህዝባዊ ሓይልታት ሓርነት ኤርትራ), which he renamed in his first organization congress in 1976 to Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (ህዝባዊ ግንባር ሓርነት ኤርትራ), the ELF continued to invite him to unite his party with the ELF, on a doctrine of an equal footing, as partners, but again he refused to enter into “a merger with reactionaries.” Instead, he prescribed a “united front,” which soon proved impossible even when tried. And in the end, as all Eritreans have witnessed, he annihilated the ELF and hogged the Eritrean land all to himself.

It is ludicrous of him now to advocate for a homogeneous society with a homogeneous political fabric (Hade hizbi, Hade libi), something desperately needed during the armed struggle and something he stubbornly rejected.

During the Armed Struggle, it was impossible, both in theory and practice, to accommodate multi-political parties with multi-military wings; also, it was impossible, both in theory and practice, to formulate multi-political parties with one national army. But now, after independence, not only is a multiparty system with one national army natural and possible, but it is also a prerequisite to democracy and stability. Nevertheless, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the civilized world, Issayas does not believe in forming one National Army. He has made it known that even if and when he permits multiple parties to grow in Eritrea, the army and all the arsenal captured from Ethiopia should remain the sole property of PFDJ.

In the past, when asked about his position on forming a multiparty system, he answered: what parties? There are no parties, and we will not go about hatching them. Therefore many Eritreans took his words and speculated that Issayas would never establish a multiparty system, but when he does, he might break up the EPLF into two parties. And when the Reformers dissented, some Eritreans hoped he might ask the Reformers to divorce the PFDJ and set up their own party.

Since two parties are better than one, maybe many Eritreans, including many members of the opposition, might have accepted two EPLFs, because, in time, perhaps the two parties could’ve addressed the concerns of many Eritreans, thus maybe, many Eritreans could have found their niches in one of them. Well, he did not let that happen. Now, if he cannot tolerate even his old friends, who share common guilt with him, setting up their party, can we expect him to allow “independent” parties to blossom in Eritrea?

To accomplish his wishes, Issayas outlined a prerequisite for who should be permitted to attend the Organizational Congress, and who should have the right to elect and be elected.

Will Eritreans Ever Experience the Joy of a Fair and Democratic Elections under the PFDJ?
One must examine the past history of the EPLF and Issayas’s view on “elections” to find the correct answer to such a question. After running it for several years without a clear program and an elected body of leadership, in 1976, Issayas announced the date on which he would hold the EPLF’s first ever-Organizational Congress. The Congress (“election”) was prepared in such a way as to allow Issayas to be selected to power unanimously and also to allow him to unilaterally handpick those who would work with (for) him.

To accomplish his wishes, Issayas outlined a prerequisite for who should have the right to elect and be elected and who should be permitted to attend the Organizational Congress.


  1. For any member of the EPLF (Eritrean Peoples Liberation Forces) to vote or become elected to leadership: The individual (Tegadalai/Tegadalit) must have served in the EPLF for three years. This prerequisite was concocted to exclude over 90% of the Tegadelti because over 90% of the EPLF’s members (Tegadelti) were believed to have joined it in or after 1974. But according to statements by his cadres, 90% were excluded because they lacked the experience and political consciousness to vote and be elected to an office. They said, being new to the Organization, the Tegadelti who joined the Organization in or after 1974 might not know who to vote for, or they might elect the wrong person. In other words, they might not vote for Issayas or elect someone that Issayas was not fond of.

(But imagine the same Tegadelti banned from attending the “congress” as inexperienced and lacking in political maturity were being sent to battles to fight and die. In fact, by the time the Congress was held, thousands of Tegadelti who joined the EPLF after 1974 had already died in combats. But according to Issayas, these Tegadelti, many in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s, and many with higher education and professional skills, lacked the knowledge to vote and the common sense to be educated about the procedures of voting.)

  1. The individual (Tegadalai/Tegadalit) must not have been involved in the clandestine movement knows as “menkaA.” This prerequisite was also meant to exclude 2/3 of the remaining 10% of the Tegadeltibecause, by 1974, it was believed (cannot be verified) that 2/3 of the Tegadelti were involved in the “outlawed” clandestine movement known as “menkaA.”

Moreover, he also prevented the representatives sent from his mass organizations from abroad from participating fully in the Congress, for the same reason as the number one. (The 1976 organizational congress passed a law that a congress should be held every two years, nonetheless, for no sufficient reason, Issayas did not hold the second Congress until 1986.)

These prerequisites mentioned above clearly demonstrated that the 1976 “election” was a fait accompli; its outcome had all been decided by Issayas, and the participants were not there to debate issues or to elect their leaders but to inaugurate the leaders who Issayas himself had already selected.

Again, in that Congress, because his main objective during those years was courting the Arabs, Issayas appointed Romadan Muhammed Nur as a pawn (figurehead) but made himself a back-seat driver and remained the back-seat driver until he took over the driver’s seat in 1986.

These prerequisites mentioned above clearly demonstrated that the 1976 “election” was a fait accompli; its outcome had all been decided by Issayas, and the participants were not there to debate issues or to elect their leaders but to inaugurate the leaders who Issayas himself had already selected.

Again, in that Congress, because his main objective during those years was courting the Arabs, Issayas appointed Romadan Muhammed Nur as a pawn, made himself the back-seat driver, and remained the back-seat driver until he took over the driver’s seat in 1986.

Therefore, if his past is any indication, Issayas is used to having his cake and eating it too. If he could not hold a fair election when the membership of his front was only several thousand persons, can he ever have the guts now and in the future to hold a fair and democratic election?

He has already incarcerated thousands of Eritreans; he shut down the private newspapers; he has made it known that the opposition parties in exile would never participate because they were traitors. But these restrictions alone are not enough for Issayas. He knows he will win by a landslide in a mock election, but he also knows it will never be as unanimous as his previous “elections.” Some individuals he will not approve of might find their way into his government. And he does not like that. That is not acceptable to him. Or will he change?

EPDRF vs. EPLF in the Aftermath of their Military Victory over Dergue

Since these two fronts with similar backgrounds came to power simultaneously in their respective nations, it is only fair to draw analogies between them on how they dealt with their internal problems when they came to power in 1991 and until 1998.

  • Whereas EPDRF landed in a strange and hostile environment; whereas in cities like Addis Ababa, it was received with disdain and suspicion by the general public, the business persons, entrepreneurs, office workers, the intelligentsia, technocrats, and students, whereas the former soldiers scrambled to sabotage and make its life a living hell. In contrast, the EPDRF was busy presenting itself to the public as a non-threatening and peace-loving organization. A cheering crowd received the EPLF. Many wanted to volunteer and give a break to the arriving heroes. Nonetheless, the EPLF was suspicious of the public and even envious, especially those who wanted to invest in the country. If anything, the people only felt guilty for not doing enough for their country.
  • Whereas EPDRF took control of a country nine times the size of Eritrea, with more than 15 times the population of Eritrea, and with more than 80 tribes and languages, the EPLF controlled a country one-ninth of Ethiopia with ten native languages.
  • Whereas EPDRF was received by a somewhat functioning government and internationally recognized nation, EPLF did not find any government in Eritrea other than the “government” it brought in from Sahel, which was a relatively functioning government. The EPLF had to wait patiently for two years for the country to govern a county recognized by the international community.
  • Whereas EPDRF was received by cynical, pessimistic, and primarily divided people, the EPLF was welcomed by very optimistic, forward-looking, and solidly united people.
  • Whereas EPDRF did not have to deal with holding a national referendum in the country, the EPLF had to prepare and hold a national referendum.
  • Whereas EPDRF did not have to draft a constitution for the country from scratch, it did not waste any time drafting new articles and ratifying the existing articles. The EPLF had to draft a constitution from scratch. Nevertheless, it wasted too much time in its window-dressing “consultation with the public.” It did not ratify the constitution until May 1997 and has yet to implement it.
  • Whereas EPDRF had to take responsibility for a monetary policy, the EPLF did not have to deal with any monetary responsibility until 1997.
  • Whereas EPDRF did not waste any time to create a multiparty system, though not perfect, and rebuffed by many Amhara activists at home and abroad, the EPLF is yet to form a “pluralistic system.”
  • Whereas EPDRF held two “democratic” elections, although they were not perfect, but a step in the right direction, the EPLF is yet to have a “democratic” election.
  • Whereas EPDRF drafted and ratified the press law within the first year, thus free press has flourished in Ethiopia like no other time in the history of Ethiopia; the EPLF did not “ratify” the press law until 1996. Nevertheless, it shackled the free press systematically until 2000. The EPLF printed a tabloid-size, four- to-six-leaves newspaper called Hadas Eritrea only three times a week. And to add insult to injury, the front page often wrote up about Issayas Afeworki in the same way the Ethiopian papers used to write up about Haile Selassie and filled up the rest of the pages with rubbish “legal declarations.” In reality, Eritreans did not enjoy a free press until briefly in 2000.
  • Whereas the EPDRF dealt individually with journalists and newspapers that “violated” its law, the EPLF has shut down all papers and detained all journalists without charges.
  • Whereas EPDRF presented itself as a pro-business, and as such, many, including many Eritreans, flocked to Ethiopia and invested millions of dollars, the EPLF fenced the country off with red tape, discouraged, and even outright rejected investors.

>>> Part 17 of 24
In part 17, I will discuss the wonders of a free press and freedom of expression and whether the PFDJ is a closet communist.

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