In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 18 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in June 2002)
If the president of a democratic nation were to die while in office, they might get succeeded by their vice president, and if both of them were to die in one day, there are already a chain of successors in place and made known to the citizens of the nation by the system; therefore, the citizens of the country know what to expect – life would go on, almost as usual.
Issayas Afeworki Has Taken the Presidency Hostage
Throughout his political life, Issayas Afeworki has made countless hasty decisions, and whenever his decision resulted in a disaster, he passed the blame on to those around him, then demoted, publicly scolded them, or sent them to prison. However, if his decision yielded a favorable result, he took all the credit for himself.
In addition, he frequently transferred those in his inner circle from one ministry to another, which required them to learn entirely new skills and experiences. And by the time they acquired the skill to do their newly-assigned job, by the time they began to demonstrate their skills to those around them and the public, by the time they established a cordial relationship with those around them, in short, by the time they appeared to the public as productive, experienced, prudent, and possible alternative to him, he suddenly sacked them or transferred them to an entirely new ministry, which required them to go through the same confidence-building process all over again. His plan is:
- To deny the nation any option of identifying prospective leaders, individuals who surpass him by their leadership skills;
- To demonstrate to the public that Eritrean mothers have yet to give birth to someone who can replace him; that no Eritrean is so far qualified to take his job;
- To demonstrate to the nation those surrounding him are incompetent;
- To demonstrate to the public that the nation will be torn apart by chaos in his absence.
As a result of this carefully orchestrated psychological warfare against the public and those around him, many of his followers have now fallen victim to his deception; thus, they honestly believe that, out of the four million Eritreans, there is no single soul who can replace him. The sad part is that the quick-and-dirty trick has established a belief system among Eritreans, even among Eritrean scholars, that regarded Issayas as an indispensable leader without whom the nation could cease to exist. To make matters worse, Issayas has refused to name his successor, leaving the public to speculate. Yet, he frustrated those who dared to engage in speculation as to who would succeed him by sacking, demoting, or arresting the individual for whom they speculated the job.
And equally true is his quick-and-dirty trick has established a mindset among Eritreans, though more so among his staunch supporters, which regards those around him as a bunch of incompetent and useless individuals who should be disposed of anytime they stand up to him. And this is why, as long as you don’t dare to mess with His holy name, Issayas, it has always been safe to criticize or put down those around him without provoking any anger from his devout followers.
Again, the psychological warfare aimed at making the public fearful of the unknown, his successor, has succeeded. Many Eritreans do not see a way out other than surrendering to the status quo.
Moreover, to demonstrate to those around him that their future without him will be bleak, he has configured them so that everyone fears and trusts him, but none trusts and respects the other.
Now, the million-dollar question is, who would replace Issayas if he were assassinated or if he were to die in his bed of natural cause today?
- Are his ministers going to trust each other? No.
- Are they capable of selecting a leader from among them? Yes and No.
- Are his generals and the Army going to be loyal to his successor? No.
- Are they going to respect his successor? No.
- Is the public going to be loyal to the successor? Yes and No. ( In the short term, no, but in the long term, it might)
- Are they going to respect his successor? Yes and No. ( In the short term, no, but in the long term, it might)
- Are the members of the Party going to be loyal to his successor as they are now to Issayas? Maybe, a very few of them.
Issayas knows very well that this is the case. That is the message he precisely wanted to convey to all Eritreans all these years – he is irreplaceable and indispensable; without him, the nation could cease to exist.
The Tigrean Clique – The Best-Kept Secret
When the Tigreans said Asha Hamasien (gullible Hamasien), they didn’t mean just someone from the Hamasien land per se. They meant it about all Eritreans; to the Tigreans, all Eritreans, especially all Highlanders, have always been Hamasien. (Hamashen). Eritreans in the past learned about this the hard way when the Tigreans tricked Ra’asi Woledemicael Solomon into surrendering his power.
Is there a Tigrean clique in Eritrea? You bet there is. Never mind the Tigreans south of the border; beware of the Tigreans within because, this time, it is the Tigreans within. History repeated itself, and now we are tricked into surrendering our dignity to the Tigrean clique, which is masquerading as a caring Eritrean.
Throughout his political career, Issayas used many Eritreans for his benefit by subtly mixing and matching indigenous Eritreans with Tigrean-Eritrean. Still, lately, especially in the past six years, as many real Eritreans understood his true nature and started distancing themselves from him, he has retreated almost entirely to his Tigrean enclave. He is considering his Tigrean-Eritrean comrades as his last hope to prolong his stay in power.
Issayas depends on three main categories of individuals when assigning them positions:
- Is he a Tigrean or a Tigrean-Eritrean? Does he share the same socioeconomic and upbringing/ background as him?
- Is he street-smart or a vagabond (bagamido)? Or is he power thirsty? Or is he a nationalist-to-a-fault?
- If he is none of the above, does he have a profession or skill that he can use to do the work for the first two temporarily? Also, is he a nationalist-to-a-fault?
Obviously, the first one is a member of the Tigrean clique and is the most trusted by Issayas. The second is usually an Eritrean and is a political “commando.” Issayas constantly monitor him, expecting to turn against him anytime. The last one is a true Eritrean, but he is also the least trusted individual. He is his audience. He sits in the front row but never holds a backstage pass. Issayas uses him until that person discovers the actual image of Issayas.
Many dictators apply such desperate last-ditch efforts in their last days. For example, Said Barre of Somalia added some more years to his regime by retreating to his clan during his final years. But unlike Barre, Issayas is facing a severe problem; hence he may not be able to add any more years to his power – he does not have a clan to which to retreat, and that is why then he is scrambling to forge a clan by drawing in Eritreans with Tigreans origin or with Tigrean blood from all over Eritrea.
Look, we can sit back and blame ourselves for being in this situation and pretend to have the moral high ground by not raising this issue, but the fact will remain that we are in their ballpark; they set the rules. We can only beat them if we understand their routine because we will fumble and lose if we don’t. Again we should not be afraid of slipping off the moral high ground. We did not start it. They started it, and it would be stupid of us not to combat it with its own rule. The answer to our problems lies in admitting the existence of this clique; short of that, we will continue to shoot aimlessly.
By denying all forms of political opposition, Issayas is openly pressuring Eritreans who oppose his system to rise to arms and initiate and wage an armed struggle. However, despite the seemingly precarious conditions, I believe Eritreans do not need to wage an armed struggle because that would play into the tyranny’s hands. There are many other ways to bring the tyranny to its knees – take the people away from it, and aim at the Tigrean clique with a direct attack.
Therefore, first and foremost, the forces opposed to the regime must reveal, to the public, what it is dealing with. They need to save the public from being instrumental in Issays’s war of division. They need to pull the rug from under the feet of the Tigrean Clique. It is time to separate the wheat from the chaff. They can do this in many ways: By informing the public about the Clique. By forcing the members of the Clique to distance themselves from him using any tool available to them. By breaking the tie between the Clique and real Eritreans at home and abroad.
Let me be clear about this: I am not advocating for any extreme measures against the members of the Clique. One thing is clear: the Clique members are masquerading as real Eritreans and portraying themselves as better Eritreans. But more importantly, the members of the Clique believe that their real motives will remain hidden and their identity will remain anonymous. If they think they will be identified by names, I am confident the majority of them will distance themselves from Issayas immediately.
Again, let it be known to all Eritreans that this fight against the Clique is delicate and dangerous and should be handled carefully. Eritreans should refrain from making a blanket accusation against all Tigrean Eritreans. Tigrean Eritreans should not be harassed or persecuted before and after the downfall of the Issayas regime because that would not be the nature of those who advocate for justice. They should not be used as scapegoats. We are in this mess because of our blind following of tyranny and not because of them. We are to blame for the situation we are in. Having said that, one cannot underestimate the role of the selected Tigreans members of the regime at this time. For that, patriotic Eritreans should direct the fight only against those who chose to betray the Eritrean people. Even so, they should give the selected individuals enough time to disassociate themselves from the system, and only when they choose to shrug off the warning will they be exposed.
Again, I cannot stress enough that the battle is only against the members of the Clique. All Tigrean Eritreans and all minorities should be protected and respected.
The American Revolution Vs. the Eritrean Revolution
In 1993, in an interview with Ethiopian TV, when asked when he would establish a constitutional government, Issayas said, “it took Americans 11 years to set up a constitutional government” after their independence from Great Britain. “We should not rush.” Now, what was wrong with his conviction? Many things, for example:
- In 1993, long before the Badme War broke out, he had already made up his mind not to establish a constitutional government turns.
- When Americans declared independence in 1776, the British immediately declared war on them, and the war did not end until 1783; hence they were not independent until 1783. But by 1787, they had already established a constitutional government and, by 1788, elected their president. But by 1791, the Bill of Rights, which stressed the basic principles of liberty, was ratified.
- Two hundred years ago, the US comprised 13 colonies (states), which were at least seven times as large as Eritrea in their sizes.
- The original 13 states fought against the British as independent states in a “united front.” After getting rid of the British, many states thought they would go in their separate ways as independent nations. They did not have a plan to form a federal government. Even after the federation’s formation, most Americans felt stronger allegiance to their states than their new country. Each state had its constitution, which differed from other states.
- The US was inventing a democracy from scratch that the world had never heard of before. The framers of the constitution had very few laws, mainly British law, to refer to.
- There was no means of communication, no telephone, no airplane, no electricity, no radio, no television, no highway, no cars, no railroad, and no efficient printing presses.
- At that time, the representative of the colonies had to travel by horse-drawn carts, boats, and horses to their constituencies, which took them many months, and after conferring with their constituencies, they had to travel back to Virginia, Philadelphia, or New York to convene with their colleagues, the drafters of the constitution.
- Each article of the constitution had to be ratified by 9 of the 13 states with different needs before entering into law.
Eritrea does not have any of these problems. Eritreans fought as one people for one nation, and by any comparison, Eritreans are as solidly united as you can find in any country.
Supporters of the government’s famous excuse in their discussion have always been that we should not compare Eritrea with the US and European countries; the US and Europeans are mature states, but we are still toddlers. The thing is that no one tried to compare Eritrea with the modern US, and no one expected Eritrea to achieve what Americans have achieved in 200 years.
Eritreans are only asking why Eritrea has not achieved what the US had achieved more than 210 years ago. A constitutional government, separate branches of government governed by checks and balances, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and democratic election were all implemented successfully by the US more than 210 years ago.
In an age of information, with an abundance of books and experiences to refer to, an efficient communication system, and all facilities of transportation that are readily available even to Eritrea, the PFDJ has not achieved a single achievement of what the founding fathers of America had reached 210 years ago. Despite all the advantages of what Eritrea has, it does not have a democratic and working constitution, no free press, no independent parties, and it is yet to hold a fair election if it ever will. What Issayas is lacking is not time but willingness. Issayas must know that he cannot take life experiences 200 years back.
Issayas Afeworki Vs. George Washington
Both Issayas and Washington have led their peoples to freedom. Both were loved and respected generals. Their people looked to them to deliver peace and prosperity to their respective nations. But, that is where their similarity and the anticipation of their peoples end because, after more than 200 years, Americans are still proud of George Washington and their founding fathers and will continue to be so, maybe for centuries more.
And in much the same way, notwithstanding his ugly background, Issayas too could have been made a legendary hero just like George Washington. He could have been made a hero and could have been remembered as such for hundreds of years by generations of Eritreans. He could’ve been regarded as and equated with Washington; thus, two-hundred years from now, Eritrean kids, looking at his face on Eritrean currency bills, could have thanked him in much the same way American kids have been thanking Washington for generations.
All Issayas had to do was retire from public office before making any more mistakes, or hold an election, maybe even before the Eritrean Referendum or right after the Referendum, when his popularity was at its height, and serve in office as an elected leader, but just for one term. Had he done so while he was so popular, no amount of evidence against him could have convinced any Eritrean that he had done anything wrong. It would have been unpatriotic and even blasphemous to accuse a hero of any crimes, especially after he led the nation to freedom. He could have become the most respected statesman in Eritrea and Africa. Issayas could have become the most valued neutral advisor to all future governments of Eritrea and maybe even of Africans. But unfortunately for the nation, it was not meant to be that way, and unfortunately for him, he did not let that happen. He blew it.
Many historians speculated that at the end of the American Revolutionary War, because, at that time, the only form of government known to the world was a monarchy, if George Washington had chosen to crown himself as a king, he could have done so very easily. He could have made himself the king of all states if not some states.
Then again, had he done so, the US might not have achieved what it has achieved so far. For one thing, Americans were freedom-loving and rebellious people, just like Eritreans; therefore, they would not have been contented with a monarch for too long, and George Washington would have become unpopular within a few years. But not only that, he would have been overthrown by someone who might or might not be committed to the democratic institutions that the USA’s founding fathers stood for. In other words, the US would not have become as powerful and wealthy as it is now.
But Washington, unlike Issayas, was never obsessed with dwelling on power. He was not afraid to surround himself with the most prestigious scholars and independent thinkers of his time, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, and others. He did not even want to be the first president of the USA – he simply wanted to bestow independence on his people and go back home.
But on the other hand, Issayas never liked intellectuals unless he could use them to advance his personal interests. He is known most for holding grudges against anyone who criticized him and for badmouthing, silencing, subduing, and ultimately destroying his real and imagined enemies. Issayas surrounded himself with only submissive people, elements who portrayed him as a fair, dedicated, hardworking, honest, and brave person.
Also, a democratic form of governance never inspired Issayas. His intention was never to introduce democracy but to cling to power until he died. Whether or not he admits it publicly, his idols are totalitarian leaders like Mao, Stalin, Hoxha, Tito, Castro, and Ceausescu. He loved power so much. Power was the only reason, not the love for Eritreans, that drove him to join the ELF. Also, power was the reason that drove him to form his front in the first place.
The Indian Experience
The Indian population is now more than one billion. And each year, 25 million babies are born in India, meaning more than six times Eritrea’s total population are added to India’s population.
- The sub-continent of India is more than 27 times the size of Eritrea.
- India has six major religions, but also millions of Indians practice many other faiths.
- India has over 1500 languages, over 300 recognized languages, and 18 official languages.
- India, the world’s largest democracy, achieved its independence in 1947. At that time, India had 330 million of population.
- In 1947, India suffered a setback with the partition of India and Pakistan.
- In 1948, India suffered a setback with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
- Two years after its independence, in 1949, India adopted a constitution.
- In 1950, India’s constitution was enacted three years after its independence.
- Four to five years after its independence, in 1951 – 1952, India held its first democratic election. The people of India elected their leaders, and ever since (aside from the minor glitches expected from this heterogeneous giant country), Indians have been going to the ballot every two or more years to elect their representatives and their leaders.
All Indians may not enjoy a high standard of living. Still, nonetheless, 1.2 billion people, three hundred times the population of Eritrea, and with all the complexities described above, are feeding themselves.
>>> Part 19 of 24
Part 19 will address a sea outlet for Ethiopia.