In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 8 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in April 2002)
It is believed the size of the middle class plays a phenomenal role in stabilizing a modern nation. The larger the size of the middle class, the more politically stable a nation becomes. The middle class seeks stability in a nation because it has something at stake; it owns a piece of property in the country, something it calls its own, something for it worth living for.
Many developing countries face political instability, even when the leaders’ intention is good, because they lack in producing middle-class families. The nations become full of cynicism, people with nothing to lose. People who believe they have hit rock bottom and no change can possibly thrust them farther down.
Similarly, Eritreans had what they called their own for generations – land ownership, something worth living for, for them and their children. Land ownership gave them a stake in life in much the same way property ownership gives the middle-class family in capitalism a reason to live for. Maybe that is why Eritreans in the past opted to coexist in peace with different tribes, villages, and families and to resolve their differences peacefully.
But for Eritreans, the land was not only something worth living for but also worth dying for. It may be for these reasons Eritreans persistently fought against Ethiopian rule in their recent history.
Land to the ‘Tiller
Whereas in feudal societies, revolutions, which were ignited by the surfs, were fueled by the ” land to the tiller” political platforms, by the need to own a piece of property, the Eritrean Revolution, in contrast to that of the feudal societies, was fueled by the principle of “Nrsti Ywaga’ala Ansti, ንርስቲ : ይዋጋኣላ ‘ንስቲ“ because in Eritrea, the land was already in the hands of the peasants, so the peasant fought to hold on to what it had already owned. Their Struggle was for political freedom, guaranteed reign over their lands, and for their human rights, both at the individual and communal levels.
During the Armed Struggle, all Eritreans enthusiastically contributed to the Revolution with human and material resources, day and night, on empty stomachs, with camels, donkeys, mules, and most of all, with their children. They baked, cooked, and fetched water for the Fronts and helped in espionage on enemy’s activities. However, in that process, they also lost all their resources, including their children. By 1991, most Eritrean families had already become vulnerable to external and internal predators, including PFDJ’s predatory assault.
When the drawn-out Struggle turned Eritrean families into weaker and defenseless elements without brothers, fathers, mothers, uncles, and neighbors to stand up for them, and when villages and communities became full of little orphaned children, widows, the elderly, and the forsaken and crippled Tegadelti, it also became a perfect opportunity for the Clique to treat the defenseless families with contempt and to launch an assault on them and assure itself a victory without encountering any resistance – the PFDJ confiscated the very property that Eritreans compelled to pay their lives for; it did it without invoking resistance from the formerly strong and heroic peasants and pastoralists.
But also, to add insult to injury, PFDJ has been selling off the land it seized from the heroic but now weaker and defenseless peasants and pastoralists to foreign nationals and Eritreans, and right before the peasant’s own eyes. Now the families are not only childrenless but also landless, thanks to the Clique.
This, my friends, no matter how you toss it, the message from PFDJ to the orphans, the war veterans, and widows is: “You crippled, you fool, and shabby people don’t need any respect; you have no father or big brother who can stand up to me. If your dead (martyred) brothers, sisters, and parents had any brain, they would have deserted the Revolution and immigrated to foreign nations. They would have amassed money and returned to me with foreign currencies, and then I could sell them back what was theirs in the first place. Too bad! I can’t help you now. Sorry! You have no foreign currency. Now, if you excuse me, I have to sell your former land, for which all your children died, to someone with a foreign currency. Thank you, Awet nHafash.” Also, to the orphans: “If you excuse me, I have to sell off your parents’ land to someone with a foreign currency; too bad, you cannot stop me now; you are powerless, your parents are not alive; they are dead, don’t I know that! Thank you, Awet nHafash“
Yes, what is worse is that the PFDJ has forsaken those who gave their lives, those who became crippled, and those who are left with no one to care for them in favor of money and politics. Its policy celebrates and breeds the phony and vagabond nationals whose contribution to the nation is nothing other than chanting Awet-nHafash and swearing by Issayas. This is already happening: the phonies, hiding behind the PFDJ’s apron, are presenting themselves as patriots and looking down on Eritrea’s heroes. Again, this is a dangerous message to all future generations who choose to defend the nation – it does not pay to cripple or die for this nation; true patriotism does not pay off.
Moreover, thanks to PFDJ’s selfish policy, it is hard to see now, in 10 to 20 years, maybe even sooner, Eritreans fighting and dying for a land that is not theirs anymore. The self-serving policy of PFDJ has taken away the very ingredient that created a strong national zeal, such as “Nrsti Ywagala Ansti,” among Eritreans.
The new owners of the land and their children will not die for it since they are either in foreign countries, sent to study in foreign countries, or will flee the country to their second homes in foreign countries at the sound of the first gunfire. They will not guard the nation as the peasant has protected it for generations.
(In the Badme War, yes, Eritreans fought for their nation as they still were confused about the policies of PFDJ and its conflicting messages. See part 7 of 24)
Eritrean nationalism did not start at the top, at the national level, and came downward; instead, it started at the family, clan, or village level, at the bottom level, and went upward to the national level. It is worth clarifying that all Eritreans, wherever they lived, had some form of land ownership in their ancestry’s villages. Therefore, when Eritreans joined the Fronts, they had the land of their family, clan, or village in mind.
Therefore, no Eritreans in their right mind would have joined the Fronts during the Revolution if they had known that, in the end, they would be robbed of their very possession. No Eritrean in their right mind would have joined the Fronts during the Revolution if they had known that, in the end, their parents, their families, villages, clans, or tribes’ land was going to be under the possession, and the mercy of the Clique, and for the enjoyment of a newly created elite.
It is also safe to believe then that all those Eritrean brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, those who courageously paid with their lives, would not have paid with their lives if they had known that Issayas was going to disdain their surviving family members, the children, the elderly, the widowed, and pay his “condolence” to them by robbing them of the means of their livelihood.
The reason why Eritreans are so nationalist and much more attached to their country than many people that we know of is that each Eritrean had some form of land ownership. Land ownership was behind all the reasons Eritreans fought and died. Indeed, it was for this reason that when the Woyane threatened to deport them from Ethiopia, Eritreans happily left Ethiopia for their homeland, which they assumed was free, and which they had wrongly assumed was a place they could still call their own. Many of them never understood that they would neither have the liberty or control over the lands of their ancestors at that time, as many Eritreans still had difficulty understanding the policies of PFDJ.
Again, the Struggle was more personal than national for all Eritreans, mainly the peasants. Therefore, it is impossible to believe that Eritreans would’ve been as enthusiastic about fighting and dying as they were but for a piece of land they had owned.
And maybe, this aspiration was the secret tool that frustrated Ethiopia’s ambition and had nothing to do with Issayas’s leadership skills. And maybe, Issayas also knows this secret tool of Eritreans and is bent on squashing it before it gets directed against him.
Moreover, PFDJ has made it known to every peasant that they are living on borrowed land and that it can throw them out of the land at any time, as it feels necessary.
What Went Wrong?
During the Armed Struggle, Eritreans believed the land was under their control; they thought until they, as people, were politically free, their lands could not be totally free. Therefore they fought and died for liberty, but in the end, not only have they failed to achieve liberty, but worse, they lost the freedom they had enjoyed over their lands for thousands of years. But what is so unnerving about the whole situation is that Eritrean families had to voluntarily lose all of their children to be where they are now. What a tragic ending!
Could this be noted as, in the course of the Struggle, the Eritrean Revolution, in a weird but seamless fashion, turned into a counter-revolution, which failed not only in granting the peasant the freedom it sought and died for but turned the peasant, into a neo-surf, with the PFDJ being the neo-feudal, neo-aristocrat? The answer is yes. And that is why if the PFDJ stays in power any longer, Eritreans will have to revolt again against the ruler, the neo-feudal, but this time, their political platform will be one step behind: it will no longer be “Nrsti Ywagala Ansti.” Or maybe, it will be “Nrsti Ywagala Ansti,” reclaiming what was theirs in the first place.
Issayas Accuses the “G-15”, With Rumors of Misusing the Land
Recently, when Issayas wanted to rally support against the “G-15”, he told the villagers that the “G-15” had usurped their lands for their own use.
Let us assume for a second that the accusation against the “G-15” is based on facts, but why does Issayas want to have the villagers think now that they still have control over what was their land? Why is Issayas putting it that way? Why is he saying that the “G-15” misused such and such villages’ or such and such clan’s land? Is Issayas asking Eritrean families now to draw and brandish their swords on his behalf against the “G-15” because the “G-15” supposedly misused their former land?
Why should the peasants give a damn about what happened to the PFDJ’s land? It is not theirs anymore. Should it matter to the villagers now whether or not the former ministers or the existing ministers misuse the lands they had owned for generations? If anyone is misusing the land, he is misusing PFDJ’s land. Period. If the PFDJ had cared about protecting Eritrean land, then it should not have tampered with the system that existed for thousands of years in the first place. The people could do a better job guarding their own property than a government could; they had done it for generations and thousands of years, except when a powerful enemy overpowered them at the end of 1800.
Nevertheless, my advice to all Eritrean families is: be calm and stand back; you have already wept and died enough; do not get involved in a battle that is not yours and from which you will never gain anything.
Again, let us assume for a minute that the accusation against the “G-15” is based on facts, but the question is, why did Issayas have to wait all these years before he pressed these charges on them? Again, many of those individuals surrounding him right now are also rumored to have acquired lands for their personal use, so will he press charges against them as well, or will he wait until they stop following him blindly?
The Possible Outcomes of PFDJ’s Corrupt Land Policy
Before I explain what the possible outcome of PFDJ’s land policy will be, let me spell out some facts to some of the readers: During the War for Liberation, some Eritrean families lost 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 of their children, and now Issayas has usurped their lands, which in most cases are the primary subsistence for the few surviving families of the martyrs, the orphans, the widows, the elderly, the weak and the poor. Therefore:
- It is morally reprehensible for Issayas to disdain the few surviving family members of the martyrs: the orphans, the widows, the elderly and the weak, the little children, just because he knows they are powerless and they cannot stand up to him, while he is continuing to capitalize on the names and the blood of the martyrs.
- It is morally reprehensible for Issayas to trade the land for dollars and bonds to his friends in the Diaspora, selfish Eritreans in the Diaspora.
- It is morally reprehensible for Issayas to ally himself with the selfish Eritreans in the Diaspora against the victims of the Liberation War.
- It is morally reprehensible for Issayas to send off Eritrean families to war and die by tens of thousands for a piece of land of Badme, while at the same time, behind the backs of the soldiers, while the soldiers are away and dying, to usurp their lands and trade them for bonds and dollars.
But not only is PFDJ’s land policy illegal and morally reprehensible, but worse, the possible outcomes of the policy could be:
- Future generations of Eritreans will no longer be indebted to defend and die for the country.
- The country could be filled with destitute people, people with cynicism, and people who will have nothing to lose.
- The exodus of the peasants and pastoralists to towns and cities.
- The obliteration of Eritrean culture and the way of life of the society.
- Uncontrollable corruption among government officials, senior party members, military commanders, and commissars will proliferate. The apparatus of the system will use its power to try to make money off the lands (This is already happening in Eritrea to some degree. Of course, the beneficiaries of the policy, the privileged: the commissars, senior party members, and some corrupt scholars might continue to defend their party’s policy and fool the public.) This also had already occurred in the old communist countries. It will not be any different in the undeclared Communist state of Eritrea, a monolithic government with all its Communistic doctrines and communist apparatus.
- The peasant class, now the tiller and temporary resident of the land, will no longer take care of the land.
- But worse, in the end, after the reign of PFDJ ends, the peasants and pastoralists might try to regain their land in the same way as the Balkans have done in the post-communist era.
The Yugoslav Experience and Serbians Vs. the Eritrean Highlanders
In the 20’s century, Communist or Marxist dictators who came to power through the barrel of a gun became carried away with their newfound power and ideologies, destroying or replacing every aspect of the culture that had existed before them. They did not give any merit to their heritages.
They destroyed their ancestors’ languages, religions, literature, artifacts, paintings, belief system, and way of life for thousands of years. They did not value the cultures their ancestors introduced and developed. Instead, they introduced their own culture and forcibly regimented the people to adopt them.
The Communist dictators did not want to build on the tradition before them but on its ashes. For the dictators, no good history or culture had existed before them; they did not believe they were the continuation of civilization and history but the beginners. Of course, they were wrong, but who would tell them that; they had guns, many of them.
The Communist dictators destroyed a lot of precious cultures of their ancestors for good that it has become difficult or impossible for the democratic systems that have replaced them and for their free-thinking new generations to trace, study, and reclaim the culture and civilization of their ancestors, who had lived before the communist dictators.
One of the communist dictators who created such a mess and was known to be the cause of the discord in Yugoslavia was Joseph Tito. In the beginning, for the Balkan people, especially for the Serbians, on account of what they went through under Turkish rule and the incursion from the Nazis, in the wake of WWII, Tito appeared as God-sent. And in effect, taking advantage of the post-WWII euphoria, Tito rose to claim as an undisputable “savior of the Balkans.” But for him, who was a Croatian, to consolidate his power, he had first to earn the blessings of the majority, the Serbian people. To that end, he lured the Serbians by giving them control over the army and much of the economy and favoring them as his co-dictators. Moreover, he even cemented an alliance with the Serbians by marrying their daughter.
But this much-praised leader’s motive and aspiration were not about saving the Balkans but about quenching his thirst for power. Because soon after he consolidated power, he turned the country into a police state, much like what Issayas is doing now after being wrongly praised as a savior.
Using his charisma, but later his police force, Tito seceded lands, including from Serbia, which the Serbians chose to overlook because they considered themselves the sole beneficiaries of his power and appended them to other regions.
Tito usurped lands of many ethnic groups and put them under his control; then he allocated the lands to different ethnic groups arbitrarily; he shuffled the Yugoslav people among different regions and ethnic groups; he removed ethnic groups from their traditional habitat, and placed them into other estates that other ethnic groups had owned, or spread them all over the country.
However, this kind of system, introduced to the people by taking advantage of the post-WWII euphoria and later imposed on the people by intimidation, can only last for as long as the dictator lived. Right after the dictator died, the House of Cards started crumbling. In the end, when communism finally died, it was natural for the Yugoslav people to sniff back to their traditional habitat and try to undo everything the dictator had done.
But the sad part was that the undoing of things brought ethnic “cleansing” against anyone who found themselves in the wrong place. The ethnic cleansing also affected the Serbians, which the Western media overlooked when they were also massacred at the hands of Croatians and other ethnic groups. Tito’s policies under the pretext of quelling the centuries-old hatred among ethnic and religious groups by shuffling people have only aggravated them.
The point I am trying to convey here is that in present-day Eritrea, the PFDJ has confiscated lands for which all Eritreans died. Against their wishes, it has been allotting the land to anyone with capital and those who swear by Issayas.
Now back to the Serbians vs. Eritrean Highlanders analogy, in much the same way as the Serbians were allying with Tito because they believed they were the beneficiaries of his policies, the Highlanders, but especially those with capital and those sworn followers of the PFDJ, even though their families’ lands are also confiscated, for the sake of appeasing Issayas, “the benefactor of the Highlanders,” under the delusion of “We are in good hands,” seem to overlook the grave implication that his policy can bring to them and Eritrea in the future.
Nevertheless, since this policy was decreed against the people’s wishes, those benefitting from it should not assume for a minute that the dispossessed peasants and pastoralists are happy with it and will abide by it forever. And most of all, they need to realize that this policy can only last for as long as this system of PFDJ lasts, and someday, the dispossessed will undo it in the same way as the Balkans have undone it in the post-Communism era.
Moreover, they need to be prepared for the day of the undoing of it and the means of the undoing of it, hopefully peacefully. Until then, the beneficiaries of Issayas have to realize that they are occupying lands illegally and that they are sitting on a ticking bomb because for each person who benefitted from Issayas, hundreds if not thousands of others all over Eritrea are being robbed of their possessions and waiting for an opportune time to regain what is rightfully theirs.
Having said all of the above, I would like to clarify my comments regarding lands. I do not believe that the Eritrean government should not have any control over any land. For example:
- The government should own all natural resources buried underground or in mountains and hills and be free to excavate natural resources.
- Suppose the excavation of natural resources will affect the livelihood of a community or a village. In that case, the State should consult with the community fully before taking any actions and fully compensate communities or villages affected by its projects, and in some cases, make the affected the prime beneficiaries of the revenues.
- Government should own all rivers and most parts of the sea.
- The government should control all roads, highways, and lands upon which public roads are built.
- Sacred religious sites and roads that lead to them should be exempted.
- After careful study, the government should reserve and declare some lands for national parks and grazing lands.
- After careful studying and consultation with the public, the government should declare some lands for wildlife sanctuaries, etc.
The statements mentioned above do not imply that citizens should not be free to go and live wherever they choose to live in their country, but the government should not decree how or where people lead their lives.
Government should not regiment the movement of the people and should not regiment the people’s way of life. People will mingle in time, at their own free will, time, and pace. The government should let development take its own course, even if it takes decades.
The government’s job should be to create a conducive environment for peaceful coexistence for its people. Otherwise, choosing to impose one’s wish upon the course of development, as Tito did in Yugoslavia and as Issayas is doing now in Eritrea, could benefit some at the expense of others, but worse, could be setting a stage for unprecedented danger.
Eritreans may not have centuries-old hatred among ethnic and religious groups like in the Balkans. Eritreans have lived in peace for centuries; however, Issayas and his clique have been busy creating one for the past eleven years. On the other hand, Eritreans are not as unlucky as the Balkan people; the PFDJ will not last long, so Eritreans might be able to undo the doings of Issayas’s policies in a relatively peaceful way.
>>> Part 9 of 24
Part 9 will discuss the complicated and sophisticated nature of Eritreans who live in Eritrea.
Will compare life under the PFDJ with life under colonialism.
Will discuss the dark sides of Eritreans.
Will compare the phrase,” We are in good hands,” Issayas lovers’ favorite phrase, with the old expression, “Znegese Negussna, ZbereKe TseHaina.”