On the occasion of the anniversary of Eritrean independence we have seen a stark and clear illustration of the polarized reality of Eritrea. On the one side the regime celebrates with fireworks and music while on the other, the Diaspora opposition stand in lonely protests outside embassies. One side cheers – while the other laments and mourns.
Some people would want to make you believe that Eritrea’s problem is based in the fact that it is ruled by an evil dictator and his crazed evil accomplices. These people have no care for the citizens of their country and will literally go to any length in order to make money and keep their bubble of power floating. These are the bad persons.
On the other side you have the good persons. They are common Eritrean citizens who are not afraid to criticize the regime. We can recognize and identify the good persons because of their bold and critical comments in the media and online forums. They are obviously good because they have never done anything bad against their people.
But is it really such a simple division? Can we say that anyone who supports the Eritrean regime is really an evil person? Could it not be true that individuals can have multiple reasons for their support of the dictator, and that we might be too quick in condemning some of them entirely? Indeed, another famous proverb says: ‘to understand all is to forgive all’.
So you will ask who am I talking about here? I am talking about these officials inside the Eritrean government and diplomatic corps who continue arguing in defense of the regime. I cannot believe that all of them approve of the multiple abuses done by the regime against its own people; of the unending national service; of the secret prisons; or the parents who are separated from their children. These men and women (the officials) probably have children and parents of their own–and I cannot believe that there is no small part of human kindness remaining in them.
So why do those officials give their support to the regime when their support permits the regime to continue its destructive work? Surely they can see that–if all Eritreans who secretly disapprove of the abuses had courage to speak out their disapproval, they would immediately force the dictator to stop. Isaias can do his bad work only because most people are too afraid and do not dare to refuse cooperating with him. Therefore, we can see that the tiny minority of the people inside the Eritrean government are permitted to continue their horrible actions because they are not prevented from it by their colleagues who have no moral.
This leads to the question: is the silent majority of Eritrean officials silent only because they are in fear? In some cases this might be true. In other cases we can think that the majority do not know of the true horrors which their employer, the Isaias regime, has been guilty of. They have not witnessed the atrocities with their own eyes. Does this mean their ignoring of every negative story about Eritrea and their claim that it is only propaganda aired by Eritrea’s enemies is justified? No, of course not. In their hearts they probably know the reality behind some of their claims.
Of course they will say that these stories are Ethiopian fabrications. They will say that the reports made by NGOs about Eritrea are exaggerated and they should not be believed in its entirety. But even if some of the details about human rights abuses in Eritrea are not accurate we cannot easily say that there is no truth behind the stories of abuses There are so many accusations and descriptions of mistreatment and therefore we cannot claim that they are all purely inventions and fabrications. If there is only a small part of it is true, then it should be enough concern every decent Eritrean.
Moreover these Eritrean officials know better than any other people that some of the fearful stories about Eritrea are indeed true. They know that Isaias’ regime is certainly causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent Eritrean youth who flee the country every year. They know the horrors that happens to many of the youth who are trapped in the Sinai Peninsula in fall prey to inhuman captivity and are threatened and tortured in order to extract more money from them. They know that no one can fabricate real corpses of men, women and children who die every year because they were in a shipwreck when desperately attempting to escape their own country. They know that there are secret prisons in Eritrea where citizens are condemned to burn or freeze in metal containers with no opportunity of a fair trial. They know the way they themselves try to stamp on protests and silence the voices of protest in their own communities.
I have said earlier in this article that I don’t believe that all of Eritrean officials are bad persons. Indeed I believe that they might be good people–good fathers, good daughters, good neighbors. But if they are good persons, then how can they allow this to happen?
My answer is that they have convinced themselves (and believe in it firmly) that anything negative which people say about Eritrea must be a lie. However, there is a mystery here: how can this belief remain in tact through all the years of lying and deceptions by the dictator’s regime? Maybe they did not notice that Eritrea invaded Djibouti and the government lied to everyone about it. Maybe they did not hear the whole international community (not just Ethiopia) saying that they know Eritrea is helping the Somali terrorists group Al-Shabab with money and weapons to. They must ask themselves the questions whether they are happy to approve the kind of behavior I have mentioned—behavior that shames our country.
If the officials approve of the above actions, and if they believe that Isaias does this for the good of Eritrea, they must see that none of the activities has benefit to Eritrea. Isaias’ policies have pushed Eritrea into the corner and isolated it from the world. This is a situation which benefits only one man: the dictator with his need to grip onto his power. It is true that Eritrea has suffered of betrayals by the international community in the past. But the past is the past and we need to live in the present. Our officials must bear their responsibilities and stop blaming others for the desperate and despairing situation that their countrymen are going through.
Maybe these Eritrean officials withing the silent majority do know the truth. Maybe they know how they support the inexcusable and inhuman abuse of their own people. Maybe they see that the behavior of the Eritrean government on the international stage does not help the country, but rather makes it a target of criticism and sanctions. But perhaps they are so ashamed and so guilty by the knowledge of what they are doing, that they cling to the idea that Eritrea is always unfairly attacked. They must deny the validity of any criticisms because if they admit that they might have to face the truth and thus face the demons of their conscience.
People try to suppress unpleasant and traumatic knowledge in several ways. But denial is a very common reaction against stress. I cannot pretend that I am qualified to be a psychologist–but I can say that someone who always repeatedly refuses to examine evidence where they have constructed their own opinions probably refuses because they fear that thier opinions are not correct. The Eritrean officials, therefore, refuse considering the evidence against the regime because they are very afraid that they will find it is true.
To know the truth of something brings a weight of responsibility. But I am not calling on these officials to suddenly start a revolution. No indeed because the best place to start to improve Eritrea is from the inside. These officials can and must start to ask questions from their superiors. A good government is accountable to the people it rules. But how can any government be good if it is never called to give account and never questioned?
This again leads to the first sentence of this article. ‘Evil prospers where good people do nothing’. I want to ask all those officials who serve the PFDJ regime—whatever job they have—to seriously examine their beliefs and consciences. They have a duty to themselves–and to their fellow Eritreans–to ask for the truth. And when they find the truth they must also be ready to ask whether they are happy to allow that evil to prosper or whether they want to do something, even if only something small in the struggle against it.