Today, there are two diametrically opposing schools of thought in the opposition camp: Violent Regime Change vs. Non-Violent Regime Change. Again on the violent regime change camp, there are two completely different arguments with different sets of objectives that are being made to justify why violent regime change is the right course of action. And the two arguments for Violent Regime Change could be summarized in these words:
A. The Naïve says: the PFDJ regime is an arrogant power hungry regime that understands only the power of a gun. To bring democratic change in Eritrea, it is a necessary evil to completely defeat the “Isaias Army” by any means; otherwise regime change would just be a pipe-dream. Therefore for the Naïve the precondition for having stable, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Eritrea is defeating “The Iseias Army” by any means (sanctions, landmines, civil war, chasing investors, Ethiopian invasion, IGAD, AU, UN – anything and everything).
B. The Calculating says: to bring democratic change in Eritrea, regime change is not enough. It is absolutely necessary to have a radical change. And you can’t have a radical change by changing some names and faces on the top, but by radically changing the existing vision, programs and institutions that are serving as pillars of power for a single ethnic group – Ethnic Tigrigna. In order to have a democratic change we have to take a whole range of actions and measures that would guarantee to achieve a total cultural, social, institutional and mental transformation of the whole society; or simply we have to De-Tigrignanize the whole Nation. And this could be achieved only by defeating the Isaias army, by outlawing the PFDJ infrastructure and by bringing to justice the evil brains who are responsible for this evil design. And the Political Engineers and their Servants who are responsible for this evil design are none other than: the PFDJ Top Leaders, the PFDJ Generals, the PFDJ Senior Cadres and the PFDJ franchises in the opposition who are collaborating with PFDJ in disguise. Therefore for the calculating, victory comes only after the PFDJ, its infrastructures and its Franchises are completely defeated and dismantled. If you want a piece of the argument listen for yourself:
“How can we change the regime? To start with, what is meant by regime change? Is it replacement of names & faces or is it a radical change of an existing vision, institutions & programs? I believe the answer is, we want a radical change. …We need a whole range of actions & measures to achieve a total cultural, social & mental transformation … We don’t need a Chinese style “cultural Revolution” but it is enough to use all our resources (historical & heritage) to reschedule our priorities and acquire a clear vision for the future
Semere’s question was: where does the circle of the dictator and his cliques start and end? My answer is: Starting from the dictator, the Central Committee of the PFDJ (those who are alive and not in jail), the generals, ministers and senior cadres. …We should be able to differentiate between the culprit & the innocent and that can only be verified through mechanisms of a fair trial. I am not advocating “revenge justice” but supporting transitional justice to ensure that no one is above the law. Forgiveness comes after judgment; you don’t forgive an innocent person. As for the political measures which Semere considered to be “isolation of PFDJ”, it is a process of pumping fresh air into the political life and creating a healthy environment where democracy can flourish and survive. Sometimes in surgical operations, you have to sacrifice part of the organs (cancerous cells—dysfunctional tissues etc …) in order to save the rest of the body. By Omer Jabir, July 9, 2011
Mr. Omer Jabir, thank you for your respectful response and thank you for your honest opinion. Very articulate, very honest and well said as ever. Your opinion, your vision and your frustration is shared by many and I respect that; but still allow me to differ.
When EPLF/PFDJ waged its war against ELF it was saying day in and day out, its target were only ELF Leaders and ELF Senior Cadres. But the deep scars of defeat and humiliation didn’t end with ELF Top Leaders and ELF Senior Cadres. It still is imprinted in our minds tormenting us all to this very moment. Yes, to you, to me, and to all the communities, ethnics, faiths and regions who invested dearly in ELF with sweat, blood, soul, treasure and hope. And this humiliating defeat will outlive us the Gedli Generation and will remain for generations to come. The point: you can’t defeat and humiliate PFDJ Leaders and PFDJ Cadres without defeating and humiliating their base. And I refuse to call their base cancerous cells and dysfunctional tissues that have to be sacrificed for the “good” of the “whole” knowing full well there is no whole without them.
Just for one moment let’s play sane, sober and pragmatic people to assess our past and present. In mid 1960s and early 1970s ELF waged a civil-war against Harekat Al-Tahrir and against the “Tribal Tsere-Gedli Factions – (Al-Sewra-Al-Mudada)” in the name of “preserving our unity”; but as a people it didn’t bring us any closer. In the mid 1970s and early 1980s EPLF waged a civil-war against the “Cancerous Backward Islamist ELF” under the guise of “Correcting the Revolution – ምእራም ሰውራ”; but again it didn’t bring us any closer as a people. For the past thirty plus years the opposition organizations has been fighting the regime using violence and the threat of it in the name of “Regime Change”; and they have nothing to show for it. Well, how long do we have to use the same political formula (civil-war) that has failed us time and again – hoping different result every time? I guess fifty plus years of experimenting with civil wars, is not enough for some of us. How true – “old habits die hard” idiom.
But… anyway, let’s keep talking; let’s flex our brain muscle; let’s keep the war of ideas alive; let’s invite every fighter to the ring; and let’s keep challenging each other and stretch our reasoning ability to the limit, so others can weigh both sides of the argument and make an informed decision.
As we said earlier, Eritrean opposition organizations have used violence and the threat of violence for the past thirty plus years; and they are pursuing this policy even as we speak. But, despite all the support and encouragement from neighboring countries, and despite all the weaknesses of the regime internally and internationally, to this day, they don’t have military presence inside Eritrea that would give them the bragging right for their violent regime change method of struggle. They can blame whoever they want; and they can make all the excuses in the world for the failure of their armed resistance project; but no matter what they say, the reason for the failure of their Violent Regime Change Project is crystal clear – the Eritrean people don’t have any appetite for Libyan style clannish Violent Regime Change, that’s pampered by foreign interests; and they are dead on the mark. Any organization that doesn’t understand the price tag that comes with Libyan style ethnic, clannish, religious and regional politics doesn’t deserve to be in the business of national politics.
If the non-violent regime change argument and the idea of political pluralism as a vehicle for stability and peaceful transfer of power is going to have any credibility, which it should, those of us who are advocating for it must have a bullet proof case argument that could be defended anywhere, anytime, against anyone. Even to go a step further, not only a persuasive argument must be made for it, but also, since our difference is difference of message and vision – their message, their vision and the wisdom of violence as a means for regime change must be challenged by presenting an alternative winning strategy. And presenting a winning political strategy to defeat the PFDJ regime without bloodshed, and challenging the wisdom of violent regime change is the argument of this article. Let’s roll:
Winning Strategy #1
Be an Opposition of Like-Minded People with a Smart Core-Team at the Center
In sports star players don’t win championships, team players do. In life smart people don’t win and govern, educated people don’t win and govern, Muslims don’t win and govern, ethnics/clans don’t win and govern, regions don’t win and govern….political parties with a clear vision, competent core-team and well organized base do.
If you want to be a dominant political party/organization that can win and govern, you don’t need diversity of ideas within your ranks; the Nation does. Diversity of ideas within your ranks is a disaster waiting to happen; it is a ticking time bomb that’s going to explode in your face; it’s a matter of time before your organization breaks up into pieces. What you need is an organization of likeminded people and – a core-team of ambitious like-minded smart people who serve as an engine to your organization and to your cause. And if you want to have very flexible and effective party, don’t expose all your core-team members by appointing to higher positions all at once; just rotate them.
To be like-minded people you don’t have to be from the same faith, ethnic or region; and you shouldn’t be if you want to be National Player with a National Agenda. By now we all should now, ethnics, faiths and regions are not monolithic. One could argue Isaias Afewerki, Ali Abdu and Al-Amin Mohammed Said are likeminded people; but they all don’t share the same faith, region or ethnicity. Again, one could argue Weldesus Ammar, Tesfai Degiga and Ibrahim Mohammed Ali as likeminded people; but they all don’t share the same faith, region or ethnicity. Investing your capital to achieve uniformity of political thinking by organizing people on the basis of faith, ethnicity or region is a losing battle. If you do, instead of selling your ideas and campaigning for your cause, you will always be on the defensive trying to assure those who are threatened by your congregation. And with thick dark cloud hovering over your head, and playing defensive to assure others, the odds of you winning and governing is slim to none.
Therefore, to have a dominant political party that can win and govern, don’t invest in diversity of ideas; invest in diversity of people who would walk, talk and think like you. If you really care to hear different colors of ideas, trust me, you will have plenty of them – if you have the patience and the stomach to take it. It is free; and you will get a good dose of it during public meetings and from your opponents. Again, be aware – diversify your frontline players (leaders) – you are living in a small planet were everybody knows, everybody and everybody’s business. Your platform, your decisions, your leaders, your members, your every speech will be scrutinized by magnifying glasses. If you want your party to be a leader, lead on all of the basics and stay on the offensive by challenging all. And these are the basics you need to cover if you want your party/organization to be a leader:
A. Lead the pack by articulating your vision and by challenging your opponents in public. Don’t waste your time telling us what kind regime we have; we already know. Tell us what you have for us in store; sell us your Vision of Tomorrows Eritrea.
B. Lead the Pack on Representation of Women. Fair representation being 50/50 have a percentage goal and thrive to achieve your goal.
C. Lead the pack on fair representation of all age groups. If the median age for Eritreans is 35 years, try your party members and party leadership to reflect that age group. Shoot 50% of your leadership to be under 35; and the membership of the young in your party will increase dramatically with the emergence of young leaders.
D. Lead the pack on membership of former Shaebias, former Jebhas and Non-Tegadeltis on your leadership. Over 70% preferred to be Non-Former Tegadeltis since they are the majority in the population.
E. Lead the pack in fair representation of all ethnics, faiths and regions. Fair representation means representation that reflects the religious, ethnic and regional make-up of the nation.
F. Lead the pack in underground networking and organizing inside Eritrea.
If you would have led on all your basics, you wouldn’t be where you are today. You are where you are because Eritreans are not responding to your call favorably. Eritreans are not responding to your call favorably because they are not seeing their hopes, dreams and aspirations in you. The answer is not more of the same; the answer is to go back to the drawing board and revise your message.
Whatever you do, please don’t dream about unity. We don’t need unity. Unity is an illusion; it is a fantasy; it is a false hope, it doesn’t exist in this planet. Enough is enough; in the name of Unity we have bled, sweat, died and squandered our precious time to no avail. We’ve learned our lesson the hard way. Not only unity is impossible, it is not desirable. Unity under one leadership and under one political party is stagnation that leads to nowhere. What we need is, vibrant political parties with competing ideas who believe in a common destiny and who clearly understand their limitations.
EDA we want you to succeed. Yesterday ELF failed many communities. Today there are many communities who are counting on you. In your tent, you are hosting organizations from all ends of the political spectrum. It is a no brainer; the journey ahead of you is not going to be a cake walk. Please be mindful of the landmines in the field, and, think and re-think before every step and every move that you make, not just for your sake, but for the sake of Eritrea.
Winning Strategy #2.
Be an Opposition That Understands its Limitations
Any political organization can have a vision what future Eritrea should look like. Any political organization can have principles and values it cares-for dearly. Every organization has every right to fight tooth and nail for the principles it values dearly. But no organization has the right to impose its vision, its will, or its principles to the rest of the Nation. Judgment is the business of Eritrean people by the verdict of a ballot box. Our job is to make the best case argument for our vision, and to give the Eritrean people the opportunity to decide for themselves.
If our objective is to build a democratic government that values each and every individual citizen, then there is something every leader and every political organization need to understand: your opinion is one opinion among many opinions, you are one player among many players; you organization is one organization among many organizations; your platform is one platform among many platforms, and your political base is one organ out of many organs that constitute a healthy body. Eritrea is Eritrea of diverse interests and opinions. You don’t have a monopoly of “right ideas” that are good for all. You don’t have any mandate that would allow you to decide on National Issues that affects the lives of people outside your constituents.
Any decision that is national in scope, any decision that affects the lives of people outside your constituents can only be done by negotiating and compromising with the other stakeholders.EDA doesn’t represent EPDP and PFDJ constituents, EPDP doesn’t represent PFDJ and EDA constituents, and PFDJ doesn’t represent the constituents of the Opposition Organizations. As an organization or as a political party, if you want to be a champion in leading Eritrea towards a democratic system of government, you have to be a champion in reaching others. You can only lead by being an example to others; and you can only be an example to others, by understanding your limitations and by reaching to others.
For example, your organization can design a flag, but it can’t be a National Flag. Not because the colors or the design is wrong but because of the process. Since the whole nation didn’t participate in choosing the colors and design of your flag, it makes it unqualified to be a National Flag. Of course it could compete with other flags, win and become the National flag if it is agreed by all, but until then it is just your flag. Again your organization can draft and pass a constitution, but it can’t be a National Constitution; not because of its content but because of the process. Again, your organization can design National Currency but it won’t be the National Currency for the simple reasons mentioned above.
We have very controversial and very polarizing issues on our plate to deal with – the land issue, the issue of self determination up to and including secession, the future of PFDJ, the issue of refugees, the National Flag, National Currency, the constitution, centralized vs. federal system of government.… you name it. The right way to solve these issues and more is, by sitting in a round table. Guns and violence are not going to solve these issues; never did and never will. One lone organization is not going to win and govern its way effectively. Therefore, knowing our limitations as one player among many, knowing our final solution being negotiated solution, and knowing trust and respect being a vital component of our negotiation, it is foolish of us to muddy the waters and poison the air. Let’s cool-off the temperature in the air, let’s humanize our fight and let’s celebrate our differences to make life a little easier for ourselves and for the next generation.
Winning Strategy #3.
Be Reform Minded Opposition:
Peace, prosperity and democratic governance of a nation is achieved through stability and continuous reforms over many, many decades and centuries. Even then, there will always be room for improvement. Wealthy countries are wealthy because they adopted political system that is anchored on reform-minded competing ideas. Wealthy countries are stable, peaceful and prosperous because they don’t criminalize their political differences and they don’t shoot their politicians who made poor decisions. In wealthy nations, politicians who made poor decisions or underperformed on their duties are driven out of office to live a normal life like everybody else. After they leave office, policies would be reformed and life would go on as it should.
Radical change is never right. Radical change mentality is hostage taking mentality. Radical change mentality is extremist mentality. Radical change mentality is dictatorship mentality. Radical change political argument is – our idea is the only good idea; you have to listen to us; we’re going to run the country no way but our way; if we don’t have it our way we’re going to send the country through the cliff…. type politics. Radical change politics offers nothing but either or choice – either you are for the “good” of the people which is what we stand for or you are against it; either you are with us or against us; either you are for the right idea which is our idea or you are against it; either we are going to win and life will be happily ever after or they are going to win and it will be the end of the world as we know it…type politics.
But life doesn’t work that way. Life is about compromises. Life is about cutting deals and closing deals. Life is about give and take, lose some and gain some, accommodating every stakeholder – all in a round table. In any given government, the best change is negotiated change, and the best decision that comes out of negotiation is a decision that makes nobody happy.
Radical change could only divide a nation into winners and losers. The winners would celebrate their “victory” with arrogance and the losers would resent their humiliating defeat with shame and disgrace. To implement their vision, the “winners” would execute their radical change at the expense of the losers and that would create a backlash from the losing side. The backlash would be dealt with suppression by the “winners”, and the losers would fight to the bitter end against the arrogant “winners” who are determined to create a new reality. And before long, they would be locked in a bloody civil war that would scar their communities for generations to come. That is what radical change does; and that is not what we are after.
Winning Strategy #4
Strip PFDJ the Main Pillars of its Power – the Men and Women in Uniform
Ask yourself, why is the PFDJ regime emphatically denying the existence of the opposition with arrogance? The answer could only be because – the PFDJ regime believes it is so powerful it can crash any opposing force that stands in its way. Again let’s ask one more question – what is the source of its power and arrogance? Again the answer could only be – Our Men and Women in Uniforms.
Well, our men and women in uniforms being the reason for the regimes arrogance, one would think the opposition organizations would do everything in their power to deny the regime the source of its arrogance by winning the hearts and minds of our men and women in uniforms. But for their own reasons, the opposition organizations have consistently rejected the option of reaching our men and women in uniforms for the past three decades. Instead, they have been fixated with the idea of defeating the Isaias Army and violent regime change.
Listen, our men and women being the source of PFDJ’s arrogance, it is imperative the opposition camp to claim the Eritrean Defense Forces as their own forces if they are going to have any credibility or any chance of winning. After all, our men and women in uniforms are from every ethnic, every faith and every region. They are our own blood and soul; they are our own sons and daughters; they are our own brothers and sisters; they are our own fathers and mothers. They are the same men and women who sweat, bled and died for the love of their people and the love of their country. We are lifting-up our head and saying ‘I’m Eritrean’ because of their sacrifice.
The institutions of our men and women in uniform possess greater stature and height than any political/ethnic/religious organization including the PFDJ. The regime and the opposition organizations represent nobody but their narrow constituents, but our men and women in uniform represent the nation. There is no justification to label them “The Isaias Army” and campaign to defeat them and humiliate them as if they are alien to their people and to their country. Why would they be the Isaias Army or PFDJ Army and not mine and yours? Why would they mercilessly massacre their own family and their own people? Unless there is a sinister intent as a driving motive behind the whole commotion of regime change, our men and women in uniforms are my backbone and yours as much as they are PFDJ’s.
The opposition should demand from the Eritrean defense forces only one thing – to be what they are suppose to be – professional service-men and women whose sole purpose is to defend their people and their country. The opposition should demand – our defense forces to remain neutral by distancing themselves from our internal politics.
But in order the Eritrean Defense Forces to remain neutral from our internal politics, the opposition has to do its part – it must accept them as its defense forces and should stand by them through thick and thin. The opposition camp has to prove its full commitment to our defense forces by respecting their service and by honoring their ranks. The opposition must assure them in a very convincing way, no matter who is in power, their full salary and full benefits would remain intact without any interruption or change. Let’s face it, after the end of the Isaias era, directly or indirectly the men and women in uniform are the ones who would lead the country. Therefore, might as well build strong relationship to influence their decision to be more inclusive in post Isaias government without being threatened by the opposition.
We all know, there would always be – few bad apples in every bunch, but all our men and women in uniform are not blood thirsty, trigger happy who would massacre their own people in a blink of an eye. And if the opposition succeeds in creating doubt in the minds of the regime’s inner circle, that the men and women in uniform may not shoot their own people to keep them in power, and if the opposition succeeds in penetrating in the regime’s inner circle head, that there is nothing to lose but everything to gain by playing by the rules, then the regime will think twice before resorting to violence. And that is a success story that would deny the regime the arrogance of power it has been enjoying for the past three decades.
Winning Strategy #5
Stay Away From the Politics of – Bringing PFDJ to “Justice”
There are those who say “Semere is into the politics of fear-mongering”. Also there are those who would swear – “after the violent defeat of PFDJ, the remnants of PFDJ will be part and parcel of Eritrean government and Eritrean Defense Forces”. But, this argument is an absurd argument that could only come from the PFDJ play book. Because appointing to power some PFDJ remnants is not the same like the real deal. If it was the same, you and I wouldn’t have been in the opposition business today.
True, after you defeat the Higdefits to submission, we may see some remnants of PFDJ holding top government and military positions. Something like: presidential advisers like Zemehret Yohaness, regional governors like Ibrahim Idris Totil, Brigadier Generals like Abrahaley Kifle, Cabinet Minsters like Dr. Giorgis, Ambassadors and Colonels like….(too many to count). In your Post-PFDJ Eritrea, some old Higdefits might even be lucky enough to have a whole town, a mountain or an island named after them; some might even have their face printed in your currency.
But these kinds of politicking didn’t soothe your soul. This kid of politicking didn’t stop different opposition franchises with different brand names from hatching every other day from every corner. Or did it? What good is it going to do appointing few double-crossers to higher positions at the expense of many? Basically nothing; or would it? If that is your best offer, the Higdefits will do exactly what you did before, and exactly what you are doing now – reject your “join our party” offer and fight back. Any surprises?
Also, there are those who say “you’re (Semere) bringing the reform and immunity arguments just to defend the PFDJ criminals. Why don’t you, have a spine and ask for leniency if you are consumed with nervousness”.
Well, I don’t believe for a second that I’m defending the PFDJ “criminals”; and I don’t have any doubt in my mind, that “leniency” is nothing but political stunt that leads to nowhere. But I admit I’m trying to defend my Tegadelti brothers and my young Nation; and I’m willing to take a bullet in the chest in this argument in defense of both. The reason: yes mistakes have been made; I know our leaders were and still are less than perfect; but criminalizing each other is not a solution but a problem in itself. You don’t accept political immunity for deserving reasons; you do it because it is cheaper, less polarizing and more uniting than the alternative. People don’t want to be tangled with their past; they want to leave their past behind and move on with their lives. The Rwandans, the South Africans and the Chileans did it, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t.
To be honest, there is no persuasive argument against, Political Immunity and Non-Violent Regime Change anyway. I can say with absolute confidence, the people who are against Political Immunity and against Non-Violent regime change don’t have a winning argument. None, nada, nil; they are just hypocrites. Hoping to prove me wrong, let me tell you their hypocrisy, and let me present you reasons that would break the backbone of their hypocrisy:
Reason #1. Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law – or is it?
I’m not a lawyer and I’m not pretending to be one. But just to make a point let me bore you with my Gedli (Revolution) story for a minute or two. I was born and raised in a very small village. I joined the Revolution just few months after my 16th birthday. Ever since I joined the Revolution, I was in the fighting force (Hayltat) shooting to kill and hoping to live to see another day. As a young Tegadalay, the art of fighting and the art of survival were the only things I knew.
Now tell me – when I was in trenches shooting to kill and to be killed, do you think I had digested the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols? Do you think I had any idea about Child Labor Law? Do you think I felt I was a Child Soldier victimized by my older Tegadelti brothers? Do you think I knew about Civil Liberties, rule of law, Political pluralism and Jeffersonian democracy? Absolutely not; in all honesty, I never even heard of them until years after I left my Gedli life.
If you care to know how young and ignorant I was, let me tell you something that shocked me to the core during the first weeks of my Gedli life. Each afternoon our platoon (Ganta) was having a marathon meeting; and I was watching at times temper flare up, but I didn’t know a ward of what they were saying. I didn’t even know what language they were speaking. Even though there were another two fighters from ethnic Tigrigna in my Ganta who joined the Revolution (Gedli) few months before me, they were completely lost as much as I was. To keep me informed, after each meeting, the next day sometime in the morning hours, our Team-Leader (Merah-Ganta) who spoke very few broken Tigrigna words would call a young Tegadalay from another Ganta to translate to me in Tigrigna what the passionate discussion was all about.
I kept quiet all along but I was not impressed by the explanation that I was hearing; because what I was told didn’t explain why temper was flaring up during the Ganta discussion. So one day after the translator was done and I was told to leave, I asked the translator, how long it took him to learn Islamic Language (ነዚ ዘረባ ኣስላም ክትፈልጦስ ክንደይ ወሲድልካ?). My Team-Leader (Merah-Ganta) was laughing so hard, literally tears started running down his chicks. After catching his breath he told me very politely, I was not the only one who needed translation. He mentioned another three young Muslim Tegadelties that I was familiar with, needed translation as well.
Well, my team leader was probably shocked by the level of my ignorance. But I was shocked as well; I thought all Muslims were the same – dressed the same, ate the same food and spoke the same. It was a shock to me to learn, the reality of my small Eritrea having so many Muslim-ethnics each with its own unique culture and language. This is my story and this is the story of every fighter.
We were young, we were uneducated and we never had any exposure outside our family compound. Then suddenly we were isolated from the rest of the world. Isolated from family, friends and the world, we relayed on each other to survive. We never read newspapers, never heard of TV, just transistor radio and few Marxist books and magazines once in a blue moon for those who knew English, Arabic or Tigrigna. There were no wise men, just boys and girls, because wisdom is accumulated through long years of life; and the physical demand that was required by Gedli was too much for the wise men to survive. Even for a thirty year old Tegadaly, the day to day physical demand of Gedli was too much to handle. We use to call men in their thirties with few gray hair old men.
The point: put things in context. It is ok to go back in history and criticize the mistakes that were committed by Gedli in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but please understand the conditions and circumstances that were relevant to those events. I hear people criticizing Gedli and criminalizing Tegadeltis, by comparing their actions to today’s International and Western Standards. Please understand – all the mistakes in question were committed by young Tegadeltis in their teens and early twenties. And please understand the same people who were denied the opportunity to have proper education and normal family-life are running the country and the opposition today. Probably, yes probably that might explain some of the defensive attitudes that we see today from our leaders – in all ends of the political spectrum.
Our Tegadelti-Leaders were trying to do the right thing the best they knew how. They were running the Revolution with limited knowledge, limited resources, and with no laws and rules to guide us. That’s why we say, let’s leave everything to historians and move on. When it comes to laws, again I admit I’m ignorant about criminal law or any other laws for that matter, but in my humble opinion, I don’t think it is fair to convict people with today’s laws for decades old “crimes” which the “perpetrators” never even knew such laws exist; but I’ll let you be the judge on that.
And that will lead us to the obvious question: well, that was then, but what about now? What do you make of the “crimes” that are being committed every single day by PFDJ even as we speak? Well, it is true there is no excuse for crimes that are being committed today, but make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around – the opposition is also equally to be blamed. The PFDJ regime is alive and well not because of the support it enjoys from the wider public but because of the weakness of the opposition. And let me tell you why:
The opposition organizations are telling us – the PFDJ regime is dictatorial regime that is no good for Eritrea. They are telling us, the dictator (Isaias), the top PFDJ Leaders, the PFDJ Generals and the PFDJ Senior Cadres are criminals who should face justice (the opposition justice). They are also telling us, the PFDJ infrastructure is an evil infrastructure that has to be dismantled and outlawed.
Well, if you put two and two together and put yourself on the PFDJ shoes, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out, your fate when the opposition justice is served. So tell me – fully knowing the odds of your fate, why would you hand them your gun to shoot you in the head? Would you? I wouldn’t. Is that the best solution you could come-up with? Listen: if the choice is one of us to win and walk with arrogance and the other to lose and walk with shame; if the choice is one of us to walk freely and the other to rest six feet under, the choice is very obvious – I’ll be the winner who would walk freely with his head up. Any surprises?
Is that the reason why Isaias and his PFDJ cronies refuse to give up power? Absolutely not, but the politics of the opposition is not adding up either. The opposition’s rhetoric of justice, radical change, ethnocratic regime, reversing the Tigrignanization of Eritrea, violent regime change…is making the opposition motive appear less sincere. For example, if the problem is problem of “few bad apples on the top”, why do you insist on uprooting the whole tree never – ever to see the daylight again? If the problem is problem of few PFDJ leaders on the top, what is the rationale for mental, social and cultural transformation of the whole nation that amounts close to Chinese Cultural Revolution? And we don’t even know what that means even as we speak.
This kind of politics is not helping in winning the hearts and minds of the skeptics, independents and former EPLF/PFDJ members who have given up on the Isaias regime. These are large chunks of the population and the opposition has failed miserably to win them.
Reason #2. Fair trial, forgiveness, leniency, amnesty, are all nothing but political dramas aimed at public relations
Political immunity is not about Isaias and his cronies. It is a confidence-building solid foundation aimed at – peaceful transfer of power for this government, your government and the governments that follow you. The whole idea of political immunity is to serve us, as a vehicle for peaceful transfer of power for generations to come. The whole idea of political immunity is, not to get to the predicament of fair trial, leniency, amnesty, and forgiveness politics. If you get to the point of fair trial, forgiveness, amnesty and leniency politicking – forget it – nobody gives a hoot about your “positive” gesture – the damage is already done and it is irreversible. And let me tell you why:
You issue leniency, forgiveness and amnesty after you prove criminal act was committed. You prove criminal act after you drag people to court handcuffed. You drag people to court handcuffed after you defeat them to submission. You defeat them to submission after you prevail in a bloody war. You prevail in a bloody war after thousands of lives are lost, thousands of your citizens are displaced and thousands more are made refugees in the region and beyond. Not to mention the total collapse of the economy, total destruction of the infrastructure, the grief, resentment, hate, mistrust… that would scar communities for generations to come.
Now tell me, what good is forgiveness, amnesty and leniency going to bring after blood has been spilled and lives has been destroyed? Which one is more prudent, planning on forgiveness, leniency and amnesty or avoiding bloodshed?
To be honest, if the opposition organizations that are hell bent to serve “justice” to the PFDJ leaders and PFDJ cadres are not having any problem Mesfn Hagos being one of the top leaders in the opposition, it beyond me why they are having a problem with the PFDJ government bureaucrats and Military leaders who were taking orders from him? If the opposition organizations are comfortable with the company of Mesfin Hagos, Ambassador Adhanom Gebremariam, Ambassador Abdella Adem, and if they are really sympathetic to the G-15, it is beyond me why they are allergic to the rest of the PFDJ crowd.
Reason #3. Fair Justice for PFDJ leaders and cadres is impossible.
Again just for the sake of argument, after the PFDJ regime is defeated, let’s say we brought all PFDJ Leaders, Generals and Senior Cadres to face justice. I suppose the leaders of the new government are not going to try their PFDJ “criminals” by PFDJ Laws; because they don’t believe on the PFDJ Laws and PFDJ constitution that is on the book. And I suppose they are not going to use old colonial laws or international laws to convict the PFDJ “criminals”. Therefore since they don’t have readily available laws, I suppose, while the PFDJ “criminals” are rotting in jail, the new government is going to establish a democratic system of government, draft democratic constitution that would have the blessing of all Eritreans, set-up independent courts, appoint qualified judges and qualified lawyers, pass democratic rules, regulations and guidelines for independent media-outlets and civic societies to operate freely so they could guard our democratic system of government. And I suppose this project is going to take a decade if not more.
The PFDJ “criminals” that are waiting the new government’s “fair trial” are all old men in their late fifties and sixties on medication. How many of them do you think will make it to the new government’s “fair trial”? Not too many of them. Assuming justice delayed is justice denied; and assuming justice denied is injustice; aren’t they already denied justice? The fact that the new government leaders have made-up their mind that the PFDJ leaders are criminals, and the fact that the PFDJ leaders are serving jail time without having their day in court, makes the opposition “justice” exactly PFDJ justice. Therefore the opposition “justice” is not justice but revenge justice, because in the opposition justice system, the Higdefits are not innocent until proven guilty, but guilty until proven innocent. And if that is the new government’s fair justice for the Higdefits then that would be their fair justice for all. Well, so much for the opposition’s “fair justice”.
Reason #4. Your “criminals” are selective criminals and your “justice” is selective justice which makes it revenge justice.
Again just for the sake of argument, let’s say you are right and we all agreed to bring the Dictator, the whole PFDJ Central Committee, the PFDJ Generals, the PFDJ Ministers and all the PFDJ Senior Cadres to face justice. Well, some ethnic Kunamas, some ethnic Tigrignas, some Tigres of Semhar and Sahel and some ethnic Afars have grievances against ELF leaders and ELF Senior Political and Military Cadres as well.
So, if justice is demanded, are you willing to drag Ahmed Nasser to face justice? Are you willing to bring Hussein Khelifa to face justice? Are you willing to drag Huruy Tedlla to face justice? Are you willing to bring all ELF former leaders, Senior Political and Military Cadres to face justice? Of course you are not. If you’re not willing to drag your men to court to face justice, then wouldn’t your justice be revenge justice?
You know, when all your “criminals” are selective criminals, when all your “crimes” are selective crimes, when all your “justice” is selective justice, and when the whole DNA of your argument is wired with hypocrisy, well, to say the least, you don’t have a credible argument. And when you don’t have a credible argument, you don’t have a case.
Listen: when it comes to “crimes” of our past and present, yes we all can argue about the exponent of any given crime but make no mistake, always the base of the crime is the same – suppression of political dissidents, denial the existence of opposition, labeling of dissidents, forced recruitment, punishing draft dodgers family, torture of prisoners, shoot to kill policy at the border, confiscating private property, uneven distribution of power and ethnic dominance… you name it – for every EPLF/PFDJ “crime” committed, there is an exact replica “crime” committed by the leaders of ELF and their cadres. For every Isaias Aferki there is an equal and opposite Abdella Idris. For every PFDJ sinister move there is an equal and opposite move with a shady motive by the opposition. For all the PFDJ crooks, cronies, speculators, sellouts and double-crossers there are equal and opposite faces on the Opposition Camp. Anyone who believes otherwise could only be naïve. So tell me, what kind of justice would one serve to the other?
Final Note – in life there is no decisive political leader with clean hands. And you can’t have clean hands when you are making decisions that affect people’s lives. Decisions are about calculations. Calculations are about weighing benefits and risks (interests). If the benefit outweighs the risk, the decision is considered smart decision or right decision; even if some people’s lives are affected negatively by it. This is true at the local level, this is true at the national level and this is true at the international level.
To make matters even worse, the documented incriminating “facts” you present being as they may, it is very hard to prove the alleged crimes that were committed by the “perpetrators”, were committed with criminal intent in mind. And that is the dark-side of fair justice. And weaning ourselves from our emotion-driven judgment and understanding the hoops that you have to jump to Prove Criminal Intent for the purpose of Delivering Fair Justice is what is lacking our political arguments these days. Because if you are going to live true to your word – deliver fair justice – you may be required to prove criminal intent to convict; otherwise your “justice” won’t be fair justice and you would be just “them” – PFDJ.