“Take the thread and follow it,” the wisdom of our adage reminds us; and here I will try to give a thread of our recent history and hopefully others will follow; just to stop any “espionage against the truth,” and bring to light the argument of those who are still searching for “glory loopholes” by submitting selective and benign arguments. The Eritrean people cannot bear witness to their past by avoiding the grit, gristle, and grime part of our history. In a stark contrast to their motives we will pour sand into their denial machinery and their ideological heresy to clog their pleasure button which as usual is set for chaos.
Quite frankly, you don’t have to be a historian to gasp the transaction of our bad politics that derailed the nation and its people. You don’t have to be a revered intellectual to witness what has happened to the nation and its people. You don’t have to be a behavioral psycho-therapist to detect the rampant, erratic political behavior of our politicians. A curious average citizen, who is conscious, active in the process of our history, and determined in setting the record straight, can give an account of the movers and shakers of our history. Hence we feel obliged to challenge the impotent witnesses to our history by some self-serving organizations. Certainly, we can do the transformation we lived within our memory, all the triumphs and tragedies as it is, so that our young generations will watch and resist the revisionists who are wearing cynicism like an armor into an often disappointing notion.
In Part-I of this essay we have seen the instrument of attack of the detractors, the slippery slope of their bad politics, and how they obstruct, oppose to eclipse the political process in the opposition camp; and yes a generous advice have been offered to deal with their political nosography. In Part-II of this essay we will see their political party, the Labor Party (LP) of the 70s [a] its role in the demise of the democratic movement within the ELF organization [b] its decisive role in the disintegration of the larg Eritrean liberation army (ELA) [c] the heterogenesis of EPP or EPDP-1 from LP with its heteroclite predatory politics and Nixonian type of scandalism.
Despite the fact that I was disinclined to talk about history as a matter of “preventative diplomatic position” to secure unity of the opposition camp, the current up-thrust or upheaval of our politics and the “revisit of revisionism” to our current politics, it makes it imperative to expose the history of the obstructionist parties within ELF and EPLF organizations, respectively the Labor Party (LP) and the Eritrean Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP).
Indeed, few weeks ago there was a debate whether PFDJ is the same as EPLF in their composition as well as in their organizational structures. I tend to believe that EPLF and ELF are two broad based organizational fronts which comprised of different political trends and clandestine parties that shook their foundations from time to time, for the causes to appear or disappear in the struggle of political survival and dominations.
As a matter of fact and for the sake of argument, I will mention that ELF had three recognizable and identifiable parties namely: LP, EDM, and Ba’ath party (BP) within the front. The same is true for the EPLF, that there were EPRP of Issaias group, EPP of bisay Goitom and Dr. Iyob’s group, and the ultra-leftist group (menka’e its approbatory name) led by Yohannes (the brain) and Mussie. Although LP and EPRP have controlled the political and military infrastructures of the organizations, I will still contend that EPRP is the same as PFDJ rather than PFDJ is the same as EPLF. The same can be said about the LP which is the same as EPP (EPDP-I) rather than LP is the same as ELF. There is no need of “like it or lump it” for all EPLF fighters as EPRP or PFDJ nor do we need to lump all ELF fighters as LP. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the majority of the fighters of the organizations don’t even know the existence of these clandestine parties except the official name of the fronts.
Examination to the History of the 70s and 80s:
In approaching this specific era of our history, I will use different venues in catering the requests and interests of public into the genesis of our history. Unlike many other writers who tried to look into history from the prism of ELF and EPLF (the fronts), I will use different prepositions and factors to discover the inherent entities within the fronts and their rise and demise in contributing and shaping the history of that era.
In the mid 70s the movers and shakers of the fronts (the major leaders of the organizations) had formed clandestine parties (LP and EPRP) which were responsible for making policy that were executed by the leaders of the fronts. The other entities which I have mentioned above are formed to correct or oppose these major clandestine parties. No wonder, that their political program and their strategic approach to the armed struggle were indirectly endorsed in the “organizational congresses” of their respective fronts. Therefore any bilateral meeting of the fronts to resolve their differences on the weighty issues (such as unity) was held by the politburo or central committee of the parties that wears the “organizational leadership hat” to camouflage the real identity.
As a matter of courtesy, let me say this emphatically: Hail the fighters of the ELF who cultivated their democratic-political-culture by themselves long before the inception of LP. In fact, because of the consciousness of the rank and file which at times the leaders couldn’t cope with and think ahead of the objective reality, one could vividly observe “the dyslexia” of the leadership in reading the intent and goodwill of the bases to transform the organization. If you don’t rush and jump to label me, this reminds us of what Lenin as a philosopher and as a leader has warned his Bolsheviks party of, and let me paraphrase it: “if you don’t think ahead of the general public you have to listen to the demand of the public.” Indeed the leadership of the ELF had failed to “think ahead” or had failed in “listening to the demand” of their bases. You will see how I will justify this argument later on this essay.
Within the armed struggle, the politics of unity had become the defining political drive of the fighters of that particular era. While LP and EPRP were fighting for control and domination within their organizational fronts by suppressing any democratic movement, the rank and file of the ELF organization stood firm on the principle of unity. It was at this crucial time that an embryonic of Eritrean Democratic Movement (EDM) and Ba’ath Party (BP) had launched their political parties within the ELF organization. The first EDM publication was circulated in December 1975 to ten ELF administrative units. Soon after the third session of ELF-RC that came up with new declaration regarding unity, it was clear that the confrontation of the army’s movement (the rank and file) against the leadership was inevitable. The mass movement of the army was spontaneous that had neither any link nor had been motivated by EDM. It was a mass-army consciousness of its own. But no question, it was a conducive for the underground recruitment.
The confrontations were everywhere almost in every unit of the army except the magnitude and nature of confrontation varies from one unit to the other. It was at this chaotic period that the most revered democratic element and a leader well respected by the army, Abd-el-Kader Ramadan, was sent to Denkalia to resolve the internal contradiction of brigade-64. Though his martyrdom is clouded with conspiracy theory which is yet to be proved, the immediate reaction of the leadership was, it is an act of sabotage by falul. There is not a single proof that the action was taken by falul as no one of his killers was captured to determine the motive and the link of the killers. In fact there is no plausible justification for a leader who is admired and loved by the rank and file to be killed by the combatants. Doesn’t it look similar to the death of Ibrahim Afa, though not proven and all we heard is the conspiracy theory of the EPLF or EPRP from the EPLF fighters?
Three Strikes and Out
Long behold the incidence of Denkalia ignited a short lived civil war within the ELF organization. LP decided to take military action on the spontaneous democratic movement of the army, pushing them from the Western lowland of Barka to the highland of Kebessa. Massive arrests of the leadership and members of EDM was carried out, but some were able to escape to Khartoum. All the action was based on the assumption that the EDM was manipulating the army into an uprising.
Strange as it may be, the escapee-EDM members met Isaias at Khartoum to ask him to create a buffer zone to protect the “democratic army movement” from the attack of LP until they resolve the conflict with the leadership of the ELF. Isaias who was the architect of conspiracy told them that he will give them an answer after discussing the matter with his colleagues. He never returned with an answer, but instead he told the leaders of the army movement, that the choices they have is either to join the EPLF or stand by themselves and face any attack that comes from the ELF leadership. He knew that in a few days they will be short of logistics and supplies and soon will give up and join him, when they are left out with no other option. Isaias became successful in getting 2040 well trained fighters. Similar number of fighters also left ELF and went to Sudan and further on to seek refuge all over the world. In 1977, the vaunted history of the ELF, in terms of its size and heterogeneity, shrank considerably and it lost its base and momentum of power to EPLF.
The fourth session of the revolutionary council which was held a few months after the uprising of the army, had discussed and evaluated the actions which were taken against the “Spontaneous Democratic Army Movement” (SDAM) known as Falul. LP’s report to the fourth session of RC concluded that there were no links between the EDM and SDAM. In fact a senior cadre of LP (name withheld for reasons and nature of Eritrean politics) told me that SDAM was identified as a spontaneous movement that was in fact striving to transform the political culture of the ELF organization. Call the action taken against SDAM and EDM “strike-one.”
In 1978 ELF-PF (hizbawihailetat led by Sabbe) were allowed to move in the upper and lower Barka region. Many of BP members (also known as Yemin or Right wing) defected from the ELF to join ELF-PF. The rank and file of the ELF questioned the moves of the ELF-PF into the area of their control. Soon LP realized that the situation was detrimental to the survival of the party in particular and to the ELF organization in general. Again a short-lived bloody civil war was waged against the ELF-PF. Unlike the EPLF leadership, Sabbe and his group were ready for any kind of unity. ELF failed to seize that opportunity, and instead it flexed military power to eject them from the field. LP does not understand the idea of “unity of effect” and “qualitative easing.” Call this missed opportunity, “strike-two.”
In 1979, LP orchestrated a new course called “meskerem-hade” from all strata of the organization of the ELF to expand and recruit new members to its fold. This was as a part of a strategy to take the complete leadership of the ELF- organization. In 1980 after changing its central committee and its politburo in its party congress, it took the complete official leadership of the organization. Keep in mind and as I mentioned in my previous article, it is after the official visit of Ahmed Nasser and his team to the old Soviet Union, that the new restructuring and new command took place within the organization. Abdulla Idris and his chief of staff as well as the office of the chairman Ahmed Nasser, were out of the command structure. “A three-man command structure” led by Ibrahim Toteel, Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, and Meleake Tekle, all from the LP, was set to lead the organization.
LP had changed its political and military strategy in late 1979. Politically they placed the Derg as their political ally, “not as enemy but as a friend” and were ready to negotiate through the brokerage of Soviet Union. Militarily they pulled out from the United Front agreement with the EPLF in the North Eastern Sahel, and laid out a new strategy to liberate the South Western and Western lowlands. EPRP (EPLF) didn’t waste time to formulate a counter strategy to foil LP’s betrayal of the Khartoum agreement, and took a swift decisive action on two fronts. Militarily they formed new alliance with the TPLF to attack from all fronts. Politically they declared a new “eight-point” diplomatic solution to counter LP’s political strategy.
Sadly enough, the bloody civil war was fought in all corners of the nation (Badme, Denkalia, Sahel, the Highlands and the Lowland of Barka) until the ELA was concentrated in the Barka region. Abdella Idris and his military chief of staffs refused to take the orders from the three-man-command, as a reaction to LP to regain the mandate given to them from the Revolutionary Council, the official leadership that was elected at the second national congress. In fact Mahmud Hasseb, one of the chief of staffs had uttered at one point that the war was “a war between two parties” meaning between LP and EPRP. In any case, almost in the last drive, LP had no alternative except to return the military power to Abdella and his chief of staffs. The gallant ELA resisted the onslaught from EPLF/TPLF for a few weeks, but at the end, it was pushed out from the Eritrean field for good. LP failed to diffuse the internal contradiction, to reserve its identity, and to use its diversity as strength. LP also failed to recognize the importance of alliances, and the value of compromise to hold all the parts of the ELF organization together and to harvest a strategic success. To sum up theses are a total inaptitude of leadership of LP, call it “Strike-three and Out.”
As the Clock Ticks the House Crumbles
We have seen the strategic fiasco of the LP and how it worked against its own democratic and social capital. Despite the closure and the ejection of the ELF that was sealed by the joint military action of EPLF/TPLF, the major defeat of ELF was attributed to the wrong strategy of LP that was detrimental to the fate of the mighty organization. The clock had started to tick in 1977, the walls and the parts which protect the ELF organization also started to crumble in the same year. Sad as it maybe, it took four years for the LP to destroy and to write the last chapter of the organization. The strategic blunder of LP (a) attacking the vibrant democratic capital within the fold of ELF (b) attacking the “voluntarism for unity” offered from Sabbe and his group which could have been an additional vector to the social capital of the of the ELF, and (c) detracting from the Khartoum agreement of 1979 that was reached between the ELF and EPLF to heed the advice of the Soviet Union, is in itself a matter of fact that our young generation must learn as part of our history.
Despite the fact that EPLF didn’t believe on the unity of the fronts at that time, it was quintessential for the ELF to stand in principle for unity to widen and rally its social capital even as a matter of tactic to keep its strength intact. LP didn’t know the importance of strategic alliance and tactical retreat from any detrimental confrontation.
We know EPP is the artifact of LP. And yes they look-alike and act-alike; and here is what an old member of LP described them,: “they think leftist and they act rightist.” Indeed it was a right description that gave me a mixed feeling when I heard him saying it in a Pal-talk Q&A. They are swindlers of fraudulent political deception who never stop to attack to those who would have been their allies.
LP’s red ink never stopped flowing since 1977. Hence in Part-III of this essay, I will try to give you a sketch and explain how EPDP-I is the same as EPP (the artifact of LP) both in appearance and essence. I will also compare and contrast their inherent political behavior and their “weakest link of political affinity” to our diversified social capital.
But before I conclude, I will ask my readers to make a periphery move to respond to Tsegazeab G/gergis’s retort of January 18, 2011. As our cultural proverb says “Hissur Kem Nebsu Yeh’sereka”, and yes Tsegazeab showed us how cheap and insensitive he is, to bash those who gave out their life for the cause of nationalism and Eritrean identity, while he was roaming in the streets of Ethiopia, Holland and England. I don’t know from where he got “his national credential,” but he accused us “as mercenary who do not have national credential.” For some, education is worthless and meaningless, so also for Tsegezeab. I urge someone to send him a civility memo. But here is the deal: We will prepare a kangaroo court, a prototype of the PFDJ, ready with a twelve member jury, in New York. We will invite Tsegazeab to be the judge and to come with a persecutor to run the show, and we the plaintiff will come with a dream team of defense to win against his conspiracy gambit. Am I kidding?