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Ethiopia: the Elephant in the Room

Suppose a patient walks into an emergency room with a big axe sticking out of his head. The medical staff is bewilderingly looking at this guy, perplexed at how on earth he is even alive.  They prepare to do something about this deadly axe and ask the victim how he is feeling. He simply states that he feels just fine except for some minor stomach ache.

“You give me some anti-acid and I am all set,” he replies.

“But what about this … thing! … sticking out of your head?”

“What thing? … Oh, you mean the axe?  Never mind that, it’s not a big deal”

When there is a glaringly obvious truth that no one wants to discuss or address, in English, the idiomatic expression “Elephant in the Room” is aptly used. It is supposed to help us imagine having a living, breathing elephant in the family room, in the kitchen, in the meeting room, doing whatever elephants do. It’s not an invisible elephant; it’s just that no one wants to acknowledge that it is there. Instead, everyone prefers to deal with other issues as if this huge thing is not even in the same space.

While I like the “axe in the head” metaphor better, it might be too gory for your taste, and perhaps it sounds something straight out of a Monty Python episode. Ok, let’s stick with “Elephant in the room” then, after all, an elephant is good national symbol for Ethiopia.  I am thinking of the “zhon” mega lottery whose advertisement use to include an elephant carrying a jackpot prize of cash (do they still have that?). Anyway, in this analogy, the elephant is Ethiopia’s policy toward regime change in Eritrea and its direct and indirect intervention in Eritrea’s opposition politics.

Misplaced Pride

This discussion is aimed at Ethiopia’s policy toward Eritrea and Eritreans. However, I know that issues of national interest vis- à -vis relations with neighboring countries can quickly devolve into issues of prejudices and ethnic identity politics, pseudo history and even hatred. When we are talking about Ethiopia and Eritrea, we are talking about two poor African countries still at the bottom of the list of countries by per capita income. Two countries whose people have a lot to gain from peaceful co-existence and collaboration instead of purposeless posturing that is often pushed downward to the people by those in position of power.

I think it is safe to say that being from either side of the Ethio-Eritrean border does not come as a result of divine intervention; it is pure accident of fate and history. There is nothing inherently better about being or having roots from a certain dot on the map. National pride should not cloud reasoning, nor should it justify injustice and unfairness.

The nation-state is indeed not something that was conceived by a super-natural being. It is a man-made phenomenon that, and for better or worse, we are destined to use it as a source of identity and to create relations based on mutual respect and fairness. However, it can also easily be used for adversarial purposes to garner unfair advantage, create instability, use it as a bargaining chip and weaken your perceived enemy.  Needless to say, the Ethio-Eritrean relationship has yet to enter the “relations based on mutual respect and fairness” period. It is till in the “adversarial” period and if we will ever move toward good neighborliness and far-sighted relationship, the architects of Ethiopia’s foreign policy toward Eritrea must keep the Eritrean people in mind. They must not mistake political emissaries and viceroys for true representation of the heartbeat of Eritreans in Eritrea and Eritreans throughout the world.

Wherever they are, be it inside Ethiopia or elsewhere, Eritreans must be allowed to decide how they will remove the regime of tyrant Isaias Afeworki, and the Eritrean people will eventually decide what kind of government to erect in its place. It would be foolish to expect Eritreans to start trusting Ethiopia’s “support” when it is actually thinly veiled interference. It is time for Ethiopia to clearly state its policy, mandate, role and scope pertaining to the democratization and/or regime change in Eritrea. Only a genuine homegrown revolt morally supported by the world community will guarantee Ethiopia a good neighbor to the north. Yes, Ethiopian authorities have the right to deal with whomever they choose to achieve whatever their ultimate goal is. The people of Eritrea also have the same right to look at the processes and maneuvers and speak-up when something awry is afoot. Hey, it’s our country, dammit!

I am confident we can stay above the fray and discuss issues of balancing state interest and creating a win-win environment. The long term good neighborly relations between the two countries rests on garnering genuine goodwill toward each other and not on hoodwinking and the political mechanizations of moving chess pieces across the board as we have witnessed for the last decade. It has been almost a taboo to criticize Ethiopia’s handling of Eritrean pro-justice movement, especially its systematic rendering of the opposition to a toothless and ineffective entity that is neither capable of bringing about regime change nor tolerant enough to alternative strategies. Yes, the Ethiopians are not entirely to blame for that, but let’s start with the axe sticking out of the head, the Elephant in the room, first and ensure Eritrea’s interest is duly considered. Naturally, when it comes to discussing the role of Ethiopia in the democratization of Eritrea, as Eritreans, our opinion may be biased toward the interest of Eritrea. No need to apologize for that. Hey, it’s our country, dammit!

In 2010, when Eritreans were gathering in Ethiopia for the first “National Conference”, many Eritreans, including myself, were hoping against hope that it could turn into a bona-fide popular movement. The vast majority (if not all) of Eritreans who went to Ethiopia then and afterwards are of course patriots; justice seeking citizens who are simply looking for a solution that will shorten the life of the dictatorship in Eritrea. This is not about questioning their motive but about the ultimate result, which can only be described as utter failure; or we can even dare say that it was designed to fail. Yes, so much passion, emotion and credibility have been invested in the “regime change with the help of Ethiopia” basket and there is nothing to stop some from wanting to continue to have faith in it. Yet, the consequence of granting Ethiopia’s policy makers a blank check in the affairs of Eritrea and shielding them left and right from the wrath of Eritrean public opinion affects us all. A change in strategy is not failure but flexibility. But of course some proud egos will be wounded at the mere suggestion that they may be failing, and may want to keep going with the musical chair game, whose rules seem to change based on whom the Ethiopians decide should win or lose.

So, where did the opposition movement go wrong when it comes to Ethiopia? Volumes can probably be said about this topic but I believe the following 4 points have been ignored by all of us though it was pretty obvious at some point they were going to grow to be, well, as big as an elephant in a room.

1) Forgetting the Masses

At the core of any movement for social change there is the notion of convincing the public. In order to stay relevant an idea must be able to move the masses; to unite them under an idea they want to rally behind.  The keyword is: convincing. So, can we say that the Eritrean people are convinced that the way to replace the despicable regime of Isaias Afeworki is by using Ethiopia’s strong arm or simply by using Ethiopia to launch a military campaign? Of course not.  No matter how much it is sugarcoated, it was a difficult idea to sell and very few have actually bought it.  More importantly, what we have seen in the last few years can not be considered as convincing or selling an idea. It was simply the systematic and sometimes brute intimidation of Eritrean activist, as the plethora of organizations based in Ethiopia compete to impress – not the Eritrean masses – but Ethiopian officials. The result speaks for itself.

2) Looking for Exclusivity

Any organization, be it political or civic, can not appeal to the masses if its aim is “purity” or “the exclusion of others”.  Instead of trying to achieve its declared mission, if all an organization does is to purge and exclude people based on sub-national or parochial sentiments, it’s bound to fail. Just like the elephant in the room, this fact has been well-known among Eritreans, and it seems to have been encouraged by the Ethiopians who use some unconvincing justifications. This is probably one of the most dangerous side-effects that should not be ignored any longer, even though these types of organizations do not have a mass appeal. By definition, exclusivity leads to narrowness and limited scope but a close study of how Somalia became Somalia should give us Eritreans a dire warning.

3) Assuming Ethiopia Wants Isaias Out

This one is a perplexing phenomenon that has confused many. Judging from the stand point of justice and fairness, and from the several signals the Ethiopians were sending, we could have been hoodwinked into thinking that the removal of Isaias Afeworki benefits Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, international relations does not have the sense and sensibility of our mother’s uqub, where what you paid forward pays you back eventually. We all know it is a little more complex than that.  From the standpoint of national interest – or at least the interest of those in power in Ethiopia – Isaias Afworki is actually serving his purpose. At best, he is a very weak neighbor who can only bargain from a point of weakness and at worst (God forbid), he is co-conspirator of whatever hidden agendas are brewing beneath the surface; hidden agendas that seem to require the waning of Eritrean nationalism and its viability as a state.

4) Underestimating Change from Inside

Until that fateful morning of January 21, 2013 when we saw a glimmer of hope on a hilltop in the heart of Asmara, those who believed change from inside is quite possible were ridiculed, and hope was mainly placed on some surgical military operation that is likely to have the Ethiopian army in front or behind it. Then came the coup attempt that came to be known as “Forto” or “nay Wedi Ali”. Surprisingly, the attempt was widely celebrated while the argument “change can not come from within” continues to rage on, not surprisingly, from those who have placed their hopes in the Ethiopia basket. The fact of the matter is, the few times that the Isaias’ dictatorial power was challenged, was from within the system; the G-15 and Forto incidents being prominent examples.  More importantly, Eritreans are quite capable of rallying behind a genuine homegrown movement aimed at removing the dictator and swiftly transitioning to constitutional governance.

In these sensitive times, Ethiopia can still play a positive role without meddling in the internal issues of Eritreans. The first of which is to continue to treat Eritrean refugees with care, respect and dignity; something that will go a long way in building goodwill and trust for generations to come. Ethiopia can also, without a drama, settle the border ruling instead of stalling its implementation and giving our dictator the ultimate ticket for justifying his rule.  However, backroom dealings that shortchange the future relations of the two downtrodden people of Eritrea and Ethiopia in general and Eritrea and Tigray in particular would be a big mistake.

The Alternative

If the “Elephant in the Room” is actually why the silent majority of Eritreans remain silent, then as Eritreans we owe it to ourselves to seek for an alternative idea of waking up the fighting spirit of our compatriots. Eritreans have a very respectable recent history of stepping up to the challenge even when the chance of winning seemed glim.  Even if the strategy to seek Ethiopia’s support was paved with good intentions, it has not worked and in fact, it is one those major reasons why we have a silent majority.  The quest for liberty, freedom, justice, lawful administration, equality and peace is honorable and decent; something that should appeal to the vast majority of Eritreans everywhere.  There is a good reason why our Second Revolution hasn’t sparked yet. It’s time to deal with that axe sticking out of our opposition movement’s head. It’s time to deal with the Elephant in the Room and usher the era of Eritrean Solutions for Eritrean Problems!

Twitter: @DanielGMikael

About Daniel G. Mikael

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  • Ethio-Tig

    I’m an Eritrean born Ethiopian-Tigrian….! Think of what had happened to Ethiopian , especially Tigrian after independence until after the war! Should I list it here? No! You why? You will be disgusted to your core!

    Nonsense writing! Elephant ma elephant….! It diesnt give any sense! For Eritrea & Eritreans , PFDJ is the worst, the opposition are not different! If they were for real , they should given the opposition leadership to the young people! Call it the opposition or at the Asmara palace , they have been in power for 50 years putting down Eritrea to the bottom !

    Ethiopia is serving Eritrean better than Eritrea as a transition bridge, in its universities, peaceful refugee camps, Eritrea can live like Ethiopia in Ethiopia …..! What an analyses!

  • Mulugeta Ashebir

    We, Ethiopians and Eritreans must forgive (may be not forget) all the hurts if we need to move forward. Having said that, we should be able to manage unrealistic expectations from each other. This whole process of reconciliation, mutual trust and respect will take time. In the meantime, until such time comes, let’s treat each other not as enemies but as neighbors just like any other (Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, etc.) in the region.

  • Mohamed Ibrahim

    Thank You for the comment. I have me one of my own as an Ethiopean-Eritrean. Mind you I said Ethiopian-Eritrean purposely. What ever the regim looks like when it comes to power the people of Eritrea should not forget what the people of Eritrea has done to us. Our people have been displace from their house and living quarter unduely by Eritreans. Think of what happened in Assab and other part of Eriterea. Aferorki’s people started it. All Ethiopians young and old should not forget that.

  • Yineso

    According to the new adminstration in Ethiopia Amhara’s are blamed for teaching corruption , bribery and so on to the Tigres.

    Basically what they are trying to say is when the Derg failed Amhara agents tricked the Tigray People Liberation Front leaders to live corrupt . they sincerly believe if it wasn’t for the Amharas the Tigres would not have known or started this corruption practices. Mind you they even argue that Azeb Mesfin is an Amhara.

  • Eyob Medhane

    Sal/Beyan Negash,

    Quick note..

    Referring to our previous conversation, you don’t need to go to all the way to Bekoji now, only to Sululta outside of Addis Ababa. I have a a 1 munite..

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Eyob:

      Beyond awesome. I love it when Eritreans, Ethiopians, Africans get a share of the pie. *

      Ethiopian athletes (with Haile leading the way) are making money (mostly in real estate) and good for them. Here’s an article that talks about that, including Tirunish, and the man some say is my twin separated at birth (hint: he is a chef)


      * In the words of the great American philosopher Dr Dre:

      Still rapping like a mummy,
      Still, like to see young blacks get money

      “Still” by Dr Dre featuring Snoop Dogg.

      • Beyan Negash

        I am not sure if Eyob knows this or has seen your picture (Sal) anywhere, but Marcus S. of “Red Rooster” does look like you. Recently, my son (seven years old) when he saw Diane Sawyer image and Martha Raddatz of ABC News juxtaposed on TV screen, his observation was, “oh, Diane Sawyer in the future.” Sal, I know you are young at heart, spit image of one another maybe, “separated at birth,” well not quite, unless you put a dozen years between you two – the age and the wisdom advantage favoring you -:)

      • Eyob Medhane

        Correction, Sal.

        it is no longer snoop dog. It’s now Snoop Lion ‘Berhane’. Seriously. Look it up..

        It seems the ‘Habeshanet’, you kinda wanna drop, he’s pickin’ it up 😉

    • Beyan Negash


      This is the kind of promising story that one wishes to hear more of, from athletes who made it and never forget their roots as they go venturing into the realms of business, thereby helping create jobs for their countrymen and women.

      One can only wish to see more of this line of thinking from African American athletes who made it, and who seem to forget their roots once they make it in the world of finances as a result of their athletic prowess or entertainment industry in general. Granted, some do invest in the neighborhood that sorely needs jobs, who epitomizes it is no other than Magic Johnson.


      • Eyob Medhane


        You are right. I just noticed the resemblance between you and Marcus Samuelson. If you are separated at birth or you are related in any way with him, could you please tell him his New York restaurant ‘Red Rooster’ is really over rated Popeyes in a fancy plate, and his Addis Ababa mock up of ‘whole foods’ store is affordable for about 100 people only in Ethiopia? Thank you, I will be waiting for his response through you.. 🙂

        • Salyounis


          But “Red Rooster” means “Key Doro.” That’s the price of admission and the rest is simple whining (which goes with the dining.)


        • Salyounis

          Hey Eyob/Beyan:

          Eyob, I talked to Marcus Samuelson and he relays the following message to you:
          1. My restaurant is featured at Zagat restaurant guide;
          2. It gets 4 1/2 stars out of 5 in Google reviews. 4.2 in Yelp reviews.
          3. I make no bones (hee hee) that this is a fried chicken resturant. But if greasy Popeye is your thing, mengedun cherq...
          4. People don’t go to restaurants like mine and other celebrity chefs for the food; it is for the ability to tell stories because human beings are chronic story tellers. In this case, it is so Eyob can say, “I was at Marcus Samuelson restaurant in Harlem with my wife and guess who I saw there…”
          5. In conclusion, belteh kefleh wTa.


          The “twins separated at birth” was something an FB poster wrote; I shared it here because I thought that was Eyob and it would be an inside joke, but it is another Ethiopian (you know how they are all alike. No wonder Snoop chose an Ethiopian/Eritrean name ))) Otherwise I am aware of the age difference and more relevant to our discussion, the bank balance difference.


  • Beyan Negash

    Scrolling down to see the relevant topic is proving way too taxing and can’t help but feel that nobody is going some 400 pages down to find it. So, please allow to me to state briefly in reference to the possible waEla of the virtual giants. Sal, resourcefully suggested that we should consider taking advantage of Awate’s FB. So, what do you think Yodita and Hayat? No I didn’t scroll down to find the piece. I had it saved. Just in case you didn’t read it or others who may wonder what in the world am I talking about – here Sal’s note:

    Selam Beyan:
    Before this thing gets some legs, I guess I should give my perspective on symposiums, seminars, retreats, meetings, etc:
    1. The way Eritrean politics work, the energy devoted to boycotting events from people who feel excluded is more than the energy devoted to making them work by people who are included. Just by creating our wish list we have already made some feel unimportant and excluded.
    2. Conferences are expensive–particularly the follow-up conferences. (We already know how people are pledge-exhausted with different people and groups competing for their wallets.) Either we are interested in a one time splash or creating a global movement.
    3. The Eritrean Diaspora has a great many brainy Eritreans who are interested in sharing ideas but NOT if it means they are forced to give up their privacy and anonymity. (I don’t want to get Serray and Haile to have to give up their anonymity. But the movement for change needs them badly.)
    4. What matters most is getting strategists: people who give ideas on how to bring about change: the what, when, why, how. Big picture thinkers who are not afraid to have their ideas critiqued and scrutinized.
    What we need is a virtual group, not a physical conference. What we need is a place (virtual) where people (private and public) can share their ideas, from which volunteer groups of task forces (virtual, real) are organized. A place where people can feel comfortable enough to come and share their ideas–they can drop in and drop out depending on their schedule.
    All of this can be done via facebook. It is an excellent medium for crowd-sourcing. And, it so happens, has a page now, but we can create a group which can be organized by invitation.

    • Yodita

      Beyan and SAAY,

      A virtual one may beget a real one, subsequently!

      However, when creating a group, how can one manage to avoid ‘people who feel excluded’ if organized by invitation? Some will feel excluded and may boycott. I just made a list of about 25 persons I consider big thinkers and big players (e.g. Elsa Chyrum, Selam kidane, Meron Estifanos,) but am sure that I have left out a host of them. I think by now we have a hefty number of persons who fit the bill. If so, how could exclusion be avoided?

      • Beyan Negash

        Yodita and Saal,

        You two I suspect are far more equipped to know the personalities from various websites than I am. But, I believe, at the initial stage a virtual flier can be made for all opposition websites of the idea being incepted and those who wish to join in; initially, “a virtual one [which] may beget a real one, subsequently!” Otherwise, inadvertently excluding “a hefty number of persons who fit the bill” would be inevitable.


  • haile

    Selamat Aman, Sabri & Saay


    Your press release in the guise of a response to my post has been delivered:-) I suppose SG might issue a counter press release in the guise of a reply to this post too (if he is back from Bologna that is) 🙂


    Good question. I hope you appreciate that this is purely an opinion’s territory. That IA damages national interest is self evident. However, the motives may understandably be open to debate. Here is my take.

    You are right to say that he had everything going for him. I believed that, you believed that, many people believed that and many written declaring that too. Even our friend Ghezae Hagos had believed that when he penned something to that effect on dehai back in 2000 🙂 (just teasing Ghezae about the the days back then:)

    The only person who didn’t believe that was IA himself! Imagine a man who takes a beautiful, intelligent, kind and decent woman for a wife and have some children with her. Unfortunately, this man would then believe that if his wife greets another man, such is a threat. If his wife dress up the way she loves to, that is a threat. If the wife befriends other intelligent women, that is a threat. If the wife wishes to join public activities, that is a threat. A threat that he would lose her any time soon. The man becomes paranoid, limits all her movements and activities and oppresses her severely. One thing leads to another, he violently lashes at her. This results in police being called in, and him being ordered to stay away from her.

    I know a person like that for real. The woman finally divorced him. She became a successful business owner and raised her kids with a standard that is an envy to many. The man lost his ways, taken to drinking. Couldn’t hold down a job and utterly despised by many.

    He had everything going for him to start with. At least those of us around him at the time believed so. But he didn’t believe so. He opted for control and suppression to guarantee what he felt was under threat. His own paranoia finished him off.

    IA had similar problems. The Eritrean people had given him their promise to reward him and crown him for services rendered to the nation. He didn’t believe the promise, he wanted to guarantee what he felt could be taken away from him. Today, forget father of the nation, to Eritreans IA is the most cruel dictator that denied them the fruits of their struggle, blood and sweat. I doubt that there is a suitable burial ground in Eritrea for him, much less a statue or other memorials. It is a sad and tragic case of madness and crass stupidity by a certain guy called Isaias Afwerki.


    Knowing you for a long while now, I wouldn’t be naive enough to go toe-to-toe with you. SaEney maEre egrey 🙂

    I guess you have a nagging sense of the case that IA was being IA when he addressed that panel you mentioned. Back in the 90’s, I use to receive an 8 page publication in print that summarized monthly news in the horn of Africa. I can’t recall the name but I am kind of sure it wasn’t the African Confidential. Both, in that publication as well as an audio interview of IA by Dimtsi Hafash, I could remember IA stating that the Eritrean government would lead investment in the strategic sectors. Politically, nay wudbat hashewye aykhlun eyu and other press rules were, I thought, there to “manage” (borrowing from Eyob) the democratic reform (that was never to be 🙁 ). this why I made the hasty remark that “a DS of sorts” (with emphasis on the “of sorts” than the DS:)

    Actually, a friend of mine had great plans to invest in the Fishery sector back then. Some time in 96/97 he purchased a decent sized fishing boat and had several contracts to supply some markets in Europe. He was closed down with the excuse that the fishing sector was a strategic one and the government would lead investment there. He lost all his money and the boat (medium sized) that he purchased with high cost and hope was left to rust and decompose over the years in front his eyes as he waited for years to get his license back. It never happened and himself passed away around 2005.

    These and others were some of the reasons that lead me to believe that there was DS of sorts. Also, by declarations, I was referring to the above interviews. If I get hold of any links to that effect, I shall post it here.

    Cheers all

    • Sabri

      Thanks Haile. That means he was not normal right from the beginning. What I don’t understand is how can those who are struggling, has been very close to him miss this point?

      • Sabri

        Haile, your friend didn’t do all those mad things to ruin his wife’s life purposely. Right? By the same token can we say IA didn’t do all those mad things purposely because he is insane?

        • haile

          selamat Sabri

          Your question #1

          Why did those around him “miss this”. Actually they didn’t. There are two types:

          1 – Those who knew this and tried to challenge/confront it, but were either killed, arrested or fled the country. These lot had been completely let down by the diaspora Eritreans who were hoodwinked to great extent.

          2 – Those who knew this but were/are implicated or weigh their personal interests against doing anything. As well as those who are naturally coward and would go along any way.

          So, the assumption that IA was/is doing all this unknown by anybody may need to be looked at again.

          Your question #2

          Doesn’t the sense of paranoia mean that it is not deliberate?

          Well, let’s bring this thing down to the rational realms. By deliberate, we are talking in reference to the actual “acts” of impoverishment. Hence, if we go by my friend’s situation, let’s say the wife wishes to to associate with other intelligent and self respecting women, the guy sees threat that this would lead her to be assertive and undermine his control. He denies her the opportunity. Now, is he doing so because there are valid problems of cost, timing, logistics and other natural problems that hamper her the ability to associate with her friends. Or is it that he is “deliberately” manufacturing excuses and reasons to simply thwart her possibility of going with her friends?

          If he had said “oh…the family doesn’t really afford her plans”, do you say that he is being sincere or “deliberate” or “kone’Elu eyu”. The strict and formal/clinical definitions of “insanity” don’t lend themselves as defense in this case. Because there is no such thing as selective “insanity”. I am mindful that this is not easy for many to swallow. It is a very traumatic situation to accept for many, especially in the diaspora, because many had really & truly served and supported the regime believing that they were serving their nation. And many have sacrificed a lot of personal opportunities in life doing so. What this means is that despite the reality is glaringly staring them in the face, many Eritreans are exposed to un-imaginable horrors, the nation is at the brink of disaster and so on.. They would give in to denial instead of confronting this painful and traumatic truth that they are supporting some one they should really be confronting and bringing to account.

          A very sad situation indeed!

          Regards brother Sabri

          • Sabri

            Zikberka Hailat,

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

            When you are answering my second question you illustrate it through your friend’s example. It is a good example. A paranoid person blame everything to his close friends and immediate family members. As a result of his action obviously many people became hurt but his action is not deliberately aimed to hurt them. In the paranoid mind of this person he is doing what he is doing for the purpose of good things. It is the consequence of his action that became problematic but his action is not premeditated. No matter if his action is premeditated or not it is important to note that he himself is the main problem. Such kind of person shouldn’t be treated as a normal person in the first place.

            Now If we assume IA is like your friend I would say it is the consequence of his action that became problematic but the action by itself need not to be premeditated. However, that doesn’t make him innocent.

            I like your last statement. It is so true. “They would give in to denial instead of confronting this painful and traumatic truth that they are supporting some one they should really be confronting and bringing to account.”

            Mis bizuh selamta,

  • Well said Daniel :

  • Sabri


    You know Eyobe in today’s Ethiopia many are talking about the ongoing development but very few people know about the principal guide of the government which is developmental state. Recently I had a discussion with a long time supporter of EPRDF on the issue and he argues the government doesn’t limit democracy ( or in your own words managed democracy). A couple of months ago I met one exiled journalist from Ethiopia. He used to work at Addis Neger newspaper. He like many of private journalists in Ethiopia believe there is no free press in Ethiopia. It is true if you see it only through western calculation. In line with its developmental state principle the government openly declared that it will have heavy hand in all spheres. The main characteristic of developmental state is it allows the government to intervene in the socio economic development of the country. So those who are interested in the politics of Ethiopia both journalists and politicians the first thing they need to do is to understand and to articulate what the so called democratic developmental state is and then if they think it is not appropriate for Ethiopia they have to explain why and come with tangible alternatives. This is what is missing in the Ethiopian politics today.

    Anyways, all the elaboration you gave on what democratic developmental state is not different from the classical developmental state. Actually your description reminds me of Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, the brain behind the developmental state of his country has always argued those points you raised. Yes for Democracy as long as it is managed and controllable and as long as it doesn’t threat the developmental line of the country. He even said the task of the press is to support the ongoing development process. All this is embedded in the concept of developmental state. That is why adding the prefix democratic doesn’t make EPRDF different than the one practiced in Singapore and elsewhere in East Asia.

    There are people who argue EPRDF is modifying the classical developmental state and make it more democratic. The point here is democracy and development goes hand in hand. But what does it mean? It is broad and undefined concept. For some people it means democracy like economy must grow gradually. For others it means full fledged democracy can go hand in hand with liberal economy. But is it true that EPRDF is more democratic than the classical developmental states of East Asia? I doubt. Also, it is not sure if EPRDF will be successful in implementing developmental state as it is prescribed by scholars and practitioners. It is a huge task. Anyway it is good to have a giant vision.

    The government under the principle of democratic developmental state believe they will gradually attain the democracy as we know it today in West. But until then government must have heavy hand in all aspects of life. Similar argument was echoed by the leaders of Singapore four decades ago but Singapore still remain authoritative despite its impressive development.


    • Eyob Medhane


      Bingo!. In my previous post to you, I was going to (In fact I started typing and deleted it later) talk about Singapore. EPRDF vision seems to be heavily influenced by that. It sort of brought ‘democracy’ into the mix, for two reasons. 1) As Sal said for the western donors consumption (BTW:- I have some issue with what Sal’s response is, as usual, but I agree with home on this tiny point.) 2) As I said before to accomodate the diversity by creating a little space. 3) To try to domesticize developmental state by trying to blend it with old traditional systems (certain aspects of the Gaada system in Oromia and Shimagele mediation system in Amhara and Souther regions). They believe that, if the do such blending and the ddomesticisztion of the main principles of developmental state, they believe they will succeed eventually to western type but Ethiopian shaped democracy, because it will be home grown and nurtured democracy (Hager Beqel) :-),,,

      If you have spoken Tamirat Negera (former chief editor of Addis Neger), I can understand his point of view. You reminded me of
      his interview with NPR couple of days before Meles Zenawi’s death. He had the same argument with the host and co panalist David Shin about the progress Ethiopia has made, during Meles’ reign. here is the transcript of his interview.

      Though he has very well articulated his point of view, it is very typical western liberal point of view that seems in a permanent clash with the principles of developmental state.

  • bukretsion

    i don’t know why we assume western democracy is best to practice. if we look at the west democracy out side of the slogan(the one on major media) we might need other type of democracy.

  • Sabri

    Selam Eyobe and Sal,

    I have been following your discussion on old history of Ethiopia. It is interesting. The issue I want to raise is about the principle of the current Ethiopian government. I don’t know if it is a right thread to raise this issue. The EPRDF led government of Ethiopia under the leadership of the late Meles Zenawi has been exercised the principle of Democratic developmental state. Developmental state (DS) has been in practice in the south East Asian countries in the last 4-5 decades. This principle was instrumental in achieving fast economic development. The core principle of DS is efficient bureaucracy and meritocracy and it is always against neo-liberalism. As a result the type of government they have been built based on DS is authoritative. Developmental State if it applies properly any developing country can achieve fast economic development in a short period. Hence, many commentators give credit to the principle of developmental state in accelerating the growth in Ethiopian economy. Ethiopia to avoid the authoritarianism associated with the principle of developmental state call its own governance democratic developmental state. To this day it is not clear for me by what they mean democratic. As expected the authority openly disdain neo liberalism. According to my understanding any country who follow the path of developmental state often delay democracy. That means there is no room to practice democracy in its liberal definition. I argue as long as Ethiopia follows the principle of developmental state it will continue to limit democracy as we know it in the west. I think many in the opposition failed to challenge the principle of developmental state led by EPRDF in the current Ethiopia.

    Would like to hear your comments.


    • Tamrat Tamrat

      You first defined or accepted that the tplf government of Ethiopia as eprdf government of Ethiopia. And then you dfined the system tplf is using as democratic devlopment state and use the DS abriviation confusedly in stead of DDS.

      Though the quesion is directed for particlar People, what tplf use Call it devlopental state or any term it suiets you the matter of the fact is that accordin to tplf controll the economy controll all.

    • Eyob Medhane


      Interesting observation. You are pretty close to unravel it. PM Meles and many others believe that developmental state can coexist with some (not all) democratic principles deduce neo libralism (Laissez-faire economy, uniform social order across the world, including social norms that over ride local social norms, cultures and traditions that include homosexual rights and eventual erasing borders). However, elections and managed freedom of press that conducts itself with responsebilty, refrains from sensationalism to avoid creating social and ethnic strife, monitored and managed court system and public descent are part of democratic developmental states. It tries to avoid constraints to its developmental goals, which usually are created by the Laissez-faire attitude induced democracy. When I say monitored court system, it irks, when a good lawyer help to get a criminal off by making legal tricks and arguments. It wants to manage that. (I am not endorsing the principle, I am just trying to elaborate what they mean democratic developmental state).

      The idea is not new for Ethiopia. During and after the fall of the emperor, student movements had a serious argument and conflict about it. (Democracy yale gedeb vs Democracy begedeb)

      Given the diversity of Ethiopia, it seems that EPRDF chose to allow limited, but heavily monitored and managed basic rights to accomodate the country’s diversity and fell far short to go all the way to declare ‘democratic state’ to prevent interruption and gridlock to the country’s continued rapid economic and progress.

      To top it off, EPRDF has political opponents, who want to emulate every single thing the see practiced in the western capitals they live, without understanding the complicated reality of Ethiopia and the region and know very little of the Ethiopian society they supposedly want to lead. Many of these opponents lived abroad for decades for most of their adult lives and COMPLETELY oblivious of the current reality on the ground in Ethiopia…..That actually is very much to the benefit of EPRDF, because of it’s political opponents disconnect with the people, it managed easily to make them lose base with the public and after 22 years in power, currently, it appears much more close to the people than any of it’s critics….

      Well Sabri that is my take on your question. Nod your head with agreement or discard it… 🙂

    • Salyounis

      Selamat Sabri:

      Obviously, Ethiopians are better qualified to answer this question but I can give you my two cents worth…

      1. From a pragmatic standpoint, Developmental State (its critics call it predatory state:) has not been shown to work anywhere else except in Asia. Please correct me if I am mistaken, but I haven’t seen a Latin American or African country that has successfully applied this model. This has made some scholars suggest that that model is uniquely suited for Buddhist/Confucius societies who have a strong identification with (and sanction of) the authoritarian nature of a ruler. That is: they expect the ruling class to be authoritarians and their religion (specially Confucius) teaches them so. This is how Mao was able to create Chinese communism (Confucianism + Marx-Lenninsm).

      2. From a moral standpoint, the relationship that the predatory state demands from its citizens ( a subservient role, one where the citizens are afraid of the government) is indefensible to the enlightened citizen. I know for traditional societies (whose local language for leader is king) the demand the State makes is par for the course; but it is hard pill for the liberated citizen to accept the authoritarian role of the government.

      3. The reason that the Ethiopian opposition may not have been able to critique the developmental state model of Ethiopia is because the Ethiopian government is everything to everyone. By this I mean this: it has repeatedly said that democracy is not just something it does to please its donors, but something it believes in as a minimum requirement for maintaining the unity of the State. That is: it talks a good game. It is also a government that is on the frontline of every Western ism (it charmed Clinton, Tony Blair (the neo-liberalism poster boy), George W Bush and Obama and, of course, the Eritrean opposition.) Of all the things that mystify, somewhere on top has to be how Eritrean activists struggling to place liberal democracy in Eritrea are enamored with the “development state” model of Ethiopia.

      From a practical standpoint, it is hard to critique a government and influence people when the government owns the media and uses all-encompassing national security rules to arrest anyone who poses a threat.


      • Yodita

        To SAAY

        And you call this capo lavoro a two cents worth??

      • Sabri


        You raised good points. First, I don’t think it is only Ethiopians who are qualifying to discuss this issue just because their government is declaring to adopt developmental state. The first question you raised is if the Asian model is applicable in non- Asian countries. Many years ago as part of my thesis I asked the same question. Though the Asian model is distinct for them it is possible to deduct universal things. For instance, there are identifiable features that helps to develop their economy rapidly which I think is still relevant for any developing country. Investing heavily in education, state-led economy,creating high efficient bureaucracy and adopting meritocracy. These are features can be adoptable by any country. But it doesn’t mean it is easy to adopt. It demands highly competent and dedicated leadership. I don’t think this kind of system works under the loose type of liberal governance which has been practiced in Africa in the 1980s under the infamous structural adjustment program of world bank. Developmental state in Asia is different from one country to another. The Singaporean system is different from Malaysia, China, Taiwan and South Korea. At one time I think it was in 1993 Lee Kuan Yew together with Malaysian leader drafted one document where the idea of Asian Values highlighted. In short the document contains rejection of the universal declaration of human rights ratified in UN on the basis of the resolution was solely adopted by western countries while all of the developing countries are under the yoke of colonialism. And they suggest new resolution which considers each countrie’s values. Lastly they were trying to adopt new resolution based on the so called Asian Values. The core of their argument was rejecting western values. None of their suggestion is materialized.

        Your second point is not clear for me. Who are the liberated citizens? as you know most of the citizens of least developed countries live under the existence level. In my understanding the liberated citizens are those who are able to come out from the grip of poverty and are able to educate and improve themselves. To produce these kind of citizens it is necessary to have a strong government who solely dedicated to free its citizens from poverty and ignorance.

        Your third point reminds of what the Eritrean government call the Ethiopian government~kedemeti. Ethiopia is very important for West and the government use this hard currency at its most. Otherwise EPRDF are far away from western liberalism. Until now they are able to resist the pressure comes from the West to liberalize their economy and to open the political atmosphere of the country. Despite strong recommendation from the world bank and IMF they refused to privatize the land, bank and telecommunication.
        They know when and how to dance with the West.

        Your last point is an important observation. You wrote ” Of all the things that mystify, somewhere on top has to be how Eritrean activists struggling to place liberal democracy in Eritrea are enamored with the “development state” model of Ethiopia.”

        I never saw any tangible program from the Eritrean opposition who are active in Ethiopia. It seems the two are agreed only on one important point. Both want to remove the Eritrean regime. Except singing democracy they never show how they are planning to govern.


        • Sabri

          Sal, I forgot to say this. Apart from Asia two countries in Africa, Botswana and Mauritius has successfully implemented developmental stat.

        • Salyounis

          Hi Sabri:

          To begin with your supplement: For those of us who believe that liberal democracy can work in Africa, Botswana is our favorite African country: it has transformed itself from a poor to one of the richest and least corrupt countries. (respect for private property, independent judiciary, contest elections.) I am surprised you have it listed as one which used the developmental state (authoritarian system) because I thought it was a model liberal state? I don’t know much about Mauritus…

          Now to Ethiopia, etc.

          By “liberated citizens” I mean Ethiopians who are influenced by the philosophy of Western enlightenment (I think kaddis calls them “DC Ethiopians.”) If you believe that man is born free and government is constituted by man and accountable to the citizen, the model of the development state (with the paternalistic state burrowing for itself an expansive space and accountable to no one) is hard to take. If I were an Ethiopian, I probably would be one of those harsh critics of EPRDF (development or not.) Moreover, the development state demands a meritocratic and lean bureaucracy and when you have a government made up of a political front, nepotism, corruption and cronyism are built in. (Exhibit A: EFFORT.)

          [For pro Hgdef Eritreans who are having a hee hee moment by my criticism of TPLF politics, the PFDJ is even more corrupt. Its idea of a pension plan is to have dozens of PFDJ flunkies doing the job of two people. No bureaucratic efficiency there.]

          As for the tangible “program” of the opposition, trust me, they all have it. It is boiler plate left-of-center socialist stuff (go to, for example, to read that of EPDP.) Programs are really a relic from the the front days: they are just a business card which means nothing. If you want to remind yourself how useless they are, read the “National Charter of the PFDJ” which talks about the importance of political pluralism and accountable government as requirements of democracy.


          • Eyob Medhane


            The relationship between the west and Ethiopia is very much spot on, which you described impressively well. I again strongly recomend you (Sal, you too) read the transcript of Tamirat Negera’s interview on NPR, which I provided the link in my previous post to Sabri. It sum up our conversation, pretty well and very enlightning.

          • Kaddis


            In short, when you have an opposition who want to change the rule that they were allowed to compete, who declares ‘ wedemetubet enmelesachewalen ( we will return them to where they came from ( meaning Tigray ))and an opposition who would risk the countries stability for power, want all but nothing ( they have won + 170 seats in federal Parliament + all major cities ) and a ‘Free Press’ which call for street violence day and night… how come you expect EPRDF to play fair politics. EPRDF knows the opposition will not give them a fair chance to come back to governance. Why do you think the press and the opposition always call the ruling party to go back to the situation of pre-2000 election? Because they know they were given chance and they abused it. The election of 2000 is a major political milestone for the current politics of Eth as the student movement was for the 70’s. There are writers in Addis – who argues – EPRDF actually rushed to democracy. Look for a commenter called Getaneh Zerihun (?)

            Let me share how decisive 2000 was to the mentality of the politically active Ethiopians compared to the Arab spring. Ethiopians were in the same position as the Egyptians and Tunisians just before the fall of Mubarek and Ben Ali. We were so desperate to see the educated elites, the PHDs, the Engineers, the scholars who are based in-country and outside in our governance. And we revolted with our voting cards; by electing Kinijit. Unfortunately, they were not ready to work as a civil servant yet; but wanted to be kings and give EPRDF a lesson. That is the reason why – despite all the effort to emulate the Arab Spring in Eth, its not working. We were there just 10 years back. People died.

            I am not sure your ‘Liberated minds’ and my ‘DC dwellers’ have anything in common. I actually met far too many un-liberated minds in DC, Virginia area than anywhere else in Ethiopia. I can argue – the biggest achievement EPRDF made is to introduce reality to the people and not to externalise problems so that you can try your best to tackle them. I wish I can say more about Democracy, actually about ‘Democracy deficit’ –where the level of democracy practiced in the country compared to the expectation of the society ( not the diaspora )– as I kind of understand it. Do you think Ethiopia has a democracy deficit? Would love to hear from you guys.

            I am not defending EFFORT just elaborating here, the World Bank studied these companies, especially the ones in China, which are winning all the big global construction, rail, drilling…. projects and concluded: it’s a phenomena. They are not necessarily corrupt or monopolistic if they are well managed. US & Canada refused ZTE and Huwawie of China for security reason but not for quality or management. Even in Eth – some were well positioned to support the economy ( like Messobo cement factory was a life saver for house builders in Eth few years back ) and investors are not discouraged to come to these sector at all . Sal, yes they are formed differently from what we learned in our Business 101 courses but they have to be looked closely.

            I have seen you criticise the Eritrean Opposition a lot and at the same time – you hope and show faith Shabia will get reformed. Being an opposition is not easy, you can see how the Syrian opposition is struggling with all the support they get from the big powers ( even the Arab league gave them a seat). Were there an organised opposition during Mengistu, Gadaffi, Sadam ? Why do you expect a strong opposition from Eritreans who were not given even a symbolic chance to organise themselves in Eritrea?

          • Sabri

            Selamat Sal,

            I personally believe developmental state should have a facilitator role in developing the economy, in modernizing the society, in building the necessary democratic institutions and in creating the atmosphere of equity with growth. Then the state should loose its grip and leave it to the public. At that stage the state will have only one function (the guarantor of liberty- borrowed from your word from our previous discussion on the role of the government.)

            Botswana is a successful example in transforming the society and built functional democracy. At the initial period the state had a big role in transforming the society and have been successful in managing the countries’s main natural resource -diamond. Shortly what we have seen in Botswana is how developmental state works as a transitional platform before the society embarked into full-fledged liberalization. During that transitional period they have been working in developing both the necessary democratic and Economical institutions of the country. In contrast Singapore still remain semi-authoritative even-though some improvements has been applied. It is because the countrie’s major political party People’s Action Party still believe they have distinct value which differs them from the West. But there is hope. I read recently Lee Kuan Yew shows some flexibility in his approach of liberalism.

            Important to note: developmental state looks different from one country to another but all have some common factors. And the main common factors of developmental state are: state-led economy, effective bureaucratic system, meritocracy and those three Silase: transparency, accountability and commitment.

            In connection with developmental state you raise one important point, Sal. Corruption. It is true a strong governmental state and expanded public expenditure invites corruption. That is one of the main problems of almost all developmental states. Some of the remedies applied by the successful developmental states in avoiding corruption are 1. Civil-servants are highly paid 2. corruption is the Highest crime. 3. Creating sufficient institution whose sole purpose is to control how the countrie’s institutions are transparent and accountable.

            Ethiopia is still struggling in combating corruption. It is a big problem. Recently the government arrested many high profile personality including the general director of Gumruk. They were in court a couple of days ago.

            On Eritrea see my reply to Haile which I will post soon.

            Te tiumu,

      • Eyob Medhane


        My advice to you is don’t you ever consider Isayas Afeworki, as your source of anything. Issu chisu, is just a nutty fruity… 🙂

    • haile

      Selamat Haw Sabri

      (I am trying to be friendly so you don’t ask my Tslat bTslat analysis 🙂 actually, I found out that Mr Kibrom Dafla did a splendid job (specially in his paltalk & assenna interviews that I figured no way I could do anything close)

      I have a belief question as regards your DS and the need for a strong central government.

      Firstly, do you see that the current Eritrean govt/regime would ever command the needed popular support again, given that it is severely undermined by external challenges (intl.) and internal crisis of mass exodus and low moral, to form a “strong” government?

      Secondly, since we know there is no strong and galvanizing opposition, do you think Eritrea would ever have such a strong government in the foreseeable future?

      Finally, if your answer to the above two is No No, does DS has any application to the new Eritrean reality?


      • haile

        correct: “belief” to “brief”

        My assumption is that you believe DS is predicated on strong govt.

      • Sabri

        Selamat Hailat,

        Nay Tsilat bitslat si gidfo dehan. Niriska Tsilat nay awate indakonka timisi silezeleka neaka migimgam kedleyena eyu :).

        Good questions Hailat. The situation as you know is hopeless and I don’t think PFdJ will regain the confidence of the people. Nobody will trust them even if they implement reform.

        In your second question do you mean if Eritrea has a chance to have developmental state in the forceable future under the current leadership? If that is your question I don’t think PFDJ under its current form have the capacity to lead developmental state. Institutionslism is zero in Eritrea. Governmental institutions are staffed not by the merit by command allocation of agelgilot which is huge burden for the countrie’s economy. You have described eloquently in your dozens comments how the system is in Etitrea. They are far away from the principle of developmental state.

        Your third question is if DS has any application or if DS is relevant to Eritrea? Short answer yes.

        Developmental state has been introduced in Eritrea between 1991-1998 even if they don’t call it so. The war reversed everything and we are now in this mess. Nevertheless, as i see it DS is the hope of Eritrea and Africa.

        Te tiumu,

        • haile

          Merhaba Sabri

          You’re spot on the mark regarding the current regime. As you said, one may think the 91-98 era as a DS of sorts (specially from reading the then government’s declared intentions). In order to lead a strong government, the ruling party needs a lot of political capital to dispense with. The Eritrean struggle for independence created a situation where such capital was given to the ruling party on golden platter with abundance. Sadly, IA misunderstood that to mean he had supreme wisdom on all matters as concerns the nation building process. When he was met with early signs that his miscalculation was just that, he reacted with brute force against the citizens instead of coming down from his high horse. Today, he is reduced to a saber rattler and free wheeler.

          The political capital that was accumulated during the armed struggle is in my view, gone for good. As far as the regime is concerned, it is irreversibly on a down spiraling track.

          My second question was meant to look beyond the current regime and was related with the current opposition groups or any other group with in Eritrea proper that will emerge after the current administration. I can deduce what your view might be. In my opinion (most likely similar to yours) there is no identifiable group with the necessary political capital that can command the support of the broad spectrum of the population. Hence, granted that DS is a good development model, I am concerned that the current Eritrean reality may not afford the required political capital dispense with for its implementation.

          As you know Eritrea runs parallel economy: an impoverished state economy and a thriving (mostly offshore) PFDJ economy. The assets held by the latter are assumed to disappear with the demise of the regime (save for some fixed assets based in Eritrea which can be nationalized). So, we are looking at a bankrupt state economy, political mayhem and security breakdown immediately after the current regime. Against the back drop of leadership vacuum, everything would have to be renegotiated from the scratch. Hence, the strong government component of DS may be amiss for a long time to come.

          This is why I think that Eritrean diaspora can no longer afford to hide behind fear factors and need to take the diaspora zone back from the regime and at least be in a position to be relevant when the nation enters a period of transition. I know this is slightly out from what you set out to discuss in a limited focus on DS vs democracy, but hey one thing leads to another, don’t they:-)


          • Hailat,

            I wish we are in the position to talk about DS vs open democracy at this time. we are not there. If we would have been there, I would have advocated for DS. You see Hailat, we are not even in good terms to talk about the politics that united us, let alone to talk about what form of developmental strategy we will have as we go forward.The opposition camp is in a dead lock to resolve their differences on how and where their center of their struggle should be. These shouldn’t be a major head ache to their struggle. They are confusing their tactical approach with their strategical approach. We have to go a long way to learn real politics and its dispensation. Till then they will go with their temporary gratifications by doing conferences and meetings to secure their comfort zones as usual.

          • Sabri


            You have repeatedly said we are not in a position to discuss the future Eritrea just because the opposition camp is in constant division. Things are going fast. Nothing is static. While we are dialoging things at home goes fast. For instance I met one young newly arrived asylum seeker from Keren today. He said we used to fear the military power before but now if they approach us with their machine gun we try to overwhelm them armed with stones. Fearing the development can go out of hand the regime is obliged to proclaim curfew in Keren. The Forto incidence is another example. Who predicted that could happen? I mean unexpected things are happing before and it can happen now. My question is should we wait until the opposition camp is united? Or should we discuss only how the opposition shall unite?

          • Merhaba Sabri,

            First I like your take on the issue you raised. I salute you for that. But..but..but, we are far away from it to bring that issue in the front loading of our politics. Our diaspora politics as well as the internal politics of the nation inside is completely in mess. If all our energy would have been focused to correct and give a well meaning to it, with a vision and coherent strategy it would have been a worthwhile struggle to us and to the nation. Anything beside that is for a self-gratification of an academic exercise.

            However, Since you saw it as important to talk about it, I can give you a small taste of me on the subject. And here is my take:

            Developmental state or developmentalism and neo-liberalism are now in a dialectical battle on their application to the third world or underdeveloped countries, particularly in the African continent.The complex lines to the reasoning of developmentalism apparently is gaining traction with in African countries in tackling poverty and ignorance. I am aware that the subject is new especially for African countries, and hence will undergo for sometime an extensive debate among policy makers, pundits, think-tanks, critics, analysts, and applied-researchers.

            One who examines from the structural view of the African society, and who also observe from the descriptive to the prescriptive application of the South East Asian countries in their economic development will tend to be persuaded to think the appropriateness of that policy to our country and beyond to all African countries. By the way Meles was advocating for developmentalism. The World bank and IMF who were resistant to it slowly but surely found it as effective in fighting poverty and ignorance. Many African countries now have registered tangible progress on the ground. That is my take on it. Hopefully in due time we will debate fiercely and settle on it.

          • Sabri


            The more you have shattered economy the more you need DS. That is what the experience of Botswana and Singapore tells us. So, I’m not convinced that DS is not applicable to Eritrea direct after the demise of PFDJ.

            As you said one thing leads to another issue. Let’s allow me to ask you one question. In your writings you have been saying many times that the current government of Eritrea deliberately destroy Eritrea. Wedi Tafla in all his speeches has the same assessment as yours. What I don’t understand is why Issayas choose this line? What is his benefit? If your answer is power, he could have stayed on power democratically elected in many years if not decades had he chose the decent line. Moreover, he could have been remembered as a father of the nation for coming generations. I was trying to find an answer from Wedi Tafla’s speech but he said little about the motives. Would you please elaborate more why Issayas is choosing this line?


          • Salyounis

            Selamat Hailat:

            You said:

            “As you said, one may think the 91-98 era as a DS of sorts (specially from reading the then government’s declared intentions).”

            Well, I would never support a Developmental State (predatory state) and I was a quasi-supporter of the PFDJ’s enlightened economic plan in 1991-1997. So what gives?

            I know I am asking for it when I want to go toe-to-toe with Haile’s research machine, but could you give us an example of its “declared intentions”? The copy I have of its declared intentions is a December 10, 1996 (author: date edited) address entitled “Investment Opportunities in Eritrea” by President Isaias Afwerki to the “Corporate Council on Africa” in Washington, DC. That address is classical neo-liberal economic plan. (All the usual suspects were there 🙂 It envisions economic and political reform marching in tandem. The economic engine would be the private sector, and the State would be responsible for providing a lean, mean bureaucratic machine.

            Thus, my theory: the real “koreyti” of Eritrean politics are not the G-15 but the G-1 (Isaias Afwerki and the President’s Office). After the US abandoned him on the demarcation issue (well, if the G-1 charges are to be believed (and it is hard to believe a serial liar), after Anthony Lake and G-15 sent GPS data to the CIA to assassinate him), he changed 180 on his stated economic belief. The contrast between this speech (attended by US AID, later to be expelled)–full of faith in the private sector as the engine of growth; the potential of the manufacturing, fisheries, tourism, banking sectors; the eagerness to form regional and international alliances*; the favorable investment environment for foreigners; the acknowledgement of the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Eritrean people–and the ones he has been given for the last 10 years (abza hager tourism zbahal yelbon:: Ras Mal zeyblom zegatat nmengisti kKhesu yigremeni iyu:: what tourism? what manufacturing? what investment? what education? people are spoiled, etc, etc) is remarkable.


            I think if I read you correctly you would like to see the Eritrean and Ethiopian opposition present alternative programs, instead of harping on vague issues. First of all, as you know, since Africans are not organized along different classes, it is difficult for Africans anywhere to appeal to different constituencies–and when they do, it quickly becomes ethnic or rural/urban. Second, in Eritrea–where the government has so messed up things that one can, as Serray proposes, take the exact opposition on any of stands and be right–many of the Eritrean opposition groups DO have programmatic proposals but they tend to be in more basic war and peace issues geared towards returning Eritrea to ground zero (demobilization of soldiers; implementation of border treaty with Ethiopia just as an outcome of Eritrean regime change; redrawing of traditional provincial borders; void land nationalization, etc.)


            * Eritrea was the intellectual power behind IGAD although, as proposed by Eritrea, IGAD was not going to include Ethiopia. Now, from the Department of Infinite Ironies, we have Ethiopia not only in but driving IGAD and Eritrea (Girma Asmerom) enjoying his observer status. And the koreyti have no plan B other than to be even madder.

          • Eyob Medhane



            I did not know that about IGAD. IGADD (Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development) Was established in 1988, and Ethiopia was one of the founders and Eritrea was under the “Ethiopian colonial yoke” 😉 at the time. I thought in 1996, Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) simply run it’s course and changed its name to IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development)?

          • Salyounis

            Hey Eyob:

            Hmmm. I think I misspoke and I stand corrected. Let’s consult the source. Kubur president was interviewed by Saudi Gazette (English language) on June 7, 1997. Here’s the quote:

            On Eritrea’s proposal to form a confederation of IGAD states, Afewerki said the proposal was necessary as he felt that relations between the IGAD members states were integral. “Considering the current regional and international developments, we should not downplay any form of integration, whether we call it confederation or something else.” He said the basic features for integration were available to Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. However, Afewerki excluded Ethiopia from which his country gained independence six years ago. He said within IGAD, these states were capable of establishing regional relations and economic policies that “will open new frontiers for their citizens”. He added that these countries could be linked to a common economy based on a strong infrastructure.

            IGADD, as you said, already existed and it dropped “drought” because, man, that was a downer 🙂 What this quote suggests is that he wanted to create a confederation of states from IGAD, but one that excludes Ethiopia. Maybe he was saying this to show that he has no problem with Sudan because, at the time, Eritrea’s conflict was with (“the sky is the limit, there is nothing we won’t do to overthrow this evil man”) Omar Al Bashir and he was trying to show his feud is not with Sudan but its head of state.

            Good eye.


    • SOME BODY! ANY BODY! Please! HELP! ME with the CORRET Definition of ‘DEMOCRACY!’ Thank you.