When Shaebia came to power in 1991, we welcomed them clapping our innocent hands in delight considering that freedom belongs to the entire Eritrean people and not only to the Tegadelti. However, our optimistic expectation proved to be disappointing. They punished the Eritrean people in a series of episodes. The targets of the first blow were the innocent Muslims that were arbitrarily arrested and disappeared forever. Shaebia abducted key teachers of the Islamic institution and put them in…… (only God knows about their whereabouts) under the pretext of the unjustified allegation of the so-called act of combating terrorism. Isaias gradually terrorized Muslims and planted the utmost phobia in the soul of every Muslim so that they could not even exercise the very basic right of worship in a relaxed manner. Then he established a team of politicized clerics who are forced to be loyal to his strange ideology. Consequently, we blamed that Isaias for showing a sort of sympathy to Christians ignoring Muslims. However, no long after that, he shifted his merciless fist towards Christians and jailed many church leaders and priests alleging that they were disloyal to the state and constituted a serious threat (even though, they are not hit as hard as Muslims).
Time proceeded and we kept witnessing the nightmare scenario unfold. In his next step Isaias launched a fight against education in general and the newly emerging elites in particular (especially Asmara University graduates). This process of crippling brilliant and competitive elements has its roots in the Sewra Era. He had zero tolerance for rivals and outspoken critics.
Let me unfold a tale, an untold story that took place in the New Hall of Asmara University. It was around 2005 and Isaias was invited by the university staff to deal with the prevailing conditions of higher education and the future of Asmara University. All the honorable lecturers gathered in the new hall which was located west of the main campus expecting a positive feedback from him. However, he shamelessly and contemptuously offended the noble lecturers with his silly remarks: “this institution is worthless because it is producing a self-obsessed and spoiled generation that lacks nationalism, therefore it will be closed.”
At the end of the meeting, a courageous chemistry professor challenged the president and said: “indeed we produce academically competent students and we are proud of them. Our students proved this, even in overseas like South Africa, by dominating the top ten best students. But we are not responsible to install nationalism upon them; rather, it is the existing, surrounding political situation that shapes their attitudes.”
The unwise decision of closing the University played a negative role on the attitude of students towards education. Then the government replaced Asmara University by the paramilitary college of Mainefhi. Surprisingly they gave it a huge name, “Mainefhi College of Science And Technology.” What science and technology? It is really startling; a geographically isolated college, run by a military official, colonel Ezra, was supposed to produce space engineers, (rebbi habenna!) It sounded very funny. What is worse is that the decision became a curse: renowned and brilliant professors like Abbebe kifleyesus, Tekeste Melake, Bereket, Zemenfes Tsighe, Habte and others took orders from the ignorant colonel. It was really bitter to to take, zemen grmbbit mai n’akeb. For Gods sake, isn’t it foolish to close an internationally recognized educational institution that bears a good name and replace it with a paramilitary college? May Allah never forgive Isaias?
Recently, the government introduced a new system of distributing basic consumer goods and services with coupons. Nowadays, if you lose your coupon in Eritrea, your school age children must skip breakfast because they will not get bani and a little shahi, a modest breakfast of bread and tea. To acquire every basic necessity, you have to keep your coupon safe. No bread, sugar, oil, gas, cement, transportation etc, is available unless you present your coupon. The only unfortunate candidate that failed to win a coupon is “the right to free speech.” You are not allowed to speak (there is no coupon for that) unless you realize that you are committing a suicide. The only thing that Shaebia couldn’t control is the naturally endowed “oxygen gas.” If it were in their hands, they would have regulated the oxygen intake by citizens—so much amount of oxygen to be inhaled by each citizen for so much seconds.
However, now the story is reversed.
The UNSC imposed tough sanctions against the PFDJ regime and that will certainly hurt it. Of course, nothing is lost and nothing is gained for the ordinary people. Eritreans are disciplined, hard working people who sustain themselves without any support from the government, even though they are not blessed with a wise leader. Now the PFDJ leaders need coupons to travel—they will taste the medicine that they forced on Eritreans.
While the world is abiding by the inevitable rules of globalization, Isaias preferred to be isolated and to stand outside the margin alone; he doesn’t know that politics is a game which needs smart and wise players. By now he is drowning and his chance of survival is very slim as long as he doesn’t figure out how to hook the fish. Shaebia leaders are masters of inventing evil deeds and troubles; even the devil consults them for advice.
When I was a sophomore, I had a friend from the department of economics who was beer-addicted. As usual, late one day he arrived at the student’s dormitory staggering, completely drunk. Myself, along with other collogues were taking a short break outside the reading hall after a tough study. He joined us and said; “wlad Keren Tsaeda, kemey amsikhum, Shaebia ekko, hatsir sirre gerom hatsir natsinet amtsiomllna.” I never forget that concise and strong message. If he was sober, he would have never thought of saying that—by the way, shaebia is very kind (lebbamat) with drunkards; they really respect the principle of “alsakran fi zummat alwaee“, the drunk is at the mercy of the sober.
The absence of free press in Eritrea has created a bathroom press as an alternative. You have not seen inside the 176 toilet doors of Asmara University dormitory. Nothing is pleasing than picking up your marker and visiting the toilets whenever you need to criticize the regime and print your burden of anxiety inside the bathroom doors and walls—thanks to the absence of surveillance cameras. If writing does not satisfy you and you need to talk ah…there is another technology available: go, drink five or six shots of areki vodka (of course not beer because it is expensive) and explode what you feel in front of any body. If you are illiterate and cannot write or you are afraid to speak out, too bad, you talk to yourself, without uttering any sound, you scream to your soul—w’zalika adaaf alayman—that is the weakest of expressions.
Here are some select and creative proverbs scribbled by the clever Eritrean youth on the bathrooms:
1. ni shaebia wey nab libbom milessom way nab sahilom (make the PFDJ sane or ship them back to Sahel)
2. diablos sirah inte berti’ewwo, ni shaebia iyyu zemmakhir (when overburdened, the devil consults with PFDJ)
3. Coupon zi sa’ane tereshene (Have a coupon or be shot)
4. ayyay z’bela tikhun……tikhun. (“Whatever my master said must be done.” Major General Andemariam Gerezgeher, aka wuchu, at the end of every meeting led by Isaias and the meeting attendants are asked to comment)
Finally, the political condition in Eritrea is heading from bad to worse. There is a high probability of war with Ethiopia. Melles seems to have bought the idea of globalization and he knows how to cope with it. He might start a war and say that it is the Eritrean opposition organizations fighting the system in Eritrea and not the Ethiopian government. My concern here is our poor brothers who are going to pay for it while the PFDJ leaders entertain themselves with a lavish lifestyle in Asmara .
May Allah show have mercy on us.