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Sometimes A “Draw” Is Good

On September 21, 2010, the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued its report on Eritrea titled “Eritrea: The Siege State.” The ICG succinctly summarized the Eritrean history in its glories and its failings. To speak for myself, this is the best summary of Eritrea‘s history that I have read. This is an outstanding primer, which one can consume in a single sitting of reading and I could confidently recommend as a worthwhile reading to anyone who wants a quick grasp of the complexities of Eritrea including my college-educated children. That is how valuable I consider this document.

On September 29, 2010 Saleh Younis gave his critical appraisal of the “The Siege State.” I believe Sal did an admirable job; the following major highlights are some of my misgivings on his appraisal.

The Eritrean regime is up to arms against “The Siege State.” This in itself speaks volumes of how the Eritrean regime considers damaging the article is to its persona. Remember, the international community will care about Eritrea if many organizations such as the ICG expose the atrocities of Isaias – the authoritarian leader of Eritrea. If the exposition of the wrongdoings of the Eritrean regime is limited only to that of Eritreans, it will amount to nothing, and no one will take us, democratic Eritreans, seriously. It is also naive to assume that the views of the ICGs and other outsiders will invariably align one hundred percent of the time with the views of the Eritrean liberal democratic opposition.  Sad to state but it is a fact that our own Eritrean opposition itself does not have a coherent message and a simple solution to our problems that is acceptable to the overwhelmingly majority of the Eritrean people. This being the case it is not fair to demand such exactitude from non-Eritreans. If we do not recalibrate our views realistically, we will consistently be disappointed and will unnecessarily alienate forces that can be of use for the good of the Eritrean people. I believe the ICG is a formidable force that the Eritrean opposition can make to good use. The ICG has a lot of credibility within the power movers and shakers in the United Nations.

Essentially, the ICG has almost taken the banner of the opposition in exposing the gross abuses of human rights that are taking place in Eritrea under the rule of Isaias in its “The Siege State.”  That the ICG views the Eritrean problems in almost exact fashion as  democratic Eritreans do should at least entitle us to congratulate ourselves that someone else is also listening to the appeals of the sufferings and pains of the Eritrean people.

Fundamental solutions to Eritrea’s agony can only come from the Eritrean people. Outsiders can only be facilitators. Thus, we should not be discouraged of any solutions that the ICG is proposing if it happens to be to our dislike; instead we should concentrate on their good points at elucidating the fundamental problems of Eritrea — which undoubtedly “The Siege State” does admirably. If we do that, our mindset will take “The Siege State” as a win for the Eritrean people. To reiterate, the findings of solutions to our problems are up to us Eritreans. No NGO worth its salt proposes a solution that is a win-lose result from the protagonists’ viewpoint. By its very nature an NGO is not in a position and business to directly and bluntly shame one group and elevate the prestige of another group. A good proposal will always be either a draw or a win-win situation, an impossibility in Eritrea. In the current circumstances of the Eritrean liberal democratic opposition, a draw is not bad.

In some instances, I believe that as a rule it is unwise to guess a hazard as to whose pen is behind the contents of an article. This may unwisely bias people against an article despite its excellence, which I believe “The Siege State” is.  I hope we are aware of the powerful lessons “Common Sense” played during the American Revolution. That pamphlet was signed “Written by an Englishman.” Though unknown to the majority of the “Common Sense” readers at its time of publication, Thomas Paine wrote the pamphlet. The American people read the pamphlet with an open mind, and they gave their verdict based on the merits of the ideas it espoused and not based on the personality of the author behind it.

It sounds that some are suddenly opposed to the concept of “dialogue,” despite the fact that they were at one time messengers of dialogue. This was even when it was clear that the Ethiopian regime was in the wrong for outright rejection of the Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission’s verdict  when it was issued the first time. More Eritreans died in the Eritrean-Ethiopian wars than in the internecine fighting among Eritreans themselves. It is very astounding that they enthusiastically support dialogue with Ethiopia and I might add rightly so, but on the other hand, it seems they oppose certain dialogues among Eritreans. This is either hypocrisy or lack of deep knowledge of the power of dialogue. By any measure, dialogue does not free the Eritrean leadership from any wrongdoing it committed, if one wants to be vindictive and not forgiving.  It is foolish to be allergic to the concept of dialogue when outsiders propose it, since invariably that is what they will propose. The wise thing to do is not to out rightly reject dialogue but to come up with creative mechanisms to overcome it in order to make it work for the welfare of the Eritrean people. NGOs are supposedly in the business of peace and thus they see dialogue as a solution. This does not mean they are not doing other things. They are and a perfect example is the UNSC’s sanctions on Eritrea. There are many documents incorporated within the sanctions orders that finally will incriminate Isaias and his lackeys in a court of law for their illegal actions outside Eritrea. This is on top of their lawless activities inside Eritrea. All tools are necessary to dismantle the authoritarian Eritrean regime. If Mandela was able to use dialogue as one of his tools to take to pieces the Apartheid regime, why should one deny the Eritrean people this powerful instrument if used wisely?

Many democratic Eritreans played a bad role during the 1998-2000 war. Some were cheerleaders of the war. This includes some of the top leadership of the PFDJ — the G15.  In essence, the G-15 was a mouthpiece of Isaias. Finally, the G15 publicly recanted its serious errors and seriously apologized to the Eritrean people. Among other things, it appealed for the restoration of the rule of law in Eritrea and it paid a heavy price for its heroic repentance and defiance.

In the Diaspora, the majority of educated Eritreans was for the war and this included some members of the Awate Team itself.  Now, after the fact it is not good to self-righteously demand from others to repent for their past sins when one knows for sure that the accusers who try to wear a saintly mantle are not holy themselves. It is about time that the Awate Team practices what it preaches. Otherwise it is hypocrisy and immoral.  The Diaspora cheerleaders of the past war were outside the leadership of the Eritrean regime; their cheerleading gave Isaias an undeserved legitimacy and a blank check in his disastrous war with Ethiopia.  There is no need to be more saintly and more self-righteous than others are. If people recant for past mistakes, not through mere words as the Awate Team is demanding, but through concrete good deeds then that is priceless in my book. In that regard, as far as I am concerned, no Eritrean has been able to write as an excellent article as “The Siege State”. If the Awate Team so desire then I personally take “The Siege State” as an apology to the Eritrean people, since this mere short pamphlet is a powerful weapon in the domains of those who hold power in the world.  We have to have big hearts to help our people who are still supporting Isaias to mend their erroneous ways, and more importantly, we have to forgive, forget, and move positively forward.

The ICG appears to be indecisive on the UNSC’s sanctions on Eritrea, and criticisms on this issue are valid. In fairness however, we also know who was insipid on this very issue when the United Nations imposed sanctions on Eritrea. The Awate Team is on record for opposing the arms embargo part of the sanctions. In fact, I obtusely reprimanded the Team on my article “The UNSC’s Sanctions on Eritrea Revisited.”  In fact, I do not see that much of a difference on the position of the sanctions on Eritrea between that of the ICG and that of the Awate Team. It is within the realm of possibility that the Awate Team may have wrongly influenced the ICG to take an ineffective position on the sanctions. You reap what you sow.

About Mogos Teketse

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  • “It sounds that some are suddenly opposed to the concept of “dialogue,” despite the fact that they were at one time messengers of dialogue.”

    The writer so much off line and off the truth; I have no idea where I have to begin. But for starters no one wants war and to avoid war one must first engage in dialog. The Ethiopian government is implementing the dialog mantra for tactical reasons. If not, when the Eritrean government was begging for dialog before the war; the Ethiopian government blocked it with to annoying reasons; “aggression must be rewarded and Eritreans must leave Badime; or what you call status que ante.” what ever that means.
    But after the war was conducted; lives lost and properties destroyed AND the court of law spoken why should Eritrea involve in any form of dialog?
    TPLF is crying dialog not that they believe in dialog but it is poly to take the issue from the international court’s hand and to place it to endless and useless cycle. Once Eritrea agrees to mediation and dialog; the verdict of the international court is noel and void. What the writer forgets is this, if the TPLF cannot up hold for something agreed in front of international community what guarantee do you have the TPLF up holds for a dialog that will take in a back doors in Mekelle? Duplicity and deceit is in the DNA of TPLF. My point is if I have disagreement with any one and the judge ruled in my favor; why do I want to dialog? For what?
    I am telling you this guy is brilliant. Read what he has to say..

    “The wise thing to do is not to out rightly reject dialogue but to come up with creative mechanisms to overcome it in order to make it work for the welfare of the Eritrean people”

    I don’t need mechanism; I don’t need dialog. That was true before the war; that was true before the verdict of the court. But now, after everything what Eritrea went through; what “creative mechanism” or dialog is there? If a dialog to be, then, TPLF must leave the Eritrean land, according the verdict and then it appropriate and the writer opinion could have been valid. But now, it is nothing but dishonestiy.

    “NGOs are supposedly in the business of peace and thus they see dialogue as a solution.”

    WOW. No comment. what do you say to that?

    “There are many documents incorporated within the sanctions orders that finally will incriminate Isaias and his lackeys in a court of law for their illegal actions outside Eritrea. This is on top of their lawless activities inside Eritrea.”

    What document? Can you share with us please? If not please don’t insult our intelligent and don’t throw every swage incase if sticks. You may deceive your collage learned kids but don’t bring it in here. We know what is going on. we have enough from the so-called westerners experts.

  • Saleh AA Younis

    Selam Mogos: Well, I can’t blame the disappearance of my reply on luminiferous ether since scientists proved long ago that it doesn’t exist. So i hope this replacement will do:

    At key junctures, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has come up with recommendations that echo the ones made by the Eritrean government. In November 2007, when shabait.com was full of articles implying that a breakout of conflict with Ethiopia was imminent, ICG came up with the same conclusion. It kept saying that implementing the EEBC ruling will remove the main cause of instability in the Horn, something that just can’t be supported by the facts when the Eritrean government has officially said that there won’t be peace in the region until the Ethiopian government is gone. Now, when the whole world has decided to isolate the Eritrean regime, ICG is calling for engaging it–precisely the message relayed by Eritrean regime supporters in the United States.

    Of course, I am not calling on ICG to make a call to arms; it is an NGO, and NGOs are all about talks and processes. My question is: why isn’t it calling for engagement with the Eritrean opposition and civil society?

    There is nothing hypocritical about the Awate Team questioning the role of Andeberhan Weldegiorgis, formerly a senior diplomat with the Eritrean regime, and now a senior advisor with ICG (with no breather in between), in fashioning the ICG reports which always recommend a course of action that is identical to the one called by the Eritrean government. If I had stopped writing publicly in May 2000, and then joined an NGO as a senior consultant, I would not blame people if they questioned whose side I am on. It would be the natural thing to do. To put it very bluntly, some people (me included) don’t know whose side Andeberhan is on, and there’s why:

    It requires a great deal of ignorance or mischief to say that the only “significant” opposition the Eritrean regime faces is “Islamic jihad” (presenting the PFDJ as a secular group forced to authorianism due to the danger of the Jihadists), and to characterize the Somali Shabab, a brutish group of terrorists whose savagery exceeds that of the Taliban, and a group that everyone knows the PFDJ supports, as “local insurgency” (presenting the PFDJ not as a reckless entity but one that supports Somali rights to autonomy.) Andeberhan is NOT ignorant, which only leaves the other uncomfortable position: he is working real hard to save his old comrades at the EPLF/PFDJ. He has every right to do that; what people resent is the pretension.

    I will concede that my understanding of dialogue may not be as deep as yours, if you can show me how and when tyrants dialogued with their opposition as equal stakeholders. I can’t find it in the history of Stalin, or Mao, or Pol Pot, or Saddam, or Castro. Or, more relevant here, Isaias himself. In light of this depressing history, I think the natural position is to be skeptical. The political position (adopted by all members of EDA, incidentally) is to welcome dialogue, when everyone, except the most delusional of them, knows it won’t happen. Your compare and contrast with Awate Team’s position re dialogue with Ethiopian government should not be a source of puzzlment when you consider the following: the Ethiopian government has invited dialogue, the Eritrean government doesn’t even acknowledge you and me exist.

    The Awate Team’s position re sanctions couldn’t be clearer. The UNSC resolution to freeze the assets of PFDJ, to restrict the travel of PFDJ officials is exactly what we called for 2 years before the UNSC did, so of course we welcome it. Our problem is with the arms embargo–and only because there is no built-in expiry on it. If there was an arms embargo that had an automatic expiration date (say, after PFDJ is gone), we would welcome it. As it is, it will take the consent of all veto-wielding powers to lift it, and it is not something that should be welcomed by an people who want to see themselves as sovereign and in charge of their country.

    Thanks!
    SAAY

  • Saleh AA Younis

    Selam Mogos:

    I think we are in agreement on over 90% of the issues, but since this is a debate forum, I will focus on the issues we differ:

    1. Nobody, at least nobody who knows about the way NGOs work, is advocating that they make a call to arms and nobody is disparaging their invitation to engage. The issue is WHO they are inviting the world to engage. They could have argued that the world engage the Eritrean opposition, but they invited it to engage the PFDJ. This may make perfect sense to you as you are dismissive of the Eritrean opposition (as are, apparently most of the sources for ICG and ICG itself), but the end result is that they are advocating something immoral and impractical.

    2. You talk of those of us who talk about dialogue with the Isaias regime as a dead end as people who “lack of deep knowledge of the power of dialogue.” You are critical of the Awate Team for advocating dialogue with the Ethiopian but not with the Eritrean government. You left out some crucial details. Firstly, the Ethiopian government invited, and made the call for dialogue. The Eritrean government doesn’t even believe that you and I exist. Secondly, if you think that Isaias Afwerki has climbed down to the nadir of the world’s class of tyrants (and I do), then you will have to show through your deeper knowledge of dialogue a case where the Stalins, and Maos, Pol Pot, Saddam, Castro “dialogued” with the opposition. History says that your call, and that of ICG, is a fool’s errand. But for the record, every Eritrean opposition group (including the dreaded EDA) is for dialogue with the Eritrean government, if that will result in bringing about democratic change. What people are suspicious of (and rightfuly so) is the Ahmed Chalabi type of change: where the “liberal democrats” decide who should represent the Eritrean opposition because the others are considered too unrefined, too backwards, too sectarian, or otherwise unable to meet some externally imposed standard of what constitutes progress.

    3. You misconstrue our suspicion of the aforementioned Andeberhan Woldegiorgis. You think I am looking for some purity test and you are asking a question, paraphrased, “some in the Awate Team were cheerleaders for Isaias, not they are in the opposition. Andeberhan used to be, and he is not. Why won’t you extend him the same level of courtesy you are giving yourself?” With all due respect, you are missing the point. If I (and let’s not dance around and call it the Awate Team, because we are talking about me) had, in May 2000, stropped writing publicly, joined an NGO, and was writing ICG-type of reports, you mean it would not have been right for people to ask, “whose side is this guy on?” I believe it would. So, I am applying the same standard on Andeberhan. The issue is not that Andeberhan did not fill out the right forms or genuflect the right angles; it is that, to put it bluntly, people do not know what side he is on.

    4. You and I know that the sanctions on Eritrea, which have no built-in expiration date, cannot be lifted if even one of the five veto-wielding powers refuses. Given this fact, we at Awate said that we have no problem if they impose all the PFDJ-directed sanctions (asset freeze, travel ban on officials) ad infinitum, but we have a problem on the arms sanctions because this means that even in a post-PFDJ Eritrea, the arms sanctions can remain in place if one of the veto-wielding nations is opposed to lifting them. You may think this is far-fetched, but it is a logical argument and there is nothing fuzzy about it. On the other hand, there is nothing rational, and a lot of dishonesty, in ICG’s arguments. To make their case, they called the Somali Shabab, a truly hideous organization and, a group that earns the title “terrorist” even in these days when the word “terrorist” is overused, a “local insurgency” just to absolve the PFDJ of its sins, and then invented a threat that doesn’t exist in Eritrea, a Jihadist takeover, again to package the PFDJ as an organization worthy of engaging and to dismiss the existing opposition because it doesn’t meet some ICG standard.

    Whatever form the struggle for change takes in Eritrea, it is not going to come from people who have, as the ICG and its sources do, a mixed up love-hate relationship with Isaias Afwerki. It has to be led by people who are fierce and unequivocal in this view: that the head of state, and the organization he leads, are an obstactle that has to be defeated. And, in the end, ironically enough, Isaias will dialogue (if he will dialogue at all) only with those people who pose a threat to his very survival and that of the criminal cartel he runs.

  • Saleh AA Younis

    Selam Mogos:

    I think we are in agreement on over 90% of the issues, but since this is a debate forum, I will focus on the issues we differ:

    1. Nobody, at least nobody who knows about the way NGOs work, is advocating that they make a call to arms and nobody is disparaging their invitation to engage. This issue is WHO they are inviting the world to engage. They could have argued that the world engage the Eritrean opposition, but they invited it to engage the PFDJ. This may make perfect sense to you as you are dismissive of the Eritrean opposition (as are, apparently most of the sources for ICG and ICG itself), but the end result is that they are advocating something immoral and impractical.

    2. You are critical of the Awate Team for advocating dialogue with the Ethiopian but not with the Eritrean government. You left out some crucial details. Firstly, the Ethio government invited, and made the call for dialogue. The Eritrean government doesn’t even believe that you and I exist. The “let’s engage” is a fool’s errand, it is something people say when they have nothing to say. But for the record, every Eritrean opposition group (including the dreaded EDA) is for dialogue with the Eritrean government, if that will result in bringing about democratic change. What people are suspicious of (and rightfuly so) is the Ahmed Chalabi type of change: where the “liberal democrats” decide who should represent the Eritrean opposition because the others are considered too unrefined, too background and, for God’s sake, they don’t even speak proper English.

    3. You and I know that the sanctions on Eritrea, which have no built-in expiration date, cannot be lifted if even one of the veto-wielding powers refuses. Given this fact, we at Awate said that we have no problem if they impose all the PFDJ-directed sanctions (asset freeze, travel ban on officials) ad infinitum, but we have a problem on the arms sanctions because this means that even in a post-PFDJ Eritrea, the arms sanctions can remain in place if one of the veto-wielding nations is opposed to lifting them. You may think this is far-fetched, but it is a logical argument. There is absolutely nothing rational, and a lot of dishonesty, in ICG’s arguments. To make their case, they called the Somali Shabab, a truly hideous organization and, a group that earns the title “terrorist” even in these days when the word “terrorist” is overused, a “local insurgency” just to absolve the PFDJ of its sins, and then invented a threat that doesn’t exist in Eritrea, a Jihadist takeover, again to package the PFDJ as an organization worthy of engaging.

    Whatever form the struggle for change taks in Eritrea, it is not going to come from people who have, as the ICG and its sources do, a love-hate relationship with Isaias Afwerki. It has to be led by people who are unequivocal: that the head of state, and the organization he leads, are an obstactle that has to be defeated. Everything else is just window dressing.