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.