Long ago in our youth, when we were intoxicated with Marxist thinking, we were made to believe that the masses were the true drivers of history and not individual leaders. The latter were seen not as ordinary mortals but as the hand, the very embodiment of history, of society, of nature, of God himself. Therefore, the effect and role of these individuals, their decision making processes and errors and blunders and gross misconduct were either covered up, minimized or never discussed in public. That allowed dictators like Joseph Stalin to easily cause the death and disappearance of over 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union (apart from those who died during WWII) especially in the terrible purges, mass population deportations, the Gulag labour camps, etc.
Now, we know!! The whims of political leaders, especially dictators (like some company directors) can make or break a country and bring it to its knees. We mistakenly used to think that our leaders (with the benefit of the massive secret information networks and news briefings they have; the human and material resources at their disposal; their important contacts inside and outside the country; their formidable influence and apparent good will) would know what was best for the country and people and act primarily for the benefit of all. Now, we know that this is often hardy the case. The world is not run by philosopher kings as we read in Plato’s Republic.
In our case, we have been so unfortunate indeed. The man whom we thought was our savior has turned out to be our executioner. There is no other way of describing it (for details, ref. The Eritrean Holocaust – And How to Stop It, www.awate.com, June 26, 2012). This is why we need to understand the making of the Dictator Isaias Afwerki so that we may clear much of the mystery, the myth and the confusion surrounding this evil man – and design effective strategies to overcome our national tragedy.
Much has already been said in my earlier posting on the matter. Here, I just wish to add some brief clarifications on the comments that have appeared in response to my article of June 26, 2012.
1. Some respondents have said that the article shifts the blame from internal factors in Eritrea to external factors emanating from Tigray in particular and Ethiopia in general – thereby externalizing the Isaias factor and leaving unexamined and untouched the serious maladies within Eritrea itself. Actually, I was only seeking an explanation and not trying to apportion blame for what Isaias has turned out to be. In my opinion, the people of Tigray cannot be held responsible for the making of Isaias Afwerki. In any case, they should not be seen as our enemies. They are actually our brothers and sisters. For that matter, about 25%-50% of Eritreans from places south of Asmara (or more precisely Diba Ruwa and Dekemhare), sometimes even entire villages in the far south may have at least one or more of their parents, or grandparents or great grandparents from Tigray. The same also applies to the other side of the border, especially around Adi Grat, Adwa and Shire. A good example of this is Meles Zenawi himself. Therefore, I was not saying that Isaias is bad because he has Tigrean ancestry. Far from it. I live in London, and I have learned a great deal from the benefits the European Union countries have gained from their unity (while maintaining their independence – it must be emphasized) after World War II, in which more than 50 million people died. We should pull together and not push against each other.
2. One of the most important factors that made Isaias what he is, anyway, seems to be his decent from a royal family in Tigray and the tragedy of death and exile therein. This is a matter that cannot be ignored or taken lightly. In the said article it is argued that this family link with royalty from Tembien must have been an important part of Isaias’s upbringing and seems to have gone to his head. This may explain why he thinks he is a cut above the rest of us. It seems that even as early as the age of seven, it was all set (ref. the theory of Life Script, Transactional Analysis).
3. Yes, there were factors from within Eritrea as well that seem to have shaped Isaias’s personality which were not raised in the original article. The new exiles from Tigray (husband wife) settled near Tsolot, not far from Asmara. I now hear that the actual village was called “Geza Tegaru”. Abraha, Isaias’s grandfather, seems to have known someone close to his family who invited him there. The significant point here is the “Geza Teraru” bit which must have been deeply ingrained in Isaias’s mind. As anywhere in highland Eritrea, the inhabitants of “Geza Tegaru” must have been seen as the “maikelai aliyet”, the outsiders – new migrant settlers. And then, there was the vulgar vilification of people from Tigray, especially those who spoke with marked Tigrean accent as “agame” closely associated with poverty and misery. There were also issues of land rights in which the “maikelai aliet” had very little. Unfortunately, Eritreans have “in your face” kind of attitude when it comes to such things, especially when children or neighbors fight – which is actually a violation of civil rights, which amounts to a serious injustice. I believe that in his formative years, Isaias Afwerki was very much aware of this: the members of a once mighty family reduced to almost nothing and vilified by those who may be nobodies. How are the mighty fallen!! His great uncle (Isaias’s great grandfather’s brother) Emperor Yohannes IV was also betrayed by Menelik, and he was killed by the Dervishes of the Sudan at the point of victory. His head was subsequently cut off and paraded in the streets of Khartoum. Isaias’s grandfather himself was killed in battle and his grandfather exiled to escape retribution because of the killing of Ras Alula Aba Nega. And once in Eritrea, the family faced the vilification described. Are all these factors enough to make a man really angry and vengeful? At least, we understand. But, this in no way tries to let him off the hook. Isaias must answer for his crimes!! He is angry and vengeful not only towards the Eritreans, the Tigreans and other Ethiopians, but almost against all – in this unfair world, he seems to think anyway. Therefore, has Isaias brought Eritrea to its knees to get his sweet revenge? Have your say!!
4. Isaias’s experience with Kiyada al Ama soon after he joined the liberation movement could not have helped as well. Those young people including Isaias and Drui may have joined the struggle with good intentions or for their own sake. But, what they found out after their arrival in the field was shocking: divisions along religious, tribal and linguistic lines, differences in outlook and goals, lack of trust and skullduggery, extreme form of secrecy, mischief and deceitfulness, the senseless killings and purges, etc. To survive in such inhospitable, unpredictable and dangerous environment, one needed to develop unrivalled skills of deception, utter ruthlessness, beguilement, courage, cold cruelty, and pronounced instinct of self preservation. There was no question of morality, kindness, considerateness, sincerity, word of honor, loyalty, none. As Isaias has been saying, “There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests!!” It was a “dog eat dog” kind of situation!! Isaias seems to have perfected his survival skills in all these – and he has never changed since. Some may argue that these internal factors within Eritrea were the main causes that severely damaged Isaias? I would only say that these were only some of the major contributory factors, mainly because however bad they might have been, they came after his core personality had already been formed.
5. Did Isaias Afwerki join the liberation struggle with good intentions? Or did he change his mind later? Why do people join any liberation movement, or a national war effort or the jihad for that matter? Research shows that the reasons are various. The most common is, however, not altruistic at all, but social and psychological. Most people are very insecure within themselves and they want to belong and be accepted, recognized and admired. They want to join what they consider to be a great cause primarily to get greatness themselves by identifying themselves with it. The other reason is if many people are doing it, one does not want to be left alone. I remember, when we were breaking the windows of our own schools and others in the mindless “shoboros” we were holding in Asmara in those old days vaguely “for the sake of Eritrea”, it was really primarily for the thrill of it and also for the sake of looking brave and great among our peers. It was difficult to do otherwise anyway. This may sound simplistic, but it is consistent with what researchers have found out after interviewing members of liberations movements, captured Al Kaida operatives, underage conscripts who had joined voluntarily an army at war, etc. If we closely study the evidence, we may reach the conclusion that Tegadalay Isaias could not have joined the Eritrean liberation movement for altruistic reasons, just to secure the liberation of Eritrea and insure the peace and progress of its people. We can almost certainly exclude this. Lots of self respecting Eritreans were joining the struggle at the time. Therefore, he joined the trend. It was as if you would invite questions on yourself if you did not do it. There was much hype and “Wedebat adey “ thing in those days. Isaias could not remain indifferent and risk looking like an odd one out. In the background, there was also the vulnerability of his migrant family. Joining the struggle was, it seems, a good way of fitting in – and even beating the “Eritreans” at their own game. He had to prove himself by any means and justify his big ego as well. The evidence suggests that this is actually why he joined, not just for the sake of Eritrea. He saw himself as the insider-outsider, and that is where things have gone terribly wrong for us.
It is, therefore, probably a mistake for some people to say that Isaias Afwerki fought for 30 years, therefore, he must be a patriot with a true commitment for the good of the Eritrean people. Actually, there is more to it than that. After joining, he indeed suffered in the field in the first few years. However, for most of the 30 years, he had a more or less pampered existence: visiting many capital cities he wanted and whenever he wanted, a lot of money at his beck and call, the nice hotels, the cars, the special food and drinks, the girls, executing anybody he wanted on false excuses, or by poison or disappearance, etc. I am referring to all these on the basis of what I have read in reports and passed on to me by people who knew him well in the field, in Khartoum and elsewhere, The general picture that emerges is of a person who really looks after himself well at the expense of others. As he says himself, he is drowned in secrecy and mystery. He is a con artist who can beguile while killing you – very good at using smoke and mirrors, a master manipulator beyond belief. When others were fighting and dying in the field, he was mostly in his hiding place with his well looked after family or in Khartoum enjoying the good life. In one report, it is said that he refused to return from Khartoum to the field for an urgent matter saying that he had to have a medical checkup for his hemoglobin level. This was how Tegadalay Isaias Afwerki spent a large part of the 30 years of struggle. Actually, the “gedli” hardly applied to him.
6. Is Isaias the only culprit? Of course not. There are at least two generals, and maybe be a third one as well who should be brought to trial. To this must be included the head of security at the “President’s Office” and the chap who has been handling the finances of Isaias Afwerki. In any case, I believe that even these people, his accomplices in crime, are the creations of Isaias himself, and they have been playing second fiddle – which does not absolve then from culpability.
7. If Isaias is removed from power, can the Eritrean military leaders maintain tight control of the country and remain in authority as a military junta? That is very unlikely. There are many reasons for this. There is serious rift among them encouraged by Isaias himself. Some of them (excluding the three generals) will also probably join the democratic camp and may demand the release of political prisoners, freedom of the press and respect for civil rights. More importantly, the military leaders will not be able to pin down the conscripts to their respective camps. There will be lots of desertions. That will also probably be followed by civil demonstrations demanding democratic dispensation which the generals will not be able to put down by force. They have been following developments in Egypt and what Mubarek has been accused of. That will probably prevent them from perpetrating mass killing. In these circumstances, they will declare elections and hand over power to the people.
Conclusion. The ICC arrest warrant will be significant even before it results in the actual arrest of Isaias Afwerki for many reasons. The main one is that it will deny him the legitimacy as head of state. He was not anyway elected in the first place. It will also seriously curtail his movements, and he will always have to worry about his possible imprisonment wherever he goes. The very fact that he is put under stress will probably make him commit more mistakes that may hasten his downfall. His supporters will also dwindle. Make no mistake, the ICC arrest warrant will be a significant blow to Isaias Afwerki psychologically, and it may justify other possible measures to be taken against him – which the proposed ICC arrest warrant does not exclude.