There is a saying in the Eritrean highlands when one observes that the effort exerted is vastly disproportionate to the puny outcome: “nezi ktg’Eta trhtSa?”—all of your sweating is for this? We had the exact same reaction after we read the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs June 7th Press Release regarding the British nationals who have been in detention since December 24, 2010. It is an embarrassing piece of dribble from a regime that has made embarrassing Eritreans its core specialty. But since the news of the detained British nationals may be, to many readers, their first introduction to Eritrea, this editorial will be dedicated to offering them insights into Eritrea under the despotic rule of Isaias Afwerki.
The facts that both sides agree on are: the number of prisoners; the nationality of the prisoners; the name of their employer; their tools of trade; their freedom status, and how long they have been denied their freedom. Four Britons who work for the British maritime private security firm of Protection Vessels International (PVI) and who were carrying sophisticated military equipment have been in detention for nearly 5 ½ months in Eritrea. One of them has, reportedly, dual nationality: He is British and Australian.
The focus of the Eritrean regime now is the prisoners’ tools of trade. According to the Eritrean regime’s press release, it found:
…a cache of sniper weapons fitted with silencers, telescopes, distance-monitoring equipments were secured. Moreover, night vision binoculars equipped with GPS, together with poison-tipped bullets, bullet-proof vests, specialized communication equipments, as well as V-SAT satellite telephones were seized during the search…
What else could those tools be used for, asks the regime, except for a political objective: terrorism and sabotage? That is what the Eritrean regime is now charging the four Britons with: sabotage and terrorism. Its trial-by-press-release (the only kind of trial the PFDJ knows) which argues: given the quantity and sophistication of their equipment and communication tools, they must have come to destroy the infrastructure and property of Eritrea (sabotage); or, they must have come to inflict damage to the population, using indiscriminate violence, so as to terrify them and, using their fear, to affect an outcome (terrorism.)
The “look at all these weapons and communication equipment!” cry was first announced by the co-founder of a liberation front, and cocksure founder of the present kleptocratic People’s Front for Democracy & Justice (PFDJ) that the “liberation front” morphed into, i.e., the ruling regime and the sole legal party in Eritrea. The tyrannical ruler of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, explained his position when he talked about the subject for the first time after the Brits had been in detention for four months. He did so when he was being “interviewed” by his own media outlet, Eri-TV, on April 30. As we reported it then, he told his Eri-TV:
“They had heavy weaponry, goggles, snipers…what were they doing there?” he said, equating their presence in Eritrea as that of a burglar in a house. The emphasis, he implied, should be on why the burglar is in the house, and not what his rights are now that he has been caught.
Within a month, the regime made a call-out to all its propagandists and foot-soldiers, lined them all up in order of their bottom-feeding qualities, and from this human hill of vanity and shamelessness, the American Thomas Mountain, a shameless propagandist, Eritrea’s own Walter Duranty, won the nadir prize. Using minimal information leaked from his friendly PFDJ sources, and blending it with a pile of shrill, he produced a literary masterpiece.
“These professional killers were discovered almost by accident by a woman taking a shortcut home through an adjacent out-of-service salt flat. The woman noticed, as all good Eritreans should, that sa’ada, white people, were taking photos (with telephoto lenses) somewhere they were not allowed. These Brit “diplomats” took their sweet time scoping out their firing points and parameters of their potential killing field for their discoverer had to walk almost a mile to the nearest police station to report this and then the police had to drive the roundabout route to the spot….”
Mountain’s masterpiece with its breathless tone and its unlikely hero, a civilian woman, has now been entirely debunked by the monotonous prose of the PFDJ Press Release. But in its brief shelf life, it served a purpose. Implicitly in Isaias’ interview, and more directly in Mountain’s article, the Brits were being accused of attempting to assassinate Isaias Afwerki. (Mountain’s masterpiece is entitled: Caught Red Handed: British Assassins In The Horn Of Africa.) This was one assassination attempt in a series of attempts on Isaias Afwerki, explained Mountain, helpfully. And his “exclusive” was spread throughout the second tier of PFDJ propaganda outlets, those beaming their frequencies and flashing web banners from radio stations and websites housed in the West.
But the four Brits do not look like members of a fearsome assassination squad—more like accountants on a fishing trip; maybe they are accountants for the real killers who got away! So the emphasis has been on the weaponry.
To marvel at the weaponry of a maritime private security firm is to marvel at the fact that a nurse carries a syringe, or that a policeman carries a gun, or a plumber has a wrench. It is precisely its cache of weapons, communication and manpower expertise that PVI advertises as its competitive advantage! (Google their website.) This being common knowledge, the PFDJ had to plant a suggestion, carried faithfully by “journalist” Thomas Mountain, that Isaias Afwerki was the target. At least Isaias Afwerki believes that, and what holds true for Isaias must, therefore, be accepted as truth by every disciple no matter whether illiterate or holding advanced degrees. Speaking of which, Dr. Ghidewon Abay-Asmerom, a fervent and faithful adherent of the Idolatry of Isaias, wrote this in May 2011:
“As the recently leaked US cables clearly imply, Washington, in collusion with Ethiopia, had conspired to spin Eritrea into a chaotic orbit a mere three years after Eritrea’s independence was internationally recognized in 1993. They had attempted to kill, in a signature Washington style, Eritrea’s president through a plane crash as early asin 1996. When that plan failed, it Washington encouraged Ethiopia to invade Eritrea.”
Ghidewon Abay-Asmerom holds a PhD, and a tenured position at an American institution of higher learning. This gives him his tools of the trade, his analytical skills. With his skill set, he must know that what he wrote is a bald-faced lie. But as George Bernard Shaw, another useful idiot of Stalin who never repented his sins once put it: “there are some things that only intellectuals are crazy enough to believe.” The “recently leaked US cables” don’t imply, clearly or otherwise, that Washington colluded with Ethiopia to kill Isaias Afwerki. What they do show is that Isaias Afwerki is such a paranoid freak, he thinks a malfunctioning plane (that returned him and his vacationing family safely to its point of origin, Addis Abeba, by the way) was an assassination attempt. To avoid any confusion, the then ambassador to Eritrea gave his report a helpful heading: REF: ASMARA 345 “IS ISAIAS UNHINGED?” And then provided detailed substantiantion that, yep, Isaias IS unhinged, a nut job! So the clear implication of wikileaks is not that the US tried to assassinate Isaias but that he is so delusional he believes everybody is out to kill him. As for Washington’s encouragement of Ethiopia to invade Eritrea, to say that it occured after 1996 (the “signature Washington style” assassination attempt) and before 1998 (the “invasion” of Eritrea) is to defy the truth. The war started in May 1998, and on the eve of the war, the US Administration, at the highest levels (including a visit by the then American First Lady Hillary Clinton), was a huge booster of the Isaias Afwerki regime, flattering the dictator by including him in a list of the “New Generation” of Africa’s so-called reformers, young guns who were supposedly committed to avoiding the ruler-for-life disease of Africa’s Big Men. Meet The New Generation; Same As The Old Generation. But Ghidewon, who suffers from a severe case of fellow-traveler disease, believes this fantastic tale, because Isaias Afwerki believes that, and what holds true for Isaias must, therefore, be accepted as truth.
Now, in June, meskerem.net, a US based Eritrean-website, which is trying to compensate for its late arrival to the useful idiot wagon by embellishing or uncritically accepting every PFDJ propaganda and discrediting every opposition statement, is selling the same merchandise that Isaias Afwerki, Thomas Mountain, and Ghidewon Abay Asmerom set the theme for: the British company PVI is a lot like Blackwater USA: an essentially-government-funded security firm which does the dirty work that is outsourced by the government’s regular armed forces. To help its readers make the connection (subtle is not one of the words used to describe meskerem.net), the website placed the news piece about the Eritrean regimes press rele Eri-TV’s coverage of the news, next to a news piece about Blackwater USA’s work in the Emirates.
It is satisfactory to know that the dictator pays a price for his dictatorship. Whether that comes in the form of addiction to painkiller pills or alcohol; or an ailing liver and deteriorating body; or fear of random death administered by US cruise missiles from the sea across Massawa; or poisoned dinner at restaurants (which might explain PVI’s poison tipped bullets!); or a perpetual state of worry that makes him travel with an entourage of dozens of body guards; and sleeping in different houses every night; or the sum of all these fears: there is some satisfaction in knowing that he suffers a fraction of what his victims do.
But this satisfaction quickly yields to loathing and anger and sadness at the magnitude of the pain which he has inflicted on Eritreans for decades. PVI is complaining, and rightly so, that four of its employees have been detained, without access to consular services, or their families, for 5 ½ months. But there are Eritreans who have been in the same or worse situation for 55 ½ months; and for multiple more months! And to remember them is to be aware at the breathtaking fall of the Eritrean fighting spirit!
Eritrea 101 For Foreigners
We say all this as a briefing to all who have been introduced to Eritrea via the case of the detained Britons. We say this to all those who are introduced to Eritrea for the first time and ask, “how did Eritreans allow their country to reach this stage?” We say this to all those who may have been introduced to Eritrea through harrowing stories of the flowing refugees and the asylum seekers, as captured by youtube clips and news reports. We say this to all those who ask, “how do you allow such a brute to dominate you like this, and to treat you like his personal property?” Dear interlocutor, we Eritreans were not always so; we were fighters once—but we have been utterly domesticated.
When your liberator becomes your enslaver, it becomes difficult, and impossible for some, to believe in any liberator. And so many of our compatriots have come to ask for the impossible, a guarantee of success, before they embark on any mission. Once, a long time ago, belief in the mission was its own reward—but no more. Our compatriots seek perfection in our opposition groups, and when they fail to find it, they become what they are: turning back against the ruling regime, but not embracing the opposition: we Eritreans live in a purgatory of our making. In the same manner that most of those now rising up in the Arab Spring did for decades.
And when you see the foreign companies, British, Canadian, Australian, rushing for mining licenses in Eritrea while their own governments, the British, Canadian and Australian governments, are expressing their alarm at the recklessness and sadism and callowness of the Eritrean regime, what do you see? So the Westerner asks these questions:
Why didn’t the Eritrean regime tell the world or concerned countries or entities why they were holding the British nationals for 5 ½ months?
Why are the British nationals not brought to a court of law?
Why are the British nationals not allowed to tell their side of the story?
Why don’t the British nationals have legal representation?
Why is the press release using so strangely sympathetic language regarding the detainees?
What does the regime mean when its says that the matter is now in a “legal proceeding”?
Why did the regime, through its Foreign Ministry (not the Justice Department) choose to disclose its charges now?
The answer is one and the same: the Eritrean regime believes the United States and its Western allies are in a state of war with Eritrea. In this “war’, everybody is eligible to be a “prisoner of war.” In the eyes of the PFDJ, the employees of PVI are prisoners of war. The language of the press release appears “sympathetic” to the untrained reader but, in reality, this “sympathy” is mere pity: the regime has a name for low-ranking civilians or junior partners: kedemti, or servants. In any unequal relationship, according to the PFDJ, one is a master, the other is a servant. Such is its own relationship with the Eritrean people—it is the master; and the people are the servants. It may refer to them as wufuyat—volunteers—but its proper description for its citizens is gebar—tax-payer.
Such is every arrangement throughout the world, according to the PFDJ. The world is uni-polar, ruled by the United States, with only a handful of brave governments, Eritrea’s being one, who are standing up against this hegemony. In the puffed-up self-estimation of the PFDJ, Eritrea is at war with the United States, because Eritrea refuses to “kneel down” and accept any unbalanced arrangement. It is the one “threat of good example”—emboldening those who want to stand up to the US. And everybody who advances the US cause—whether that is the United Nations, or England, or Australia, or Canada, or Ethiopia—is a kedami: servant. So, in the eyes of the PFDJ and its delusional chairman Isaias Afwerki, the PVI employees are unwitting agents—kedemti—of the PVI boss; the PVI boss being the agent (kedami) of the British government, and the British government being an agent (kedamit) of the US government. Thus, the PVI employees must be presented in pitying language because they are several rungs removed from the Eritrean regime’s peer, its equal adversary, the United States. To arrest the four Brits without charges for months while, now, frequently mentioning that they admitted this, and they fessed up to that; that, in short, the information we gathered did not require painstaking research and extensive interrogation, we knew all of it within hours, is supposed to send some kind of message across the slave-master hierarchy: that the Eritrean regime is invincible, and that it talks only to another master, the government of the United States.
And why was this news announced through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Information and not through the Ministry of Justice, or any other ministry of law enforcement? If those who do not know the inner-workings of the Eritrean regime get some comfort in this, they are deluding themselves. To ask this question is to ask why was Isaias Afwerki wearing a short-sleeved khaki shirt and not a long-sleeved blue shirt on a particular day: because he felt like it! Similarly, every ministry, every department, every branch of government, every branch of the armed forces sometimes all the way down to a lieutenant colonel reports directly to Isaias Afwerki and he will use whichever tickles his fancy on any given day. Most, if not all, of the “press releases” of any import that carry the letterheads of the various ministries are hand-written by Isaias Afwerki, or the chief of staff of the presidential office, Yemane “Charlie” Gebremeskel.
What about the claim that the matter is now in a legal proceeding? Do not expect the PFDJ to cite specific ordinances or law: none of the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Eritrea have been charged with a specific crime because Eritrea has no constitution or law—beyond penal codes inherited from Imperial Ethiopia which were nullified by a constitution upon its ratification in 1997—a constitution that is yet to be implemented. The PFDJ’s idea of a legal case has nothing to do with court of law testimonies, witnesses, depositions, due process or judges. Its idea of “legal proceeding” is writing numbered paragraphs, and passing “unanimous resolutions” by way of applause in party-organized “seminars.” To the extent it recognizes any court, it is only the court of opinion, and it will, via media campaigns in media outlets it controls. The PFDJ may selectively cite international law—while it ignoring specific obligations it has to foreign nationals, even those caught in an “act of war”—and if international law is not on its side, it will say, as it has in the past, “if America imprison terrorists indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, we too can incarcerate, indefinitely terrorists we apprehended.” After all, the Eritrean regime sees the American government as its peer, every other country, including the United Kingdom and Australia, are kedemti, or servants. It is no coincidence that the four Brits were charged with “terrorism.” In any event, the arrested will never be presented to a court of law. We can’t emphasize this enough to the family members of the arrested Brits: your family members will never, ever come to a court of law. You or your government will either buy their freedom, or trade for their freedom, but you will not win their freedom.
The United Kingdom and Australia have a choice. They can, as their mining companies have done, pretend that all is well, and invest considerable time and energy trying to patiently and in great trepidation befitting approaching a mad man, explain to the psychotic Eritrean tyrant of the error of his ways. They can send apology letters, and pay ransom, and appease him. They can, like Norway, naively fund the retarded offsprings of the Eritrean ruling regime, the YPFDJ, while attempting to influence the behavior of the PFDJ. This is the same approach the West used with tyrants like Moammer Qaddaffi and Bashar Assad, who are the closest in style, mental imbalance and arrogance, to Isaias Afwerki. And how is that working out for you?
Or, they can, in the alternative, listen to our answer to the question we posed above: So why did the Eritrean regime finally issue a press release on June 7th?
Because, just last month, the government of the United Kingdom placed restrictions, painful restrictions, on the Eritrean regime’s embassy in the UK: cease and desist from collecting taxes from Eritreans residing in Great Britain. If every country in the West did this, it would have a dramatic impact on the coffers of the regime. A good start, but not enough. Then every mining company the West owns has to be asked, “would you stop pouring funds to a fascistic and sadistic regime?” If they can’t be stopped and they must, for the same moral reasons that they were not allowed to invest in apartheid South Africa, then they must be named and shamed. All the young Eritreans who have awakened to the monstrosity of the PFDJ and have organized themselves to fight back must form alliances with advocates of justice of all nationalities and demonstrate in front of their corporate offices and shareholder meetings.
Instead of trying to convince Isaias Afwerki that he is mistaken, that you have not declared war on him, which is a futile campaign given his irrational state of mind, the West should say, “you have declared war on us.” Then, it must approach all the enablers of the regime who reside in the comforts of the West and tell them: since you believe your adopted country is at war with your native country, it is time for you to choose sides. Isaias believes the United States and its “kedemti”—servant states—have declared war on him. It is time to prove him right.