Boundless love is what most of us believe we have for Eritrea. But our tendencies to embrace the king of the day (znegese ngusna)no matter how harsh the sacrifices seem to suggest otherwise. Judging by the only measurement that matters – our collective inability to remove what has turned out to be a modern day feudal lord – it is hard to determine what is loved. So what exactly do we love about Eritrea?
Is our love for the people of Eritrea? The massacre of the disabled veterans; the reckless sacrifice of 19,000 the sadistic Isaias gloated about being too few compared to Ethiopia’s losses; those perishing in deserts and high seas; the thousands suffering and dying in prisons across the country; elderly parents held hostage for ransom are all Eritreans we claim to love. Yet, we simply forget them after every sad event and the lawless regime goes on to concoct the next tragedy. Where is the love when we have let every year get worse than the previous one for the last 21 years?
Secondly, Eritreans seem to be too eager to offend each other and equally ready to be offended these days. Hardly anyone is willing to forgive and forget the small stuff or apologize for transgressions. Opposition groups, churches, community centers, civic organizations who are and should be allies against injustice are busy tearing each other down on secondary issues. Cooperation is a bad word absent from our everyday vocabulary. Faced with common problems with so much to gain by working together, the focus on trivia is only comforting a ruthless regime that does not deserve to live another day. What kind of love is that?
Is our love for Eritrea’s good societal values grounded on justice, freedom and the pursuit of happiness? Hardly. In fact, whatever decent values Eritrea had are either uprooted or severely damaged by a vampire regime (to borrow from George Ayittey) known for its ruthlessness and deceit. Tesfay Temnewo (man of the year indeed and thank you Seyoum) eloquently encapsulates this when he describes the sleepless night he had over 30 years ago worried about the hijacked version of “independence” that will disappoint Eritrean families; including the one in whose warmth and kindness he had his first meal in a family setting since he joined the independence movement. Tesfay also explains the culture of embezzlement and terrorism that was set in stone way back then when innocent families were deprived of their livelihoods for “crimes” of association.
Similarly, Kubrom Dafla describes the grand robbery by a regime whose legacy to date has been massive poverty and loss of all types of freedoms Eritreans have never seen the scale of before. Thank you Kubrom for exposing it for what it really is with calm and fact-driven finesse! Based on how we — diaspora Eritreans in particular — had so willingly denied the same freedoms we enjoy ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Eritrea, there isn’t much love to speak of here either.
Is our love for the courage of our educated class speaking truth to power? This is probably the most disappointing of our shortcomings. To mention the latest drama: Dr. Woldai Futur spoke about the efficient infrastructure and solid institutions that are in place to encourage new investments. Sadly, even the best education our planet has to offer can’t steady a weak spine or enlighten a self-enslaved mind. Everyone knows the crumbling infrastructure and the intentional destruction of Eritrea’s institutions by the very regime the good doctor serves. Dr. Woldai, blessed with a good education, should have been pained by the closure of the only University Eritrea had and the ignorance era this regime has sunk the country into. As an economist, he could have used his skills and experience to analyze the root cause of Eritrea’s abject poverty and find ways to reverse it. Instead, he chooses to be a mere errand boy for a failed despot who so despises education and the educated. I wonder what Dr. Woldai would mention as his single accomplishment that has resulted in Eritrea’s improved economic health.
Unfortunately, Dr. Woldai is not alone. We also have the likes of Dr Ghideon Abays, Dr Woldeab Isaacs, Dr Amare Tekles who have greatly contributed for dictatorship to flourish in Eritrea. Likewise, many Eritreans who sleep soundly under the comfort of freedom the West provides them are perfectly okay with Eritrea heading to the Stone Age as they continue to support a failed regime that is bleeding Eritrea to death (follow the links and listen to Tesfay Temnewo and Kubrom Dafla with love of country as a compass. Hopefully, you will get it this time).
Is our love for a corruption free and self-reliant Eritrea? Not even close. Kubrom Dafla who has witnessed the regime’s corruption first hand explains how Eritrea’s entire resources are controlled by Isaias and Hagos with zero accountability. Money is the first and only thing this pair cares about. Whatever money flows into Eritrea (be it from Gaddafi or Qatar for whatever Isaias sold them in exchange, the elusive gold revenues, loans in Eritrea’s name etc) does not belong to Eritrea and its people. Eritrea’s entire resources (from land to people), are for Isaias and Hagos to do whatever they please. Now they are cooking up another future-is-so-bright, never-to-be-missed investment opportunity. Without rule-of-law, however, all it takes is a single awaj or a false accusation to shut down a business (teEashigu) or imprison or kill anyone they feel needs to be taught a lesson. That is all. No questions asked. Investments are necessary for Eritrea’s development and should be encouraged. But everything dies under this regime and sustained development can only flourish in its absence.
Regarding self-reliance, Isaias or Hagos haven’t earned a living based on honest hard work and never had to worry about the challenges people face balancing income and expenses to support their families and to run their businesses. What they don’t earn, they steal, they hold elderly parents hostage for ransom, they kill for. Decent, hard-working Eritreans like Mohammed Hagos were murdered in cold blood with no one held accountable? So the concept of Eritrea becoming self-reliant under the stewardship of this parasitic pair is only a pipe dream. Where is our love then, if it doesn’t even manifest itself in reversing a feudal system that has taken complete control of people’s lives – modern-day slavery and all?
Is our love for the beauty of the land? At great risk to his/her safety, Bana from Asmara showed us this once beautiful and peaceful city is crumbling. Kentiba Haregot, with minimal education and great love for the city, managed it well and it showed. We can’t even build on the solid foundation this great mayor and native son left behind. 21 years after “independence” Asmara and other cities are decaying, the shrimp farm is gone, our 1000 Km of sea shore produces nothing, there is no commerce flowing through our ports and tourism is dead. What kind of love is it that keeps silent when the land and its people are getting destroyed?
Is our love for the personal freedoms our people enjoy? Nope!! Can anyone honestly say Isaias ever stood for safeguarding personal freedoms of the Eritrean people? These are the very ideals so many died for and what free Eritrea was meant to represent. And yet, the one who has so betrayed the promise is still in power 21 years later– some love, eh?
Is the love for our problem-solving skills? What national problems have we solved since “independence” — anything worth mentioning? How about reliable electricity, vibrant cities, rule-of-law, economic development, food security, quality education, accountable leadership? Anything?
So What Next?
That we believe we love our country is a good thing. What is needed now is honest self-assessment and taking concrete actions– big and small – to convert that belief into reality. How about these?
1. Own your mind and think freely. If you believe the CIA is the cause of Eritrea’s problems based on foaming-from-the-mouth tirades to cover our failures, think again. Did the CIA kill our disabled veterans in cold blood? Cure thyself and those around you from “worship the king of the day (znegese ngusna)” disease. This disease kills.
2. Reject the regime’s culture of arrogance. It is a shame this failed regime has become the face of 5 million Eritreans to the rest of the world. That can’t be who we are.
3. Accept reality and deal with it. Talking about Ethiopia’s problems to hide ours won’t solve anything. Our problems are worse. At least Ethiopia had a peaceful transition of power after Meles died. What is Eritrea’s transition plan? Anyone?
4. Focus on how 5 million people CAN defeata handful few who are destroying this once promising country. Remember the Arab Spring?
5. Make a personal pledge to contribute, even in tiny, tiny steps, to bridge divisions and promote cooperation to solve common problems. Small positive steps add up to form a solid national character, which is good insurance against bad guys.
6. Embrace other Eritreans. Be a good man/woman and apologize when/if you offend others.
7. Think more about the future and talk less about the past. Yes, the past was painful and the history not told fully or truthfully. Let’s hope more Tesfay Temnewos come forward to document the past fairly and honestly. But Eritrea is dying now and collective focus should be on the future and how to salvage what is left. The younger generation with the least baggage from the past but deprived of normal life since “independence” can play a pivotal role in shaping the future. Take charge and run with it.
8. And diaspora Eritreans? We are the sorriest lot of all. In plain language, Isaias said you will not live in the houses you are building because you will come to Eritrea in coffins to be buried. Why the misplaced love for the very person who despises you and your people so openly? Stop the madness and give your moral support to those fighting for justice and freedom instead.
9. Don’t underestimate the good that can come out from a transformed PFDJ. The regime having destroyed all other institutions, the only organized entity left is PFDJ. Without Hagos, Yemane, Alamin and few others with blood in their hands, it can play a positive role in reshaping Eritrea’s future for the better. Most of its members are living the harsh life themselves and there are decent people waiting to be empowered to do the right thing.
10. This is a bit of a stretch but it would also be great if the Dr. Woldais and Dr. Ghideons of our world follow Kubrom Dafla’s example. Abandon the regime and use your education and experience for the good of Eritrea for a change. The Titanic is sinking. You don’t have to go down with it. What makes you think you will be treated better than Naizghi Kiflu’s lifeless body? Help Eritrea rid itself of its worst enemy and cross the line to the right side of history.