It is refreshing to see EYSC’s (Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change) Freedom Friday initiative launched with the stated goal of eradicating dictatorship in Eritrea. According to EYSC, 10,000 robocalls and 2000 personal calls have been made so far (listen to recorded message here: http://eysc.net/pr/arbi_harnet_voicemessage.WMA). Could we be witnessing a long overdue tipping point building up that will finally free Eritrea from the string of negatives it has been subjected to?
Although Eritrea has been a source of bad news for a long time, the news over the last few years has gotten consistently worse. Eritrea being one of the top exporters of refugees, about 400 drowning in the Mediterranean last year, Eritreans raped or murdered for organ harvesting in Egypt, the sadistic regime mocking those facing these horrific crimes as ‘people going on a picnic’, sanctions that have left the country isolated and friendless, an impoverished and severely weakened nation on the brink of irrelevance are just a few of the negatives Eritrea is unfortunately known for. Regime supporters routinely point out infrastructure development as a major accomplishment, which is true. But building roads, schools and clinics — although a good thing — should not be mutually exclusive with freedom and justice. Our roads have failed to become arteries of vibrant commerce and free movement; and our schools have failed to become centers of excellence ( click here to read journalist Amanuel Mahdere’s excellent summary and the tragedy of students begging for bad grades and teachers threatening misbehaving students with good grades as punishment ). Instead of waking up people’s conscience for Arab spring type of uprising, however, we have a population that is numbed into paralyzing inaction on one hand and a vicious but lucky dictatorship comfortably holding on to power on the other.
In spite of the ruling elite’s habitual tendencies to self-destruct, it faces no threats from the opposition which continues to be severely divided. Additionally, the tolerance for suffering by the larger population has been unnaturally high with no apparent threshold for outrage. And whenever we get to a point where we think it can’t get any worse, it does. Latest case in point: after Yemane, Osman and ‘wedi Gerahtu’ assured the late Naizghi Kiflu’s family the regime will take care of his burial expenses, Isaias got totally unhinged and blocked the burial from taking place in Eritrea. The stalemate with the dead body is over two months old now. The family is still waiting but Isaias, unfortunately, holds all the cards. The shame continues.
ምስ ሬሳ ዝረባረብ ፈዅሱ ድዩ ተጸሊሉ
ተጸንቂቐየ ጉሓፉኒ ይብለና ድኣ ከይህሉ።
ኤርትራ ተዋሪዳ ሓፊራ ነውሪ’ዩ ኣይባህልናን።
Could this be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back? If the notorious Naizghi was buried in Eritrea as the regime’s three officials promised, the petty grudges would have been buried with him and Eritrea would have been spared another embarrassment. Getting into a duel with a corpse only illustrates yet again that Africa’s so-called “strong men” are indeed a sorry lot who never fail to find deeper bottoms to sink their countries to. Will the ruling elite’s messengers finally get it that as far as Isaias is concerned, everyone is disposable (kedemti, in the regime’s vulgar vernacular). If he does this to his friend and once trusted partner in crime, why would anyone’s fate be different?
EYSC To The Rescue?
Whether EYSC’s robocalls will spark positive change to come from within Eritrea remains to be seen but the approach is refreshingly brilliant. Of course, the regime will unleash all its dirty tricks to divide the movement as it has so successfully done with other groups before. This time, for Eritrea’s sake, the new wave better be strong enough to live up to the task. There will be challenges and missteps along the way. The important thing is to learn from them and to regain the stride quickly. Here are some random thoughts for EYSC and supporters to consider as the struggle continues.
- Keep it young. This doesn’t mean the older generation has nothing to offer but given our track record so far, we have very little to show for the noise we generate. Based on past experiences, if we are given two hours to come up with serious plans for the future, we (the older generation) will waste one hour and 55 minutes re-hashing the past. More often than not, nothing enlightening comes from such exchanges. Let time take care of those who won’t let go. Keep it young, keep it action oriented and keep going.
- Embolden people inside Eritrea. That is where the center of gravity for real and durable change should be. Boost the morale of change agents inside Eritrea by challenging and exposing the regime’s messengers (minus inappropriate insults) and foiling its events (legally). Illegality is the regime’s domain, don’t go there.
- Be humble and listen to other voices. Give credit to others when credit is due. Share successes and take responsibility for mistakes. Extreme arrogance as personified by the ruling elite (complemented by our gullibility to be fooled almost all the time) is one of the root causes of Eritrea’s total lack of self-reflection and inability for self-correction – so far.
- Be very clear about what you are for and what you are against. The reason why Eritrea’s independence is devoid of freedom and justice is because almost all attention before independence was focused on getting rid of Ethiopia. Necessary time and energy was not invested to develop a vision of what a free Eritrea should be like. We should not repeat the same mistakes again by focusing all attention on just getting rid of hgdef’s dynasty. Will we allow injustice and lawlessness to be the norm again under different players?
- Prepare for things to get worse before they get better. Previously functioning laws and community-based problem-solving practices have either been destroyed or severely weakened denying Eritrea a roadmap for quick recovery. When the regime goes (and it will go), the void can trigger unpredictable events a future dictator in waiting can hijack. How will such events be contained? That is when good leadership from EYSC and from change agents inside Eritrea will be most needed.
- Engage the YPFDJ positively. Challenge them to live up to the ideals of their name — Democracy and Justice. Many are misguided and/or misinformed but are smart enough (and hopefully humane enough) to see the irony of their ‘royal’ treatment at the expense of Eritreans their age who are doomed to a life of servitude. Based on its actions so far, the regime will have no qualms repeating the devastating ghedli-era civil war by pitting Eritreans against each other just to stay in power. Anticipate this and deny it its habitual addiction to sadistic pleasure.
- Reject the temptation to associate someone’s bad deeds with what percentage of their blood is Eritrean or with their religion or region. Such mindset diverts attention away from real issues that need to be addressed urgently. Repeating this mistake will only contribute to Eritrea’s backwardness, making it look more like Somalia and less like the civilized nation it should be.
- Refocus attention to the economy and good education ( the negatives Amanuel Mahdere has identified must be reversed). With hyperinflation and existing anemic economy (with exports estimated at $20 million annually), no one in Eritrea can afford day-to-day living with honest earnings today. Even higher revenues from gold over the next decade or so, will not change the situation much without fundamentally changing our educational and economic realities.
- Stay focused on the real issues. The regime has perfected the art of diverting people’s attention away from its failures by blaming others (CIA, Ethiopia etc). So much so that we easily recognize and condemn injustice with exaggerated moral indignation when we see it done to others only to fall silent or fish for incoherent excuses as we witness worse injustices committed by our own against our own. We don’t stop to think that the CIA did not mow down the disabled veterans in cold blood, embezzle money from families by holding aging parents hostage, create havoc in society by deposing and promoting religious leaders, or make Astier Yohannes and countless others disappear. And more recently, we know Ethiopia or the CIA did not shame Eritrea by picking a fight with a dead body.
With action-oriented and renewed energy, EYSC is on the right track to accomplish its stated goal to end dictatorship in Eritrea. Such worthy goal deserves our full support. If done well, Eritreans will finally be able to enjoy true freedom and justice which independence was supposed to have brought along 21 years ago.