In the last couple of weeks, I wrote three full blown articles and every time I finished one, I keep asking myself “So what?” I save a copy of the article and delete the original (original? on Microsoft!? Just to make me feel that some of the old “shredder” ways are still around). Part of the reason is that, each time I say thank God I am finished with this one, there comes Awate with fresh stuff that blow my arguments down. One piece that especially gave an excellent picture of where our departure point should be was “2001-2011: Eritrea’s Wasted Decade” by the Awate Team. The second article was SY’s “The Case of Eritrea’s Missing President”. My friend SY as some might have noticed had busted me confused quoting the wrong reference (I sometimes act like Cherini) in one of my articles and now has busted Ali Abdu confused over where and whether the President had any sleep during the month of hibernation. I actually thought Ghirma Asmerom was describing the President as “handsome” until I read the article and the accent sifting into spelling on the “as he walks – as he talks” Ambassador. The third was Ismael Omer-Ali’s “Bravo Mr. President”. The fourth was Amauel Hidrat’s “Reshaping History: the Role of Wild Cards”. Note: the “first to fourth” is purely chronological. I also read a dozen other excellent pieces in the other websites. That’s why I thought we should start fresh and new. I am using “we” just to make sure that what will follow would not be misunderstood as criticism of the wonderful articles mentioned above.
This is what the smartest amongst us have said in a nutshell (spices are mine):
The Awate Team: “The answer is really simple: SHOW RESULTS. … DO SOMETHING. … Everybody is giving you [the opposition or part of it] advice and we would like to give you ours. … (a) Avoid creating parallel universes. … (b) Quality counts more than quantity … (c) Avoid the adoption centers. … [Otherwise] the spoilers change, but the spoiling continues.”
Ismael Omer-Ali: “The opposition … [is] the only viable alternative … [in the] struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of oppression … [We should not be] constrained by the silly superstition … [after] his death [because life goes on].”
Amanuel Hidrat: “The opposition camp … let alone to bring change to our people inside Eritrea, it couldn’t even have a little leverage to mitigate the reality of the refugees.”
SY: “As for the role of the Eritrean opposition in all this … [The Pencil will have more to say]”
The term “the opposition” in the above (sample) refers to the following. I am just guessing and it is just a sample of at least those of them who could afford someone who can stitch a few sentences into a paragraph. Nobody really knows who “the opposition” is or if they are individuals, organizations, human beings or ghosts (or ghosts of human beings that are no more)? And nobody can tell if the above mentioned examples (including you and me) are part of “the opposition”? Is Awate – whose net contribution (to anti PFDJ activism) is larger than that of the whole ENCDC group (of 34 plus “adoption centers”) combined, part of the opposition? “Adoption Centers” – what an amazing concept – thanks to the A-Team! But maybe they (and all of us) are presuming that there actually is an opposition in the form of “wdbat” as in “nay wdbat Hashewye”. The following is a tiny sample of what the President was referring to by “wdbat” (two of the orphanages that adopt the “Younger” ones that the A-Team was advising):
EPDP (April 26, 2012): “Isaias Afeworki will die sooner or later but … national responsibility … to prevent the deterioration of the situation in the country.” I tell you these guys are maturing! And it should make all of us proud: very straight forward and exceptionally responsible! Now let us see: what part of it is the EPDP doing? They add “We in the EPDP call upon Eritreans … to intensify their peaceful political struggle to force the dictatorial regime to hand over [the wallet].” Pardon me and excuse my ignorance!? I thought forcing “the dictatorial regime to hand over” was their job and I am not alone. The brilliant guys (above) who have spent hours trying to offer some advice have also been duped into thinking “these” were “the opposition”. By the way I am referring to all “wdbat” and nothing specific about the EPDP. There is of course a bit of a difference in the case of the EPDP because unlike “the forces of darkness [the “spoilers” to use Awate’s terminology] … we in the EPDP strongly call upon the Eritrean Defence Forces to … put an end to all the abusive policies and practices of the one-man dictatorship … [and for] the masses of our people to rise up and dislodge the incumbent dictatorship.”
You see what I am trying to say? If it is for “the masses of our people to rise up and dislodge the incumbent dictatorship” and it is for “the Eritrean Defence Forces to … put an end to … dictatorship”, why do we exactly need “the opposition”? Just be honest with yourself for a few minutes here: if “the opposition” is a bunch of empty gerewignas whose only job is to tell you the most obvious thing (that you need to rise up to end your misery), you don’t think of it as “Hashewye”? Wouldn’t you think that “the opposition” should mean (or be equivalent to) “YOU standing up and ending your misery” and not some knucklehead “advising you to stand up and end your misery”?
The EPDP are at least honest. They are telling you bluntly “hey we have nothing to offer – we know what you need is change – go ahead and change it – then call us on Election Day”. Here is what their twin, the Eritrean National Salvation Front – ENSF (5 May 2012) have said (my translation) in reference to military conscription: “Because of the worries motivated by the rising popular pressure on the ground and the failure of its defence capability and in order to cover-up its internal crisis and conflicting nature, the PFDJ regime has boosted its campaign to create worries of an eminent war among the people and is bracing to mobilize the people towards further destruction.” According to the “sources” (mintchitatna) “the regime continues to be embarrassed by the people’s continued pressure and rejection of the war-drum.”
Do you mind if I follow the EPDP’s example and be blunt with you? They are liars nothing more and nothing less! Can those “mintchitatna” come out and tell us exactly what they saw on the ground to make them conclude that the people are actually pressuring the PFDJ regime? Were there any accidents at least with “the people” stampeding to pressure the regime? Were those who were “pressuring” – real people that the regime could identify and we could invite for a drink or were they ghosts in the imagination of the sources? Did I say they are liars? Let me add that they are stupid! Here is how dumb and devoid of basic logical arithmetic they are: if by their own admission, the regime’s defence capabilities have failed – shouldn’t it be only logical and basic common sense that it (or any other responsible regime) would try to boost national defence capability by adding new conscripts? What would they do if they were in the PFDJ’s position? Would they just let the defence capability to fail? Or is “forced conscription” a new concept to Ahmed Nasser and his conspiring gang of losers?
You are probably telling yourself that the PFDJ could choose other than “conscripts”. Please, go ahead and make your bid: what other choices does a nation whose only way to “national defence” is its people’s manpower have? It had been done in Tripoli by the Italians, by the Americans in Iraq and by Libyans in Zanga-Zanga! It is an old trade where nothing has changed and believe me – you shouldn’t think of the PFDJ as any less smart than those of the old days.
Let us take the EPDP’s (April 26, 2012) starting point of being “mindful of the dangers facing our national achievements, as well as the unity and the sovereignty of the people and the land” and ask both these gerewignas – “if you really are mindful of anything serious, how would you manage the nation differently than the PFDJ?” By “national achievements” I am assuming the EPDP is referring to the same achievements that the President always talks about, i.e. the achievements of the EPLF in its final years. These achievements (if we have the same understanding) include among other things: (a) a sovereign Eritrean state, (b) a territorially united Eritrean nation, (c) a program of creating a melting pot where Eritrea’s cultural diversity converges, (d) a tegadalay culture of self-reliance, hard work, perseverance, and independence from foreign influence, and an insistence on creating a warsay for these values, (e) a consensus on immunizing Eritrea from the risks of ethnic and religious sub-nationalism, and (f) a commitment to guard Eritrea’s boundaries (external and internal) against both external and internal enemies. Let us play down the issues of gender representation, the “Ziban Sema’etat – ab’Hanti Igrikha TelTel kebleka’ye” breed of Menkerios-style wives and “the other issues” where the PFDJ beats every standing nation on the planet.
You may tell me that there is a better way of safeguarding these “national achievements” but I challenge you to find anything that the PFDJ has done in the last twenty years that (even if it is the dumbest of all ideas) cannot be arguably attributed to a genuine attempt to safeguard any of these “achievements”. They have forced people into endless military service? Sorry! But tell me if you have a better idea of defending the borders from endless threats and enemies that are no better. They rape people in military service? A terrible thing! But tell me how a poor nation of arrogant pinheads, rookies and junkies is expected to prevent what the Catholic Church could not prevent from trashing its trust and reputation with little boys. They have turned the national service program into an abusive nightmare? Tell me what different would you have done to keep the greedy generals happy and obedient in a third world country of a dime for per capita income. They jailed ministers and journalists? Assume that the PFDJ’s allegations of “treason” turn out to be true or the interpretation of it by the most modest ri’esi-koko turns out to be understandable, and shoot your best alternative idea or example from another African country. They have refused “the opposition” (described above) from coming home to form “a government of national reconciliation”? Feel free to employ your genius and come up with a “national role” for a swindling middleman or a confused mess (as described by Amanuel Hidrat). We have of course agreed from the above that the conflict is between “the PFDJ regime” and “the people”. “The opposition” by its own admission gives itself the role of telling “the people” to rise against the “PFDJ regime” like a middleman making a buck on both ends and going home with nothing but tips and commissions.
You may not like it but these are bare and naked facts and “the ordinary people” that you are trying to motivate know them very well and they see on the ground one truth that you are unable to grasp: not a soul on this planet can raise his or her voice and question the PFDJ’s seriousness in defending the nation against both internal and external enemies. Where, by any chance “the people” or a significant majority among them decide to prioritize their concerns in a simple logical sequence, it is only common sense that they start with “risks to the existence” of the nation, then “risks to the wellbeing” of the people, and then “risks to the prosperity” of both. Simple: first you have to make sure that you are not dying on us this evening and then worry about securing your supper tonight and then think about faking an accident and running on your neighbour’s daughter.
“The opposition” (just to give them the benefit of the doubt) are concerned about the “risks to prosperity”. They deny any “risks to existence” because Meles has promised them on TV (probably broadcasting from inside occupied Eritrean territory) that there would be nothing to worry about. They evade “risks to wellbeing” because they have nothing to offer in terms of food, shelter and clothing. For all of them these basic necessities represent nothing more than a few lines in the political programs that they propose for when they take over. They are very concerned about democracy and human rights and for someone who thinks these terms to be “luxuries of the Whiteman”, they are the equivalent of outsmarting the neighbour on an empty stomach. Well, “the people” have decided to play deaf and dead and to sit it out until “the opposition” either comes up with a better rationale for why they should stand up or find a better straw than appearing to fight the PFDJ on its own turf: national defence and Ethiopia’s hide & seek.
“The people” is a collective noun that refers to individuals that cannot be distinguished from one another. Shared among them is the natural instinct of survival and an exclusive preoccupation with making a living from one day to the next. In an ideal world, the politicians, bureaucrats, institutions, constitutions and laws that we want to erect and establish as well as those that we try to destroy and demolish are all the same. “The people” do not care which side is right and which is wrong and even if they did (for all practical reasons) they would have neither appetite nor authority over those who monopolize the passwords to wisdom. They buy the least expensive of whatever is offered to them, they do what they are told to do and they follow both ends of the argument and a pay-as-you-go strategy. We see them only in opinion polls as they recklessly and constantly switch sides on convenience. The basis of aggregating these individuals in the collective of “people” is one basic principle – the “moral parity between ordinary” puppets by which in extreme situations they hug one another or shake hands across trenches whenever the bosses are not around.
The concept of “moral equality” essentially rests on the premise that ordinary people who do the actual fighting and following on both sides of conflicts and arguments are rational (in that they bid on winning horses only) yet forced conscripts who wouldn’t care to decide for themselves (because they “have no dog in the fight” to use Semere Tesfai’s coin). “Conscripts” here does not necessarily mean Sawa-Style Gffa. Say you had spent a few years as YPFDJ and boast a solid resume of beating up a few opposition sellouts in public demonstrations every now and then and you ended up so pumped and ballooned that you were thrown out of the busses a few times before you finally succeeded in making it to Sawa. Or say as her only (enko) son, you had the chance to consult your mom on whether you should join the army and obtained her blessing on considerations of pure financial remuneration to make up for the bills. And on top of that, say you had the time to heat some water, fill up the biggest shankeillo and take a deep shower where you almost passed out in my favorite T’shti, then got into grandpa gumboots, and bought a couple of mastika, a box of leikaleika and a cowboy hat before you marched like a hero in broad daylight right from the heart of meida–Harnet across the city on kombshtato to chichero.
You are still no different than the conscripts! You might have tons of questions but definitely not a single answer to whatever might happen at chichero and beyond. Once the machine starts rolling you are no more human and you are all the same. Strangely enough people will start treating you as such. And as long as you are just a screw “with a helical thread, and topped with a slotted head” institutional machines (opposition and regime alike) will just treat you for what you are.
I am not trying to act like an innocent lamb caught among “the people” in a limbo “of the righteous who died before the coming of Christ”. I actually am “the opposition” (feel free to forward any calls) and just like any of the “les chiens de cuisine” at the Ghion Hotel in Addis, I have a hidden agenda. And “here we go again”: let us stop fighting the PFDJ on its own terms and let us create our own terms. Let us stop criticizing the PFDJ on the only thing that it is doing right and exactly by the black book of ancient tricks, national defence and everything flowing into it (and say “Bravo Mr. President” genuinely this time). Instead, let us focus on the one and only thing it is doing wrong: turning itself into a Neo-Nazi regime of ethnic supremacists. Eritrea’s problem is not about competing on ways to “safeguard the achievements”. It is about the nature and interpretation of the achievements themselves and the baggage of logical sequences of expected conformity of national priorities that come with each of those achievements.
Working on this will definitely get us one thing and give us two other things to choose from. It will surely threaten the existence of the nation (as you have had in your head since 1890) in a much more profound way. We would then be competing with the PFDJ on the “risks to existence” agenda. What we have to understand very clearly is that, what matters to “the people” in terms of ranking the three priorities of “existence”, “wellbeing” and “prosperity” is not whether there is “risk” per se, but whether this risk is closer or further to the “existence” concern. It doesn’t matter at all whether the risk to existence is coming from a man-made border conflict in the south, a God-made tsunami in the north, a McDonald-made obesity in the belly, or an accidental fragmentation in the centre. The degree to which you can command the people’s ears is proportional to the extent to which you can shake the foundation of their being as a collective united by rational fear and greed. You have a very good argument if your mind is working on the counterproof that: ‘the opposition threatens Eritrea’s existence (by relaxing on Weyane’s lap “on a hidden agenda”) but does not command the people’s ears’. You should know better that Weyane’s hidden agenda isn’t good enough. Twelve years since the last war is more than enough to see results.
If you think you can get the people’s sympathy by attributing to the PFDJ problems such as human trafficking or organ trading that even the mighty United Nations can never hope to resolve, I think you are missing a screw in the back of your head. If you are trying to appeal to the moral high ground of the prison guards of Abu Ghuraib on human rights violations at Eilla Erro (thanks SG), and are trying to convince us that either of them happened because one guard is better than the other, you seriously need a joint right now to carry you through the good old memories and flashbacks of “anta bEray”, “anta hall’ay” and “anta adgi”. Enjoy!
I wish I could contribute to my brother SG’s as always out of the box initiative of even entertaining the possibility of interviewing “The” President. I, however, think it is a perfect idea and go for it. Who knows, it might be a good omen of good days to come. It is definitely the tip of an iceberg of a major shift in our collective thinking.
My suggestion is: don’t even think of it unless you convince yourself that whether you like it or not: he is a Head of State and “that seat” deserves the respect that it represents. An don’t do it if you already know the truth and have concluded that he shouldn’t be where he is or have already judged that what he is doing is right or wrong. Don’t do it if you are planning on advocating for a prisoner or a victim or a trashed nation. Do it only if you will act as a journalist and meet his expectations of a neutral (af’follo) journalist whose only motivation is to discover and relay the truth “as is” for “the people” to buy and sell. Good luck!