20 Years Of Indignity: Introduction
For over a month now, the People’s Front for Democracy & Justice (PFDJ), Eritrea’s ruling regime and the sole party allowed in the country, has been celebrating its own “achievements” and how the last 20 years of its uncontested rule have been “20 years of dignity.” Since there is no opposition party, nor a free press to challenge its claims, and since most of Eritrea’s intellectuals, like most intellectuals in the world, measure their success not by the truth they speak but their proximity to power, the PFDJ can live in its own BegiE ab Alemu: the Sheep & Its Parallel Universe. Thus, a state-controlled media celebrates freedom of information; a party-controlled labor union celebrates the absence of an independent labor union; a country that has made the country a ghost town celebrates the achievements of its tourism industry.
Eritrea, under the rule of PFDJ, has seen nothing but uninterrupted indignity. The last 20 years have been a chronicle of humiliation of the ordinary citizen: senseless wars fought over nothing only to follow in dishonorable surrender; land lost; people displaced; youth dispersed; old men and women humiliated; religious leaders disrespected; children separated from their parents to be raised by the State at conscription centers….the list is endless.
To be sure, there is nothing new about the dictatorship of Isaias Afwerki exaggerating its meager “accomplishments”: all tyrants do that because they have no sense of proportion. The North Korean propaganda machine referred to Kim Il Sung as “The Peerless Patriot” and “The Greatest Leader Of Our Time.” Nor is it shocking that a freedom fighter would end up being a tyrant: Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro were once freedom fighters. Nor are Isaias Afwerki’s eccentricities unique: Turkemestan’s Niyazov named the months of the year after his family; Libya’s Qaddaffi, so used to absolute power, could not understand the African Union’s (AU) rotating chairmanship and its insistence that he step down. Some tyrants wear uniforms; others, like Isaias, wear suits. What they all have in common is absolute addiction to power, and to do whatever it takes to maintain it. And what it takes, in every case, is converting the country into an outdoor prison; closing it up from “foreign intervention” and then pursuing policies to disrupt the neighborhood or to declare propaganda wars on nations which are not their size, so as to distract the attention of their long-suffering citizens. Isaias Afwerki’s rambling attacks against the West, his militarization of the State, his arrest and exile of tens of thousands of Eritreans, and his pursuit of economic progress via command economy are straight from the tyrant’s playbook.
Just Another Dictatorship
Thus, of the long list of disappointments that the Eritrean regime has served up the citizens of Eritrea, converting the country into just another dictatorship has to top the list if only because Eritrea, as one of the newest nations in Africa, was supposed to have learned from the growing pains of African nation states which became countries, in the strictest sense, only in the 1960s.
The short name for the ruling regime is the People’s Front, two words left over from its origins as the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF.) The EPLF had made many promises to the Eritrean people who were enlisted to support it (feed it, clothe it, shelter it, and provide its manpower): peace, democracy, justice and progress. In the last 20 years, the People’s Front has failed in all four: it has mired the nation in one war or another; it has not only re-neged on democracy but its Chairman (Isaias Afwerki) has claimed that it never promised democracy despite the recorded interviews he gave that, for Eritrea, multi-party democracy is non-negotiable; it has created a police state where the citizen has no guarantee to face his accuser, to defend himself, or to due process; and it has reduced the country to a state of permanent malnourishment.
Over the next several parts of this series, we are going to provide and summarize information on the utterly dismal record of the People’s Front. If there were democracy, free press, and a justice system in Eritrea, if the country had the rule of law, there is no question that the dictator would be, at the very least, impeached and forced to resign and, more probably, charged with his crimes and held accountable for the crimes against the people of Eritrea.
Of course, when we say “if the country had the rule of law”, we literally mean not just there is no rule of law, but also nobody knows what the law is. Is it the “laws” that governed the EPLF when it was a liberation front? Is it the Ethiopian Civil Code, 1960 amended by Proclamation No. 2/1991, Transitional Civil Code of Eritrea, Vol. 1/1991 and made effective the year of independence? Is it the ratified Eritrean Constitution of 1997? Is it a combination? Nobody knows, and the tyrant has kept this deliberately vague to evade accountability under the law.
This is why awate.com’s appeal has never been to laws of dubious authority but to morality, universal law and Eritrean customary laws. On all of those, Isaias Afwerki and his outlaw clique have been criminally negligent, sadistic, cruel, and inhumane. No more so than in the most important responsibility that a government is tasked with: protecting Eritrean people and Eritrean lands. This is why we will begin our series with “20 Eritrea’s of Indignity: Gambling With Eritrean Lives.”