A Crisis of a Ruling Regime or An International Conspiracy? A Glance at the Administration of the Battle
(This document was sent to awate.com by Tesfai Sherif and is being republished for the third time in 14 years. After publishing it for the second time ten-years ago, we still find it relevant to today’s Eritrea. 3/20/2015)
Editor’s Note: In mid-April 2001, we received the following message from the author of the article which follows: “Greetings…I send the enclosed to awate.com hoping it will be fit for publishing in the Internet through awate.com. It is the view of an EPLF cadre and was translated [to English] from another language. The name [of the author] might be a pseudo-name. Your compatriot, Tesfai Sherif, Asmara, April 12, 2001.” We responded: “Dear Tesfai Sherif, Any input especially from those who are inside the system is very welcome. We salute all democratic patriots who aspire to see a better Eritrea where fairness and justice rules and where the dignity of Eritreans is claimed back. On this occasion, we would like to extend our greetings and solidarity in your just struggle.” Originally published in April 19, 2001, the document has achieved a classic status and the identity of “Tesfai Sherif” a subject of much speculation with many of our readers who are often asking us for a copy. Recently, we learned that the archived copy is missing and we are re-publishing it, after placing sub-headings for ease of reading. Enjoy!
The morning of May 12, 2000, when the third round of the fighting which officially started on May 12, 1998 with the declaration of the Ethiopian parliament, was astonishing for all those who thought that Ethiopia will not start the war.
Ethiopia’s threats of war are nothing more than an attempt to exploit the international public opinion by exerting a psychological pressure on all those who feared the incidence of catastrophes in the region. Doing this was intended to secure Ethiopia their diplomatic support and indulgence and assist the conviction that Eritrea should be pressured to follow a different course of action. This would in turn strengthen the regional and international position of Ethiopia as a country, which possesses both force and the right to use it but is diligent enough not to use it. An added advantage was to absorb the public dissent against the ruling minority ethnic group inside Ethiopia, the deterioration of the economic situation, the widespread famine and the culmination of the activity of opposition forces. All these were intended to be countered by envisaging a foreign aggression.
The achievement of this scenario had no place in the mind of Eritrea’s formal centers including those who had no doubt that the third round of fighting will start. More than that, these centers were confident of victory when the fighting takes place. This impression was further engraved in the calculations of the general Eritrean public both inside and outside the country. However, Eritrea chose not to take the initiative for purely strategic diplomatic considerations, leaving the Ethiopian side to decide when, where and how to start the attack. It was later discovered that the estimations of the Eritrean leadership was not accurate as it was in only one day that the Ethiopian troops managed to advance deep into Eritrean territory. The Ethiopian forces broke one of the most important fronts.
It was clear that the numerical and armaments superiority was not the only reason for this early penetration, which was unexpected even to the Ethiopian forces. The Ethiopians smuggled their troops through an unguarded part of the front that was used by both sides to infiltrate their military intelligence personnel, a fact that demonstrates the tactical and intelligence superiority of the Ethiopian side. Although the Ethiopian army suffered severe military losses amounting to 2 SU25 airplanes, a fighter helicopter and 16 tanks in only the first 3 days of fighting, it did not stop until it reached the outskirts of Barentu town in the fourth day marching over the bodies of more than 27,000 of its members. Seeing the military methodology that the Ethiopian army has been following right from the start of the war, the number of casualties may be enormous. On the fifth day of fighting, the Eritrean government declared its withdrawal from Barentu, following a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that lasted for 45 minutes. That day was the worst day for Eritrea.
The occupation has added a new impetus to the Ethiopian army, as Barentu was the capital city of the largest Eritrean administrative regions that represents the country’s food basket in addition to its strategic location along the road linking Eritrea with the Sudan. It was evident that Ethiopia had the upper hand as far as troop numbers was concerned as the victory had a potential of being exploited to lengthen the age of the ruling Tigryan ethnic minority regime. This was achieved in spite of the enormous human losses, which were not unexpected to the Tigrayan military commanders.
Although the Eritrean army managed to maintain its human and logistical capacity, the very fact that the entire western front was broken had thrown a huge morale damage upon the Eritrean people. A real human catastrophe was at hand as a great portion of the inhabitants of those areas were forced to flee their homes. These were either displaced and became homeless or fled to take refuge in the Sudan. The new refugees added to those of the sixties and seventies at a time when preparations were underway to repatriate 163,000 of the long-time refugees from the Sudan starting from May 2000, the month when the fighting of the 3rd round started.
At the political level, the border conflict came back to square one and the TPLF was given a new bouncing ground which could enable it to extend the age of its rule in the absence of effective political forces which could mobilize the Ethiopian people into a robust political struggle against the regime and create a viable political alternative that changes the “history” and “Sea” complex that dominates Ethiopian preoccupation about Eritrea. Following the battles of the central front as well as the battles of the Alitiena-Mereb front and prior to the start of the battles of the Assab front which were much more intensive and concentrated in the military sense, Eritrea declared its withdrawal to its May 1998 positions.
Several important and legitimate questions concerning the way we dealt with the conflict that came up with a neighboring state, which used the border issue as a pretext to hide the real motives and all of a sudden turned into questioning the very existence of a sovereign state and people. The most important of these questions included the following:
- Why did we reject the American proposal right from the start when it is the same proposal that we have received today after the great human, material and moral losses that the two years war has caused?
- Wouldn’t it be possible to avoid all the losses by accepting the proposal when it was tabled?
- Why do we feel weaker and retreat into giving concessions whenever a new battle is fought? Accepting the Framework Agreement when we lost Badime; followed by suddenly accepting all the in Algiers, and recently followed by withdrawal from Badime. Wasn’t it possible to calculate the political and military losses before the fighting actually took place?
- Why did we lead our people into believing in absolute victory and total contempt of the enemy as was evident in the meetings of the authorities and the people without mobilizing it to accept any potential losses or at least imply the force of the other party?
- Do we have the necessary political, diplomatic and administrative capacity? Did we utilize our, existing human, material, organizational and intellectual capabilities effectively?
- Why did our relations with the neighboring countries deteriorate in the past few years? Was it because of the evil will of those neighbors or because due to our ill treatment of the issues of good neighborliness?
These questions are being asked by lay-men in the streets, politicians, intellectuals and even high-ranking officials in the state. I do not believe that these questions are caused by the psychological impact of the fighting or motivated by an evil intention will aim at throwing the responsibility upon certain individuals. On the contrary, these questions were being fermented in the minds of every citizen and were postponed because victory was the ultimate objective for which all means were left free of any reins.
After Barentu, hopes were high that victory will come in the remaining three fronts, namely the central front, the Alitiena-Mereb front and the Burie front. On 23 May 2000, fighting started at the central front and the Alitiena-Mereb front. The pushing Ethiopian army tried to achieve victory in the first few hours of the fighting which started at 4:30 a.m., and was forced to retreat bearing huge human and material losses amounting to 5 Mig 23 and 21 fighter planes. However, dramatic developments took place in the third day of the fighting. The OAU appeal to withdraw to the May 1998 positions, to stop fighting and to start negotiations without any preconditions was accepted and consequently Eritrean forces withdrew from Zalembessa. Although such a position was not new in nature, the acceptance of the appeal in such a situation did cause a disturbance to every Eritrean. What made it more perplexing was that most people believed our army was not only in a better position but also had the upper hand according to a statement made by the director of the Office of the President to the CNN. It was also stated that our army had advanced nine kilometers inside Ethiopian territory along the Alitiena-Mereb front.
On 6th June 2000 the Eritrean government issued a blurred statement in which it confirmed that the Ethiopian army withdrew from all Eritrean territories in western Eritrea. That was the moment when the Ethiopian army was vandalizing the villages in upper region and was advancing towards the town of Teseney. The Eritrean statement was based on statements given by the Ethiopian Minister of Defense and Prime Minister declaring the termination of the war. Following these statements the battles of Teseney and Assab were carried out in a Marathon speed before the signing of the Agreement on the Secession of Hostilities in Algiers on 18 June 2000.
The curtains of the political, diplomatic and military theaters of the fighting were far from being closed as the Ethiopians tried to invest every gain to influence the content of the agreements signed under the auspices of the OAU, UN and the US government. The first fruits of their victory became evident in their ability to impose a security zone 25 kms. wide inside Eritrean territory, which was a best result scenario that the Ethiopians dreamed of at the beginning of the conflict with a possible achievement of rendering demarcation irrelevant. Whatever the results of the political formulae for the resolution of the conflict and the Eritrean people’s lack of confidence in our ability to manage the fighting, one may attribute the reasons of failure to the following subjective shortcomings of the state:
- The absence of institutionalized system of work in Eritrea and the lack of clarity in drawing the internal and external policies;
- The weakness of the intelligence service or the absence of its role;
- The non-qualification of the military commanders in terms of military and administrative expertise and the control of the war by non-military persons.
What does institutionalized work mean? I don’t think there is any contention among the holders of different ideologies or theories as to what institutionalization means. Although there might be some differences in understanding, the general conception is that an institution is a group on rules and guidelines that specifies the rights and duties of individuals and groups and organizes their relations in the framework of a structure where the most important component is accountability and participation in decision-making. Institutional work might be described as being contrary to individualized work and both are totally different. However, an institution may include both the institutional and the individual aspects in running its functions and in this case it becomes either semi-institutional or semi individualistic. The clear-cut difference lies in whether it is the individual represented in the person of the manager or president that decides everything purely depending his personal charisma and whims which are necessarily far from perfection or whether it is the institution that takes decisions by the consultation of those with the necessary expertise in accordance to a clearly defined organizational structure that specifies the mandates, duties and limits of responsibility especially when the issue concerns public interest in the case of a cooperative society or a state.
In the case of a state, institutionalism expresses itself in the form of the following:
- The national constitution;
- An elected parliament;
- A civil society composed of crafts or professional associations, independent syndicates, popular organizations, political parties, individual notables with considerable social and cultural weight and an independent press.
The ideas, aspirations and feelings of the society are channeled through these veins to feed into the centers of decision-making concerning political, economic policies and the issues of war and peace and other issues deciding the destiny of the population provided that a system of accountability, transparency and responsibility is set in place. The question that poses itself is: do we in Eritrea where the age of our independent nation is only 10 years, have something of all these?
Formally we do have a constitution that has not been implemented yet, although some of its provisions, namely those concerning language and civil law, which are crucial matters in a pluralistic society, do not express the aspirations of a wide sector of our people. The most important problem hampering the establishment of institutionalization lies in freezing the constitution. It is evident that revolutionary traditions and mentality dominated the thinking of our leadership. The strong inclination towards individualism in the political decision-making has also been a major obstacle to the development of institutions with the exception of the current war situation that has exploded with Ethiopia since two years ago.
I.A.2 Parliament & The Council of Ministers
There is also a parliament where half of the members are the members of the Central Committee of the organization who were elected in accordance with the organizational traditions in which candidates were predetermined in lists prepared by the organizational leadership, and specifically by the Chairman of the organization, and not on the basis of expertise or trust of the electorate. The other half is composed of ordinary citizens elected by the general public in an election where no adequate preconditions were laid down. The defect lies not on the existence of such a parliament but on its functioning as even the most fabricated parliament in the world functions a thousand times better than this parliament.
The National Assembly does not even have an office and does not hold regular sessions. It is presided by the President of the state who calls for sessions to convene whenever he wishes to do so. The purposes of most of the meetings are for enlightenment about developments or for hearing the reports of the cabinet of ministers and for approving them. The meetings have never come out with resolutions with the exception of pointing out, in the concluding communiqué’, to the importance of the issues that were discussed. There hasn’t been any voting system and the national assembly has never asked executive personnel or taken disciplinary steps to correct him as a legislative body controlling the executive body would be expected to do. It is only the President that is mandated with the first and last say on the concluding statements of the assembly.
I think the basic reason for all these lies in the Marxists traditions of the organization and the negligence of those in charge towards the magnitude of their responsibilities. Moreover, the strength of the personality of the President and his inclination towards contempt of institutionalization and towards dwarfing the capabilities of his companions as well as his interest in having a say on everything, has greatly contributed to rendering the institution a mere puppet.
The Council of Ministers is totally ineffective. Any member in the council of ministers is appointed and expelled to and from the council by a letter from the President for reasons that are exclusively known only to the President. The Council does not have regular meetings and its sessions are limited to each Minister presenting the report of his Ministry and to listening to a briefing by the President on the current situation of the country. Major national issues such as foreign, security and economic policies are not discussed seriously.
The council does not have any voting system concerning the issues that are raised in the meeting and it is the President that declares the opening and the closing of the meetings, inconsiderate of the holders of a different opinion in the council. I don’t think the President returns to the council of ministers when he decides to establish new ministries or appoint new ministers or firing existing ministers. Neither does he return to any party when whenever he appoints new officials as the appointment is not declared by any proclamation except an internal circular. Some people, especially foreigners, deal with ministers or general directors who have been fired from the posts as if they were still in the same positions. May this be excused by the situation of war or the imperative of developing the country economically? The legitimate question that may arise can be: is the minister a professional appointee whose mandate relates to his expertise on the issues entrusted to him or is he a political appointee who bears full national responsibility on what he does?
A. 3: Civil Society
The civil society in Eritrea does not have any effective existence. This might be due to the situation of displacement, destruction and anxiety that the Eritrean people have been exposed to for a long time before independence. The component parts of a civil are spontaneously developed entities and may not develop in a non-democratic environment. The only existing structures are the mass organizations of the workers, women and youth that were established by the organization during the armed struggle.
These mass organizations belonged to the organization. Moreover, their organizational make-up does not enable them to represent the aspirations of the masses whose names they bear. Political parties are non-existent and the leadership of the organization developed a historical phobia regarding the establishment of political organizations or parties ever since both the EPLF and the ELF adopted the policy of “the field does not bear more that one organization”. Although this policy imposed by the need to excuse the infiltration of either organization to the other, it later became the EPLF’s theory for the achievement of national unity and economic & social development. However this theory may have positive implications, the non-existence of political forces that compete with the PFDJ has caused a stagnation in the operational development of the efficiency of the organization and the government which became the main reason for administrative procrastination, nepotism, corruption and bureaucratic retardation as well as the negligence towards the crucial issues of the development of the nation and the society.
These cases are continuing to grow and flourish in spite of some sentimental restrictions that are being placed without any legal or institutional justifications. As we are evaluating the causes of the defeat in the latest round of fighting, the question that we may raise is: what relation does institutionalization have with victory or defeat in a battle?
I. B. Monopolizing Power
In his book titled: ‘The storms of war and the storms of peace,‘ the great writer Mr. Mohammed Hasenein Haykel states:
The responsibility of peace and war making is too great to be left for the decision of a single person, even if he is a head of a state or a popular leader with a paramount popular support. The risks of wide popular participation in this process may waste one opportunity, but the risks of the monopoly of decision-making by one person may result into a real catastrophe.
These words are not a result of abstract theoretical assumptions, but stem from the experience of a country that is geographically not far from us but is more than a century far from us in all respects of life especially in the cultural and institutional fields. He was referring to the era of President Anwar Al-Sadat who underestimated the role of the ancient institutions in his country and surrounded himself by a group of his trusted friends whose main role was to applaud and present statements of loyalty instead of presenting ideas and advises which could necessarily be presented only by the experts whom he did not like not because they were traitors but because he could not stand.
Finally he totally monopolized all decision-making and started to claim perfection and contempt everything, until he was hated by all Egyptians and ended in the most tragic way. This incident took place in a country with relatively strong institutions. In a small, newly born poor country endowed with a pluralistic society and is still feeling its way to identify itself where utilizing the capacity of every individual is a crucial imperative, monopolizing power by an individual becomes a double catastrophe.
If we accept what Haykel said as applicable to our situation too, why don’t we dare to look into our own face? Who are we and what situation do we live in? It is true that we are a sovereign state, but we are loaded with a revolutionary tradition, which has its impact on our behaviors and the actions of government sectors because it IS built-in in our thinking and its influence is felt in all government operations and even in the whole life-style of our society. The most important expression is seen in the vagueness of public policies, the assignment of responsibilities and accountability. If one becomes more specific and precise, the crucial issues of foreign policy, security, defense, economy, education and others may be seen against this reality. How are these important national components administered? As we evaluate the relations of war and institutionalization, the issues of foreign policy, security and defense count among the top priority. How have we been dealing with these issues both before the current conflict with Ethiopia started and after that?
I. C. Foreign Policy
Assuming that the basic aim of establishing relations for every country is to exchange benefits and interests with its counterparts as well as to strengthen its ability to face dangers when they come, diplomatic literature summarizes the main activities of the task of diplomacy in the following three areas:
- Observing the development of trends and incidents;
- Protecting the interests of the state;
- Negotiating on whatever concerns the state;
In this connection, the head of the department of international law and ex-dean of the faculty of law at the University of Alexandria, Dr. Ali Al-Sadik Abuheif, says:
Observing whatever touches the interests of the state without falling into the trap of partisan inclinations is a difficult task that requires scrutinizing information with great care and ascertaining their objectivity in such a way that avoids mistakes caused by misinformation as great care is also required in their coordination and analyzing what may be useful and requires the state to be informed of it.
The protection of the interests of nationals requires observing the implementation of agreements and conformity with the norms of international law. It also requires intervention at a proper time to prevent any imbalances with regard to the legal rights and interests of the nationals. If that is not possible, requests should be presented for improvement and compensation at the incidence of jurisdiction. All these should be done with strict care to discreet communication considerate of the cultural and other characteristics of the counterparts in such a way that it only implies to them what should be done without commanding them to do it and convince them of the seriousness of the matter before surprising them with deeds.
The task of Negotiation covers a range of purposes both with the aim of straightening the problems of the past and paving the way for future relations. It also serves as a preliminary task for the signing of agreements and conventions which are the grounds by which the relations are formalized and strengthened. If these are the main building stones of diplomacy, how are things processed in Eritrea?
Do we have a researched foreign policy or do we work on a day-to-day basis? With respect to the foreign policy issue, the general perception has been that we do not have a clear strategy to deal with states in accordance to their political, geographic and economic importance. All our behaviors show that we have been dealing with our diplomatic relations subject to our emotions, whims, reactions and subjective anticipation, which have dominated the factors of national interests. This has significantly influenced our treatment of different nations. The foreign policy rhetoric has been reflecting the fact that we are ignorant as to the norms that govern diplomatic relations.
We started our first homework as an independent state with a fierce attack upon Saudi Arabia in our mass media, followed by an attack upon the OAU at its regular summit held in Cairo in 1993. We also attacked, through statements made by our highest government officials, the Arab League of Nations expressing contempt on its role and effectiveness. We severed our diplomatic relations with the Sudan abruptly and threatened to overthrow the regime in a few months inconsiderate of our interests in this neighboring state where a third of our population still live as refugees, employees and traders in different towns and villages within its borders. The reason that we claimed was the support given by the Sudanese government to the Eritrean Jihad group which is essentially superficial since this group does not possess the popularity that may enable it to threaten the stability of our nation and society. Moreover, our language of describing the international system of relations was so blunt that it roused the anger of the great powers.
We described the international system by saying: “the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the domination of the world by one country has resulted into a relationship of subjugation among states”. Such statements were said by high-ranking government officials although everybody may read that such statements did not coincide with the reality of our tiny developing country. However, such statements may reflect the stuffed grudges of the poor countries, which necessarily alerts the rich western countries that view the new world order as the culmination of a perfect social system.
I.C.1 – OAU
We have still not gained the membership of any regional organization with the exception of the OAU, which is historically dominated by Ethiopia. This influence was clearly demonstrated during the two years of our conflict with Ethiopia. Our membership in the OAU has been forced by the destiny of our geographic reality irrespective of the previous positions of this organization on the Eritrean case, which did not preclude some of its member states to take a positive position with regard to our just cause.
I.C.2 – Arab League
Although we have established diplomatic relations with many Arab states, our reluctance to become members of the Arab League of Nations has been the main cause of the reservation of many of the Arab states that supported us during the armed struggle. Membership in the Arab league, irrespective of whether the organization is effective or not and whether Eritreans are Arabs or not, has also been the demand of a considerable part of the Eritrean population resulting from their cultural and religious links with the Arab world. We did not only reject the membership of this organization, but have also been responding with great sensitivity and emotion to every question posed by a simple journalist with regard to this issue. This behavior had a great impact of the non-response of many Arab countries to our requests for support in several occasions although they did not deny the justice of our cause. The Arab reaction during our conflict with Yemen over the Hanish-Zuqar islands, our conflict with the Sudan which threatened our national security, and even our current conflict with Ethiopia which is targeting our very existence have clearly shown the reservation of the Arabs towards Eritrea. On the contrary these counties have shown a great sympathy with Eritrean opposition groups and continue to support them under different pretexts, in spite of their undisputed knowledge that these groups obtain the reasons of their existence from the mistakes that we commit both internally and externally.
I.C.3 – NGOs
The expulsion of NGOs and their description as immoral and inhuman was the peak of our challenging encounter with the western powers that view them as the most important means of materializing the new world order. Were these undertakings researched at least at the lowest levels? And if they were actually studied by academicians, researchers, or experts of international cooperation, were they ever presented to the National Assembly or the Council of Ministers or at least to the Central Committee of the organization for discussion and approval? If the proposals were actually studied, then the blame lies on those who conducted the researches as well as the legislative and executive bodies that approved them. And if they were the result of the personal initiatives of the President of the state, then here lies the real problem which actually becomes a double catastrophe.
I.C.4 – Ethiopia
After independence the only country that we trusted was Ethiopia in spite of the knowledge of every cadre in the organization and its leadership that the TPLF had evil plans which it demonstrated in the eighties in an undisputed manner. We seemed to forget whatever might have aroused suspicions although what our President stated by saying “we are thinking beyond what is called the border” and “we are ready to found a confederation with Ethiopia” does not represent the thinking of the organization’s cadres or the feelings of the Eritrean people who could not forget the wounds of the past just because an ethnic minority which congratulated Eritrean independence, not because it could change the developments on the ground but because it would have been the first loser of opposing Eritrea’s independence, has come to power in Ethiopia.
In many agreements of bilateral cooperation we did not make the necessary reservations such as the compensation for the pensioners and demanding for war reparations which are legally acceptable demands and do not affect the bilateral political relations between countries which have agreed on the principle of national independence. This great appreciation of the leadership of the TPLF would have been in harmony if the other side also demonstrated a similar feeling even at the superficial level. However, the TPLF leadership did not hide their feelings and intent.
Issues such as claiming the ownership of “Badime” and “Bada” are nothing new. These claims started in the eighties although there was an intentional negligence from our side, for which we do not know the reasons. Moreover, the Ethiopians were unilaterally demarcating the places and creeping gradually towards the Gash River, probably to materialize the ancient map of old Tigray known as “Mereb-Milash”. Since 1994, the administrations of the Gash Barka region as well as our consulate in Mekele were sending reports notifying of developments concerning this issue. These reports were, however, neglected with contempt by the concerned government authorities in Eritrea and were viewed as the result of unjustified emotions. The activities of changing the marks across the border by the Tigrayan militias were described as being the deeds of some fanatics in the Zonal Administration and were not adopted by the TPLF, which was taken as a strategic friend, as an organization.
In 1997 there came a new development as all the Eritrean inhabitants were deported from Badime in an organized manner. This incident was pictured by the Eritrean Television, which also conducted some interviews with the deportees, but the program was prohibited from being broadcast. The village of Adi-Murug in the Bada area was also occupied in about the same time. In spite of all these developments, banning any information from the public and misinformation of the public continued as it was. I doubt if even the above mentioned institutions were informed of what was happening, let alone discussing the developments or drawing plan to challenge them or studies to provide consultancy to those in charge. Such a situation is difficult to imagine.
Modem history has not witnessed any President who concealed the information that his territory has been occupied, from his own people, ministers and army and whose only preference was to appeal to the invader under the pretext that there are more important interests than the occupation of his land and the expulsion of his population. What could those interests really be then? Whether consciously or not the phrase “strategic relations” was repeated frequently by our officials and especially by those who served as diplomats in Ethiopia. The same situation continued even after the occupation of Adi-Murug in which case it might have been intended to justify what had happened in a situation where the excuse was worse than the original misgiving. After the explosion of the conflict all efforts were aimed at mobilizing every bit of the national capabilities towards facing a tangible danger and a surely expected victory based on the assumption that the enemy we were fighting was ignorant. Nobody knows what our military and diplomatic plans have been and whether there was room for any marginal concessions to avoid the risk of war as we are a small nation and are in need of saving our national resources instead of being cornered into fighting the war. This, however, must not imply an underestimation of the factor of protecting the national pride. It is only intended to refer to the importance of consulting, an issue where there is no contention that we lack it very much not only in this case but also in all other cases.
The objectives of the Tigrayans were not clear to the cadres as well as to the general public, as the sudden shift from the status of a strategic friend to a fierce enemy was perplexing to everybody. However, the historic Ethiopian animosity towards Eritrea and the alertness of the Eritrean people towards the possibility of the return of the colonizers in addition to their knowledge of the mentality of the TPLF and the consequent public suspicion of the relations that existed at that time enabled us to absorb the shock. It was not the President’s sudden discovery of the Ethiopian plot that mobilized the Eritrean people in such a surprising speed. This was a major blow to the Eritrean government’s policy that bided everything in establishing strategic relations with Ethiopia where a significant sector of its population could still not swallow the independence of Eritrea.
Irrespective of whether the objective of the Tigrayans was to expand the area of the Tigray administrative zone or whether it was to control Eritrea and establish a satellite government in it or whether it was to divide Eritrea into ethnic entities in order to enable it to establish the Tigray-Tigrigna project, it was appropriate to present the choice of war and peace for discussion by the council of ministers or the executive committee of the organization. It was necessary to subject the selection of the negotiating team to consultation so that they could be chosen on the basis of their expertise. It was evident that this was not done, as the President’s statements, which were adopted as policy following every television interview, became the only reference the cadres of the organization as well as for government officials.
I.C.5 – Great Lakes
With regard to our regional relations, the most stupid move we made was our interference in the affairs of the Great Lakes region. I don’t know what was actually meant by that. We sent our army to a region which may be called the Balkans of Africa in addition to its being a region of conflict of interests between the companies of two of the major powers of the world, the USA and France. Were we representing the US? And was it in need of that? If that was the case, what did we get in return, as every service should have a price? What were the interests that were envisaged in a region where Eritrea does not have any geographic, historic or cultural links? We do not have any economic interests in that region as several countries, such as the Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, with much greater economic capabilities lie between Eritrea and the Great Lakes. Why did any of those countries interfere to support one of the parties if economic interests could be guaranteed by a military intervention in the support of one of the parties fighting in a conflict purely ignited by internal factors? Some of the cadres who were supportive of Eritrea’s role in the Great Lakes region were excusing it to the existence of markets for the products of our factories whose markets were restricted to Ethiopian. This wisdom is based on the perception that we have become an imperialist state which opens market by its troops, which I think is top ignorance.
Our President, who is actually the President of the newest, poorest and smallest state in our region, spoke to the leaders of the countries of the Great Lakes region as if they were students expected to learn from his experience and expertise. Because of this ignorant perception and because of our adventurous and childish policies, we were subjected to the contempt of others who considered us to be ignorant of the basics of diplomatic relations and of trying to preach Plato’s’ idealistic ambitions aiming at creating an exceptional situation in the Horn of Africa which is plagued with poverty, famines and wars. What added to the absurdity of the attempt was that, this Horn of African Utopia was to be imposed by Eritrea. What maters is whether the idea was presented to either the national assembly or the council of ministers or the central committee of the organization. I don’t think it was ever presented to any such body, otherwise it would have been subjected to discussion and would have definitely been rejected because it is really difficult to convince anybody with such an idea. The problem lies in neglecting the existing infant institutions irrespective of the quality of the people who them make-up, although I do not suspect the capacity and seriousness of the cadres of the organizations if the issues were ever presented to them for discussion. Are we carrying on the same route without stopping to look into ourselves? Until when?
I.C.6. – A Weak Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In the rich developed countries all diplomatic personnel starting from the Ambassador to the lowest ranks, are appointed on purely professional considerations, although in some cases political appointments, for partisan considerations or considerations related to preserving social balance, may exist with respect to Ambassadors or councilors or may be First secretaries. We haven’t been following and clear guidelines for the appointment of our diplomats, resulting into emotional appointments that are not based on any factors of experience or expertise or studied political calculations. This has influenced the functioning of our embassies, which became choked with unqualified individuals who could not deal with the diplomatic and consular responsibilities of the embassies. This was carried out at the expense of the state and has thrown the blame on government and the PFDJ. The general conception is that our embassies have not been able to communicate with both the Eritrean nationals abroad as well as the formal and informal counterparts of the hosting countries.
The institutional weakness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rendered it totally dependent on the Office of the President. Although it is customary that the relationship between the foreign service and the head of state is very close in all countries, it is the institutionalized contribution of the foreign service that strengthens the foreign policies of the government by participating the process of decision-making. Did we make efforts to build an institution that can accomplish these tasks? Definitely no, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would be expected to accumulate, experience has been vulnerable to a severe instability of its personnel and has so far witnessed four ministers after independence. Similarly the diplomatic personnel have also been very instable to the extent that most Ambassadors have a high feeling of job insecurity. Changes, which do not depend on any institutional criteria, are left to continue. Structural changes do not seem to settle down in the current shape although there is no logical evidence that the new structure introduced anything better than what the old structure had. Supporting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with new technical and professional personnel as well as institutionalizing its operations in such a. way that every political decision, foreign policy and even event-specific statement may be subjective to in-depth professional scrutiny will definitely have a profound positive role in following sensible policies with the neighbors as well as the world at large. The will never happen unless our leadership is convinced of the importance of institutionalization.
I.D. INTERNAL POLICIES IN VARIOUS FIELDS
I. D.1. Economic and Monetary Policies: Theory & Practice
Our economic policies advocate “free market economy and free competition” in such a way that everything is decided in the market in accordance to the laws of demand and supply. Accordingly, the government has since a considerable amount of time been working towards the privatization of large enterprises previously owned by and inherited from the Ethiopian government. However, there is a clear contradiction between what we believe on, in theory, and what is actually on the ground.
Many investors are complaining from the customs and bureaucratic barriers, the retarded performance or government institutions, the ill behaviors of the employees as well as their poor communication skills. Access to land has been the major problem facing both national and foreign investors, leading investors, especially those coming from the Gulf States, to prefer Ethiopia. This was also true for Eritrean investors until the border conflict with Ethiopia erupted. This makes it imperative to also privatize politics, as it is impossible to envisage a privatized economy while politics is still under a monopolistic control. In other words it is difficult to harmonize between what is almost “communism” in the political life and a free market in the economic life. A market economy can only be a result of a democratic life-style or vise versa. We cannot stick to a one party system and advocate a free market economy, which are necessarily contradictory orientations both philosophically and technically.
The only possible solution is for both to be conformed: either introduce a directed economy by nationalizing all enterprises or privatize politics. The later coincides with the general orientation of our world today. This requests the joint work of all national capabilities in such a way that it considers the institution of the society, instead of depending on the efforts of individuals whose comprehension, even of Eritrean social reality, has proved to be limited. Aspects of a communist economic system are evident in the enterprises that the organization owns in wide varieties of economic sectors. This is not a taboo in its own, because protecting the society from greed of traders is necessary and important. However, extending the scope of competition to cover all traders and in all fields is an issue that contradicts the economic philosophy that we claim to believe in. Moreover, those with limited capital who make-up the growing class of national capitalists can not in any way compete with government-owned enterprises, even if we assume that the latter will not exploit their status which necessarily obstacles the development of a free market economy. Most important is that these enterprises where employees are not allowed adequate incentives to develop performance towards a free market economy are potential areas for corruption, fraud and nepotism
The corruption incidents discovered within the Red Sea Company two years ago, might partially be due to the absence of a system of accountability and inspection and partially due to the lack of trust of those caught dirty handed. The greatest part, however, lies in the lack of incentives both for the employees as well as the employer. The owner of these enterprises, the political organization, failed to set up control mechanisms that could guarantee the safe performance of its economic institutions, consequently, running the risk of being exploited in the interest of individuals categorized, by the organization or some of its cadres, as important persons or active members. Where this was done in the absence of clear parameters for the assessment of individuals, it necessarily leads to political, social and financial corruption and nepotism. It is not impossible for these enterprises to be plagues by these phenomena, as its administrative system does not expose their management to inspection and control.
I.D.2: Hiring Policies and the Just division of Wealth
In Sudan, just a few kilometers away from Eritrea, a fierce war going on for about fifty years has claimed the lives of more than one million Sudanese nationals. The cause of this war may be summarized as being caused by “unjust division of wealth and power”. What is peculiar about this is that even the part monopolizing both “wealth and power” does not deny that the unjust distribution is the cause of the war. However, it excuses the choice of war by camouflaging it with the pigments of identity, culture and religion and throws the blame on the others while protecting the privileges it has gained irrespective of how they were gained. This might be attributed to the fact that preventing privileges is a matter of instinct and finding excuses for that is a natural thing too. It is appropriate to ask: Do Eritreans share wealth and power equally? The answer is no.
More than 90% of the government’s employees belong to the Tigrigna ethnic group. This reality might have been caused by several reasons such as the low educational standards of the other groups, most cadres of the EPLF belonged to the Tigrigna. However, the major reason for not hiring the other ethnic groups lies in the problem of language. MaNy of those who received their education in the countries of the Middle East could not be admitted to work according to their specialization because the did not master the Tigrigna language. Those who were lucky to find a job were absorbed at the Ministry of Education as teachers. Most of them, however, turned their backs on the country and immigrated. Some of them probably joined the voices of opposition against the government. Some others, feeling betrayed, went to the Gulf countries to search for jobs, although the country is really in need of them. I believe that this issue represents one of the core issues of the organization’s leadership, as it touches the issues of national unity, the social and political stability and the issues of social rights and justice upon which the philosophy of the organization is based.
This might seem simple for many of us mainly because of the failure to understand what it actually means for those who were targeted. This negligence might also have been caused by the hypocrisy of attempting to become superior to unjustified emotions emanating to the sediments of social backwardness. This evasive perspective is widely spread among the leadership and the cadres of the organization. This definitely is sediment of the era of ideologies. However, the continuation of the situation as it is will be catastrophic to the nation. Should we, therefore, face this enormous national problem with all courage and consciousness or should we wait until it culminates to divide the nation between a part revolting against those privileges and another struggling to defend the privileges under nationalistic slogans and with state mechanisms. This situation, however might not be at hand now, is definitely coming!
Some countries have introduced quota systems to ensure the participation of the various ethnic, religious and social groups in both wealth and power as a legal guarantee to preserve the balance and prevent the risk of one group controlling the other. During the armed struggle enough care was taken to maintain a balance at the leadership level. However, a balance restricted to the leadership is not adequate as far as it does not reflect the existing social reality. A binding legal arrangement guaranteeing the equity of the various groups a possibility that does not endure any sort of hypocrisy or burring the heads in the sand as rights and duties should be defined in the form of legislation and systems. They should never be left to be decided by individual whims and assumption of goodwill. This may be done, not only by introducing the quota system, but also by a number of other ways. I believe that treating the problem of language would enable all citizens to compete on equal basis because the difference in the educational qualifications is not so large as to preclude the equal participation of all social groups in the employment channels.
The government has closed the Central Personnel Administration (CPA) in spite of the importance given to this institution in the constitution by allowing the government to establish a corporation of its employees. Wouldn’t it be better to enhance this institution instead of closing it until a new one is established? Whatever the reason might be, closing the CPA was not right since it has led people to feel insecure as far as their professional future is concerned. Employees have also felt insecure as to the possibility of government intervention into their rights. The monopoly of government employment by one ethnic group is a kind of government intervention into the rights of part of the citizenry either due to the absence of the proper legislation or due to lack of follow-up by the government or the organization.
Public wealth is, to a large extent, represented by the private sector especially under the current economic orientations. The infant private sector needs the facilities to develop and these facilities are manipulated by the government and the organization in both financial and procedural aspects. What may be observed today is that credit and procedural encouragement are undertaken on the basis of unknown criteria. In some cases, membership in the organization, previous or current, is taken as a criterion. However, various forms of fraud, nepotism or favoritism might be carried out under this flexible camouflage unchecked if individuals who are short sighted or unconscious of the gravity of the matter are left to decide on its fate and this category of people have a dominant existence among the cadres of the organization. Most of our cadres do not shy from exhibiting a fanatic love for the organization while they may be ignorant of the composition of their society. These things are very dangerous especially in a society loaded with all sorts of social diseases, with a high potential for corruption and saturated with the culture of nepotism, regionalism, religious sectarianism etc.
During the previous years of privatization, 27 factories were sold to the public among which only two were sold to Muslim citizens. Although this phenomenon might not be the responsibility of those who organized the sale of those factories, it still represents a dangerous indicator for the widening gap in the appropriation of wealth on religious and regional parameters. Wouldn’t it be possible to set-up some controls to evade the further widening of the gap and the increase in public dissent? This is indeed a great political issue concerning the future of the nation and should have been heeded enough attention by an organization planning to become a popular party encompassing all ethnic and social strata as it is crucial for the sustainable stability of the nation.
I.D.3: The Land Issue
The problem of land ownership is the most sophisticated problem in this country. Although the people’s attachment to their land does not vary by regions across the country as it belongs to the village or the tribe, the concerned Italian legislation has rendered land a public ownership in the lowlands while it remained to be a private property in the highlands (i.e. Risti & Dominiale). It is disappointing that this legislation has still remained effective in spite of the new government declaration shifting ownership to the state
The Dominiale law allows the nationalization of land theoretically owned by a village in such a way that it may be shifted to an individual from a different locality risking the development of a flaw in the culture of tolerance among the groups which form this society. Although the idea that land belongs to the state and may be accessed by any Eritrean seems to be just, the reality is that it actually concerns specific localities. The price will certainly be very dear if we persist on challenging sentiments.
The other system is the land tenure system where rent is paid to the owners. Although this method has become obsolete in most parts of the world as a kind of disguised slavery, this dishonorable method is still relevant in our revolutionary country which, among other things, has fought to liberate its nationals. We still have farmers who pay rent to the landlords who reside in the towns and might even not know the location of the piece of land. It is disappointing that the administrations are protecting this phenomenon under the pretext that the legislation of state ownership is still pending implementation. Is it possible for the slogan of “one people & one heart” to be realistic at a time when sentiments of inequality are evident among individuals in this society? The fact that the whole Eritrean people stood behind its government at the time when the national sovereignty has been challenged can not be an expression of public satisfaction to the existing relations between the government and its citizens as well as between the citizens and its administrations. It instead represents the high degree of national commitment of this people. The current handling of the question of land in both town residence and agriculture neither helps neither economic development nor national unity among the component groups of the society. Its change, therefore, is an issue that does not endure any procrastination or excuses.
I.D.4: Development and Monetary Issues
Eritrea is considered to be the only country that does not discuss its budget at the Cabinet of Ministers let alone at the National Assembly which is currently serving as the national parliament. National priorities are determined by the Macro Policy Office, which is composed of a single person. The office does not have any assistants with the relevant expertise and expedience and may not be described as an institution but as a single person. Everything concerning financial issues starting from the hiring of every individual employee up to the country’s development priorities are determined by the director of this office which was recently up-graded into a Ministry and the same director became its Minister. The President justifies and decides on all economic and financial issues. In the context of a level of centralization exceeding even the centralization of communist systems, it is difficult to attribute the profound growth rate that we have achieved to the wisdom of our economic policies. Anybody, including the most ignorant, can easily guess that the cause of the growth rate was the enormous amounts of money transferred by nationals in the Diaspora added to the laborious culture of the Eritrean people or probably the great austerity of government expenditure if that may be considered as a credit for the government because in many cases it is carried out at the expense of developing important sectors and projects seeing that prioritization of highly subjective and experts are not consulted.
A delegation of the World Band that visited Eritrea last year and studied the banking systems in the country wrote a report that strongly criticizing the monetary policies of in our country. Criticism was specially directed to the Commercial Bank of Eritrea for refraining to give out credits for long-term projects under the pretext that depositors’ money should be kept out of risk. Instead, the bank prefers to pile idle bank notes and guard them while they continue to count the interest rates of their depositors. How can, in view of this situation, claim to have sound economic and monetary policies that serve our development efforts?
I.D.5: Social Security
Immediately after independence, the government stopped workers’ contributions to the fund of social security claiming that it will replace the Ethiopian social security laws by another national legislation. However, to date the government has not enacted any such legislation and has not delegated other bodies to carry out the activities of social security and those which attempted were discouraged by the interventions of the employees in the President’s office and the Macro-Policy Office. The issue of social security still remains pending a decision, consequently leaving the thousands of employees with the unwarranted risk of a gloomy future of their children. Continuation of trials in such a manner that they may not affect the future development of the concerned legislation was necessary. It is really shameful that Eritrea is the only country in the world with no legislation or system of social security while all others irrespective of the economic or political philosophy they follow have some sort of social security.
In the western countries, the social security system is an important component of the national economy. It contributes to national development by securing the future of families and is passed from one generation to the other and is used as a source of funding to the state at the time economic hardships. The social security system is also an important means for the accumulation of national savings, which are considered to be essential for economic growth and supportive to social and political stability. Was the issue seriously viewed from all comers? I don’t think the issue was studied by people with the necessary experience and expertise. The issue of social security has to date remained subject to the moods of certain executive bodies and consequently the people lost 10 years of their age under the fear of a future without knowing the prospects of its end.
I.D.6: Education and the Issue of Language
Intellectual and technical interest in politics requires reading history first, because those who do not know what had happened before they were born are destined to live as children all through their life-time.
I quoted this sentence from a book written by the great writer Mr. Mohammed Hasenein Haykel because I thought it fit for some of our officials who occupy important positions that can influence the current orientations of our society and the future of the coming generations. These people are not only ignorant of the history of our people; they are also ignorant of the current cultural situation, social orientation and aspirations based on the firm self-consciousness of their own society.
The officials in the Ministry of Education are a tangible example of this category of people. Their handling of the issue of languages seems to be caused by their ignorance of a great part of the Eritrean society including the composition of its culture. As the educational policy of every country is an important component of the political policy, their level of political consciousness should have been high enough to understand the political, cultural and historical ramifications of their policy instead of handling it in a purely academic perspective. The actual performance of those officials ascertain beyond any doubt their ignorance of the reality of the society they deal with. Even their academic perspective which shows their interest in the “mother-tongue” has not been scientifically sound. In this connection, the following three realities are not an area of contention.
Education in the mother-tongue, which is practically designed for the non-Tigrigna, has been totally rejected by the concerned communities including all their social strata, although the concerned officials at the Ministry of Education have greatly exaggerated the society’s acceptance of education in the mother-tongue. This rejection is shared by all ethnic groups with the exception of the Tigrigna and to some extent the Kunama and the Nara, probably because education in the mother-toung is acceptable at least to the elite in the latter two ethnic groups. The fact that the rejection is equally shared in both the urban and rural communities does imply that it has not come up due to antagonistic mobilizations by political anarchists or by those who received their education in the middle east and may link the issue to their personal interests, as has been claimed by the officials in the Ministry of Education. Instead the rejection of education in the mother tang has had historic, religious and cultural roots. Are we, namely the Ministry of Education or the Government, mandated to uproot this reality and substitute it with a new alternative in spite of the rejection of the beneficiaries? Why should we do that? Is there any national emergency that necessitates overriding the will of half of our population?
The issue of language in Eritrea has always been a political issue, both at the level of education and ordinary usage, and whoever claims otherwise is either ignorant to the realities of his society or is a hypocrite either intentionally or unintentionally bearing evil intentions that might harm the unity of our society.
Does the Ministry of Education have a mandate to deal with such issues of destiny? The answer is that it does not have any such mandate. The issue of imposing education in the mother-tongue has never been presented to the national assembly as we have never heard it being presented to the council of ministers either although the latter does not have the mandate to decide on issues with such a magnitude of importance. The Ministry of Education, which rendered the children of Eritrea a laboratory for experimenting the theories of its theoreticians, has also introduced religion as a subject of education without even preparing the necessary teaching materials. This consequently opened the doors wide for different religious sects to compete over what to teach the children. People, both Christians & Moslems, criticized this policy in our limited mass media. However, the Ministry of Education which deals with education as its own fenced property refused to heed any attention until it was finally convinced that the policy could not be pursued anymore and abandoned the religious education after wasting several precious years from the children’s life. The phenomena of applying the rules of physics in treating the deepest of our problems does imply that those upon whom we depend to educate our children will themselves remain students throughout their life-time wasting our time and the time of our children in vain. This particular institution and its educational philosophy have to be changed immediately without delay.
I.E. THE RULE OF LAW
Is there supremacy of law in our country? Of course no. Because it is difficult for any country which does not have legal, administrative, political and economic institutions that operates in accordance to a written legal script to claim any supremacy of the law. If it might be intended to refer to the respect of human rights in such a way that nobody is subjected to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, humiliation, disappearance for any one reason or another without the decision of a court of law, then this does not exist in our country.
We have heard of the criticisms of our officials including the President to the courts of law as well as to some legal provisions, however, the supremacy of law can not be imposed by the courts of law without the committed will of the political system. The existence as well as non-existence of the rule of law is a direct reflection of the convictions and orientations of the political regime, which may impose the rule of law when preserving the dignity of the system and its President becomes imperative and may override it when an escape from accountability becomes necessary. The regime may substitute institutions that work in accordance to the law by individual decisions in all levels and individual persons might be polished to become more prominent at the expense of the legitimacy of institutions. This has been our situation in the past few years although a constitution has been accomplished and shelved with no effect to remain a fading candle at the end of the tunnel in which we are. And yet, reaching the end of the tunnel does not seem to be easy.
The past few years has witnessed great numbers of imprisonment and hijacking with no legal basis. The role of the Prosecutor General has been to cover up the political system and to legitimize such illegal acts as a necessary component of the mechanism that protects the political regime. The year 1995 witnessed a wide spectrum of imprisonment and hijacking in many Eritrean towns of citizen suspected of supporting the “Islamic Jihad Movement”. The hijackers used different methods that reminded us of the Ethiopian colonial era leading people to stand against the Eritrean government and the PFDJ and convinced them the government is actually against the Islamic religion and not against the Jihad movement. It is believed that the movement does not have any popularity that might enable it to threaten the stability of the country. Why don’t those convicted of destabilizing the country’s stability be presented to a court of law? How can people fell safe under circumstances when any person might at any time be vulnerable to acts of hijacking or disappearance in such a way that his family or anyone else does not know his whereabouts? How can whoever perpetrates such horrors speak of the supremacy of law? How can such a government convince its people that it is a government that works for the well being of its people? Can a person who is vulnerable to arbitrary hijacking feel the importance of a dignified economic life?
1. WEAKNESS OF INTELLIGENCE SERVICES OR ABSENCES OF ITS ROLE
“In the near future you will hear the best news in your life: ‘our Tigray’ will regain its well deserved status in history”
All work is evaluated by the results and every human effort is supported by the mind. Good work is always the result of good thinking and vise versa. Excellent results that were not preceded by a conscious mental activity or sensible logical thinking can only be caused by coincidence or by capacities outside the human ability. It is, therefore, logical to view any social, economic, cultural or military achievement in terms of the efforts made to lay the necessary per-requisites for its success and not in terms of the achievement it self.
Success in battles has always depended on the availability of technology, intelligence and training. Although the human component is equally important when faith in the cause of the fighting and national spirit are concerned its role is limited especially in conventional warfare between organized armies where the protection of territories, towns and economic establishments or their attack to paralyze the enemies economic capacity becomes imperative. Our last war with Ethiopia has been of this type. Good knowledge of the enemy and the availability of detailed information of its capacities and plans play an important role in taking the initiative or evading risks. The central decisions of wars, which decide success or failure, are built upon this information component.
What was the role of our national intelligence services in this war? It is extremely difficult to know the answer due to the difficulty of obtaining such information. The security and intelligence services are the national institutions, which are immune to any disclosure of information concerning their role and functions except in situations of ultimate necessity. It is, however, possible to evaluate its performance depending on the results.
Before independence, the EPLF had a strong intelligence service. In spite of the accusations of corruption, nepotism and grouping pointed to its administrators and in spite of its ethnic composition, which still persists, it did play an important role in the final victory of the revolution. It basically depended on the nationalistic spirit as well as effective organization and administration. In other words it depended on the expertise of its administrators and the consciousness of the Eritrean people towards the nobility of its mandate as every Eritrean who could be reached by this institution was a potential spy or agent who was ready to do whatever was assigned to him/her.
This institution, which should have been an embryo for the development of a national security and intelligence system, was dismantled after independence. Its administrators who gained considerable experience and expertise during the armed struggle were relegated to new government posts, which had nothing to do with their previous biographies. All its members were dispersed into positions where they could not contribute any significant services. By the time the government started to reorganize the system, its members had reached a stage of frustration that could not enable them to play any important roles. The allegedly unjust distribution of military ranks also added water to the mud. Many of them were demobilized vowing to see what the government will do without them. Many think that the new commanders of the system could do better in other posts that just the posts, which they do not know anything about.
Following its reorganization, several other years were wasted in structuring the new system and stuffing it with new faces for reasons which are not clear. Without venturing into the capabilities of individuals or the budgets or the functioning or the definition of national challenges, it may, therefore, be rightfully claimed that we do not have an efficient security and intelligence service relative to the magnitude of risks surrounding our country. It is because of this fact that we are ignorant about the economic, military and political realities inside Ethiopia, leading us to depend of on given assumptions about the cultural jealousy and psychological complexity of the Tigrayans as the main motivator of their political policies as well as about the lack of ethnic harmony and the anticipation of the disintegration of the Ethiopian empire.
The penetration of the Ethiopian army deep into Eritrean territory in light of the campaign not only directed to the Eritrean local consumption but also in the official circles that the Ethiopian army will disintegrate and flee if the war starts has made it clear that we depended on mere political assumption rather than on confident intelligence information.
The intelligence service is the most important political institution in modem countries. Its role is, therefore, not restricted to the mobilization of spies and the collection of raw data. The most important of what such an institution can provide to the state is the analysis of such information and the presentation of political alternatives of action. This task requires the gathering of the best national economic, political and scientific expertise. This in turn requires the allocation of huge amounts of budget which can rightfully be justified by the national priorities of the country. What does the national security strategy look like and what are the issues that may be considered as threats to the national political, economic and social stability? One can only speak on this based on the general aspirations of the Eritrean people as well as the declared principles of the organization. An observation of the progress of the issues on which our intelligence services concentrated in the past few years suggests that we do not have a long term strategy representing the real national security threats.
After independence, it seemed that the threat (according to the activities that could be observed) was represented in Islamic fundamentalist groups and the ruling regime in the Sudan in addition to what remained of the Eritrean liberation organizations. It was evident that this threat was exaggerated much greater than its actual magnitude leading into unreasonable moves such as dragging people out of their homes and into the unknown and consequently instilling terror in people. This phenomenon might have had a negative impact on the national unity as it is also contrary to letter and spirit of the National Charter of the organization as well as the National Constitution. Moreover it represented a violation of human rights and subjected the Eritrean government to the criticisms of the international community including the American government and human rights organizations and weakening the status of the Eritrean government in the international arena.
The Ethiopian government was considered to be a friend of the country and the reports concerning the activities of the almost 100,000 Tigrayan community members in Eritrea as well as the atrocities of the zonal administration in Tigray were not taken seriously by our authorities. This does signify that it is the individual whims and emotions of our leaders that decide the orientations of our intelligence and not the basics of our national interests. On the contrary, the Ethiopians managed to establish a strong intelligence service in the past few years making use of the growing Tigrayan nationalistic sentiments. They managed to establish strong mass organizations through their Embassy and its branches in Eritrea as they have also managed to exploit the emotional sympathies that could not be justified by any principle of the norms of interstate relationship that our leadership had with the Woyane.
The efforts of the top leadership of the Ethiopian regime concentrated on convincing our leadership that the Tigrayans who are the geographically, ethnically and ideologically closest to the Eritrean people in addition to their being comrades in arms were threatened by Amhara chauvinism as well as other Oromo, and Afar ethnic movements which may, in the long run, have a counter effect on Eritrea too. The Ethiopians also managed to convince the Eritrean leadership that incursions into Eritrean territory and the re-drawing of the border, the maltreatment and expulsion of Eritrean nationals and the confiscation of property that was actually done on the ground were the acts of Tigrayan zonal peasants who were not far sighted.
The war the exploded with Ethiopia all of a sudden did signify an enormous security vacuum. The three rounds of fighting that followed showed that the information that our leadership have about the enemy are inadequate leading people to lose faith on those in charge of the battle. Following the start of the conflict all the opinions that were choked came up to the surface, some perplexed and suspicious and others waiting to see what the wisdom of the strategic relations with Ethiopia will come out to be. Many chose to be silent although that might not signify being passive as they might have not found the appropriate channels of expression.
“I have no doubt that the Woyanes will declare war against us however I do not know when and why precisely!” quoted by a long time fighter who visited Addis Ababa in 1995 and presented his report to the Head of our intelligence service who responded to him with contempt.
III. Handing Over of the Military Command to Unqualified Persons
Eritrea never had a professional army neither before nor after independence. Those who fought during the armed struggle were trained for the post independence situation and the national zeal as well as practical experience was their only motivation. After independence, there was no serious national plan for the establishment of a professional army. The only thing that the government did was the minimization of the number of the army leaving only the number needed for national Economic and social imperatives. Nobody, except God, exactly knows how the demobilization was actually carried out or what the criteria for mobilization actually were. However, there are a number of issues that influenced the effectiveness of the army.
Immediately after independence and at the time when the Minister of Defense was assigned, a struggle which remained choked by the circumstances of the pre-independence situation emerged between those with “loyalty” and those with “expertise”. This was the reason for the frequent changes witnessed in the period 1991-1994 reaching to three persons for the same post namely and consecutively Ali Said Abdella, Petros Solomon and Mesfin Hagos. In 1994, Sibhat Efrem was named Minister of Defense with the rank of General.
The new minister was militarily less experienced that his predecessors as he had also less acceptability among the army. The problem did not lie in the lack of his experience as it is not necessary that a minister should become a military expert as case which might be true only in situations where institutions that define the responsibilities of each individual. The problem lay in the fact that these frequent and arbitrary changes caused factors of internal power politics deprived the country of the requisite stability to build a professional army. The issue or organizing the army was one of those that led the previous minister of defense to present his resignation. Although such issues have been restricted at the top leadership levels it is difficult to know the exact details. However, it was evident that the differences between those army commanders and the President were caused by the latter’s intervention in every detail and his lack of confidence on those who feel that they should have a say on the organization and administration of the army. This was the reason why the army wasted five years of its age in conflicts between army commanders and the President.
Following the time when the army took shape and a military training institution was established to follow-up training within the military units, its operation did not start immediately in spite of the insistence of lower-rank officers at the levels of colonels at the preparation of a curriculum and the commencement of training of the army which started to get bored of staying idle in the barracks and whose members do not have the qualifications of any ordinary member of an organized army. This situation continued until the start of the conflict with Ethiopia in 1998. Even after the start of the conflict, the issue of training did not receive the attention that it deserved. Instead of that, the concentration of efforts focused on the participation of the army in production to fill the gap of the part of the labor force that went for the national service. It would have been worthwhile if the numbers sent to Sawa for the national service could have been decided in such a way as to devote the army into training and raising its fighting capacities. It was unwise to stuff the Sawa with militarily unfit trainees or professionals who could contribute more in other fields of production.
Those who organized the training seemed to give more attention to training the army on military etiquette, which differentiates between the different ranks of the army rather than concentrating on raising the fighting capacity of the army. When the Imbatkala military training center known as the Martyr Affa’s College opened, all the army was trained on military etiquette as a prelude to differentiating the living conditions and habits of army officers and ordinary soldiers. This would have been more effective if it were followed by an overall up-grading of the army. It was however latter misused by the higher rank officers who exploited it to concentrate the moral as well as material class benefits of the army. The government, accordingly, allowed army units to own pieces of land to produce their needs and licenses to sell cold drinks and beer. As this was done in the absence of a system of accountability, it is widely believed that it introduced elements of financial and moral corruption among the higher rank officers.
The ability of the Ethiopian army to penetrate the trenches of the Eritrean army twice (first during its attack and occupation of Badime area and second during the late third offensive) has shown that the understanding of the political leadership to its army and military command is different than what is actually on the ground. It is not an area of contention that our military leadership is incapable of administering a battle that is necessarily different from that of our liberation struggle. The question that is more important is: what has the role of our political leadership been? Was there a coordination of all the military, economic, political, diplomatic and organizational components of the war? Or was the conflict handled in a comprehensive manner? All evidence suggests that all these were totally missing. In such a case, whatever the will, courage and insistence to succeed might be and whatever the level of intelligence of the commanders might be, it is impossible the lead a successful battle in the absence of an institution and the contempt of a leader or leadership of the battle for institutional conception. There is no doubt that this is the crux of the matter.
When the relations between the two countries were excellent, it was observable that the Ethiopians were interested in building a strong military institution. The Woyane rejected the idea of demobilizing its army and the establishment of a national army composed of all the nationalities. This was the reason for their difference with the Oromo Liberation Front, which compelled the latter to go back to opposition. There were also a number of evidences which supported the assumption that the Woyane was preparing for war against Eritrea.
After all these, what is to be done?
The answer is: there has to be a change. Where should change start from and how? Is it feasible to bring about a superficial institutional change? Yes!
In the history of social movements, there are two types of change. The first is radical change and can only be done through a revolution against the pillars of an established system. The second is a corrective change and is usually done by the system itself. Any political party or institution may undertake a corrective change to preserve the consistency of its being and to be able to keep-up with the progress of changes. In this case a balance and coexistence has to be reached between the winds pushing for radical change and ability of the system to stand pressures and to renovate itself into an acceptable shape.
In our situation what is demanded and what is practically feasible is corrective change, but how? The first step is to accept the fact that there is a chaos of conception in a ruling regime that may be identified by vagueness of internal and external policies, the absence of institutions and the rule of law, the reluctance of the leadership to introduce mechanisms of accountability and transparency, the deep perception of the leadership that its existence is imperative and can not be rid of. The second step is to appeal upon the emotions of our armed struggle which may stiffen the cadres of the organization against radical change but may result into the desired corrective change because the propensity towards a centralized democracy and individualism in decision-making will likely persist for a long time even after the commencement on institutionalization. A compromise might be reached between the trends for radical change and conservatism that have emerged in the organization, which has reached an extreme, level of disorganization.
Radical change may only come through time in an organization in the process of transition from a situation of ideologies and closed organization into a stage of institutionalization and openness.
How may the current stage be passed? How may defeat be exploited for transition towards institutionalization? Many believe that the current defeat, which is actually unjust to describe as defeat, will have a positive impact if all cadres irrespective of their individual inclinations, are notified of the real ruling defects which have always been attributed to external factors. This must at least be done at the leadership levels, which will definitely play a great role in correcting our mistakes. This defeat can corrected many of the mistakes we committed in our internal policies. The issues that need correction may be sub-divided into long-term solutions and solutions related to the problems at hand. The methodology of correction may follow one of the following scenarios.
IV.A Scenario No. 1
Conduct a provisional conference for the organization in a period not more that five months with the main objective of assessing the performance of the government and the organization since 1994 in general and during our conflict with Ethiopia in particular. All cadres of the organization may attend the conference on the basis of the following criteria:
- Length of service in the armed struggle;
- Governmental and organizational responsibility held;
- Intellectual and social status;
- Representation by direct voting from army units as well as organized components;
The methodology of preparation for the conference may be done:
- The leadership of the government and the organization may prepare papers for discussion in such a way that they are presented for comments to potential participants so that the papers will be informative and not instructional;
- The leadership may assign a committee to administer the discussions;
- Individuals may be assigned to prepare papers for the development of the performance of the organization and the government as well as on institutionalization and economic and legal issues;
- The papers may be discussed in groups;
- The discussion results and recommendations of the provisional conference may be presented to the Fourth Organizational Congress which may follow in not more than five months for approval.
IV.B. Scenario No. 2
The assessment may be conducted by higher leadership in the government and organization. The assessment may be presented first to the 19-member Executive Committee and then to the 75-member Central Committee of the organization. Such an assessment will most likely be a justification of what was actually done to evade confrontation within the members of the said committees some of whom might feel the pulse of the public demanding for change, or those who may have personally been disadvantaged or the minority who are convinced of the need for change. The members of the national assembly, which usually holds its meetings following the meeting of the Central Committee of the organization, are more radical than their compatriots in the organization with respect to improving the performance of the government. The most likely consequence will be that the leadership will admit some of the subsidiary mistakes committed and will accept the start of institutionalization in order to absorb the demands for change. The will result into a difference of opinion among the cadres of the organization and most of the important issues will be postponed to the Organizational Congress. The most important potential gain of the provisional conference will be the hastening of the organizational congress.
IV.C. Scenario No. 3
There might be a continuation of the silence concerning internal situations by concentrating on public campaigns revolving around anticipated Woyane military offensives as well as the challenges of economic rehabilitation with the aim of absorbing the public trends for change so that the government and organization may conduct a quite evaluation of their performance. Such an alternative will widen the gap among the cadres of the organization and may become an opportunity for groupings. It may consequently lead into absolute dictatorship either through the establishment of a semi-military regime or through the expulsion of those dissatisfied with the existing situation of rule.
It is likely that this is the alternative preferred by the leadership, especially the President, as well as those who feel that their being is dependant on his existence in power. The consequence will be a frustration among the membership of the organization with regard to establishing an institutional government meeting the aspirations of the Eritrean people. It can safely be claimed that the cycle of political and social instability, typical of African countries, will start from here. Democratization and institutionalization will be subject to the whims of a single individual holding the stick over whoever raises his voice. The security system will be more selective and more sectarian and tribal. Self-protection will dominate over the protection of the nation under the pretexts of nationalistic slogans. Eritrea will be isolated from the international community as the Americans will maintain the same position as far as the Eritrean government continues to treat the Eritrean people as a baby that is too young for democracy and has to wait for the beautiful morning when its government will one day declare freedom.
It is very sad that this scenario is the most probable to be preferred by the current leadership including the President and his executive office.
How can the cadres of the organization mobilize their efforts towards the best of the scenarios?
Assuming that Scenario No. I is the best in avoiding the nation from the horrors of a dictatorial regime, and assuming that the President as well as the Secretary of the organization will prefer Scenario No. 3 or in best cases Scenario No. 2, the first scenario, which may be acceptable to most members of the central committee, may be presented to the meeting of the central committee provided that they insist upon its implementation even if it demands voting procedures. Such an act, which contradicts the traditions of the organization, will have several positive outcomes, the most important of which are the following.
- It will be possible to conduct an evaluation of the past experience without getting into personal confrontations and pointing of fingers;
- It will guarantee a wide sector of the cadres and consequently absorb the current discontent, which is also in the interest of the leadership if it is conscious of it;
- Securing the preference by voting will introduce a new culture replacing the tradition of consensus and may contribute to the democratization of the organization and the development of a culture of dispute settlement in based on democratic principles as well as the norms of civil society;
- Pressure in taking the first alternative also requests the breaking of one of the organizational pillars of the EPLF forbidding any grouping around opinions.
The right to grouping or lobbing to advance positions or marketing of ideas is one of the sacred principles of democracy and civil society. These principles are, however, not acceptable by dictators and totalitarian systems as they are in contradiction to the principles of “democratic centralism” or are acts of “people who do not know their society” or those “who import ideas from the west.”
The cadres of the organization who have to date been implementing these ideological principles in the totality will now need to revolt at least partially against democratic centralism with the help of the enlightened part of its leadership in order to avoid any explosion of the situation. Pushing towards the first preference seems to be feasible as it is only a tiny part of the change that the Eritrean people is aspiring for. A deep feeling of responsibility and an absolute faith in the ability of its leadership as well as the necessity of seeing a democratic Eritrea adhering to the modem norms has always dominated the thinking of the cadres of the organization.
Frank discussions calling things by their names have, however, only started recently and more specifically after the current conflict with Ethiopia. Transforming the narrow organizational mentality of the members of the central committee of the EPLF is definitely not an easy task especially in view of the low intellectual standards of the membership. Any attempt to change from the inside or to influence the views and decisions of the President for whom any parallel opinion is viewed as a personal assault is, therefore, full of risks.
The 75 members of the central committee may be subdivided into three categories. The first category is composed of enlightened members who believe in the importance of change in all ruling aspects and may adopt the first scenario or present a better one and is ready to bear the arbitrary consequences of its moves. Although this category represents a tiny minority within the central committee, it may draw the support of the silent majority if the preference is determined by voting in view of the wide spread public respects that it enjoys. The second category sees its professional future as being liked to the maintenance of the current situation. This category is also a minority and does not enjoy any significant respect among the membership. The only source of its influence is derived from its proximity to the President who always prefers to keep those evicted from public respect close to him. The third category represents a majority, which does not have any specific views and has low intellectual standards due to the backgrounds of their entering the central committee. This group does feel the pulse of the public and may not object to any changes. They may also not object to change due to the fact that they are not beneficiaries of the benefits presented by the organization. It is, anyway, important that these people understand that the alleged defeat was due to a failure in the ruling regime and not due to the magnitude of external conspiracies as the President and his group is likely to claim in any assessment that they make.
The main aspects of the long-term solutions may be described as follows:
- Recognition of the situation of cultural multiplicity and therefore establishing the following:
- A national charter with clearly defined provisions;
- Concentrate on the distribution of wealth and power among the Eritrea society;
- Avoid political, economic and cultural discontent based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identity;
- Narrow the gap among social classes.
- Recognize the reality of political pluralism and issue laws establishing political parties and free press without any delay and excuse because such laws may not be postponed or prohibited under any pretexts including the situations of war.
- Issue laws governing administrative functioning through the participation of all social groups or at least the two cultural groups due to the difference in the cultural backgrounds of the intellectuals of each group and considering the differences in the interest based perspectives of the components of the Eritrean society.
- Establish a permanent commission for government employees including in its membership equal numbers of people representing the two religious and cultural groups.
- Issue laws for equitable development with emphasis on the least developed regions and a special care in including representatives of the disadvantaged groups in the membership of development committees.
- Tackle the problem of land ownership radically and permanently with consideration given to demographic aspects without leading each group to stick to its own territories. The problem of land ownership in towns should consider the preservation of the architectural heritage without jeopardizing the comparative national advantages.
- Draft a foreign policy primarily based on the protection of national interests and considering the cultural and geographic identity of the nation and reflecting the aspirations of the Eritrean people including all its cultural and linguistic groups. For instance a foreign policy similar to that of the Sudan may be adopted as it reflects a country with Islamic, Christian, Arab and African identities. Although the foreign relations of the Sudan are influenced by those factors the actual relations are established by considering the national interests of the country. Eritrea as a new, small and poor nation characterized with a bipolar religious and cultural identity is in need of following a wise and objective foreign policy that is not too sensitive to evasive idealistic ideological principles. There is no need to avoid listening the words of we versus they as real unity may only become true by respecting the cultural multiplicity and calling things by their true names in all policies concerning our society.
- Review our economic philosophy and assess the actual output on the ground. Although our written policies advocate a market economy, the economic establishments of the PFDJ, which were originally established to protect the consumers from the greed of traders, have themselves turned into monopolies dominating vast areas of the economic life. These have dominated the imports of complimentary goods, the construction sector and the distribution of different drinks. Moreover, they are not dynamic as they are actually public sector establishments with no employee motivation systems. They, as any other public establishments, are vulnerable to all sorts of corruption, nepotism and blunder. It is therefore imperative to design an economic policy with the help of academicians and businessmen from inside and outside the country.
- Establish a professional army which receives a significant portion of the national budget at least during the next 10-20 years and which is legally protected from politicization and whose main task is the protection of the country’s borders and sovereignty as well as its constitution and institutions.
- Establish an efficient security and intelligence system which utilizes Eritrea’s wealth of the demographic inter-relationship with all its neighbors, namely Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and the countries across the sea, in heralding national interests and warning against dangers in advance. To date the Eritrean intelligence service has not benefited from this natural geographic endowment just because its intelligence service is composed of only one ethnic group making it difficult the system to comprehend what goes on in the neighboring countries where the populations are not related to the Tigrigna ethnic group.
There is no doubt that most of our problems with the international community and with the neighboring countries as well as our internal problems stem on the fact that we are a new nation with less experience and material inputs. However, throwing all the blame upon others can only be an attempt to evade self-criticism, which definitely does not help in strengthening our misgivings and faults.
The up-coming stage is considered to be crucial in shaping a country of institutions whose population is able to enjoy democracy and social justice. This does request all the cadres and leadership of the organization to become farsighted, free from emotions and subjectivity, and to feel the historic responsibility assigned to them.
Evading our problems by concentrating of lofty speeches in the gatherings and probably congresses of the organization by throwing the blame upon others and pointing fingers of accusation into one another will only lead into a further suffering of the Eritrean people. The cadres and leadership of the organization need to face the truth in order to gain the respect of the people because our problems, as diagnoses by the Eritrean people, are related to a crisis of ruling and not to any international conspiracies.