Eritrea 2013: A Retrospective
In the Eritrean Calendar, 2013 was Two Major Events bookended by dozens of mostly horrible events. The two major events were the Mutiny of January 2013 (“Forto”, January 21) and the Drowning of 366 Eritreans (“Lampedusa”, October 5.) The Isaias regime in Asmara described the former, “Forto”, as if it was a sting operation it conducted to observe carefully just how far a coup can go, like a war game, with the mob boss explaining “I was here, the Ministers were here, observing it.” As for Lampedusa, the Eritrean regime went through its usual process of dealing with earth-shaking events: denial, then blame everybody else but mostly the United States (and, lately, the United Nations) for the tragedy. Then, when that didn’t sway even its most devout followers, it got ahead of the funeral procession, with the sole intent of directing where the dead are buried (anywhere but their homes.)
Here’s our Eritrea 2013 report:
In the late morning of January 21, 2013, members of the Eritrean Defense Forces stormed the Ministry of Information located at Forto (thus the name) and demanded that the state TV read their demands for constitutional government and release of political prisoners. They occupied the station for nearly 8 hours as regime soldiers and negotiators surrounded the place. The mutineers were unwilling to do anything hostage-takers do: harm the hostages or destroy property. Thus, when the regime dispatched its functionaries to use the magic words that have worked on every previous mutiny attempt like the 1992 demonstration of soldiers for better pay and the 1993 demonstration of disabled war veterans for orderly demobilization— “in the name of our martyrs!”–the magic worked again: the mutiny was over.
But not before Eritreans all over the Diaspora rose up in solidarity with what they called “Operation Forto.” They laid siege to regime embassies. They marched. They demonstrated. All over Europe and the United States, and even the Middle East.
Shortly thereafter, Mustapha Nurhussein, the governor of the “South Zone” (formerly Akeleguzay and Seraye) was arrested. No charges. The long-serving Director of the Organizational Affairs of the ruling party, PFDJ, and a member of its so-called Executive Committee (so-called because it is a hallow entity with many of its members missing, arrested, killed and un-replaced), Abdella Jaber, was arrested. No charges. Its Minister of Energy and Mines, Ahmed Haj Ali, was arrested. No charges. The magic words, “In the name of martyrs!” work only in one direction: on September 30, Sudan Tribune, quoting a defecting soldier, of whom we have many, reported that twenty six of those who participated in the mutiny had been tortured, and then killed.
2. Every Night, Shout and Cries
Amnesty International issued another report and the headline news was that there were 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea. While people debated the number, nobody debated the testimony of one of the prisoners: “every night, you hear shouts and cries of people.”
3. Periodic Review of Universal Things
One of those instruments that the UN invented to give tyrants decades of opportunities to terrorize their people, the Universal Periodic Review, came out and said there really has been no improvement in Eritrea’s human rights, but let’s wait until the next periodic review to see how universal this phenomenon is. The Special Rapporteur, named by UN to monitor human rights in Eritrea, expressed her hope that the Eritrean regime would just wise up and actually talk to her. If they do, fine; if they don’t, it will be reported in the next universal periodic review and the universe will go on.
4. Surrealism in Canada
The Canadian government actually took seriously UN resolution 2023 (2011) calling on all member states to take a closer look at the Diaspora Tax the regime demands from Diaspora Eritreans. This gave an opportunity to Eritrean activists to demonstrate that it is what every Eritrean knows (extortion/blackmail), and it resulted in the expulsion of a “community leader” (regime tax collector.) This then gave us a surreal view of the pro-regime Eritreans in Canada calling a meeting to express their outrage that their civil liberties to exercise their right to support a regime that doesn’t recognize civil liberties were being violated. They are just shocked by this outrage and they called on one another to exercise their right of free assembly to support a regime that doesn’t recognize the right of free assembly. Victory to the masses! Then, from the “glbub mrqa” (blessing in disguise) department, a speaker said that the tax collector’s deportation to Eritrea is a good thing as it enables him to reunite with his son whom he misses terribly and is grateful that he lives in his country. The attendants who, like every Eritrean, pay any price, bribe any official, pay any hostage-taker to remove their children from the Eritrean hell-hole, were very moved by this. There wasn’t a wet eye in the assembly room which, like all impoverished “community centers” in North America and Europe (impoverished because the regime sucks dry every dollar raised), was held in some low-rent basement.
5. Robo Calls
There were calls, “robo calls”, made by “Freedom Friday” or “Arbi Harnet” throughout the year. These recorded calls (read by Diaspora Eritrean volunteers in Eritrea’s languages) were made to Eritreans in Eritrea to send one message: that we Eritreans in Diaspora, despite Eri-TV’s incessant propaganda, do NOT stand with the regime. This got wide coverage in Western media but not only because it is one of the few things done by the opposition to yield results. Now, if these recorded messages could somehow find their way to an Eri-TV employee imbued with the Wedi Ali bravery and could somehow air the message through Eri-TV…
6. Asylum & Deportation
Thousands of Eritreans sought asylum in the West; thousands of Eritreans were threatened with deportation to Eritrea, many halted just at the last moment. Except in Israel, which offered Eritreans (whom it calls “infiltrators”) $1,500 to agree to be deported to Eritrea—and managed to deport 14 out of 35,000 Eritrean asylum seekers. Some Israeli politician, we are sure, took credit for that and has made it his entire political platform.
7. The Next Columbians
A website asked “Are Eritreans the Next Columbians?” It was talking about the amazing feat of Eritrea’s cyclists, but the same question could be asked in reference to Eritreans ability, like Columbus, to go to distant and uncharted places just to escape the hell-hole that Isaias Awerki has made of Eritrea.
8. Eritrean Economy, aka, Hager tHimbeb Ala!
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which had wrongly predicted that Eritrea will have the fastest economy in 2011, doubled down and said Eritrea will have the fastest growing economy in 2014. This was tweeted by Yemane Gebremeskel and re-tweeted, favorited by Camp Nkhid Tray (“let’s just march on“). Of course, the Economist also said that “…this will have little impact on broader income level given the government’s economic mismanagement” but, details, details.
Meanwhile, the African Economic Outlook announced that Eritrea’s economy grew by 8.7% in 2011. Hold off the Champagne bottles. This is the real GDP growth (adjusted for inflation) year over year:
What will 2013-18 look like? Well, it is as depressing as you would expect a closed Mafia economy run by unprofessional, unschooled bureaucrats would look like:
“The IMF estimates that Eritrea’s per-capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity will grow only around 1.7% between 2013 and 2018, a mark that will lead to the nation being ranked as the second-poorest country in the world by that time.”
Well, this kind of “defamation of Eritrea” requires serious “Mekhete” and it came in the form of NOT presenting alternative data, alternative outlook, or questioning the methodology. No, that is too much work. It turns out that the IMF economist who wrote the report was Ethiopian. Well, for the “Nkhid Tray” camp, it was case closed. His credentials mean nothing; his nationality does.
9. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s The Eritrean Air Force!
Meanwhile, in the real world, a pilot was sent to Saudi Arabia, to fetch a plane that a couple of defecting Eritrean pilots took with them when they sought asylum earlier! Two pilots sought asylum. In Saudi Arabia! And a third pilot was sent to Saudi Arabia. And she defected! That’s right: the pilot is female and she left Eritrea to defect to Saudi Arabia.
We will now pause as you contemplate that, and let it sink in. Two Eritrean Air Force pilots, generally considered the elite in any society. Absconded with a plane to Jazan, Saudi Arabia. That would be the dictator’s toy plane that he uses to ferry around (a gift from the democratic republic of Qatar.) Then the Eritrean regime asked a pilot, a FEMALE pilot, to go to Saudi Arabia. And return back with the plane. Then, get this, the female pilot who was sent to Saudi Arabia to return back with the plane, asked for asylum. In Saudi Arabia. Which doesn’t even recognize women as full human beings.
Wait, there is more. In November, 3 pilots absconded with another plane, again to Jazan, Saudi Arabia. Some wiseguy tweeted: “Eritrea loses 4 more pilots: the 3 who landed in Jazan yesterday and the 1 who will be sent to collect the plane.”
Even our friends at the Iranian PRESSTV (and we are using “friends” in its useless form) wanted to know what’s really going on and invited the one person who can debate Eritrean issues with utter confidence and competence in any media outlet (well, except Eri-TV where debate is illegal) showed up. Now, history is full of Westerners who admire Stalinism, but none of them have reels of film that will haunt their grandchildren.
Wait, there is more. In late December, yet another pilot flew his plane to Djibouti, a neighboring country with whom Eritrea has no hostilities at all and anybody who tells you otherwise is a liar and a traitor. The Eritrean Air Force is now a squadron of one and at the next Independence Day fighter-jets-flying-over-the-skies-show-of-force thing, we are flying a helicopter. And paper planes.
10. Prisoners of an Imaginary War:
As Eritrean patriots know, there was no Djibouti-Eritrea war in 2008. Since there was no war, there could not have been a treaty to resolve the dispute between the two antagonist nations. And, certainly, there couldn’t have been prisoners of war. And, by definition, these imaginary prisoners of war could not have escaped from a remote prison in Karora (as the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group report of Djibouti prisoners of war stated); nor could they be demonstration for better treatment (as reported by awate of Eritrean political prisoners in Djibouti.)
Some (probably traitors) say that between June 10 and June 13, 2008, there was a military clash between Eritrea and Djibouti along their common border in Ras Dumeira. Djibouti reports that it lost 44 soldiers and that 55 were wounded and that it has an unspecified number of prisoners. Djibouti also reports that it killed 100 Eritrean soldiers and captured 100 of whom 21 defected. Djibouti received medical and logistic aid from its patron, France. Between June 2008 and December 2009, the UN directed the Eritrean dictator to acknowledge this conflict and seek mediation and, for a year and half, he repeatedly said that there was no conflict to resolve and that it was all a fabrication. The UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea in December 2009 not just because of its spoiler role in Somalia but the dictator’s adamant refusal to admit that his own citizens were prisoners of war. By June 2010, the Eritrean dictator had agreed to accept Qatar’s initiative to mediate a conflict he claimed didn’t exist.
All this is a fabrication. Nkhid Tray.
11. Al Shabab in Kenya; Isaias Also in Kenya!
Meanwhile, Al Shabab, with whom the Isaias Afwerki regime has absolutely, positively, no relationship at all (unless you count his acknowledgement that they are Somali stakeholders and there is no evidence they are terrorists and there will no peace in Somalia unless they are given representation in the Somali government), blew up a shopping mall in Kenya and killed and maimed dozens. “#Eritrea foreign minister sent a letter of condolences and solidarity to his sister the minister of foreign of #Kenya”, is how a pro-regime tweeter explained it. There was no report about the reaction from the “sister the minister of foreign of #kenya” who is actually a brother.
Isaias Afwerki, showed up (I am not dead!) in Kenya to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kenya’s independence and, in meeting with Eritrean Prisoners of Passport (those who show up at any event called by a regime ambassador because the validity of their passport depends on it) he explained that he expects Eritreans who have left the country to return back home having saved at least $50,000. Quick-witted Eritreans said that Isaias was invited to Kenya as an insurance so his friends, Al Shabab, don’t blow up more things; and that the minimum-$50,000 requirement (formerly $10,000) is just the father of the bride (Eritrea) demanding more dowry money if you want to live with his daughter.
12. Failed State Index: It’s All Relative
FFP issued its Failed State Index report ranking Eritrea 25th of the 178 countries on the list. Regime supporters immediately ignored that one and wanted to see where Ethiopian ranks on the list. FFP says that Eritrea is actually trending more towards being a failed state. Of the 12 indices it uses, it ranks Eritrea “poor” or “weak” on 12 out of 12. “Over a five-year period, the country has worsened significantly with a majority of its indicators changing for the worse,” it said.
13. Threat to International Peace and Security
The Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) issued two separate reports—one on Somalia and one on Eritrea. The usual assortment of “anti-imperialist” forces (Russia, China) delayed the publication of the report on Eritrea. SEMG eventually said that the Eritrean dictatorship “has now shifted and diversified such operations to Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen in addition to fronting a number of business operations in these locations.” China, which sells dual-purpose technology to Eritrea, tried to block this report, which implicates it. This gave hope to the usual suspects that the “sanctions are going to be lifted”, and the Security Council promptly responded to them by calling Isaias’s Eritrea “Threat to international peace and security” and extending the sanctions by 16 months, to December 31, 2014.
14. An Act of God
On September 18, 2013, Eritrea made headlines with news that had nothing to do with bicycling champs, planes landing in Jazan or citizens drowning in remote seas. There was a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. Eri-TV explained that the government was on full alert and has dispersed widely to assist people who live in the remote regions of the earthquake. (But there was no footage, so take our word for it.) September 18 was also the date when the G-15 and the journalists were arrested and this act of God was interpreted by the religious and the superstitious as God’s reminder to the tone-deaf to repent. But there was no repentance from the tone deaf, the sacrilegious and the patently immoral.
15. The One Degree of Separation
If something terrible is happening to someone Eritrea, it is probably happening to all Eritreans because of their small number and inter-connected population. (Something that all the Eri-TV propaganda and the useless mekhete’s can’t counter.) So, was the relative of Eritrea’s first-ever Olympian Zeresennay Taddessse required to pay $44,000 in ransom to human traffickers in Sinai? There was the usual “it is real!” and “it is fake!” debate from the pro-justice and pro-regime advocates but the question is, Zeresennay or no Zeresennay, was this routine when it comes to Eritrean families? And the answer is yes.
16. The Amendment to Our Reform Has Been Modified!
Last December, the Isaias Afwerki regime made big noise about some reform it was going to conduct to encourage investment in Eritrea. (One in a series of forward-backward-gear changes the regime does just to distract people.) About the only relevant thing about that “announcement” now: who spoke up and who was arrested. Meanwhile, did you do you know there is such a thing as the Eritrea Chamber of Commerce? Well, apparently, it exists in cyberspace. We are pretty sure it is some kind of scam developed by Hagos Kisha. Why is it a scam? Because the average internet (upload and download) speed in Eritrea is: 0.09 Megabytes per second (MPS.) If you are in the West, you are not going to put up with that; if you are in Eritrea, there is no need for you to check the Internet. So: A SCAM.
17. The “Washington Consensus” About Eritrea
The International Crisis Group wrote a report that nobody discussed because, well, we don’t know why, but we think it is probably because of the story of the boy who cried wolf. But you should read it: it gives you a glimpse of the “Washington Consensus” about Eritrea. But more on that later.
18. Janhoy Rose, Isaias Rose, Next Leader’s Rose?
This website called Sophia Tesfamariam “Tokyo Rose” because, just like the woman we named her after, she is a propagandist who fakes expertise on something she is clueless about (who and what made the Eritrean Revolution tick.) Our friends at asmarino.com found a picture of little Tokyo Rose and, it turns out, she was a Janhoy Rose. This means that whoever replaces Crazy Isaias Afwerki can expect formerly Tokyo Rose, formerly Janhoy Rose, to deliver him/her a bouquet of flowers because some people’s lives are so empty, they can only find meaning based on their proximity to POWER, regardless of what the power is used for.
19. Generalisimo Isaias Afwerki Is Not Dead!
Isaias spoke. It was one of those “I really am not dead” appearances; it was long, rambling interview in front of terrorized journalists and the one take-away message was that if he chooses to, he can buy electricity in the open market from Ethiopia. Of course he can’t, but dreams cost nothing. Then there was talk about government reform, and it was treated with the same skepticism one would receive news that the tenant in apartment 1B is moving to 2C who is moving to 3D who, of course, is moving to 1B. It is the same old blood, being recycled in the same tired veins and arteries.
20. Yemane Gebremeskel Demonstrates Yemanegebremeskelism
Yemane Gebremeskel, the director of the president’s office (we think that means chief of staff), who also happens to be a serial twitter, reached out to AFP and Fox News. Yemane Gebremeskel said his government is misunderstood, and it is making an all-out call to INVESTORS. Please forget every prior experience we had with you when we were trying to impoverish you and drain your life-long savings: COME BACK. We have draft laws that maybe, kinda (cross your fingers) respect property rights. All the businessmen who had dispersed to the Horn of Africa came back to a “seminar on investment” because, well, because their passports are issued by the Eritrean regime. And they said a few relatively blunt words that made it past the censors. Anyway, about those thousands of Eritrean youth leaving the country, is Yemane concerned? “It is not a big issue,” he said.
Using the rule of Yemanegebremeskelism, we are able to divine from this that something horrible was going to happen to Eritrean youth leaving the country because Yemane Gebremeskel has an uncanny ability to predict the exact opposite of what will happen next.
THEN. CAME. LAMPEDUSA.
21. You Can’t Say “Lampedusa” Without Saying “USA”
On Thursday, October 3rd, a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. What we all suspected when our hearts sank was true: it wasn’t just some or many but nearly all were Eritreans. And the boat carried over 500 people. Only 153 survived. And the profile of the survivor is a 22-year old male. But that there were children as young as 11. There were younger children. THERE WAS AN UNBORN CHILD. That the dead are probably disproportionately female and mothers. For hours that felt like weeks, for days that felt like years, we learned that it was actually worse than we thought. There were Eritreans who swam ashore using the floating dead bodies of their compatriots. When the tally came, it was more horrific than the preliminary news: 366 Eritreans perished.
If there was one incident that showed the disconnect between the ordinary Eritrean, on the one side; and the regime and its supporters, on the other: this was it. The ordinary Eritrean was in a state of inconsolable grief; the regime and its supporters were dancing the night away in a regime-organized concert. The ordinary Eritrean priests, sheikhs held prayers; the regime priests and sheikhs were silent. The ordinary Eritrean citizen cried and wailed and demanded change within the regime. The regime supporters demanded change in the rest of the world. The ordinary Eritrean blamed the regime; the regime blamed the USA for Lampedusa. It was to some, including the artist Yohannes Tkabo, a Tipping Point: a “where do you stand?” decision and he answered, “with my people!” It was an event that moved every citizen of the world—except the regime and its supporters.
We mourned for a month until we returned to the general awfulness of it all: Eritreans held for ransom in Sinai; Eritreans threatened with deportation. More news of arrests.
22: You Are Injured? Well, Let Me Insult You!
There were more roundups of Eritrea’s youth; this time, with new roundup agents: the absolutely-don’t-exist-it-is-all-in-our-imagination they-are-just-a-cultural-troupe (but heavily armed) members of the Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition, Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) known by their Tigrinya acronym De.M.H.T. What is surreal is that the TPDM themselves are victims of Isaias’s roundup—there are many Eritrea-raised Tigrayans in them. So, victims of roundup were rounding up other victims. Many of those rounded up are Eritreans who could not attend school because the Eritrean education system is a complete mess with not enough teachers or supplies and the alternative was what it always is for the regime: Sawa!
23. It’s Not Slavery If the Slaves Are Wearing a Military Uniform!
A regime abducting the youth from their parents; a regime abducting grandparents from parents would be considered an outlaw regime which enslaves people. But a regime which first ENLISTS the youth and the grandparents in its “Defense Forces”, why, that is simply a regime “protecting” the country from the “enemy.” Except that: the regime has demonstrated it is unable to defend the nation because the “enemy” can come and go as it pleases him: run a few sorties, bomb a few places deep within Eritrea and return—without facing any criticism from anyone—simply because the “enemy” has done a fairly good job of convincing the world that the Eritrean regime is a menace to the neighborhood. A regime which brags about its ability to “defend Eritrean sovereignty” has been completely paralyzed and powerless when it comes to winning back land it has been awarded in a dispute.
So, yes, it is slavery. But so long as the slaves wear military uniforms, the grandfathers can be sent to Dbarwa to build micro-dams and the grandchildren can be sent to Sawa to learn the art of bribing corrupt officials.
24: Engagement Version 23.0
The West has been on a roller coaster of “let’s-isolate-no-let’s-engage-no-let’s-isolate-no-let’s-engage” ever since Isaias Afwerki told them, via the excellent reporter Robert Kaplan that “he would be more likely to satisfy U.S. demands on human rights in the context of a growing military partnership, but would not do so if merely hectored by the State Department.”
So, in came an old Africa hand from the US, Herman Cohen, to try engagement version 23.0. “Time to Bring Eritrea In from the Cold,” he wrote. Since Mr. Cohen was in charge of African Affairs within the state department when the Derg was overthrown, his recommendation was the subject of speculation: is he floating a balloon on behalf of the State Department? Is he advancing an independent view? Is he simply drumming up business for his consultancy firm? Well, whatever it is, Cohen has to freshen up on recent US-Eritrea relations because it is a bit rusty as this line from his opinion piece showed: “In 2008, the George W. Bush Administration declared Eritrea to be a ‘state sponsor of terrorism.’” No, it didn’t. Try again. But don’t dismiss Cohen; remember the Djibouti precedent, which we will explain below.
25: Prepare the Asylum Applications: Eritrean Footballers Are Here!
“Look,” explained an Eritrean football player, “I had a job, a good job. I am not an economic immigrant. By leaving the country I love, I take the risk of never playing football, a game I love, professionally. But I had to leave the damned country because the idiot Isaias Afwerki has turned it into a hell-hole.” Well, ok, we are paraphrasing, but that was the essence of the message of an Eritrean footballer who, along with his entire team, including the coach (whose sole job it is to chaperone him and his team mates and ensure they don’t defect) defected to Kenya. Did we mention EVEN THE COACH DEFECTED? Oh, did we also mention that this is, oh, the 4th Eritrean national football team to defect? The regime’s solution is to make up Eritrea’s National Football Team entirely from Diaspora Eritreans. If that doesn’t work, well, there is always virtual football.
26. Forever Young
Isaias Afwerki is 3 years away from being 70 years old. And he has been fighting this like hell. His fans wear T-shirts of him in his 20s; his media displays pictures of him in his 50s whenever they are announcing his appearance. He tints his mustache (to the point that it is scary), he tinkers with his receding hairline. But time marches on: he is 67 years old. In August 2013, Eritrea’s Minister of Local Government, Woldenkiel Gebremariam, died suddenly. He was 70. And, we were told, after the fact, he was also the vice president.
27. Forever Feuding
More Eritrean opposition organizations continued their tradition of fighting about more issues that have more-or-less little to do with having more power. The Eritrean opposition media, exhausted, has given up on reporting them because it can visualize its readers not reading them. We are pros, and we are bored, so we expect you to be bored. The only newsworthy event about the forever-feuding mantra of the opposition was that it, this Hdri, was inherited by the young opposition groups and the splintering and re-grouping was continued.
28. The Stealth “Controlled Transition Party ”, CTP, is Formed
The report which the International Crisis Group issued (which nobody discussed) had indicated that post-Isaias Afwerki Eritrea will take one of four shapes: (a): State Collapse (Leading to Civil War); (b) External Mediation or Domination; (c) Peaceful Transition to Multiparty Democracy and (d) Regime Change with Ethiopian Intervention. These being the only choices, says ICG, “a wider coalition of regional and international actors should work toward a controlled transition, as much preferable to unmanaged change.”
In plain English, this means that an Eritrean group with support from regional (Ethiopia, Egypt) and international (US) as well as from within the regime’s dissidents is best positioned to pull off this “controlled transition.”
The Stealth Eritreans group, made up exclusively from EPLF/PFDJ veterans, almost all of whom have been in a state of dormancy over the last 10 years, has stepped in…well, actually, has floated in. Nobody knows its political program, or its plan to expand its base, or its entire make-up. It is the new “Mahber.” All questions have been answered with (a) we have the support of international and regional powers; (b) whatever you say and do may compromise this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so please be patient.
Before we talk about our issue with the stealth “Controlled Transition Party” and its form of logical fallacy, which is Appeal to Authority, let’s talk about the case of Djibouti. What has happened to the Eritrea-Djibouti peace agreement which was signed in June 2010? Nothing. The prisoners of war are still prisoners; Djibouti has been told by the UN that there is a “peace process” and that it must quietly suffer. Why? Because French politicians, for purely domestic political reasons, do not want the disturbance of a distant former colony being presented as an opportunity to their opposition. So putting all your eggs in the “international superpowers” is a recipe for disaster because they are a fickle bunch.
The “Controlled Transition Party” had two choices:
(a) Rally up Eritreans, win their support;
(b) Leverage the people’s support to win the support of the US and the Region.
(a) Rally up the US and the Region, win their support;
(b) Leverage the support of the US and the Region to win the support of Eritreans.
The CTP has made a strategic decision to opt for Choice 2. And once it did, and it accomplished the first part of the choice (or so it claims), it has done virtually nothing to leverage it and win the support of the people. For most of 2012, the CTP spent its time in the “getting ready to get ready” stage. Yes, organizing people and winning their support is a difficult task when the Eritrean landscape is a junkyard of broken down organizations. But it is made more difficult by the group’s tendency to operate in secret and its founders history of never committing to the cause—ending injustice in Eritrea—except on an ad hoc, on-again, off-again basis.
This website has given CTP the benefit of doubt simply because its argument at its core—that change cannot come in Eritrea without linking the Diaspora with Eritrea proper; that it cannot be sustained without the support of the US and the Region; that it must be driven by people with credibility in the West and the Region—is a valid one. However, we remain skeptical of its ability to execute given the indistinct record of the core founding group of CTP and that, more and more, it is resembling EPLF Reloaded. Worse, it might be a Winter Project for NGO budgetary reasons.
29. The Reaction to the CTP
As the rickety PFDJ boat made more creaky noises, and as the “Washington Consensus group” operated in secrecy, more Eritreans were emboldened to share their vision. There was the Union of EPLF combatants for Change. There was the Professor Araya Debessay group (no name yet.) There was the G-22 (a statement signed by 22 professionals); there was the newly-reactivated “Eritreans for Democracy, Justice and Equality” calling on “an initiative to bring together the lowland communities and its political and civil forces”; there was the reaction of the dormant ENCDC calling on scholars and professionals to join them. This is to say nothing of initiatives organized in (by?) Ethiopia. And this is to say nothing of the youth groups, some on ground, but mostly online. Since Eritrea’s population is small and the talent pool is even smaller, many of these organizations are recruiting the same people without giving a clear indication what their unique benefit statement is.
30. The Wedi Vacarro Phenomenon
For sometime now, the Eritrean media, particularly the Paltalk rooms and radio shows, have been good at promoting personalities that dominate the news. There was Pilot; followed by T. Temenuwo; followed by K. Dafla; followed by Y. T/Girgish. All of these individuals became a phenom because they were able to verify information we suspected for long: that the EPLF, under the leadership of Isaias Afwerki, was a killing machine or/and the PFDJ, also under the leadership of Isaias Afwerki, is a corrupt and incompetent machine.
Then came Wedi Vacarro, largely propelled by the rage Eritreans felt after Lampedusa. While he, too, has conducted radio interviews, what differentiates him from others is: his personal tours drawing large audience; his disarming and unqualified apologies for his role in creating Isaias Afwerki and his vision of how to bring about change. One doesn’t have to buy into his entire recommendation list (we don’t); however, we admire his clarity and recognition that no change can come without organizing the people on the ground.
When people leave the PFDJ, we do not think they are under any obligation to make grand announcements if their choice is to be private citizens. We honor this choice whether it is Ahmed Al-Qeysi, Dr. Woldeab Isaac, or Andeberhan Woldegiorgis, or Ali Abdu, or the dozens of Eritreans who have chosen to be private citizens. However, once they make a decision to join the movement for change, then, yes, they MUST come out from behind the curtain and introduce themselves to the people. Preferably, in the manner of Wedi Vacarro.
31. The Ruling Party’s Tree & Its Shiny Ornaments
In December, as it has done every year, Eritrea’s ruling party (which is not a party but a Front, and therefore, allowed to be the ONLY party in the country), started making promises for how next year will be better than the year that just ended. This is why Asmarinos used to call Isaias Afwerki “Tesfom” (hope-giver) before they adopted the new one “eta Tsl’lti sebay” (the crazy man.)
Thus: electricity is coming! Water is coming! Airlines are coming! Sanctions are going to be lifted! We are changing our gear from reverse to 5th!
The biggest ornament the PFDJ hangs on the Eritrean tree every year is the MDG: Millenium Development Goals! These are benchmarks that were developed in 2000 for countries to meet by 2015 and the breaking news that the Eritrean regime and its foot soldiers have been pushing is: Eritrea has already met or is on track to meet by December 2015 Seven of the Eight Goals. (Insert appropriate number of exclamation points depending on your naiveté.) Conclusion: Eritrea has great leadership and Nkhid Tray!
There are limitations to and problems with the MDG and the “Nkhid Tray” conclusions:
a. MDG compares a country against its former self. That is, MDG Eritrea is only comparing what Eritrea looked like in 1990 with what Eritrea looks like in 2013 and measuring the rate of change. The PFDJ can rig both by lying about 1990 or by lying about 2015 or both. And since most of the data is self-reported, there is nothing to stop a compulsive liar of a regime from lying about both.
b. MDG counts the number of “female parliamentarians” and says that Eritrea is on target to achieve gender parity. MDG says nothing of the fact that we have no parliamentarians, male or female. MDG is quite content with the fact that the females are at parity with their male counterparts in achieving total powerlessness.
c. MDG counts number of students enrolled in primary education by counting the number of schools and student population and it is beyond its capacity to measure the quality of the education, the attendance rate, and how it prepares them for higher education.
d. MDG is silent on how many post-secondary students are enlisted in military service because the schools do not have adequate supplies and teachers.
e. MDG cannot measure what the rate of change was prior to 1990 because it is beyond its scope. For example, the one area that the regime and its supporters brag about the most, infant mortality rate, had the same rate of change (on a 5-year average basis) under the Haile Selasse and Mengistu Haile Mariam regimes as it does under Isaias Afwerki.
f. MDG counts compulsory military service as “employment.”
g. And since most of the reports that MDG relies upon are government-issued reports, it has no way of knowing the HIV-AIDS prevalence in Eritrea. In a country whose ruling regime classifies people it has murdered as “martyrs”, how would the MDG even begin to understand what our conscripted youth die from?
If the rate of positive change is what the MDG reports indicate, why are Eritrea’s youth leaving the country in alarming rates?
There are other reports issued by the UN, particularly the UNDP, that paint a truer picture and explains why Eritreans are leaving their country in droves. The UNDP compares Eritrea with equally underdeveloped nations and finds that Eritrea’s mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling, GNI per capita, GDP per capita, government consumption as % of GDP, health as % of GDP, education as % of GDP, military as % of GDP, physician to population ratio, underweight children ratio, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, homicide rate, development assistance as % of GNI, total reserves as % of GDP, international inbound tourism, personal computers ratio, Internet use ratio, fixed/mobile phone ratio and percentage of population living in degraded land are all worse than the average low human development country.
The UNDP finds that Eritrea’s GDP per capita is 1/3 that of the average poor African country. And, in this regard, UNDP agrees with MDG on the one report that the regime and its supporters ignore: that the regime is failing in Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty.
Happy New Year! May it be the year that we take the first steps to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty and usher in an era of peace, justice and democracy!
Inform. Inspire. Embolden. Reconcile.
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