Eritrea: Anatomy Of A Revolution
Are we there yet? Has our Second Revolution started already? Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? How far are we from the spark that will bring us closer to the destination? The destination is not an end unto itself of course; it’s just the beginning, the flash, the critical defining moment that will trigger the defeat of Isaias Afeworki and his PFDJ – and more importantly, the nailing of the coffin of this terrible era, this zebene Isaias.
It feels like a start alright but for some reason we can barely feel the engine humming or the vehicle moving. But one thing is for sure: we ain’t standing still either!
2011 has undoubtedly ushered a new era in our struggle against the dictatorship. Slowly, but surely, the younger generation is choosing to participate, bringing along badly needed fresh ideas, fresh energy and to some extent a sense of urgency and rage. “Let’s just do it!” is an oft repeated phrase that comes up in brainstorming sessions. Sleeves are rolled, muscles stretched and minds made up. Unfortunately, we wish those are all it takes.
Taking the romantic notions aside, we have quite a distance to travel before we can comfortably claim that our victory is inevitable. Like a clunky old Volkswagen van, our Second Revolution had trouble getting started; now it seems to have jump started finally and trekking along this treacherous, uncharted road, hopefully in the right direction.
This fight of ours is far from over. It’s barely starting. The road ahead is no speedway, and no one is under any illusion that to uproot a dictatorial system 40 years in the making will require skill, tenacity, flexibility, resolve and a triple dose of what the creator forgot to endow us Eritreans: tact. What is tact? A tact is – said one tactful smart-aleck – A tact is telling someone that he has an “open mind” when what you really want to say is actually he has a hole in his head! Well, for the most part, we are a nation of straight shooters, therefore not very good at politicking but perhaps rebellion is in our blood; at least, we tend to admire rebels more than we do politicians.
There is a rebel and a politician in all of us and darn it, the rebel is anxious to jump out and take charge. There will be time for smooth talking, compromising, trust building, huddling and group hugs; but this year, this historic 2011, belongs to taking an action – any action – argues the rebel. The politician wants to be sure every stepping stone is firm enough, every move is in the right direction and that everyone is in agreement. hwuK zbeesi, qerni yneks versus nlomi zeykone nmeAs? There is a thug of war between the impatient and the risk-averse, between the hot head and the easy-does-it, between consensus-seeker and the lone-ranger, between the young and the not-so-young. Who said social change is a smooth sail? Agreements and disagreements, unifications and divorces, compromises and confrontations are the building blocks of a democratic society that nurtures variety of ideas and blossoms as a result of them.
The PFDJ zombies are the only ones who don’t seem to get this phenomenon. “Where is your big man who speaks on your behalf and feeds you off the palm of his hand and commands you to march in unison”, they ask. “How come you have a cafeteria of ideas”, they wonder. It’s a totally new concept to them and the opposite of collectivism and totalitarianism so don’t expect them to get it right away; but this revolution of ours is getting bolder and bolder each day. And why not? As they say, there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. The time has come for despots to be engulfed by the waves of popular revolt. The time has come for teQuawemnti to hold their chin up as tegadelti did before them. Awet N’hafash lives on while nHna nsu is about to be scooped up and dumped into the proverbial dust bin history, never to be recycled.
Even our delusional dictator-in-chief seems to concur with this notion. In his uncharacteristically sober speech at the UN Isaias said:
“This year, 2011, has witnessed the stirring and courageous initiatives taken by the people of many nations to effect fundamental changes that would lead to a new and dignified beginning for them and their countries. While the epicenter of the movement has been in North Africa and the Middle East, it is not limited to the Arab world…”
Then he rumbled on the need for more representative democracy in the developed world. Of course, Isaias Afwerki is more than a deluded fool; he’s actually a con artist. This was his way of conning his gullible followers that he is on the side of the people, the youth, and the oppressed of the region who are demanding change. He knows really well the angry crowd with torches and pitchforks are coming for him. Now he is trying to fool us by grabbing a torch and a pitchfork and billing himself one of the oppressed victims. Nice try, but p-lease!
In the end, what gets con artists is their own arrogance borne out of inflated egos. They think they are smarter than everyone just because certain circumstances had allowed them to get away with it in the past. The battles we are witnessing are between the people and regimes that cling to power by squashing dissent and alternative ideas. Isaias Afeworki represents the decaying regimes not the “new and dignified beginning” – no, not even by a long shot.
The Arab Spring, that wave of demonstrations and protests that continue to rock North Africa and the Middle East, seems to not care that it was actually named after a season. Spring gave way to summer, which has come and gone in the blink of an eye, but the wave of revolutions are still gyrating and sticking to the hopeful season of “spring” where flowers blossom, seedlings sprout and, it seems, new ideas flourish. We are now in autumn, the fall season; but tell that to the revolutionaries who are too busy clinching their fist, waving their slogans, facing tear gas, deadly bullets and torture. Time has frozen, and every minute of every second of the year belongs to spring. It’s already October, nearly 10 months after the desperate suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia whose death sparked this new era of hope and death; of revolution and counter-revolution; of triumph and defeat; of tears of joy and pain. But the message is clear: The people want to bring down the regime. Ash-sha`ab yurid isqat an-nizam, the crowd chanted. They repeated it and repeated it some more until their voice became hoarse and until they began to actually believe in it. And bring down regimes they did.
Rise of the Youth
What is interesting about the PFDJ is that in spite of its non-stop propaganda, brain washing mechanisms and “political education” sessions, it has only managed to cultivate a generation that utterly loathes anything the “party” and its leadership stands for. Young people who came of age in the last 2 decades since independence tend to be more disillusioned and very cynical about the country’s prospects. And who can blame them? They are the ones who had been on the receiving end of all the brutality and stupid policies Isaias and his PFDJ have unleashed on the country. Every young man and woman who made it through the Sawa training and the National Service scheme has a horrendous story to tell. Some talk about the cheapening of human life and the needless losses of lives; deaths from accidents, suicides, disappearances, murders and extra judicial killings. Other focus on the corruption of the officers and the suffering they endured under psychopaths and kleptomaniacs. There is a definite pattern, however. Most of them fondly remember the camaraderie among their friends – friends who helped them in the dark hours; friends who fell during one battle or the other; friends they left behind; and friends who disappeared into thin air. And Hgdef? There is no other word that shudders the youth in Eritrea and those who have escaped its claws. iziom! meAs seb koinom, starts the story – a story that sounds like new but most likely you have heard it before, though from a different victim.
The story of revolt and change in Eritrea is then a matter of how these young people will transform themselves from mere victims into liberators of their people. Most of them are of course inside the country, others are in desperate conditions at refugee camps in Ethiopia or Sudan. Thousands are still in limbo, literally roaming the globe, as illegal migrants, as hostages, as prisoners or waiting to be deported. They have paid or are paying the penalty of being born Eritrean and the excise tax of growing up in Isaias’ Eritrea.
And what do they want most? One word: Salvation.
Yes; salvation, rescue, deliverance. Most of all, they want someone – anyone – to save them from the shackles of Hgdef; for someone – anyone – to deliver them from their bondage and offer them hope that tomorrow will be better than today. If there is one thing the opposition camp seems not to completely get is the sense of urgency in the cries for help. No one is waiting for the implementation of a 5-year plan to reinvent Eritrea, however wonderful that plan is. Just ask them? What do you want? Freedom! When do you want it? Now! Yesterday!
The Revolution is Digitized
It’s still a big world. Eritreans are scattered all over the globe, like grains of salt over a large piece of injera. Technology sure has made it easier to connect and reconnect. For those who know how to properly harness the new inventions in communications technology, a plethora of opportunities pop up. Social media is marvelous in giving the individual great tools to express and broadcast private opinions and beliefs. Just like the Greek god Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals, the inventors of mobile phones, Facebook, Tweeter, Flickr, Paltalk and YouTube have given us – mere mortals – powerful tools to fight back tyrants who want to keep controlling our lives and the airwaves.
Opportunity is where luck meets preparation, said someone. As luck would have it, after a day of gloating and protest, Isaias Afworki’s top political advisor, Yemane Gebreab (a.k.a, Yemane Monkey) is spotted heading toward a pub in Manhattan. A few text messages and phone calls later, he is surrounded by young Eritreans armed with a video camera who heckled him all the way back to a hotel. They kept asking him rhetorical questions about the whereabouts of those who disappeared and jeered him for siding with the dictator. A few minutes later, the video was uploaded to YouTube and EYSC’s Facebook group, where over 8,400 information hungry members help spread it virally across the internet, much to the bewilderment of the regime worshippers. The video has now over 43,000 hits, marking a new milestone for the opposition camp and rendering a blow to Isaias’ propaganda machine.
Those who tend to dismiss something like this as merely “cyber warriorism” are missing the forest for the trees. It’s a brave new world, indeed, and it’s great to witness Eritreans making good use of what technology has to offer. Yes, PFDJ still has EriTV to twist truths and deliver lies, but woe to those who underestimate the power of highly motivated youth, who use technology to organize and take swift actions on the ground. We still a long way to go before mastering the possibilities of today’s technologies, but it is heartening to see Eritreans using the few technologies that were seemingly invented just for us. I don’t know about the others but I believe Paltalk was custom made for Eriteans. Raise your hand, wait your turn, check the microphone (“may I have 111111 please” is the buzz phrase), then talk your heart out. We sure are a nation of gifted orators – public speaking seems effortless for most. With the youth-centric rooms now open 24×7, they are serving as talk-show radio programs. The future is indeed promising and I have a feeling that the best is yet to come; we ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Boiling Kettle
Within the Eritrean community, the rift between those who want change and those who want to maintain the status quo is getting deeper each day. Understandably, there is a lot of animosity and even hatred spewing back and forth. Every ones in while, some kind-hearted Eritrean tries to quell the anger by appealing to our better senses and recommends exercising the art of respecting each other’s opinion and finding a common ground. But how do you find the middle when one side insists the whole thing belongs to them and that the rest of us can go to hell?
Hell? Isn’t that the place of suffering where evil doers go to be punished in the after life? In Eritrea, the evil is clearly being perpetuated by one side. Locking up citizens (even subjects) without a trial and family visitation rights for more than a decade is inexcusably evil by any civilized measurement; isn’t it? Where do you find the middle ground here? How does one not feel hatred for such blatantly evil act? Someone is going to go to hell alright, but that is for the hereafter life. Here in this life, we can only demand change and insist on gaining our rights and never, ever, accepting the immoral status quo of zebene Isaias; for that is hell on earth.
So the water in the kettle gets boiling, angers are brewing, emotions are sporadically bursting and sooner or later the long awaited revolt inside the country will erupt. When that happens, it will be as unmistakable as a whistling kettle steaming off with fury. The PFDJ clan is expected to do everything to prevent that from happening and preserve a system some of whom are cunningly benefiting from while the rest of them find some emotional refuge – a sense of importance – they obviously miss in their personal lives. It’s a symbiotic relationship of a host and a parasite feeding off of each other’s sickly attributes.
The host and the parasite are afraid of change, for that means the end of the world they created for themselves – a romanticized bubble far from reality. Those of us who are demanding change are angry for what this sick system has done to us, our families and our young nation. They are angry; so are we. They despise change; we despise their foolish, wicked and cold hearts. There is plenty of rage alright. Rage has been missing from the Eritrean vocabulary for far too long. The era of submissiveness tightly wrapped with a nationalist flag is quickly coming to an end. Had they not effectively taken advantage of the passive nature of our people, Isaias and his henchmen could not have gotten away with the crimes they have committed, anywhere in the world but in Eritrea.
Dumbfounded and paralyzed, perhaps by some sense of guilt and not knowing what to do, we had let them tear the fabric of our society with impunity. Not anymore though. The revolution is entering its rage-full phase and if properly channeled, the anger and fury can be welcome change. Rage is an emotion, emotion leads to action, and action brings change. Down, Down Isaias! Hgdef, Adna gdef! These phrases are now echoing from San Francisco, to New York, to Stockholm, to London, to Brussels, to Melbourne, to Giessen, Germany. Enough is Enough! The steam of frustration and anger are bursting in the refugee communities of Shimelba and Mai Aini in Tigray, and in camps as far flung as Israel.
Sooner or later, this revolutionary fervor will infect the hearts and minds of our young people inside Eritrea and the long awaited spark will signal the dawn of a new day. How? When? Where? Great questions; but honestly who amongst us has the crystal ball anyway? To the believers and doers, these questions are not as important as the faith and confidence they have in themselves and each other. As Eritreans, we certainly have the intelligence, the power and the wherewithal to solve our own problems and become the masters of our own destiny. Yes, the people can bring down the regime, which has refused to respect their rights. Ash-sha`ab yurid isqat an-nizam! Eritrea belongs to all Eritreans; not just to the few and privileged loyalists who have unashamedly thrown away the photos of martyrs and replaced them with that of the despot who betrayed their cause. Down, Down Isaias! Down, Down Isaias! Echoes of anger, of frustration, of dignity, of hope and of freedom will ring from all corners of Eritrea heading toward Asmara, bouncing off every rooftop, landing on Godena Harnet and Bahti Meskerem. Down, Down Isaias! Down, Down Isaias! Down, Down Isaias!