Eritrea At A Crossroads: The People And A Disgraced Regime

If Eritrea is to have a better future, the regime that has been actively dimming that future has to go. I love Aklilu Zere’s writings but this article ( from 2003 in particular, still rings in my head. It paints a clear picture of how Isaias and his murderous ways have been continuously destroying lives for almost 40 years. *As Aklilu aptly puts it “Why would a mad man change his behavior if every time he takes an action nothing happens to him?”* Isaias is in New York now for UN’s 66th session facing demonstrators, both for and against – and the against is particularly significant.  Organized by Eritrean Youth for Change and other brave Eritreans, this is probably the first time on American soil he will be hearing a different music directly. We are at a crossroads.

Since the regime has confiscated all of Eritrea’s resources, it has the means to make louder noises compared to the opposition – good material for its propaganda machine. But the voices of reason are also getting steadier and louder giving one hope that Eritrea could be next in line to topple another brutal dictator as the brave people of the Arab world have been doing. Could this be our own Rosa Parks moment <>, finally tipping the balance in favor of people power?

Following are two true stories to illustrate the two competing value systems in play – one based on mutual respect, listening and problem solving and the other on embezzlements, lawlessness and destruction. The first story, from a recent family gathering, is as inspiring as the second is depressing. Hopefully, the first one will prevail.

Bashay Zerai was a prominent member of his village’s *baito (court*). Through dialog, he and his friends regularly settled village matters under the proverbial *daEro* tree. One day Bashai Zerai hired an orphan boy to tend to his cattle. The boy, mesmerized by the *baito* discussions failed to attend to his duties and the cattle he was supposed to shepherd grazed someone’s wheat field. Understandably, there was one unhappy villager who reported the incident to Bashai Zeral.  In a temporary loss of temper, Bashai Zerai hit the boy as elders often did to reprimand the young. Bashai Zerai’s good friend was not pleased when he heard this.

After deliberations of the next day’s cases were completed and people were getting ready to go home, Bashai Zerai’s friend made an announcement that they are not done for the day yet. Surprised, everyone settled down. He said “Bashai Zerai, everyone knows you are my good friend. And as your good friend it is my duty to point out something that is troubling me. You hit a boy who has no mother or father yesterday. That is not good. I know you very well and I am sure how you reacted does not please you either. As your good friend I just want to let you know that”.

To which Bashai Zerai replied “*HaqKa, Hmaq meAlti wEile*”, meaning you are right, it was unbecoming of me to behave so. The next day, Bashai Zerai went to Asmara to buy new cloths for the boy as an expression of genuine apology.

The story has many layers of beauty. It is indicative of the intrinsic kindness people have towards each other, their readiness to feel the pain of others and do something about it. The story also shows the true meaning of friendship – one pointing errors when they occur as a good friend should and the other heartily accepting responsibility because real friendship is just so. And finally closing the matter, with a specific action that leaves no doubt that words and deeds are in complete harmony.

Contrasting this value system, we now have Eritreans flying from all over to welcome a murderer (re-read Aklilu’s above mentioned article if still in doubt), which leads to the second story.

My wife and I were at a friend’s house where friends of friends were also present. As is often the case, Eritrean affairs started dominating the conversation. I thought I had heard all the vulgarity spewed by the regime’s supporters until someone (not my friend) said the reason why DuruE and his colleagues are imprisoned is because Isaias cares about them so much, he had to put them away to protect them from an angry public that would kill them for the treason they committed against the nation. Wow!

I guess it matters little to this crowd that many of the disappeared have died in prison already. Family members were not allowed to visit them when they were alive nor claim their bodies for proper burial. Having been stripped of all human dignity in life and in death, where do they see the caring?

Isaias has made sure democracy is dead in Eritrea as long as he remains in power and routinely ridicules democracies that are not perfect (“there is no democracy anywhere”). The one who has nothing to offer is laughably declaring those who cannot deliver 100% as failures. How would you feel if your friend or your child told you *“I failed ALL my exams but no worries. Not all of my classmates got all A’s either?”*  Strangely, his worshipers somehow swallow this whole and fail to see the irony even as they are actively squandering their own democratic rights to glorify tyranny — essentially cursing their own free lives in the West and condemning their own people in Eritrea to continued indignities of oppression and poverty.**

Some 2400 years ago, Pericles, paying homage to Athenian culture of his time, said  *the real disgrace of poverty is not in owning to the fact but in declining to struggle against it*. Only in Eritrea’s case, the disgrace is deepened by a regime that has actively promotes poverty through slave labor under the guise of “national service” and by killing all forms of personal freedom.

So, are we — as a society — going to choose the values Bashai Zerai and his friends lived by or that of a regime that has outdone its predecessors in the distribution of misery? Click here<>to
read an excellent article by “Bana from Asmara” with poignant points on what those who still support the regime can do to redeem their humanity. There is still hope for many. For some, there is really nothing that can be said or done. They will die with the disgraced regime – not unlike those who blindly followed Hitler, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, and countless dictators that history is, unfortunately, full of.


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