Eritrea Every Year: “We Will Get’em Next Year”
In five months, Eritrea will be celebrating 20 years of freedom from foreign rule. Unfortunately, that is all we will be celebrating because, certainly, we won’t be celebrating freedom. For the last 19 years, the Eritrean tyrant has addressed the nation by expressing false progress for the year that just ended and making empty promises about the coming year. And, why not: with no oversight—no independent legislature, no independent judiciary, no independent media—he is free to say anything with the knowledge that nobody is in any position to call him on his lies. Nobody in Eritrea, that is: in the rest of the world, everybody knows that he is a compulsive liar and criminally incompetent about virtually every challenge Eritrea is facing.
This year, the Isaias Afwerki trolls and the wedo gebba from the opposition have been celebrating a report from The Economist which is forecasting that Eritrea will have one of the five fastest growing economies in the world. The shamelessness of the Isaias trolls is literally limitless: for years, they maligned newspapers like The Economist for being “anti-Eritrea” (by which they mean critical of Isaias Afwerki); for years, they said that GDP growth means nothing as it is not a good measure of economic growth; for years, they said that any measurement which shows that Ethiopia is making economic progress is unreliable. But they forgot all of that and started chest-thumping dances once The Economist magazine said that Eritrea’s GDP will grow 10% in 2011. Well, let’s look at that now and, in the process, try to help our economically illiterate trolls.
The first thing to consider is the economic base. Let’s say that you and your colleague have the same level of experience and are employed performing the exact same job with the exact same job duties. You are making $6/hour and your colleague is making $60/hour. Both of you have an annual evaluation and your boss gives you and your colleague a 60 cent raise–which is 10% for you, but only 1% for your colleague. In theory, your income is growing at a huge rate, because you are starting out from such a small base; but in reality, you are far, far behind your colleague. It is easy to register impressive-sounding percentage growths but what has to be remembered is that Eritrea’s GDP is less than 1.1 billion, the 4th lowest in Africa!
The second thing to consider is that Isaias is irrelevant to Eritrea’s growth. Let’s look at the five other countries whose economies are considered fastest growting: they are Qatar (15.9%), Ghana (14%), Eritrea and Ethiopia (10%), China (8.4%) and India (8.2%). For years, the supporters of the tyranny of Isaias Afwerki said that only under his strong grip will Eritrea register economic growth. But the government of Qatar is a monarchy, Ghana is a liberal democracy, Ethiopia is a halting democracy, China is a state-planned capitalism, and India is a liberal democracy. So, their claim that only under Isaias and only under PFDJ-type of government can Eritrea develop is demonstrably false.
The third thing: Closer scrutiny of the projected growth for Qatar, Ghana, Eritrea and Ethiopia shows that these countries are now in the business of providing commodities to the so-called “emerging markets” nations, i.e. China. China will get gas from Qatar, oil from Ghana, minerals and cement from Eritrea and agriculture products from Ethiopia. And China will do this to grow its economy which is driven by manufacturing and export. The economic growth from Eritrea is entirely dependent on foreigners extracting Eritrea’s minerals. The process is a “sugar high”: it doesn’t educate Eritrea’s workforce who are leaving the country in droves; it doesn’t create financial institutions with multiplying effects; it creates no manufacturing base; no IT industry. It is no different than the so-called colonial economy of the 19th-20th century: the third world provided the raw materials. The only difference now is that the destination for the raw materials is not Europe but China.
In any event, given the suicidal tendencies of Isaias Afwerki, people should not be surprised if they hear that he has evicted one or more of the foreign companies now extracting minerals in Eritrea—mines extracted without the knowledge, much less approval, of the stakeholders.
But the most important part of economic growth is the answer to this question and we pose it to those who are cheering the news: Will the projected economic growth translate into a better standard of living for the Eritrean people or will it be new wealth that will be plundered by Isaias Afwerki and his warlords, the corrupt generals? We are absolutely sure that the people will see no benefit from this new wealth: it will be divided up between Isaias Afwerki and his bodyguards, i.e., the “generals.” In short, as the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same!
“The 11th Commandment”
In 1966, the future president, (then governor of California), Ronald Reagan popularized the 11th Commandment, to wit: “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” This was when the Republicans were a besieged minority and Ronald Regan wanted them to focus all their energies on their political opponents—the Democratcs—and spend as little energy as possible criticizing their fellow Republicans: at least not publicly.
The question is this: how much of our time and energy should we spend towards our number one political opponent, Isaias Afwerki and his thoroughly corrupt system, and how much of our time and energy should we devote to inter-opposition disagreements? We think we should devote all our time and energy to bringing down the regime of Isaias Afwerki—with one exception: we should also focus our attention on threats that rise to the level of undermining our struggle against the Isaias regime.
The ability to differentiate between, on the one hand, meaningless ego squabbles and, on the other hand, dangerous campaigns to undermine our struggle has been one of the things lacking in Eritrean opposition groups. Consequently, the opposition figures treat ALL differences as if they have the potential to undermine the struggle against Isaias, and they focus all their attention on them, forgetting the main target. In fact, if the priorities were to be properly lined up, they would be as follows:
(1) The Eritrean People
(2) The Eritrean People
(3) The Eritrean People
What this means is that if we have just enough resources to fight Isaias Afwerki or to help helpless Eritreans, we should focus on the helpless Eritreans like those stuck in deserts and refugee camps. Isaias Afwerki is an issue only in that he gets in the way of helping the Eritrean people. And our opposition struggles are an issue, only to the extent they get in the way of fighting the Isaias Afwerki regime, who is an obstacle to alleviating the miseries of Eritreans.
Unfortunately, many opposition figures like to do the easy thing—which is to demonize fellow opposition figures. This is struggle-on-the-cheap: it requires no energy, no hard work: just the ability to spout venom. It contributes nothing to alleviating the misery of Eritreans and those who think they are “struggling” by demonizing their fellow opposition compatriots are only fooling themselves.
In this regard, we are kind of impressed—with huge reservations—by the work of the Eritrean National Conference for Democratic Change (ENCDC). It has completely ignored its critics—and there are so many of them—and decided to focus on work. To a political organization, work means organizing. And that’s what the ENCDC has been doing. Since August, the ENCDC has formed about 40 committees with about 700 members. It is organizing meetings and membership drives throughout the world. And it is on track to hold a more inclusive, more representative conference next year. So far, the ENCDC is handling its task with care—there has been, so far as we know, nothing that is common to all Eritrean gatherings: splits and withdrawals and we encourage the ENCDC to continue to focus on the big picture and not get mired in petty egos, beauraucratic mazes and obscure bylaws. And we admire its discipline in refusing to be dragged down by the petty provocations from bitter camps. Our reservation is that we fear it is too absorbed in PROCESS at the expense of results. We also fear that many of the allegations against it, unanswered as they are, will stick. We do not want it to go into the tit-for-tat battles of the Internet; we do want it to answer some of the more serious questions from well-meaning Eritreans.
In the same vein, we would like to address the author Alena who has been popularized by assenna.com. Firstly, we commend assenna and its editor Amanuel Iyasu: in a very short time, while making its fair share of mistakes (and who hasn’t?), the website has established itself as a forum of information and opinion. We hope that the website, Amanuel and Alena accept this message as it is intended.
Alena is a great writer with impeccable and highly readable language skills. Nonetheless, we think that he would have done the struggle more service if he focused all his energies on exposing the workings of the PFDJ instead of targeting individuals who should be brought to a court of justice if they are to be held accountable.
The Eritrean struggle has come to this crossing over the blood of many. The epic struggle was a violent confrontation between Eritreans who sought freedom and successive Ethiopian regimes who wanted to keep their grip on the fate of the country. This is something that all the neo-critics of the Eritrean revolution forget: the context. That the Eritrean revolution was facing a brutal enemy—considered one of the most brutal in the world—supported by superpowers, an enemy that was bent not only on destroying the revolution but all those it suspected, including women and children, of supporting the revolution. It was a clear confrontation between two enemies who were fighting with whatever they had to kill the other. Anyone who was in one side or the other is a conscious “victim” of the confrontation. But there are many innocent victims that perished along the way and almost everyone would agree that some accountability is due—not just for the purpose of introducing people to the confines of law and decency, but also to provide long-suffering family members a closure. As a result, what befalls the perpetrators of any crime during the struggle era would have to be decided by a sovereign Eritrean legal system once the people are able to set up one. But appointing one’s self the court and jury and condemning people with crimes that cannot see due process is counter productive.
The main target of Alena has been Mesfin Hagos. It’s totally legitimate to criticize Mesfin based on his performance since he left the regime and became part of the opposition. For example, we think it is legitimate to criticize Mesfin for squandering the goodwill—a huge political capital—he had in 2000. His negative attitude and contrarian positions on major opposition issues have been very disappointing. Instead of seizing the opportunity and strengthening the opposition, he and his group had been trying hard to disassociate themselves from the opposition with the hope of gaining the goodwill of the PFDJ supporter and its dropouts—but after ten years, his party has nothing to show for that effort. These, we believe, are legitimate criticisms. But to accuse the man of crimes (even if he had committed them) without due process is not wise. It is unfair for a nameless person to make such grave accusations: there is no parity there. After all, he is innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, Mesfin lives in the West and anyone who wants to hold him accountable for the alleged crimes could easily approach a court—but not anonymously and using a pen name—anywhere in the West. The Internet is simply not a place for such proceedings.
Beyond that, we are appreciative of assenna, and we encourage it to continue to blaze on the fearless path to exposing the lies and tyranny of the PFDJ.
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