Eritrean Regime’s Narrative Runs Into The Wall Of Reality

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick

The best way to understand reality has been to contrast it with what it is not: imaginary and false.  But that is not as easy as it sounds for reality, like knowledge, is always evolving and, like knowledge, is  always dependent on authority. Philip K Dick made his name writing some of the greatest sci-fi books, which is to say he was creating his own reality (the author is the authority figure), a reality people happily visited to avoid theirs. In the medical world, someone who doesn’t have a good hold of reality is diagnosed (the doctor is the authority figure) as mentally imbalanced and, depending on the danger he poses to himself and society at large, may be confined.  Similarly, in the political world, reality is what an authority figure says it is (“perception is more important than reality”) and anyone who disturbs that reality is, in the West, marginalized (“Extremist! Socialist!”) whereas, in the truly extremist systems like Eritrea’s, the reality-intruder is made to disappear. To update Philip K Dick’s saying, reality may not go away, but you can detour around it and create an alternate reality—but only if you have a strong narrative and if the new reality is micro-managed by its creators. In video games, this art is called Alternate Reality Game (ARG.) In religion, it is called a cult.   And in politics, like that of Eritrea, it is Orwellian totalitarianism.

Like a cult, or an ARG videogame, Eritrea’s Orwellian totalitarianism is a total immersion program: you are either ALL in, or ALL out.  The system that PFDJ has imposed on Eritrea is Orwellian totalitarianism, a system where the individual is totally subservient to the State; the State is in perpetual state of war; and everything from the past and the present, from the sublime (history), to the superficial (how great-looking the Great Leader is) is minutely controlled by the State in the service of the Party, in the service of the Great Leader.    And it requires a lot of hard work by its micro-managers (“they haven’t gotten one day of rest”, as our mothers say of them sympathetically) and a strong discipline to push the Great Narrative.  Let’s begin there.

I. The Great Narrative of the People’s Front

The actual translation of Hizbawi Ginbar Harnet Ertra should have been People’s Front for the Liberation of Eritrea (PFLE) and not EPLF.  If you agree with that, then you will see the continuity of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Eritrea to People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ.)  One was about bringing Eritrean Liberation and the other is about bringing Democracy & Justice.  Further, if you also agree that reality is what the authority figure says it is—and since the ultimate authority figure for both versions of the PF was One Man—then there was one PF.

One of the things I do once a year is to read the National Charters of the EPLF (1977 updated in 1987) and the National Charter of PFDJ (1994.)  I do that because we have to have minimum points of reference when debating the supporters of the PFDJ—and surely it is not the “unimplemented” constitution.  So when they say, “democracy is being practiced in Eritrea”, you can say, “antum sebat! You don’t have to be right, but be at least coherent.  Your own charter says that the pre-conditions for democracy, as you define it, are not there.”  It is also in the Charters where you find the PF Narrative articulated.  This year, I decided that instead of reading 70+ pages of political pabulum of the two charters I should use the good services of a website which is designed to develop meta tags but can also be used help us mere mortals interpret political documents by representing the words in graph form.   It is called Word Cloud or Text Cloud.  The bigger the word, the more frequently it is mentioned in the text and, therefore, the more important it is.

And here are the six most important words in the PF Charter of 1977-87:
Eritrean. People. Ethiopian. Eritrea. National. Struggle.

And here are the six most important words in the PF Charter of 1994:
Eritrea.  People.   Must.  National. Economic. Development.

Yeah, the word “Eritrean” is gone, and not because of the name change.  And the imperative MUST jumps the line.

But the national charters never moved people—beyond the elite and the intellectuals who had memorized Peirce and the politics of pragmatism.  Most of us thought that the PF, like all its socialist brethren, would fiddle with its political experiment, fall flat on its face, then reverse course. (See also: Nicaragua)  What moved people was the narrative—as told in songs and folktales– and when it came to the Grand Narrative, the PF had a doozie.  And if you don’t understand that, and if you don’t understand how important that is to maintaining its alternate reality, then you need to familiarize yourself with it.  Because once you do, Thomas Mountain will make perfect sense; wikileaks will make sense; the case against the British detainees will make perfect sense; and the anticipated rallies against the UN Security Council referencing the extension of the sanctions will make perfect sense.

Here’s the PF Narrative:

The PF is and was the first and only national progressive organization in Eritrea which, without any help from any nation in the world, fought and defeated a much larger Ethiopia, which was supported by the United States, the Soviet Bloc and all their satellite states.  In its spare time, the People’s Forces/Front also fought and defeated reactionary Eritrean elements.  This organization was always farsighted. It was always charting an independent path. It never received help from anyone.  It built Africa’s most disciplined and invincible army by creating an organization where everybody had a clearly defined role. It is humane.  It is devoted to social justice and its heart beats as one with the people. Its leaders are selfless and incorruptible; its rank-and-file is brimming with the spirit of volunteerism, ingenuity and hard work. It is defiant in defeat but magnanimous in victory: it is always very forgiving even of people who committed heinous crimes against the nation, so long as they see the error of their ways and ask for forgiveness from the people (P) through their sole representative organization, the Front (F.) The PF is building Eritrea brick by brick. Finally, and this is key, why it does what it does is not always readily apparent but, in time, it will be and those who doubted it will come to understand of its visionary ways and the prophetic powers of its leader.   God Himself pauses to admire the creation of His creation. (Strike that: hard to make that claim when you are godless.)

II. How The Narrative Trumps The Facts

A PFDJ supporter will filter every fact through the PFDJ narrative.  When the facts contradict, glaringly, with the narrative above, he will be disoriented, speechless, dumb-struck, but only until he is made to understand how the facts submit to the powerful narrative.  The power of PFDJ’s narrative is awe-inspiring in the same way that any cult is.   (Refer to this confession from another cult member, a Scientologist: “I was in a cult for 34 years,” he tells the latest issue of the New Yorker of his time in the church. “Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”) A PFDJ supporter who visits Eritrea, and lives in the reality-based world of Eritreans for 3 to 6 weeks will be entirely disoriented and will begin to doubt his faith in his precious PFDJ and will curse them non-stop; then, far removed from the reality-based world and fed a constant diet of reality-making narrative in exile, he will quickly recover and regain his fierceness and will attack, with relish, all those who curse the PFDJ.

Let’s now look at a few examples of the facts in the service of the Narrative, beginning with the British “assassins.”

a. The Case Of The British Assassins

The PFDJ alleged that a group of British assassins, equipped with an “arsenal of automatic weapons, a sophisticated satellite communications system, state of the art electronic target range finders, and most damning, several sniper rifles” were caught “red-handed in the midst of preparing an attempt to assassinate the top leadership of the Eritrean government in the port city of Massawa.” What is in quotes is from an article by Thomas Mountain, who is the only “private journalist” who is allowed to work in Eritrea.  And since nothing comes out of Eritrea, especially something of such import, without the blessing of the government, one can safely assume that what Thomas Mountain wrote was condoned (if not intravenously fed) by the highly centralized PFDJ.

The purpose of Thomas Mountain’s grand story was NOT to advance an argument but a narrative.  Sure, we had a good laugh reading about the lonesome lady taking the “shortcut home through an adjacent out-of-service salt flat” who spied on the spies, but it is not really supposed to make any sense, from a factual standpoint.  It was designed to advance the narrative of Eritrea under siege by superpowers and how one vigilant woman, whose heart beat in perfect synchronicity with the government, helped to avert a disaster– a disaster that could have ended Eritrea as we know it. (Incidentally, all disasters in Eritrea are Eritrea-ending disasters.)   Arguments rise and fall on their merits; narratives only have to touch emotional hot buttons.    This is why Mountain’s Tall Tale was not published in the official websites of the PFDJ but in the second tier of the PFDJ food chain: Dehai, Alenalki, Biddho, Meskerem.  The PFDJ’s slogan is: why be an idiot when you can use useful idiots?

Those of you who live in the real world that doesn’t have to submit to the Grand Narrative find all this pretty hard to digest.  These Brits were detained for 6 months, accused by Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry of terrorism and sabotage and then they were pardoned, with time served, “in accordance to law.”  Which government pardons assassins who came to assassinate the head of state? If these assassins confessed to all their wrong-doing, why didn’t they confess about their alleged mission? If they are guilty as charged, why were they not brought to a court of law, where the whole world could witness the complicity of the evil United Kingdom that aided and abetted this terrorism, according to the PFDJ? If they are to be pardoned, based on which law? Which article of the law?  By whom?

Consider now the decision of the managers of PVI, which employed the Brits who were in detention for plotting the assassination attempt.  They had a choice: to argue on the basis of facts–presenting their own timeline of what happened, and when it happened, and why it happened, and why it was unjust for their employees to be in detention for 6 months without consular access—or to argue on the basis of appealing to the PFDJ narrative, and particularly this one: that it is magnanimous in victory and often forgives its most determined enemies as long as they apologize.  The PVI managers were smart enough (or lucky enough or desperate enough) to argue on the basis of the PFDJ narrative: they went for the unqualified apology:

“We are an armed maritime security firm for which carrying weapons for protective purposes is part of our client remit. It was not our intention to engage in a hostile confrontation with Eritrea and we apologise unreservedly if that was the way things were perceived. We deeply regret that and will apologise to the Eritrean government as well as take every step necessary to secure the release.”

By doing so, they tapped (or were ordered to tap) into the well of the PFDJ narrative: the Eritrean regime which, so goes the narrative, has a history of being so merciful and magnanimous even to Ethiopian prisoners of war who were treated so well; who did not deport a single Ethiopian when the Ethiopian regime deported Eritreans by the tens of thousands (stick to the narrative)  HAD to pardon the Brits.  We will come to the “merciful nature” of the PFDJ, which is belied by facts, later.  For now, let’s resume our story with the Brits. The details of their release are sketchy, but it involved Qatar, but here’s what we do know about how it was packaged to the domestic market. It was told that the pardon was done “in accordance with the law.”   Even more brilliantly, this news of their pardon was sandwiched somewhere in a reportage of a Minister’s report about construction of a micro dam and another Minister’s report about the inauguration of an elementary school and it hit every erogenous zone of the average government supporter because it showed, once again, that the government is building Eritrea brick-by-brick, that it is magnanimous in victory. The cultists’ six-month-long state of zombiness was settled: the “steady hand” of the government had always known what to do.  It was time to celebrate, and 16,000 babies were conceived that night.  But that is a mere estimate.

b. The Case of the University Of Asmara Students

It is July 2001 and students at the University of Asmara are saying something that the PFDJ is not used to and that word is “NO!”  The Ministry of Education wants them to go on a summer campaign—“to conduct census and outreach” at 25 nakfas per day—and the students argue (a) the money is not enough to cover their expenses; (b) the Ministry of Education cannot order them to engage in forcible labor because that is against the UN charter which Eritrea is a signatory to.

Sounds reasonable and, as far as student demonstrations go, hardly revolutionary.   But, in the narrative of the PFDJ, “the people and the government are one” and the people just don’t say NO to the government.  Clearly something was really wrong; the heart was not beating as one.    So the students are herded like cattle, dispatched to Wia where two students, Yirga Yosief and Yemane Tekie, died of dehydration and, subsequently, to further deserts for their re-education camp for two months —to give them a pacer so their heart is synchronized with that of “the government and the people.”  What follows is from a testimony that Elsa Chyrum was able to glean from an escaped prisoner which we translated to English:

After two months, they were gathered up and told what their “crimes” were by Colonel Gabriel Woldeselase and Major General Gerezgheir Andemariam (“Wuchu”).   Colonel Gabriel tells them :

“Because you have rejected a call that would have benefited the country and the people, you are guilty.”

Major General Gerezgheir Andemariam “Wuchu” is more colourful.  He says:

“Like somebody who has been infected with AIDS, you have been infected with G-15.  You are guilty of crimes against the people and the government.”

If you are obsessed with facts or the rule of law, you will exhaust yourself looking for (and not finding) a law against “rejecting a call that would have benefited the country” or “being infected with AIDS, G-15.”   But if you know the PFDJ narrative—that it is a military organization where the whole country is pressed into service, everybody has a defined role, where orders are not debated but executed—why, then, it makes perfect sense.  Their crime was insubordination.   And the punishment for insubordination is severe—it could even be the death penalty.

So what happened to these youth who were guilty of rejecting a call and of being infected with the AIDS of the G-15?

Everyone was asked a written question: I, having disobeyed a government proclamation that would benefit the government and the country, am correct or wrong.” The written document further said that if you say that you did not disobey but were exercising your rights, you would be considered guilty.   Every student was asked.  We all knew that what we had done was correct.  However, using force and intimidation, they compelled us to say that it was wrong.  They got what they wanted; and we lost.  Particularly because the cost was Yirga Yosief and Yemane Tekie.

But, as Major General Gerezgheir Andemariam (“Wuchu”) told the students, they really should not have been so torn as to which one was the right path.  As he told them:

The government knows what is best for you; so say ok, to whatever it tells you.  As for whatever it is you are guilty of, it is on your head and it will follow you.

As the person who provided the testimony to Elsa Chyrum explained it, “we understood, henceforth, our future under this government would be the depth of darkness.”

And the students, and all the youth, started voting with their feet: getting the hell out of Eritrea, by any means necessary, to anywhere.  Including to Ethiopia.   And the University of Asmara was permanently closed.  But that is not the end of the story.

c. The Case of The Escaped Eritreans

There is no story that is more telling of the preposterous-allegation-followed-by-pardon pattern of the PFDJ than the way the Eritrean regime deals with Eritreans who escape the country.  If they are caught while attempting to escape, they are accused of every grave crime there is: deserting, cowardice, mutiny and anything else it can add.   They will be shot on sight or captured and held for interrogation in the most inhumane conditions and tortured in the most savage way.  But if they successfully escape and are in a foreign country and, say, need the embassy services of the regime, all they have to do is sign an attestation admitting that they did wrong and ask for forgiveness from the “government and people of Eritrea.”  Then, once forgiven, they can use the embassy to, say, send money to Eritrea, to their parents, to pay the penalties for their escape.  This way, they can be corrupted to live in the PFDJ Universe: of people who pledge eternal loyalty to the regime while they secretly smuggle their families out of Eritrea.  The goal is to corrupt the entire country; cause once corrupted, you can’t complain of corruption.  It is Rule 101 in initiation to a gang.

III. The Discipline Of The PF Narrative

The People’s Front is highly disciplined and relentless when it comes to pushing the Narrative.   The entire Eritrean calendar is about polishing the narrative: the People’s Front is about ensuring societal harmony  and it does it by celebrating Eritrean culture (July-August: Festival/Expo.) The People’s Front is about ensure Eritreans religious co-existence  and it does it by celebrating (“at the national level”, as its website says) on Lidet, Fasika, Eid Al Fater, Eid Al Adha, Mewlid Alnebi, Christmas.  The People’s Front is about ensuring Eritrean independence and military achievement and it does it by celebrating Operation Fenkil (February) and Independence Day (May.)  The People’s Front is, above all else, veneration of martyrdom and it does it by marking Martyr’s Day (June). All these markers have to be celebrated with dances and parties—including Martyr’s Day (“don’t mourn the dead; greet the news with ululations,” is the stuff of songs, and propaganda pieces.) The PFDJ has really become the abo gwyla, the party host, of Eritrea: eat, drink and be merry: “blUlna steyulna yblkum alewu:: bejakum, zban mengisti, Hanti bani t’aklekum!” All the other holidays (Plant A Tree, Women’s Day, etc) all serve one or more of the Narrative. 

No “distractions” are allowed in this bubble: news about North African revolutions, or food shortages in Eritrea, or statistics which show Eritrea is stuck or going backwards are annoying facts that do nothing to advance The Narrative and are ignored.  It is part of the PFDJ’s humane treatment of the people:  you don’t tell someone who is racing to get somewhere anything to de-motivate him from reaching his destination, do you? Wait till he gets there, for God’s sake.

There is no rest, no break time from weaving the narrative. I was at a community center (read: PFDJ office) in late 2001, and there was a kid, a University of Asmara student, providing first hand testimony of what transpired in the summer of 2001.   And as the kid was providing the facts of what transpired (in plain Tigrigna that we all understood), there was a PFDJ guy translating it for us in real time.  If the kid said, “then we asked for our rights…”, our translator would say, “oh, yes, to be young…we have all been there!” If the kid complained about how hot WiA was, our translator would say, “it is not that hot, really, I have been there, it is actually quite lush…”  It was something to behold: history being erased and re-written in real time.  Now that’s commitment.

IV. The Limits Of The PF Narrative

The problem with the alternate reality of the PFDJ is that like all alternate realities it is penetrated by Reality.   This happens when people lose faith; when Reality is so overwhelming that it crashes the Alternate Reality, or when an Alternate Narrative begins to take shape.

a. Losing Faith

If you have seen behind the curtain to see the tricks of the magician, the magic doesn’t impress you like it used to.   And, as they say, if you have been to a sausage factory, you probably will give up sausage.

 About a week ago, I was watching an Eri-TV documentary on the liberation of Nakfa, the 12-month campaign and siege, as told by those who were part of the campaign.  I am old enough to remember the songs and all the myth-building, all the feel-good moments from that era (1977), and, 10 years ago, this documentary would have moved me to tears.  But watching it now—knowing about the people that were erased from history; having read Aklilu Zere’s “The Birth Of Despotism” (referencing Berhe tSa’Eda and Ali Said)—I was unmoved.    In fact, I caught myself being fascinated by all the things I wasn’t supposed to be.  Like, is the footage really from the Nakfa war, or has it been patched together from other wars, other videos?  Like: how funny it is to hear people from Sahel speaking in Shaebia-Asmarino Tigrigna, where every hill is a “taba” and every enemy is spoken of as if he were a woman. (Inside joke: taba Tegadalai Semere Andom.  No kurba, no kjot for you, buddy.)

b. Overwhelming Facts

The Narrative works as long as you are painting a picture of what the future looks like because who can argue with a dream?  But when it is being used to re-write history—history you have personal knowledge of—or to re-write the present, then the Narrative begins to break down, particularly if you have already begun to lose faith.

No claim of the PF’s alleged military invincibility can explain what happened in Eritrea, militarily, in 1999 and 2000.  You can spin, full time, and weave fantastic stories, but they will be tall tales.  No narrative can explain away the overwhelming statistics provided by Ahmed Raji which show that the PF claim of the happy rainbow of diversity is not just unrealized but has gotten dramatically worse even in comparison to the colonial era.  No narrative can explain away the fact that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of Eritreans are—even now, as you read this—being tortured, held in atrociously inhospitable places, and summarily executed.  The claim of “I didn’t know” can credibly work in the age of typewriters and hand-written booklets and one way radios, but it just can’t work in the Information Age of Instant Messages, texts and the Internet.

c. Counter Narrative

There was a long time when we in the opposition just told stories, disconnected stories, but now we have our own narrative.  It is not quite as compelling as the PF’s Grand Narrative, but thanks to people like Elsa Chyrum, we are getting there.

Elsa Chyrum, our great human rights advocate, has a video interview with Eyob Bahta Habtemariam, a former guard at the notorious Eira Eiro prison which many of us find quite gripping and compelling.   This website also interviewed another former guard, Mehari Yohannes, who chose to facilitate the escape of his prisoner, Semere Kesete,  whom we also interviewed.  There are other single issue advocacy groups—for Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, for Eritrean Aster Yohannes—who are publicizing their sad stories.  There are many other outlets (assenna, asmarino, ferejet, etc) who are highlighting heart-breaking stories of Eritrean prisoners, Eritrean refugees, and Eritrean victims.  There are now many, many youtube clips posted by independent Eritreas, all putting the building blocks of our narrative: that the PFDJ is a brutal, sadistic, war-mongering organization which is incapable of bringing democracy and justice to Eritrea.

These counter narratives are effective because the PF has no rebuttal for them that are not laughable.   Isaias Afwerki said that the most productive Eritreans leaving the country by the thousands are going for a picnic; and his foot soldiers are reduced to saying that Mehari, Semere or Eyob “look like Agame” and are not real Eritreans.

Of course, the most powerful counter narrative which is emerging is that the PF, under its current leadership, has become an extremist political organization which is dead-set on destabilizing the Horn of Africa and will support extremists and, in fact, terrorist political groups to bring about its vision of a region where the PF is the dominant political actor.

Next month, the UN Security Council is expected to take up the issue of what to do with the mandate of the Eritrea Somalia Monitoring Group, the targeted sanctions against the Eritrean regime, based on its destructive role in Somalia. In an era where accusations of being “a terrorist” have diminishing credibility due to the fact that the allegation has been erroneously applied so many times (including by the PFDJ itself), the PF should not have an impossible time finding sympathetic friends to help it challenge the allegation.

But is it? And what is the PF doing?

Over the years, the PF never developed the language of reason—lawyering, diplomacy, and persuasion—steeped as it has been in the language of passion– sloganeering, demonstration, and protests.   Had it believed in political pluralism, it would have been forced to develop the language of reason over the last 20 years: it would have been negotiating and bargaining and coalition building.  If it believed in diversity of opinions, it would have been forced to learn the art of arguing.  If its donors, the Eritrean Diaspora had, like the Somaliland Diaspora, demanded accountability and representation in exchange for their investment, it would have learned the meaning of accountability.  If it believed in regional alliances, it would have developed these skills at IGAD or the AU or COMESA.

But all those were wasted decades.  Since 1993, when Eritrea was granted membership at the OAU (29th summit heads of state, in Egypt) when Chairman Isaias said that Eritrea is joining the organization not because it hoped any benefit would come out of it but because, he said citing an Eritrean proverb, what is your father’s is yours, (it is a damn chore), it has all been downhill with El Presidente just indulging himself and insulting whoever was annoying him—and he gets annoyed pretty frequently.

So now all it has is panicked reaction—one press release after another which only serve to highlight its own bankruptcy.  To accuse the UN of being the “accuser, witness, judge, prosecutor” denying you the right to self-defense is not only factually incorrect (because the regime has been given the case against it; the regime has been asked to give its side of the story), it reminds people that that is exactly how you treat Eritrean victims of your injustice.

The PF will lose its case in court of opinion and facts at the UN Security Council, but it is not all lost.  It can use its loss to advance its Grand Narrative: “the same United Nations which is responsible for a great injustice against Eritrea in the 1940s, and again in 2004, the same United Nations under the direction of the same United States and employing the same Ethiopia as a conduit, is once again inflicting a grave injustice against Eritrea. Eritrea is alone once again and, at all costs, we must double our resolute rebuff, etc”   The planned World wide demonstrations have zero chance of having any impact with the UN Security Council, but they will be useful to pass on new chapters of the Great Narrative of victimization to a new generation of Eritreans.

V. Back To Reality

Reality always wins—but the winner gets to define what reality is.  In one of the wikileaks reports, US former ambassador to Eritrea, McMullen, reports that Isaias Afwerki has very fond memories of China and probably idolizes Chairman Mao and sees him as a kindred spirit.

Mao Zedong: now there is a guy with an even more gripping narrative. Mao created China: before him,  it was a completely backward, chaotic, illiterate, famine-stricken, feudal society that was often occupied and humiliated by a much tinier nation of Japan.  To create a nation from nothing, he had to practically invent guerilla warfare.  And he did—and that’s why his picture still hangs at Tiannemen Square.   But there are facts, brutal facts, called “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” that no narrative can fix. As the oft-quoted Mao contemporary Chen Yun said:  “If Mao had died in 1956, his achievements would have become timeless.  If it had happened in 1966, he still would have been a great character.  But he died in 1976.  And so then, what can one say?”

There is actually some similarity between Isaias Afwerki and Mao Zedong. The qualities they possessed—strategic thinking, extreme will power, dogged stubbornness—were crucial in leading revolutions facing overwhelming odds to victory.  But they were worse than useless, and a detriment, for nation building.   Long after the facts of the “Great Leap Forward” (20 million Chinese dead of starvation) and Cultural Revolution (30 million Chinese “Yeka’alos” killed by Chinese “Warsays”) were clear to everyone that they were utter disasters, Mao’s dogged stubbornness and persistence prevented him from knowing them.  Similarly, all the facts that are known to the entire world are “fabrications” and “exaggerations” to Isaias Afwerki, and therefore, to his loyal followers.

One difference between Chairman Mao and Chairman Isaias: Mao, even at the height of his power, had always to contend with his peers in the Communist Party.   In fact, they stripped him of chairing the party after the disaster of the Cultural Revolution and he didn’t exactly get the heir he wanted after his death.   But there is no such constraint for Chairman Isaias: the PFDJ is really a hollow shell and all those who had the moral authority to challenge him are either dead, in prison, in exile, or happily subservient.  This is why, even if you were no fan of the EPLF, what happened to the G-15 was really bad for Eritrea.


The People’s Front’s ability to maintain power is dependent on its ability to create and then micromanage an alternate reality within a totalitarian state.   The strongest tool it has to hold its grip on power is the same one that is available to all totalitarian states—employing the entire machinery of the State to terrorize the individual.   There are, however, still Eritreans who are enthusiastic supporters of the PFDJ primarily because of the power of The Narrative.   The PF Narrative, which has been operational since its founding in 1970, says that a prospering, progressive, strong, just and democratic Eritrea at peace with itself and its neighbors, can only come about through the PF, but that there are superpowers and their servants arrayed to stop this from happening.   This narrative, like all narratives—video games, science fiction, religious cult—has its weak points and can be defeated.   This happens when the facts are dramatically at odds with the narrative or when a new coherent narrative emerges that overpowers the PF narrative.

When will this happen? Chairman Mao was in power in China for 27 years; the Brother Leader Moammer Qaddafi has been in power for 40 + years.  So who is to say when our change is coming?  But what we can say is that if there are more of us, if we harness and co-ordinate our tools,  if we can get a bit more emboldened, a bit more confident, and if we do it because it is right, irrespective of the odds of its success, we have a better chance of succeeding and succeeding quickly than if we do it separately and meekly and half-heartedly . And if we do it consistently—the metaphor we use at is that of water drip drip dripping non-stop to dissolve the hard-rock—we increase the odds of success  compared to the intermittent cycle of struggle we have seen over the last ten years: that of an organization bursting with high energy/optimism only to follow it with  a lull and wait-and-see hibernation.  In the end, our reality must still submit to authority—but it has to be the authority of the people or, until we actually poll the people, our best interpretation of the universal aspirations of people anywhere: freedom, justice and democracy.  Ultimately, it is the people’s aspiration that never goes away, and no narrative, no Orwelian totalitarianism  is too powerful to overcome a people’s aspiration to be FREE.


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