These are my reflections on why some of the Eritrean youth are either supporters of the regime or politically indifferent.
Youth is a social sector defined by an age group normally ranging from 15-35 but the regime extends the upper limit to 40 or more to suite its manipulative purposes. In Eritrea, like in any other third world country, the youth constitute the majority of the population and a main potential force work. On top of that the youth are the most dynamic, energetic, and open minded sector of societies.
In this article I will shed some light on and probe the problems that hamper the active engagement of youth in politics propose possible solutions.
This article is mainly based on the findings of brainstorming sessions of an ad hoc committee which was formed in the seminar of ‘the intellectuals and professionals’ held in Addis in 2011. A few members of the committee shared their rich personal experiences as direct participants in different youth activities in Eritrea after independence and they shared invaluable first-hand information. We, the elder participants found the hair-rising revelations very illuminating and explained how the PFDJ regime runs, and maintains its control and manage to survive defying all logical expectations. Moreover, my observations have been compiled from youth views expressed on Facebook pages with the intention of corroborating my views on the root causes of the general political apathy that has characterised the youth behaviour.
The information obtained clearly attributes the survival of the regime mainly to the adoption of intricate organisational methods and policies aimed at recruiting and ultimately exploiting the youth sector to preserve the regime’s hold on power.
It is obvious that the regime has existed by virtue of establishing a very sophisticated network of security and mafia-like forms and practices—recruitment, mobilisation and indoctrination of the youth sector which have been intensively and persistently carried out to turn the youth into obedient and devoted servile subjects who would constitute the supporting pillars, upon which the regime’s structures are built. And through that mechanisms, its grip on power and control of the nation is maintained.
The process of enticing the youth into the mafia-like network varies from using persuasive methods of offering attractive and lucrative opportunities to unrestrained coercion and threat—a mischievous and cunning carrot-and-stick policy where financial benefits, easy access to moral or immoral entertainments, exemption from military and other servitude duties, easy access and progress in education levels, and when that fails, the regime brandishes the stick, and exercises all forms of coercion to force the reluctant youth into finally succumbing to, and forcibly joining its network organisations or simply suffer grave consequences ranging from indefinite incarceration to summary executions.
The recruited youth, go through a selection processes to filter out youngsters of the required calibre. Trained and incessantly brainwashed to engrave and implant the values of the regime in their minds and at the same time instil psyche deep loyalty and devotion to it. They are further groomed to qualify for promotion up the rungs of leadership to finally assume important posts in the different youth organisations which constitute the backbone of the regime.
These organisations, irrespective of what titles or facades, their functions are to serve as part of the security apparatus of the regime. Thus, each is assigned to spy on the other, be it a close friend, family member or even high party and government official. Finally, by making all feels unsafe, each one has to watch their back and are cowed to complete quiescence: either full collaboration or complete refraining from any dissidence against the regime.
The harsh policy of the regime results in silent, being suspicious and never speaking one’s mind openly, and blindly obeying orders to remain safe—a fear of the surveillance and the Big Brother (Isaias). Recent confessions by defectors from the regime at Paltalk discussions illustrated how this has been a usual, routine practice of the EPLF since its inception. Thus, the regime aims to either transform the youth into active supporters of its policies or a force that remains passive, unchallenging, indifferent and submissive to the extent it does not pose any threat whatsoever to its existence.
The PFDJ propaganda machine, the sole source of information, which plays a crucial role in propagating the political and cultural policies of the regime, and advances its notorious social engineering projects whose primary object is to mould all youth into a homogenous group and to transform them into human robots whose personality would be controlled and programmed to conform and serve the whims, the culture and ideals of the PFDJ.
Most of the youth are brought up under such extraordinary type of unnatural environs. They live deprived of basic rights, freedoms, proper education and ambitions.
Despite the systematic and continuous indoctrination and dehumanizing campaigns the youth have been exposed to for long periods, many have apparently developed inertia that strongly resists attempts to completely transform and render them into submissive, hopeless and aimless individuals as the regime intended. Refusing to be permanent hostages of such inhumanly conditions, they started fleeing the country in flocks risking their lives in the process. A flight from a regime that has turned their beloved country into a hellish dungeon where people are indefinitely incarcerated without trials and a big garrison, a launching pad for futile wars that consumed thousands of their compatriot’s lives and pawned theirs to indefinite servitude. They break away the shackles of oppression, and suppression of basic rights and freedoms and denial of legitimate aspirations for leading a decent and peaceful life.
Such grim realities which reflect bitter and negative lingering effects, even after escaping from the regime, it is still difficult to get a plausible explanation for many of the behaviour of the youth. The apathy and even antipathy against politics and political opposition groups that has been demonstrated since recently could therefore be understood within the context of these facts. However, what is really incomprehensible is the fact that those who suffered so long under such a regime and risked their lives to escape from it, facing all the hardships and fatal hazards, when they finally make it to safety and freedom, they relapse back voluntarily to the regime’s lap mostly lured by cheap entertainment parties or minor services and different pretexts.
It is natural to begin by investigating the root causes of a phenomenon in order to identify the symptoms of an ailment; that would help one make the right diagnosis and prescribe an effective antidote.
The following is a summary of some root causes as pointed out by some youth:
– The deep mistrust and scepticism that have been sown and instilled in the minds of the youth since a long time have deeply influenced their ability of free and unbiased thinking. This could be the side-effect of long systematic campaigns of incessant smearing and distortion of facts waged by the regime’s propaganda machine which has succeeded in depicting a negative stereotype of the opposition groups where the opposition’s role and contribution in the national struggle has been marginalised and its members negatively portrayed as mongers and initiators of civil wars, power hungry, ineffectively weak and fractioned groups of idle sofa politicians. The opposition groups are also portrayed as agents of antagonistic external forces hired to serve a non-national agenda. With this negative perception already imprinted on the minds of some youth, unfortunately to some degree it coincides with the reality of the opposition that invokes negative images shows a blurred picture. Thus the youth superficially judge the opposition on the basis of its apparent weaknesses and shortcomings. Consequently they consider the opposition as hopeless groups, thus joining or working with them becomes tantamount to a meaningless waste of time if not completely unpatriotic.
– The youth are caught in the dilemma of believing the regime’s claims, which if taken at face value appear to be true to a certain extent, or the vagueness of the just and genuine cause which the opposition stands for. They do not recognise the crucial fact that despite the apparent weaknesses the opposition should still be credited for its persistence, perseverance and resoluteness, and for carrying the torch of resistance all the time in an open defiance of the dictatorial regime. This stand alone would suffice and demands the youth and others to support the opposition forces to overcome their weaknesses and shortcomings and to rise up to the expectations of the public.
– In addition to their bias, the negative impression, when the youth meet for the first with the opposition in the neighbouring countries, adds to their negative perception. They suffer unjustified negligence from the opposition that seems totally indifferent to their problems while deeply preoccupied by its own matters that causes the youth to be more sceptical about the opposition’s role. Thus the opposition takes the blame for not being seriously involved in providing the material, legal or moral support to alleviate the day to day problems encountered by the youth from the moment they cross the borders, in camps, seeking jobs, education and resettlements. In contrast, the regime through its agents in camps or embassies abroad actively engages to win them back by offering some services, such as passports, etc. On the other hand it may even go out a bit further to intimidate and sometimes kidnap those who dare to oppose it openly. Paradoxically, although it is very clear that one can get shot at by the regime’s agents—and possibly maimed or killed—while crossing the border to the Sudan or Ethiopia, it is the same regime’s agents in the form of consulates and embassies who would be ready to issue passports to these refugees who recently crossed the borders by bribing their way out. If the asylum seekers make it to Europe or the USA, then the so-called Eritrean Communities run by the regime’s embassies are quick to embrace them and provide services to them, while the opposition abroad lacks such services and facilities.
– A simple comparison between the initiatives of the regime, albeit for its own gain, and those of the opposition would clearly show the striking advantages to the benefit of the regime. The regime has a relatively strong organisational and state structures and arms to flex and even across borders to threaten its opponents, compared to a weak opposition that is poorly organised and ineffective. Such simple comparison that favours of the regime could easily dissuade many from engaging with the opposition and lead others to give up completely on the opposition and politics, considering the struggle as futile attempt that is not capable to overthrow the regime. Thus some get detached from politics and become preoccupied in improving their families’ economic situation back home. This is sometimes at the advice of older relatives in Diaspora. Even here they resort to the regime for the assistance to transfer their remittances to their families in Eritrea thus they are obliged to establish connections and pay taxes and consequently be snared back into the regime’s traps. They will also need to be in good terms with the regime if they want reunion with their families.
– The opposition side lacks specialised effective structures, policies and plans as well as unified concerted actions that deal with refugee issues that are badly reflected in the relation between youth and the opposition.
– The lack of a strong media with a clear message capable of exposing the regime, projecting the correct historical and current picture of reality and clarifying the objectives of the opposition play a great role in the current confusion.
– The regime has associated the existence of Eritrea as a united sovereign nation with itself. It depicts itself as the sole creator and defender of the state and its sovereignty. Thus any attack on the regime is perceived as an attack on Eritrea and a few consider antagonistic actions against the regime as treason and complicity against the patron of the Eritrean sovereignty.
I cannot claim that all probable causes and problems facing the youth have been exhaustively investigated. There are certainly many subjective and objective factors that contributed to the current state of general political apathy exhibited by the youth which remain unexplored. It is a subject that still needs further investigations and studying by experts and the youth themselves.
The most important and urgent task at hand is to find ways of regaining the trust of youth in politics and political engagements and rally them to struggle against the regime for democratic change.
Luckily either due to the inspirational effect of the revolutions of the Arab Spring or other objective and subjective national factors, noticeably the youth activities have lately picked up and is gathering momentum. Many youth groups are popping up with increased vigour and energy melting the ice accumulated in its relations and changing the old attitude towards politics and political opposition forces—but they are still keeping their distance favouring to work separately and independently.
The involvement of youth in the opposition politics, if properly channelled, would infuse the necessary vigour and power needed to accelerate the change process towards its ultimate goal.
– The youth need to establish a united umbrella forum that will consolidate and concert all youth movements, activities and efforts on the basis of consensual strategy, objectives, policies, programs and mechanisms.
– They have to work in cooperation and coordination with the political opposition forces towards achieving the aspired democratic change and learn to avoid repeating the shortcomings and negative aspects of the latter and build on the achievements and positive experiences of the traditional political opposition forces.
– They have to develop clear conceptual understanding and visualisation of the anticipated change and the alternative system of governance that would be establish in future Eritrea in close coordination with the rest of the opposition forces.
– Any serious force, (including the youth) aspiring for real democratic change has to focus on achieving the central objectives that should highlight the basis of future change:
- Good governance based on justice, democracy and rule of law.
- An institutional decentralised system that realises just and fair power and wealth sharing among all the stakeholders and national components of the country.
- The recognition and proper management of issues related to diversity.
- The building of a durable national unity based on the freewill, common interest and equal rights and freedoms of all citizens and national components.
– The composition of current youth groups reflects the ethnic and religious cleavages in the society. This should be avoided and be restructured to represent the Eritrean diversity and be more inclusive and comprehensive in its composition and goals.
– Based on the experience of youth of the Arab Spring, who despite their successful spearheading the revolutions for change, and succeeding in disposing the dictatorial regimes couldn’t lead or compete in building the new governments that were formed in the aftermath of the revolutions. Despite the fact that the task has been carried out by the traditional opposition parties, but youth were vigilant and kept the pressure by taking the role of a watchdog in safeguarding the public interests, and aims of the change, and preserving the momentum, steering the revolutions towards the right course against the persistent attempts of the diehards and old guards to derail the process.
– In light of that experience, we need to be very objective in realistically defining the role of the Eritrean youth without exaggeration what the youth could possibly achieve, taking into consideration that they are not experienced and well entrenched politically organised entity.
- They could play a big role in rallying the people around the goals of change,
- Accelerate and be instrumental in bringing about the fall of the regime,
- Safeguard and keep up pressure and momentum until real democratic aspired change would be fully accomplished. The task of changing the regime is just one mile in a long and hazardous journey of a thousand miles where attempts to derail or abort the process are a real and imminent risk.
This is not in any way meant to undermine their role or discourage them from pursuing political power which they would certainly do in the course of time and they can do it now if they decide to be part of the politically organised work struggling for power. But the purpose is to remind the youth to be focused, be realistic in formulating their goals and effectively interacting and playing their national role in coordination with the different national partners—a role that is of vital importance and the absence of which has retarded the change aspired.
The current activities and the on-going youth conferences are good omen and encouraging. They are promising signals that could join all efforts and focus in effectively engaging the youth in the change process. We are all hopeful that the youth would play a decisive role in shaping and determining the present and future course of the change process because they are important partners of today and sole owners of tomorrow.