Know Your Enemy And Thyself: Act Accordingly

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle” [Sun Tzu]

This is a Hard Talk: Know Your ‘Enemy’; Know ‘Thyself’And Act Accordingly


The well known Chinese General and military strategist, Sun Tzu, explicitly reminded us to “know our enemy and ourselves” in order to wage a war or a struggle and defeat our enemy. His book “the art of war” has had a broad influence both in the Eastern and Western military thinking – And many notable leaders such as Mao Zedong, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Douglas MacArthur were inspired by his work [Smith,1999]. The concept of “know your enemy and yourself” has an enduring influence not only in military thinking, but also in business tactics, legal strategy, political dispensation and its effect in nation building, and many more.

Few months ago, I read two articles (Eritrean Catalyst) from a well meaning with good intentions by our compatriot Abdulrazig Kerar (AK). The two articles were solution oriented proposals, hinting an exit strategy from the current predicament we are in. I commended him for his thoughtful and well grounded argument he made in his proposal. However, this writer will not shy away from giving a constructive critic on his take, on the strategy he offered to our current struggle, defining our enemy, defining ourselves as oppose to our enemy, the political and military tools needed to defeat our enemy, and the role of Eritreans in the Diaspora as oppose to Eritreans inside.

In this article, I will try to define the PFDJ regime as well as the current oppositions, give hints how we should evolve to how we should be, define the issue at stake, identify the determinant forces of change (diaspora vs Eritreans inside), and give an alternative engagement as oppose to Abdulrazig’s proposal. In doing so, the center of my argument will be grounded on the principle “know your enemy and yourself to design the strategy for success” on the conflict we are in. Before I delve in to my proposal, as outlined in this introduction, I would like to say few things about “courage” and “self-discovery” that seem to be scarce when we need them most.

Building Up The “Liquid of Courage” (Hamot)

Maxwell Maltz, the author of ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’ pointed out: “we must have courage to bet on our ideas, to take the calculated risks, and to act [on them]. Everyday living requires courage, if life is to be effective and bring happiness.” It is in that spirit that I am compelled to bet on my ideas and act upon them knowing the calculated risks that we might encounter in our endeavors to solve the problem of our nation. Hence, (a) There is “no success” without the calculated risks in life (b) There is no success without sacrifice. Courage recognizes these two fundamental conceptual approaches and deal with them accordingly. Then what is courage?

In the words of Winston Churchill, “courage is considered the foremost of virtues, for upon it, all other depend on”. Courage is an attribute of good character that gives us worthy of respect. Courage is always exhibited in bravery and self-sacrifice for the greater good. Courage is not only physical bravery, it is also a mental stamina and resilience to withstand adversary risks. Courageous men and women stand and fight against injustice at enormous personal risks. In courage there is no pretention, no ambivalence, no vacillation, no uncertainty, and no indecisiveness; it is only being true to yourself and to your contemporary ideas, without implicit and explicit bias that avoids ethics without principles.

According the proverbial saying “fear and courage are brothers.” Nelson Mandela, the famous political activist and statesman has complimented and reinforced to it by saying “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  Therefore, “It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives” [Marianne Williamson]. So fellow Eritreans, we can not live with the ‘dull pain of unconsciousness’ and fear of the unknown, if we want to extricate the nation of ours that is teetering on the edge of disintegration under the totalitarian PFDJ regime.

Growing Pains and Self-discovery

When I thought about the future of our people and our nation, it is not from the ivy-covered walls of higher educational institutions, rather it is from the vintage of pragmatic political traditions, and how the plethora of political parties’ function in the realities of our country. The bases of pragmatism are “the ‘pragmatic maxim’ that has a distinctive epistemological outlook, which clarifies the contents of hypothesis by tracing their practical consequences.” According Pierce’s statement, pragmatic maxim is “how to make our ideas clear”. “Practical consequences” suggest the implications for what we will do and should do from the hypothesis, using the concept of probability, truth, and reality, as Pierce described it in his “laboratory of philosophy”.

The growing pains in the Eritrean politics includes, the inaptness of the Eritrean political practitioners, the apathy of Eritrean intellectuals and academicians to the crises of our nation, and the inadequate consciousness of the public to identify their “enemy” and be able to fight with patriotic zeal to liberate themselves. These are the self-discovery of this writer pertinent to the overall Eritrean political landscape and our failure to move forward, that I intend to make my argument for possible exit strategy to the current quagmire of our nation, by identifying the factors and actors in the would be political process. The strategy to our success will be then, to make a collective self-discovery to our consciousness with a sense of political pragmatism and clear ideological vision that serve the future of the Eritrean people.

PFDJ Rule: Is it A Crises of Affordability?

The old description of the Eritrean people: the indomitable, heroic, defiant, reflexive, rebellious, with their in submissive culture to foreign rule, are being now overshadowed by strikingly new images of serfdom, fear, ambivalence, indecisiveness, submissiveness under their own dictator. Instead of resisting with resiliency to fight-back for their freedom and liberty, are now leaving the nation in droves facing all kinds of risks on their way elsewhere in the world. If this trend is unabated and continued with this trajectory for sometime, especially with our youth, can we afford these intractable crises under the PFDJ rule? A question to every imaginative, creative, thoughtful, and sober Eritrean mind. If the current crises and in-discriminatory oppression can not unite us, then what?

This writer is fully aware about our “social mistrust” that put us at odd to each other. I am also fully aware that some of our social groups are in danger of, or threatened with extinction and are depopulated from their land of residence (the Kunama and the Afars’ people of Eritrea) by the brutal regime of Asmara. Unfortunately, our social group’s grievances, has become a combustible mix in the fight against the regime, contributing to the overall ineffectiveness and stagnation of our struggle. The anxiety level around the increasing of mistrusts among our social groups, become the anatomy of boom for the politics of the regime to sustain its power. The opposition camp on the other hand have failed to recognize each other’s grievances as a “marker of progress” to reduce the mistrust that hampered their collective struggle. Instead, as if all social group have the same grievances, there are some forces in the opposition camp who want to throw the grievances of the minorities under the rag, on the pretext that all Eritreans are equally oppressed. The regime is using every tool of oppression and marginalization tactics to hold its power, and hence a multitude of grievances in different forms and shapes. These multitude of grievances are the living political discontent in the Eritrean politics that becomes the seeds of social mistrust. Hence forth, I call upon all the pragmatic and conscious Eritreans to accept and recognize all kind of grievances that exist within our society, in order to frame them and address them within the overall contractual political agreement. But to only claim that we are all aggrieved, without identifying the various grievances that weakens our affinity to each other, will never bring us together to bridge our differences and tackle the mistrusts that loomed within us. Arrogance will not bring us together but change of attitudes will. Addressing them and finding mutual agreeable solution is the only way out.

Our Enemy: PFDJ, Its System, Its Ideological Philosophy

The Eritrean state is a party-state of a totalitarian regime, that rules without the consent of its people. In Eritrea, the “state” and the “government” are one indistinguishably functioning authority. The “party” is the “government”, and the “government” is the “state.” Hence the Eritrean state is a “party-state”. The party which is the governing entity controls the entire political, economic, social, and spiritual life of the people. Like the communist party of China and its military, that maintains permanent monopoly of power, PFDJ and its military are on permanent footing to hold power for indefinite foreseeable future.

When the military ranks became members of the party, surely the military becomes the army of the party. In such scenario, the army defend the “party” and the “party-state”, because the interest of “the army, the party, and the state” are overlapped together. The party, the government, and the state function akin to the “Doctrine of Trinity” behaving like “one or three” where “tri” meaning three and “unity” meaning one. Tri plus unity equals “trinity.” In such scenario and structural existence, the army and the party becomes the guardian and the principle of the state and hold the power without accountabilities – all different forms but all signifies symbol of the state. So the enemy of the Eritrean people is the party, the government, and the state – three in one together.

The Oppositions: Their Unity, And Their Principles

The clusters of political organizations in the opposition camp and the civil organizations in the diaspora are the antithesis of PFDJ at least up to now. They are fighting for the “rule of law” and “democratic constitutionalism” taking them as two pillars of their “collective principles”. These two principles in itself alone could characterized them as the antithesis to the rule of the jungle of PFDJ party and the pariah-party-state of Eritrea. However, they do not have a “collective Road Map” how to fight the authoritarian regime of Asmara. The main reason why they didn’t come with a collective strategy is because they could not have the same definition as to the nature of the regime and the means how to fight it.

Unfortunately, there are two distinguishable approaches within the opposition camp on how to fight the regime (a) there are those who are holding opinions, that Issayas and his entourages are the problem, and as such, there is no systemic and structural problem within PFDJ party system. They believe PFDJ is redeemable and it could run the state safely once the despot is neutralized (b) There are those who believe that Issayas and his party as well as the system in place are the problem of the state of Eritrea. And hence they believe on the dismantlement of the system (not the PFDJ party) and bring the perpetrators of human right abuse in the last 25 years, to the court of justice.  These two positions are irreconcilable that contribute to the ineffectiveness of the opposition camp and their struggles. Furthermore, these positions also have brewed distrusts along the social fault lines and enhanced disunity within our social groups.

Though the power struggle is always part and parcel of the political process at any given time, and at times could hinder the process of our struggle, the main contributors to the “disunity and distrust” among the opposition camps are the positions how we view the regime and its system. There are still among us who are sympathetic to the system which is in place and who think removing Issayas will be the panacea of all our social ills. This argument will only be either out of political naivety as to how a political system works, or out of political dishonesty to pulverize the struggle of the true justice and change seekers.

Going forward: Unless these two blocks make some amendments in their positions to converge their struggles, the current divisions and social fault lines will persist to exist. In such situations, the PFDJ rule and the repression will continue unabated for indefinite time in the foreseeable future. Arrogance and the age of acquiescence to the power will also persist to exist in order to sustain the current status quo

Youth Exodus Altered The Strategic approach

There is this common conventional approach taken as a theme in struggle of the opposition camp: Change should come from inside and not from outside. Not always. The inside or outside strategy is one of the many challenges that often bedeviled our efforts to bring the necessary changes to our people. In our reality, change from inside were attempted at least two times (a) by G-15 – the reformers and (b) a coup by Wei Ali. Both instances foiled badly, because of the nature of the system that runs the state of Eritrea and the vigorous attacks from the vested interest group on the current system. It is proven then, that it is difficult to bring change of social movement where there is no public sphere – a sphere where citizens make their claims, build support, and work to transform public opinion, in order to generate pressure for change.

In order to bring effective and sustainable changes we need the collaboration of forces of change from inside and outside – as the students of politics call it an inside-outside strategy. And this is where my friend Abdulrazig Karar (AK) and myself could agree on. But it is crucial to identify the “driving forces” for change as to whether it is from the diaspora Eritreans or from the Eritrean people inside, based on the circumstances that governs or hinders them. It is by doing such sober analytical determination on the obstacles that exist, the maturity of the objective reality on the ground, and the subjective factor that organize and mobilize on both sides of the change seeking forces, that we can measure and decide, who will have the “catalyzing role” or the “major role” respectively.

My arguments will dwell then on rebutting AK’s three premises to meet our challenges and to bring the inevitable changes:

  • The catalyzing role vs the major role: In the words of Shakespeare, “all men and women are merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.” These lines capture the essence of passing the torch of one generation to another. By that it means when old generation exits new generation replace them and become the driving forces of change. Unfortunately, our youth are in a perpetual exodus to escape from a forced labor of modern enslavements, as oppose AK’s claim – to “fulfill their dreams for a better future”. Our youth are entangled in the so called endless NS. To escape and regain their “human rights and dignity” is by no means looking for green pastures as some of us suggested. Now, as the driving forces (our youth) left the country in droves, and as the “major role” for change is incumbent upon them, then there is no basis for AK’s argument to look the major role from inside. Second if there is no room for public spheres to organize and mobilize for the needed change inside Eritrea, the various segments inside Eritrea can not break the barriers of mistrusts while they are under siege by the notorious security apparatus of the regime. In fact, there is a public sphere in the Eritrean diaspora to mobilize, to organize, and to bring the voices of change to the vicinity of Eritrea and the necessary tools to overthrow the regime, by playing the major role. The inside forces can only be an extension arm of the outside forces who have the freedom to organize and lead the project of change. Our youth, which is the largest pool outside of Eritrea, and who have been the victims of the regime, have the ultimate energy and power of the time to play the major role to bring the necessary change to our nation. The strategy demands role reversal.
  • One-man state vs party-state: In any system, individuals could have more role than their colleagues to run a state. That doesn’t mean the state is one-man-state if they have a definable system with its structure to run the state. States could be democratic-states or non-democratic states depending on the system of government that run the country. In Eritrea, there is a system of governance with a “defined structure” and “ideological principles” to run the state of Eritrea. In fact, it is a formidable system run by one party – a party embedded in the national army, where the army could not have other alternatives than to protect their interests and the party’s interests. The government is the party, and the party is the state, and hence a party-state and not a one-man state. It is not a secret that a party fights for the interest of its members. The despot’s interest can not be separated from the member’s interest as a rule, if they are abided by the party discipline, aside the healthy or unhealthy competition within its ranks and files. Therefore, it is not plausible philosophically and conceptually to even allude, that the state of Eritrea lies entirely on the president’s shoulder only.
  • Peaceful vs by All means: These two mode of struggles are viable only depending on the nature of the government or the nature of the enemy we have. That is why the well known Chinese General “Sun Tzu” taught us to know our enemy and ourselves, and to act accordingly. A violent regime can not be removed or changed by peaceful means. There are many Eritreans who have never failed to tell us the application of Gene Sharp’s “the politics of nonviolence” in the struggle against the Eritrean regime. Gene Sharp didn’t prescribe his model to the Chinese people nor did to the North Korean people; and not even to the kind of regime we have, where they could be deterred with tanks and machine guns, like the 1989 Tiananmen Square. The nonviolence struggle is designed to countries who have the public sphere where civil societies and the people at large could voice their grievances and disobedience with “minimum threats” to their lives, to pressure the government and bring the necessary change. Second the candidate forces of nonviolence – our “youth” who are driven out from cities and towns to do the forced labor for indefinite period under gun pointed, are not in a position to organize for peaceful struggle in the hinterland of Eritrea – a region remote from urban areas.

Interestingly enough, the acute observer and sensitive to details, our prolific writer Saleh Younis, in his comment at awate forum, stated the obvious and hoped the opposition camp to wage a counter-offense to the PFDJ regime by invoking Ludacris philosophy “when I move you move”. We are therefore in a position, that our offense is dictated by the move of our enemy until we change the momentum. The enemy has changed its strategy to “push out our youth” from our nation by applying coercive life threatening pressures and leaving open the borders – a strategy to weaken the resistance from inside. When our enemy move we move, when our enemy changed his strategy we change our strategy. When our enemy weakened our “inside resistance” we embolden our “outside resistances” and push it from outside to inside. That is the rule of the game and the strategy of counter-offense to it, with the tools available at our arsenal be it politically or militarily.

What Should Be Done?

In order to effect the aforementioned suggestions – changing our strategy that was from “inside-to-outside” for “outside-to-inside,” the following pre-requisites must be fulfilled to launch effectively:

(a) Trust building and reconciliation: Trust building & reconciliation must start from the diaspora where the objective realities permits, in order to come for a collective strategy with a roadmap to expedite the fall of the regime. Reconciliation will take two stage process, one in the diaspora for the opposition, and the the other inside Eritrea for the Entire population – the former as precursory to the project and the later as a healing and harmonizing process to our nation.  Trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectation of the intention or behavior of another (Rousseau & his colleagues, 1998: 393-404). In a similar take Lewicki and his colleagues defined trust as an individual’s belief in, and willingness to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another (R. Lewicki, D. McAllister & R. Burt, 1998: 438-458). In short the need of trust always arises “from our interdependence with others and is always identified as key element to successful conflict resolutions (R.J. Lewicki, 2003). The need of a continuous round table talks and discussions are paramount to mitigate the mistrust that loomed within our political communities.

(b) Political compromise: Political compromise is difficult in Eritrean politics, even when no one doubts it’s necessity. Therefore, one can argue, that resistance to compromise cannot be understood without knowing its cause and why it persists. Amy Guttmann & Dennis Thompson have an answer as to why resistance to compromise persist in democratic process.  Guttmann & Thompson agreed that resistance to compromise is anchored in what they call it “an uncompromising mindset” of political leaders (Guttmann& Thompson, 2010). According Guttmann and Thompson “uncompromising mindset” is a cluster of attitudes and arguments that encourage standing on principles and mistrusting opponents. Mindset manifest a form what a psychologists call “cognitive bias” and has a “cognitive structure” that would benefit more from normative attentions. In political science, the concept “mindset” are taken as “framing” defined as the process by which people develop a particular conceptualization of an issue or reorient their thinking About an issue (Chong & Druckman, 2010). Therefore, the public must challenge the mindset of our political leaders and their uncompromising resistance by forcing them to come to a table of compromise to face the challenge. Compromise as a product and reinforcement of the balance of power are the primary means by which democratic politics can improve. In pragmatic compromise, more disagreement gives rise to a reason for compromise not in itself, but only insofar, it is contingently connected with logically independent considerations (May, 2005:320). Moreover, pragmatic reasons to compromise as May acknowledges, are not sufficient and typically must be morally constrained in various ways (322-323).

(c) Mobilizing our youth: Our youth are the driving force of social change – and yes the future of our nation. Our youth of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s have brought “Eritrea nation” in to being. Mobilizing our young generation to take the stock of our nation and passing the torch to them in order to carry the burden of emancipating the Eritrean people from the grip of the authoritarian regime, is a must in itself for transforming responsibilities from the the old generation to the young generation. If the round table of discussion is to happen, one thing the old guards of Eritrean politics have to do is, the transition of the “torch of responsibilities” and the “leadership of management of Eritrean politics” to our young generations. Let me put it simply, there is no success without a successor. The past gathering didn’t offer hopeful signs to meet the challenge of transformation and transitioning of leaderships to our young generations. “It is all like the bell curve” we come up on one thing, then we plateau, and then we start on other things. the politics of the opposition, instead of rising up, declined rapidly in its maturity and its leadership quality. Time to change and pass the torch – squelching critics is not the way out to our political quagmire.

In concluding my remarks, let me share with our young generation, the words of N.D. Wilson, that might help you in the endeavor of your struggle, and he said: “sometimes standing against the evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is the right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.”  This is the kind of attitude that leads to victory. So develop the habit of courage that conquers all kind of fears – a courage to endure and persist to fight your enemy – the systemic repression and oppression exerted upon you by the Eritrean regime.


  • Rupert Smith, “The utility of force, the art of war in the modern world”, 1999.
  • Maxwell Maltz, “Psycho-cybernetics, a new way to get more living out of life”, 1989
  • Marianne Williamson, : “A return in love: reflections on the principles of A course I miracles, 1996.
  • Ludacris Lyrics, a Play “stand up” invoked by Saleh Younis, at awate forum
  • Rousseau & his Colleagues, “Not so different at all: A cross discipline view of trust” academy of management review, 1998: 393-404
  • Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson, “The Mindsets of Political Comprise”, 2010
  • Dennis Chong & James Druckman, “Counter-Framing Effects”, 2010
  • Simon C. May, “principled compromise and the abortion Controversy”, 2005: 320

R.J Lewicki , D.J McAllister, & R.J Bies, “Trust and Distrust> New relationships and Realities”, 1998: 438-458.


1 –  Defining The Eritrean Catalyst for Democratic Change
2 –  Eritrea: The Missing Element for A Democratic Change



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