Operation Forto: A Prelude To A Final Showdown?

If you return to awate after a few weeks or even a few days it is hard to catch up but skimming quickly through some of the discussions that passed, the most outlandish was that triggered by Yosief Ghebrehiwet who unabashedly declared that the struggle for independence had been useless! Yosief writes eloquently and cleverly but like many unscrupulous lawyers out there who defend a known felon or murderer, his goal was to confuse, provoke, and sow doubts in an already fragile opposition psyche.  The opposition must recognize such attempts for what they are – a distraction or diversion from the task at hand. 

It has been said that silence is the most eloquent response to ignorance.  Silence is also the most effective response to deliberate provocations.   If we must respond to such taunts, we should do so in a dismissive and condemnatory fashion not argumentatively.  To do so is to give undue importance to views that are essentially balderdash.  That is why I thought Saleh Younis’s (and others) attempt to refute him (though capably done) ill-advised in my view. So following my own advice let me leave the issue here to jump into the topic at hand:

Operation Forto! What a close call it was for the regime!  How quickly hopes were raised and dashed for Eritreans!  As I wrote this article, I read Mohammed Ahmed’s articulate piece on the subject.  His article so closely mirrored what I was thinking at the time that I almost decided to throw mine away to avoid being redundant.  But in this case, I reasoned it is ok to share somewhat similar views as we are all struggling to understand what exactly happened on 1/21/2013 and what we can expect in the near future.  Though I found Mohammed’s “covert angle” theory to be a plausible explanation, I will not be making the assumption here.  What I share here will be based on what has been widely reported as “facts”.

Operation Forto was both an encouraging development and a huge disappointment.  If we gauge it against what it reportedly set out to accomplish i.e. implementation of the constitution and the release of prisoners, the operation was – needless to say -a total failure.  Not only did it fail to procure any change in the regime but was unsuccessful even in fully broadcasting its grievances to the people. Viewed from this short-term perspective, therefore, we can say it was disappointing.  The regime and its supporters had good reason to celebrate therefore (at least for now) because they had just crashed yet another rebellion without any real or perceived harm to themselves.  

The politically savvy among them, however, will look beyond the event itself into its long-term impact and will find little reason to rejoice and much cause for alarm because they will recognize in the event a possible prelude to a final showdown that may be coming soon. The fact that a mere 200 soldiers or so were able to penetrate defenses is a big embarrassment to the regime and exposed previously unknown vulnerabilities.  If there is anything that Shaebia had ever bragged about since its inception, it is the loyalty and discipline of its military establishment.  It has always demanded (and largely succeeded in obtaining) the unquestioned, total, and blind obedience of its dictates.  Heroic when fighting the enemy, Shaebia soldiers were/are notorious for their mindless submission to internal hierarchy of authority.

The event – the first military attempt of its kind – marked therefore a sharp departure from this long-standing tradition.  Credit goes to the gallant soldiers whose courage set a precedent for others to follow.  Their valor has aroused a spirit of rebellious in Eritreans everywhere that will now be unstoppable and it is almost a cinch that we will see another Forto-like incident in the coming months or years.  That is why I consider Forto operation an encouraging development despite its failure.

We have already seen its immediate impact on those in the Diaspora. Boldly barging into an Embassy was quite a leap for Diaspora opposition whose previous bravado was limited to riling at the regime behind closed doors.  Reactions were spontaneous, a bit chaotic, and disorganized but the new assertiveness and the spirit of rebelliousness and courage it epitomizes is a welcome change and those who carried them out deserve our praise and thanks. Hopefully, we learned the importance of planning and organizing to increase the effectiveness of such emotional outbursts (perhaps by inviting reporters ahead of time and outlining the steps we plan to take once we are in the lion’s den so to speak  ? etc…).

Inside Eritrea, no overt expressions of outrage or protest were seen or heard in the immediate aftermath for obvious reasons:  the stakes were (and remain) much higher for those in Eritrea.  That is why I wish the Forto soldiers managed to galvanize the civilian population. The chances of success would have been greater.  Our people have been itching for something or someone to relieve them of their misery that they would have jumped at the chance.  Thus an opportune moment to spread the rebellion far and wide was lost and probably contributed to the overall failure of the operation.

If we are to base our assessment on what has so far been reported, we can also say that poorly defined goals and lack of planning was another major factor that contributed to the failure.   Success in any serious venture of such magnitude requires not only a resolute determination to achieve goals but also a clear understanding of what the main obstacles are and how to remove them.  If we judge Forto Operation by this simple criterion, it is not hard to see why it was doomed to fail (again, assuming things transpired exactly as was widely reported).

According to these reports, the soldiers’ main demands were the implementation of the constitution and the release of prisoners.  If this is true, one is hard pressed to divine what type of response the soldiers were expecting from the dictator?  “Thank you for reminding me, fellow comrades, I will now release the innocent political prisoners and implement the constitution”?   Wasn’t the memory of what happened to the ex-tegadelti at Mai-habar and the G-15’s still vivid enough to remind us of the ruthlessness of the dictator and the uselessness of demanding anything from him?  If they really meant to get results or answers, therefore, it betrays an utter lack of understanding of what ails the nation and the nature of the despotism we suffer under.  Prisons and the still-born constitutions are the effect – outward symptoms not the primary obstacle.

Isaias is and has been the primary obstacle and as long as he is in power, no problem (big or small) can be solved or removed   i.e. no constitutions can be implemented and no prisoners can be released.  All future Forto-like attempts should therefore set aside all other demands and focus on the man at the top and begin their war cry with a strong, loud, unequivocal demand for the president to step down as was done in Egypt and in many other places. This is not a plea to copycat other successful revolutions but is a strategic idea that stems from the recognition that a dictator is temperamentally incapable of giving concessions.  He will never countenance any challenge and is likely to regard all rebellions (including mild protests and criticisms) as a personal affront to himself and a challenge to his authority and will act accordingly.

Would-be rebels have nothing to lose therefore and much to gain by focusing on the man at the helm and demanding his immediate oust because again the consequences are likely to be the same one way or the other.  But raising such a simple but powerful slogan has the advantage of electrifying the movement and signaling a determination, a will, and fearlessness that people can rally around and is sure to command respect locally and internationally.  Only after this important milestone has been reached and only then we should start mulling over constitutions, prisons, and how to dismantle the regime’s remaining appendages.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here.  I am not suggesting that we refrain from discussing such things until the regime’s downfall.  No.  On the contrary, we should fully discuss these issues and prepare for a post-Isaias era as meticulously as we can.  What I am trying to stress here is that as far as communication with the tyrant is concerned, there should be none at all (no demands, no begging, and no negotiations) except to scream or shout that he “get the hell of out of there i.e. out of power”. PERIOD!

What we have learned from both the Forto incident and the spontaneous multiple embassy storming is the importance of planning.  If they are to succeed or have the greatest impact, revolutions must be methodically planned and actions carefully spelled out. Moreover, would-be revolutionaries should never waste time asking for things that they will never be granted.  It will only end up making them sound unsure of their goals.

Begging dictators is as fruitless as Oliver Twist’s pitiful request for more soup was. Oliver’s reward was a blow on the head; theirs will be a lethal one.   “Find out what people will submit to”, Frederick Douglas once observed, “and you will have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong the people will allow to have imposed upon them.”  A serious opposition does not beg or ask.  It demands, insists, and acts for the overthrow of whatever person (Isaias) or entity (PFDJ) is blocking its way. I have great hopes that this will happen in the next attempt – InshAllah.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  – Winston churchill


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