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Parkinson’s Law – ሕጊ ፓርኪንሶን – قانون پاركينسن

As a child, I busied myself with my uncle’s books. Ustaz Johar Abdulrahim was a teacher and he taught in Keren, Nackfa and later at Ferovia, in Asmara. He had a bunch of books in a shelf that I ended up owning, and I went through all of them though I had no clue what they were about, unless they had pictures.

Growing up under a dusk to dawn curfew I didn’t know what my hometown looked like by night, and I had the time to flip through the pages of books all night. It was a similar experience to being quarantined due to the coronavirus.

When I visited Keren a few weeks after Independence Day, I was surprised, my aunt, the wingless angel Dahab Adem Mismar had kept much of my belongings in a storage. That’s where I found the book, the 1957 first edition of “Parkinson’s Law” from my uncle’s bookshelf. I remembered the book’s cover; its content I learned later in life, and I brought the book back with me.

Parkinson’s law is often mistaken for Parkinson Disease, but it is a book about bureaucracy. Traditionally, parents tell their children to work hard in school so that they become “TseHafay”, clerks, when they grow up—they didn’t have a word for it, but they had “bureaucrat” in mind. And today’s book is a study of how work stretches to fill the available time, how bureaucracy enables organizations to grow in numbers, and how bureaucrats think. If you are given an assignment to finish a task in one week, you will do just that, finish it in a week. But if you are given a month instead, the task finds a way to stretch to fill the time available–work is elastic.

Also, bureaucrats like to grow their career, and to do that, they need to increase their subordinates and help them grow, provided the subordinates do not represent a risk, a serious rivalry to the boss. And it is important for a boss to have two deputies who will be busy competing among themselves and leave the boss alone.

Now think: why doesn’t Isaias Afwerki have a deputy, a vice president?

To illustrate his conclusion, Parkinson studied the British navy and compared the number of personnel working in it during the heyday of the British Empire and after it shrunk—the number of people didn’t decrease as the ships (and tasks) decreased. Of course, here I am taking some examples from the book, but the book contains theories that are challenged by other writers and thinkers. I am just mentioning what I consider relevant to us in the current situation. Let’s see examples of bureaucratic damages:

  1. Australia opera houseIts original plan had a four-year timetable and an AU $7 million budget, but it took AU $102 million and 14 years to complete.
  2. Berlin airportIts initial budget was €2.83 billion ($3.1 billion), but it ended up costing over €7 billion—and after about 15 years of planning, construction began in 2006.
  3. Boston Highway (The Big Dig).“Planning began in 1982; the construction work began in 1991 and finished in 2007”, a delay of 11 years. Cost was estimated to be about $2.8 billion but ended being $8.08 billion.


We need to learn Parkinson’s Law in order to understand the crippling fragmentation within the opposition and incompetence of the regime. That could help us understand why we failed to create formidable organizations. It seems every organization splits to create more leading positions for the ambitious among its ranks. it splits to satisfy the ego of the cadres. And that is repeated over and over again, and at the end, only fragmented parts of an organization are left–without the ability to even repel flies. That is the reason for the fragmentation. And if we know the diagnosis, I believe we can curb the paralyzing effect of bureaucracy that Parkinson explains.

How about the PFDJ?

Isais Afwerki and his clique understand Parkinson’s Law properly. but instead of avoiding the problems explained in the book, they use them as a manual for the organization and a reference for the leaders.

If you observe, all the ruling party’s businesses have inflated number of employees. A small grocery shop could have as much as four people working. That is driven by nepotism, mainly the ideological type. And the economy’s priorities are the interest of the ruling clique, not the nation.

To the young Eritreans

Let me tell you this: when we were growing up, we had successful people, entrepreneurs and professional we looked up to and wanted to emulate. There were many successful businesspeople we felt like copying. They inspired us; we were determined to be successful like them. But then came the PFDJ which refused to build on top of it and instead, it destroyed the vibrant community of entrepreneurs and professionals. Even our teachers were famous and respected educators; many of us wanted to be like them. Now, when you were growing up, did you have people who inspired you, people you wanted to emulate? Were there any teachers who inspired you? Who are the successful people you can mention?

In our time, we could walk any business district and know all the successful people there. We could go to neighborhoods and learn about the properties and their owners. We sat in the streets and saw brand new cars and felt that someday we will own something like it, a house of our own, etc. Did you have anything that inspired you?

I know, it’s sad. you had very little of that–and that is how the PFDJ destroyed Eritrea, by destroying the dreams of people and making them forget how to dream.

After 1991, I watched Eritreans flock to their country excited to start a business or to settle there. Some carried knowledge, ideas, skills and a wide international network of businesspeople, companies and institution. Still others carried lots of money but their hopes were dashed, and I saw many of them frustrated and disappointed.

In the early 1990s, we met at the Hilton Lobby in Addis Ababa on the way to Eritrea or back. Everybody was excited. But 2-3 weeks later they would come back frustrated due to the red tapes and the unwelcoming business environment created by the PFDJ. They promised to return in six months or so to try again. Slowly their numbers dwindled, and I would ask where is so-and so? He gave up, he is not coming back again.

How about so-and so? Well, he decided to start a business in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya etc. A few started dairy farm business, or small factories, or went into real estate, and a host of other business in Ethiopia. They were successful though a few lost a lot during the deportation after the Badme war was ignited.

I remember a story that happened to someone who wanted to open a pharmaceutical business. He had a product sample and wanted clearance to import it in bulk. After bouncing him between the ministry of health, commerce and god knows what, he was happy. He was almost done and went to the ministry of trade for the final approval on the sales price of the medicine. Yes, it was expensive, and the official’s brows went up and down. “People cannot afford this medicine” the official told him. to which he replied,  “Yes, it’s expensive.” The officer was angry, “you mean those who have money will be cured but those who don’t will die?” He sternly added, “no, we will not approve it.”

And Eritreans kept traveling to the Middle eastern countries and Europe for medication because Eritrea has no decent medical service. Hospitalization in foreign countries is also expensive, and costly, But the PFDJ doesn’t think that way. Its logic is, all must die equally. That’s fairness, justice, according to the PFDJ. Unfortunately they are not alone.

In 1831, after his visit to the USA, the French Alexis De Tocqueville wrote,  “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

Technology Transfer

In the nineties of the last century, Italy offered to rehabilitate the damaged railroad system in Eritrea. Then the cast was about $1.2 dollars for every kilometer. had the rehabilitation went smoothly, the railway system would have been brought to the system at par with modern standards—like replacing the narrow-gauge rails, locomotives, etc.

However, the PFDJ would rather do all of that with its fingernails. It did try. It brought old people in their seventies and eighties to rehabilitate the system. The old engineers and mechanics had no knowledge of modern technology and rail system. Instead of transferring technology from developed nations like Italy, the PFDJ chose to revive a defunct century-old technology. Imagine how many young engineers, mechanics, and administrators would have been trained by now! Three decades lost, and counting.

Take solace in the fact that Eritrea is not alone; the failure is manifested in many forms all over our region. Look at Saudi Arabia spending hundreds of billions of dollars to destroy Yemen! One wonders if the Saudis could not have achieved the leverage they needed in Yemen by investing a portion of the resource to develop the poor Yemeni economy!

All the region is inflicted by a disease that makes it misuse and abuse power, and its governments waste resources inefficiently to prove they are incompetent . But in Eritrea, the history of the PFDJ is not only about suffocating freedoms, it is also a project to impoverish the already poor country. So far it has destroyed the hope and dreams of the youth and emotionally damaged the old!

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Haile S.

    ሰላማት ሳለሕ፡

    Technology-Transfer ዶ ኢልካ?
    ግርም ዘረባ’ባ ሎም’ኣምጻእካ

    Technology ዝብሃል ምቁር እሞ ይጽንሓልና
    Transfer እንድዩ ዘሎ ሕጂ ዝቐትለና

    Ghedli-Transfer ዝብሃል ኣምጺኦም ብሓይሊ
    ነቲ ቅኑዕ Ghedli-Transfer ተመሊሱ ቀታሊ

    ELF-EPLF ሕማም-Transfer ህዝቢ ሒዝዎ
    ብጻይካ-ኣጥቅዕ እትብሃል ቆለ ሰሪርዎ
    ክሳጎድ ይውዕል እንሆ ኣብ ዘዘለዎ

    ቅድሚ ነጻነት ስደት፡ ድሕሪ ነጻነት ብTransfer ተሰዲዱ
    ክሳብ ዕለተ ሎሚ እንሆ ተበቲኑ ኣብ ዓዓዱ

    ካብ ሓፋሽ-ውድባት በዚሑ ሎሚ ናይ-ሕማመይ
    ጥዕና እንተተሳኢኑ ድኣ፡ ‘ታይ ይገበር ከመይ!

    ስማዕ እባ፡ ኣዘኪርካኒ ዝጠፍአ ዕዮታታ
    ከምዚ’ሎም ካይኮነ ካይበዝሑ ጥሩምበኛታት
    ኤርትራዊ ጻዕረኛ ነይርዋ ከም’ኒ በዓል ስዒድ ላሕታት
    ኣሰሮም ዘሎ መገዲ ኣስመራ ባጽዕ ወነንቲ ኣሽሓት ኤነ-ትረታት

    • Saleh Johar

      Hi Haile,
      Indeed, technology transfer had a carrier in our history, BALLILA. It’s the Ballilas who became the modest technology backbone of our country. If you notice, most of our technical terms for tools and engineering were Italian until the new breed of engineers studied in other languages. As you know, people learn from each other. The transfer of technology and knowledge is unbound by boundaries–it’s cross boundary and cross cultural. The main question should be: what did we, as a people, learn in the last 50 years?

      As a child I made a few rail trips from Keren to Agordat, to Asmara and Massawa. The sceneries of the countryside, the high mountains and the black motor way on the side twisting on the side like a snake, are vivid in my mind and I can’t forget the excitement and experience. In 1991, I travelled with a friend on road from Asmara to Ghindae. I saw the damaged railroad, its rails dismantled to build trenches, I shed tears. Then I went to the main place I had in mind since leaving Asmara. I wanted to see Buon Respiro, the famous roadside cafe in Ghindae, by the highway. I found the place damaged, the roof was all damaged, the veranda was covered with bushes of wild shrubs. It was so haunted it looked a scene from Wild West movies. Then it was not tears, I literally cried and a friend who drove me there, he had the shock a few months before me, had to calm me down. I insisted and we had to drive away. It was a sad, heartbreaking sight. The occupation has caused my country to be destroyed, and the liberators are not faring any better. It’s depressing.

      • Berhe Y

        Hi Saleh,

        I never experienced the trains in Eritrea but we heard all the fanfare of the leader talking about hiring retired technicians to restore the rails. He refused to accept Italy’s offer to help restore it (or borrow I don’t know the details) but the opportunity cost for such careless adventure is incalculable.

        Every time I see the pictures of ruin of massawa, i want to cry, what is so hard to restore these places.

        Instead he made a statue of tanks (the last thing we need to remind ourselves) let alone to be proud of.

        I don’t know when it must be five or so years ago I visited atlanta, and went to CNN.

        There they have the American Humvee truck indicating I guess the journalists who went embedded to the war with Iraq.

        I was exited to I see and taking pictures and I asked my daughter to come inside and she said “NO”.

        She told me, what’s there to be proud of taking pictures with this thing which probably killed lots of people and may be innocent people.

        I felt shame and reminded me the statue of tanks that in Massawa and stupid Sheda in Asmara, instead of honouring the people who paid the price.

        Sure the tanks and the sheda had a role but they could not careless which side they are, and they are nothing and are useless without the people who guided them.


  • Brhan

    Thanks Ustaz Saleh,

    The video was comprehensive in a way its approach to the issue was not only through the book but also making comparative observations too. ይበል ኢዩ!!

    The PF(JD)) fears wealth because it knows through your wealth you can do many things but mainly you can improve yourself not only financially but also educationally, socially and culturally. So, for you not own those resources it will kill your wealth and kill you as well, if it sees so.

    It is a unique tool that it uses as a dictatorial regime. In this it is different from other dictators of the past and present, where you can see entrepreneurs.

    Secondly, the country is without a constitution and by this it, i.e. PF(JD), treats economy without any checks and balances that its sense can feel. That is why it sticks with no-constitution, for it know the Arabic proverb الباب الل يجي منه الريح سده واستريح. While it bans private business in Eritrea, it recruits its supporters in countries like South Sudan that allow private business. When Ethiopian investors visited Eritrea during the honeymoon of Abimania, they asked where the rules are. They are smart. How will they know how their interest will be protected in a country that has no constitution to protect itself? The usual saying that I listen from persons who were lucky not fall in PF(DJ) is : دعاء الوالدين እግዝሄር ኣውጺኡካ

    Last, I and you as well others in our effort to oppose this regime have to continue in informing about its techniques and strategies which are evil and I can share with you and you might already know it, is our effort in revealing its supporter who come as refugees in the west, not only to provide the regime with propaganda but also with finance. The regime for example allows some Eritreans mostly its cadre, officers and singers to go abroad because it tells them to be rich. ( The regime believes you can be rich only when you go abroad and this exposes it when it says the western media is responsible for making the youth leave Eritrea). These persons will leave Eritrea, of course, for they fought for years in Sahle and their condition did not change ( most of whom who have no siblings abroad). They come to the west as refugees for it is the only way and they do this by building their “cases” about abuses ( fabricated because they were part of the regime to abuse others) and it is absurd when the regime says the refugees are fabricating their cases to be accepted as refugees ( yeah these type of refugees which I call “persons blesses by PFDJ to become refugees. PBPR). When this was raised in one of Y’akel meetings that I attend a person said these are our brothers and sisters , we can’t expose them to the western governments. Yeah, we are good people. But now we have to change the game. The more we become soft the more the regime becomes rough. There are many example in exposing the regime , but for now, I stop, here.

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Abu Salah,

    Good reading, though I didn’t listen to the video version of it. I want to say few words about the concept “emulation” about myself when I was a young student at an elementary school. Teachers always ask their students what they will be when they grew up. The common professions we know in the 50s and 60s was teaching, nursing, banking, office clerk before we know more professions lately. So my ambition at the early of my age was to be a “teacher” until I changed my desire to be a chemist being fascinated by its laboratorical experiments of it in my later school age. So you are right, that we emulate things and careers from our adults in our surrounding. You always bring new things to our attention. Thank you.