It took me a long time to grasp the central idea of the article written by Semere Tesfai: Making A Case For Political Immunity And Nonviolent Regime Change. The reason was not because it was too long, complicated or boring. No. The reason was because it was too simple and logical. Simple and logical is beautiful. Simple solutions to complicated problems are simply wonderful. The simple functions because it is simple. But, alas, not always. Simple fails, too, because it is simple. Some problems are so complex they need complex solutions. That is why I love simple and logical solutions and at the same time I am always suspicious of them. Simple and logical is not always simple and logical – especially when applied to social or political problems. The only sure means that simplifies answers in this field is dictatorship! (ha ha ha!)
Semere, I have a simple problem. A heavyweight is sitting on my back and beating on my head and I am bleeding. How am I to get him off my back? Naturally, I am entitled to use every means to free myself of the monster. You know, we are talking about my back. Protecting myself is a natural instinct – an in-built survival instinct. A natural right. I have it. I have never been ashamed of this animal instinct in me. I know, without it, I wouldn’t have survived as a human being. It is still in me, and very functional, too. Albeit, under strict control from my intellect. Now, I am not the wild animal I used to be. I am a civilized animal. I have learnt how to think, plan and organize. I have learnt how to control my animal instinct and combine it with my intellect and use it most efficiently for my own best.
The bully is still sitting on my back. My animal instinct tells me to instantly throw him off my back violently. But, being a civilized, wise and shrewd being, I think and plan of the best way to get rid of him. I decide talking is the most convenient way to settle the problem for me and for him and for everybody concerned. At first I would try to convince him that it is very unjust of him to sit on my back and knock on my head. That hurts. I would tell him he shouldn’t do things on me that he wouldn’t like done to him. I am cool! I would discuss politics and philosophy with him. I would take great pain to inculcate in his thick skull the great ideas of universal human love, universal human rights, universal freedoms and democracy. I would even joke with him that if he doesn’t use his own limbs, he might go degenerate. I would be very nice to him—almost protective of him (my poor, sick tormentor!). In fact, I would say everything that would get him off my back peacefully. I know, from personal experience, direct physical confrontation hurts both of us and I don’t want to get hurt. But my tormentor laughs at me and doesn’t let go. It is simply comfortable for him to sit on my back. Maybe I am not good at reasoning and convincing. Maybe, I, alone, cannot make my plea clear to him. I call relatives and colleagues to help me convince the man to get off my back. He laughs again. He is an ignorant, arrogant, thick-headed and thick-skinned monster. Now, what am I supposed to do? He sits on my back and does want to talk about it. He doesn’t even recognize my existence even though he sits on my back.
I must free myself; forcefully if necessary. I can’t be wrong because he is sitting on my back and justice is on my side. But, educated, wise, analytical minds tell me my tormentor might fight back to the bitter end in which case both of us and our social surrounding would be hurt. When two elephants fight, the grass hurts, too. They tell me even if I defeat him, he may try to come back again and again because he is not really convinced that he cannot sit on my back! This would put us in a constant state of war: a no- one-wins state. If I hit back I will be hit back. Violence breeds violence. My prospects are very awful . “Advocating regime change using violence is advocating civil war and everything that comes with it – bloody war, mass internal displacement, destruction of the Nation that could put it decades back, flow of refugees to neighboring countries and beyond … followed by decades of mistrust, resentment, grief, grudge and bloody arm-conflict that may last for decades. After the whole ordeal, we may not even survive as a Nation. Case in point: Libya.” A very frightening doomsday scenario.
No violent regime change implies peaceful regime change. But my tormentor doesn’t react to my peaceful appeals. My peaceful resistance explodes into full-fledged violence because my tormentor reacted violently. By some magical logic, my peaceful resistance becomes the culprit because it did not stop the cycle of violence which it did not initiate. At the end of the day it seems the surest way to stop the cycle of violence is to do nothing at all.
The dictator put us in a comical situation that we are our own hostages! The only alternative that Semere’s arguments provide us is to wait and see what would happen naturally. Wait and make ourselves fit to take over when some day, somehow, the dictatorship ends by itself. Semere reassures me that dictatorship dies a natural death, too:
“ … Issaias, as a person, not only he is mortal but a frail man sitting in a quicksand. Many of his EPLF old comrades are dying in jail, many have fled to the West, and what is left of them are on diabetic medication … Gedli Generation is a dying out species.”
Halleluiah, after a long, horrible wait the dictator is gone and the dictatorship, too, and for a very good reason:
“The younger generation. doesn’t have any love or respect for Issaias and his old men-club at the helm. They don’t share his grudge and resentment filled deep scars of the sixties, seventies and eighties. They are new breed with a new vision in a new world. They have the number and the know how to chart their future. It is all about their life and their destiny. And it is their time to shine.”
To be honest, at this point, I am totally confused despite the fact that it is the simplest statement in the article. Can’t dictatorship reproduce itself? Is dictatorship so sterile? Aren’t we agreed that violence breeds violence. Aren’t we agreed that dictatorship is the highest form of organized violence. Don’t we know that dictatorship paves the way to its survival and further continuation? Kim II Sung ate his vegetable and died. His son, Kim Jong-Il inherited him. He is himself now on vegetable diet, and grooming his son whom he made a General to take over after him. Baby Doc did inherit Papa Doc. Didn’t Beshar AlAssad inherit his father Hafiz Al Assad? Sief al Islam has taken over most of his father’s functions.
Fact is that dictatorship is being inherited in various places in the world – tendency uprising. Why can’t that happen in Eritrea? I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow a Colonel Abraham Afeworki would appear in the Eritrean political arena. He would have the necessary charisma and background to centralize the generals who would otherwise kill each other after the death of their boss.
I am not also so sure about the new breed and new vision of the young generation as Semere is. Dictatorship is organized violence and violence breeds violence in the mentality of its social environment. The majority of the Eritrean youth grew up and lives under this violence and its total influence – goal-oriented mass brainwashing. I met and talked earnestly with a lot of them within the Diaspora. I am not so sure they don’t have Isaias’ grudges. I was so surprised that many of them have no grudge against Isaias. In fact, many of them admire and revere him. Their only grudge seems to be not to have had a paying job. There are many amongst them who roam around with knives and ready to commit deadly crimes. Teens that have no worry to butcher each other or others. Semere, you said it yourself. “Dictatorship has a huge capacity to wash and corrupt the minds of the young.” It has already done it.
Now to the following arguments:
1. We can’t build Democratic Government and the institutions that support it without Political Stability.
2. We can’t have Political Stability without Competing Ideas and Peaceful Transfer of Power.
3. No peaceful transfer without total political amnesty.
Great conciliatory ideas. The big question is: how would power be transferred. Of course through negotiations between the different ‘segments’. They have to talk. But the one segment doesn’t even recognize the existence of the other segments let alone talk with them. Stalemate. How would the other segment make itself conspicuous? The only answer is it must force the other segment to recognize it. A famous English diplomat is quoted to have said: At the beginning, opponents are not ready to talk out their differences. [I think they take it as a sign of weakness to talk about their problems.] They go to war, hurt themselves, are weary of war and then return back to the negotiating table. A pressure which is more than ‘waiting and hoping the dictator dies of itself’ is necessary to force him to the negotiation table. As far as power is peacefully transferred, your recommendations of political amnesty are sound. Infact, saintly. (it is meane to be a compliment) But, if the dictator holds on to power and refuses to negotiate until he is finally forcefully evicted, then your recommendations would become absurd.
- Emotions would arise that demand for Justice. And justice will be done. Open and fair. No prior laws? No problem. There is no local and international law that the regime didn’t break. Dictators of the caliber of Isaias are tried by a third party tribunal. And, maybe, this justice will be the basis of our political stability.
- The question of identifying leaders, organizers and instigators of dictatorial crimes and misguided followers in no problem at all. It was not also a problem in Nuremberg.
- PFDJ is an idea, a no-competition-allowed idea. It is a dominating, excluding, monopolizing idea. The PFDJ is a political philosophy of one-man one-party hegemony. Such parties don’t fit in democracy and must be illegalized and disbanded. All, old and new, fascist organizations are illegal in Europe. Is Europe less democratic because it forbade dictatorial oriented segments of its people? Is Germany less democratic because it forbade the publication and distribution of Mein Kamp? Should we cry that is witch hunting!
- If the PFDJ renounces its central idea – i.e. the non-competition of parties- then it is no more the PFDJ and no more a problem. Peaceful competition can go on.
Semere, I feel that you somehow put the responsibility (or substantial amount of it) of breaking the cycle of violence on the shoulders of the opposition eventhough you repeated it many times that they bear equal responsibility. I think it is this idea that gave me the bad feeling. The initiator of the violence (the state of Eritrea, PFDJ, Isaias) cannot be equally responsible as the reactive violence of the opposition. Don’t forget we are talking about my back. Hey, I am the victim! I cannot be equally responsible with my oppressor for my miseries, an oppressor who doesn’t even want to talk with me. What a paradox! What an injustice!
The people of Libya wanted to demonstrate peacefully and show their dissatisfaction with the State. The state responded with un-thought of violence. The state bombards its own people! Are the state and the opposition equally responsible for all the hard-time the people are having? According to your logic, Semere, ‘Yes’. The minute Kaddafi violently reacted; the opposition should have stopped its opposition. Had it not started it at all, it would have been even better! The same thing is happening in Syria. The opposition better stops before it is too late! And in Eritrea, don’t start any opposition at all! Look what is happening in Libya and Syria and Isaias is the cruelest of them all! Proud and stubborn as he is, he would fight to the bitter end. So we have to choose between two hells – the hell they call dictatorship or civil war. I’ll bet Semere prefers the hell we already know than the end-of-the-world scenario he painted? The only way out seems to be wait and pray Abraham would be better than his father.
I did enjoy reading your article, Semere. Really inquisitive and provocative. Thanks.
Down with dictatorship!