“Wey Gud” Is Not A Good Strategy

Writing for and, undoubtedly speaking for many Eritreans, the astute and well-read Ghidewon Abay Asmerom has dismissed the role of Uganda  in slapping sanctions on Eritrea as that of an unwitting ally of Ethiopia. “Such behavior henceforth should be called “the Uganda Syndrom[e],” he offered, and then, “As for this author, all what I can say is “Eritrea, forgive the likes of Uganda; for they know not what they are doing.” But it can be argued that they—and there is no “they”, but “he”, Museveni–knew exactly what he was doing and he had the connections to make it happen and we—and there is no “we” but “he”, Isaias Afwerki, and those who support him unconditionally—did not and the result is UN Resolution 1907. It is what happens when one doesn’t even know he is confronting an Elect of God, as Museveni is viewed by a powerful force in American politics.


The Resolution imposes a travel ban on, and asset freeze of, Eritrean individuals and institutions to be named later as well as an arms embargo on the State of Eritrea. The questions of whether the penalties are proportionate to the transgression or if the rules of evidence establishing the transgression comply with the prevailing standards of the UN are fair ones. I think the travel ban and the asset freeze will be laser-focused on the regime, but the arms embargo—including on “spare parts”—is an overreach, and a dangerous one, given the neighborhood, a danger that will be lessened by the surety that it will be wildly violated by everyone. As for the unfairness of it all—how a one-year-old border dispute with Djibouti triggered a UNSC resolution and a 7-year-old border dispute with Ethiopia didn’t—well, that is the point of this article:  of course it is not, but why is that a shocking surprise to you, and what did you do to stop the regime you support from marching to the edge of the cliff?


The role of a hyphenated Eritrean is to explain his adopted country to his native one, and that of his native one to his adopted home. Some of us cannot do that because of our status with those running the affairs of our native homes: in the words of an Amce relative, “tebaTisna alena.” Shouldn’t the ordinary Eritrean who considers himself or herself as an ambassador do more than just be a one-way telegraph?


A correspondent writes to explain: no, we share our input to the Eritrean government all the time. And for evidence, he sends a letter he wrote the President which basically boils down to: Mr President, you are a great man, but beware of the people you appoint to positions because they maybe incompetent or may betray you. Ah….I had something completely different in mind as in: Mr President, you are making catastrophic mistakes, please change course immediately. The political appointees are mere enforcers of a policy, and anger towards them is misdirected. Whenever I point this out, I come across as somebody pretending to know the US Foreign Policy Factory better than most: I don’t. There are many more capable and competent Eritreans, much closer to the power corridors that can explain it, but they don’t, for fear of offending our Eritrean tyrant.


When Eritreans were celebrating the dawn of the Obama era, they were forgetting a crucial insight from Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, who defended his one-party state thusly: “The United States is also a one-party state. But with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.” He is half-right: there is a huge difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, but not in foreign policy. This is because, regardless of which party is in power, there are entrenched institutions that carry on the same tasks. A country can be a US ally because it shares common values.  Or it can be one because its leader is considered indispensable—a “key man”—by these entrenched institutions.  And these “key men” can do no wrong. Museveni runs a one party state in Uganda, he has amended the constitution to allow him to be the ruler for life.  Why hasn’t he become the caricature African—the despot, the corrupt,  the brute?  I refer you to “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart Of American Power”,  an eye-opening book by investigative journalist Jeff Sharlett.


A Different Kind Of Fundamentalism 


The “Fundamentalism” the author refers to is not the one that you (or I, until I read the book) expected: the Christian fundamentalism espoused by Reverend Jerry Falwell, Reverand Pat Robertson, etc. You know what they believe and if you don’t, well, cancel your satellite or cable subscription and watch the free TV stations, and you will be quickly acquainted to them. The fundamentalism that Jeff Sharlet speaks of is more secretive and has an interpretation of Christianity that I had never heard of before.


“The Family”, also known as “The Fellowship”, traces its founding to the mid 1930s when religious leaders and industrialists appalled by the collectivist policies of Roosevelt coalesced to form an organization whose motto evolved to “Jesus plus nothing.” It organizes “prayer cells” throughout the world with one objective: ““Convert the weak. Encircle the strong.” It believes that leaders, the “key men”, are anointed by God, and the fact that they are chosen is sufficient reason for them to be obeyed.  It matters little what their human rights record is because, as the president of “The Fellowship” explained, “You know, the Bible is full of mass murderers.”


The author, who attends a meeting of The Family explains a story about the value system promoted:


“King David liked to do really, really bad things. Here’s this guy who slept with another man’s wife—Bathsheba, right?—and then basically murdered her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes. I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy!  What is that all about?”


“Because he was chosen,” I said.


“Yes,” he said, smiling, “Chosen. Interesting set of rules, isn’t it?”


And the mass murderers do not have to be observant Christians to be supported. They don’t even have to be Christians: two of the protégés of “The Family” were Indonesia’s Suharto and Somalia’s Siad Barre. Suharto was responsible for the death of anywhere between 600,000 and 1.8 million of his citizens in Indonesia and East Timor. The victim list of communists and leftists was organized by The Family: “we had more information about them than the Indonesians did.”


Siad Barre—who espoused something called “Koranic Marxism”—got their support before he torched his country and fled to Kenya.  For the price of participating in a prayer cell, he got to double his aid and armaments which he unleashed on his own people.


The Family prefers the Azerbijiani ruler (a “Moslem” brute) over the Christian Armenians because Armenians have no oil. 


“The Family” believes in the power of the few. It is a twist on Plato’s “noble lie”: that the people do not know what is good for them, and they require enlightened leaders to show them the way. (Or, paraphrased by Shaebia via Marx and Lenin: Hafash TiQmu AyfelTn iyu and requires “guided democracy.”) After reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a protégé writes Coe, the leader of The Family: “what a great and thrilling experience….Nazism started with 7 guys around a table in the back of an old German Beer Hall. The world has been shaped so drastically by a few men who really want it such and so. How we need this same kind of stuff as a Hitler or a Lenin.”


If you are tempted to dismiss them as a bunch of kooks, extremists who are on the fringes on American politics, you would be mistaken. Members and sympathizers include former Sec of State James Baker, Senator Chuck Grassley (who “convered” Siad Barre), Senator Sam Brownback, Vice Present Jack kemp, Senator Dan Coats, Senator Richard Lugar, President Gerald Ford, (whose secretary of State, Kissinger, told Suharto not to stop his murder, but to expedite it) and President Bush, whose conversion was through the Family and won their eternal affection when he, in a debate, named Jesus Christ as his “favorite philosopher.”


You are saying “right wingers.” How about Hillary Clinton? Have you wondered how she was transformed from a demon in the 1990s  to a respectable stateswoman in the 00s. Would it have to do with her frequent visits to their center and her claim that she was able to overcome the hurt of her husband thanks to “prayer warriors.” How about Al Gore who names the president of “The Family” as his friend?


Those are the strong men that have to be encircled. And who are these “key men” that have to be converted. Like Yassir Arafat.  Daniel Arap Moi.  Siad Barre. Suharto. And what is in it for them? “Suharto wasn’t a Christian, but he knew that where missionaries go, investors follow.  He also wanted to use God—any God—to pacify the population. In October 1970, Suharto became “the first Muslim to join the Fellowship’s off-the-record Senate prayer group for a meeting smilar to the one we had with Haile Selassie” who, years earlier, had “deeded the Fellowship a prime parcel in downtown Addis Abeba from which to proselytize the rest of Africa.” It is through the “Fellowship” that Charles Malik, a Lebanese Christian who is credited for writing the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights transformed himself to being a founder of the Lebanese Front, alliance of Christian militias in Beirut.


The Fellowship is the one that organizes the White House “breakfast prayers” where “key men”—leaders of tiny nations in the world—bypass the State Department’s vetting process and get an audience with the President of the United States. And, in Africa, The Fellowship’s key man, the Elect of God,  is Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.


The No Party Man 


In 1995, I used to rail against the “no-party” philosophy of Yoweri Museveni and how it is a fraud, a front for a one-party state.  Over the years, I used to marvel how is it that this man, who is actually a common African Big Man, a dictator, is lionized as an achiever. The answer is that he represents all that is admired by The Family: he is “chosen” by God, he practices paternalistic capitalism (caring employers, obedient employees) and he has pretty much outsourced his social policy, including his once very successful AIDS policy, to the Abstinence Only advocates of faith-based-initiative advocates in  The Family.


An excerpt from the book:


Here’s how it can work: Dennis Bakke, former CEO of AES, the largest independent power producer in the world, and a Family insider, took the occasion of the 1997 Prayer Breakfast to invite Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, the Family’s “key man” in Africa, to a private dinner at a mansion, just up the block from the Family’s Arlington headquarters. Bakke, the author of a popular business book titled Joy At Work, has long preached an ethic of social responsibility inspired by his evangelical faith and his free market convictions….


[He made] a no-bid deal with Museveni at the 1997 Prayer Breakfast for a $500-million dam close to the source of the White Nile—in waters considered sacred by Uganda’s 2.5 million-strong Busoga minority. AES announced that the Busoga had agreed to “relocate” the spirits of their dead.


Fighting the Elects of God 


The United States has always had The Chosen, the seyoume ezgabhiers, whom it relied on to execute its policies. To hear the Eritrean President complain about the US policy on Africa, of relying on proxy states—anchor states—is to be depressed. This should not come from a man who fought and defeated another Elect of God—Haile Selassie I. Stop marvelling and being shocked, if you know history, you should not be shocked. The Eritrean president is likely to enumerate it once again in his New Year’s address. The question is not whether the US policy is just or fair.  The question is what is Eritrea’s foreign policy? Is it to challenge, head on, the US policy? If so, how, and how long, and at what cost?  Is it to try to change it? If so, how? Is it to accommodate it?  Is it to work around it?


It is here where Eritrean Americans, like Ghidewon Abbay Asmerom, can help the Eritrean president and his protégés understand the system and come up with a workable strategy that puts, at front and center, the interests of the ordinary Eritrean.   Instead, in an amazing display of Cheguar Dangaism (anti-elitism), they are just saying “wey gud!” That doesn’t help anything, we have already heard “Yigermena Alo”; let’s work on addressing it.


The sanctions have been imposed. What is the strategy to get them lifted, or is that even the goal?  How have other countries in the world who had been subjected to sanctions got them lifted? These are the sort of questions I hope to hear asked and answered.  I am, whether the regime likes or not, a stakeholder, an Eritrean: and it is, whether I like it or not, “Eritrea” and not the regime which is subjected to the sanctions.


Happy New Year. And to many of my Eritrean compatriots (and you know who you are; you were born on January 1st) happy birthday!

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