Unelected President, Imposed Pundit
Wild honey overflows in the forests; if you don’t harvest it in time, you lose it. Isaias Afwerki poured his wild wisdom, the usual extrovert views, through the state media; he controls and owns all the state media. His intermittent appearance in the media is always to calm down and give marching orders to his partisan loyalists. Understandably he uses Tigrinya, and Eritrean language to reach many Eritreans whose only source of information is Isaias’ media. Locally, television penetration is embarrassingly low while internet coverage is almost non-existent. That is why he broadcasts his propaganda messages mainly to the Diaspora who bounce it back to the unfortunate Eritreans at home.
Two days ago, Isaias Afwerki brought his two usual decoys to sit in front of him for an hour and half pretending to be interviewers—no follow up questions, no challenges, and no serious questions. It seemed like a soft ball hurled by a child, and it took Isaias 44 minutes to explain one such a mediocre question—the so-called interviewers posed four such questions in the entire episode.
The PFDJ chief serves his loyal followers many of whom fled Eritrea to avoid his unjust rule, with such monologues. They listen to him from around the world; many of them chose exile and refugee camps to avoid repression in their country. So, Isaias delivered his usual extrovert views to which I was voluntarily subjected; I didn’t want to miss the abundant wisdom.
I think Isaias is stuck with the position of the president which I suspect he doesn’t enjoy; he would rather be a pundit. And since he usurped power between 1991-1994, he never allowed dissenting views on the national media which he monopolizes.
He summarized the history of the Sudanese governments since the country’s independence in 1959, to date. This is the first time I agree with him fully; I can’t disagree with facts that are in Encyclopedia Britannica. However, it’s not natural to listen to such lessons from a president; it would be natural if it was on tangible and relevant national issues, governing issues, state of the nation, its challenges, and other topics about which only a head of state is privy. But Isaias refuses to take the Professorial hat off!
Talking about Sudan, he said Al Burhan and the army are the only ones that can usher Sudan to a safe shore. That suggests that him (Isaias), and the military under his commands are the only capable guardians that can lead Eritrean to safe shores. Soon, Isaias switched to his provincial character and heaped insults on Aid Workers and UN agencies in an undiplomatic crude manner. He called them Bazaar hacks, undertakers running mortuary and funeral business at the expense of the suffering people. Sadly, despite the many advice, criticisms, and rude rebuttals, he never learned to stop speaking carelessly as many writers and activist do.
If I as a writer say anything close to that, I alone will bear the consequences, if any; the entire nation bears the consequences of a speech by a rogue president. Isaias never learned a presidential tone (or basic diplomatic discourse) and kept his unbecoming tone and diplomatic decorum. His reckless and uncontrollably rude speeches have damaged the image of Eritrea; I suspect he thinks it is enhancing the image of the country.
I wish he formally exchanges his position for that of a pundit though there are many contenders in both. As for me, I can help by offering him my place in Negarit Channel, just to get him off the back of Eritreans. I am hereby preparing you: if he takes me on the offer, don’t be surprised if he comes and introduces himself as the new host of Negarit.
Isaias said that South Sudan was pushed to the limit and decided to secede. Indeed, it was pushed harshly for too long. The Southern Sudanese had full rights to seek independence from a state that doesn’t treat them as equal citizens to the rest. Nimeiri, for instance, didn’t treat other Muslim sects equally let alone Christians and animists. Remember the thinker Dr. Mahmoud Mohammed Taha? He was hanged like a town criminal by the Islamic court of Nimeiri.
Isaias also said, in 2019 the Sudanese said ENOUGH and removed Al Bashir’s regime. I wondered if Isaias knows Eritreans have been saying ENOUGH to his rule for decades! Does he consider a potential uprising in Eritrea, similar to the 2019 Sudanese uprising? Does he know how dangerous that would be for him, his regime, and the country? Maybe he pretends he doesn’t, or he underestimates the possibility, or maybe he is oblivious about the events happening around him. However, it’s strange that he spends much time analyzing the entire world and the neighboring countries, but never pays attention to the situation in Eritrea that he controls. Does he really think the military might decide to lead Eritrea to safe shores? Maybe he plans to stay behind the curtains and pull the strings just like the late Dr. Turabi did when he pushed Al Beshir to take over the government of Sudan.
It’s embarrassing for conscious Eritreans to recognize Isaias as their president! There are hundreds of thousands of Eritreans who never had the chance to proudly say, “My president, my government!” Worse, they can’t even visit the country where their umbilical cord is buried. But Isaias, instead of being a reconciler, a real president, he is determined to continue walking down a road that leads to more destruction and pain.
I find it patronizing for him to tell the Sudanese what to do! He is delusional: he can’t even say comfortably who elected him for the presidency. Does he even remember or know the whereabouts of those who elected him? It was the central committee of the PFDJ, veterans of the struggle era. And this is how their status was in 2014:
In 1994, the PFDJ held a Congress (the first and only one for the re-named party. Seventy-five individuals were elected to the Central Committee, supplemented with 75 appointees to make up the 150-member National Assembly, which was operational (barely) between February1994 and February 2002. In 2014, the status of the 75 members of the Central Committee was as follows:
- ARRESTED: 18 (6 died in prison)
- FROZEN: 7
- DIED IN OFFICE: 6 (5 died abruptly)
- EXILED: 7 (2 died in exile and was denied burial in Eritrea)
- PRESIDENT: 1 (for life)
- OCCUPIED: 29 (serving the regime in different capacities)
- UNKNOWN: 7 (including a missing member # 75)
So, with that record, is Isaias qualified to advice to the Sudanese of how to handle their affairs?
The most confusing issue he keeps repeating is national construction. Firstly, projects have timelines, national construction is ongoing. Secondly, both require a normal state, calm, safe and secure life, and citizens who do not fear their own government. And whatever is happening in Eritrea is the making of Isaias who ruled the country since 1991. I wish he stopped talking about the situation in Eritrea as if it the damages are not of his making, like someone looking from the outside when he is in the middle of it all.
It was funny (least amusing) to hear Isaias throw slogans: Development, Stability and Peace! Those slogans will reject him themselves if they could speak. For over two decades I have raised and campaigned for reconciliation among Eritreans, and for all the good things that should come with independence. To date, I have yet to hear an attempt from Isaias to reconcile Eritreans and heal their wounds. But hey, he just stole my line!
In a foolish remark, he took pride that him and his party do not speak about victims of the Sudanese war—”it’s not in our culture, we don’t do that” he said. He also boasted he doesn’t have camps to receive the destitute or the needy and at the same time he harshly criticized those who take pictures of the stressed victims of the war. Now, according to him, war journalism is wrong, having tents and camps to receive refugees is beneath him! Everyone to his own devise is his motto. Can such a man build a small community let alone a nation? He is a burden to humanity; a man with no compassion, and no civilized understanding of the predicament of many people.
Now I am sure you know why people liken Eritrea to “the North Korea of Africa”. Eritrea voluntarily gained that nick courtesy of its dictator who is still working to keep that distorted image and reality in tact.
When Isaias says ‘we do not have a culture of announcing such events’, I understand him. He is talking about the struggle era culture of secrecy and paranoia. Every westerner is a CIA agent, if he has a camera, it’s confirmation he is. Xenophobia was prevalent specially with the left leaning cadres who kept the organization closed. That is what he has been doing to Eritrea since 1991- a police state. But since he is fond of the struggle-era culture, what does he think he would be called now? He would be called A REACTIONARY BRUTE.