Win, Lose Or Draw? ICG Always Says “Draw”

Every year, various organizations issue a report card on some or all of the member states of the United Nations.  Among the many: Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, US Department of State Report On Religious Freedom, Reporters Without Borders, Failed State Index, The Mo Ibrahim Index, and so on.   Every year, all of them say, to various degrees of alarm, that the government of the State of Eritrea is corrupt, violates its citizens human rights egregiously, and is (and I am paraphrasing here) flat ass broke and heavily indebted.  All of them are mercilessly ignored by the Eritrean regime and Earth goes on its orbit circling the sun and a year later, the same report emerges to the same reaction. Now comes another from the International Crisis Group, and it has received a spirited response with one PFDJ supporter calling it Garbage In, Garbage Out  (GIGO) when in fact it is a really an excellent and comprehensive report that, as usual, proposes the wrong solutions.  Full Monty In, Half Assed Out.  I won’t even bother with the accronym.

It was Dr. Ghidewon Abay Asmerom who described the report as garbage in, garbage out, took a few swipes at some un-named handlers and producers of the garbage and then ended the piece by quoting some lyrics from Fihira. (You guess which one of the three I made up.)  Ghidewon said that of the ICG:

Presenting a farrago [barrage?] of lies and recycling known slurs against the Eritrean Revolution, its Government and President has turned the ICG report more of a propaganda piece rather than a credible report worth anyone’s dime.

Even the usually-dormant Organization of Esayas Apologists (OEA), which also claims to be Organization of Eritrean Americans, had this take on ICG’s report:

It is a compilation of almost everything said or written to demonize Eritrea and its people and undermine their sovereignty since 1998 when the TPLF and its collaborators began to produce tons and tons of misinformation on the nation in a vain attempt to achieve what they couldn’t achieve militarily in the border war.

Nowhere in the ICG report is there an attack against the people of Eritrea, nor a slur against the revolution.  But there is plenty against the government and the head of state.  Now if you say ICG is really critical of the government and The Boss, most people would say, “ah…join the crowd: who isn’t?”  But if you say that ICG is insulting “the people” and “the Revolution”, well now you are pressing people’s hot buttons. That’s a nifty trick, you must agree.

But if you were hoping for a real argument, a debate from learned people, you won’t find it there.  Reading the supporters of the Eritrean regime is always a lesson in fallacious arguments.  The False Dichotomy argument (you are either a patriot or a traitor); the Argument From Age (they were wrong in the past, they must be wrong now); and the usual Ad Hominem (you $*#& weyane, kedami, biyati, shehani, expletive deleted!)  Here they top it with the biggest of them all: Argument by Dismissal.  ICG presented them a 30 page document which, if you think is full of lies and exaggerations, should be easy pickings, but they provide no rebuttal.  “This is beneath contempt…not worthy my time” may be a good tactic, but it is not a compelling argument.

We at are not huge fans of the International Crisis Group.  I would ask you to refer to awate’s article helpfully entitled “Reasons To Doubt Reliability Of ICG” which was penned in November 2007 when the ICG was talking about an imminent (and entirely imaginary) war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.  But since we are in the process of moving our archives, you will be re-directed to the front page.  Hopefully, Google will direct you to some of the websites that just lift our articles without permission where you will read our reasoning which can be summarized into two words: Andeberhan Woldegiorgis.   That is: here’s a man who was a high-powered PFDJ functionary, whose last job (2002) was organizing the PFDJ “Mekete” in Brussels, a large scale President Isaias-directed witch-hunt against foreign and domestic enemies of the State of Eritrea, and the next job he lands, without publicly disavowing his despicable past as a lackey for a tyrant, is  as a senior advisor for the International Crisis Group?

Consequently, the ICG reports were always famous for their string of non sequiturs. Their conclusions could never be supported by the premise.  And the latest one, with or without Andeberhan, is no exception.   So, whereas the Eritrean government supporters are questioning the premise (without going to the details or bothering to present counter arguments), the real problem with the ICG report is, as always, its conclusions.

The Full Monty

What the ICG gets right is almost everything.  It is a well-sourced document and it provides a fairly decent history of Eritrea, from its foundation to present.  It’s all in there: the Italian colonizers, the marauding Abyssinians, fascism, World War II, the Four Powers, the UN, the politics of the 1940s, the Federation, the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM), the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the civil war, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the cold war between the EPLF and TPLF, how EPLF dealt with dissent, independence, PFDJ, post independence governance of the PFDJ (which, inevitably does—how can it not?—discuss the oddities of the Commander in chief.)

It really is quite comprehensive and, on balance, quite accurate.  But, like I said, it gets almost everything right and when it gets some things wrong, it is difficult to say whether it is driven by some agenda or is based on pure ignorance or both.

A case of ignorance would be ICG’s literal translation of Warsai-Yikalo which, it explains, “literally means ‘those who follow the powerful’: the warsai are the young generation who have come of age since independence, while the yikalo, ‘the all-powerful’, are EPLF fighters.”  Oh boy.  Beware of literal translations, because if you do, you won’t be “happy-go-lucky.”

But that is nit-picking.  It is the agenda driven premise that is bothersome.

For example, with regards to the opposition that the regime faces, this is what ICG says:

The only opposition movement of any significance which operates inside Eritrea, at least part of the time, is Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), an armed, radical Islamic front.

This is a fairly accurate statement, if the calendar shows the year 1997.   But in 2010, first, there is no such organization as Eritrean Islamic Jihad in Eritrea.  There is Islah and Alkalas, and neither one translates into Islamic Jihad, unless one is using a Dick Cheney dictionary.  Second, if “significance” is measured by military campaigns, then the Islamists would be a distant fourth to Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK) and the Eritrean National Salvation Front (ENSF), none of which are a “radical Islamic front.”

Sure, you could make a good argument that this is based out of ignorance; after all, the CIA World Factbook for 2010 says that the pressure groups that Eritrea is facing are Herui Tedla Bairou and Aradom Iyob.  The poor CIA hasn’t updated that paragraph since 2002.  But I think you could make a more compelling argument especially if you have been following all of ICG’s report, that this is not a mistake: it is part of their invitation to the West to “engage” Isaias before the baddies take over.

Which takes us really to the non sequitur: a conclusion that is not borne out by the premise.  The ICG is quite relentless in the picture it draws of the Isaias Afwerki administration: it is awful, it is beyond the pale, it is beyond redemption.  Then, it concludes: o, ye wise men of the West, redeem the man, engage him, open a dialogue.  It is like somebody wrote the report, and somebody else wrote the executive summary and the conclusion.

Of course, the ICG is not staffed by dummies: they know someone is going to make the claim that their conclusion is not supported by their own report so, at several points, they plug in some tenet that they cling to no matter the facts which contradict it.

The Half Assed Attempts

Tenet 1:  The PFDJ does not support Alshabab. ICG cannot push its “let’s engage the PFDJ” argument when the whole world is mad at it for supporting Alshabab.  Thus, Tenet 1.  But anyone with the lowest security clearance at any intelligence office of any nation in the Horn of Africa, which also means Western Europe and the US knows that the PFDJ does support Alshabab.  So, in this edition, the ICG has come up with:

The extent of that backing has almost certainly been exaggerated, but there is little doubt that Asmara has given local insurgent groups arms and money to fight Ethiopian occupation and, after the Ethiopian withdrawal in early 2009, the new Somali administration.

If your audience is Western governments (and it is), you can’t make much progress by inviting them to engage a government (PFDJ) that is supporting one of the most hated political organizations which has voluntarily pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, and that this same government (PFDJ) is facing armed opposition by secularist and Islamists organizations calling for local and autonomous governance.  So, according to ICG, the Eritrean government is supporting “local insurgent groups” in Somalia and is facing “significant” opposition from “radical” Jihadists at home.  Nice.

Tenet 2: Even Those Who Oppose The PFDJ Are Opposed To The Sanctions: if you are inviting the West to “engage” the Eritrean regime, you are actually making the case that they should drop their policy of adopting sanctions, something that 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council (with Libya voting against and China abstaining) voted affirmatively for.  So you better have something compelling, something like:

The recent imposition of targeted UN Security Council sanctions swiftly led to angry demonstrations in the diaspora by people who might normally be bitterly opposed to the government but were outraged that Eritrea was treated in this way. To a degree, therefore, the sanctions issue plays into Asmara’s hands.

Nicely done, if entirely fictitious, and yet another non sequitur. There was nothing “swift” about the demonstrations; they were choreographed from Asmara.  There were no “bitterly opposed” participants.  The ICG was conned.  Again.  Actually, it is worse: it is trying to con its readers because its own report shows how EPLF/PFDJ “democratic centralism” works: order comes from the head, and then the “directive” passes on to the “mass organization” whose job is to execute, no questions asked.  Why would it try to present the demonstrations as spontaneous popular outpouring of genuine emotins when it knows better?    If, as the ICG is stating, the Eritrean regime is in a state of siege and hated by its own people, why would these people come to its rescue?  This is where one of the Crisis Group’s most reliable source aka “Crisis Group analyst’s field notes and interviews in another capacity” needs to update his/her notes.  Because my most reliable sources in another capacity tell me that the one group that the Eritrean people hate about as much as the regime lording over them are those in Diaspora who live in the luxury of freedom and lend their voices to enslave them.

Tenet 3: The Undemarcated Border Between Eritrea And Ethiopia Is The Biggest Contributor To Instability In The Horn Of Africa. Eritrea is very unhappy with Ethiopia’s decision to drag its feet and refuse to comply, unconditionally, with a ruling it promised that it would.  Eritrea is also very unhappy with countries that it believes have a strong influence on Ethiopia but are not sufficiently using their leverage to compel Ethiopia to abide by the EEBC ruling.  But both Eritrea and Ethiopia have been crystal clear that they will never go to a shooting war again.  But the ICG has held on tenaciously to its Chicken Little diagnosis that the un-demarcated border is the biggest source of instability in the Horn of Africa.  It really has become an article of faith the way the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is used to describe every instability in the Middle East.


The International Crisis Group has compiled a comprehensive report of the situation in Eritrea and the historical factors that contributed to it.  Unfortunately, while doing a good job at building the premise, the ICG always ends up recommending an action plan that belies its very own premise.  I can only presume why this is so: my best guess is that the ICG, like all leftist organizations in the planet, believes that nobody is beyond redemption and you can solve problems by TALKING.  It will hold on to this view even if its conclusion is preceded by 30 pages of, “boy, there is no reasoning with some guys, and Isaias Afwerki is one of them.”

The other reason is that it is, like all research organizations, guilty of selection bias: all the sources (refer to its extensive footnotes) have the same worldview. ICG’s sources are really made up of former admirers of the EPLF/PFDJ who had a falling out with their object of affection and think that the perfect solution is for the clock to turn back to 1997, when the PFDJ still dominated Eritrea but gave hints and suggestions that it could share power with the right (secular, nationalist, patriotic) opposition.

You can find a tribute to the sources, and their value system, throughout the report.  Whether ICG is, apropos of nothing, saying that Eritrea did not lose the border war with Ethiopia; or that Eritreans are opposed to sanctions; or Eritreans do not trust neither the opposition nor the opposition websites; or “that it has sometimes been said that he [Isaias] is the leader even of the opposition, whose gaze is fixed upon him, horrified and awed simultaneously.”

Ahem, actually all of the above describe the viewpoint of a tiny sliver of the Eritrean opposition (the part of the Eritrean opposition that refers to the Eritrean opposition as “they”) and, of course, the ICG itself.  Consider a sentence that appears as a footnote in the ICG report to shed a light on the character of Isaias Afwerki: “When I am challenged, I become more stubborn – more and more rigid.”   It is from Dan Connell’s classic Against All Odds (page 175): in November 1978 “Field Commander” Isaias Afwerki had told Dan Connell that with the Soviet Union taking sides openly, “…we will continue to fight.”  Much later, Dan Connell asks Isaias Afwerki where he got the resolve to fight back and Isaias gives him the “When I am challenged….” statement above, which concludes (with a part that is not quoted): “I am very emotional.  I get sad, but I don’t get discouraged.”

Now, doesn’t the above quote (which, by the way, is quoted often) show that it is coming from a group that is “horrified and awed simultaneously”? Actually, it is more awe than horror.  And a bit of cultural ignorance: you don’t have to be a field commander of unusual perserverance to use the words used by Isaias; every quarrelsome Eritrean brags about how faced with pressure, “melisu eyu Qch zmetSani.”   Moreover, in the case of Isaias Afwerki, it is not even true: when he is challenged, he may get emotional, but he does occasionally fold like a house of cards, as the 1999 midnight fax to the UN suing for peace and the 2010 Qatari-mediated peace agreement with Djibouti showed.

Which brings us to the ICG’s recommendation of engagement.  A few years ago, EU’s Development and Human Aid commissioner Louis Michel came up with his own “peace in our time” Chamberlain deal with Isaias Afwerki, that progress towards human rights in Eritrea can only come by engaging Isaias Afwerki.  He was “very, very honoured” as he put it sychophantly,  to welcome Isaias Afwerki to the Commission to provide him unconditional aid (122 million Euros), and to listen to him, in a press conference, abuse European journalists for asking about their fellow Eritrean journalists.  Within months, the poor Commissioner was sending desperate pleas to our tyrant for reciprocal gestures from him.  To the surprise of no one except Louis Michel, none was forthcoming.

History shows, much of it documented by ICG itself, that the only time Isaias Afwerki engages in a discussion is when he is cornered.  Tyrants are the same world wide: you can surrender to them, or you can defeat them.  But you can never make a deal with them.  You can win, you can lose.  But you can never draw.   A lesson that ICG refuses to learn.  As if its failure to learn is not bad enough, it wants to teach its unlearned lessons to others.

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