THE DILEMMA FACING THE ERITREAN PEOPLE
THE DILEMMA FACING THE ERITREAN PEOPLE By Ezana sehay Recently I had a very revealing conversation with one of my PFDJ [the Eritrean regime] supporting friends. It was the day the newly elected Kenyan president was sworn in,
THE DILEMMA FACING THE ERITREAN PEOPLE
Recently I had a very revealing conversation with one of my PFDJ [the Eritrean regime] supporting friends. It was the day the newly elected Kenyan president was sworn in, consequently our focus was; Africa’s foray in to democracy.
After few minutes of heated debating; “are you telling me, there is free election or genuine democracy in Africa” Asked my friend.
I told him; Democracy in Africa is in its infancy, notwithstanding few hiccups, is striding along nicely. In democracy; the process is as important as the outcome is – conducting election is an integral part of that process, and in most Africa elections, we can attest to a certain level of transparency and fairness.
Is democracy benefiting Africa? You becha! All one has to do is, witness the new positive image of the continent. As the political map of emerging African democracies expand; it has started bearing fruit, spearheading tremendous political and economic transformation in the continent.
Now – is African democracy perfect? Not by a long shot; it still has a long way to go. But, that shouldn’t surprise us. After all, democracy is an evolving process, even those who have been practicing it for decades haven’t mastered it yet.
You see, democracy is a fragile system. When it functions, it out performs any other and looks magnificent doing it; but like an exotic car, it is usually in the garage for a tune up. Nevertheless, the axiom, democracy being superior to all other systems of governing holds its ground.
Where does that leave, Eritrea? I asked my friend.
After a long pause and glum face, my friend exclaimed, “at the bottom!” [Beat} “Sebaay chera alem geruwa hager” [the man (Isayas) has made the country the butt of the world]
And he is right; the current developments in Africa leave Eritrea, looking rather conspicuously backward. Eritrea is one of the few that still stand out as the ugly ducklings and wait to join their African swan sisters in the flight from repression and poverty to relative prosperity, and good governess.
I admit though, I was caught off guard by my friend’s sudden utterance of contempt against his hero [Isayas]. Who could have predicted that such comparisons would turn out to be a turning point in my friend’s opinion of the regime?
I mean there are multifarious source of grievances in Eritrea. It could be any one of a host of pretexts; poverty, repression, injustice… all these are so pervasive that they could justify a revolution.
And yet for my friend, none of those seemed to have swayed his view about tyranny in his country. What triggered his conscious fuse is pride [the thought of his country becoming the laughing stock]. The sense of his country being relegated to a political infancy and immaturity seem to have a salutary effect and outlasted the temptation – of the immature culture of self-pity and victimhood, plus the equally false reassuring dictatorship.
I also have learned an important lesson: apparently, in politics, what is crucial for one may not be important for another. That explains why heavy handed regimes like Saudi Arabia have until now – spared of the Arab Spring phenomenon.
This ought to make us beware of too glibly selecting the ostensibly pivotal factors for social revolution. I think the factors of indignity and shame, of the sort manifested in the above anecdote should be given due consideration.
History has proven that, people are as prepared to fight for pride, honor and recognition as they are for less abstract concepts like food and territory. Sooner or later, the line gets crossed and people can’t take it anymore. People don’t like to be treated like fools, infants, or extras in some parade. There is a natural and inborn resistance to such tutelage.
One of the reassuring things about dictatorship is the way it consistently fails to understand this element of the equation. Haw gratifying it is such regimes go on making the same mistakes. None of them seem to master few simple survival techniques; such as don’t undermine the people’s sense of understanding by lying or fabricating events, because, such actions will eventually alert even the most somnolent citizen to the fact that you are losing, or have lost your grip.
In the case of Eritrea; the sense of insult run very deep and isayas’s bullies are too dense to understand their own mistakes. For instance, the G15 reform movement or the Forto salvo: one can hardly imagine a milder form of resistance, yet because of the overwhelming stupidity and cruelty of the regime, it had consequences of an almost seismic kind. The lumbering apparatus of the state conspired to make itself appear idiotic and thuggish and in the process and inadvertently convinced the people, that they are being held as serfs by fools.
Few days later; as I and my friend resumed our discussion, the Forto incident came up and immediately I sensed apprehension in his view. Though still convinced the need for change in the country – doesn’t however, think it should be the priority at the moment. He stated,
“Look Ezana! What will happen to the country if Isayas is deposed [beat], I mean as bad as he is, he is the only one who can hold the country together… who will replace him, The opposition? They can’t even lead their own respective groups.”
Here lies the paradox; his conjecture is mainly wrong and I found the insouciance utterly surprising, even alarming. However, his view on the status of the opposition camp has some merit.
The view expressed by my friend is typical of the regime supporters’ myopic and pathological obsession with the “talismanic” power of Isayas.
If anything, Isayas is a threat to the nation’s survival. Moreover, the supposed attraction of dictatorial “stability” is in fact illusory, since nothing is more volatile and unsafe than dictatorship, which lacks any self-critical method for learning from mistakes.
The stability of Eritrea, my friend alluded to is spacious, more of suffocation and masking problems instead of addressing them. Today’s Eritrea appears to have been locked in time; sealed off from the outside world. Thanks to the PFDJ, the country rich in resources and potential has been transformed in to one of the poorest.
In the curtailed reality of dictatorial Isayas state, people lower their voices when discussing politics, democracy, elections or human rights, as these words are considered taboo words that ring alarm-bells. The truth of events is rarely out in the open for everyone to see; rather, it can be found in the sentences and stories exercised by the censor’s pen, or in the voices of the journalists silenced by death or incarceration.
Whenever problems get out of its hands, the regime has a habit of pulling off an elaborate hoax to deceive the people. But the people have become, justifiably distrustful of the regime which has betrayed them many times. They have come to realize the menacing of tyranny. Understandably, genuine Eritreans are wary as they see the country keep sleep- walking in to the abyss. They feel the pressure is building slowly, but fear the eruption may be sudden and violent.
In the popular narrative of revolutions and political transformations, dictators are expected to meet grim ends: they are brutalized by furious crowds or stand ridiculous and unrepentant against the bland back drop of court of law. They don’t as a rule, shuffle guilty off center stage, having set in place the mechanism for reform. Such will be the fate of Isayas and cronies.
So, to address my friend’s concern; what will happen to Eritrea after the likely demise of the Isayas regime?
The most dangerous fallout of dictatorship is what follows its disposition. Dictators are functionally and clinically paranoid bunch, who value power and influence above all other social or moral values. It is that infatuation with power which drive them in to doing what they do, and distrust anyone, even those close to them.
That explains why dictators rarely have vices or deputies. That is influenced by the fear of possible coupe. Any hint of, even minimal reform within their own party or government is considered treason.
Evidently, under such environment it is difficult for nongovernmental political or civil organizations to evolve and function. In other words, neither the government itself nor the people are ready for the imminent demise of the regime. That is why in most cases, the destruction of dictatorial regime is followed by national calamity.
Needless to say, Breaking free is a natural phenomena practiced by every oppressed people; because, Containment is stifling even in the Garden of Eden and tyrannies like that of today’s Eritrea are hardly Garden of Eden. But, the fear of many genuine Eritreans is – when the tyrant and his law-and-order apparatus are removed, a complete breakdown of society might follow.
How to avoid that scenario? There is a popular Chinese saying, “I am a ruffian and I am afraid of no one”. The Eritrean people are ready to get out of their barricades to rid off the regime. However, they are aware of the incoming risks and lack the conceptual capacity to deal with it. In other words, they are looking for leadership. A leadership [organization] which would protect the nation from the worst case scenario materializing; a force credible enough to replace the PFDJ and smooth out the transition from tyranny to democracy.
Theoretically, such force could come from a reformed PFDJ, the opposition camp, or a coalition of the two.
The PFDJ is trapped in the dark tunnel from which there does not yet appear to be an escape. It is in a state of moribund. This would’ve been a good opportunity for the party members and supporters to do some soul searching; such as internal reform or rapprochement with other camp. Sadly that seems improbable. You could say: those who have the most to loose are doing the least to turn the tide.
So, the relatively reliable option seems to be that of the opposition political and civic organizations. But, are they up to the task?
I am afraid their track record doesn’t spell promise. After more than twenty years on the other side of the political fence, the Eritrean opposition still seem to lack vision, coordination, and coherent strategy as haw to utilize their potential and the country’s objective situation, to build sufficiently compelling alternative to the regime.
The Eritrean people don’t need commiserations. This constellation of opposition groups may be contending with the modus Vivendi but the people are thirsty for change.
It is time for the opposition groups build emotional attachment with the people and stop trivializing urgent issues. Eritreans want opposition leaders rise beyond narrow political interest, shift their focus of priority from promoting diverse political philosophies to what is urgent i.e. national salvation.
Containment is not enough, it is time to show possible action, since dictators respond only to direct pressure not to rhetoric.
Are Eritrea’s opposition groups willing to seize the moment? Are they willing to put aside their petty inconsequential differences and come together to salvage their country by removing the plaque of Isayas, to rid themselves of the curse of awrajanet [regional] and religious sentiments? We hope so.
The other predicament: Of course, when we say change, we mean change for the better. As much as, the pursuit of democratic change in Eritrea is the optimal goal, it is equally important who leads that change or who tags along. Remember, there are many cats among the pigeons.
In the stifling ambiance of isayas’s tyranny, people are desperate to open the windows. They are dying for a breath of fresh air, sometimes literally. The problem is, when the window is finally open, instead of fresh air, or in addition to it, nasty things may blow in to the house.
If tyranny’s stifling air is replaced by poison gas, there is no net gain for the people, not even a gross gain.