by WS. Asfaw
on 29 November 2014
“To have the arts of peace, but not the arts of war is to lack courage. To have the arts of war, but not the art of peace is to lack wisdom.”
It is neither right nor fair to compare and contrast Ethiopia and Eritrea in terms of political, social, and economic achievements. Juxtaposing the two entities, however, shows that Ethiopia has an energetic and vibrant society, while Eritrea is unstable and spiraling fast into self destruction due to self inflicted problems.
Following the ousting of the military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam in 1991 by the combined forces of EPRDF, EPLF and the Ethiopian peoples, after a long protracted civil war, it appeared that a new dawn was setting in for the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, whilst Ethiopia followed a democratic path, Isaias’s regime pursued a direction contrary to the objectives the people of Eritrea fought for. Under Isaias’s PJDF the Eritrean government had emaciated reasons to wage wars of aggression against near and far countries of the Horn of Africa. Thus, it followed a policy contrary to commonsense, of attacking first and trying to negotiate with the “enemy” under submission later. The Eritrean people have shown the world that they are courageous in both peace and war times. They are endowed like any other society, the resilience to be tolerant as well as spirited fighters when they need it. The ruling elites are however, out of this world and out of their depth.
Ethiopia with over 80 million people has been with full vigour engaged in peaceful and vivacious transformation through economic growth, to once and for good, wither away the age old social evils namely, pestilence, disease, and ignorance, from every corner of society. Ethiopia is totally engaged in changing the archaic habits and lethargic way of life of the old and replacing them by a healthy, harmonious and forward looking culture of “we can do it” spirit. With minimum help from outside and immense self belief, it has restructured and ignited itself to regain its prominence among equals. Nonetheless, the last twenty years were not without shortcomings. There were noticeable glitches; despite Ethiopia’s stride from strength to strength in its effort to qualitatively change itself.
Unfortunately it was forced to engage in a number of wars of self-defence. In 1998 it was invaded by Eritrea and suffered an unwanted diversion from fighting poverty. Similarly, in 2007/8 Ethiopia had to send in troops to Somalia following an invitation by the then international recognised Transitional Government of Somalia and in self-defence to counter the immediate threat posed by the then Union of Islamist Courts which was led by among others, by a listed terrorist by the name of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who was the leader of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya which Ethiopia had to fight in the 1990s.
Politically, Isaias has robustly believed in himself that Eritrea is his private entity while the people are his sole subjects who can be cowed at will. The people are slowly but surely, showing him that he is dead wrong. The first and last time Eritrean people took part in an election was when they were forced to choose between “Independence or slavery”. The ruling cliques steered the people to “decide” for independence. Consequently, it was reported that 99.83% Eritreans voted for independence. The fact became evident when the population was led sleep-walking to real slavery through the passage of “independence”. This was also done to gratify the enemies of Ethiopia at the expense of all the benefits the Eritrean population would have enjoyed by arranging their livelihood amicably with the rest of the Ethiopian people. Isaias and his disciples besieged Ethiopia to be their principal enemy and Tigray become the buffer zone for Isaias’s machinations and blatant aggression. Isaias’s prime target to strangulate Ethiopia by depriving it access to the sea fell flat on its face. Ethiopia, after all, did arrange other alternative entree points to facilitate need of the booming economy. The inflated value of the port indicated that the cost was far greater than the benefit it provides. It ended up becoming a waterhole for Afar camels and hiding place for Somali pirates and terrorists. The model given to Isaias by his masters to delude, entrap and incarcerate Ethiopia with cyclical wars that cause instability and underdevelopment, was flawed from its inception. The adversaries did not discern the dogged determination, and collective indomitable spirit of Ethiopians to free themselves from age old man-made and natural calamities.
In the absence of any semblance of democratic governance in Eritrea where checks and balances are unknown, public dissatisfaction are muzzled by a simple dictate “Tem Bel” (be quiet).The youth, as well as, 60 and 70 year old men and women are forcefully subjected to the endless national military service. Eritreans are muffled not to seek alternative solution to the inherent problems of their society. Some Eritreans have already concluded that the “independence” they have is pungent than the “slavery” of Ethiopia. They also articulate that Eritrea is in the worst state of servitude now than ever before. Some are yet nostalgically remembering even the cruel days of Derg. It is incredibly sad to compare two dictators’ time and choose one from the other. However, they say during Derg’s era, at least basic food was available to feed their children unlike the starvation they are facing today. There is no morality or legal obligation that is going to stop the few criminal elements from destroying whatever was won in the previous decades of struggle.
From the start, it was reprehensible and absurd to categorize Ethiopia as an enslaving (colonizing) society. There was neither economic nor political justification for this hyphenated idea. Nevertheless, as reality show, Eritrea would not have been enslaved by Ethiopia for Ethiopia was itself chained by all sorts of clutches of the ancien regime. The infantile debate of Ethiopia colonizing Eritrea had its roots in the Arab world. The concept of independence originated in Cairo, not because the Eritrean people required it but foreign powers prescribed it for their own interest. Through a cocktail of intense propaganda from the Eritrean fronts and previous degenerate regimes of Ethiopia, independence of Eritrea, appeared to be more plausible for the ordinary citizen, although there was no reasonable debate on the issue.
In retrospect, Eritrea would have had a vibrant economy, a forward looking, and cohesive society, like all nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. In short, Ethiopia is forging ahead registering qualitative changes on scale undreamt of before. While Eritrean leaders, under the dictatorship of one man and one party, have become cocooned, xenophobic and self-destructive. If the trend of poverty and political oppression continues, it seems Eritrea is bound to implode. The warning signs are posted all over.
Few Eritreans backed the Isaias’s economic fantasy of attaining fast growth like “Singapore”, out of fear and/ or desperation. The route of achieving this wishful “economic miracle” was, planned through manipulative tactics rather than any proven or viable economic model. Tackling the chronic problems of underdevelopment through dubious model was a non-starter. The Isaias’s unorthodox economic model (greed) through illegal and conniving practices included raiding raw materials from the surrounding neighbouring countries, banking fraud, tax evasion, counterfeiting, activities in smuggled goods (contraband trade) and other organized criminal activities by well trained henchmen, was lased in an indiscriminate noxious hatred of Ethiopians. Eventually the overall scheme was to make Ethiopia dependent on Eritrea by hook or by crook. Some of them were even hallucinating that Ethiopia’s raw materials ought to be processed in Asmara and shipped back to Ethiopia at a greater margin of profit. For instance, with such manipulative activities, Eritrea became a major coffee exporting country without growing a single coffee tree in its backyard. Obviously, this did not last long.
The ruling elites follow divide and rule policy similar to what the Italians used to exercise in their heyday in Eritrea. Bigotry as a weapon was initially adapted in Eritrea by the Italians to foster friction and bitterness among neighbourly people of similar origins. Isaias’s crumbling regime uses hate-mongering within Eritrea against each other and against Ethiopians wherever they are to promote ill-filling among peoples of the region that lived harmoniously for centuries. Fostering hostilities among neighbouring peoples is Isaias’s prime divisive implement for over staying in power.
Today, as a result of Isaias’s economic model, Eritreans are fleeing their country in their thousands despite the shoot to kill policy of the regime and being slaughtered in the Sinai desert by Arab Bedouins for their organs and extortion. Thousands of vulnerable Eritreans are forced to give up their organs including kidney, liver and whatever spare parts the Arabs want to replace. Of course, the immediate beneficiaries of the sale are the, local generals, the traffickers, Arab mafias and the Arabs who are getting the new organs. The helpless Eritrean, after losing her/his organ/s, is not yet free to spare his/her life in spite of losing organ/s. In addition, she/he has to pay $30,000-$40-000 for his/her release. The question is was independence meant to be sustained by commercializing human organs in the Arab commodity exchange? Or do all Eritreans have to be sacrificial lamb to the political and economic failure of Isaias?
Thousands of young Eritreans, who became disgruntled by the aimless military concentration camps of Sawa and Kiloma, are running away from the land of real slavery to all corners of the world, apparently including to Ethiopia. An Israeli news paper reported that there are over 40,000 Eritreans in Israel. (7/10/12 HAARETZ) Sadly, many do not make the journey. Countless are eaten by Mediterranean and Red Sea sharks. Many more are executed by the “shot to kill” policy of the regime. The Eritrean regime is left with a bitterly dissatisfied population, who are regretting for being bullied into voting for independence. Consequently, political stagnation is fermenting social discontent in Eritrea and has reached a point of no return. The stage seems to be getting ready for change. Contrary to the reality on the ground, American politicians Mr. Cohn & Mr. Shinn are, against all odds, attempting to resuscitate the most dangerous tyrant of the Horn of Africa.
I recently met a journalist who went to Eritrea to interview the Head of State. His observation of serious short-comings started the day he arrived in his hotel. He said he ordered Omelette for breakfast, but the waiter kindly informed him that they do not have eggs. The journalist, stunned asked the waiter why don’t you have eggs? The waiter replied, “We do not have money to buy eggs”. The Journalist went to the nearest shop and bought a dozen eggs. The Chef prepared it and they all ate their breakfast. The journalist told me that he met a number of officials as well as private individuals’ discretely all pleading for help.
Of course, he suspected that some of them were government agents. The journalist said, “They all told me that going for independence and cutting the umbilical cord with Ethiopia was the biggest blunder they all made.” They told him that, “Eritrea has no future without Ethiopia”. Armed with hard facts and after several delays, the journalist interviewed Isaias. One of his unanticipated questions was, “The economic crises is hurting every Eritrean, unemployment is high despite the forced military recruitment of tens of thousands of young Eritreans, Your people are suffering an economic crises unseen in other parts of Africa. Many are saying the problem could be solved if you could initiate to talk with neighbouring countries particularly with Ethiopia. So why don’t you?” “Why are the Iranian Military in Aseb?” Isaias started sweating and could not face the interviewer and his questions. Due to “recurring migraine” Isaias walked out of the interview. The journalist was told to go without concluding the interview.
According to Gunter Schroeder a specialist on the Horn of Africa Refugees, the increasing number of refugees fleeing Eritrea indicates that the regime in Asmara is about to disintegrate. He said, “It is inevitable that after Isaias’s demise, there will be a prolonged instability in Eritrea for at least ten years. The instability will certainly lead to further exodus of refugees in waves of hundreds of thousands.” The recent arrivals to Ethiopia are estimated to be nearly half a million. When the dictator is either peacefully or otherwise removed from power, ensuing power struggle may accelerate further exodus of Eritrean refugees to the neighbouring countries. A friend once said, if you bring 300 highlanders into a meeting, every individual would want to create his/her organization. There is no trust among each other but mutual suspicion and this delays the creation of a common front against their common enemy. However, it seems Isaias has done his homework of disuniting his real and potential enemies by all means. Sadly, in this respect, Isaias’s achievement is successful. As it stands, there is no viable organization that can be counted as a care taker of a small community, let alone a complex society with a lot of foreign imperceptible vested interests. If the Eritrean elites cannot see the looming colossal problem, i.e., the very existence of Eritrea which they worked hard to create for decades, will inevitably be lost altogether. Time is running out and the responsibility is mounting. Eritreans should attempt to sort out, both the petty and complex problems they have even if it is too late. Whenever the dictator is dethroned, there will be unimaginable chaos engulfing the Horn of Africa. There is no Mubarak to redirect the agony into another prolonged catastrophe, and certainly no Gaddafi to fund such senseless sentiment. Saudi will only be interested if Wahabism is left to expand further into the interior and create more havoc under Eritrean Al-shabaab Mark II.
It is a gigantic dilemma. However, it is not a question of ‘independence’ and/or ‘slavery’. Certainly it is a matter of survival of 4/5 million Eritreans. The political economy of Eritrea would not function without the active backing of neighbouring countries. The instability of Eritrea ought to be a concern for all neighbouring countries. Another failed state in the Horn will certainly affect everyone in the region. The entire population, except the ruling elites, is it seems, pleading for help. But then again, it seem the elite is not in a hurry, to either initiate the discourse on how to save the state, or to ascertain their position to steer the society into a different direction from the ruined society by other means. I hope they are still cogitating which way to rescue their debilitating society.
Once again history is glaringly showing us that dictators never see for tomorrow but only for today. The dictator’s survival is anchored on alternating, covertly eliminating opponents, as well as, overtly confusing the innocent public with repetitive propaganda. Said Barre, never stopped his intrigue of divided and rule until the time he was deposed . Somalia was a game board where he played and shuffled his knights as he desired at will. The very existence of Somalia was not his concern, but only his power. Like Said Barre, Isaias’s least worry is the existence of Eritrea. His main apprehension is, like all dictators, losing his omnipotence. Isaias’s role will, therefore be to escort Eritrea from “slavery” to independence and then to destruction at any cost.
All the indicators mentioned above are reasons for any society to implode. Even more so, the Eritrean social fault line is widening. In the absence of peace, democratic participation, hope and economic development, militarization will not solve the ills of Eritrean society be it today or tomorrow. Derg had one of the largest army in Africa but did not help him to bring solutions to the ever rising social problems. In Eritrea, every citizen is forced to receive military training. Thus everyone has the know-how of using the gun and the government has armed most of them. This implies that the gun owning person is as potent as his/her neighbour. The conduit from this nightmare would only be through democratic process before the fragile state disintegrates and become another failed state. The consequences of a failed state are too complex to comprehend for anybody. Nevertheless, no one can be complacent of such eventualities.
Conclusion: The downfall of the Derg in 1991 fractured Ethiopia into two entities. Eritrea opted out for independence with an economic dream of over powering the Horn of Africa and by emulating Singapore to become an economic miracle state. The new Ethiopia, without Eritrea, on the other hand inherited a fragile society with empty coffers, malfunctioning state structure, and an accumulated dept of billions. Michael Jones said,”Mengistu enjoyed, from 1977 until his recent departure, some $10 billion in Soviet military Aid.” When Eritrea uniquely started from a favourable condition, Ethiopia with a greater population and land mass had to finish the war economy of the previous regime and start from negative budget.
Both states, (Ethiopia in 1991 & Eritrea in 1993) had to choose as to which way to move forward. Fortunately, Ethiopia decided to go the democratic path. However, establishing democratic institutions in a fragile state was not uncomplicated. Emerging from an era of dictatorship to a new democratic system, were certainly, a momentous occasion and a breakthrough for a new beginning in a multi-ethnic society. Today, it is slowly but surely moving forward on an assured democratic path by enhancing public participation on relevant issues and bonding all the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia further to create a cohesive truly multinational state. Diversity is becoming a source of wealth, strength and unity.
On the other hand, the Eritrean regime opted out for tyranny and prolonged the dictatorship contrary to the demand of the Eritrean people and the objectives that they fought for the three decades. In the absence of justice, respect of human rights and in general good governance, Eritrea is continuously veering towards a failed state status. The decision whether to remain as a pariah state or join the Horn of African fraternity and the international community at large will remain a unilateral choice of Eritreans. Isaias cannot change his dictatorial nature and be a rehabilitated to be a democrat over night. Eritrea and the surrounding areas need an ever lasting solution to the problems created by one tyrannical administration. However, the preliminary steps for long lasting solution to the Eritrean problem have to start from introducing inalienable rights enshrined in the UN Charter. Respect of Press Freedom, freedom of speech, Human rights, release of political and religious prisoners, freedom of movement etc., are some of the fundamental rights that Isaias should have acted upon when declaring independence. These have to be reckoned while starting to negotiate the long term destiny of Eritrea with a tyrant whose days in power are numbered. On the one hand, any patch-up work with a dictator will not last long. On the other hand, it is certainly obvious that Ethiopia should invest on lasting solutions that will bring long-term peace and stability in the region. Thus, the prerequisite to the durable peace is nothing but ingraining democracy where it is scarce and in existent.
Those who advocate of bringing Isaias “from the cold”, it seems, have an agenda of their own which directly challenges the interest of Ethiopia. Above and beyond giving a breezing space to a desperate tyrant who does not understand peace, is not a solution to the prevailing crisis of the region that he singularly created. While the long term problem of peace in the region and democratic governance in Eritrea requires long term solution, rehabilitating Isaias betrays the basic quest of the Eritrean people for peace and democracy. Likewise, it denigrates the life of thousands of Ethiopians who died for their country.