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The President of Eritrea - Prime Minster Abiy, Desert Locust and COVID-19

By Jerusalem Barnabas
Tigrai Online May 11, 2020

President of Eritrea - Prime Minster Abiy, Desert Locust and COVID-19

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Lately, I noticed the social media was full of rumours about the President of Eritrea, Esayas Afewrki’s health. Various images, stories and speculation were circulating round. I am not a great fan of social media, but I couldn’t avoid hearing all sorts. Then came the News of President’s arrival to Ethiopia. The visit intrigued me also many others. Why now and why sudden? Especially, if he really was unwell.

I read on BBC that the visit of the two leaders was to do with the desert Locust, COVID-19 and Bilateral cooperation.

I know the greedy and nasty plague of Locusts, swarms every vegetation and food crops, eating them in no minute, causing so much devastation leading to hunger. In comparison though, COVID-19 is pandemic causing unprecedented misery, suffocating life out of 280,000 people globally. So, knowing the destructive nature of COVID -19, the President goes to talk about Locust also COVID-19? I am perplexed, why risk his own health at his age.

The two leaders have power, but power doesn’t grant immunity against COVID-19. Didn’t they hear about Prince Charles? Also, Boris Johnson who ended up in ICU?

Dr Abiy might think ‘young and indispensable’, but President Esayas? Unless the speculated illness (if any) was COVID-19 and the President has already developed Antibody. Also, what is the obsession of Dr Abiy with President Esayas and vice versa?

Have they both forgotten that they are the leaders of separate countries? Is there some hidden agenda to ‘Unite’ the two countries as some activists in Ethiopia wish and prophesise? Could it be a nostalgia of the President to the ‘Lost Mother Land’ or what?

Putting Locusts aside, and taking only COVID-19, how come they couldn’t have Tele/Video conference?

What is so important for risking their individual health and others around them? The visit is against all rules their citizens are put under in the name of COVID-19. Ethiopia’s for example has put the following rules:

  1. Bole Airport abides by 14 days mandatory quarantine measures
  2. Those quarantined, would be monitored by the Health Authorities; might also be tested for Corona virus
  3. 23rd March 2020, Ethiopia closed the land Borders
  4. 31st March 2020, The National Electoral Board, postponed the Election second time, from 29th August 2020 with no alternative date, all for COVID-19
  5. 8th April 2020, Dr Abiy, declared State of Emergency
  6. A meeting of four or more people is also prohibited
  7. Three or two people are expected to be apart, with 2 adult strides at all times 
  8. Anyone failing to comply, faces three years imprisonment or 200,000 Ethiopian Birr penalty

While the Prime Minster of Ethiopia is enforcing all these under a state of emergency, as COVID-19 measure, how come he defied his own protocol?

  • The president of Eritrea and his entourage were not quarantined.
  • There were definitely more than four people at a close proximity to each other, walking while accompanying the President and his delegates.
  • Not quite sure if they were adhering 2 adult strides apart either.

Forget about the COVID-19 protocol, the President’s visit was for two days, what was talked about?

Did they hold any press conference?

It was said to make a Bilateral agreement of ‘mutual importance’, what was that?

We saw the photos of the inauguration of irrigation scheme and yet, the closed meeting and the Bilateral agreement between the two countries was not made public.

It has become a pattern between the two countries since 2018, ‘random’ back and forth visits continue, without any announcement, why is that?

While there is an African Union/AU in the Capital of Ethiopia, the two leaders mostly meet under the supervision of Arab states, away from Africa. These two African leaders appear closer to the Middle East than they are to their own continent Africa, why would that be?

There are no positive exemplary stories on the involvement of Arab countries towards Africa on Africans affairs, apart from their obvious ambition to a greater hegemony in the Horn.

It is understandable, Eritrea offers (among many minerals and raw materials) Naval Base at the Red Sea Port, that can be used for all sorts including easy proximity to the Saudi led bombardment on poor Yemen.

Ethiopia might also offer manpower and abundant raw material resource, no one knows what other things. Nevertheless, the whole mystified affair feels more sinister than a benign partnership.

President Esayas’s relationship, with Prime Minster Abiy, the ‘romance and flirting’ with the Arab countries, has to be viewed with an eagle eye, not as a seasonal political drama.

The simplest example being the Arabs Alliance, iand their stance on Great Renaissance Dam of Ethiopia.

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At the beginning of Dr Abiy’s power, the Arab states praised the two leaders and ushered them with gifts, what for? Although comforting to observe least both had something from these countries. But the Nobel Prize winner was one and one only, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

During first quarters of seizing power, the Prime Minster and his political elites told Ethiopians and exposed so many secrets, one of the secrets was the admission to conspire with foreign countries. Were the Arabs among them? Or is that too obvious?

While working under EPRDF leadership, Dr Abiy had closer ties with Eritrea and other foreign collaborators, this was without the knowledge of his Bosses in the EPRDF which he was part. How is this plausible? That’s why the question is raised on the various visits, also on the Presidents sudden arrival during a global health emergency.

Conspiring against your own sovereign country with others is a punishable crime; knowingly or unknowingly, under the euphoria of newly gained power, Ethiopians have heard things from the ‘slip of the tongue’, both by the Prime Minister’s and his supporters, in Amarigna and Oromigna. One of the foreign country’s talked about was Eritrea, under the leadership of President Esayas; the master of ill political games. Except, it didn’t produce him a global Praise or Prize. Price was paid for the current Prime Minister for breaking the stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Does anyone believe though, there is no political stalemate? Is there a real peace between the two countries?

The hidden affairs that went between all these foreign players has definitely brought the two ‘P’s, closer to the Prime minister; Power and Prize, a Nobel one and the celebrated glory in Sweden attended by many International spectators with photo sessions for the ‘shy’ Prime Minster. There was more; 9 million Swedish crowns equivalent to 900,000 US Dollars at the time, calculating it in Birr not important.

In other countries, people have been punished for disclosing any sensitive information to foreign countries. Whilst not exactly the same example, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange were talked about revelation of secrets. they were not part of political power, but allegedly exposed classified information. More so, for the young and intelligent Edward Snowden, he breached a national security, but was not rewarded Prize but Punishment and exile.

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Dr Abiy on the other hand was part of a National Defence Force for the ruling EPRDF, with a position in intelligence and communication, yet he passed classified information, never mind to the Ethiopian oppositions, but to a foreign country, is this a rewardable Act? Why? Ironically though, the Eritrean President who has been harbouring many sworn enemies of Ethiopia under EPRDF for many years, didn’t get any PRIZE, not even as a Joint winner for ‘breaking the stalemate’ no ‘Nobel Prize’. I guess imprisoning his opponents and the quarter of a decade military conscription might have costed him that.

As for the peace, Ethiopians and Eritreans are baffled to this date, where that so called, ‘peace agreement’ between the two countries is.

The Ethiopian elites and their supporters, who plotted the down fall of EPRDF wouldn’t have been where they are now without the assistance of President Esayas. Both groups are very happy of course, not interested in what is on the ground in terms of real peace.

On the other hand, those Ethiopians who genuinely fought for democracy and good governance are left in cold and behind.

There is no concrete peace on the ground between Ethiopia and Eritrea. If peace is judged by the ad hoc visits of the two leaders and the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Asmara, may be.

The President was not expecting a Nobel Prize but the demise of the EPRDF, the marginalisation or elimination of TPLF whom he hates and labels as his sworn enemy, hoping the ‘Game Over’.

The TPLF leadership that formed the coalition of EPRDF, has definitely left the ‘Ivory Tower’ in Addis. It has turned stronger than what it was two years ago. The people of Tigray are expecting practical action from it, like, offering open and diverse political views and pollical parties. This wasn’t what President Esayas was expecting at all, so, his struggle continues.

Why does the President find it difficult to untangle himself from past and present Ethiopia? What was his dream for the Eritrea to be? Why does he embroil in animosity with all his neigbours? his country hasn’t seen anything from him?

One thing is for sure, The President always looks happy when he is inside Ethiopian Towns; Gondar, Awasa etc. the highlight of all, the celebrated reception in Addis Abeba Millennium Hall. After decades of absence from the City that he went to University, he was back to witness the old Addis changed beyond his imagination; all done under those leaders he hates to give credit.

During that visit with the Prime Minister, he had the best photos and videos with visibly cheerful face. That gave the world a glimpse of President Esayas in a happy mood, a rare image to observe. In these whole dynamics of political squabble and drama, there is one striking reality, the symbiotic relationship between the two leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In terms of peace between the two countries, everyone should accept true peace among people, can only be achieved if those affected are taking part. Whether a border dispute or else. The leadership of Tigray and Eritrea must seat on round table facilitated by their Heads of States to seek a genuine lasting peace. The two people of the border have been the losers of what happened twenty years ago. They are the ones who suffered the most.

The war didn’t happen in Addis, or any other Ethiopian region, it happened in Tigray and Eritrea. Many Ethiopians and Eritreans died and wounded in this process, however, it is a realty that the land of Tigray and Eritrea are those scarred and ravaged by the war. Thousands of local people, livestock, and vegetation perished from these two places.

The dispute is not between Dr. Abiy and President Esayas but the greater Eritrea under and Tigray/Ethiopia. If these two leaders have true intention, they have to swallow their pride and resolve the real issue for a lasting peace. A tiny meagre land called Badme or else, should not be a pretext for turning Tigray and Eritrea regions as a battle grounds for endless disputes and meaningless war. Neither the people of Eritrea and Tigray nor the other regions of Ethiopia be expected take part in future to any manipulation or sentiment of war mongering.

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The President’s visit to Ethiopia last week was surprising but alerting to say the least. That does not mean Politicians across the Planet, have stopped working for diplomacy with other countries, but they certainly have not been flying anywhere.

Even those officials and scientists who were leading on COVID-19, when they defied the pandemic lockdown, they were shamed and exposed, later forced to resign from their positions. They didn’t fly to another country, simply travelled to another location or encouraged someone from other location to come to them.

In conclusion, The Eritrean President is getting too old with one foot in the grave. It is about time he stops meddling in neighbouring politics and interethnic affairs. He has to come to terms with his past and exit by freeing his people, from three decades of untold suffering. There is still an alternative to wilfully hand power with grace and humility before it is too late. It is also time for the people of his country to reclaim back their independence. Time to stop making excuses, and looking for scapegoats, it is sad how the president has paralysed the power of thinking and courage. No Eritrean citizen should sink in the Mediterranean Sea; burn in the desert of Sahara, or languish in the prisons of Libya or Eritrea. Eritrea is not what the President and his Cabinets inherited from their parents, but a country they snatched from the young children of Eritrea.

Similarly, the new political leadership of Ethiopia must understand and accept that Diplomacy is different from political activism, religious preaching, supremacist propaganda and handing sovereignty. The Prime Minister must respect the rights of every individuals in the country, and the regional autonomy. He must work for the common good of all. Ethiopians as citizens must also respect the rights of refugees who flee from persecution.

Ethiopia is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, later endorsed by AU in 1969. yet, asylum seekers from Eritrea who were sheltering in Tigray have been relocated to other parts of Ethiopia without knowledge of UNHCR. Still refugees are entering Tigray with no structured support from Ethiopian government especially in this COVID-19 time.

It is the responsibility of all humanity to highlight the suffering of Eritreans across the world not use them for Breaking News or for political bartering and manipulation of power. Thousands of refugees from Ethiopia lived and still are, in so many foreign countries across the world, so, they shouldn’t remain blind folded to allow political leaders violate that rights of refugees in the name of Coronavirus or Desert Locust or any other agenda.

The Ethiopian Prime Minster is a young leader with long political ambition; ignoring the misery of Eritreans yet accommodating the old Presidents death wish, will definitely not grant him pride or dignity, only power and fame.

He must bear in mind that he is leading a country of over a hundred million people, the second populous after Nigeria, the 10th largest in Africa and the 27th biggest land in the world. With this in mind, his position demands the ultimate preservation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty with no compromise of citizen’s rights and their peace or national security. No matter what. That is the commitment expected from him and that’s what he sworn under oath when he took power.

He must acknowledge, dealing with Ethiopian politics requires seasoned diplomatic skill. Political infancy is too dangerous and costly for Ethiopia, it shouldn’t be entertained at a position of his political leadership. The Mantras he came up with, Medemer or Fiker, are not philosophies, they might have helped to motivate people for a while, but they faded once people saw the contrasting truth. None of the Fiker is there but Fear and Friction.

Political leadership in Ethiopia does not demand PhD, MD, MBA, but a well thought political and economic frame work and strategic vision. Level headed judgement, an infrastructure and good governance, neutral Judiciary and Military structure to sustain and translate that.

The Prime Minster is not there for mere political shuffling and popularity contest but to lead the country with moral superiority and integrity. If there is no moral benchmark, anarchy and lawlessness take over, hopelessness, displacement and destitution become fate, intrigue and political mischief replace law and order, human life will have little meaning, economic growth decline, I guess that is what is visible in today’s Ethiopia.

Therefore, Ethiopians from whatever ethnic background must not feel besieged by all kinds of excuses including Corona Virus and state of emergency, the leadership itself doesn’t adhere to. Must demand rule of law and democratic political order. While keeping COVID-19 in mind, everyone should have the charisma also determination to peacefully challenge any rising dictatorship at any cost. Time is of the essence.

In a country where the COVID-19 death is only 5, it is a joke both the National Election Board and the unelected governing party use COVID-19 for the purpose of political or individual advantage. The fragile democracy cannot afford second postponement of an Election in the name of Corona Virus.

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Similarly, the number politics, used before and ‘succeeded’, has passed its sell by date and must stop. Every ethnic group, large or small, has exactly the same right under the constitution of the country. if people are day dreaming and don’t act quickly, there is a danger, Neo-feudalism, authoritarianism, fascism and any kind of dictatorship to resurrect in the country.

Eritrea is no longer the 14th Province of Ethiopia like it used to be; it has long gone, therefore, the constant interference of a foreign President in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, National and internal Security, must be curtailed. By the same token, Tigray the next door to Eritrea, should not be expected to tolerate any war brawling sentiment that starts from Asmera or Addis.

No COVID-19 or Locust should justify the state of emergency to cancel election or to supress dissent and consolidate power.

Neither the president of Eritrea nor the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, be allowed to continue wicked manipulation of politics, which would have a far deeper consequence than Corona virus or Desert Locusts.

A Luta continua!!