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Eritrea: Courageous people, sadly led by a spineless dictator

Part II             Read Part I

By WS. Asfaw, wsasfaw@gmail.com
Tigrai Onlne - March 02, 2014

“It's not a simple matter to drop by a friend's house for dinner in Eritrea. If the meal is to be attended by at least three guests from various families, the authorities already consider it a gathering that requires a special permit. Nor would travel to an adjacent village be possible without a similar permit. And if you have an urge to write a song on a slip of paper, you need to be mindful that it could be construed as anti-government propaganda that could land you in jail.”[4] HAARETZ 

Eritrean president for life isayass afeworki - Tigrai Online

At this juncture in history, there exists an irredeemable polarity between the Eritrean public and the most notorious Eritrean regime, who whole heartily is working not for the interest of Eritrea and Eritreans but for foreign paymasters, and its narrow self-interest. 

The governance problem has, therefore, trapped Eritrea on poverty, food insecurity, foreign policy drawbacks in spite of the potential availability of natural resources and diligent population. Wining war does not necessarily guarantee winning peace. It is one of the hurdles of social movement. As Sun Tzu said “To win victory is easy, to preserve its fruits, difficult.”[5] Up until now, Eritrean leaders under Isaias have found peace daunting to manage or safeguard its fruits. 

The Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Boarders, classified the media environment in Eritrea at rank 178 out of 178 countries. This is the lowest possible rating, which fell below the most brutal regime of North Korea rank 177. (EDT, 26/7/07; HAARETZ Sept. 7/2012). 

Soon after independence, the Eritrean leaders started to be paranoid. In 1994, Sudan was accused of sending insurgents and supporting opposition groups against Eritrea. After political enmity and complete diplomatic breakdown for few years, with the help of neighbouring countries who have vested interest in the region, the armed confrontation was averted. 

The vitriolic war did not stop there. In 1996, Yemen became the first victim of the Government of Eritrea’s violent behaviour. It is legitimate to ask what is yours, but to wage war of aggression against sovereign states is as Sun Tzu said two and half thousand years ago, “...is to lack wisdom”. 

In 1993, under the tyranny of Isaias, Eritreans were mislead on broad day light, and required to cast their vote without debate for either “Independence or Slavery”. Ever since, this crisis has gone from bad to worse by the day. In retrospect, the question should have been do you want “Independence and Slavery, or unity”. Consequently, Ethiopia was in between the “devil and the deep blue sea”. It was confronted by a totally failed state in the east and ill adjusted society with amorphous economic model in the north. These precipitated the most noticeable obstacles in the last twenty years. 

Thus, the third in line to be viciously attacked by the Eritrean regime without word of warning was Ethiopia. After two decades of civil war in Ethiopia (1975-1991), and after steady peaceful transition to development commenced, the totalitarian regime of Asmara, without any coherent reason attacked and occupied parts of Ethiopia. This was a flagrant violation of international law. It was only, logical for Ethiopia to respect its inalienable right through self defence. The war of attrition (1998-2000) to expel the aggressor Eritrean regime from sovereign territories of Ethiopia took heavy toll. Only the speedy capitulation of Isaias’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) saved the total annihilation of the Eritrean government. 

Unable to learn from his past mistakes, Isaias attacked Djibouti, a port city state, in 2007/8, only to be restrained from full-fledged war by an ultimatum from the French Army. Nevertheless, the low intensity war is still going on despite the warning of many interested parties. 

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) said since Eritrea’s conflict with Ethiopia 1998-2001, Eritrea’s human rights record worsened. Freedom of speech, press, assembly and association are totally non-existent. In a predominantly Christian society (estimated to be 65%), the main victims of the totalitarian regime are paradoxically Christians. (It is said whenever the regime is running short of funds; it persecutes Christians and soon after Isaias goes to the Arab countries to raise finance. The degree of Christian persecution and the amount of capital raised in Arab capitals are fairly complementary.)[6] 

The dictator, has been deceiving the Eritrean public repeating the same rhetoric’s, “we are special people”, “Fuluy Hizbi”, “invincible”, “civilized than the rest”etc,. hollow words, did not work at all. Instead of creating harmony among the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea for the common bondage they inherit, in terms of common history, culture, language, and benefiting from economic symbiosis, etc., Isaias’ mission has been to resolutely divide and destroy the people’s heritage which was built over thousands of years. 

Disseminating unbridled lies and fabrications on Ethiopia became the convenient pattern of creating hate and schism. For example, in 1939, there were 2,198 Italian owned factories in Eritrea. Likewise the number of Italians residing in the country increased from 4,600 to 75,000 in five years. After federation of Eritrea in 1951, all the small and medium factories disappeared from Eritrea. Many of the ruling cliques of Eritrea had been misinforming the Eritrean public by telling them the myth that they were all dismantled and taken to Addis Ababa so as to make Eritrea weak and dependent. The facts are, however, far from the fable we are told time and again. Sylvia Pankhurst said, “British forces defeated the Italian army in Eritrea in 1941 at the Battle Keren and placed the colony under British military administration until Allied Forces could determine its fate. The first thing the British did was to remove the Eritrean industries (of Asmara and Massawa) to Kenya, as war compensation. They even dismantled parts of the Eritrean Railway system.”[7] 

To facilitate his evil intent, Isaias Afewerki, resorted to divide and rule policy, on similar line what the Italians did in their short colonial domination in Eritrea. (60 years of Italian colonialism is an insignificant period when compared to the bondage and communality that was built from pre-Aksumite period up until the demise of the Derg, 1991.) The history of the region is being distorted by unscrupulous historians of Isaias. They distort the history to the extent of beginning and ending the history of Eritrea with the advent of Turkey and the much adorned Italian colonialism. The anti-colonial heroic struggle of the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia led by Rasi Alula, one of the greatest African Generals is desecrated to fortify the artificial cultural and new historical identity among peoples of the same origin. The many historic defeats of Italy and Egypt by the great leaders of Ethiopia, Rasi Alula and Emperor Yohannes IV, and later Menelik II in the battle of Adua, is till today reverberating in the capitals of the above countries. It is the same previous enemies of the Horn of Africa, who are tirelessly working to vindicate their past humiliation. 

Above all, Isaias did not want to see an independent and united Ethiopia, because it was a threat to his and his masters’ delusion. He has to fulfil the inherent mission of Cairo and Rome who tirelessly are scheming in creating permanent instability in the region, (to ascertain the continuity of the Nile and/or avenge for the humiliating defeats in North Ethiopia including the mortification of 1896). The Egyptians have relentlessly opposed Ethiopia from getting financial loans, grants, and aids from the international community (particularly World Bank and IMF) for decades. Similarly, Italy has been cuddling the tyrannical regime of Asmara from its inception up until today. (For instance, Italy and Russia objected the publication of 80 pages top secret recent report on Eritrea. (UN 17/7/13 Reuters). This was a deliberate move so that the Eritrean public and the rest of the world would not know the real nature of Isaias and his tyranny in Eritrea and beyond. 

Isaias wanted Ethiopia to be wrecked into pieces so that it would be easy for him to manoeuvre as he wishes. Thus, with this infantile intention he is tirelessly endeavouring to destabilize Ethiopia by directly involving, as well as, by using proxy wars. His surrogates are the Al-Shabaab terrorists. Because of the Eritrean government’s active involvement in terrorist activities in funding, arming and training Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in Somalia. Eritrea under Isaias has become a training ground of terrorists, from Sudan, Somalia,          Sri-Lanka (Tamil Tigers), Ethiopia. The UN report said that in addition to ongoing serious human right abuses, forced labour and indefinite military service is forcing thousands of young Eritreans to flee the country every year. According to Gunter Schroeder, despite the shoot-to-kill policy of the Eritrean government, 2000 – 3000 flee to Ethiopia every month. So far the total Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are estimated to be about 500,000. The forced labourers earn only US$1.00 /day (one dollar/day) for a shift of 12 hrs slave labour. Thus, the young and the fit are determined to go out of the living nightmare of Isaias. 

The information trickling out from Eritrea gets ugly and even gets worse than the one previously heard. Martin Plaut asserts that the Eritrean military personnel are heavily involved in human trafficking including children.[8] Between 2007 -2012 nearly 30,000 Eritrean youth were trafficked. If payment of $10,000-$30,000 for each is not paid promptly, the young Eritreans were told, will be sold to Bedouin criminal fraternity. On the other hand, the merciless Bedouin gangs make sure that they get enough money by selling Eritrean kidneys and other organs as demanded in the Arab urban centres, with additional ransom for releasing the victims. The victims’ families are contacted and forced to pay ransom for the release of their beloved once. More money is squeezed under duress from families and friends abroad. Even then the victims may or may not be released. Out of the 30,000 kidnapped, it is estimated that 5,000 – 10,000 Eritrean hostages died in captivity last year alone (2013). “The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond: recently said, Eritrea’s Border Surveillance Unit, under the command of General Teklai Kifle (Manjus), is at the heart of these operations. The UN has named the General and several of his senior officers, as being involved in human trafficking.”[9] The report also said that in October 2013, 211 children were kidnapped from the camp and a ransom of $10,000 demanded for each child to be released. The kidnappers are overnight richer by $2,110,000.00, while families of the 211 children will traumatized for a long time. 

The Diaspora Eritreans are victims of both crimes. They pay millions of dollars to release their relatives from the kidnappers and well organised human trafficking criminals. At the same time they are forced to pay taxes and remittance that amount to 32% of Eritrean GDP.   

The World Governance Indicators (WGI) automatically disqualifies Eritrean government for being unfit to govern. Isaias and his ruling cliques have failed miserably in promoting peace and development. That is why the exodus of tens of thousands of Eritreans to neighbouring countries, is an indicative that the regime has failed to respect the basic human right of the people. With all the ship wrecks, the horrors of trafficking and kidnapping for ransom, even the shot-to-kill policy of the government could not stop people from running away from the dictator’s arm pit. Trusted pilots, foot ball players, Ministers and other Government officials, and many others are abandoning Isaias in their drove. 

Sawa Defence Training Centre and Kiloma Military Training are the living dungeons of the Eritrean youth. The military service does not have time limit. The Eritrean government depends on its huge military power for its survival from internal dissension. In 2010, the Eritrean regime had 2,713,021 manpower (ages 18-40) available for military service.[10] Eritrea’s military expenditure was 6.3% of GDP (2006), taking the national budget considerably. And in 2009, it was estimated to be 20.9% of GDP. That is why Wikipedia said, “The Eritrean Defence Forces are one of the largest in Africa alongside Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco.”[11] Why does the tyrant Eritrean leader need such a massive army? According to independent observers, the Eritrean government’s aggressive war against Ethiopia resulted in deep economic crisis. Thus, due to GDP decreased of 8.2% in 2000 at the end of the war with Ethiopia, Eritrea was further immersed in vicious crisis. The Isaias’s regime has been terrorizing the Eritrean people by telling them that Ethiopia is planning to attack Eritrea so they have to be prepared for the all out offensive. Thus, the dictator needed to build a road from Aseb to Masada, a distance of 500km with no known economic benefit either in the short term or thereafter. One of the poorest countries of Africa, with remittance making up to 32% of its GDP, has the largest defence budget concocted out of fear and xenophobia. Isaias has shown his unforgiving attitude to the Eritrean public by completely cutting off their umbilical cord, of historical, cultural, economic, genealogical affiliation and heritage with the rest of the Ethiopian people. 


The brutality of the regime against ordinary citizens has no bounds. Christians, former political and military officials, and many ordinary Eritreans are languishing in containers and caves all over Eritrea. “Amnesty International said, “It is concerned that torture and other ill-treatment are common place in Eritrea and used systematically against prisoners of conscience and political prisoners for the purpose of punishment, interrogation and coercion.”[12] Similarly, Sheila Ketharuth, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea emphasised that the most serious human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, extended incommunicado detentions, torture, indefinite national services and lack of freedom of expression, assembly, religious belief and movement.   

The UN Human Right Council (4/6/13) said, “The Eritrean Government remains among the worst human right violators in the world. There is a blatant disregard for human right in Eritrea that requires fundamental reform.” The tyrant Isaias is hell bent to destabilise the region by arming and paying Somalia warlords and other terrorists. (Reuters 17/7/2013). Furthermore, Reuters said,” The monitors said in their report that they have ‘obtained direct testimonies and concrete evidence of Eritrean support to Abdi Wal and Mohammed Wali Sheikh Ahmed Nur (political coordinator of Al-Shabaab. ... Abdi Wal has admitted in close door meetings that he is acting as an agent for the Eritrean government.[13] 

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.”[14] 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. 

WS. Asfaw

[1] Sun Tzu: The Art of War; P.174 (Written over 2,500 years ago, Translated by Samuel B. Griffith, Oxford university Press 1963 USA) 

[2].Mr R. Is a London based independent journalist covering The Middle East and Africa (June 2013). 

[3] Gunter Schroeder: Horn of Africa specialist on refugees (16/11/13) 

[4] HAARETZ: By Yishai Halper; The North Korea of Africa, Where you need a permit to have dinner with friends. Sept.7,2012 

[5] Sun Tzu: The Art of War; P:139. 

[6].According to World Bank, good governance involves: voice and accountability, political stability & absence of violence; government effectiveness, regulatory quality; rule of law, control corruption. 

[7] Sylvia Pankhurst: Eritrea on the Eve, 1947 

[8] Martin Plaut, The Guardian.com; 4/12/13. 

[9] Martin Plaut; 4/12/13. 

[10] The World Fact Book & Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia. 

[11] Wikipedia 

[12] Amnesty International 27January – 7 February 2013 

[13] Reuters 17/7/2013. 

[14] Michael Jones: Does Democracy have a chance? Heritage Foundation August 1991.

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