Eritrea - Reality Defied by Autocracy without Borders

By Abdullah A. Ado
Feb. 04 2010

Snatching resources from the voiceless
Since 1993, Afewarki’s first goals have been snatching the meagre farm and livestock products by force from peasants and pastoralists and ensure his survival on power. To this day, every measure taken since the advent of Afewraki’s stringent market rules, criminalization of private food transactions and confiscation of peasants’ food “surplus”, increase in curtailments of movement, and killings at border crossings is explained as responding to PFDJ-junta’s and Asmara urban-dwellers’ needs. Peasants are forced to sell their so called “surplus” food products and livestock herds to the junta at very low prices. Indeed PFDJ-junta is looting villagers’ k’offos under a gun point to feed the half-starving Sawa-garrison subjects. It is common place for Afewarki’s tyrannical rule to confiscate farm products and livestock herds intended to reach urban markets; criminalizing the selling of most staple grains in markets; limiting the amount of food supply peasants could keep for their own consumption; decreasing the amount of rations provided by the PFDJ-ruling junta to consumers in Asmara; and drastically cutting the food amount it provides to the military camps and prisons. Sporadically, towns and villages are emptied of their youth groups, with hundreds of thousands seized and put into “Sawa-garrisons” for compulsory military service. Several labour concentration camps are proliferating everywhere. Tens of thousands of political prisoners are indoctrinated, tortured and worked-out to death. The lucky ones are fleeing in all direction to escape Afewarki’s forced call-up into Sawa. But without any reference to the rural poor’ welfare, Afewarki propagates his age old “territorial integrity, economic and political independence” utopia. As if primary matters about the Afar, Kunama, Saho, Beja and Bilen communities are secondary to his rule, Afewarki prepares peasants and pastoralists for his intense, frantic, and wild totalitarian war-mongering missions. And where areas are prioritized, he does so according to their “worth” to his political survival. When it comes to food rationing, his priority groups are: PFDJ-junta, Sawa-garrisons, and Asmara city dwellers. These 3 groups are at the top of his list because Afewarki knows well he can’t antagonize these three groups for the following obvious reasons. (1) PFDJ members are firmly embedded within Afewarki’s ruling junta framework. (2) Although too dangerously armed for his safety, Sawa-garrisons are vital for Afewarki’s power defence. (3) Since dwellers within Asmara are closely watched by global surveillance Afewarki’s easy way out is to resort to rural peasants and pastoralists who are the silent majority carrying the brunt of burdens in Eritrea. But, from pastoralist and peasant perspectives, we consider Tyrant Afewarki, Shaabia and his PFDJ-ruling junta as a 3-tyered totalitarian, militaristic and banditry machinery breeding and imposing the inconceivable utopia on our rural communities. And for this, the Afar, Kunama, Saho, Beja and Bilen are paying dearly with their lives in sacrifice for Afewarki’s autocracy without borders; and for his quest to cling on power and maintain his self-aggrandizement.

Silently toiling rural poor
Tampering with Afewark’s Eritrean highland Tigrinya led pet projects is considered as stepping on his toes. On the reverse, the silent majority of the rural poor must quietly accept the norms set for them by tyrant Afewarki, who must be obeyed at all costs. Hence, the PFDJ-ruling junta continues to milk human and natural resources without the consent of the rural majority; and forcibly takes away these resources to urban centres. In a strange reversal of priorities, instead of asking himself what Afewarki can do to his ill-conceived fiefdom, he continues to ask the troubled silent majority of peasants and pastoralists what they can do for him to preserve his fiefdom at his own hour of burning needs. Thus the rural poor continue to pay the price for Afewarki’s endless blunder and empty pride by their sacrifice. In turn, Afewarki, who loves watching the annually held dance of admiration for the fallen martyrs, continues to engage in his customary troubles that know no borders. After all, for Afewarki and his PFDJ-ruling junta, what matters is not resolving the crisis faced by the rural poor inside Eritrea; but how he and his henchmen preside on power and continue creating a series of havoc without borders at the cost of the rural poor sacrificing itself in the name of ironic martyrdom. Indeed, in his quest for power, Afewarki imposes the urban dwellers’ consumption needs on the rural poor by directly: (1) Deploying each conceivable means and measures to ensure his authoritarian power intact. Thus far, he has imposed a food market control system on the rural poor as regular suppliers. (2) Accepting Afewarki’s “self-reliance” policy and entertain it by acclaiming him as: “Our heroic leader who must be obeyed by any and all means”.

So only Afewarki, who presides over a fiefdom without borders; and only he who acts without any legal or moral limits, continues to conduct such ill-conceived rules unto his own rural folk; by drying up all the farm-food and livestock products in villages and towns. This Afewarki plan is clear: if most of the farm and livestock supplies pass through PFDJ-ruling Junta’s own apparatus (such as diquan rit’i, the coupon/ration-system, the military, “cash for work”, Highdef-owned companies, etc), then, in the process of redistributing food and livestock rations to urban consumers Afewarki makes sure that these commodities are to serve his political survival; and gives directives as to whom to reward and whom to punish; and who to selectively let survive as consumers and who to hold on to servitude position to produce regular supplies to urban dwellers and to his subjects at Sawa-garrisons.

Fate of “ghedli” and fiefdom forming
For decades now, pastoralists and rural peasants remain brainwashed by force to internalize Afewarki’s complicated “sacrifice” propaganda ploy. Plainly speaking, the rural poor are silently suffering while the “Highdefites” of highland origin both at home and in Diaspora are cheering autocrat Afewarki simply to save his pride as a kin; and to help his “self reliance” mantra. Some Diaspora highlanders in the opposition camp have even started especially preaching about peaceful opposition to the tyrant by disjointedly mumbling some mysterious ways of bringing change within Eritrea. But let them face the truth. At the end of the day, Afewarki’s ghedli and fiefdom crafting dreams and rural peoples’ sacrifice paid to this dearly project in the name of “martyrdom” is degenerating into a personal identity crisis. The salvage cry where Afewarki-Shaabia and the PFDJ-ruling junta jointly claim as having so much stakes invested on Eritrean protracted fiefdom formation fight thus far. And to them, to let this project go loose can become a mortal threat on their individual identity and on the idea they have nursed and nurtured for so many decades so long. So they seem to have come to a decision to do anything and everything; even if it costs huge sacrifices of lives from the population inside Eritrea. In particular, the Eritrean Tigrinya highlanders’ unanswered love affair with “ghedli”; and their likely scenario to rescue Afewarki-Shaabia and the PFDJ-ruling junta without harm simply forces them to stick to their nostalgic past. But this nostalgia is nothing short of killing peasants and pastoralists for the benefit of highlanders; and to keep Eritrean fiefdom formation process alive.

Concluding remarks
Sensitive issues dealing with “ghedli” and Eritrean nation forming are deterring most Diaspora Eritrean Tigrinya highlanders from taking meaningful steps towards any equivocal merger with those of us advocating for peasants and pastoralists; and from forcefully fighting against Afewarki-Shaabia and his PFDJ-ruling junta. In spite of their hostility towards Afewarki’s tyrannical rule, most Eritrean highlanders still continue to fail predicting the consequences of Afewarki’s actions against Eritrean peasants and pastoralists. Amidst Afewarki’s nation crafting exercise, what highlanders forget is that, if the gaps between Eritrean Tigrinya highlanders on the one side and peasants and pastoralists on the other widen, then we will all be losing everything we have at hand. And starting everything from the scratch would mean going through new scenarios whose results cannot be predicted of hand. So everything that is worth salvaging from hereon must focus on finishing off Afewarki’s tyrannical rule; by any and all means necessary. Otherwise, it can become too late for highlanders who are caught-up in reclaiming the legacy of “ghedli” and focusing on finishing-up the nation crafting exercise; while we the organized peasant and pastoralist groups resort to pulling the rug under their feet for keeping us as their 2nd class citizens. Let them be reminded the fact that all initial movements in Eritrea started in lowland areas and with our good will. For these efforts, our peasant and pastoral population should have benefited from the 1993 change but in vain. So in the face of all the prime problems pointed above, let them know that we are settled on fighting against those who snatched our rights for self-determination. Back to page one