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Isaias Afewerki: his ‘rude health’ and its rude awakening

By Dilwenberu Nega
May 01, 2012

The rumour mills of both Ethiopians and Eritreans abroad were working overtime for the whole of last week.  Even The State of Eritrea’s Ministry of Information was not immune to hyperbole, as it aired flash-back of alive and kicking Isaias and describing the state of health of the President (66) as “fit as a fiddle.”  The blow back effect of this spin-doctoring, however, was far from calming down the rumour, it added fuel to the fire of rumour that Asmara’s strongman was either vegetating or was dead as a doornail.  Why else, critics asked, would the regime bother to pay the slightest attention, let alone go as far as issuing a statement to wild speculation?

First of all, is there a smoking-gun in the claim?  Judging from the fact that Isaias has a history of liver cancer, for which he is frequently hospitalized in Doha, Qatar, the rumour does have a smoking-gun.  What is difficult to ascertain now, however, are answers to two equally crucial questions?  First, has his doctors given him an ‘expiry date’ and if yes would that not tally with the news of the convergence in Asmara of his mother, cousins and nieces from all over the world?  Secondly, did Isaias jetted in to Asmara for the live interview with ERi TV, after which he returned to Doha?

Rumours and conspiracy theories aside, what has been the reaction of those who had fled the dictatorial and repressive rule of the man who had lorded over Eritrea since independence in 1991?

It is Saturday 28th April 2012, and I am enjoying my afternoon Yirgachefe coffee at Starbucks in London’s Whitleys Shopping Centre where nearly all seats were occupied by young and old Eritreans.  The talk of the cafe was all about Shabia’s PR coup: ERi-TV’s live interview with Isaias Afewerki.  Many expressed their cynicism when the President trumpeted his rude health, for what they witnessed was anything but rude health: po-faced, frail-looking heavy-breathing President rubbishing the furore as the machinations of “enemies.”

Eritreans in London seemed perplexed by the outcome of the story.  Too many Eritreans argue that Lucifer could fare no worse than Isaias, and, therefore, his exist is good riddance.  But to the politically conscience who had never envisaged such a scenario, the story presented them with problems than answers.  Who would succeed him?  Will there be a power vacuum in which case the army, as the only organized entity, would seize power?  What about the age old Christian-Muslim rivalry?  Will Eritrea implode?

Eritrea’s nascent amalgam of opposition groups found itself ill prepared to handle such a deluge of possible scenarios.  This it has come to understand has been more of a learning curve rather than a wake-up call.

In the pecking order of ‘enemies of Isaias’, Ethiopia’s Revolutionary Democrats follow close behind America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  But what good would flow to EPRDF if it chose to sponsor the dissemination of a fallacious story about the well-being of the Eritrean President?  The very little that I know of EPRDF confirms to me that they are doers and not talkers – they walk the talk.   Incidentally, while on the subject EPRDF not being responsive to the rumours surrounding Isaias, I invite you to read Addis Fortune’s (29th April 2012) Fine Line, in which the columnist questions the EPRDF government’s disposition to treat the story as a no-brainer.  As a neighbour with vested interest in an Eritrea that is at peace with itself, Ethiopia would, of course, be keeping abreast of developments inside Eritrea. But to go down the slippery path of jet-hosing the Eritrean public with mendacious stories about their tyrant leader has always remained the monopoly of Asmara and not Addis Ababa.

What about the reaction of Ethiopians to the story of the imminent passing away of the very man whom Ethiopians accuse of being behind the current state of Eritrea’s belligerency to Ethiopia’s peaceful overtures.  In the hearts and minds of peace-loving Ethiopians, the news was greeted with an all out chorus of “gelagelen” (Amharic for a good riddance).  Unconfirmed reports, however, claim that Ethiopian quislings in Gimboat 7 were in the doldrums throughout the duration of the rumour as it came to dawn on them that an Eritrea without their God-father at the helm would be ill disposed to continue allowing them the use of Eritrean territory to launch their terrorist attacks on Ethiopia. One report even went as far as claiming that G7’s high command were fasting and praying for the speedy recovery of President Isaias.

All in all, the story surrounding the ill-health/death of President Isaias Afewerki has proved to be a wake-up call to all stakeholders with lessons to be learnt.  To Eritrean oppositions: it’s high time to close ranks and revise plans which encompass the death by natural cause of Isaias.  To Ethiopian quislings:  as your days are counted, your best bet is to lay down your arms and join the forces of peace and development. To Ethiopia: prepare for any eventuality north of Mereb. 

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