Correction: Ruling with Minimal Physical and Mental Effort
The point I was trying to drive in my article “Eritrea: President Isaias’s Reign in Abstentia” posted earlier today was that the main goal of the Eri Tv drama that Isaias conducted on April 28, 2012, was not to squash rumors about his death, which is a simple task so far as he is alive, but to quash the rumors of his serious illness, which is not that easy to dispel. Given the severe illness of the president, the mission that the Ministry of Information has undertaken is: How do we make the president look as fully engaged in his administration with minimal physical and mental effort exerted on him? How do we make him omnipresent on major occasions that he used to preside over, with as little presence from him as possible? The virtual udet they created and the Cabinet Ministerial meeting are two prime examples of this undertaking.
In my article I wrongly assumed that the president was totally missing from the meeting, while all it happened was that he failed to preside over the meeting due to his ill health. Before I get back to the distinction between the two, let me give the reasons why I thought that he didn’t attend the meeting:
- In the Shabait.com news article, “Ministerial Cabinet holds meeting at State House” (posted on April 30, 2012), Isaias is missing from the picture of the ministers attending in the meeting. Notice also that the table arrangement of the meeting is V-shaped (look at the picture above) – more on that below.
- Isaias is also equally absent from the written article: Not only is the president that lectures and pontificates on every major point is absent, even his name is nowhere to be found in the entire article.
- In the eastafro.com version of the news, even though Isaias is in the video, the contents of the video montage and the reading of the reporter are totally different. In the reading, as in the Shabait.com news article, there is not even the mention of his name; not even once.
- The profiles of Isaias seen on his interview on April 28 and the meeting on April 30 looked starkly different, which made me conclude it is an old clip.
After having put into consideration all the above, I concluded that the president must have been absent from the meeting, while all it happened was that he didn’t preside over it. To preside over it, first, he had to be there from the beginning to end and, second, he had to provide all the important inputs – the main speech/paper, provide the motif/theme for the meeting, regulate it, dominate it, etc. – as he did in the past in every such meeting he attended without fail. The reason why I am saying he didn’t preside over the meeting are:
- Please take a close look at the pictures of the meetings provided by Shabat.com and Eri Tv respectively. The first obvious difference that you will notice is that while in the former the ministers are sitting in V-shaped arrangement of the tables, where the tables meet at an angle, in Eri Tv, the arrangement of the tables changes to U-shape. In the V-shaped meeting, Isaias’ picture is nowhere to be found. That is to say, the ministers conducted the meeting without him. In the U-shaped meeting, a small table is inserted in between, and the tables are rearranged so that, after accomodating the late comer Isaias, the ministers where made to face each other in parallel form. That is to say, Isaias showed up at the end of the meeting for photo-op, enough time to feed the clip on the Eri Tv – perhaps for few minutes only.
- This brief appearance of Isaias in the meeting for the sole purpose of providing a montage for Eri Tv is more supported by the content of the news than the pictures. It is precisely because he failed to put any input of his own in the meeting, as he used to do in every other meeting he presided over before, that both Shabait.com and Eri Tv had absolutely nothing to say on what Isaias said in the meeting: not a paper presented, a speech made or even a theme provided; not even a single quote. And, what is more, they made sure that whatever was discussed and proposed in the meeting they attributed it to the ministers and the ministers only; at no time do we read/hear Isaias’ name associated with the number of points mentioned there.
Do not get me wrong; Isaias’ minimal presence doesn’t mean that the ministers have taken over. In fact, I believe that whatever they said there, they got the blueprint from the President’s Office, and none of them would dare venture outside these guidelines. But what I am saying is that the busybody of a president, who always micromanaged this kind of meetings and dominated every procedure of it, is totally absent. And it is precisely this image of a frail and disconnected president that the Ministry of Information is trying hard to dispel.
The task that the Ministry of Information faces is a tough one: it had to show the Eritrean public that the president is as energetic and fully engaged as he had been in the past with sparse material in its hand. It had no other recourse than to make up the deficit in reality by superimposing images and concocting stories: the Tv montage and the udet story are examples of these two respectively, with many others to follow in the future. What these images and stories are meant to do is to portray Isaias as a strong, energetic and busy leader without taxing him much physically and mentally – something that he cannot do given his serious and recalcitrant illness.
I still have to provide an explanation for the difference in profiles of Isaias in the two Tv appearances – the interview and the meeting. That there is a stark difference, there is no doubt; especially if compared with the picture of Isaias at his son’s wedding. At first, I wanted to account for the difference by claiming that the meeting video must be an old one. But a few hours after I posted my article, it suddenly occurred to me that even though the arrangement of the tables changed, the arrangement of the ministers remained the same. So how to account for the stark difference: all I could think of at this moment is the heavy make-up in the interview.
To say that he didn't attend the meeting is probably justified if he just appeared briefly at the end to provide enough material for the Ministry Information's propaganda. But to go beyond that and claim that he wasn't seen there is dead wrong. As soon as I realized my mistake, I tried to correct my article, but not as much as I would have liked to. This supplement is meant to do that correction. But more importantly, I sincerely apologize to my readers for this muddle. I hope I have explained myself.