E- For empty – Something’s Got to Give
By Seyoum Tesfaye
You can sweet talk and play for time in politics. But when it comes to national economics, ultimately, the accounting ledger dictates the reality on the ground. The world is now witnessing the applicability of this cardinal economic principle unfolding in Eritrea. Cleverness and street-smart flippant remarks cannot undo the results of the half-hazarded economic management by unaccountable secretive Eritrean political clique. After 21 years of rudderless economical experimentation the economy of the State of Eritrea is running on Empty. The creeping crisis has now matured to a full-blown intractable economic disaster. The inevitable has now become a forceful reality demanding resolution.
About a year ago the sultanistic tyrant was in New York pontificating about mundane issues in front of his handpicked cheerleaders. Nothing meaningful was raised by those who attended the meeting. The purpose of the gathering was not intended to address real issues. The hyperbolic adulation might have massaged the globally depleted ego of the “president” reinforcing his delusion for a short duration and covering up his regime’s rejection and marginalization by the Security Council. This year Mr. President avoided New York totally. The real Foreign Minister of Eritrea, his alter-ego Yemane –the silk weaver – and the nominal foreign minister- were in New York trying to put another coat of a thin paint on the abstract fiction they are feeding their dwindling political and social base without the fanfare and last year’s circus. Gone is the scripted jubilation that was manufactured for TV-ERI cut and paste project. What a difference a year makes. The credit goes to the full-blown economic crisis.
Yemane probably has the cultivated skill to paint the most stinking shit as Vincent van Gogh’s Bell Lilies but he cannot move the gas needle from empty to full by his slickly produced smooth spin rhetoric. The Eritrean economy has grinded to a screeching halt. The Hergigo generators’ cannibalistic behavior has become a symbolic representation of the entire national economy. Even the supporters of the regime are now asking direct and pointed questions slanted more towards why the Eritrean economy is not working. The questioning of the national direction is no more the sole property of the opposition. It now permeates almost all strata’s of the Eritrean society.
The “invest in your country” gimmick, the hyperbolic “land belongs to the state declaration”, the new “buy a house in Eritrea” campaign, the 80 truck convoy black market incursion into Sudan, the human trafficking project etc is part of the herculean feeble attempt at “ economic crisis management”. The dual monopolization policy –total control of political power and the economy system -has forced the chickens to come home to roost. No new gimmickry or ultra-nationalist rhetorical bravado can resolve systemic economic failure. You cannot smart mouth your way to economic recovery. “Something gotta’ give” as the saying goes.
What option has the regime left moving forward? A mild economic reform without an ounce of political liberalization or continue with the lunatic policies that have got the nation to this dire predicament? The choice is now between implosion and some kind of reform possibly even inaudible promise to implement the frozen constitution. We should anticipate some kind of maneuvering by the regime and its actors to contain and mitigate this massive challenge. The regime will try to decouple the economic crisis from its failure of national political management. It will appeal for more time to solve this “natural” problem. It will try to take cover by pointing to the global economic crisis: Whatever it takes to avoid presenting the true narrative and magnitude of the economic crisis. What is clear is that all indicators are now pointing to the possibility of some kind of cosmetic modification that will be marketed in the usual PFDJ style: slogan, hateta, guaila and the usual empty pontification by the very author and engineer of the crisis – the know- it- all- tyrant. The extreme option is another artificial internal crisis or a military adventure to deflect the attention of the people. The later is more unlikely given the total collapse of the economy.
The effort to reform the micro-economic policies while leaving the macro-economic structure of the country intact is like trying to cure terminal liver cancer with aspirin. The PFDJ controlled economy has run its course. The crisis is all engulfing: systemic and structural. Cosmetic reform cuddled by ultra-nationalist rhetoric will not generate enough foreign exchange to salvage even one department leave alone the entire econmony. Under this kind of extraordinary circumstance leaders with the true interest of the state and the people will understand that economic change has to be preceded by democratic transition. The regime under the leadership of the omniscient president will not entertain this kind of transformation. Regardless of the subjective wish of the president and his cronies the objective conditions dictate that country must embark on a different trajectory.
Historically the Eritrean opposition does not deal with economic issues in a structured way beyond generic programmatic prescriptions and periodic declarations by individual political groups. The maturing national economic crisis demands that this deficiency be remedied immediately. If the National Council is to win over the Eritrean entrepreneur strata to the side of the democratic struggle it has to take this opportunity to organize a free forum for Eritrean economists, business owners and aspiring investors (former, present and future) in the Diaspora to review the failed policies of the regime in the last 21 years and start the conversation on what the post- Isaias Eritrean economy should look like. If it cannot take the leadership to organize a credible pool of intellectuals to examine the economic crisis and at the minimum it must extend a public call for them to assume this national duty urgently.
A clear and better alternative has to be presented to the Eritrean entrepreneurs as a national duty and as well as a way to broaden the aggregate opposition’s base. Merely dismissing the attempt by the regime to “fix” the economy as unattainable endeavor will not suffices. In a strategic sense removing the regime will not automatically resolve the economic mess that will be inherited by future governments. We cannot pick and choose what to take and what to leave. Inheriting the economic debris from the previous regime is an aspect of the democratic transition process. The Road Map derivatively assigns this national responsibility to the National Council as one of its critical tasks.
The Isaias regime is in a dire fix of its own making. It is going to make a deceitful attempt to further hoodwink the people by blaming the international order, segment of its own operatives and to a lesser degree the opposition for the economic mess. It is the usual process all dictators have followed-nothing new here. But saving the nation and the people is the responsibility of the alternative forces struggling for the democratization of Eritrea. It is time to dust off the Road Map and start the journey towards democracy in full earnest. The National Council is supposed to be our joint GPS. But for the GPS to work it has to be turned on so that we can collectively negotiate the road we have to traverse. The Asmara bus has run out of gas and is stranded with the senior driver and very few of his fatorinos. The National Council’s (NC) bus is full of gas and with almost full load but has been idling for a year. It is time the NC accommodate the remaining passengers and move forward towards saving the nation.
Disclaimer: the opinion expressed in this article reflects my perspective and only my perspective.