Deal with the Underlining Cause not the Symptom
By Seyoum Tesfaye
As long as Isaiais-the person- is not removed the likelihood of ushering in the process of democratic transition, leave alone implementing the Rule of Law in Eritrea, is almost impossible.
Appealing to him to implement legitimate reforms or extensive liberalization at this stage is a non-starter. Twenty years of costly experience affirm this hard fact. The linchpin holding all other PFDJ actors hostage and waging an unrestrained attack on the forces aspiring democratic transition is the sultanistic tyrant Isaias. In order to create the most favorable circumstance for transforming Eritrea into the land of justice and democracy this linchpin has to be removed.
Until we squarely face this unavoidable gateway to change and make it the overriding number one task even our best political activity will flatter and suffer unexpected grave consequence. The cost effect way to exponentially increase the possibility of democratic transition is to rally all domestic and Diaspora political actors against the one glue that is blocking all venues for change. That is the starting point to more comprehensive change.
If the Arab Spring proved to us one cardinal fact it is that making change in countries where power has been totally vested in the hand of one man, the top tyrant- the very personification of all that is evil and awful in the country – neither a meaningful reform or a full fledge democratic transition can take place until the individual tyrant is removed. The party functionaries, bureaucrats, generals, junior officers and the youth who want to contribute to the ushering of the new politics of democratic transition have to come to grip with this central conclusion.
If the present activity flatters and even temporarily ends up in strengthening Isaias’ hand the primary reason will be our collective failure to come to terms with this simple but strategic conclusion. If domestic as well as the Diaspora Eritrean political actors do not see eye to eye on this crucial point grave mistakes will continue to happen. The most important negative lesson from the G-15 experiment was the failure to grasp the fact that as long as Isaias is in the picture even the most genuine effort could end up in disaster.
The three day political drama will contribute to further exposing the fragility of the Eritrean political power “structure” and the fact things cannot continue as they have been. It makes the need for change vividly clear and urgent. The soldiers who took the dire risk and takeover the MOI and expressed the legitimate demands of the people are only the tip of the icebergs of a massive national discontent. They represent our voice and wish. They have made the people of Eritrea and the world at large take notice of the Eritrean tragedy.
The global media coverage has used the temporary takeover of Eritrean Ministry of Information (MOI) as a prologue to exposing the regime’s unattainable status by extensively bulleting its failure for the last 21 years. The coverage coming at the time the regime is trying to generate revenue by trying to sell shares in worthless PFDJ owned companies making it obvious that investing in the regime’s contrived investment plan is futile. This puts an end to the so-called “depoliticize investment” sloganeering being masqueraded by elements that are trying to intentionally decouple the call for justice and rule of law from the overall struggle for democracy in order to financially strengthen the regime. The impact of the daring act by the soldiers is such that Nevsun’s stock value, on January 25, 2013 closing day, is registering $ 4.03 per share which is down from its 52 week high $6.82. The downward trend will continue. The instability will have more economic repercussion and scare off local and global investors.
Whether the “takeover” of MOI will be the trigger event that will usher in a more comprehensive challenge to the regime has yet to be seen. Given the suffocating massive disinformation campaign by the regime it is not surprising if it will take few days and even weeks before we have at detail knowledge of what is really going on in Asmara. Finding the whole truth in Africa’s North Korea where byzantine politics is norm will be very difficult if not impossible but we will get a better understanding as the days and weeks follow. Tentativeness is the normal posture under the circumstance.
Nobody knows the detail.-the exact detail. The one fact we can agree on is that there was an action by about 100 brave Eritrean soldiers: they “took over MOI”. Beyond that everybody has his or her version of truth and analytical narrative. Is this a mutiny, an isolated rebellion, a full fledge coup, an integrated reformist movement with its own command and control, part of a bigger organized campaign, a creeping revolution, a diversionary drama organized by Isaias? Etc. We are all entitled to our interpretation. Consensus or unanimity is not necessary. The best we can say is that the contradictions within the Eritrean regime are sharpening. We are approaching a new dynamics whereby the internal struggle (within Eritrea) might be a entering a new phase: an open contention phase where the division between those who want reform and those who want to sustain Isaias’ one man autocracy by any means necessary.
Even if Isaias manages to contain and crush this direct challenge he will not be able to extinguish the nationwide discontent for too long. He has lost all favorable factors that helped him dismantle the G-15 reformist effort. With his political and social base shrinking, internationally isolated and with the balance of forces in Diaspora shifting in favor of the opposition (leaving aside the quality of the opposition) Isaias is now strategically on the defensive. He will have some tactical advantages but he could never regain the pre G-15 strategic posture. Given his narcissistic psychological makeup and obsession for power the chance he will overcome himself and do the right thing even this late in the game is very unlikely. Removing not negotiating with Isaias should be the rallying demand across the board.
How the Eritrean democratic forces shift from years of persistently exposing the regime (executing the negative agenda) to taking the strategic offensive by systematically presenting their alternative positive national agenda (the forgotten road map) and a qualified servant leadership- team capable of guiding the democratic transition has yet to be seen. All efforts, cumulatively, have brought us to a strategic role reversal: The one man “government” waging a strategic political defense and the forces of democracy entering the early stages of “leading” the strategic offense. Not a total symmetry but a significant shift in a slowly crystallizing two distinct tendencies and realignment of the balance of forces.
The maximalists within the opposition will find ways to minimize any reformist effort or movement that is born within the PFDJ elements as futile effort for it contradicts their vision of total revolution where the intent is to totally crush all aspects of the EPLF/PFDJ axis in Eritrea and install a new government lead by the victorious opposition. Under the rhetoric of all out revolution the revolutionaries desire to impose the Diaspora agenda over the overriding agenda of saving the nation and ushering in a democratic transition that will sort out all challenges in a deliberative process. The revolutionary perspective is an unattainable paradigm.
This paradigm needs to be amended as urgently as possible.
After the destruction of G-15 neither EPLF nor its stepchild PFDJ are governing the country. All vestiges of institutionalized or team leadership was totally destroyed and replaced by a sultanistic authoritarian - “The essential reality in a sultanistic regime is that all individuals, groups and institutions are permanently subject to the unpredictable and despotic intervention of the sultan, and thus all pluralism is precarious.”* In simple terms absolute power resides in the hands of one man.
The implication of this fact to the opposition actors, making genuine effort to democratize Eritrea, is that the way they conduct the struggle has to include a strong recipe for winning over all elements within the governing structure regardless of the subjective perspective of the individuals forced to serve the “system”. This means extending a genuine call not recycling the usual political ceremonial platitude just to be politically correct. The emphasis is on all. Any initiative undertaken against Isaias, by any segment of Eritreans inside the country, irrespective of the quality of the demand, is to be welcomed and heralded without equivocation.
Where do we go from here?
The Soldiers who executed the January 21 takeover must be celebrated and appreciated for the determination they showed in the face of the most brutal autocracy in Africa. That said there will be a need for honest conversation about the process of the takeover moving forward. Was it a spontaneous or a well organized action? What were the strength and weakness of the process? What will be the short and long term impact of this daring action? What collective lesson will we draw from this experience? Etc. The conversation has to be carried both inside and outside of Eritrea for the purpose gaining extensive lessons for our struggle without diminishing the heroism of the soldiers.
The reaction of the Eritrean tyrant, for now, is being conveyed through some of his loyal agents outside of Eritrea. No doubt when Isaias takes to the air we will be subjected to his usual diatribe and verbal vomiting and go on blaming the whole world. But his vessels have already started setting up the platform for him. Girma Asmerom, the least capable but the most opportunist extension of Isaias’ mind once again has been assigned to do the dirty work by uttering gutter words like “crazy”, “stupid” and “terrorist” in defining the genuine attempt of the brave soldiers. The Eritrean people will give the final verdict on who is crazy, stupid, terrorist or not. Girma Asmerom and other like him, hovering around Isiaias, have sold their soul to the devil.
The day of reckoning is not too far.
One thing is obvious, Eritrea cannot continue in its present trajectory. No magic wand exists that can rectify the gross injustice imposed on our people than expanding and deepening our struggle. Saving the nation and the people from the vultures must take precedence over contention for power and hegemonic ascendency to control the opposition camp and dictate sectarian agendas. Our true health begins by removing the cancer not trying to mitigate the symptoms of the season’s flue. First thing first- let us unite and remove Isaias then we can sort-out our complicated national crisis in an open give and take process.
Disclaimer: Perspective presented in this opinion reflects only my view and only my view.
* Linz & Stepan, Modern Nondemocratic Regimes in Problems of Democratic Transition & Consolidation, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996