My people.  Know yourself and know your enemy, and don’t be too squeamish to call your adversary an enemy.

Eritrea, with its loyalty days.  Independence Day is giving way to Martyr’s Day, the sequence appearing to foreshadow Eritrea’s fate: a country independent enough to sacrifice but not sufficiently sovereign to be free: i.e., popular sovereignty, highest expression of sovereignty. Eritrea is one of the few countries in Africa (Burkino Faso, Guyana, Togo & Zimbabwe) which remembers its martyrs AFTER it remembers its independence days, but none with days so close to each other.  So it moves from fireworks to candles, all organized by its single legal party. To celebrate, then remember the price paid for the celebration. Both are real, commemorating the fruition of the quest for self-determination, and the highest price paid for it. But because it is in the very nature and self-interest of the band of misfits ruling over the country, it had to sully both days: uncoupling independence from freedom and pairing martyrdom with dictatorship.  There is only one way to restore their true meaning, a subject we will explore here.

Because this is not the year 2000: it is the year 2020.  The ruling government is not in its honeymoon period, when governments are allowed the benefit of the doubt as they find their legs.  They have been in power for over 29 years now.  How and why is it that they appear to be as entrenched and rigid as ever? This is not an esoteric discussion; it is as fundamental as Sun Tzu and his The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

1. Who Are We?

I fear that not only do we not know our enemy, we don’t even know ourselves.

Let me introduce us to ourselves.  We are a large, diverse swathe of people–cacophonous, untuned, vibrating in different frequencies–but linked (but not united) in one quest: justice. We may not even agree on what justice is; we do know, with some certainty, what injustice is. Injustice is what the People’s Front for Democracy & Justice (PFDJ) practices every day when it comes to individual liberties: the freedom to own your life and your decisions.  In all but name, we are Anti-Injustice Front.  We are the Eritrean Justice Front.  The Front for Popular Sovereignty. We are Yiaklers.   Self, meet yourself.

2.The Enemy

Let me introduce you to the enemy.  The Enemy, well some will say that is a harsh term to use on fellow Eritreans.  Let me help: what would you call a person who doesn’t just tolerate but roots for the enslavement of our people? Someone who shrugs when told about the disappearance, imprisonment of thousands of Eritreans which impacts hundreds of thousands of their loved one?  Someone who looks at hundreds of thousands of refugees forced to exile, some for generations, and describes as economic migrants looking for a better life or strips them of their Eritrean identity and calls them Sudanese, Ethiopians, Senegalese, Somalis?  Someone who reads testimonies of female victims of sexual predators and calls them liars? Someone who looks at the indefinite conscription of someone else’s children and considers it duty—all while exempting their own children from this “duty”?  That is an enemy.  Self, meet the enemy.

You have to define them as such not to hate them but to clarify your goal: it is to defeat them, not to win them over or reconcile with them.  This is because their objective is not to win you over but to defeat you and to obliterate you from the face of Earth.

3. What The Enemy Believes

The Enemy may use a lot of names to confuse and confound you: the Government of Eritrea;  the People’s Front for Democracy & Justice; the  PFDJ; the  YPFDJ; the National Union of Eritrean Youth & Students (NUEYS); the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) and a dozen legitimate-sounding organization.  But, at its core, it is NNNN: Nehna Nsu, Nsu Nehna (He is Us; And We Are Him.) Justice Warriors: Isaias, Isaiasism, Isaiasists (NNNN) are your enemy.  Your enemy is not PFDJ (a dead organization in everything but name); it’s not the “Government of Eritrea” (dead in everything but name): but Isaiasism. And when I call them enemy, I don’t say it so you can hate them, but so you can defeat them and their ideology.  The confused, you can try to win over; but the determined, you must defeat.  You don’t have to fear them; they are afraid of you.  This is why they fight the fight of cowards–never debating, never bringing the accused to court, always stabbing their enemies in the back–because they fear your numbers and your strength.  They fear you because they know your potential can be your kinetic.

You don’t even have to demonize them: the fact that NNNN are psychologically normal people is not surprising at all; it is by now an ancient discovery that Hannah Arendt called the co-existence of normality with evil “the banality of evil.”  The NNNN are loyal to no charter, no constitution, no bylaws, no principles: all they know, all they have ever known, and all they will always know is Isaias Is Right, like the Italian Fascists who said of Mussolini “Il Duce ha sempre ragione”  (The Leader Is Always Right.) 

Thus, holding contradictory statements and opinion, often sequentially and sometimes simultaneously, is the norm.  There is no fear of contradiction posing cognitive dissonance because you own the dispensers of information (media monopoly) and if and when you can’t because it is an international phenomenon (Black Lives Matter…) then you can just argue there are different standards for different times and different places (…but Eritrean Lives Don’t.)

3.1 The Leader is right when he says that his government transformed Eritreans quality of life.  He is right when he said his government failed at everything.

3.2 He is right when he said we will have no relationship with Ethiopia until it vacates sovereign Eritrean lands: and no price is too high to pay for that.  He is right when he said that’s not a priority, the new priority is solidifying the rule of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and no price is too high for that.

3.3 He is right when he said we need the US in our region to stabilize the region.  He is right when he said the US is the primary destabilizer of the region.

3.4 He is right when he said we will be a democratic country with plurality of parties.  He is right when he said there is no room for any political party in Eritrea except PFDJ.

3.5 He was right when he said Eritrea would never, ever withdraw from Badme and Ethiopia would never evict us from it.  He is right when he said Badme is insignificant.

3.6 He was right when he said Eritrea would never, ever allow foreign powers to use our lands, ports, airspace to establish a military base.  He is right when he allowed the UAE to establish a base in Asab for the sake of the new Red Sea security alliance.

3.7 He was right when he said Iran was our ally because Ayatollah Khomeini used to pray for Eritrea.  He was right when he said Qatar is our ally trusted enough to mediate our dispute with Djibouti.  He is right when he agreed with Saudis that Iran is a mortal threat; and he was right when he said Qatar is our eternal enemy that wants to destabilize Eritrea.

3.8 He was right when he said Ethiopia’s Weyane was building white elephant projects (GERD) and criticizing them for their industrial parks.  He is right when he goes to Ethiopia now to praise these same parks and claims they are models for Eritrea.

3.9 He was right to say that we will accept the 1998-99 verdict on our dispute with Yemen awarding Hanish to Yemen.  He is right now when he claims that the verdict was designed to create perpetual enmity.

3.10 He was right to bemoan the absence of political plurality and absence of participation of stakeholders in Somalia and Ethiopia and Sudan and cry for their disenfranchised groups.  He is also right to dismiss stakeholders and disenfranchised in Eritrea.

The Leader Is Always Right.  All he has to say is “Be!” and it is.  Reality is what he says it is: it doesn’t exist independent of his utterances.  A patriot, an ally is so when he is pronounced so; a traitor, a nemesis of the People & The Government is also so when he declares it so.

4. How To Fight To Win

4.1. Identify your enemy: It is Isaias (the man), Isaiasism (the ideology), Isaiasists/NNNN (the cult).  As long as the enemy exists, Eritrea (land + people) and normality won’t.  Normality is generations of Eritreans living in Eritrea.  Right now only the family of Isaias Afwerki (his mother, himself, his children and his grandchildren) feel safe enough to live in Eritrea.
4.2. Identify your goal:  It is to defeat Isaias, Isaiasism and Isaiasists.  It is not to reconcile with it, it is not to co-exist with it, but to prevail over it.
4.3. Identify your strategy: politics is a Team Sport: no solo act works.  Be willing to join: you can’t work alone and complain about lack of results. Be willing to accept united front instead of search for elusive unity.
4.4. Identify our people.  Be real: When you hear the phrase “the Eritrean People”, don’t imagine the Diaspora wearing Isaias T-shirts and wrapping itself in green-yellow-red-blue bandanas and shawls.  Think of Eritreans in refugee camps; Eritreans in prison and their families; families of martyrs trying to eke out a living by running vegetable stands; families of the disappeared; Afar fisherman who can no longer fish; Kunamas uprooted almost completely, and all ORDINARY (hafash) Eritreans who live in terror.
4.5. Be willing to say No:  Forming a “united front” does not mean you embrace causes, individuals, institutions committed to take Eritrea to civil war or to medieval times.
4.6. Accept Organizational Discipline.  This means that if you join an organization, sometimes you will be bound by decisions you don’t fully agree with. But only if they are bound by their charter.
4.7. Embrace institutionalism: And that includes Eritrean institutions of Armed Forces, Courts, Media which have been overtaken by Isaias, Isaiaism, Isaisists.
4.8. Don’t hate the PFDJ (the institution); infiltrate it and take it over.
4.9. If you are forced into conscripted service–civil service, military–ask always whether an order advances Isaiasism or Eritrea and if it is the former sabotage it.
4.10. Isaias/Isaiasism, has had a long uninterrupted record of adventurism and miscalculations–Hanish Islands War, Badme War, Congo War, Sudan Civil War, Somalia Civil War, Djibouti Border War, Yemen Civil War.  So treat with extreme skepticism all calls for new wars camouflaged as defensive wars.  In short, The Leader Is Always Wrong.
4.11. Form allies and alliances with organizations and countries who recognize Isaiasism as a menace.
4.12. Learn your history: there was life before Isaiasism.  There will be life after Isaiaism is defeated.
4.13. Don’t be afraid to aspire to lead and to have the ambition to govern Eritrea: it is your right as a citizen to do so and you don’t need the blessing of Isaiasists for it.
4.14. It is not enough to be against something; you must be for something.  Be always driven by a vision of a self-ruled, free, just, democratic Eritrea at peace with itself and its neighbors.

Independence Day & Martyrs Day have now become nothing more than a Public Relations exercise for Isaiasism.   We can uncouple them from dictatorship and slavery and tie them to other holidays that we can declare–Constitution Day, Republic Day.

But only after we engage and defeat Isaias, Isaisism and Isaiaists.

For Tigrinya translation of this article, press this link