The Impact of the Conflict with Ethiopia
The EPLF ideology of Eritreanism came to blows with Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti before it precipitated the conflict with Ethiopia but it is the conflict with Ethiopia that has had the most profound military, economic, diplomatic and social impact on the Issayas regime. It is therefore helpful to asses how and why this conflict has had such an impact.
The Military impact of the conflict
The conflict with Ethiopia ended with a humiliating military defeat for the Issayas regime. The myth of military invincibility on which the ideology was based was thus profoundly shaken. Issayas's claim to over lordship in the horn was based on such myth and his capacity to militarily intimidate his neighbors. That was lost for good. The regime could either abandon its ideology or recover its standing by inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Ethiopians. It chose to retain its ideology by destroying the Woyane regime. Initially this was supposed to be achieved through a quick reorganization and re-arming. To do that Issayas cleaned the area for such adventure by imprisoning and removing all those who were uneasy about the choice of such adventure. He carried out massive propaganda within the army to convince them that the honor of the army and the chosen people and the respect they deserve could only be retrieved by destroying the Woyane regime. Unfortunately for the regime, this choice turned out to be a perfect cage. The Ethiopians with better financial and human resources were able to maintain an army which could inflict another humiliating defeat. The Issayas regime had to put one in ten Eritrean in the trenches to maintain the army. The Ethiopians merely needed to put 4 in one thousand Ethiopian to field a similarly sized army. Issayas had to use well over 10% of GDP in maintaining such an army. The Ethiopians could do so with just 1% of GDP. As time went by, demography and the economy made it impossible for Issayas to challenge the Woyanes in open battles. An armed truce became inevitable. Such an armed truce would exhaust Eritrea's human and financial resources without having significant impact on the Ethiopians. Issayas's ideology would not allow him to abandon his objective of destroying the Woyanes, to re-assert his dominance and, so he chose to weaken the Woyanes first by arming various Ethiopian opposition groups, the extremists in Somalia, threatening all neighbors who were suspected of siding with Ethiopia, and later attacking them directly.
Such an approach has not worked because the Ethiopians were able to absorb the indirect attacks and because they were able to use Eritrea's endeavor in this regard to turn the diplomatic table on it. The end result is thus a cage in which the Issayas regime has become trapped militarily, a cage that weakens the regime militarily every passing day while the relative military positions of the Woyanes improves everyday. There are only two ways out of the cage. Either the regime abandons its ideology and its objective of destroying the Woyanes, or it implodes like the USSR did in an unequal military standoff with Ethiopia. There is no doubt that the choice of Issayas regime is the latter.
The Economic impact of the conflict
Throughout the federal experience and during the war of independence the Eritrean economy was linked with that of Ethiopia. Indeed it was part of the Ethiopian economy for more that three decades. The Eritrean economy was shattered by the war which meant that not only was it linked with the Ethiopian economy but that it was also incapable of doing well if such links were suddenly severed. That is exactly what the Issayas regime succeeded in doing when it invaded Ethiopia. The economic impact has been devastating in a number of ways. The latest figures show that Djibouti currently earns between 700-900 million dollars as a result of its port service to Ethiopia. This is money that Eritrea would have earned had the Issayas regime not provoked the war to turn Ethiopia into an economic hinterland of Eritrea. That is 200 dollars per capita earnings forgone. It is also money that is likely to continue to grow. Eritrea's ports are now idle and the country has lost more than its total GDP in earnings from port services alone because of the conflict. There is no way of quantifying what the loss in earnings is as a result of the elimination of trade ties between the two countries but it is likely to be substantial. While the Issayas regime initiated the national service before the conflict with Ethiopia for ideological reasons, and while therefore Eritrea is likely to have had an oversized army even without the conflict with Ethiopia it is nevertheless true that the armed truce with Ethiopia has compelled the Issayas regime to permanently keep 10% of the population in the army. This has meant that the bulk of the country's meager resources are devoted to wasteful military expenditure. Perhaps more importantly the productive force of Eritrea has become unemployed in the trenches.
The economic loss is likely to be much higher than the loss caused by the loss of port services. In other words, the conflict with Ethiopia has resulted in an economic loss of more than twice of the per-capita income of the nation and is continuing to grow by the day.
The Diplomatic impact of the conflict
Eritrea was given the diplomatic upper hand when the boundary commission gave Badme to Eritrea and Ethiopia refused to implement the decision. This diplomatic upper hand has been completely lost and Eritrea is now totally isolated. The best proof of that isolation is the fact that the African Union in its recent summit in Libya chaired by Eritrea's remaining friend Gadafi called for imposing sanctions on Eritrea, the first time that the organization has done so to a member state in its history. Some people suggest that this is so because of the diplomatic ineptitude of the Issayas regime and skills and clout of the Ethiopians. It would be wrong to deny that these factors have contributed to the complete diplomatic reversal. But it would also be wrong to conclude that they are he main reasons for the reversal. The key reason in my view is the ideology. It is the ideology which forced the Issayas regime to put its objective of destroying the Woyane regime above every thing else. It is its ideology which forced it to look down on all Black African states and publicly abuse many of their leaders. It is its ideology with militarism as one of its key characteristics that forced the regime to intimidate any nation that it suspected of sympathizing with Ethiopia including its recent invasion of Djibouti. It is the ideology which forced it to support terrorists to destabilize the Woyanes. It is the ideology which precipitated the confrontation with the U.S, U.N and the international community as a whole. It is true that the Woyanes used the opportunity given to them by the Issayas regime well. It is also true that the Issayas regime has been unusually inept in its diplomatic activities. But ultimately it is the ideology which created the ground for Eritrea's total diplomatic isolation. As the threat of sanction indicates the diplomatic isolation is getting worse by the way making Eritrea's prospect of getting out of the quagmire it finds itself in very dim indeed.
The Political melt-down of the regime
The ideology of the regime, which as we indicated is a convoluted form of Eritrean highland chauvinism imbued with the concepts of the chosen people, militarism and Spartan Stoicism, is facing a melt-down. The population in the Muslim lowlands which was never enthusiastic about the regime has become fully alienated from the regime. The Eritrea of the regime including the so-called constitution does not cater for their interests and does not respect their identity. Their second class citizenship has been confirmed by all the policies and practices of the rgime. The regime has overtime become more brazen in its policy of iscrimination. The fact that up to half a million refugees from the owlands are vegetating in refugee camps next door in Sudan at a time hen their land is being expropriated by the "investors" from the ighlands and government companies and used to settle desperate farmers from the highlands is merely the most explosive manifestation of the policy of discrimination. As a result separatist tendencies are taking root among the Kunama and Afar. Islamicist political discourse, some of which is extremist, is taking the upper hand in the lowlands. The political links between the highlands and lowlands, Muslims and Christians are being broken on a daily basis and the repression and discrimination is spawning extremism of various types. This is bound to continue so long as the regime continues and will test the nation's very existence to the limit.
The relation between the regime and what it considers as its core constituency is also being undermined. The Jeberti were among the first to be alienated along with their co-religionists in the lowlands and their opposition is taking a distinctly Islamist coloring. Among the Christian highlanders while there is no visible rejection of the regime's ideology and while therefore the regime still has some unenthusiastic support, the unconditional and enthusiastic support is gone. The youth have rejected their fate as cannon fodder in the regime's militarist agenda and are leaving the country in their thousands. As the regime's support weakens it is having to depend on a more and more narrow circle for its survival and has latched onto regionalism to do so. As a result there is wide spread alienation in the regions of Akeleguzay and Serae and some areas in Hamasien. Even ties within the highlands are thus fraying further endangering the viability of the nation.
The Economic melt-down of the nation
As I indicated earlier the conflict with Ethiopia and the subsequent diplomatic alienation has done untold damage to the economy of Eritrea. The regime has added fuel to the fire not only by persisting in its destructive ideology and objectives vis-à-vis the rest of the world but also through its domestic policy. As the regime's voracious appetite for any economic surplus increased due to the economic problems caused by the conflict, its inherent tendency to monopolize all sources of profit reached unprecedented levels and the private sector has to all intents and purposes been eliminated. The hen that lays the golden eggs is dead in Eritrea.
The productive labor power has been immobilized because of the endless national service, and the regime's policy of using Eritrea's manpower for military purpose only. The Issayas regime has taken this policy which has its roots in Italian colonial policy to its logical absurdity and now the only university in the country has been shut down and replaced with military barracks masquerading as colleges. The peasant farmers have lost the labor and their incentive to produce more. The regime is appropriating the most productive land and confiscating any surplus produced by the farmers. The economy of the nation is in a process of accelerated meltdown without any change in sight.
The Social melt-down of the nation
As much of the youth is in the trenches, families are breaking down prostitution and extra marital sex is on the increase particularly in the highlands. The youth particularly men are leaving the country turning Eritrea into a nation of elders and children. The social decay is manifesting itself in extreme forms of hedonism particularly among senior officials of the regime. They consume untold amount of expensive alcohol, maintain dozens of mistresses from among the hapless young girls and engage in all sorts of criminal business activities including human trafficking to cover the cost of their hedonism. The nation as a whole particularly the youth appear to have lost hope in the nation. As a result the nation which is supposed to have given birth to countless fearless heroes is now in the grip of total fear and terror. No one appears to have the courage to oppose and stop the decay. The only way out of this social and political paralysis appears to be running away from it all, abandoning the nation for greener pasture.
The Issayas regime and its ideology are thus the enemies that pose the existential threat to the nation. They and their ideology have brought about an economic, political and social melt-down of the nation and there is no prospect of reversing that. They have engineered a total diplomatic isolation of the nation and a military cage from which they are unable to extricate themselves and their nation. The longer this goes on the more likely that Eritrea will implode and cease to exist. That is the challenge we all face. I hope to deal with a possible way out in my next posting.
May there be a landing in Eritrea soon!