The probability of regime change in Eritrea will dramatically increase if the UNSC-imposed sanctions (UNSC Resolution 1907) would be able to halt the mining prospects that are set to start in huge scales in 2010. We know that there is no provision for comprehensive economic sanctions like that of South Africa in the proposal; at least, not yet. But they will surely have an impact, be it direct or indirect, on all the mining companies that are lined up to do business in Eritrea: Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd. and Sunridge Gold; Britain’s Andiamo Exploration and London Africa; China’s Land and Energy and Zhongchang Mining, Australia’s South Boulder, Sub Sahara Resources, Chalice Gold Mines Ltd. and Gippsland Ltd; India's Spice Minerals; Sino-Eritrea Mining Share Company; Eritrean-Libyan Mining Share; Bermuda-based Sahar Minerals; and others.
How far these mining companies will be impacted by the sanctions, we don’t know yet, but part of the answer will depend on us. It seems we have our work cut out for us: First, most of our energy should shift on how to use the sanctions card to target these companies, given their close working relationship with PFDJ owned companies which could easily fall within the “prastatals” that the sanction is meant to target. Second, if the Eritrean regime remains as defiant as it is now, the likelihood is that the sanctions will be further tightened. For instance, if a no-fly zone is extended over Eritrean skies or if Eritrea is forced out of Djibouti through armed force, the consequences for the mining companies will be devastating. And worse, even the mining companies could be directly targeted under the worst case scenario where comprehensive economic sanctions would be imposed on Eritrea as a last resort to make it comply with the demands of Resolution 1907. If so, all these possible scenarios should be made clear to the investors. And third, even though domestic variables have not been factored into the sanctions, we can still use the humanitarian crisis in Eritrea to highlight the negative roles these mining companies are already playing in propping up a totalitarian regime with an astounding level of brutality, and expose them to the outside world for what they are doing. In short, we have to utilize all the amenities available to us in the international arena to challenge these companies both on moral and legal grounds, be it within the framework of the sanctions or outside of it.
The negative roles that the mining companies are already deeply involved in include:
- Given that almost all of the local companies subcontracted to do the non-specialized jobs in the mining projects are PFDJ-owned, pervasive slave labor has become a fixture in these areas.
- The forced displacement of indigenous populations from the mining areas and their surroundings has become an ongoing phenomenon; something that will even get worse if any armed sabotage is conducted in any one of these areas.
- With the revenues from the mining projects starting to flow into the PFDJ coffers at a time when it is economically challenged, theirs will be the only lifeline that will keep this totalitarian regime afloat; thereby extending the misery of the Eritrean masses unnecessarily for years to come.
- The mining companies are actively working in normalizing the crimes of the regime, telling their investors that outside perceptions aside, this is a very normal country to work with; thus becoming unofficial ambassadors of good will for the regime.
- The companies are the only entities well positioned and highly motivated to put pressure on the Isaias regime to comply with the UNSC demands; and there is a good reason to believe that right now they are working hard to disown us of the sanctions as a weapon of regime change as no other group is capable of doing.
Below, first, I will go over the latter three points mentioned above [(1) and (2) will be addressed in a different posting] to comprehend the depth of the mining companies’ involvement in propping up the brutal regime in Asmara. Second, I will explore the various peaceful ways the opposition could use to put the work of the mining companies to a halt. And third, I will revisit the concept of “owning” the sanctions to bring about regime change in Eritrea as applied to the mining projects.
Mining companies working hard to disown us of the sanctions
When it comes to the sanctions, we have to remember that we, as opposition, will remain potent to the extent we want to be only so far as we own them and make them work for us. Even though the sanctions have been imposed on Eritrea not with the plight of the Eritrean masses in mind, nothing prevents us from appropriating them and making them work for us in ushering regime change in Eritrea. But this would work only if the sanctions prevail in the first place. Any entity that works hard to reverse the sanctions is trying hard to disown us of the most potent weapon that has so far landed on our lap since the day the Isaias regime has gone totalitarian.
In my last posting, I was warning that we should not let some “supporters” of the sanctions in the opposition take this weapon away from us. Many of them are going out of their way providing advice to the supporters of the regime that the only way they could reverse sanctions is by making the regime comply with the UNSC demands. They seem to share their panic; it is only in strategy that they differ from them. Fortunately for us though, the regime’s foot soldiers, who know only how to take orders from Isaias, are not listening.
Then there is this naïve idea that somehow these PFDJ foot soldiers could be convinced to mend their ways if they could only be made to realize that it is the ineptness of their leader that is to be blamed for the sanctions. But the fact is that they will be marching on Feb 22 primarily to hide Isaias’ ineptness from the Eritrean masses at home, and not to protect Eritrea. Their message to the Eritrean people will be: “It is not Isaias’ fault, but the world’s!” No argument could sway a people that are more than willing to conspire against themselves to support their hero. The underlying logic that drives their action says: “If in the process of saving Isaias we have to lose Eritrea, so be it!” So instead of trying to convince these zombies the follies of their acts, what we should concentrate is on how to use their readily available incriminating acts against them, all within the framework of the sanctions.
Unlike the inept zombies though, what we have to watch out are the mining companies, not only because they are dead set to disown us of the sanctions but also because they have a more effective way of doing so. They have both the sensibility to see the looming danger and the leverage over Isaias that the foot soldiers don’t have that they could use to pressure him to give in to the UNSC demands.
You bet on your life that right now, behind the scene, the mining companies are frantically looking for ways and means of reversing the sanctions; but unlike the regime’s supporters who wouldn’t dare contradict a single word the tyrant utters, the companies know on whom to put their pressure: on the tyrant himself, the only one that matters on this game. One need only go to dehai.org to see how the regime’s supporters are blaming the US for the sanctions; for them, if there is anyone whose behavior has to be changed, it would be the West, in general, and the US, in particular. None of them would ever dare suggest, or even entertain, that maybe there is something that Isaias can do too. The same holds true with the leadership inside Eritrea, only this time it would be naked fear that holds the tyrant’s subordinates from telling him the truth; in their case, it is neta dumu men ‘katchil yiserela. The mining companies though, unconstrained by this nationalist frenzy from outside and debilitating fear from inside and highly motivated by the huge stakes involved in the gamble they are taking, are the only ones well positioned to tell the tyrant to behave. Implied in their advice would be: “You can terrorize and torture your people whichever way you want; the world doesn’t give a damn. But do not mess with the outside world. First, get out of Djibouti, a step that could be easily and quickly verified to your advantage. And, second, stop interfering in Somalia. If you do that, we are all set to do business. And with our money starting flowing into your coffers, you can terrorize your people as much and as long as you want.”
Put in the language of “ownership”, the mining companies are trying their hardest to disown us of the sanctions, thereby coming out as the most effective enablers of the totalitarian system in Eritrea. So it is not the regime supporters that are set to protest on Feb 22 that we have to fear; they are the least capable of bringing behavioral change in Isaias. Nor should we worry about cabinet members like Ali Abdu or Yemane Ghebreab; the likelihood that these sycophants will bring behavioral change in Isaias is as remote as could be. Both have neither the leverage nor the will to undertake such an action. Immaterial of their intentions, both the Shaebia foot soldiers and the sycophant cabinet members are our strategic allies at this juncture, working very hard as they are doing in emboldening the tyrant to continue on the road of self-destruction that he has already embarked so tenaciously. If so, none of them are involved, as the mining companies do, in the attempt to disown us of the sanctions; to the contrary, they are providing us all the tools we need to assert our ownership. So, to me, at this juncture, the hysteria that is being whipped up among the Diaspora is a most welcome development. It is a continuation of the suicidal behavior Shaebia has been taking to lead itself to the edge of existential disaster. If this is the extra push that it needs to take itself over the cliff, power to the zombie foot soldiers and the sycophant senior officials!
Those who are dead set to demonstrate in the streets of the Western cities on Feb 22 in their thousands have one single goal in mind: to blame the US and UN, and not Isaias, for the sanctions. If a criminal in a trial remains unrepentant of what he has done even after the jury has found him guilty, then the judge is apt to be harder on him in the sentencing. The Eritrean regime is on extended trial right now. Given a chance to comply, the regime instead has chosen to display its unrepentant nature in a spectacular way: by thumbing its nose on the UN on the capitals of the West. So what the PFDJ is doing now goes beyond what the hypothetical criminal does. It is not simply saying that it hasn’t done it, but is putting all the blame on the judge. It couldn’t get better than this! A pattern of behavioral evidence is being clearly established that could be used against the regime in the next UNSC meeting on Eritrea.
And the evidence for this belligerent behavior that would implicate the regime are to be seen everywhere out there in the open. We have to realize that these meketes, petitions, demonstrations and various types of “showing support to the regime” – financial and otherwise – have been initiated, orchestrated, planned, executed and monitored by the PFDJ apparatus, whose tentacles is to be found spread out all over the world. The fact that the government has assigned none other than its top enablers – Ali Abdu, Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Yemane Gebreab, Head of the Political Affairs of the ruling party, Teame “Mekele”, the infamous hit man from the Internal and Foreign National Security Office and other senior PFDJ officials – to coordinate and monitor the 22 February march against the sanctions says it all. It is not for nothing that it has opened a temporary central office at a hotel in none other than Frankfurt, Germany, at the heart of Europe, to do all its clandestine work. There is no harder evidence than this to exhibit the unrepentant behavior of Shaebia. And the risk that it is involving itself with is not totally lost on Shaebia; the latest denial of Ali Abdu that the government has nothing to do with the world wide march against the sanctions is being made with minimizing the risk of such involvement in mind.
Other evidences are also to be easily found out there in the open: in the endless diatribes that the government’s official website, shabait.com, conducts every day against the US and UN; in all the vitriolic that the leader of the nation spews against the US, West, UN and AU in all his interviews; in the clandestine operations that it is setting outside in preparation for the sanctions; in the money that the Diaspora are raising, no doubt to be used in terrorizing the neighborhood and the Eritrean masses; in the terror that the regime and its supporters are using in intimidating the Diaspora population to do their bidding; etc.
We have to remind ourselves that the nature of the sanction is an evolving one; it gets loosened or tightened up depending on the behavior of the regime. Realizing this aspect of the sanction, Djibouti, Somalia and AU are already collecting further evidence that would implicate the Isaias regime and are asking for its tightening accordingly. If so, we should follow their example and help the region in piling up all the evidence we can get out there so as tighten the noose around Shaebia’s neck.
If the above is true, there is no need to lament the coming demonstration; both the regime and its supporters are doing a great job in implicating themselves. It is us, those in the opposition, that have failed to make the most out of it. That is to say, we have yet to learn how to own the sanctions. If we use the government’s and its foot soldiers’ readily available unrepentant behavior against them, that would be “owning the sanctions”, albeit a small part of the overall ownership. It is not that there are no drawbacks to this strategy. I know that the demonstrations will have a negative effect on our people in Eritrea, but we will have enough time to address that. Besides, whatever we say won’t change the behavior of the foot soldiers. Owning the sanctions demands of us that we ignore that part that we have no control of and, instead, focus on what is doable only. So the only question that we should ask of the coming demonstration is: how do we use it against the regime, irrespective of the damage it does in other aspects that we have no control of?
There is an additional element of desperation that makes the mining companies’ attempt to disown us of sanctions very real. For this, we have to look at the nature of the companies themselves. Not many major mining companies, with well known brand names, are willing to take the risk in Eritrea. That leaves mostly small companies whose investment in Eritrea makes a large portion of what they own. Take for instance the case of Nevsun Resources; it is the least diversified of the rest, yet it has the lion’s share so far. Before, the only two projects that it was involved in were in Mali and Eritrea. After having pulled out of Mali, its entire stake is now in Bisha. Having put all its eggs in one basket, this is the kind of company that will hold on to its last breathe. If Bisha goes, so does Nevsun – another “existential threat” at work in the Eritrean political and humanitarian landscape. Call them then “desperado” companies”. The precariousness of these companies is reflected in the financial vulnerability of Nevsun, a company that has been riding a rollercoaster – jumping from one way of financing itself into another – since the UNSC resolution to sanction Eritrea. The tenaciousness with which such companies are going to hold on to the mining projects in Eritrea is proportional to their economic vulnerability, and hence will do anything they can to prevail in such a risky environment. Our task then will be by that much harder.
Providing a lifeline to the regime
The greatest damage that these mining companies will do is not in what would happen to the people and land in the process of making these mining projects work – such as the pervasive use of slave labor, the displacement of the indigenous population and the degradation of the environment – but in the lifeline they will provide to the regime in years to come.
The whole world has recognized the Eritrean regime as the most repressive in Africa and amongst the most repressive in the world, in league with notorious nations such as North Korea and Myanmar. Its primary mission has been how to control its subjects. Even its terrorist excursions in the region are mainly motivated by that internal mission. It is no surprise then that most of its revenue is spent on mechanisms of control: on the national service, where hundreds of thousands adults – the population group that it fears most – are cordoned off in the wilderness purely for purposes of control; on the hundreds of prisons and concentration camps scattered all over Eritrea, where tens of thousands of “dissenters” are kept; on the security apparatus, whose tentacles are spread into all corners of the nation; on the military machine, with more than 200 thousand in active service and hundreds of thousands more in reserve; on PFDJ-owned companies that have monopolized the whole economy, after bankrupting the merchant class and impoverishing the peasants; etc. There is not a single aspect of the nation that hasn’t been affected by the paranoid regime’s obsessive quest for totalitarian control; even education and religion are not spared. If the nation’s resources are spent on purposes of control, what does it mean for the mining companies to provide this regime with the necessary revenue at the very moment when its traditional sources of revenue are dwindling and the sanctions are being imposed?
With these two additional constraints – the sanctions and dwindling revenues – the role that the lifeline made readily available by the mining companies will play in the survival of the regime becomes indispensable. So does the necessity of stopping it. Despite its claims, the Isaias regime has been living off aid, aid and aid: loans from international institutions and monetary aid from EU and others; various forms of “aid” from the Diaspora community (2% tax, festivals, “donations”, remittances, etc.) and “aid” from Warsai in the form of inexhaustible slave labor. With sanctions, the likelihood that this nation will keep getting loans or aid from the outside world will be slim. Given the international condemnation that is implied by the sanctions, EU will have to think twice before it extends helping hands to Eritrea. And if the Western nations strictly apply what the sanctions imply, there will be a steep decline in the illegal revenues that the regime gets from the Diaspora community. That would leave the mining companies as the only major providers of revenues that would enable the regime to tighten its totalitarian grip over the people.
Some opposition writers are trying hard to convince us that the regime is not set to gain a lot from the mining projects in Eritrea, and that whatever small gain it will make won’t happen soon enough to rescue it. This is despite the fact that analysts from outside are telling us that it will alter the agriculture-based economy. So why are they saying that? As it is so often the case with the Shaebia-oriented opposition, the message is subtle: “Do not bother with the mining companies; they are not worth the fight.” Of course, the goal is how to save Shaebia from itself. But the reality is just the opposite: the fight is worth all the energy we could muster. Besides the many negative roles these companies are already playing mentioned in this posting, these apologists’ analysis misses the fact that the revenues have already started trickling in.
The regime is already getting revenues from the process itself; the regime doesn’t have to wait for years to see some of this money. Much of the work that doesn’t require specialty like transportation, construction, providing food for the local workers and any other menial jobs will be done by local companies. And guess what: since the PFDJ-owned companies have already bankrupted and forced out of business every private company and, in the process, monopolized the whole economy, the mining companies will have no other option than to hire these government-owned companies; and that is exactly what they are doing. In projects like Bisha, with the PFDJ’s companies already doing most the hired work, the revenues have already started flowing into its coffers.
And when it comes to the officially acknowledged real revenues, here is how the Minister of Energy put it:
“According to the Minister of Energy, Eritrean mining proclamation states that every licensed body pays from 3.5 to 5 percent of the total cost of production to the government before hand. After a company pays all expenses, it also pays 38 percent tax on net income to the government. Then the government also gets a payment after all the expenses are covered based on the number of shares it holds.” (Eritrea makes mining a backbone of its national economic rehabilitation, by Junior Mining, 10 Jan, 2008)
But this apology is not confined to the Shaebia-oriented opposition faction. The other part of this odd couple is the Islamist/Arabist faction that can hardly wait for Shaebia to go, but in the meantime wants it to stay strong enough to protect their “Eritrea” from Ethiopia. That is why they have adopted the split-hair version of “supporting” the sanctions, where they accept the harmless part while rejecting the arms embargo. But if they are to be consistent with their stand, there is no way for them to defend Eritrea’s right to arm itself without equally defending its right to generate the money required to arm itself. If so, their rejection of arms embargo logically implies that they will never defend any economic punishment that would impact the regime in any significant way; and that includes the mining companies.
If Eritrea is to stay potent in the arms race with Ethiopia, it will need all the money it could possibly get. At one time it spent 25% of its budget on defense. Now, even though it has gotten lower, it still is, in terms of proportion, one of the highest in the world. All we need to look at is its shopping list of its most sophisticated fighter jets. The price of Mig-29 and SU-27, which form the bulk of its air force’s firepower, is somewhere between 20 and 30 million dollars each. I am not saying that Eritrea got them at that price, but you can easily see where all the money is going. Besides its expense, the SU-27’s operational cost is so prohibitive that only four other nations out of the old Soviet Union bloc have them – India, China, Vietnam and Ethiopia. You can see that Eritrea is competing with the who and who of the world. And when it comes to its army, imagine what it means to train, arm, clothe, feed, and in general maintain a 200,000 strong ground force.
It is easy to see that those who are opposing the arms embargo cannot do so without opposing any significant financial punishment against the regime. If so, when it comes to what matters most – finishing off the Isaias regime – they are no better than the Shaebia-oriented opposition and those who are marching in the streets of Western cities in support of the regime. So they should spare us of their endless mambo jumbo of how the Tigrignas are propping up the Isaias regime, while they keep their fingers crossed that those set to demonstrate on Feb 22 do succeed in derailing the sanctions.
Normalizing the regime’s crimes
Already, the mining companies are involved in the task of “normalizing” the abnormal image of Eritrea. The distinction that they are repeatedly invoking in their press releases and interviews is that between “outside perception” and “internal reality”. They are saying that the negative image of Eritrea from outside doesn’t fit the internal reality, which according to them happens to be just the opposite. Of course, they are doing this to pacify investors who have been increasingly getting edgy after the UNSC resolution to sanction Eritrea. There are two negative images that they are fighting against: (a) the image of a nation whose humanitarian record has gotten so bad that it can only be compared with the likes of North Korea, (b) and the image of a war mongering nation that has instigated confrontations with all its neighbors, sponsored terrorism throughout the neighborhood and is at a war footing with Ethiopia. How do they do that? They are copying the very same diversionary tactics the regime uses in fighting these two negative images.
If you go to the government’s official website, Shabait.com, or its EriTv, all that you see is a road, bridge or school built here or a clinic, irrigation project or micro dam built there. Almost everything has to do with a developmental project, be it in its planning, its building, its completion or its inauguration. The idea is simple: by keeping the focus on developmental projects, the regime hopes that its people will forget the humanitarian horror under which they are living on daily basis. By the number of people that are fleeing the nation, it is clear the regime has failed convincing the people inside Eritrea. If there is any success on that front it is among its Diaspora followers who can afford to romanticize the image of Eritrea, given the safe distance from which they are doing their gazing. Given the even greater distance between foreign investors and “Eritrea”, the mining companies are also hoping that a sanitized image of Eritrea will do the trick.
As in the regime’s case, the mining companies never talk about the humanitarian crisis in the nation – famine, slavery, indefinite military service, mass exodus, prisons, concentration camps, etc. Instead, they talk about how a good place it is to work; the one thing that they often mention is the infrastructure. Of course, they don’t want to mention that the roads, bridges and docks they are going to use have been built by the blood and sweat of hundreds of thousands of slave laborers with the most meager payments imaginable (500 Nakfa/12 dollars per month!). They also talk about how the government is working very had to develop the country, building schools and clinics. Of course, they don’t want to tell the world that the students and their teachers are fleeing the nation in their tens of thousands every year and in those so called clinics one doesn’t even find an aspirin let alone any other helpful medication.
The other image that the regime wants to sell to the outside world is that of a crime-free Eritrea to neutralize the image of a nation at war footing with all its neighbors. But the two have nothing to do with each other, the former having to do with the law abiding nature of the people and the latter with the war mongering nature of the regime. Besides, the regime has monopolized all the crimes that a nation could possibly commit, and more. How else can one explain the fact that a nation with a record low crime, by any measurement in the world, ends up having hundreds of prisons and concentration camps and tens of thousands prisoners? Only if the government is accountable for the difference. But what the mining companies are doing is deflect the attention from the crimes of the regime to the law abiding nature of the citizens, and implicitly attribute the virtues of the latter to the former.
The naked truth is the regime is not only violent with its own people, but also with all its neighbors. Both the existence of active armed groups dead set to destabilize the regime and two armies – in their hundreds of thousands – warily watching each other over hundreds of kilometers of trenches are the results of the regime’s internal and external violence. What more evidence is needed of the violent nature of this regime than the UN imposing sanctions on it for sponsoring terrorism throughout the region?
If the above is true, contrary to the image of a peaceful and stable country that the mining companies want to sell to their investors, this nation is time bomb waiting to explode at any time.
The opposition’s role
Given the above, what should the role of the opposition be? The nature of the problems, as explained above, suggests its own solutions. In fighting these mining companies, we will have to target five entities: investors, be they stockholders, lenders or of other types; democratic governments where these companies hail from, mainly Canada, Australia and Britain; labor, legal and humanitarian organizations; the UN; and the media.
The UN: There are two ways that we should look at to help the UN in its task of sanctioning Eritrea: first, in gathering all the evidence that we can get, not only in maintaining the status of the sanctions, but also in further tightening it; and second in helping the UN in enforcing it. Regarding the latter, it us who intimately know on how the PFDJ does its clandestine work in intimidating the Diaspora population and illegally collecting money. We should put all our resources to the service of the UN in neutralizing its intimidating habits and in chocking its hard currency sources. And when it comes to the mining companies, not only should we seek that they too should be targeted in any further tightening of the sanctions, but we should also leave no stones unturned to implicate them with the current one. One way of doing the latter is by exposing the mining companies’ close economic relationship with PFDJ’s parastatals that could be targeted by the UN sanctions.
The investors: We have to inform investors on the dismal humanitarian record of Eritrea. Do they know that this is the only nation in Africa with no nominal private media? Do they know that this is a nation with the most imprisoned journalists, many of whom are dead by now? Do they know that this nation has come dead last or among the last in all humanitarian and governance indicators by many independent organizations? Given that these investors come from the West, I am sure that many will refrain from investing in these companies if they know the extent of brutality the totalitarian regime resorts to terrorize its people. But no doubt there will be many others who will remain unimpressed unless it seems to hit them in their pockets.
For the latter group, we have to inform them on the nation’s track record on its war mongering habit; that it has instigated armed confrontations with all its neighbors – Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia; that is sponsoring terrorism throughout the region – Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti, Chad and Somalia; and that it has been at war footing with Ethiopia for the last decade. They have to know that they are investing in a very volatile area, where armed confrontation could erupt at any time.
Humanitarian organizations: We have yet to fully exploit the alliances that we could create with various humanitarian and labor organizations in challenging the rush of mining companies in Eritrea. To mention one instance: Do the investors know that Evangelical Churches are banned in Eritrea and that more than 3,000 of them are languishing in prisons? I am sure that most of these investors, if not all, are Christians and some of them are most likely to be Evangelical Christians. In reaching these investors, it would make the most impact if in doing so we ally ourselves with powerful Evangelical groups that are more than willing to bring the horrors under which the Evangelical believers in Eritrea are living to a quick end. I am sure many of these Christian investors will have second thoughts if they are made to know the extent of religious abuse the government is involved in.
So is it with other groups. Again, to mention one: There are many international labor groups that diligently target those companies that use forced labor, and the mining companies easily fall into that group given the pervasive slave labor they are allowing the PFDJ owned companies to use in their mining projects. And then there are many humanitarian groups that would be more than willing to help us in targeting these companies simply because they are propping up a totalitarian regime the likes of which is not to be found anywhere in Africa. There is no reason at all why the South African experience shouldn’t be replicated in Eritrea. And given that the rush of these companies is a recent phenomenon, many of which have yet to make a full presence on the ground, it should be by that much easier to stop them before they establish themselves any further.
Western democracies: We have to lobby the governments of Canada, Australia and Britain, where most of the mining companies hail from, to put an end to this gold rush. We should tell these democracies that it is hypocritical of them to support the sanctions, on the one hand, and let these companies prop up that very regime they are sanctioning, on the other hand. We should fight these companies in their own turfs on both legal and moral grounds. Both national and international laws could be invoked to challenge them in the court of law [luckily for us, the law association of Eritreans has been formed at the nick of time]. Given that the sanctions have been formulated without putting internal variables into consideration, we should also remind the West that it has a chance to redress this imbalance by paying attention to the plight of the Eritrean people when it looks at the case of mining companies.
The media: We have to use the opposition media more efficiently in that the websites and radio stations should focus more intensely on how to bring regime change in Eritrea, with all the sense of urgency it deserves. But more importantly, we have to be able to involve the Western media in bringing the negative roles the mining companies are playing in propping up the totalitarian regime in Eritrea to the attention of the world. So far, as far as I know, no such effort has been made; and this is because we haven’t made an issue out of it. We should always aim at Shaebia’s Achilles heel, and not simply hover around inconsequential grievances that have no causal impact on the regime – as some of the websites seem to specialize (the “preparations for the takeover” channel).
Owning the sanctions
One of the most effective means Isaias has been using to garner loyalty among the former teghadelti, in general, and his generals and colonels, in particular, is by expediting “their ownership of Eritrea” [look at an excellent essay by Mengs TM, “Cabbages and Kings” and Pigs with Wings” to look at how systematic and exhaustive this ownership has been]. In pampering them, he didn’t deny them anything – money, power, even women. In absence of any cause, the only way he could hold on to them is by indulging them in every way imaginable. The problem is, once this culture of corruption sets in, there is no means that one could deploy to curb their voracious appetites. And what the prospects of gold rush in Eritrea have done is to raise their expectation to its highest level. Already they are salivating over the prospect of windfall of gold that would soon translate into villas, cars and luxurious living.
It is not by chance that Isaias has been downplaying the role gold and other minerals will play in Eritrea’s economy whenever he finds an occasion to talk about it. He has been deliberately setting the bar of expectations low so that if sanctions take place and the mining prospect is jeopardized, none of his generals and colonels would blame him for that. But the genie is already out of the box. The mining companies themselves have to convince their investors of excellent profit prospects, given the critical role that stocks and investment play on this matter; and there is no way they could do that in secret. And the international media has also been reporting on the mining boom in Eritrea and how it would potentially alter the economy for the better. And, lately, the Diaspora supporters of the regime have been hyping it as the strong link needed to economic miracle in Eritrea. So whatever Isaias is doing now to downplay it is not working.
What is it that Isaias is worried about most? If sanctions halt the mining prospects in Eritrea, the generals and colonels will begin to think differently: not only will they think that what he is giving them now as too meager when compared with what they could get if there were no sanctions, but they would also come to believe that Isaias is the only thing that stands in between them and the gold. With the gold rush, it has been a while since Eritrea has been turned into the wild, wild West. And you know what happens in the wild, wild West when someone is the only one standing on the way between you and the gold: fast hands reach for the gun. So I do believe that all the preparations hoopla that are going on in Eritrea to develop various mining projects have come at the right moment as a blessing in disguise: they have heightened expectations to such a high level that the generals and colonels will have to fight to keep their self-interest. Soon, too tempting a scenario may emerge: all they have to do is get rid of the tyrant in Asmara, make peace with Ethiopia and start pocketing in the profits from the gold. It couldn’t get much easier.
And for this pressure to do its final work, Shaebia should never be let to get even a penny of revenue from the mining projects that are now underway. And that is where the opposition comes in: we have to utilize every peaceful way possible to do just that. And as stated above, we don’t have to be constrained by the parameters set by the sanctions to target these mining companies.