By T Stephanos, Dec 9, 2007
With the triple holidays of Eid, Christmas and New Year approaching, I first want to wish everyone life enriched with good health, peace and happiness. As we get immersed into the swing of this “season of joy”, it will also be good to remember those who are denied justice everywhere. More specifically, I really hope Eritreans - especially those who have so far shut their hearts and minds to the plight of the ones locked up in Eritrean dungeons - will take a moment to reflect on the state of the disappeared and their families as “Eid Mubarek, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” wishes are uttered.
As we enjoy the spirit of the season, let’s ponder how the children of Pertros Solomon and Astier Yohannes are feeling as their own “government” continues to deny them the presence and love of both of their parents. What does it mean to the many families inside and outside of Eritrea who had to scramble like mad to come up with the ransom money the “government” demands to free an aging and often ailing parent from its prisons? And let’s also question what these cruelties have to do with the border issue, which is the excuse often given to justify the regimes excessive transgressions?
And what crime have these aging parents committed? Their sons or daughters in their twenties and thirties have fled Eritrea’s self-inflicted misery to free themselves from the regime’s enslavement programs. How can Eritrea forget its own recent history so fast? When Eritrea’s current “leaders” joined the independence movement, the respective Ethiopian regimes did not imprison their parents and ask relatives to come up with ransom. Hopefully, this irony of so-called “independent” Eritrea will also remain top of mind during this holiday season and beyond to awaken our slumbering conscience.
SPEAK FOR THE VOICELESS – GOOD NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
The regime has created an effective one-way megaphone to spread all kinds of lies against those it wants to harm and continues to subjugate. Its victims have no opportunity to defend themselves and cannot counter the lies. This imbalance should give anyone with a sense of justice and fairness some pause. Although resistance to this sad reality is emerging, it has yet to manifest itself in a manner that is effective enough for justice and truth to prevail soon. NECS’s (http://cs.asmarino.com/?itemid=586) five-points call-to-action is an excellent start and should be adopted widely.
September 18th, the sad anniversary when the regime openly turned on its own people, has come and gone without progress. Those who disappeared in 2001 and before are still not heard from. Many have disappeared and joined their plight since. Knowingly or unknowingly, those who support the regime blindly are only perpetuating Eritrea’s misery. The word “blindly” is key here because I am not opposed to people supporting their “government” so long as they also make a clear stand for justice and fairness. Any regime supporter who claims to love Eritrea ought to be able to tell the regime and its messengers this: “I support you but I also want Astier Yohannes to be free, I want the government to free ALL prisoners or allow them to have a fair and open trial NOW. I want the government to stop holding aging parents hostage and to return the ransom money collected so far to its rightful owners immediately” or any issue a supporter thinks is important to them. Unconditional support without such a stand quickly negates the love one proclaims to have for a nation or its people. If love of country does not include taking a stand against terrorist acts by those in power to protect the powerless, then where is the love? The mountains and valleys couldn’t care less whether colonialist or native-born feet are stomping the grounds. If people are taken out of the equation, any flag can be planted on any mountain top. The mountain, I am sure, doesn’t know and doesn’t care..
UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Eritrea may not have a bigger enemy than this regime. This is a regime that has consistently managed to turn opportunities of hope and optimism into misery and despair. Unable to pull themselves out from the cesspool of consuming hate to settle personal grudges, the regime’s elites continue to squander Eritrea’s meager resources to fund armed groups of all sorts - including some who are avowedly against Eritrea’s sovereignty. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, the regime continues to force the country to drink this poison of hate in the ridiculous hope that the poison will actually kill the “enemy”. This regime does not deserve more support. The problem is that it had too much of it and what it needs now is a heavy dose of reprimand that its behavior has become intolerable and unacceptable. How? See NECS’s five point action plan (http://cs.asmarino.com/?itemid=586
Think back to the early 90s where hope and boundless energy were about to be unleashed to help Eritrea realize its potential. The air was charged with goodwill and can-do spirit. Compare that to where Eritrea is today and reflect how optimism and hope were mercilessly crushed by this sadistic regime. Brave and innocent citizens who dare to think differently are labeled traitors, spies, defeatists and the like. I learned today that Petros Tesfagiorgis, a good friend I had the pleasure of working with as a member of Citizens For Peace (CPE) in Asmara, was declared an Ethiopian stooge by the regime’s thugs in a London gathering. What is amazing is that this total lack of basic civility is called patriotism by some. Samuel Johnson captured it beautifully when he said “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
As a result of the regime’s destructive fanaticism and endless capacity to fabricate internal and external enemies to cover up failures, Eritrea’s future direction seem to be heading to that of Somalia; instead of the vibrant future that was possible had the spirit of the early 90s prevailed. The possibility of Somalization should not be under estimated. It is bad enough to see the regime encouraging or tolerating bigots. But it is equally disturbing to hear people who ought to know better white washing the crass behavior of the regime’s elites along ethnic lines as well. This is wrong and dangerous. The regime’s elites are betraying people’s trust, killing and jailing old friends and refusing to listen to reason because they are of bad character; and not because x% of their blood is of certain lineage. There is no Eriteran I admire more than Woldeab Woldemariam and he was 100% Ethiopian by blood – but 100% Eritrean in life.
IN THE SPIRIT OF THE JOLLY SEASON, STOP BEING AN APOLOGIST FOR BAD BEHAVIOR
Apologists for the regime might say - in fact do say - that the world turned against Eritrea and list all sorts of lame excuses while never acknowledging the phenomenal failure of our own making. Isaias still unashamedly says the constitution was “hijacked”. No one hijacked the constitution. He did. It was shelved in 1997 a year before the 1998 war could even be claimed as a remote excuse. It is disappointing but not surprising to hear that from a guy who is a miserable failure when it comes to accountabile and responsible behavior. What is surprising is that many continue to believe and re-broadcast the lie.
The regime’s deafening mantra was accountability, transparency and rule of law. Nice words really. But so far, the only thing the regime’s elites have proven beyond any reasonable doubt is that they have done the exact opposite of what they say. I challenge anyone to name a meaningful incident where this regime has been accountable, transparent or answerable to the rule-of-law. Continued support for a regime with a nasty habit of repeatedly betraying people’s trust and expecting something good to come out of would be crazy. Anyone who tells you “Just trust me, I will take good care of you and your money if you promise never to ask any questions” is a crook. Anyone who trusts such a person more than once is a fool.
RESOLVE TO REJECT THE REGIME’S DEMAND FOR ENDLESS SACRIFICES
Good leaders make protection of their citizens the primary goal of their legacy. But Eritrea’s so called “leaders” only seem to be capable of creating one phenomenal mess after another where people, especially young people, are sacrificed needlessly.
- When Eritrea became independent, the necessary due diligence to formalize its borders that could have prevented the Badme war was not only not done but it was actively discouraged. To those wise enough to look ahead and urged the subject to be addressed without delay, the regime’s response was its trademark contempt for good ideas not originating from its arrogant small circle. The regime routinely threatens concerned citizens outside this circle for getting involved in the affairs of their own country. Normally, this is exactly the type of citizen a nation wants in order to thrive.
- When the constitution was ratified in 1997, it died in Isaias’s office. As a result, a lawless environment is created where people have absolutely no protection against abusive power. Eritreans are sacrificed in one adventure or another cooked up by people who don’t have to pay the price. It is sad and interesting to hear regime supporters in the diaspora berate young Eritreans who managed to escape Eritrea’s slave camps as traitors. In other words, people who have already sacrificed their youth are reminded that they didn’t sacrifice enough by those who can only manage to parrot insults and few empty slogans.
- During the heat of the 1998-2000 war, Isaias was bragging how surprised the world will be when it finds out how low Eritrea’s sacrifices were compared to Ethiopia’s. I guess the lives of 19000+ young people who perished means nothing if one’s mission is sacrificing innocent people rather protecting them. The other irritating point about such positioning is that knowing there is more misery in Ethiopia is somehow supposed to make us feel better. We need to change this loser’s mind set. The last thing we should do is forget the injustice the regime is committing against Astier Yohannes, Sium Tzehaye and thousands of innocent citizens because Ethiopia may not be doing well either. This is absurd.
- Self-reliance is not a bad thing but when it is preached by people who have never been self-reliant themselves, it becomes nothing more than the empty slogan that it is. If the regime’s elites won an election or, at a minimum, are held fully accountable for the positions they assigned themselves to, then fine. But to pretend self-reliance as a motto while actively driving families that were self-supporting for decades into poverty is criminal. Regime owned “businesses” unburdened with taxes and with access to slave labor now siphon off good money that used to support families and educate children out of the economy, only to turn it into bad money where a culture of corruption and drunken behavior are the new beneficiaries. So the message the regime needs to hear from us is: “start earning something for a change first. I mean earn anything - an election, legal income based on your own efforts, transparent accounting of the positions of power you bestowed yourselves with etc”. Embezzling money from families by jailing aging and ailing parents just because you have the power to do so is not self-reliance. To be blunt, some would actually call it parasitic.
There is no need for pretentions anymore. The list goes on. The sooner we realize we don’t have “leaders” whose first priority is saving lives, the sooner Eritrea will have an opportunity to reverse this downward spiral.
It is no secret that post-independent Eritrea’s health has been deteriorating year over year. This time, we have no one to blame but ourselves. All the colonialists are gone. Even during the Dergue years, Eritreans had hope that better days were around the corner. The first Eritrean regime is killing that hope every day now and we have so far chosen to be spectators or incoherent objectors. It is human nature to turn hope into tragedy. We are doing just that. It is also human nature to “overcome darkness with light”. We need to do that. Again, NECS five points listed below, edited for local audiences, can become good catalysts for peaceful and sustained mass-action. Happy Holidays!
1. Release of Prisoners: The EU should strengthen its call for the immediate release of all those who are illegally detained in Eritrea. It should put more energy and political resolve in highlighting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea.
2. Democratic governance: The EU should insist in the development of democratic institutions and introduction of democratic governance in Eritrea. Eritrea is currently governed by the wishes of one man with no transparency and accountability. The EU ought to support Eritrean civic organisations currently operating within the EU as they need resources for human capacity building to enable them function properly and be effective defenders of human and democratic rights as such organisations do not exist in Eritrea.
3. Strong Action: The EU should follow its demand with strong and decisive action if Eritrea fails to be governed by the rule of law and democratic principles. Instituting a travel ban to members of the Eritrean government and the ruling party would give a clear signal to the Eritrean authorities of the importance the EU places on human rights and it would also give real hope to the Eritrean people.
4. Aid and Human Rights: Development aid ought to be linked to discernable improvements in the country’s overall human rights culture, or to an agreement either for the provision of human rights training for members of the state security apparatus, or for assistance in the development of independent local human rights organisations and defenders. The Commission's allocation of €122 million in bilateral aid for 2008-2013 from the 10th European Development Fund, in the absence of any visible change or even willingness to improve human rights in Eritrea, goes against EU values and needs to be re-examined.
5. Urgent Resolution of the Border Issue: In order to remove a source of instability that has contributed towards insecurity in the entire Horn of Africa and the deterioration of human rights in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, there is a need for key members of the international community, especially the EU, to undertake sustained high-level advocacy to ensure Ethiopia’s unconditional compliance with the international ruling on the border between the two countries, and the demarcation of this border as a matter of urgency.