By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”. Ralph Nader.
It was on May 24, 1991, that the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF), entered Asmara and completely took over Eritrea after thirty years of war and destructions. At that particular time, the military regime was fighting for its life trying to negotiate for its survival with the Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF), disguised as a multi ethnic front dubbed as the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). It took another four days, after the EPLF entered Asmara, for the EPRDF to enter Addis Ababa. Although the EPLF and its propaganda machine denies it, the so called “Eritrean Independence” was made possible with the sacrifice of thousands of young Ethiopians who believed that they were fighting for justice and freedom. The EPLF organized, trained, and armed not only the TPLF, but also organizations like the EPRP, OLF, and other political organizations, to achieve its ultimate goal- to separate Eritrea from Ethiopia and rule Eritrea with an iron fist in the name of liberation.
More than any of the Ethiopian political organizations formed and assisted by the EPLF, particularly the TPLF leaders have been nothing but useful idiots to the end. The TPLF, led by EPLF’s point man Meles Zenawi, have done everything possible in its power not only to make the secession of Eritrea a reality, but also designed a political system that weakens Ethiopia in order to sustain the “development of Eritrea” at the expense of Ethiopia. At least, until November 1997, the EPLF had full control of the TPLF and the upper hand in the Ethiopian government. At one point, it was very difficult to tell if Issaias was not only the ruler of Eritrea, but also a de facto ruler of Ethiopia. Unlike any other rulers in the Ethiopian history, Meles was more devoted in destroying the harmony of the Ethiopian people and promoting EPLF’s evil agenda. As various accounts of the TPLF history indicated, Meles disappeared for a year after joining the TPLF. No one knew where he was. Most TPLF combatants believe Meles and other under him were inside-men working for the EPLF. Nonetheless, the EPLF achieved its objectives in the blood and sweat of young Ethiopians and Eritreans. Unfortunately, that objective has never been in the interest of the people of Eritrea and the “State of Eritrea”. Issaias and his cronies have ruled Eritrea for 26 years with an iron fist and with a little concern for the future of Eritrea. Eritrea experienced regress instead of progress the last 26 years.
In some of the bizarre interviews in 2012 with Al Jazeera, Issaias stated that Eritrea has less Electrical power during his reign than during the military regime; he criticized the education system of Eritrea and chastised the educators. I am not sure if it was clear to Issaias that he and his cronies have been responsible for the under development of Eritrea and for the loss and outflow of the human capital from Eritrea. The people of Eritrea have proven to the world that they are hardworking, innovative, capable, and people that only seek opportunity to do their level best. Anyone who travelled to the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and other countries can bear witness to the amazing accomplishment of Ethiopians and Eritreans alike. After 26 years under the EPLF shackles, what the Eritreans have experienced is unimaginable sufferings and brutality by an organization that is supposedly “liberated” them from tyranny. Sadly, a tyrant was replaced by another brute tyrant. The people of Eritrea who sacrificed a great deal and who for years yearned for freedom and justice are still waiting for the freedom and justice they struggled for so hard; at times however, this does not seem attainable. Eritrea has traveled backwards, and that regressive path seem to continue because Eritrea’s rulers have no vision, and most of all have no desire to relinquish power and pass on the leadership baton to the next generation. The rulers are more interested and busy in saving faces, denying the fact on the ground, and engaging in worthless propaganda to paint an image that does not exist. The world at large has witnessed the suffering of Eritreans the last 26 years more than any time in history. What happened in Lampedusa, Italy in October 2013 alone could have been the tragic event that should have made the Eritrean rulers change their political discourse. The blood spilled in Lampedusa tells a story, a tragic story of a young nation that has lost its compass. It also says a lot about Eritrea’s rulers. The world has clearly understood that the Eritrean rulers are clueless brutes who care more about their “images” than the lives lost. Sadly, when the shocked world, a world that was heartbroken by the untimely tragic death of hundreds of youngsters in Lampedusa, fleeing the government that was supposed to protect them, lowered its flags to honor their lost souls, ironically, only the Eritrean government failed to join the rest of the world.
The regime in Eritrea was too busy pointing its fingers at Eritreans in Diaspora and foreign powers accusing them luring young Eritreans to flee Eritrea which caused their untimely death. Instead of making an effort to comfort the family members who lost their loved ones and to find a way to bring the bodies back to Eritrea, the government opened a propaganda war. Only the EPLF can play the art of being a victim so well. This has been its trade mark for long years. The Eritrean rulers have been in denial and delusion for years. Although they know that the Eritrean youth does not need any incentive to leave Eritrea, accusing the victims and their real and imagined enemies seem to be the usual modus operandi for the regime. There is no objective observer in the world that could genuinely tell us that any Eritrean youth would stay in Eritrea if the “the Eritrean gates of Hell” open. For any visionary leader, this would have been a wakeup call. For any concerned leader, it would have been a time to say “never again” would our youth flee its nation fearing its own government and losing hope in the future of its nation. For the Eritrean rulers however, even this tragedy did not help them to see what is in front of them; they could not see that they have failed their nation and that they are incapable of providing leadership.
Apologists of the regime have tirelessly engaged in endless propaganda blaming the United States, Ethiopia, and the United Nations for their short comings. They could not see or don’t want to see that Eritrea is ruled by a man who lost his way at the end of the civil war; misruled by a man who is incapable of helping the nation in building democratic institutions where Eritrea and her people could flourish and prosper. The Eritrean elites too have failed the people of Eritrea in their effort to defend the indefensible. They have failed to ensure the establishment of democratic institutions, social justice, the rule of law, and a government that is accountable to its people. They have failed to expose the true nature of Issaias and the EPLF. Issaias and the EPLF have never been interested in establishing a democratic Eritrea; they have never been interested in producing leaders; they are more interested in producing followers and yes men and women. One must ask what Eritrea has to show to its citizens and the world for the last 26 years under the EPLF other than celebrating “the Eritrean independence” probably four times a year. This is like a miserable marriage that celebrates its anniversary annually to simply say “we are alright”. Eritrea, with all its resources and amazing people could have been one of the “tigers” of Africa; it could have been an economic power and a contender in the world stage. Instead, her people are desperately trying to flee the shackle that kept Eritrea and her people from moving forward.
Today in Eritrea, there should have been mourning not celebration. What do Eritreans have to celebrate? Really? After 26 years of “liberation” what do they have to show other than more misery and empty promises? Do any of my Eritrean “compatriots” remember the promise made by the EPLF and its ruler? May I remind you that when the EPLF army stood at the gate of Asmara, Issaias Afeworki promised to establish a democratic system of government; he also told Time Magazine that the people of Eritrea will have four choices during the referendum, which included Unity, Federation, Confederation, and Independence. It did not take long for these promises to end up being empty promises. On April 23, 1993, when the people of Eritrea took part in the referendum, they were given only two choices; moreover, the people of Eritrea were not given time to heal the wounds of war that they suffered. The referendum was not democratic, there was no discussion late alone a real debate. In fact, anyone who opposed the independence of Eritrea was considered as a traitor and punished severely. Even Ethiopians who opposed Eritrea’s secession were intimidated, arrested, abducted, and killed. The January 4, 1993 Addis Ababa University students’ peaceful protest against UN’s support for the referendum was dealt with brutal reaction by both the TPLF and the EPLF. Several university students were arrested and killed.
For those of us who knew the brutality of the EPLF leadership, we sounded the alarm early on; but, no one listened. Euphoria took over sound reasoning. Today, those who attempted to intimidate us and silence us are “singing” the same song we have been singing for more than 30 years. After casting his vote for the Eritrean “independence”, Issaias Afworki declared “This Mission is Accomplished”. Moreover, on the same day, he declared “The creation of democratic institutions [in Eritrea] will have priority,”. This too was an empty promise. Despite the enormous sacrifice made for freedom, justice, and the rule of law in a country called “Eritrea”, after multiple promises by the Eritrean ruler to establish a democratic system of government and a constitution that will govern the country, the EPLF became more brutal, and those who raise any questions about democratic government, constitution, or justice are considered as enemies of the State of Eritrea and dealt a harsh punishment. Even those who fought for the independence of Eritrea and spent their youth in the jungle and unforgiving desert of Eritrea are sent in the dungeon because they ask questions that people have asked for years in their private homes away from the ears of the brutal security agents of the regime.
Instead of freedom, what the dignified citizens of Eritrea got is a regime that is so brutal and so inhumane that turned their lives and the country into a living hell. After 26 years of so called “independence”, Eritrea and its people have nothing to show. Eritrea is isolated from the rest of the world and dubbed as “the North Korea of Africa”. There are more political prisoners today in Eritrea than during the military regime. People are more fearful of their government today than at any time. The people of Eritrea, particularly the youth, is fleeing Eritrea in record numbers thorough its boarder risking being shot by their own government. Young Eritreans have lost hope, the elderly are dismayed and saddened, and the freedom that they have dreamed for their children has become a nightmare.
During a meeting held in Keren, one elderly man said that the “the wedding party was great” but the marriage has been a disaster, what is important is not the wedding party, but what is happening in the marriage”. This sums it up the feeling of the majority of the Eritrean people today. Issaias Afeworki, who was once seen as “God” by many is now despised. It is heart breaking to hear from some elders when they say that “Derg was better”. This is unthinkable. I have lived in Eritrea and witnessed the condition of living in Eritrea during the military regime. I attended my fifth grade education in Dekemhaer Faith Mission. I will never forget the time spent under the bed because bulletes were ringing on the roof of our dormitory. I don’t know how many people outside of Eritrea knew that curfew in Asmara was 5:00 PM. My brothers and I were shot at when we forgot the curfew time and walked to our home after 5:00 PM. We were not asked to stop, shots were fired towards our direction. We had to run back and spent the night in a nearby school. This was a very small part of what I witnessed during one winter in Asmara. After spending a year and half in Eritrea, my brothers and I went back to Addis Ababa witnessing brutal action by both the military junta and the ELF, which was then more powerful than the EPLF. It is hard to imagine for the Eritrean people who lived under such difficult circumstances under the military junta to claim that “DERG YEHSHENA” (The military junta was better).
For the last 26 years, the Eritrean people are ruled by one man. One man holds absolute power. The people of Eritrea are concerned about what will happen to the country if Issaias die suddenly as Meles did. There is no democratic institution in Eritrea. There is neither freedom, justice, nor the rule of law in Eritrea; so where is the “liberation”? Who is liberated? The country is ruled not by one political party, but by one man. There is no decent running water even in Asmara, power outage in the country is regular, unemployment is rampant, Eritrea ranks number 16 from the bottom among the people who live below poverty line, lack of financial resources and chronic drought, restrictive economic policies, endless military service, lack of freedom and sound economic policies have made Eritrea’s future bleak. Eritrea has a command economy under the control of the sole political party. This will not change anytime soon. So what is there to celebrate?
I hate to spoil your party; but, could you please remember young Eritreans who perished in the prison of Issaias Afeworki, those who perish in the desert of Sudan, Libya, and in the Mediterranean sea; please remember who are suffering at this second in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and remember those who are selling their body parts to flee Eritrea seeking freedom and a better life. When you raise your flag and praise the unsung heroes of “the liberation movement”, ask yourself if their sacrifice is for what you have today in Eritrea. I am mindful of people I love, care about, people close to me, my relatives, and friends who are in celebratory mood commemorating the “victory” that allowed the EPLF to enter Asmara on May 24, 1991. As you raise your glass in celebration of “freedom”, I ask you to honestly examine what has been going on in Eritrea the last 26 years and ask yourself if this is what the people of Eritrea deserve. As you celebrate, I will mourn the death of countless young Eritreans caused by the EPLF; I will pray for those in prison, for the youngsters who are locked in a container in unbearable heat, the elders who are denied to practice their faith, those who are tortured and forced to witness the suffering of their loved ones. I will pray for the people of Eritrea to be Free, Truly free from injustice, poverty, and most of all free from the Iron Fist of Issaias Afeworki and his cronies. God Bless the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea; may he watch over our country, and may God unite us so we can live in peace and respect as one nation ruled by no one but governed by a government we establish with our consent!