Editor’s note: This piece is written by one of our guest contributors.
by David Elias
In the poorly written drama that is Eritrean politics, this is the time of the year when the dictator of Eritrea—the omniscient Isaias Afeworki—will start clogging the airwaves in the impoverished nation with longwinded tales of his regime’s “monumental success in all endeavors against all odds.” If tradition is any guide, president Isaias will once again spend ridiculously long hours of airtime to bend the ears of his subjects with tales of mostly apocryphal success stories in spite of, as it were, “the shenanigans of the powers that be” in which the CIA and the US Administration invariably plays the central destabilizing role in Eritrea. Listening to any of his marathon monologues, he would most certainly sound like a philosopher king proffering advice on how to address the ills of the world at large than an unhinged leader of a tiny impoverished nation teetering on the brink of total collapse. It has become almost a ritual for Isaias to make promises year after year without so much as the slightest of worries about his regime’s utter failure, year after year, to make good on even a fraction of the promises made the previous year.
According to the assessment of the president himself and the small coterie of close confidantes that comprise the inner circle of the PFDJ, the year 2016 was an unqualified success in many ways. Eritrea has had a bumper harvest and a significant increase in crop yields thanks largely to the efficacy of the ‘agricultural policies of the PFDJ’ with the caveat that ‘Abajigo’-or God- had some supporting role by way of good rainy season. That there is no such a thing as ‘agricultural policies’ in Eritrea other than the mostly rather whimsical measures borne out of the President’s fertile imagination is of course inconsequential in a country where every nonsense he utters is a stroke of genius.
The second success story in the economic arena, according to the PFDJ inner circle’s generous assessment, has to do with the salary raise the regime claims to have implemented in the year 2016. This they would have us believe is the magic wand that has gone a long way in addressing the myriad of pressing economic hardships that Eritreans have long faced. The self-congratulatory tone of such a positive assessment however belies the widespread despondence that has been gripping Eritreans of all walks of life who are stampeding to leave their country in droves often at the risk of being shot to death. That the regime has even brought itself to take such measures of window dressing could have counted for a step in the right direction if it wasn’t for the fact that whatever salary raise was promised or implemented is a far cry from the kind of sweeping measures required to elevate the members of the military service slightly from their current state of affairs to the status at least of indentured slaves.
The third area of ‘success’ of the PFDJ regime in the year 2016 was, ironically, the introduction of the new Naqfa notes and the subsequent imposition of strict limits on the amount of money depositors could withdraw from banks. It defies ordinary logic how such a measure would be even remotely considered a success when it has become abundantly clear that it is anything but. In fact, no other measure in the year 2016 has resulted in the functional impoverishment of even those Eritreans who had hitherto been considered well off by Eritrean standards. The measure was ostensibly taken to ensure macro-economic stability in Eritrea. In a way that such a seemingly normal claim was made by a regime that is known to be allergic to normal behavior in every field was something of a surprise. But it soon became obvious that the regime was far from mending its old ways of turning green with envy whenever it spotted a few cases of uncontrolled riches in some quarters of the society. In fact, by limiting the amount of money that can be withdrawn from banks by depositors, the regime successfully managed to emasculate even those, to Isaias’ chagrin, were able to create a semblance of wealth in the face of odds of adversities against entrepreneurship and independent spirit gleefully authored by the regime’s daylight robbers.
But there was also another twist to such a measure by the regime. Its misinformation units went as far as to circulate rumors that this was indeed an effort by the regime to get at human traffickers and corrupt officials whom the people of Eritrea had long known to have milked the society dry in an organized campaign to line their pockets at the expense of helpless Eritreans. This was a wishful thinking at best or a deliberate ruse by the regime at worst for it has always been patently clear that the very people who were entrusted with implementing such so called anti corruption measures were the very corrupt officials who have perfected government sanctioned theft into an art form. It would require something of a stretch to assume that the likes of Tekle Manjus would one day find it in their heart to fight tooth and nail against corruption and human trafficking when it has all along been obvious even to the President himself that these people were profiteering from the very activities they are supposed to fight against. Eritrean generals know where their breads are buttered and profiteering from, not fighting against official corruption appeals to their good senses. So ultimately, helpless subjects of the regime were the ones who had to bear the brunt of the very misguided measures that had been touted as magical solutions to their problems.
It is obvious that the regime in Asmara does not have the appetite to meaningfully address the people’s genuine concern-be they economic, social or political. It is more interested—and seems to have succeeded so far—in maintaining an iron grip on its subjects even if absolute impoverishment of the entire population is what it takes. That hundreds of thousands have left their beloved country often risking their lives in and outside Eritrea is a mere statistics to president Isaias and his sycophantic yes-men within the PFDJ. That Eritrea has earned the dubious honor of becoming the source of the largest number of refugees per capita in the world is a minor irritant to the regime and its dwindling supporters—a deliberate effort by the ‘historic enemies of Eritrea’, notably the United States of America, which the PFDJites would have us believe have been straining every nerve and muscle to effect regime change. The central element of the assessment by the inner circle of the PFDJ is that things are improving within Eritrea; the economy is working, the people are benefitting and the prospects for the future very bright. The subtext is that those who are leaving the country by their thousands at the behest of the CIA’s plot to drain Eritrea out of its youth will regret it; that the regime’s detractors better think twice; and the self-reliant Eritrea is proving its critics wrong. As Americans say, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke! This small cabal has indeed developed a level of imperviousness to reality so much so it has the temerity to tell impoverished Eritreans that their lives has become the envy of the rest of the world. Ironically, one of the recommendations by the inner circle of the PFDJ for the year 2017 to be another successful year is to further strengthen the very inner circle of PFDJ that has created all the problems in the country in the first place. If there have been any misguided supporters entertaining the hope of any kind of political reform, they are definitely in for disappointment.
With the regime’s penchant for superlatives in full display, we will soon be treated to lengthy lecture of wisdom by the philosopher king of Eritrea in the coming few days. Unless, that is, he proves to be too physically weak to proffer his unsolicited advice to a world that he seems to believe is eagerly awaiting his stroke of genius.
The inner circle of PFDJ’s self-deception, however, doesn’t stop there. It also relates at length its ‘success stories’ in its diplomatic efforts. The regime has few hired guns treating it to an unhealthy dosage of contrived evidence to this end that is further feeding such a dangerous illusion. These and what the Eritrean president will most likely tell his people I believe deserve a separate treatment and I will do just that in my next article.