Note to our readers: Below find part 2 on Eritrea’s philosopher king. Please let us know your thoughts.
In my previous article, I have tried to set the record straight on the self congratulatory assessment of the state of Eritrean economy made by the small cabal of pro-Isaias henchmen that forms the inner circle of the PFDJ regime. I have tried and pointed out that what these fugitives from Eritrean reality are try to sell to their helpless subjects is that despite the suffering the people undergo day in and day out, the situation in Eritrea is in fact changing for the better and that the year 2017 has more good news in store for Eritreans. One can bet one’s life that this contrived rosy picture is what the philosopher king of Asmara will will be trying to shove down the throats of jaded viewers of EriTv within a day or two. If anything, he will add for good measure some harsh scolding of Eritreans who might have doubts, because they know better than Isaias’ empty promises–that Eritrea is indeed making wonders in every field of endeavor-economic as well as diplomatic.
CONSPICUOUSLY MISSING IN ALL THIS ROSY ASSESSMENT THOUGH IS THE STATE OF POLITICS. NO CONSTITUTION NO NOTHING BECAUSE SUCH ISSUES ARE ANATHEMA FOR A REGIME THAT HAS BEEN POSTPONING THE ADOPTION OF EVEN A SEMBLANCE OF NORMAL BEHAVIOUR BECAUSE ERITREA’S SURVIVAL AS A STATE HAS BEEN IN DANGER NOT BECAUSE OF ETHIOPIA–IT IS TOO SMALL FOR ISAIAS’ EGO-BUT BECAUSE OF AMERICA AND ITS CRONIES. MORE ON THAT LATER.
The most rosy-and as much outrageous-of the assessment however has to do with what the cabal would have Eritreans believe the regime has achieved by way of diplomatic miracles in its frantic efforts to ‘bring Eritrea in from cold’, a campaign that has seen a lineup of shameless lobbyists whose evidence free analyses of a changed and well behaving regime thus playing directly into the unrealistically optimistic mindset of a regime steeped in the culture of counting its chickens, as it were, well before the eggs are hatched.
The self serving assessment of the PFDJ’S Inner circle about the regime’s ‘monumental success’ in its diplomatic endeavors is particularly very interesting in terms more of what the cabal did not include in their discussions than what they did in the final output of their deliberations. There is little wonder of course that the usual mantra about a renewed partnership with the EU was the mainstay of the self congratulatory note. It is to be recalled that the European Union has been flirting for quite some time now with the idea of an economic rapprochement with the regime in Asmara on condition that president Isaias is willing to take some symbolic steps by way of palliative. The EU leaders have been pushing this agenda as part of their desperate effort to stem the tide of migration from this impoverished nation. The EU position was misguided not only because the regime in Asmara often reneged on many of the promises it made to the Europeans as a condition for the thawing of relations including their much touted agreement to restore two year term limits to national service members who are living under virtual slavery. In the time honored tradition of president Isaias’ in-your-face approach, Yamane Gebreab was embarrassed by his own leader when the latter told the Europeans that none of the measures put as conditions was in the cards despite Yamane’s promises to the Europeans.
The EU’s approach is also patently misguided mainly because Eritrea’s migrant problem has little if any to do with lack of employment opportunities in Eritrea as significant as that problem is. Eritreans of all age group are stampeding to leave their country because of the indefinite slavery to which they are condemned by the unhinged leadership of Isaias Afeworki. Eritrea has long since become the largest open air jail in the world where a deranged leader is experimenting with a crude form of social engineering that is aimed at achieving a totalitarian control of all walks of Eritreans lives. While the EU still finds it difficult to wholly abandon the idea of rapprochement with the thugs in Asmara-haunted as they are by the surge of right wing populism riding the storm of anti-migrant activism-there is every indication that this long drawn out process still is a long way off thanks in large measure to president Isaias’ proclivities to pull the rug out of his lieutenants’ feet at the moment when diplomatic victory seems all but near at hand. To the extent, therefore, that there is any prospect of success in the near future–and I very much doubt there is-it has to do with Europe’s desperation in the face of an increasingly alarming migrant problem than any meaningful effort by the likes of Yemane Monkey. For, after all, president Isaias has proved time and again to have no stomach for any arrangement diplomatic or otherwise that even remotely appears to herald something good for the people of Eritrea. It is as if he has made it his sole vocation to sabotage any prospect of success by his closest advisors only to spite his own people.
President Isaias’s cabal also claims to have made significant inroads into ending Eritrea’s isolation, or “bringing Eritrea in from cold” as its hired guns the other side of the Atlantic refer to as their insurmountable task of trying to sanitize a regime wallowing in dirt up to its neck. Unfortunately for them, however, there is literally nothing to show for this rather empty self-congratulation.
Let’s look at this particular claim closely. Eritrea after its independence in 1993 had a roster of almost normal bilateral relations with a not-so-short list of bilateral relations despite president Isaias’ rather brash attitude towards anything normal-including his condescending views about Asmarinos who have the unforgivable misfortune of never having had a Sahel experience. Nevertheless, no sooner was Eritrea declared independence than it unleashed its exceptionally precocious capacity to make enemies out of literally all of its neighbors. To top it all, the regime launched a war of aggression against its closest and most consequential neighbor-Ethiopia. Its diplomatic relations has been going south ever since. That the regime has long since lost any saving grace not only among the international community but also among Eritreans at large has been all too palpable.
At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, the number of official visits the Eritrean dictator has made the last fifteen or so years would betray the extent to which Eritrea has been isolated from an international community largely vocal against its almost visceral rejection of any sense of normalcy. In fact, the last engagement the regime in Asmara managed to make that remotely looked like a diplomatic initiative ironically coincided with president Isaias’ rather ill advised decision to lift a decade old self imposed ban on attendance in the UN General Assembly in the year 2011. As Shabait.com proudly announced that “President Isaias [had] held extensive consultations with the leaders of Vanuatu and Tuvalu on ways of further enhancing their bilateral relations”. Whatever transpired during those inspirational meetings is anybody’s guess. But one thing was clear then and has been so since; that such moves were part of Isaias’ hapless diplomats’ desperate efforts to pull off some publicity stunt aimed at massaging the dictator’s ego. As the saying goes, though, a pig with a lipstick is still pig.
Whatever the self congratulation by president Isaias’ inner circle, the number of countries Eritrea’s leaders have had more or less normal relations with are few and far between including the ones to which the philosopher king is rushed for emergency medical procedures which is quite often. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar and, of course, Egypt: no more, no less. In the bigger scheme of things in the world of diplomacy, such an abysmally short list of countries with whom to transact diplomatically is nothing to write home about. In spite the Cabal’s self serving assessment about Eritrea’s coming out of isolation, the reality nonetheless is that even those few countries who seem to find it normal to pretend to have normal relations with Eritrea have often held the regime in Asmara with a level of respect only befitting a junior partner at best and, at worst, as, to borrow a phrase from Lenin, a useful idiot.
Even that list is dwindling, however. Qatar seems to have fallen out with the regime as the ever more frequent trip of president Isaias to Cairo appears to suggest. That there is no love lost between Qatar and Egypt is all too obvious. If the suspension of Qatari airlines flight to Asmara is any guide–and it certainly is–the regime in Asmara is in much deeper shits than is normally assumed. The Saudis have accorded not so much a semblance of respect to the regime as a lukewarm attitude towards an errant neighbor. Despite the regime’s bravado about self reliance and complete disavowal of any kind of alliance with others military or otherwise, its dalliance with Saudi Arabia and the UAE has consistently been one of obsequiousness and all too shameless willingness to hire its resources for sale. That the regime out of desperation has entered a Faustian deal with two middle eastern countries given to punching above their weight in regional geopolitical engagements will by no stretch of imagination count for a diplomatic success to be flaunted in public.
All these leaves the regime with only one seemingly reliable partner to speak of, namely Egypt. Unfortunately for the choreographers of this poorly written PFDJ drama, Egypt is only counting on Eritrea as a cheaper candidate to undertake the former’s ill designs against Ethiopia. The regime in Asmara has, true to form, displayed and all too troubling eagerness to hire its services for the highest bidder. This wouldn’t be much in a situation where the other candidates willing to be in the service of the Egyptians are the very alphabet soup of so called Ethiopian rebel movements and terrorist outfits that the PFDJ cabal has been busy churning out year in and year out. As the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi once humorously quipped, even in Mercato, you don’t sell a single item twice. Isaias has proved himself capable of outdoing even the most unprincipled crooks unworthy of respect in Mercato. As a compatriot from the Eritrean diaspora once observed, Isaias is only repeating in style what a fellow Eritrean highlander, Ras Bayru’u 150 years ago did to spite the then emperor of Ethiopia Yohannes IV: offer his services to Rattib Pasha, the Egyptian prince in Massawa sent by khedive Ismail to avenge the loss of the Egyptian invaders at Gura. RAttib Pasha gladly declined the offer leaving Ras Bairu’u to enter the annals of Ethiopia-Eritrean history as someone who gave betrayal a bad name. It remains to be seen President Al Sisi joins RAttib Pasha in taking the high road than soiling his reputation in a worthless deal with a regime that has long lost its bearings even to defend himself; much less to carry the Anti-Ethiopia mission to success.
The regime has been consistent to a fault in its almost knee jerk reflex to espouse patently unpatriotic overtures in its engagements with the rest of the world; a behavior that obviously flies full in the face of the quintessentially Eritrean pride in overcoming odds through fortitude and perseverance. Of course, this is the kind of exceptionalism that the regime in Asmara would have Eritrean people believe the promotion and protection of which it has been paid exorbitant price for in its confrontational relations with the west. And as I mentioned earlier, what is conspicuously missing in the narrow circle’s contrived success stories is what many Eritreans-including its gullible supporters–would like to hear: the regime’s plans for political reform. Although mentioned in passing, the PFDJ cabal didn’t dwell at length on its much advertised “resolute rebuff against the ill-wills of Woyane” either. This is not an oversight however. These three points, namely–the regime’s mind-boggling visceral tendency to antagonize Eritrea’s own national interest; its all too noisy silence on the question of political reform and its deliberate whitewash of its vulnerability in the face of even the least serious of attacks by Woyane–will be the focus of my next article. While I am at it, I will also try and take stock of the frantic efforts of pro-PFDJ lobbyists who are entrusted with the Sisyphean burden of normalizing a regime that has consistently proved allergic to normalcy.