Why are Eritreans stoic to Esayass brutality?
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Why are Eritreans stoic to Esayass’ brutality?

Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, March 29, 2017

Isaias Afwerki president of Eritrea

Eritrea is on a slippery slope and large numbers of its citizens have been escaping to Ethiopia, Sudan and Europe to elude economic hardship and inexorable political repression. Since the conclusion of the border conflict with Ethiopia, life in the tiny Red Sea state has turned out to be harsh, intolerable and unremitting. Amnesty International reported that there are at least 10,000 political prisoners locked-up in several Eritrean jails including freight containers in Embatkala and Eraeiro where temperatures can easily reach 50 degrees Celsius.

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And among these prisoners are Haile Weldenseae and Peteros Solomon, who were polite-bureau members of the EPLF and G-15 ‘reformist’ group that challenged President Esayass’ to relinquish power and allow multi-party democracy. Since their incarceration in 2001, they have not had any form of contact with their immediate families and the outside world, and never been to court to face charges.

In 2010, Eyob Bahta, a former prison guard, told AFP reporter in Ethiopia that six of the prisoners including former Vice President Mahamoiud Sherifo, Military Chief-of Staff Oqbai Abraha, Asther Fisehatsion, Germano Nati, Hamid Hinmid and Salih Kekya were no longer alive. The ex-guard also stated that Haile Weldenseae, former Foreign Minister, is gravely ill and has lost his sight while in prison. Together with Esayass, these people were involved in killing their own comrades during the liberation struggle and after independence but never occurred to them that one day they would be on the receiving end of the brutal dictator’s cruelty.

Andebrhan Weldegiorigis, the previous head of Eritrea’s central bank and ex-ambassador to EU said ‘’ Eritrea has become an earthly hell, an earthly inferno for its people, and that’s way they are taking such huge risks to their personal lives to escape the situation ’’ (Source: the guardian, Thursday 10 September 2015). According to Meron Estefanos, Eritrean human rights activist, around 5000 Eritreans enter Ethiopia every month paying senior government officials up to $ 5000 each( the guardian, Tuesday 21 April 2015).

In total, there are nearly 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers in camps located in various parts of Tigrai, Northern Ethiopia. Andebrhan Welde Giorgis stated in his book that families whose adult children have fled the country are given a choice between detention or paying-up ERN 50, 000 per child (Eritrea At A CrossRoads, page 251).What is very worrying for Ethiopia is that, out of these, 82,000 have disappeared and nobody knows their present whereabouts (Source: UNHCR article, 2 February, 2016). Could some of these be Shabiya’s spies operating in different parts of Ethiopia such as Gonder, Oromia, Gambella and Benshangul?       

In 2015, 380,000 refugees arrived in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean  Sea and out of these were Eritreans( 8%), Syrians (50%), Afghans (13%) and the remaining were from Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan (the guardian Thursday 10 September 2015). Unfortunately, not all Eritreans make it to their intended destinations safely. On 3 October 2013, 366 Eritreans perished off the Italian Island of Lampedusa, and two years later, more than 800 of them died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.

With all the dangers posed by the high seas, Eritreans have not been deterred from taking risks, in fact, they seem to be determined more than ever to get away from the horrific situation in their country. Lately, the flow of refugees has dramatically increased due to the intensification of the unrelenting suppression. Last year, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (UNCIHRE) reported that ’’ crimes against humanity which includes torture, rape and murder have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner in Eritrean detention facilities, military training camps, and other locations across the country over the past 25 year.’’  UNICHRE recommended the use of International Criminal Court to prosecute those that committed atrocities against their own people.

Not only is the oppressive political situation becoming unbearable; living conditions have also become intolerable. The East African nation gained its independence after 30 years of brutal struggle resulting in the loss of 100,000 lives in addition to the 700,000 that were forced to flee their country. And after all the suffering, Eritreans now line up in long queues for a single stale loaf of bread as well as milk and other essential commodities.

According to the UN’s World Food Programme, between 2011 and 2013, 60% of Eritreans were undernourished and the estimate now would certainly be far higher than it was a few years ago. Recent WHO report stated that over 50% of the population live below poverty line and this has forced hundreds and thousands of Eritreans to enter Ethiopian under the hail of bullets. Some say they walk for four to five hours a day travelling 10 hours each night to reach the country that they fought for 30 years to secede.     

Power outage in Eritrea is a daily occurrence and its biggest plant, Hirgigo, can only generate 132 MW electricity for nearly 5 million Eritreans. This is indicative of the absence of economic progress in Eritrea since it separated from Ethiopia nearly 26 years ago. A new independent state had been established but the situation in the pariah nation has turned out to be infinitely worse than it was during the time of Hailesellasie and the Derg.

Ethiopia on the other hand, has been altered from a perpetual famine stricken country into the 4th largest economy in sub-Sahara Africa thanks to the Woyane led government that assumed power in May 1991. In three years, Ethiopia’s hydro-energy production is expected to hit 17,346 MWs. The exceptional socio-economic gains in the hub of the Horn region has exposed the utter failure and inadequacies of Shabiya which promised to make Eritrea the ‘Singapore’ of Eastern Africa. Instead it has turned out to be the ‘North Korea’ of the continent in terms of its sheer brutality and severe repression.  

All along the stratagem had been to exploit Ethiopia’s resources and make Eritrea an exporter of finished goods to neighbouring countries and beyond. Not long after the widespread and orchestrated robbery was halted, the Eritrean President invaded Ethiopian land foolishly believing that this would compel the government to reverse its decision and allow the theft to continue. Ethiopia called his bluff, and in just two years, not only was the Eritrean army routed, a large portion of the country came under the firm control of Ethiopian Defence Forces. Eritrea has not recovered since and Esayass said: ‘’ ….the problem with Ethiopia had affected every aspect of our lives; our political process overall has been held hostage because of this.’’ (Source: New York Times, Oct 16, 2007)

This assertion is by and large correct but it is excessively being used as an excuse to prolong his repressive regime. Esayass is happy for the status quo to linger because he knows that he can’t survive in an open political system where accountability and respect for the rule of law is the norm. The Eritrean President invariably raises the border issue to justify arbitrary arrest, torture as well as denial of freedom of the press, expression, religion and institution of multi-party democracy. The no war, no peace stalemate also applies to Ethiopia but the country has been recording double-digit economic growth since the war came to an end. 

So why are Eritreans not coming together to discard their oppressor? What more must Esayass do to make the people raise up against his rule? Is it credible to believe that in his absence Eritrea would simply collapse and fall into the hands of Islamic extremists? Shouldn’t the Eritreans be worried by the fact that part of their land is now occupied by Saudi Arabia the exporter of a virulent form Sunni Islam for a small change? Why are the opposition political parties easily manipulated by Esayass based on religion, ethnicity and regional bases? Can they not identify and expel Shabiya spies as well as those corrupt members from their midst? When will they leave their differences behind and form a joint front to liberate their people from the murderous regime?         

It appears that the elimination of the autocrat by forces from with-in is definitely looking increasingly unlikely. Most Eritreans at home seem to invest most of their time plotting their exit instead of focusing on getting rid of their tormentor. In any case, Esayass would not shed tears if they were to leave home en masse because their departure substantially reduces the threat to his authority. Furthermore, their escape would ensure the flow of desperately needed remittance once they have settled as refugees in various EU countries.

There is no hope of the high stratum of the Eritrean army initiating a coup against their boss because they have been highly implicated in corruption, human trafficking, torture, contraband and murder by UNCIHRE. It is hardly surprising that they want him to remain at the helm because they know full well that if he was to depart there wouldn’t be a hiding place for them. More ever, hundreds and thousands of Eritreans who could have posed serious challenges to the oppressive regime have been involuntarily congregated in Sawa concentration camp with no prospect of leaving the indefinite slave labour site. There was a half-hearted mini-coup attempt in January 2013 but it was easily crashed by Esayass’ henchmen.  

All eyes are now on the disparate diaspora opponents of the regime but they do not seem to have a visionary leader with a clear strategy that can accelerate the collapse of the autocratic rule. Eritrean people have had enough of being subjected to the most barbaric form of repression and waiting for a divine intervention is not what they are expecting.

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