Where to?

Six years after their illegal detentions, G-11, journalists and many other political prisoners have shown their enduring foresight and dedication.  To this day, they continue to cast a huge shadow over this brutal regime.  They continue to inflict more damage to this brutal regime in their confined cells than all the rest have done with all our freedom.

Tomorrow’s News Today

The latest US threat to blacklist Eritrea has rejuvenated some of the fighting spirit in some Eritreans.  That is good!  However, such invigorated articles tend to pop up on our radars only after the facts.  If we consider ourselves activists, we have to exert constant campaigns based on possible future events, not just past ones.

As much as I dislike quoting my past articles, we would also be unlearning if we don’t reach back to our past observations and experiences.  It is to be recalled that this writer had speculated that the US would impose sanctions against Eritrea based on the International Religious Freedom Act, and surely barely few weeks later that the US government had imposed a symbolic sanction against Eritrea.  At the time of my speculation, there were no warnings in public media that the US was contemplating such actions.

In my articles titled, ‘PIA at Crossroads’ and ‘Shocking’ both posted in January 2007, this writer had speculated that with PIA’s failure in Somalia that PIA would have to pursue other avenues within weeks to earn his Pyrrhic victory.  A week later, this writer fretted that PIA’s involvement with extreme elements in Somalia may land Eritrea on US’ blacklist.  A week later [after my article], the Ethiopian regime began accusing Eritrea for assisting extremists elements to sabotage the AU meeting in January 2007. This writer speculated based on available evidence, and not based on some accusatory headlines.

BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt of BBC News wrote in her September 08, 2007 article stating,

“Speaking at the end of a visit to neighboring Ethiopia, Miss Frazer said that Eritrea’s nasty words about the US were not a significant concern.

What had got her government’s attention was Eritrea’s actions to destabilize other countries in the Horn of Africa and, in particular, evidence that they were harboring terrorists.”

This writer had stated in his article titled “Scorched Earth” dated August 18, 2007 that,

“It isn’t PFDJ’s smear campaign that has alienated the Americans but PIA’s destructive campaign in Somalia, which may next turn to Darfur.”    

Just to avoid MISUNDERSTANDING, I am not claiming that I can tell what others are thinking or able to foretell what other will say or do [in the future].  Rather, the lesson here is that political strategies and positioning, and even wordings are limited within a given scenario and if sufficient analysis is made that one can take an educated guess.

Why bring this up [or raise the issue of predictability]?  In pursuing our campaigns to bring about change in regime, and beyond that, to embark on a road towards democracy, we have to devise clear strategies to achieve these challenging goals.  Our strategy can’t be just a patchwork of ‘let us just do something today’, esp. after the fact.

For instance, the specter of Eritrea being blacklisted loomed for some seven months. Yet, not a single writer addressed this issue.  When the US broached the possibility then we began pumping our pens on this issue.  My question is, isn’t this bandwagon politics?  Is this, ‘look, I am pushing a car going downhill’ advocacy and politics’?

After the Dr. Jendayi’s statement, I read many articles advocating for blacklisting, yet none have explained to us why we should support such a position other than to scold me and others based on their emotional rhetoric.  The only arguments are “let us seize the moment” or “Eritrean people have nothing else to lose” or “Berhan Hagos is sympathizing with the regime” type of arguments.  I have no qualms people advocating for their positions, but when provocations with no intentions to debate are added, this writer feels that such statements shouldn’t go unchallenged.  ‘Hata-hata’ politics based on today’s news is unproductive.  At least before admonishing others, debates should take place as to how such strategies can achieve our ultimate aim.  We are in the same boat, and we should row in unison if we are to achieve our ultimate aim – and unison can’t be created through browbeating.  More importantly, we should be able to anticipate actions and to form consensus much before reading them in international headlines.  The latest prospect of blacklisting is old news that we lazily woke up to this morning.  What will be the next news we will wake up to?  Well, it is being fermented today.

I have full respect for writers such as Mr. Yosef G.  Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with his views, at least, he supports his views and conclusions with clear arguments.  For most others, I can’t tell what their underlying assumptions and premises are.  A healthy debate can’t take place if writers pursue rhetoric and emotional arguments to support their views.

What are our strategies?  The question of ‘where to’ should occupy our every debates.  Going back to the question whether Eritrea should be blacklisted or not, our discussions should revert to the followings,

Question 1:  Does the opposition camp have any influence whether Eritrea is blacklisted or not?  Sorry to disappoint many, but we have absolutely no influence over that – none, zilch, nada!  US will blacklist Eritrea only based on its own interest in the region.  In fact, the only condition placed on PIA is to refrain from assisting anti-government forces in Somalia for six months (hint-hint!)  Four US embassy employees have been in detention for the last six years in PFDJ dungeons with direct adverse implications for US Embassies around the world, and yet the US hasn’t seen it fit to even pressure the Eritrean government to release them. 

Question 2:  Despite Dr. Jendayi’s recent comment that regime change would save Eritrea from blacklisting, shouldn’t the Eritrean opposition camp assume that the US Administration wants to keep PIA in his power?  US’ dilemma towards PIA is due to PIA-PMMZ rivalry, and not US’ discomfort towards PIA.  This is a love triangle in crisis.  US views PIA as a long-term ally against “extremism” in the region.  For the US, a ruthless PIA is more useful against its war against “terrorism” than [US’ current perception of] a prospective weak and fledgling democracy in Eritrea.  Convenient assumptions deflect us from asking ourselves hard questions, resulting in loss of time when we find out that our convenient assumptions haven’t worked, like the EPRDF assumptions.    

Question 3:  Some argue that advocating for blacklisting is simply a tactical decision.  No one will explain to us what that tactical purpose is.  If the purpose is to win over some opposition members from one pocket to the other pocket of the same pair of opposition pants, this is simply reshuffling with no net positive effect.  The crux of the question isn’t whether Eritrea will be blacklisted or not, which is totally outside our sphere of influence and is totally dependent on the regime’s own behavior, but if Eritrea is to be blacklisted, how will the opposition camp be able to leverage such blacklisting to advance its cause. 

Let us suppose the US blacklists Eritrea today.  The day after, those who advocated for blacklisting will take credit for a US act which they had little influence.  Two days later, the regime will launch an intense propaganda accusing these advocates for creating all the socio-economic problems in Eritrea.  Suddenly, the regime will brainwash the public that the bread lineups are exacerbated by Eritrean opposition.  The regime will convince some inside Eritrea, and significantly more outside Eritrea – the very Diaspora group we are trying to win over.

So the question becomes, if the regime is determined to be blacklisted, why not allow it to take the fall itself.  This is a prudent strategy.  Our propaganda to-date has been to lay the blame on the regime.  There is a subtle but significant difference on how we approach this issue.  Prudent politics is in being able to deflect criticism and maintain the political spotlight on the regime.  In our fruitless efforts to win over EPRDF few years back, we shifted the public focus away from the regime and on the opposition camp. We are unlearning the same experience.  Don’t give the regime any wiggling room!

Question 4:  In my view, many tend to overlook how a regime change can take place.  What are the instruments of regime change?

  1. Natural causes:  the leader is bitten by a mosquito.
  2. Public Uprising:  Based on history, people have to be subjected to utter destitution before taking matters into their own hands in dictatorial regimes.
  3. Military Coup:  the most common form in third world countries.
  4. Ethnical or revolutionary groups [internal armed struggle] – EPRDF is itself an example, Rwanda Patriotic Front is another.
  5. External Invasion:  Vietnam in Cambodia, Tanzania in Uganda, US in Iraq.
  6. Dictator comes to his senses:  Might as well play craps in Las Vegas.


Are there any regimes brought down due to financial or economic embargos in recent history?  As Mr. Yosef G. correctly observed, there are none.  North Korea suffered under massive famine and yet the public simply cowed.  The US has imposed sanctions and blacklisted Cuba for over 50 years, while 24X7 radio broadcasts were aimed against Fidel Castro.  If enough Cuban Americans walked to Key West and threw stones, they could have hit Castro, but nothing has come out of all these efforts.  The reason:  because changes can only be brought about by the above 6 actions.

The opposition camp shouldn’t just assume that because 2% isn’t flowing into the regime’s coffers that it would collapse.  It isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility that it is received large funds from countries such as Libya and Iran, and possibly China and Russia.  The question is, who benefits from US’ quagmires?  Unlike our politics that is unable to play the game of ambiguities and double games, the world is busy pursuing that – all smiles and handshakes but sharpening knives behind their backs.

Question 5:  NO ONE WILL DARE ANSWER this one, but how will blacklisting effect in regime change if the only change instruments are the above 6 actions, or are there any other change instruments that this writer missed?  In other words, is one advocating for blacklisting just for the sake of blacklisting or to trigger one of the above actions [instruments of change]?  If blacklisting is part of specific strategy then the strategy can only be to trigger one of the above actions.  Further question is, for example, can public uprising be effected simply by blacklisting or should there be sequence of events that lead to public uprising?  No one will answer that!

Question 6:  Can the opposition camp play good-cop bad-cop politics?  That would be too sophisticated for bunch of highly charged political activists.  The brutal situation in Eritrea can only bring out passionate hatred of the regime, but in pursuing our strategies, we can only use our unclouded judgments.


|                         |                              |                                              |

Regime          Mainstream             Most Eritreans                         Radical

                      Groups                                                            groups

On any given issue, on the aggregate and given the opportunity, the public takes a balanced view, which takes into account one’s safety, social, economic, political, traditional, cultural and other factors.  A dictatorial regime takes extreme positions in order to preserve its power.  [Generally speaking] in democratic societies, mainstream political organizations are closer to the public’s balanced views.   Where should Eritrean opposition place itself in this political spectrum?  In my view,

  • Radicals react to the regime’s provocations, thus will place themselves at the other end of the political spectrum.
  • Mainstream organizations always strive to place themselves in relation to the perceived position of large segment of the population.

If mainstream and radical organizations work together, they can address almost all the political spectrum to the right of the regime’s position (i.e. through good-cop, bad-cop strategy).  If mainstream and radical political groups can’t work together, they split the political spectrum and hence sharing the political spectrum with the regime.  It becomes a case of just carving out the spectrum, and thus implicitly helping the regime. 

Today’s fractured Eritrean opposition only helps the regime.  Worse is that each of the opposition groups are pursuing two goals, i.e. to bring about change AND insist on being change leaders, which each may create obstacles for the other.  It is also unrealistic to expect that every opposition party will abide by the generally accepted strategies to bring about change.  Instead, the mainstream opposition groups have responsibilities to reach out to the fringe organizations, and if within a certain period some convergence of strategies isn’t achieved, that the mainstream must abandon the fringe elements and to pursue aggressive strategies based on their own strategies and tactics.  Don’t blame the smaller groups for the failure of the larger groups!  The larger political groups are judged on their own performances.

For instance, EDP representatives visited alone the State Department.  ELF-RC representatives visited alone the State Department.  ENSF representatives visited alone the State Department.  What was the outcome?  But imagine the implicit statement that would make to the State Department if these three political organizations assigned one joint group to simply lobby and meet [as a group] State Department officials?  The message to State Department would then be that these groups can work together, rather than how bad the regime is, which the State Department knows as much as anyone else.

It is also disappointing to observe political dissenters to pursue secondary objectives at the expense of the primary objectives.  These are the types of questionable political judgments that will drive us into the ground.  If we can’t swallow our hurt feelings and stick to long-term goals, we would be creating another generation of ELF/EPLF rivalries.  The way to hell is paved with good intentions!

Question 7:  What exactly is our strategy to bring about regime change?  In my view, the opposition camp strategy is muddled.  In pursuing our strategy, there are two groups of interest for change,

  1. Diaspora audience
  2. Domestic audience


Diaspora Audience

Situation:  Diaspora Eritreans are subjected to immense propaganda from all sources.  Because they are far removed from realities in Eritrea, they may not fully grasp the dire situations in Eritrea.

Strategy:  The opposition camp shouldn’t antagonize this group in our struggle against our regime.  When we advocate for blacklisting, we are putting this group in emotional quandary – their long-distance love for their country against misperception of opposition camp’s campaigns.  We can only be effective by exposing and blaming the regime for its actions.  That can only be done by letting the regime take full responsibility for its actions. The various opposition websites and media have been effective at isolating the regime by exposing its atrocities. By isolating the regime, Diaspora Eritrea has been largely persuaded to withdraw its support of the regime. 

Domestic Audience

Situation:  Domestic audience doesn’t need be told how bad the regime it is; it is living through it.  Our propaganda based on telling them how bad the regime is doesn’t advance our cause one bit.

Strategy:   The opposition camp doesn’t have any public strategy on how to bring about change.  If external opposition groups are engaged in any clandestine activities inside Eritrea, obviously none of us would know that.  Unfortunately, we can’t assume that these opposition groups have secret activities.

Question 8:  Will we be helping the regime escape blacklisting by calling for alternative US actions?  PIA called upon Eritreans to voice their concerns to the US government.  This is called drama worthy of ‘Fetihe’do Kimr’aweki’.

First, it should be clear that the US has many other options it can pursue to deal with this repressive regime.  Blacklisting isn’t necessary.  But returning to PIA’s drama, it should NOT escape anyone that PIA doesn’t give a hoot if he is blacklisted.  The purpose of his call is simply to create schism among Diaspora Eritreans.  PIA’s drama includes advocating for mixed economy during EPLF’s 1987 Congress, the Constitution between 1994 and 1997, etc… PIA’s public speeches should be viewed as dramas only.  The PFDJ festivals are designed to create consternation among Eritrean public in Eritrea against Diaspora Eritreans.  The latest PIA call can’t be any different.  If PIA really wanted to avoid blacklisting, the US government put a very meek demand – six month of good behavior.  So why is PIA asking the Diaspora to voice their concerns when he can avoid such labeling through his own actions?  Drama! 

Public Uprising

Mr. Yosef G. is correct in his lamentation of our failure to conduct effective peaceful campaign against the regime.  But regardless of whether one advocates for peaceful, armed or any other (if it exists) methods of struggle, the most important ingredients are missing within the opposition camp, namely cohesive leadership able to work together and formulate strategies for success.  If we have any concern in Diaspora politics, it should be the lack of leadership.  Our concerns about blacklisting or any other are secondary, i.e. these only have propaganda value, but won’t build what we need – effective leadership.

Six years, or longer, into our wider campaign to bring about change remains stalled unable to weave together a patchwork ideas into a coherent political platform and plan-of-action.  The political parties act more like village brides hidden away from the public until the wedding day.

Instead of spinning our tires in sand and ‘hata-hata’ jumping on-and-off political bandwagons based on today’s political news, we have to address as to how we can bring about public uprising, which can’t take place without effective opposition leadership.

A couple of years ago, Ms. Manna of ERITV had a public discussion on the causes of the spread of AIDS in Eritrea.  Many participants raised various possible causes:  Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia, Tourists coming to Eritrea, the lack of control in bars, etc…  Every possible cause was discussed except the major reason, Warsai Yikealo Project.  Hundreds of thousands boys and girls enslaved and subjected to destitution and reckless behaviors were never mentioned.  No credible solution can be prescribed without diagnosing the problems in honest way.

The opposition camp suffers from the same convenient discussions which conspicuously avoid addressing critical but yet contentious issues.  The question remains, ‘how do you bring about change in regime?’      

  • Can a regime change be effected through negative propaganda only?  But the public [within Eritrea] is already experiencing severe hardship thus need not be told how bad his/her situation is?  So what will nudge it to act?
  • There are at least three factors that must be in place to bring about change,
    • The public must want change, and that happened long time ago in Eritrea,
    • The public must feel reassured that change doesn’t mean worse chaos,
    • The public can only rally behind credible and recognizable leaders who engage in reassuring the public.  The second point above [avoiding chaos] can be addressed by choosing credible leaders and platforms.
    • Who are the most likely group to engage in public uprising?
      • Most likely, the uprising will be instantaneous rather than organized.
      • Some 80% of the population lives in rural areas.  They are spread out and most unlikely to participate in instantaneous uprising.
      • Most likely, the uprising can only be effected by the following groups,
        • Warsai Yikealo, who are continuously shuffled and reshuffled,
        • Tegadelti, who must reassured of what change bring about,
        • Other segments, who also need some reassurance,


The key factors for effecting successful uprising are as follows [to reiterate],

  • Coherent leadership with symbolic leader able to reach out to key components of instruments of change,
  • Realistic political policies and platforms that are publicly communicated to the instruments of change,


Our difficulties in launching our effective peaceful methods of struggles are that we don’t have leaders.   All coherent and effective strategies and actions flow from effective leadership – not from patchwork of ‘let us do something’.  Once a unified leader is elected, our responsibility is to provide our undivided allegiance to the unified leader.  If we become second-guessers, arm-chair critics and amateur analysts based on couple of books we read or some experience thirty years ago, we will never get to our destination.

Final Thought on Blacklisting

In her press interview, Dr. Jendayi appeared almost apologetic in possibly labeling the regime.  She said something like, it is a process independent of the administration.  It appears to me that this is less than the full honesty.  The administration has full influence on the outcome.

The US administration can impose various sanctions without resorting to blacklisting.  For instance,

  1. Why hasn’t the US administration taken further sanctions based on the International Religious Freedom Act which requires the US Administration to take concrete actions?
  2. There other avenues the US Administration can pursue without blacklisting,
    1. ERITV satellite broadcasts contain many copyrighted materials?  A couple of legal actions costing a couple millions in legal fees and that satellite broadcast would go bust.
    2. PFDJ continues to collect fees on transfer of funds from the US without paying the appropriate taxes in the US.
    3. The various Eritrean community centers in the US are registered as charitable organizations and must engage in activities consistent with various laws. Send some FBI guys to check them out. 
    4. There are many other actions that can be taken.


What will happen in the next few months?

It is quite obvious to everyone as to what PIA’s actions will be in the next few months.  PIA doesn’t any other choice but to pursue his Armageddon against PMMZ.  PIA WILL escalate his Somalia and Sudan campaigns, which in turn will unfortunately land Eritrea on the US blacklist.  PIA knows that and is even taunting that labeling – because he doesn’t have any other choice.  PIA only lesson from the thirty war struggle for independence is that “Might is Right” and that the world sides with the “winning side”.  Thus, winning can only be the objective.

It is a race against time because:

  1. Financing external anti-government forces will never be cheap.  Although PIA receives external financing from all the rogue regimes and any other country that has vested interested in weakening the US, yet without any tangible results and the risk of long-term involvement, funds will begin to dry up.
  2. The longer TFG regime stays in power, the more likely the hodge-podge Somali anti-government forces may fracture.  Conversely, the longer TFG remains in power with Ethiopian backing, the more entrenched it may become.  Naturally, the anti-government forces will notch up their violent acts in Mogadishu to create the illusions of chaos and insecure government in Mogadishu.
  3. Saudi King’s involvement in Somalia is a major breakthrough for the TFG government – which undoubtedly is due to the US influence.  Regardless, few millions of petrodollar flowing into Mogadishu can probably do more damage to the anti-opposition forces than TFG security sweeps.
  4. PIA’s Sudan card is complex.  PIA’s assistance to the Darfur rebels may receive Khartoum’s approval in a twisted game of politics.  Khartoum’s ultimate aim can only be ridding the UN/AU force in Darfur, which can only be achieved by fermenting chaos in Darfur through the rebels.  


The crux of the current political situation is that PIA has no choice but to pursue his Pyrrhic victory.  As for me, the burning question remains, what is eating this guy up so much that he has no choice but to pursue win-or-lose destructive path?


Just for refresher, Machiavelli’s guiding principles are,

  1. Never show humility; arrogance is far more effective when dealing with others.
  2. Morality and ethics are for the weak; powerful people feel free to lie, cheat, and deceive whenever it suits their purpose.
  3. It is much better to be feared than loved.


Release All Political Hostages Immediately!

Hijiwin Ab Metkelna!

Kem Wetru Awet NHafash!

Berhan Hagos

September 20, 2007

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