A nation plundered

Twenty one years after independence, Eritrea is a nation plundered morally, economically, socially and legally. I will spare my readers from repeating what other cyber writers have eloquently covered.

Nevertheless, it is important to repeat some of the golden words spoken by PIA in the last twenty one years.

 Just before independence, PIA stated in one interview that some supporters advised him to follow Pol Pot’s Cambodia as a model to lead the emerging nation of Eritrea. It is to be remembered that Pol Pot drove out nearly all the educated to the countryside and murdered over 2 million of its own people. What did PIA then do? Twenty one years later, Eritrea is a reflection of Cambodia.

 During the early years of independence, PIA lectured fellow Africans and others who cared to listen to his tired lectures that the main cause of corruption in Africa is that the salaries of civil servants are not commensurate with the cost of living. In his independence speech of 2001, PIA put corruption and AIDS as the most threatening challenges ahead of external threats. What did PIA then do? PIA planted “national servicemen” into the civil service with no salaries, with predicable results!

 CIA as the bogeyman – PIA’s favourite comment used to be that the Arabs always blamed Israelis even when they failed in school. What did PIA then do? Blame CIA for every of the regime’s mess – for mass migration of Eritrean youths, collapse of the Eritrean economy and the collapse of the rule of law in Eritrea. What next, whenever the sewage lines in Asmara are blocked to blame it on CIA?

Today’s Eritrea is about fear and worship of one man! Emperor Haileselassie is alleged to have said that Ethiopia needs Eritrean land, not its people! It is ironic that it is PIA and PFDJ that are making this happen.

For many of us, Eritreanism is NOT about lowlander or highlander, or about this ethnic or that ethnic, or ELF or EPLF, or rich or poor. Eritreanism is not about false and superficial super-nationalism. Eritreanism is about being compassionate, fairness, equality, liberty, justice and hard work. A true Eritrean loses sleep over the thousands of young people who are being eating up the Mediterranean Sea, those being butchered in Sinai desert and for the mothers such as Aster Yohannes who is separated from her four children because PIA needs his vendetta.

As many have already done, this writer has long stopped listening to PIA’s interviews. Many of us now rely on other people’s condensed summary of PIA’s interviews to get a glimpse into the purpose of the interview. These are irrelevant interviews – the messages are always the same, that “Eritrea” has achieved a lot but still is small compared to the challenges that remain ahead. The political analysis, both internal and external, is idealistic and propagandistic that is totally boring. For supporters of PIA, they hang on to every word even if it is abusive towards them. For the opposition, his words are invariably lies and false hopes. No one ever changes their position because of PIA’s interviews. The golden words lost their shine long time ago.

Rule of law vs. Democracy

Strictly speaking, these two concepts are inter-related but not synonymous. Democracy exists to ensure the rule-of-law, but the rule-of-law may exist in different systems of government. The political challenge in campaigning for democracy is that the focus is on political power. Instead, the campaign should be to institute and protect the rule-of-law.

PIA and his latest spokesperson, Thomas Mountain (or is it the Valley of Lies) replacing Asmara Rose, tell us that nobody teaches Eritrea what democracy should look like. In reality, the burning question isn’t whether Eritrea is democratic or if it needs to learn about democracy from the West, but that the deeply entrenched Eritrean values of the rule-of-law has been trampled. For thousands of years Eritreans lived under well-developed traditional laws only to lose them during PFDJ years. Thousands of Eritreans are in PFDJ dungeons without the due process of the law. It isn’t about whether is democratic but that today’s Eritrea is a lawless country – a total anomaly in thousands of years of our history.

KUDOS to Assenna.com

Assenna.com took some severe criticism for speculating on the possible the demise of PIA due to health issues. Even the editors of assenna.com themselves took pain to explain their reports after the reappearance of PIA. It need not have been! Among some of the critics, let us start with the two most political opportunists,

 Meskerem.net – posted images of supposedly the opposition camp stepping on peeled banana to express its gratification on the reappearance of PIA and the opposition being proven wrong. In reality, it was Meskerem.net’s that stepped on a huge peeled banana for the way it campaigned for Mr. Naizghi Kiflu without any success, which is obvious to even the most ignorant in politics. One hundred five (105) days later, it is meskerem.net that had to take down its “counter” as many within the opposition had predicted, without even having PIA respond to its efforts. In the process, meskerem.net only managed to expose its political naïveté and its politics of blind vengeance. In contrast, PIA had to respond to assenna.com’s excellence in journalism.
 Alena – despite being a gifted writer with many potential, Alena dismissed the possible report of death as PFDJ propaganda. Why attribute such an interesting drama to the works of the regime?

The other interesting fact is that, if true, according to PIA, he found out about the rumors about his demise from his wife. If so, this indicates that his advisors filter information given to him possibly out of fear of severe repercussion. These are the dangers of surrounding oneself with ‘yes men’ who hide the ‘truth’ from their masters leading to the masters living in an isolated bubble.

In general, it is disappointing to see that the very same day that the PIA reappeared on EriTV, the opposition turned this momentous event into non-event, with opposition parties and, especially, cyber writers returning to their old and tired politics of opposition internal politics, and tired themes of ‘how bad’ PIA is or other divisive topics. No one ever attempted to analyze the latest episode. There should have been deep discussion what the lessons are and how this can be incorporated into our campaign rather than dismiss it outright. But again, we suffer a constipation of ideas.

The Question is, Was Assenna.com correct in speculating whether PIA had died? The answer is, without a doubt, Assenna.com is absolutely correct and shouldn’t stop from speculating. Below are four factors to examine:

(First Factor) The formula is: Required Information = Publicly Available Information + Speculation

Required Information is any information that the public needs to know in order to plan and decide about their futures. Wittingly or unwittingly, we all make decisions about our futures based on what happens around us. As students, we want to know what the future holds for us, such as youth employment, field of study for best marketability, etc…. As parents, we plan about our nest eggs (retirement, etc…) as well as about our children. As investors, we want to know what the present and future investment climate is, whether there is a rule of law, etc… As employers, as employees, whatever our roles are in our societies are, we try to bring stability and predictability to our future. In order to reach at that decision, we need constant public information to make informed decisions. REQUIRED INFORMATION IS MADE UP OF:

 PUBLICLY AVAILABLE INFORMATION – in seeking information to make future decisions, we constantly examine the social, economic, legal and political situations in a country we live in. The most important component of the publicly available information is the workings of the political institutions which affect every aspect of individuals’ lives. The more factual information available in the public domain through some form of ‘Freedom of Information and Access to Government Documents’ or “Sunshine Laws”, the more the public can make informed decisions.
 Speculation – this is a residual factor. The more public information is available publicly the less the speculation. In authoritarian societies where everything is a secret, speculation is bound to be rampant. This is a fact of life! Authoritarian leaders attempt to clamp down on speculation through espionage rings, circulating their own false information, etc… but eventually can not defeat speculation. Instead, speculation eventually erodes confidence in the regime leading to its inevitable downfall.

It is up to the government to reduce speculation by making information available to the public. For instance, Donald Trump started speculation about President Obama’s place of birth, and the only way to extinguish this speculation was to reproduce birth documents. The speculation of the disappearance of PIA could only be extinguished through his appearance. One can not wish way or ignore speculation other than to respond through factual representation.

Second factor we should differentiate is between PUBLIC INFORMATION and PRIVATE INFORMATION.
 Public Information is information that should be available to the public in order for the public to make informed decisions. If the actions of an individual or group of individuals affect directly or indirectly the lives, liberties or any other legal or natural rights of other people or group of people, then those actions should be available for public information. Similarly, most well-developed courts and legal systems have found the lives of public officials should be public information. If a congressional or parliamentary representative is to represent me, I need to know about his personal life. It is not suffice to seek what the representative’s stands are on the issues that interest me, but if the person is healthy enough or trustful enough, etc… It becomes even more important to know every detail of a leader, such PIA, whose words are the law of the land and who has made everything about Eritrea to revolve around his life. PIA’s health and whereabouts the utmost and prime public information in Eritrea, because that is how PIA has set the Eritrean political system.
 Private Information, in contrast to public information, is anything individuals do that do not affect others directly or indirectly. These private actions should remain private, and even protected through the legal system.

Third factor is the confusion over JOURNALISTIC standards. Some critics complained that assenna.com did not adhere to journalistic standards. It appears that there is confusion over public information, public media and journalism.

Public information, as discussed above, is what the public needs to know about what is happening within their society and country to form their decision about their lives and their future actions. Citizens have inherent rights to seek out public information without fear of repercussions. A healthy and properly functioning government would identify public information and legislate laws that allow the public to seek information. The public includes news media outlets.

Public (Mass) Media, is a forum for public discussion that allows the public to inform, discuss and debate public information. Not every information, discussion and debate conducted in public media is for the purpose of meeting journalistic standards but for analyzing and verifying public information. Especially in today’s world where cyber space has taken over print media, public communication is beyond simply journalistic print media. A public media can be television, radios, print media and, increasingly in today’s world, cyber media – with their various types of programs.

Journalism, which most of us also understand as ‘investigative journalism’, is only one specialized form of communicating through the public media. Moreover, in order for true ‘investigative journalism’ to exist, there needs to be an open system of government and strong judicial system to compel governments to respond to journalistic inquiries through either documentary evidence or by government officials availing themselves to journalists. Journalism, as many of us perceive as champion of the truth, can not exist in authoritarian system. EriTV and its newspapers are propaganda tools, and do not meet any journalistic standards. Similarly, opposition cyber space media are primarily advocacy and propaganda outlets designed to effect change in Eritrea, as well as being forums for discussions. All these are absolutely legitimate reasons for their existence.

Generally, journalism is NOT associated with a media outlet but with individuals. All the programs or articles in ABC, NBC, Fox or Wall Street Journal do not meet journalistic standards, and aren’t designed to be such way. For instance, ABC Networks does not strictly engage in journalistic programs but one of its reporters, Christian Amanpour, is well known for ‘investigative journalism’. Awate.com, for instance, has three or four different hats – ‘Gedab’, ‘the pencil’, ‘awate team’ and individual members’ articles. That is equivalent to having different programs on traditional media, and its audience expects certain information, and put different weights, when in ‘Gedab’ than when in ‘the pencil’. Assenna.com may not differentiate its activities as such but it has both journalistic component and ‘unfiltered news’, which are acceptable way of engaging in public media. It is up readers to filter the information and put whatever weight they want to put on these information.

Fourth Factor is that speculation is a legitimate form of struggle and forms part of the psychological warfare against the regime. The regime is probably a prime example of managing and manipulating public information to maintain its grip on power.

The fear that assenna.com’s speculation (which in this case turned out to be incorrect) diminishes the credibility of the opposition is totally incorrect. What weakens the credibility of the opposition camp are,
 Lack of leadership
 Questionable and poorly articulated political platform
 Lack of transparency (e.g. EDA/ENCDC meetings are as closed to the public as PIA’s cabinet meetings)
 Perpetual infighting and perceptions of power politics
 Lack of concrete action plans

A well-organized opposition camp could have used speculation and rumor mongering, as the regime is doing, as a legitimate tool to put pressure on the regime. If the public were to accept the opposition camp as effective, all its strategies and tactics, including psychological warfare would also have been perceived as acceptable.

In TEN YEARS OF OPPOSITION POLITICS, assenna.com has made PIA blink for the first time, i.e. PIA was forced to respond to assenna.com. For PIA who doesn’t believe in responding to pressure, the question that should occupy the opposition should be what lessons were learned from the latest episode. Did assenna.com penetrate an Achilles’ Heel? After all, it goes without saying, PIA had to appear in public to quash rumors that could have jeopardized his power. Otherwise, PIA is loath to respond to public rumors and speculations.

For a regime that has made enemies of the overwhelming proportion of the Eritrean public, well conceived and executed opposition propaganda, even speculations, that turn out to be untrue don’t change the public’s negative perception towards the regime. But the upside of using speculation is to paralyze the regime.

The next question is, should the opposition continue to make such speculations in the future? The answer is ‘yes’ because it is part of the psychological warfare. Opposition camp fears that it could lose its credibility and that the general public would stop believing opposition information (like crying wolf). In reality, every rumor or speculation of PIA’s disappearance would always raise high interest because the nation’s future is so intricately tied to his existence. Because the stakes are so high, every rumor would always raise anxiety level to its maximum. Rumors and speculations raise uncertainties. If your kids do not show up at home at their usual times, one’s anxiety (speculating the worst) level goes up regardless of how many times your kids failed to show up at home on time in the past and turned out to be fine playing at the neighbor’s house. One is seized with the dreadful thoughts every time kids are late. The more we are emotionally tied to a situation or circumstance, the more likely we respond to speculation. By speculating about PIA’s situation every time, those who feel that the stakes are high on his wellbeing will feel the maximum anxiety every time.

Of course, psychological warfare should not be conducted haphazardly. It requires a well planned strategy to achieve its maximum effect. A well executed psychological warfare can turn a perception into reality.

It would be a waste of a valuable lesson if we don’t learn from the latest episode and refine our strategy to include and expand our psychological warfare on the regime.


Almost a year after the ‘successful’ launching of ENCDC, it remains challenged to formulate an action plan to remove the regime. It remains stuck with endless meetings that attract the same crowd that attended these meetings for the last decade or more of opposition history. These are self-congratulatory meetings without any discussions of concrete action plans to remove the regime. It is about shuffling and re-shuffling to look busy!

To make matters worse, instead of concentrating on how to remove the regime, the ENCDC camp is now seized with the latest drama of assembling their cohorts for the next battle – not against the regime but whether EDA should continue to exist alongside ENCDC. Nobody really cares! The public has only one question, ‘where is the beef’? This is a super-alliance that is unable to even bring its so-called ‘armed wings’ under one unified leadership because individual organization’s ‘power’ is more important than the undivided and 100% effort to remove the regime.

The question is simple, ‘what next’?

Even cyber discussions are becoming very stale, with some of the most articulate writers engaging in poor analysis and suffering from constipation of ideas, storytelling from ghedli era, lack of discussion in position actions, and espousing dangerous political views while others espouse ‘boy scout’ and ideological views that are contrary to history of man.

But again, there is a new and vigorous independent movement among the youths that is engaging in positive action that includes robocalls to Eritrea, more engaging conferences, challenging the regime’s cohorts in meetings and public rallies. They are more focused and their uncluttered agenda with a simple focus of change can only be a recipe for success. It is high time for other opposition to join hands with this ‘movement of prudence’ before they, as Amb. M. Nur Ahmed coined it, become totally irrelevant. Engaging in robocalls by itself in systematic way can yield desirable results within a short time.

Berhan Hagos
May 29, 2012.

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