Isaias out of character: Why Eritreans are getting nervous
In barely the blink of an eye, Eritrea’s unpredictable president has completely reversed his rhetoric of the past two decades.
In just a few weeks, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have not just shifted dramatically but – in many ways – turned upside down.
For two decades, President Isaias Afwerki had demonised Ethiopia, seeing it as an existential threat. He used the supposed Ethiopian menace as a pretext to establish one of the world’s most repressive regimes, ban widespread freedoms, and impose indefinite military conscription. Some of the only bits of music to get official approval from Asmara were toxic war songs that reinforced this all-encompassing enmity on which the nation’s identity was based.
Now, this could not have flipped more completely. In the past month, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias have embraced warmly in both Asmara and Addis Ababa, greeted by huge doting crowds. Eritrean praise-singers have literally changed their tunes to praise peace in Amharic and Tigrinya. Today, the first flight between the two countries in 20 years landed in Asmara, carrying a fully-booked plane that included Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
In barely the blink of an eye, full-throated enmity seems to have turned into whole-hearted love – to the extent that hopeful Eritreans, whose lives have long been determined by the mood of one man, are starting to worry.
Given the opaque way in which the regime governs, Eritreans are used to following Isaias’ words and actions carefully in search of any hints. But for even those unaccustomed to observing him, his recent performance in Ethiopia was startlingly. He appeared out of character, praising the leader of his long-time foe excessively, and proclaiming that the two nation’s populations are “one people”. He then remarkably told Abiy “you are our leader” and announced happily to the crowd: “I’ve given him all responsibility of leadership and power”.
It was not long ago that it was almost unthinkable that Isaias – a man who played a leading role in Eritrea’s battle for independence and based his leadership on the need to protect against Ethiopia – might one day shake hands with his counterpart in Addis. But now, some Eritreans are afraid that the president might be about to declare Eritrea reunited with Ethiopia.
Petitions have reportedly been started and demonstrations called. There are claims being circulated on social media that certain army commanders have said that Isaias has compromised Eritrea’s national interest and should not be allowed home.
[Ethiopia-Eritrea peace: Some unanswered questions]
[Resolving the Ethiopia-Eritrea border: What actually needs to be done?]
[Ethiopia and Eritrea: Turning the promise of peace into the real thing]
Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing that is clear is that the former status quo has been broken. So many of the regime’s actions were justified by referring to Ethiopian hostility, but this pretext no longer exists.
If we are to follow the logic previously laid out by Isaias, Eritrea should now be able to undergo a dramatic and rapid transformation. There have already been some swift changes, such as the opening up of telecommunications and flight routes, but there ought to be much more to come.
There should, in theory, no longer be the need for such a large army and the oppressive system of indefinite military service. Political prisoners and jailed journalists should be freed now they no longer pose a national security threat as the government had claimed. The border should be opened up and trade resumed. And people should be allowed to move freely both within and out of the country.
Eritreans are eagerly listening out for any signs that these moves may be coming, but the government is remaining characteristically quiet on these fronts. If it were to try to resume normal life in the country, however, it would take quite some time. Thanks to the government’s short-sighted and reclusive policies for two decades, the state has been reduced to a mere shell. Institutions have been dismantled over the years and power has been concentrated into the hands of a few. Those with authority are old and incapable of overseeing dynamic change, while the country loses thousands of young people every month as they flee across the border.
If Isaias is genuine in his desire for change, he could use the justification that “new blood” is needed – as he did in 1994 – to overhaul the government, removing senior officials and go after those accused of corruption. He might also place the blame for abuses and mistakes on military commanders and dispose of them. He could try to transfer power to the next generation. But he would face the problem that there is huge gap between the old and young, while decades of alienation have made most people feel like mere observers in their own affairs.
Finally, even with all these changes, the elephant in the room would remain: the same capricious individual responsible for creating one of the world’s most repressive regimes – involving systemic torture, the imprisonment of opponents and much more – would still reign supreme.
In reality, the only way that Eritrea can meaningfully move forwards now is for President Isaias to step down after a quarter of a century in control. If he did take such a courageous step, he might be remembered for playing a positive role in Eritrea’s history. Both of these things seem unthinkable. But recently, the unthinkable has been happening.
Hope peace and better governance becomes contagious
While I appreciate the view the writer post, but the fear that President Isais would declare reunion with Ethiopia, is something pointless, and I don’t think the writer has supporting evidence for this circulating view – – – so he said. Scanty comment on social media , often with anonymous ID, can not be reliable at all given the source of where the comments originated are unknown. In this context, how do we imagine a leader [Isais] who led the bloodiest thirty years of war for succession from Ethiopia would ever have an idea to reunite with Ethiopia?
I was hoping to see this moment this happiness demonstrated by the leader of proud Eritrea for more that two decade and now that ,the peace we as a nation and our elephant neighbour Ethiopia people wish.you seem to give it very crooked meaning unwanted and cruel.we are happy .our President is very happy and is not a sold out.
To the writer fear that PIA would unified Eritrea with Ethiopia is a joke. First of all the Eritrean government don’t have any mandate to do so. To the writer Eritrea and Ethiopia are unified in Vision and economic integration and peace to their people and region.
This writer is sick person. All his arguement comes from hatred. Isseyas is the biggest icon for Africa. Even Nelson Mandela can not compared to him. We Eritreans are proud of great leader. Trash people can not write about him
Mr. Behailu, as you closely follow the Ethiopian affairs, I do follow Eritrean affairs with much more intensity. The evil Isayas who has become a hero to many shortsighted Rthiopian did not contribute anything to our struggle for independence. On the contrary, he delayed it and cost us too many precious lives. The writer should have stated: Isayas should be tried and hung on Martyr’s avenue in public. Then and only then, the country will elect leaders, start the healing process, collect the remains of it’s children, make peace with it’s neighbors, plan sound development etc.
This is a very interesting article. And the writer is an Eritrean “oppposition.” He actually is an opportunistic was trying to create a chaos in middle of peace. For every tribe government and people, the most important part of the peace deal with Ethiopian is the demarcation of the Border.
The Five Points of the Eritrean president signed is nothing but demarcations of the Border. This is a very pointless article
Behailu, good point.
As to the writer, he is known to be one of the so called opposition with their ground is in unknown destination. It should have been clearly a joy to both citizens of the neighboring countries and beyond. A person with reasonable mind would and or should understand Behailu’s point as to why the President of Eritrea have to come with the idea of unification. It’s true that both countries have plenty of common benefits that pull them to work in unison. That was the goal when the President worked hard on the creation of IGAD. The idea of creating a common ground to work together all the member countries creating bigger market for all to benefit.
In conclusion it’s lunatic from the writer’s side when he and his disciples were paid by the minority leadership of weyane claiming that there exist nothing to differ them from Tigrai region, a minuscule mind.
Very interesting article. As an Eritrean, the words written in this article represent my current thoughts and nervous mood. Thank you to the author for accurately reporting on the sentiments of most Eritreans.
This whole fast-track peace climate is done to defuse the impending civil war in Ethiopia, Ethiopia was about to blow off literally, had they not act decisively as they did by replacing the ruling TPLF we would have seen the worst genocide of the Tigray people in history. I think the recent events have worked well albeit the discontent of the Tigray people which is much easier to deal with than the 70-80 million southern ethnics with a machete!
Finger crossed, we are waiting to see positive change in Eritrea. But it’s a gigantic task it is not as easy as replacing one ethnic group with another like Ethiopia, there is a systemic issue to deal with Issayas is the only one in power and he has ultimate say in everything and there is no one on sight to replace him if he steps down,I mean literally there is none! But I hope they make it work for the good of the young generation.
Obviously, they have to slowly drift from complete centralized dictatorship to constitutional governance with decentralized power. So, Issayas should remain in power and shade the peripheral power slowly and exit at the end. He is 74 years old it’s not an easy task, but I think he can’t just step down that easily.
May writer be post his views on the “African-fallacies.org”
Tactical honeymoon between :Alliance seeker infant politician VS African Hitler .
End result = Shame !
Even if you believe the bible, PAUL of the bible was a killer of Christians, yet he turned back. There are may examples of change of heart.
Those who hate peace are children of the Devil. Weather you are white, black, german, japan, or eritrean who hates and fears peace is son of the devil and need to be dealt with accordingly.
Regarding Isayas, he was right, all this time and walked to addis as a hero.
You people neither know politics, nor God. Losers
Read the first couple paragraphs and I wont even waste my time finishing this article. Completely biased and absolutely not true. All Eritrean opposition need to realise that what he did was in the best interest of our country and his open arms response to the the Ethiopian Prime Minister should be enough to prove that.
I will agree that there are many issues that need to be discussed but in the grand scheme of things our President is too often and too easily placed as the villain, as is our country to the rest of the world.
I LOVE MY ERITREA, and so do many other fellow patriots, there are MANY supporters of the current regime but as always negativity will always overshadow and attract the attention of the masses.
Aj and its errand boys’ figment of their imagination flaunting it reckleselly. Hmmm dreamers what next??? let’s hear more of your imaginary Eritrea looks like, perhaps expect more outlandish.
cheap cialis buy cialis online