What is the fate of Dictator Isaias of Eritrea as a defeated partner of Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia?
By Petros Tesfagiorgis
Let me congratulate the people of Tigray and the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) for their lightening victory against the invading forces of Abiy and Isaias.
On April 2018 Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and signed peace with Isaias Afeworki. The Eritrean people were over the moon believing that at last Isaias would end repression and release all prisoners of conscience and scrap the indefinite national service that destroyed the future of the youth.
That was not to be the case; Isaias failed to end the repression. He declared that the border issue was not important and started deals with Abiy Ahmed that threatens the sovereignty of Eritrea.
Immediately, a remarkable thing happened. The Diaspora Eritreans, mostly the youth, rose up in unison declaring, “Yeakl, enough is enough and dictator Isaias has to go. “It turned into a Tsunami Mass Movement, mushrooming in many parts of the globe, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, Africa, etc. They established a Global Yeakel and clarified its objectives and put down working notes to guide the activities and character of the organisation.
For about 20 years the Eritrean opposition to Dictator Isaias Afeworki was dominated by political parties. Most of them were based in Ethiopia but had members in many countries outside Ethiopia. However they had never threatened the power of Isaias; they were fragmented unable to put a united resistance. For years they organised meetings after meetings to unite but with no success. That is why the rise of the Yeakel Mass movement has given hope to the people of Eritrea. The movement has become an inspiration to the political parties to get united and play their part. It is constructive move.
On 4 November 2020 the prime minster of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed in collusion with Isaias started a war against the Tigray Regional Government. Eritrean troops joined the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) and the Amhara militias in killing Tigrean civilians, raping women, looting and committing other forms of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition, the Eritrean troops attacked the four refugee camps which housed 100,000 Eritrean Refugees in Tigray, killing, looting and kidnapping refugees back to Eritrea.
All these crimes by Eritreans is a profoundly humiliating and a blow to our Eritrean humane tradition. During the struggle the EPLF was treating captured Ethiopian soldiers l humanly. In 1987 – Ali Said Abdella head of security addressed 2000 prisoners and broke the news that they are free. Today the Ethiopian Government is engaged in ethnic cleansing rounding up Tigreans and imprisoning them, closing their shops and kicking them of their work. It started in Addis Ababa spreading in other cities. All this has to be condemned internationally particularly by Eritreans. I am sure those Eritreans in Diaspora who support Isaias will say, “Why are you concerned about Tigray? Focus on Eritrea”
Eritrean Justice Seekers in diaspora condemned the crime and stood firm in solidarity with the people of Tigray, living from a higher perspective of humanity and for genuine peace in the Horn. They participated in all the demonstrations organized by Tigreans, demanding the withdrawal of Eritrean troops and peaceful resolution of the conflict. Not only that, they did their share in exposing the atrocities in various Eritrean social media. When the Ethiopian Government blocked Tigray Media House, Amanuel Eyasu, the director of Assenna TV let them use Assenna Satellite TV. It helps to minimizes hatred and vengeance against Eritreans and serves as a bridge for reconciliation between the two brotherly/sisterly people.
The US Government had given a stern order to Isaias to withdraw Eritrean troops from Tigray as the first step to peace. On the contrary, Isaias ignored the call and declared nationwide mobilisation to continue the fight. He resorted to rounding up people, even underage children and sent them to the war. On his part Abiy mobilized big force to finish the job of defeating the people of Tigray and their vanguard TDF.
The battles started around mid-June 2021 in many fronts. Within few days the TDF got the upper hand. It captured town after town with lightning speed. TDF captured the Capital Mekele on 28 June 2021 and announced the capture of 8000 soldiers and killed 33,000. The world was taken by surprise. It was phenomenal and of historical proportion. Abiy Ahmed declared unilateral ceasefire. But it became obvious that he wanted to buy time to arm more peasants and Amhara militias to fight back. He continued to use hunger as weapon of war by obstructing WFP food aid to Tigray.
The Victory of Tigray has opened an opportunity for Eritrean Democratic movements to play a constructive role in the campaign to end the rule of Isaias and make genuine Peace with Tigray.
Isaias has subjected the Eritrean people to extreme repression. In history there are people getting helpless and forced to accept the system that oppresses them. That seems to be the case in Eritrea today. Otherwise how does one explain when Eritrean youths who are turned into a slave labour die in the war that does not concern Eritrea and its people. It shamed us Eritreans.
In 2016 the UN Inquiry commission on human rights on Eritrea had reported that since 1991 crime against humanity has been committed in Eritrea and they made referral to ICC. The UN ignored it. It was a blunder. Isaias was given the chance to commit another war crime against the people of Tigray.
The defeat of Isaias and Abiy has opened an opportunity to the Eritrean diaspora democratic civic movements and the political parties to rise up and campaign for the immediate action to bring Isaias to ICC so that peace and justice will prevail in Eritrea.
It is encouraging to see that the various political and civic society movements have agreed on the need to establish global leadership that represents the Diaspora and be the voice of those voiceless people in Eritrea. And most importantly foreign governments could find a strong organisation to talk to as partners of change now and afterIsaias is out of the way.
However, up to now they have not been able to come to agreement and establish global leadership. The hopes of many Eritreans are beginning to evaporate. Why is that? It shows that there are serious problems that hinder people from uniting: some groups have different views on the aims and objectives of the global leadership. For example, there are those who think the way forward is to establish Government in Exile. Some say Yeakel movement is a civic society and has to concentrate on social and community activities, and the role to form a global leadership should be left to the political parties which are mostly composed of ex-ELF and EPLF members. Some want to address all the problems from the perspective of ethnic groups and religious denominations. However, those issues could be addressed once the brutal dictator is removed. Then various political parties can include such issues in their election manifesto. This moment in time the focus should be in uniting to save the state of Eritrea. Once Eritrea is free then internal problems could be solved democratically.
It appears there are also personality clashes of some kind. There seems also subtle and unhealthy competition between the civil society and political parties as to who should have the upper hand in the coalition.
I am of the opinion that it is impossible for organisations with incompatible views to work together. It won’t be productive. It is better to have a coalition of those with similar views and get on to work. Time is of the essence. We are confronted with the challenges and opportunities created by the defeat of Abiy and Isaias. It is time to act with speed and effectiveness.
Events are moving so fast that Abiy and Isaias are being defeated without forming Global leadership. I feel meetings after meeting should come to end. Movements with same values and vision get together elect their representatives and go into action. Some weeks before the new offensive that ended in favour of Tigray, I expressed my concern in a Tigrinya article posted in Assena.com. “ተዓጻጻፍነት ዲሞክራሲያዊ ሐይልታት ኤሪትራ ኣብዚ ተኣፋፊ ጊዜ ከመይ ይመስል”
The work of global leadership or coalition of some sort (give it any name) can be:
1 To engage in Advocacy campaigns to bring Isaias to ICC or private courts in Europe or USA.
2. To give protection to Eritrean refugees in Tigray and in the rest of Ethiopia where Eritreans Security forces are kidnaping and harassing Eritreans. At the centre of the Diaspora democratic movements’ campaign must be the gross human rights violations perpetuated by Isaias which is missing.
2. To prepare a bold economic package to rehabilitate the shattered economy.
3. Prepare a pathway towards government of the people.
4. Engage with Governments who are ready to cooperate.
As part of its agenda Eritrean Focus (EF) started early on to address the problem of fragmentation among the various Eritrean Democratic movements. EF conducted two conferences. Among various topics of the conference, the most important topic was “Working Together” whose aim was bringing together all the divided democratic forces towards establishing some kind of global leadership. Because of Covid-19 it was delayed. However what is encouraging is that many democratic groups realized the need of global leadership and prepared their own concept papers. It shows that ‘united leadership’ is an idea whose time has come. EF has proposed to offer a secretarial support. The secretariat will be a small working group that meets regularly to chart a road map for global leadership including raising funds and other day to day work.
It is important that Yeakel plays a pivotal role in the establishment of the Diaspora Global leadership. It will play more important role after the demise of Isaias. The rest of us including the political parties should help in empowering them. There are those who say Yeakel has to be disbanded after Isaias is gone. Yeakle work is not yet satisfactory, they have to be pro-active. They are reactive to what is going on in the war in Tigray rather than have clear road map and work on it. They have to involve experienced Eritreans as advisers etc. there are wealth of knowledge among Eritrean in Diaspora.
A country without independent and strong civic society becomes a fertile ground for dictators as is the case of the EPLF which disbanded its mass organisation at the eve of Independence.
Conclusion: Peace is what we Eritreans did not have for years. Our people have prayed and yearned for it. Isaias used the tactic to prolong his power by demonizing the TPLF of a threat of invading Eritrea on ERI-TV. One of the main focus must be to advocate for peace with justice. During the Vietnam War in the 60th the American Students were campaigning and demonstrating for peace saying: “American troops out of Vietnam.”They sang to the tunes of peace. One of the popular song was, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.“Also, “Power to the people, the people we love.” The campaign spread all over USA. The then President Nixon was forced to call the withdrawal of all American troops.