Eritrea: Unfiltered Notes: Better Questions Isaias Should Have Been Asked

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 29th, 2013
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By Tewelde Stephanos   testifanos@gmail.com

EriTV’s recent “interview” with Isaias looked more like a rigged boxing match between a giant equipped with spiked gloves and a five-year old with hands tied behind his back. The “champ” stepped in the ring after making sure his opponent is incapable of throwing any punches — thus the pre-arranged and self-serving questions. Of course, he was declared the undisputed winner again as in years past since there was no one to dispute anything. And with his signature celebratory ritual, he stepped on the head of his fallen five-year old opponent to claim his trophy.

That is how it felt anyway. The choreographed “interview” was full of incoherent rumblings where just about everything was meaningless and how tried methods the rest of the world uses to measure progress are irrelevant in unique Eritrea. The collective intelligence of Eritreans must have dropped down by a few points listening to the drivel. I felt like I had a few brain cells fried myself, something I can ill-afford as I don’t have that many to spare.

Satire by Tesfagabir Tesfu and Misgina Tesfamicael (from South Africa) summarized the mumbo jumbo beautifully where the response to a simple question whether milk is white or red was: “… before I answer your question first we have to look at where milk comes from. Basically, it comes from cows. Cows are slaughtered for meat in most parts of the world, although in India they are worshipped and that is why they call them holy cows and they freely roam the streets…”. Follow the link above to assenna.com to get the full text. It is hilarious. Great job guys, you really nailed it.

Given Eritrea’s dire situation, there are many relevant questions to be asked compared to the farce we were treated to. What questions would you ask if you had the chance — assuming there is someone who can honestly and truthfully answer them on the other side of course? Here are a few.

  1. To start on a lighter note, who is your best friend and why?
  2. There is an often told story that you and Haile Woldetinsae (DruE) made friendship pact years ago to stick together through thick and thin. Is that true and how is DruE now?
  3. In what sounded like a roundabout way of offering condolences for Meles’ death, you expressed your disgust for those who wish death on others. Among other things, you said someone who harbors such feelings must be “mentally unstable”, “denqoro” etc.  Fair point. If wishing death on someone is so offensive to you, what do you think of those who deny burial rights to the already dead?
  4. Why did you deny burial rights to your friend Naizghi Kiflu? What you did was against Eritrean societal norms and traditions. What lesson should those living take from this act?
  5. Eritrea is said to be full of prisons. People know about Adi Abieto, Eira Ero and the metal containers where victims are exposed to extreme heat and cold.  How many prisons does Eritrea have? And how many universities?
  6. You have jailed your former comrades for more than 11 years and some of them are believed to have died in prison. Since you don’t allow anyone to visit them, can you tell the Eritrean people how they are doing?
  7. People are routinely killed under mysterious circumstances in Eritrea, Mohammed Hagos the former owner/manager of OMO factory among them. Yet such murders are never investigated. Why? Eritrea has also become a place where people disappear without a trace. Where is Senay Kifleyesus, for example?
  8. As your comrade of many years and according to good-old Eritrean traditions, the children of Petros Solomon are considered to be your children too. And yet, you made them instant orphans by taking away both their parents. Why?
  9. Switching to economic development, everything is so expensive these days and getting worse. Even the highest wage earners in the country cannot make ends meet with their honest earnings. What is the inflation rate in Eritrea currently and what can we expect for the near future?
  10. Just to take one example, eggs used to cost much less. Those in National Service earn 500 Nakfa/month and their whole salary can’t even buy 100 eggs. What do you say to those tied up in endless national service whose productive years are getting wasted? Isaias interrupting: Before I answer that CIA instigated silly question, it is important to understand whether the egg or the chicken came first…. (sorry, that was hard to resist)
  11. Those stuck in national service with no end in sight are totally deprived of normal life such as building careers and raising stable families. Don’t you think this demoralizing environment is weakening Eritrea and undermining the nation’s security and its future?
  12. You talk at great length how the CIA is siphoning the youth out of Eritrea for human trafficking. Are you serious? Is there evidence you can share to show this is so? Wouldn’t the enslavement of our youth in the endless national service and total lack of freedom to create a better life for oneself be a better explanation? But more importantly, what are you doing to prevent the exodus? Didn’t you at one point trivialize it as people going on a picnic? You also dismissively told Eritrean students in South Africa they can get lost because you can buy labor from India and Pakistan. How is that working out?
  13. You told the nation that you were awakened from sleep to be informed about war breaking out in Badme. The way you have been running Eritrea, it is hard to believe anyone else can make such a decision. How was that decision reached and who gave the order to roll the tanks in?
  14. What do you remember about Tesfay Temnewo? He sure remembers you and, according to him, the severe mistrust and divisions you created among tegadelti and the eliminations that happened back then are the root cause of Eritrea’s current state of affairs. Do you want to comment on that?
  15. You have dominated Eritrean politics for the last 40 years or so now. The character that comes across through all these years, some say, is that you are vindictive, divisive and you are willing to sacrifice life-long friends or the nation’s wellbeing to stay in power. But your power was under no threat, especially after 1991. People loved and respected you then. Why didn’t you choose to capitalize on that to achieve your power goals? You could have had it all – love, respect and power. Yet, you chose to be merciless – even to the lifeless body of your friend Naizghi, which seems extremely petty and unnecessary. Why?
  16. Assessing Eritrea’s current situation, Natnael Esifanos Sium, a young man wise beyond his years and whose father you have jailed without charges for over a decade, paints more or less the same picture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STz5vssnE-M) as that of Tesfay Temnewo.  In what ways would you say you have changed over the last 40 years that is different from Natnael’s and Tesfay’s assessments  or, for that matter, vis-à-vis the growing perception that you are even worse than Mengistu?  At least Mengistu allowed family members to visit prisoners
  17. You talk big about self-reliance. But the record shows people who were self-reliant and those who strive to become self-reliant are deprived of opportunities to exercise their dreams in Eritrea. In fact, they are leaving Eritrea in droves. Do you see how losing it’s most dynamic and productive citizens can be harmful to Eritrea?
  18. In various interviews you said there will not be democracy or freedom of expression in Eritrea for decades to come; that you will not leave office because you don’t have a contract from anyone. In spite of this you also say you will step down if the Eritrean people tell you to do so. Yet the environment you have created – the killings, disappearances, intimidations, denial of personal freedoms and no elections – only guarantees people have no means of telling you anything. Don’t you see how you can come across as one who underestimates – a better word may actually be despises – your own people?
  19. You are human and you will die one day. With everything decided in your office Eritrea’s institutions are severely weakened or destroyed. As a result Eritrea lacks a smooth power transition plan and can end up in a chaos after you are gone. Does that bother you?
  20. Other than speaking vaguely that mistakes were made, you never take responsibility for anything. Your old comrades have been either eliminated or frozen and it is only you with no one else left to blame now. You make all decisions – big and small. And the poverty, the intermittent services, our crumbling cities, people stuck in dead-end situations earning 500 Nakfa/month, people disappearing, disempowered institutions, runaway inflation,  seem to only get worse year over year. Do you ever wonder if you could actually be Eritrea’s biggest liability.

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