Eritrea: Yemane Gebreab: Let us read it; Let us understand it!

By IndepthAfrica
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Jun 26th, 2013
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Eritreans at an outdoor cafe on Harnet Avenue in Asmara, Eritrea.

Eritreans at an outdoor cafe on Harnet Avenue in Asmara, Eritrea.

Berhan Hagos

Yemane Gebreab: Let us read it; Let us understand it!

Before delving into discussing Yemane Gebreab’s recent comments at the 22nd independence celebration in DC, it is worth revisiting PIA’s 22nd tired independence speech.  PIA’s favourite comment used to be, ‘Every Arab student blames Israelis for failing in school.’ This comment has come back to bite – it is now PIA and his cohorts who are blaming the US and other ‘hoongoos [bogeymen]’ for their own, self-made, self-imposed, and by choice failures.

Twenty-two anniversary speeches later we are reduced to hopeless call to ‘weather the storm’.  Thankfully, PIA’s speech was only about thirteen minutes.  One supposes after failing to deliver peace and prosperity over twenty two years, PIA has now settled to ‘giving no hope’ rather than the usual ‘we have done much but not enough compared to what awaits us’, which was PIA’s allusion to hope.

When hope is gone, all else is gone!

It is only two years ago that PIA told us that Eritrea would embark on economic transformation during his new year speech.  We were led to believe that food production would dramatically increase in 2011.  Instead, food production is down and, to make matters worse, there are severe shortages of water and electricity throughout Eritrea – something that didn’t happen in the first fifteen years of independence.

PIA has followed every dictator manual diligently for the last 40 years.  His Machiavellian beliefs, Stalinist, Maoist, Pol Pot, and others governing principles are embodied in his brutal rule.  In his departing speech, the Eritrean Consular General to Canada lamented that Eritrea’s detractors compared Eritrea to China.  In reality, PIA’s Eritrea is a throwback to Mao’s China – not Deng Xioping’s China, which is a world’s apart.  ‘Warsai Yikealo’ and ‘PIA’s Student Summer Program’ are nothing more than ‘Collectivization-variant’, ‘Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution’ rolled into one.     All these have nothing to do with socio-economic transformations, but stamping out all opposition at any cost.

It is about seeking Pyrrhic victory!

Africa’s North Korea

Today’s Eritrea is a carbon copy of North Korea.  After Japan was defeated and left Korea at the end of Second World War, North Korea was relatively more advanced than South Korea (then one country).  Along with the Japanese heavy investment in Korea during its occupation, Kim Il Sung took advantage of China-USSR rivalry to extract favourable terms in building its economy.  However, like every dictator, personality cult trumps every prudent socio-economic policy, and North Korea began to stagnate under their ‘Warsai Yikealo’.  By the time Kim Jung Il (Kim Il Sung’s son) took over, North Korea’s economy was in ruins.

The Kims have one tiring message for their 60 YEARS of utter failures:

  1. the US (North Korea’s bogeyman) and the West keep imposing embargoes on North Korea
  2. No peace, no war with South Korea.  The 1953 Armistice has not led to peaceful resolution.

Somehow, PIA’s messages seem plagiarized from the Kims’ Dynasty.

While North Koreans are stuck in the Korean War era, South Korea, with all the same variables as North Korea, has built one of the most powerful economy and a vibrant democratic country.   The Samsungs, LGs and other South Korean products are now dominating consumer products, and the Hyundai, Kia and other South Korean heavy industries are dominating car manufacturing, ship building, and other heavy machineries.

The great famine of North Korea, between 1995 to 2002 under Kim Il Sung’s son Kim Il Jong, led to tens of thousands of deaths, and stunted growth of children.  Western countries, including the US, sent food to North Korea.  Kim Jung Il’s response to the famine was that:

  1. North Korean’s must stop indulging and instead learn restraint.  After all, indulgence wasn’t good for health.  Kim Jung Il recommended only two meals a day, and smaller food portions.  Eerily, this was PIA’s recommendation to Eritreans during his 2009 or 2010 independence speech, that pasta spaghetti is a foreign staple (food) and that 900 calories per person per day is enough.
  2. During the height of the famine, Kim was forced to accept food aid from the US and distributed to North Koreans.  However, North Koreans were confused when they saw American flag on the food sacks.   Weren’t the Americans their worst enemy?  The North Korean spin masters went into overdrive claiming that the American rice sacks with their flags were captured from the American enemy during armed battles.

After helping North Korea overcome its war with the UN/US backed South Korea, USSR and China slowly abandoned North Korea and began dealing with South Korea in the 1970s.   After all, North Korea was becoming poorer despite its self-sufficiency propaganda, unable to pay its external debt, and thus becoming a drain on both USSR and China.  No one respects defaulting friend, and North Korea found itself confused that its ideological partners – its comrades in arms – were abandoning it and befriending and dealing with its rich and industries foe – South Korea.

Relationship between China and Eritrea

Somehow the friendless PIA has sought symbolic friendships with other powers.  The statue of Alexander Pushkin was installed in Asmara, but that didn’t stop Russia from voting against Eritrea in UNSC imposing embargo.

Similarly PIA and cohorts try to project a false impression that China and Eritrea have very good relations.  After Mao, China has dropped ideology to drive its foreign policy.  Instead, China now pursues its own interest while trying to build long-term relations with all countries – esp. with the West.  China is investing heavily in Africa, esp. those with abundant natural wealth.  China’s policy towards its less developed partners has been to offer large amounts of loans and grants to be used in developing infrastructures.

For instance, China has or is committed to investing, i.e. through grants, loans, and other arrangements, over $10 billion in Ethiopia.  Except electric power projects, which have been mostly awarded to Gruppo Salini, most other projects are being undertaken by Chinese companies.  And Ethiopia is taking full advantage  by aggressively investing in its infrastructures.  Ethiopia has an enviable Vision 2020 & 2025 projects that are progressing very well.  In Eritrea, there is no 5-year or 10-year plan.

In contrast, the Sino-Eritrea relationship is based on superficial amicability.  In fact, China has allowed the UNSC to impose punitive sanctions against Eritrea.  China didn’t bother to use its veto power to save PIA, because PIA and PIA’s Eritrea are expendable.  Instead we are reduced to welcoming another Pushkin, the China Language and Cultural Centre (or better known as the Confucius Centre) in Asmara.  The Minister of Education was tasked with inaugurating the centre, and possibly tasked with infusing Confucius beliefs into Eritrea.

Whether a belief system, philosophy, or religion, as much Confucius taught absolute obedience to hierarchy, similarly it required leaders to do good or to be ousted.   Thus, unlike the Japanese dynasties, Chinese dynasties have ousted emperors very often throughout its some three to four thousand year history.  Confucianism is a double edged sword.

PIA’s affinity towards China is personal.  After all, having siphoned off Eritrea’s wealth under the guise of PFDJ, our $3 Billion (Eritrea’s wealth) is deposited in Chinese banks under his and his son’s names. China is PIA’s personal safe haven.

It is also worth mentioning that Canada will require mining companies to fully disclose all payments they make to foreign governments.  Although Nevsun does divulge some information, after 2 years, it will be required to fully disclose all payments.

More of PIA’s Tired Message

During his independence speech of 2001, PIA told us the three greatest threats to Eritrean security were as follows (and in this order),

  1. Corruption
  2. AIDS
  3. Border

PIA’s point was that corruption is the greatest threat to Eritrea’s existence – not the border.  Twelve years later, corruption is rampant in Eritrea.  This was deliberate PIA policy designed to create chaos and thus diverting attention from nation building to maintaining tight grip on power.

PIA deliberately sowed corruption into Eritrea’s fabric through the following acts:

  1. destroying, instead of building, Eritrea’s weak legal and judicial systems.  PIA introduced Special Courts with no rights of appeal and presided by army officers with no legal background.
  2. promoting army officers into key government administration posts with no oversight and accountability
  3. assigning national servicemen who were receiving only 150 NKF a month to critical government administration jobs, forcing them to ask kickbacks from their clients to get any work done.
  4. giving one-time import licences to favoured army officers to import cements, sugar and other food products, guaranteeing them profits, etc…

As the UN’s Human Rights Council members stated, the un-demarcated border is an excuse to maintain tight grip on power.  There are worse border issues between China and India, the South China Sea, Japan with China and Russia, and many other unresolved border issues.  Only North Korea and Eritrea have turned unresolved border issue into false live-or-die issue, not of the survival of a country but of regimes.

YEMANE GEBREAB & OSMAN SALEH’s Speeches

The 45-minute portion of their 4-hour speeches during the 22nd anniversary in DC available on the internet is an object lesson on what happens to smart people under dictatorship -  they lose their sense of logic and they take their audience to be dumb.  It was about insulting the audiences’, us Eritreans, intelligence.

Mr. Osman’s accusations of the DC protesters doesn’t warrant any reply.  We have heard similar wild accusations from most of PIA’s representatives sent abroad.  One suspects that there is a PIA school on how to insult the public.  It is suffice to say that if it means being Ethiopian to stand up for one’s rights, to protest and to defy dictatorship, and to voice for the voiceless; and if it means being Eritrean to worship dictatorship and to become desensitized to the human tragedies of  one’s countrymen; then it is correct to accuse us of all being Ethiopians.

The more interesting speaker was Mr. Yemane Gebreab – an intelligent fellow who has become so jaded that he is mimicking El Presidente for Life.  As some cyber critics had mocked PIA about his tendency to digress to theoretical analysis to simple questions, Mr. Yemane kept digressing to theoretical analysis and engaging in half-truths.  Mr. Yemane doesn’t believe a word he said, but dictatorships make one sound stupid.

“LET US READ IT & LET US UNDERSTAND IT”

On the 1997 Constitution, Mr. Yemane seemed annoyed saying that the same question keeps being asked repeatedly, and told us “LET US READ IT & LET US UNDERSTAND IT”.

Mr. Yemane, we understand the Constitution, the workings of the rule-of-law, and the workings of a properly functioning, accountable and governing government perfectly!  Your boss has failed on every count.

Mr. Yemane tells us that there are three parts to the Constitution,

  1. First part (Chapters I & II) outlines the basic principles that govern the laws of the land.  Mr. Yemane tells that these are the same principles that EPLF/PFDJ has stood for years.  I will skip this one for now.
  1. Second part (Chapter III) outlines the Rights & Freedoms of Citizens.  Mr. Yemane skirted around this critical part, yet it is the most critical of the three parts.  Although embedded in Constitution, the Rights & Freedoms of citizens emanates from natural laws.  Moreover, there is the UN’s universal declarations of human rights.  Moreover, there are traditional Eritrean laws that protect humans and properties.

Even before the Constitution, some of these rights were embedded in Eritrea’s Transitional Criminal (Penal) Code, such as protection from unlawful searches and the rights of writs of habeas corpus.

The PIA regime is guilty of violating every provision of this section of the 1997 Constitution,

  • GUILTY of breaching Article 15 – Right to Life and Liberty
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 16 – Right to Human Dignity
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 17- Arrest, Detention, and Fair Trial
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 18 – Right to Privacy
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 19 – Freedom of Conscience, Religion, Expression of Opinion, Movement, Assembly and Organization
  • GUILTY – indirectly of breaching Articles 20 & 21
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 22 – Family – the PIA regime is destroying the nucleus and bedrock of every society – family.
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 23 – Right to Property.
  • GUILTY of breaching Article 24 – Administrative Redress.

All of the above violations do not require constitution to make them relevant.  They are basic human rights and freedoms enshrined in Eritrean traditional laws, Eritrea’s Transitional Penal Code, UN Declarations of Humans Rights which Eritrea is signatory – and of course the 1997 Constitution.

The PIA regime is guilty of violating the 1991 Transitional Penal Code of Eritrea, and we ask Mr. Yemane to “READ IT & UNDERSTAND IT”

Title III Chapter I. – Offences Against Official Duties

Article 410. – Principle

1) All persons who are to any degree repositories of the power or authority of the State, such as members of the public authorities, government officials and agents and servants of the government and public administrations of any kind or members of the armed or police forces (hereafter referred to as “public servants”), are subject to the punitive provisions which follow where, in the discharge of their office, duties or employment, they commit any of the offences under this chapter.

(2) Where the act which they have done or omitted to do in the discharge of their duties, and in respect to which they are charged, comes within the scope of ordinary criminal law, but there is aggravation due to the offenders’ public position and the breach of the special responsibility resting upon them by virtue of the trust placed in them, the relevant provisions of the other titles of this Code shall apply.

Art. 412. — Breach of Official Duties.

Art. 414. — Abuse of Power.

Art. 415. — Abuse of the Right of Search or Seizure.

Art. 416. — Unlawful Arrest or Detention.

Art. 417. — Use of Improper Methods.

Art. 702. — Exclusion of Ordinary Criminal Penalties.

Art. 703. — Arrest.

Art. 704. — Ordinary or Police Arrest.

Art. 705. — Home Arrest.

Mr. Yemane, READ and UNDERSTAND our traditional laws!

The questions to Mr. Yemane should be:

  • As the law pertaining to the Transitional Government of Eritrea expired on May 24, 1997, which law is the basis for its existence?
  • Does the absence of legitimacy of government mean that PIA is the custodian of Eritrean government?  Is PIA above the law, i.e. if he is the source of law, can he always change it anytime at his discretion?  If no, what are the checks-and-balances?
  • Is there succession planning?  If anything happened to PIA, who would succeed him?  Or, is this top secret?
  • Under which provisions of the law are Aster Yohannes, Senait Debesai, G15, journalists, and thousands of other prisoners’ of conscience are locked up incommunicado in PIA Dungeons?
  • At the last meeting of the so-called National Assembly in early 2002, the Assembly urged PIA to release all available information, i.e. accusations and evidence against G-15.  Eleven years later, the regime has refused to release information claiming national security.  Bunch of baloney!
  • If question of national security, who are the members of the committee, who appoints them, and is there any independent oversight to ensure fairness?  The answer is obvious, only one man decides at a whim.  It is a nation ruled by the whims of one man.
  1. The third part of the Constitution relates to government structure.  It is suffice to say that this part goes to the heart of transparency and accountability of any government.  The PIA regime is as anathema as one can get to transparency and anathema.

Mr. Yemane’s arguments were insulting to our intelligence.

  • Although the UK doesn’t have Constitution, it has an accountable parliament.  Besides, the British system, as opposed to French system, is based on the principle that every citizen has all rights unless the British Parliament prohibits them.  Moreover, the British court system remains a model to many countries.
  • Claiming that many Middle East countries do not have Constitutions, i.e. suggesting that monarchical systems exist, sounds very much like crowning PIA as our King or Emperor.  But again, raise 5 cents on bread, bus fares, or fuel, and see how the Middle Eastern mass reacts.  Oh yes, North Korea, Pol Pot and like didn’t have constitution either.
  • The argument that Constitution is an evolving endeavour is fallacious argument.  Probably building strong institutions is an evolving endeavour, but respecting human rights and abiding by the rule of law is something that our Eritrean forefathers have done for centuries.  PIA’s evolution is about going backwards, not forward.
  • The ‘read it and understand it’ argument is being used to justify PIA’s failures.  It is like when asked why there are electricity black outs, the answer could be “Let us read and understand electricity”.  Mr. Yemane may tell us next time that electricity is only a recent phenomenon, and that people lived and still live without electricity.  The fact that Eritrea is going backwards in supplying electricity might be justified, ‘read it and understand it’, that going backwards is part of evolution.  Or worse, we might be told that Eritrea doesn’t want to contribute towards global warming and thus is implementing ‘EARTH HOUR’ on permanent basis.  After all, EPLF has always been ahead of the curve, ‘advocating for mixed economy long before it became a fashion.’

Meetings

Mr. Yemane told us dumb-dumb that the purpose of, or if to be done, holding National Assembly meeting, PFDJ Central Committee meeting, or PFDJ Congress would be to conduct elections.

Are meetings held for election purposes only?  What about wide consultations with others who have different views?  Or is having different opinion Ethiopianism?

PIA is in violation of the following laws pertaining to meetings of national institutions, and we ask Mr. Yemane to READ & UNDERSTAND,

  1. the PFDJ Congress had passed a resolution in 1993 to hold the next Congress within 4 years – in 1997.  Fifteen years later, no meeting.  That is VIOLATION!
  2. A transitional government was established in 1993 under the Eritrean Transitional Act limiting its terms until May 24, 1997; at which time a Constitutional government was to be installed.  VIOLATION!  The current regime exists without any legitimacy other than through coercion and violence – worse than any other foreign occupation Eritreans had experienced before.
  3. the PFDJ Central Committee is required to meet every six months according to its internal Constitution and bylaw.  The last meeting took place in August/September 2000.  Thirteen years later, no meeting.  This is VIOLATION! READ IT & UNDERSTAND IT, Mr. Yemane!
  4. Under what laws is the National Assembly dissolved?

WE ASK MR. YEMANE TO READ & UNDERSTAND:

THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND GOVERN AS IF LAWS ARE DISPENSABLE AND OBSTACLES, BECOME THE SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION, UTTER LAWLESSNESS, MISERY, and INJUSTICE!  NO EXCEPTION!

Mr. Yemane’s Private Press (Media) – READ IT, UNDERSTAND IT

In replying to the continued suspension of private media, Mr. Yemane tells us that there is no real private media in the world.  Digressing, PIA style, into academic discussions of press freedom and freedom of speech, Mr. Yemane tells us that such rights encompass,

  1. Rights and freedoms of receiving information.
  2. Freedom of expressing one’s views and opinions

Mr. Yemane tells us that Eritreans have the right and freedom of receiving information – except it must be through ERITV’s serving lies.   In addition, Mr. Yemane tells us that internet service is available in Eritrea.  However, internet service is so slow that only basic web pages open in Eritrea.   Of course, people can watch satellite dish, but most of the information is foreign news.  What people want to know is what is happening in Eritrea without the self-serving news filtering of the regime.   Extremely filtered news is not news at all.

Even more disturbing is Mr. Yemane’s twisted explanation of the freedom of expressing one’s views and opinions.  First of all, it is total lie to claim that Eritreans are free to express their opinions.  Tens of thousands of Eritreans are in PIA dungeons incommunicado for speaking their minds – nothing more.  In a country where there is utter breakdown of the rule-of-law, expressing opposition to the government is a suicide wish.  Continuing with his distorted explanation, Mr. Yemane tells us that having three or four independent private media do not play any significant role in allowing the public to express their views and opinion.  What an intellectual corruption!  This is blasphemy to any idea of institutionalization, freedom of speech, democratization, checks and balances, and every idea of the properly functioning world.    His arguments about media consolidations (Rupert Murdoch), public ownerships (probably like BBC, etc…) and the absence of Press Code are all distorted arguments designed to continue muzzling Eritreans.  Private media plays critical role in holding governments accountable, and any effort to muzzle private media has only one aim – suffocating information aimed at perpetuating and suppressing any public knowledge of injustice, corruption and chaos.

Mr. Arefaine’s (Min. of Agriculture) Interview with ERITV (May 30, 2013)

Mr. Arefaine’s interview was interesting – i.e. only if you are a new agriculture student.  It was an academic lesson on the importance of rain, dams, irrigation, soil erosion, non-crop foods, and others.  This is again very academic discussion – seems all PIA employees talk the same.

What were lacking are data and the tough questions.

  1. How much crop did we grow last year and the year before?  After tying up every productive body in the country, did we get our money’s worth?  The lack of data is informative by itself, because if it had positive data the Minister wouldn’t have wasted the time to tell us.  Crop production is less than one-third of Eritrea’s need.  Gerset/Fanko projects are white elephants!
  2. Mr. Arefaine was uncomfortable addressing dairy, meat, fruit and vegetable production.  Twenty two years after independence, MILK remains expensive and in severe short supply.  Leaving everything aside, a country that can’t provide affordable milk to its young generation is a failed State.  Nothing is more telling than this of the pathetic situation of the country!
  3. One may safely speculate that over 80% of the agricultural production comes from subsistence farmers.  However, due to PIA deliberate destructive policies, the countryside is stripped of all able bodies and thus country folks are too old to till their lands.  Without enabling subsistence farmers to grow and organize through farmers’ cooperatives, food production can NEVER be sufficient to feed the country.  PIA is going the opposite direction.
  4. Self-sufficiency is an outdated concept of the mid-twentieth century.  Even the mother of all self-sufficiency, China, has embarked on interdependency with other countries to propel its economy.   All of Mao’s ideologies of self-sufficiency, which PIA is emulating, were thrown out like yesterday’s newspaper and a new model envisioned by Deng Xiaoping has propelled China into emerging political and economic superpower.

Regime’s Tired Messages

The regime continues to use two poor excuses to maintain lawlessness in Eritrea.

  1. Border: this will not be resolved for another 25 years.  Normalizing relations with Ethiopia shouldn’t be a pre-condition.  In fact, the most worrying border issue remains with Yemen over the ill-defined water territories.
  2. Self-sufficiency: which is assumed to be food production is unrealistic expectation.  No country in today’s world is fully self-sufficient.  Even the most fertile or most insular countries do not have this singular mission.
  3. Infrastructure:  In the last tens years, Eritrea’s infrastructure has deteriorated.  The most important infrastructure, electricity and energy, is totally neglected.  Housing, esp. affordable ones, is unheard of in Eritrea.  A Chinese company is negotiating with Addis Ababa municipality to build 500,000 houses.  What a contrast!

State Department 2013 Human Trafficking Report on Eritrea (Tier 3): Worst Ranking for 5 Consecutive Years

The report downplays the regime’s role in human trafficking.

“Although the government acknowledged the existence of a trafficking problem, including sending a letter seeking assistance of the UN Secretary-General, and warning its citizens of the dangers that traffickers posed, authorities largely lacked understanding of human trafficking, conflating it with all forms of transnational migration from Eritrea. The government rejected responsibility for creating circumstances that drove its citizens to flee the country.”

In reality, there are two concrete facts about the regime pertaining to human trafficking:

  1. this is a regime, like every dictator, bent on maintaining an iron clad control over the nation.  Not a single person can sneeze without the regime knowing it.  The fact that smugglers are calling from within Asmara can only be with the government’s tacit consent.
  2. the regime’s ‘pattern of behaviour’ is consistent with its efforts to destroy the youths by depriving them of hope and leading them into desperation.
  3. the Eritrean tragedies associated with human trafficking are PIA’s (indirect) RENDITION PROGRAM.   It is about meting out punishment through third parties.

Kudos to Elsa Chyrum, Meron, Dr. Alganesh Fessehaye and other human rights activists!  You restore our faith in Eritrean compassion!

FINAL COMMENT: Mr. Tesfai Temnewo

  1. Mr. Tesfai has every right to tell his story.
  2. Similarly, those who disagree with his story have every right to tell their version of the story.
  3. Documenting Eritrean history is important and must be done as soon as possible, especially as those involved in history are slowly passing away.
  4. However, documenting history should be left to educated and experienced historians.  In the meantime, we should withhold our judgements.
  5. We should learn about ourselves from our history.  But to judge individuals about their past is counterproductive and incorrect as it is judging with the benefit of hindsight.  That would be unfair and even destructive.  We should only learn the lessons from past mistakes and move on.  I can assure my readers that all those condemning others would do worse things if they were in their shoes.
  6. Although good to know about our past, all of our today’s efforts should focus on strategizing about the removal of the regime through positive action and on discussing our future.  To dwell on the past only weakens our political campaigns.  Let us focus on the today’s tragedies!

Eternal glory to Eritrean fallen heroes!

Shame on those who deny Eritrean tragedies!

Berhan Hagos

 

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