The Eritrean regime is silent on many issues these days, but Eri-TV’s programmes suggest that the spin-doctors of the regime in Asmara are still busy trying to sell their long-held idea that the rest of the world and especially the US and the CIA are continuing to hatch plots targeting President Isaias, aiming to deny Eritrea the work of its ‘visionary’ and ‘prophetic’ leader. This is not a euphemism or a metaphor. These are the actual words used by the Eritrean media to describe Isaias. Eritrean politics have long been involved in building up a personality cult around the President, but this is the first time that a whole series of programmes are being broadcast on official media to convince Eritreans that in the absence of the ‘dear leader’ and his theory of self-reliance, Eritrea will collapse into chaos. It’s not entirely clear if the spin-doctors believe this is sellable to the long-suffering Eritrean people but no doubt some will be convinced.
Indeed, some of his supporters appear so enamoured of President Isaias’ exceptional powers and wisdom that they are prepared to claim in pubic that the CIA is targeting him because he ‘happens to be the only voice of defiance against their policy of creative chaos.” They would have us believe President Isaias is the only worthy leader in Africa whose counsel is sought out by many on matters of global importance, ignoring the fact that the only evidence they can point to for this are his lengthy monologues about what he thought about what he had said the year before and the year before that. Of course, he does also travel quite often to inspect regions outside Asmara, berating local residents for being ‘spoilt’ if they are foolish enough to suggest they would like improved services. President Isaias’ dismal record in diplomacy and his fallout with all his friends as well as isolation from the entire international community is touted as a hallmark of the ‘depth’ of his leadership. In fact, the only ‘depth’ of his leadership is the depth to which Eritrea has sunk, economically and politically under President Isaias.
It is not clear how many Eritrean lives will have to perish and how many Eritreans will leave the country before the excesses of the regime are called into question. The Eritrean President has often blamed his own people for their suffering under his rule. He has even reprimanded them for trafficking in dough to evade the government’s controls over the movement of cereals. This is not the depth in leadership that passionately patriotic Eritreans deserve but it hasn’t prevented President Isaias frequently making similar remarks. Indeed, he has essentially managed to reduce an entire nation to barefoot soldiers who fritter their lives away in ridiculous projects meant to showcase the wise leadership of the President. His only task has become the maintenance of his position for as long as he can and now apparently until he thinks one of his offspring might become fit to take the mantle of power.
It isn’t only diehard supporters of President Isaias who are complicit in his collapse into the depths of totalitarian debauchery. Some in the opposition seem to believe, perhaps sincerely, that there is still be some saving grace to be found. They laboriously try to find a few redeeming qualities even in an accomplished despot who kills his people without qualms. Some try to rationalize his ruthless rule by pointing fingers at the enemies against which he has to fight to maintain Eritrea’s hard-won independence. They find solace in the “fact that Ethiopia is still kept at bay” thanks to his leadership. Some so-called opposition websites go as far as to suggest that President Isaias, the ‘personification of wisdom and justice”, will now listen to their calls to reconsider the refusal to allow the burial of Naizghi Kiflu who died a couple of months ago. For some this is an aberration they find hard to understand, an isolated freak moment in the life of ‘an otherwise lucid and fair-minded leader’. They stubbornly hold on to the hope that some explanation will be found in the crevices of Eritrea’s presidential office.
In fact, the truth of the matter is that neither President Isaias’ rule nor his callous response to a comrade’s death is anything isolated or freakish. The attitudes revealed in these and similar episodes have been the hallmark of his leadership from day one. Nor can what we see today be considered in any sense a reaction to any real or perceived threats to Eritrea’s independence. Rather, it is a dangerous pattern to which many Eritrean political forces and intellectuals have contributed, whether wilfully or inadvertently. The problems emanating from President Isaias’ unbridled totalitarianism require sober assessment and understanding, as well as careful and considered response.
Source: A Week in the Horn – April 13, 2012 issue
Check the Eritrea archive for related posts.