Exactly a year ago, in an article titled “The Politics of Writing an Eritrean Identity”, I argued against military intervention in Eritrea by, among other, elucidating how the Eritrean identity has been constructed and its impact on heralding the creation of another Somalia in the North if we get rid of the bad boy.
In lieu, I argued for “maintaining the statuesque vis-à-vis Eritrea and waiting for the dying mad dog to dig his own grave by providing every single catalyst short of war”. This is because the Eritrean identity is constructed vis-à-vis this “Enemy-Villain- Barbaric” Ethiopian identity, which would unite Eritreans against such enemy if we intervened in Eritrea.
Hence, a full-fledged invasion of Eritrea, where everyone is equipped with an ideological and actual Kalashnikov, would be jumping from the frying pan to the fire! Both my diagnosis and prescription proved me right and challenged the existence of the Isaias regime in the months that followed. Three episodes!
Ethiopia’s Surprise Attack: a Classic Catalyst
Ethiopia’s surprise attack on Eritrean military camps on 15 March 2012 was a classic catalyst that facilitated the inevitable demise of Isaias. The strike and Isaias’ inability to retaliate was shocking for both the Eritrean military and the mass who have been made to “believe” they won the 1998/2000 war. (A sane person wouldn’t believe the Eritrean television narrates about the heroic success the Eritrean military achieved during the war albeit they retreated for strategic reasons).
The attacks undermined Isaias’ perceived ability to defend Eritrea from the arch foe Ethiopia upon which his political legitimacy is constructed, and more importantly deconstructed the narrative that Eritreans are so invincible that they could have a breakfast at Yohaness Palace and a dinner at Menelik Palace if they wanted to.
The military mutiny on 21 January 2013 is just one manifestation of this national frustration. The soldiers never wanted nor tried to topple the government and hold power. They only wanted to tell their disappointment and frustration; they only wanted the failure of their revolution to be televised.
The death of the Eritrean struggle was televised twenty years after Eritrea’s independence had been televised. Isaias’ inevitable demise was televised before his actual demise.
Lampedusa: An Eye Opener
The Lampedusa tragedy was so catastrophic that even the once staunch Diaspora based supporters of Isaias couldn’t help but rethink their political opinion. The Eritrean television’s report of the tragedy as “the death of illegal African migrants” exacerbated Eritreans’ anger.
The PFDJ regime tried to divert the attention by inciting violence in Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia. It didn’t work. Many Eritreans started to speak out loud against the brutality of the Eritrean regime. As far as I know, this is the first time the Eritreans massively spoke against Isaias.
Wedi Tikabo, who I quoted for his pro-Isaias songs a year ago, now sings against the brutality of the PFDJ regime and narrates about broken promises.
It’s ironic that Wedi Tikabo who was widely known for his “Yigermenalo” track (We are surprised), in which he narrated that they were unpleasantly surprised why the world could not understand the economic miracles in Eritrea, now sings “it is not a secret that two generation of youngsters have perished”.
Last year I quoted him as a prominent propagandist of Isaias and his project of writing “Otherness” and sustaining the regime. BBC now calls him “Eritrea’s Bob Marley”! Alas, what an ironic and hilarious manifestation of ideological demise!
DEMHIT: the Identity Card Saga vs. Identity
On 28 October 2013, thousands of young Eritreans have been detained and taken to military training centers in Sawa and Wea. The act in and of itself was not surprising as it was business as usual.
What angered many Eritreans was the identity of the detainers: Members of Ethiopian rebel based in Eritrea called Tigray People Democratic Front aka Demhit.
The Demhit members were reported to have asked for “metawekya” and “mewesawesi” Ethiopian Tigrigna words whose Eritrean version are “tassera” and “menekesakesi”. Metawekya and Tassera are words with the same meaning: Identity Card.
The main markers of Eritrean identity are such differences of names and accents with the Tigrigna speaking people in the South of Mereb River.
In a nut shell, the Eritrean identity solely emanated from an identity card Isaias printed and distributed. Identity equaled identity card. Imagine how irritating it would be for Eritreans to be detained by the people whom they despised, by the language they hated. Isaias’ gun backfired.
One way or another, the senile mad dog of Asmara is dying. So is the Eritrean identity he authored, narrated and constructed. It is time to be prepared for Eritrea without its architect and the fake identity he created, and revise our foreign policy in such a way.
Thus far, our foreign policy and strategy has focused on short term objectives of conflict prevention. Now it’s time to look beyond conflict prevention and work for a sustainable solution.
(Note: Yosief Ghebrehiwet, an Eritrean writer, has elucidated much on this “metawekya” – “tassera” distinction).
* The author, Merkeb Negash, is a Lecturer of Political Science and International Relations at Jimma University. He is a bloger in this blog and can be reached at [email protected]
Previous posts by Merkeb Negash:
* Nile| Irresponsible Yet Demanding Egypt
* IMF’s pills for Ethiopia: It Ain’t the Economy, it Is the Lab!
* Nile| Renaissance dam’s unnoticed impact on Ethiopian psyche
* Is Meles’ developmentalism winning in Ethiopia?
* Analysis| Eritrea: Ali Abdu’s absence and Asmara’s silence
* In Defence Of Meles Zenawi: No Direct Relation Between Democracy and Development
* The Politics of Writing an Eritrean Identity: Foreign Policy as the Policy of Making Things Foreign
* The Post- Meles Ethiopian Developmental State: the Challenges Ahead