Having watched president Isaias’ adventurous video clip featuring his 2000 kms road trip to Sudan, it’s not easy not to ponder what he is trying to achieve out of what looks like a political pilgrimage and cultural diplomatic mission at the same time.
Despite all the allegations, on a personal level, and looking at it from the perspective of Eritrea Isaias’ life could rather be fascinating in a number of ways.
Conceivably, Isaias Afework lived a challenge, presumably a fulfilling and pleasant challenge, as a young man and guerrilla fighter in the Sahel wilderness. And it seems the case that the challenges he experienced as a guerrilla fighter did leave him stronger and more courageous that he really was. Yes, he has paid something in the process. Of all the costs, what he paid in the form of the lives of his guerrilla comrades seem to have a lasting influence which is may be reflected in various policies he is pursuing.
Probably the matter that is pushing Isaias along the path of what many think as an exceptionally brutal dictatorship is that he is demanding the kind of commitment and conviction he lived for his cause since his guerrilla time. Sending youngsters to military training camp for a military training might not sound insane for a man who spent a good portion of his age in the wilderness as a guerrilla fighter.
Apparently, Isaias still lives a spirit of guerrilla life and for the same cause. His rebellious stance towards the west says a lot about his personality and purpose in life which is quite different from the late Zenawi.
Despite records of gruesome human rights violations, the way he fearlessly mingles and chat with the public is uncommon, especially in Africa. Combining extraordinary personality with ordinary humble like approach is quite a task. His own old friend and foe the late Meles Zenawi lived a timid life as prime minister and was not seen mingling with a big crowed in the open air particularly in his last ten plus years in power. In fact, when Meles had to travel to his own hometown ,Adwa, during the last election, he had to be surrounded by tight and huge entourage of security personnel. Even his last “victory speech” had to be made for less than five minutes and in a bullet proof glass box.
Perhaps another remarkable, in a good way, feature of Isaias’ administration is that Eritrea is nowhere near the list of corrupt countries which is not the case with Meles Zenawi’s colleagues in Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leadership most of whom are running the Federal government and the ethnic Tigray people’s government in “Tigray regional state”
The way Isayas’ leadership is trying to shape the young generation in Eritrea, no matter how unpopular and at times abusive, is entirely different from the way the regime Meles created is shaping the youth in Ethiopia. TPLF government is in a way trying shape a generation with a feeling of second class citizen subservient to TPLF ideology and power. And the effort is, apparently, to make the youth comfortable with that trend while making service to TPLF regime economically rewarding. It’s producing a generation that swings towards perceiving corruption as a way of life – as a means of desirable “affluent” life. The corrupt and the subservient are honored while those who stand firm in ethical/ moral ground and value their Ethiopian identity most, rather than TPLF ideology, are heckled and thrown to jail.
What could be remarkable similarity between the two administrations is that they are both producing a generation determined to leave for abroad, anywhere, even at the cost of life. The recent Lampadusa tragedy and Saudi crackdown on immigrants which caused another are nothing but manifestations of the problem in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The alleged “double digit growing economy” ironically created dystopia for millions too which even made leaving the “growing economy” behind appear the only hope of survival. Isaias’s government is producing immigrants in his own ways.
Yet, the purpose and nature of dictatorship in Eritrea is obviously different from TPLF dictatorship in Ethiopia. Isaias demonstrated no commitment for ethnic supremacy rule and creation of wealth on the basis of ethnicity.
Personal accounts of Isaias’ political personality aside, the political and diplomatic significance of Isaias’ trip adventurous road trip to Sudan and its implication in the region need to be examined carefully.
Writer can be reached on twitter @dimetros