Ethiopia: ESAT, its interview with Isayas Afeworki and critics

Dimetros Birku
February 16,2015

It took forever for ESAT (Ethiopia Satellite Television) to release the interview with Eritrean President which was conducted in Eritrea during what seemed like a “fact finding” journalistic crusade by two members of ESAT’s journalists, Fasil Yenealem and Messay Mekonnen. I was wondering as to why it took the time it did for ESAT to release the interview and thought it was meant to be a suspense. Then, I realized that perhaps they needed time to complete transcribing and translating works while carrying out their daily routine.
In any case, soon after I finished watching the interview with Isayas Afewroki this morning, I browsed social media to see how people reacted to it and learn about the views that politicized Ethiopians make out of the interview.

As expected, I would say, the interview generated a good amount of controversy like conversations. However, the basis of the conversation, seemingly, was not the merit of the interview in its entirety and its political relevance. In most cases, except some who tend to view the interview in light of historical determinism as it relates to the history of the ruling party in Eritrea and the role of Isayas Afeworki in the making of processes, political or otherwise, which produced the situation Ethiopia is in today- a politically fragmented entity along ethnic lines which the “international community” and the Western world hail as something promising rather- the critic was against inarticulate presentations of questions by ESAT journalists.

Isayas Afewroki, based on the his response to one of the questions by Fasil, disowned his role as one of, at least, the architect of the political process that left Ethiopia in the firm grip of Tigray People’s Liberation front (TPLF) with whom, as many of you are well aware, he and his party developed animosity in a matter of less than a decade after collaborative guerrilla war toppled Mengistu’s regime. What followed after is a fresh memory for many of us: a devastating war between Eritrea and Ethiopia which took the lives of hundreds of thousands of lives – unfortunately for nothing.

After the war, Isayas Afeworki’s approach, and perhaps political view, as it relates to Ethiopia is changed so much so that multiples of rebel forces with a vision to change the ethnic political structure based, typical of colonial era in most parts of Africa, administration in Ethiopia are operating on the Eritrean side of Ethio-Eritrean border.

No question that Eritrean support to Ethiopian rebels is not a matter of altruism as there is no such thing as altruism in politics. And if it is not altruism, what is the motive? This is a question that requires serious reflection- a reflection divorced from emotion and impulsiveness. But I am convinced that perhaps the support from the side of Eritrea transcends the motive of ending TPLF rule in Ethiopia per se – I mean if the motive could be related to ending woyanne rule in Ethiopia. If that is the case, what exactly is the Eritrean motive is something I cannot say with accuracy.

Yet, I have the feeling that although the administration in Eritrea managed to emphasize sovereignty ,virtually in all its forms, in view of multifaceted pressure from the “international community and the West” to open up, deep inside it’s clear to them how vulnerable they are if societies in the region fall apart as victims of the “globalization” agenda. Then again, Eritrea’s very cordial relation with Sudan – which is a totally supportive of TPLF regime in Ethiopia is somewhat confusing. Sudan’s relation with TPLF does not seem to have any ideological basis in terms of internationalism except Sudan’s apparent interest in weaker and divided Ethiopia which is what TPLF politics is doing in essence if not in principle too. Sudan clearly subscribes to Woyanne ideology in Ethiopia while it is fighting it tooth and nail in its own soil. The state of Sudan is not without problem both with the “international community” and internally with its own opposition.

Ethiopia represents a different story. The Ethiopian culture is essentially collapsing. Different countries with cultural, political and economic interest have strong presence in the country –sometimes deep in the country side. “Art” and “aid work” in Ethiopia have become more of strategies of cultural conquest rather than what the terminologies sound in the real sense of the term.

As it stands now, it is not even hard to see presence of conflicting interest in Ethiopia. Despite all the records of human rights violation and repression (I bet the repression in Ethiopia took more lives that the conflict in Ukraine!), the West is supporting the regime in Ethiopia and TPLF has done much of what the west wants in Ethiopia culturally and economically speaking. Ironically, the West is also cultivating western values in the Ethiopian opposition and in the emerging “activists” too -be it those based in the diaspora or those operating in Ethiopia. TPLF itself is not aware that it only has a relative control until high magnitude political-quake hits the core. As well, there is a strong presence from the Islamic world. Turkey is growing its economic presence in the country and might have some ambition in Somalia too. Other countries in the Middle East including Israel have economic presence in Ethiopia as “investors.”

The point I am trying to make is that whether it is what seems to be “conquer culture first and then entrench economic exploitation” model of the west or apparently “economic-culture” conquest model of countries with Islamic interest in Ethiopia and the region, they will turn out to be a threat to Eritrea as well in the course of time. Besides, economically speaking it is not secret that Eritrea can immensely benefit from stable and prosperous Ethiopia and an Ethiopia that could have a good relation with Eritrea. So it would be rational, in my opinion, for Eritrea to disengage its old policy of seeing a weak Ethiopian state and help remove Woyanne which has become a subservient of the project to demolish Ethiopia if it is not maintaining its supremacy. Woyanne cannot even see its tendency to push the frontiers of Tigray in all directions will not be of help at the end of the day if the region falls in the hands of this or that expansionist force. But I have the understanding that regime in Eritrea seem to be enlightened about this particular issue and the course the international order is taking. So it is possible that Eritrea might have changed its outlook towards the politics of Ethiopia. Yes, it is important that we have astute leaders and politically conscious politicized mass if change for good is to come in Ethiopia. Eritrea could not be and should not be a guarantee for change in Ethiopia. But if what is offered in Eritrea is employed strategically and efficiently, it could help in some way and I have no doubt about it. We should not be stuck in historical determinism of what Isayas and EPLF did to Ethiopia and the fact that they definitely calculate what Eritrea will get in everything they do. That’s obvious.

Finally, I do not want to hide how disappointing it is to see that some of the critics of ESAT’s interview are stuck in the inarticulate presentation, which was clearly devoid of political context and cleverness, of Messay’s question to Isayas Afeworki rather than what Isayas had to say for the question, if the interpretation of the Tigrigna interview is accurate.

Apparently, Mesay wanted to pose a question whether austere life style is a culture that the administration in Eritrea is shaping. Isayas captured the question very well in its political context and addressed it in a way relating to ethics and culture which is very crucial in politics. What we failed to see and appreciate too is his convincing explanation as to how materialism could be corrupting and a liability in society.

Also, disappointing that many critics of this question didn’t say a word, from the comments and conversations I saw on facebook, about what Isayas had to say which was really insightful. What Isayas had to say about astuter life is much like what Fidel Castro believes in fighting the corrupting power of power itself- and I give credit for Isayas in that regard – I mean if he meant it.

The Ethiopian opposition and activism is a big time failure when it comes to understanding the relevance of culture in political struggle. Much of the ritual we often see in events of rallies, town hall meetings and fundraising drives are off target and in line with perpetuating mental slavery rather than one that triggers political consciousness. The image and notion of “hero” is also corrupted; it is now increasingly turning out to be a show biz with no capacity to transform thinking and determination in political struggle. How can a struggle without a political consciousness can bring about change? ESAT itself is indulging in bad rituals at times and it does not seem to get the point that it is not shaping consciousness. Bounded rationality aside, in light of information access ESAT has and the breadth of its audience it has to be aware of what it is doing.

On a different ending note, I am curious as to why Isayas shun the question as it relates to his childhood. He emphasized to the point that he is the product of life and that two thirds of his life time was spent in the struggle. He claimed that “he is a product of struggle” – apparently not the other way round. Well the struggle came later. My question is was his childhood Eritrean?

The writer can be reached on twitter : @dimetros
or email – dbirku@gmail.com

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