PFDJ has forfeited its right to be respected: it must surrender power to the rightful owners.

A couple weeks ago I wrote an essay entitled, to the unknown soul. It was an attempt to share my shock and grief upon the peril of hundreds of young people. I had the opportunity to enter Asmara on May, 24, 1991. On that day, despite battle exhaustion, we were at the height of our energy and optimism. Asmara had just erupted in euphoria, the suburbs where Ethiopian army had vacated were burning. Apart from sporadic gun shots, there was no organized enemy, there was no position to attack. Kidane, a veteran fighter, had thrown his cigarette’s butt away and said, “This, I hope, is the last bullet I fire” and let two shots out to the air, stating they were celebratory shots. He took out his two-years-old daughter’s picture muttering he had completed his commitment to free Eritrea.

Recently, I heard his daughter survived the perilous journey out of Eritrea. Most of Lampadusa victims would have been Kidane daughter’s age. The tragedy has affected many people around the world. The response of the government was shamefully inadequate. As usual, the government would want to wait it out. The bodies and their horror stories, though, shocked the world. Although too late and somewhat clumsy, the government scrambled to damage control mode. Sadly, this is the future Kidane did not anticipated. For those of us who spent our prime time in making Eritrea a country, this is not an exciting time. What makes this predicament so shocking is the fact that it is our own creation; I will come to it.

This should not be the fate of a country like ours. This was a country of difficult delivery with a bright prospect of growing fast. Yes, the delivery was complicated and strenuous, surrounded by stories of dedication and selflessness. Many heroes and heroines did not live to see her birth. They did not experience the euphoric atmosphere that engulfed her birth; they did not see the sheer determination and optimism her stewards felt. She was expected to make up lost opportunities with her caretakers, ready to chaperon her along the path of the winners, not the losers. The future was bright. She did have time-tested custodians who were keen to see her success, ambitious to spread their confidence to their continent, proud to tell their children stories of their sacrifices, and how they achieved the improbable one, the birth of Eritrea. Twenty two years later, for these men and women of courage and doggedness, it should have been time of reflection and satisfaction. It should have been time they felt confident they had made the right decision in passing the torch to the next generation, for every generation has limited time to accomplish so much.

Thanks to the leaders of PFDJ, of course, all that’s been squandered. They have made Eritrea an example of everything bad. The number of Eritreans fleeing independent Eritrea may, by some estimates, exceed the number of Eritreans joined the resistance for its liberation. This is in contrast to our anticipations. We were people of great expectations; they were not unrealistic ones. Eritrea had all the ingredients of becoming an example of rapid post war recovery. But we made a costly mistake. We kept trusting our leaders. Eritreans believed those leaders would take us to a better future and greatness; we believed our leaders would herald a new era that had eluded Africa for half a century. We believed in them, that was it. We surrendered our liberty to the whims of men with no mechanism in place to check if we were served decently, no rubric of grading them, none whatsoever other than trusting them. What we should have known is the fact that very few revolutionaries turned out to be democrats. Very few of them, actually, make good statesmen.

In 1994, the dust of war had barely settled when the popular front (EPLF), transformed itself to an instrument of suppressing popular demands. We kept quiet. Unwanted and avoidable wars ensued. We danced, and within days behaved as if we were the generals conducting the war, updating our imaginary maps at every coffee session. After that disastrous war, constitutional and democratic demands were crushed; their proponents, politicians and journalists alike, were purged. We acquiesced, moreover, argued that our leaders must have been justifiable, although no credible justification was presented. Years of additional callous adventures followed earning us an embargo which has sent things spiraling down. Again, this latter was also avoidable.

Eritreans have been so generous to PFDJ leaders (if they are to be called leaders.) PFDJ has been defended for its failures, forgiven for its blunders; practically, allowed to redo Pol Pot’s failed experiments for so long. The time of rationalization has long passed. The time for validation and waiting for wishful twist has certainly evaporated. Particularly, for those of us who invested so much trust in it, PFDJ’s devastating policies have caused us so much trauma; our conscience is in turmoil. How long is enough? The pleas of our sons and daughters are pounding our hearts. The plight of our people has become so loud and desperate that it has challenged our notion of what it should mean to be patriotic. Something is raging deep inside our hearts and the conflict and tension down there should resolve; that begins with a bitter acknowledgement: We created PFDJ, it’s become unfit to rule us; we decide it should be dismantled.

PFDJ’s policies, if continued, will have only one certain result: the unmaking of Eritrea. Twenty two years is a long time. In human terms, a child would have been raised and able to chart his/her own life. In twenty two years, nations undergo major changes, in some cases, to the extent their present image contradicts their past one. To the contrary, Eritrea, has been in a steady decline. Recently, that retroceding has been gathering speed. After twenty two years, becoming tiers with Somalia and the DRC should have been a position we should not have found ourselves in. How could we settle for this outcome? How could a generation that has endured so much for the making of Eritrea becomes an idle observer to its unmaking? This is a question social scientists should find interesting.

Eritrea is ravaged by years of Khmer rouge style policies. Nothing of a miracle will reverse its astounding back fall except the realization of the bitter fact that we created PFDJ; admitting that it has failed us, therefore, demand it surrenders power to the people. It’s more than likely the situation will get worse unless PFDJ’s unruly behavior is not checked. However, with its present arrogant attitude, there appears no room where PFDJ leaders would brave the admission: “Sorry, we messed things up. We tried to the best of our ability to stay in power, but you know, even staying in power could sometimes become numbing, particularly, when your fans number gets drying up. Can you help us locate the constitution? “This choice would be desirable for the country. It would be similar to Nyerere of Tanzania’s exit strategy. Some may go for reform. Nonetheless, hoping PFDJ to refurbish itself, at this point, would be akin to an exhausted lioness switching turn with the lion in attending to the cabs so the lion could keep killing the poor antelopes.

Many concerned Eritreans have been sounding the alarm for many years. Many thanks to these patriots who endured years of name calling and abuse. At this juncture, it all boils down to whether the calls of our conscience breaks us free from the shackles of fear; whether pleas of our youth will shudder our deep-rooted loyalties and affinities to certain historical organizations there by finding a common ground. Here, there is no more formidable common ground than the prospect of the unmaking of Eritrea in front of our eyes. It’s true our liberation experience conditioned us to get apprehensive about change; therefore, many calls for change have gone by unheeded. Seized by unjustified fear that we may jeopardize hard-earned independence, we refused to question obvious transgression on human rights, outdated economic ventures, foreign policy blunders, and the robbing of our political destiny. We may disagree on approaches, but the airport is the same. Listen to your inner thoughts. If deep in your heart believe we could and must do better than PFDJ, then as a good citizen, it’s your responsibility to dissent. It’s your right to demand for change; if deemed unattainable, then trash your organizational loyalty. No organization is bigger than the country.

Mahmud  Saleh

Ps: By “we” I mean anyone who has some connection with/contribution to the creation of PFDJ; anyone who has been exercising restraint in criticizing the government for various reasons.

Written and published on assenna in October 2013

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