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FORTO: THE TOMBSTONE OF THE PANOPTICON PFDJ REGIME  By Ezana sehay For quite some time, the kaleidoscopes of Eritrea have been signaling, that the hermit state of Isayas is limping into the sinkhole it has dug itself. Besides



Ezana sehay

For quite some time, the kaleidoscopes of Eritrea have been signaling, that the hermit state of Isayas is limping into the sinkhole it has dug itself. Besides the obvious socio-political crisis, its economy is crumbling, exacerbated by bad policies and debilitating international alienation.

Nevertheless, despite the multitudes of problems, no one saw the earth quake that sent tremors across the regime’s foundation coming. I am referring of course, to the –  shot across the bow – of January 21, 2013: the salvo of the few brave men members of the Eritrean defense forces, whose heroic occupation of the ministry of information has exposed the hollowness of the regime.

Ironically, the gravity of the Forto operation was affirmed by none other than the regime itself. Initially, it seemed confused and perturbed. It then tried to cover it up. When that become impossible, its spin doctors and diplomats began to spew different, at times conflicting narratives to what transpired.

When all those failed, the head honcho [Isayas], himself come out of his sequestration and, true to form, attempted to give his version of the operation which openly challenged his legitimacy, with yet another god father like posturing.

But, looking and listening to him; one is left with the impression, that, this is a man on his last gasp, he looked more like the victims of Tony soprano [the mob boss of the TV show], than the boss himself. He looked far less imposing rather restive. Gone is his peremptory persona. There is no question Forto has taken him down a peg.

His attempt to put a different spin on the Forto rebellion was a disaster. In his title tattle jibbering he tried to belittle the operation by concocting a film that played in to the passions of his hardcore supporters.

In a nut shell, isayas’s interview looked more like a valediction speech, his poise, an annunciation of his regime’s down fall. However, in typical the norm of all dictatorial regimes; before its complete collapse, it is trying to tie its fate to nation’s future.

Ergo, before the lid on its coffin is laid on, the people need to render the final judgment on this group, which has been a scourge to the nation for two decades. But first, the time is ripe, before its total demise, for a brief look back, in order to fully expose haw wicked this cult clique is.

 Forto is its tombstone, henceforth, its epitaph.

The Genesis: shortly after independence referendum, Isayas and cohorts created the People’s Front for Justice and Democracy [PFDJ], whose leadership excluded much of the liberation veterans and replaced them by marionettes from nowhere, whose credential is loyalty to their puppeteer [Isayas]. This gives credence to the belief that; despite the persistence holistic problem facing the nation, there is little chance of a coupe. Because, his appointees are singularly unqualified for their jobs, and thus more grateful to their benefactor.

The Pathology: since its inception the PFDJ has been marred with lies, wars, tyranny and terror; resulting the decay of social, moral and the ecosystem, which in turn incubated a profound national crisis.

When the nation achieved independence, people understood well, independence and freedom are not the same; but, they also believed the two ought to go together. Well PFDJ has proven them wrong. From the beginning the party has been in the business of muzzling freedom rather than promoting it. It has become an instrument of repression and regime monopoly of the resources. It simply become isayas’s political base and overtime grew more than that.

By controlling the army and the secret service it created an elaborate security apparatus that keeps the people cowed. Ultimately, the party which encapsulates itself under the blanket of liberator started to lose the confidence of the general population, but manage to remain in charge with the help of its efficient spy network.

It has intimidated even killed to reach where it is, and its legitimacy rests on continuing to incarcerate or eliminate opponents as long as necessary. It believes, it must ensure it is perceived as a group willing and able to do what others wouldn’t. In short, since it can’t be loved, it must be feared.

Consequently, popular discontent grew. But the regime responded with more harsh and draconian measures. In an attempt to manipulate and control the people it created a moral turpitude that extended in to the very basic unit of the society [the family]. It turned every citizen to a certain degree, in to a schemer in order to create an environment favorable only to the party.

Skilled Eritreans were denied their professional freedom. Intellectuals found it difficult to operate in such suffocating environment, as a result, the elite of the society have been largely pushed in to exile, and most of those who remain seem to have lost touch of reality.

Another crime of the regime is its persistent assault on the unity of the people. It has perfected the art of the archaic divide and rule; it surreptitiously exploits minor schemes that exist in the society and incorporates them in to its modus operandi. In the absence of such division it would create one.

When all these failed or become too weak to sustain control, the regime resorted to violence and mass punishment, such as cloistering the entire population.

Recently, I listened to Assena’s broadcast of an interview with a former prisoner, by the name of Samuel Berhane. His detailed personal account, while he was incarcerated, creeped me out and I was struck to learn haw the Eritrean prison system mirror the gulags found in North Korea. The remoteness of the prison camps, the methods of torture, the lack of medical treatment and the excommunication of prisoners from their family members, is cruel, outmoded practice that exists only in those two countries [Eritrea and North Korea].

Some wonder haw the Eritrean people survive under such a system; well apparently they have developed premonition to it.

Assigning Responsibility: there will come a time, perhaps sooner than we think, when the people of Eritrea will have to address the issue of accountability, individual or collective, for the masterminding, supporting and applauding the regime’s crimes against the nation.

Although, Isayas is the prime mover behind this terror and agony, he is not alone. If we can speak of collective guilt, we have to consider the ones who made brain washing and suppression as the ideological basis of the regime’s function. And those regime propagandists whose long historical process of manipulation have created and nourished some dangerous myths, and produced close minded followers, ready to destroy their country in defense of a political group.

And the regime’s brigades of semantic hustlers; who use their knowledge to create a generation of wrapped minds, without even the pretense of serving any higher principle other than the purpose of extending the regime’s life span. They are responsible for the indoctrination and projection of a perverted mind of a leader on to the people.

Naturally, all the conspiracies, sinister tactics or the concerted effort of control didn’t make the regime’s power base safe or secure. Au contraire, they have made the country perilous and the regime despised and discarded. That is when they began to express their resentment in a variety of ways but, none is as dramatic as, the mass migration of the youth.

In the last decade alone, about half a million Eritreans are believed to have left their country, making Eritrea, one of the highest source refugee per-capita. Michael ignatieff, one of the prolific social scientists and former professor Harvard Kennedy School, stated – “…a country begins to die order disintegrated, when people cease to trust their government or fellow citizens – and when people think life is better elsewhere and began to leave.”

I am afraid that is exactly what is happening to Eritrea today. Thanks to PFDJ, the euphoria felt by Eritreans and friends of Eritrea following independence has been replaced by a nightmare that scared an entire generation. It is so more tragic when one considers the country’s potential. I mean, there is no nation more suited to democratization.

1940s, Baseline Paradigm:  about ten years ago, I read a book in Tigrigna, titled “AYNFELALE”. Based on the context of the book, the title can be loosely translated as LET’S NOT GET DIVIDED”. It is written by a former fighter [tegadalay}, with the backing of the ministry of information. However, shortly after its release, I was told the government had a change of mind and pulled the books off the shelves and pulled the plug on further publication. Now I can understand why, because, the underpinning context of the book is antithesis of that of the regime’s ideology.

Anyway, the book chronicles events that transpire in Eritrea in the 1940s; during the British protectorate. While the UN was deliberating the fate of Eritrea, according to the book, Eritreans were also engaged in a heated debate about their future.

The book, which by the way is modestly researched and indexed, was an eye opener, not only to the political transformation of the Eritrea society, but also, the relative sophistication of, albeit a few, the civic and  religious leaders and their brief foray in to the then unknown world of democracy and civility.

The leaders represented diverse political, social and religious goals and interests, some contrary to one another. But one wouldn’t know by the way they conducted themselves during the discussions, negotiations or arguments, which were all over the then print media for public consumption. Sometimes they have managed to narrow their differences, other times – they amicably agreed to disagree while respecting each other’s views.

By the way, the title of the book refers to the solemn vow those leaders made to each other: a promise to stay united for the sake of common national goal.

What was remarkable was, haw those leaders understood the concept of egalitarianism and how cordially discussed ways of achieving it with in the broader issue of national self determination. It was amazing how they managed navigate through the complex theory of liberal democracy and made it so linear and easy to swallow by the lay man/woman Eritrean.

That was tabula rosa: first, there were no institutions to facilitate democracy, second, we are talking 1940s, when liberal democracy was in infancy even in those colonial powers. But the 1940s Eritrean leaders understood the very essence of democratization with in the broader national emancipation process.

Fast forward to 2013; in today’s Eritrea, the people are declared unqualified to be democratic because, according to Isayas and his stooges, they [the Eritrean people} are “ignorant, unable to comprehend the complexities of freedom”. That is why we say the events in post independent Eritrea have been a giant step back ward.

After independence, understandably, the expectations of the people were high. But they were also willing to give the regime ample time so long as it shows a commitment to democratization. However, by mid 1990s, Eritreans began to show apprehension at the slow pace of institutional development, the precursor to democratization. Shortly, legal and social experts earnestly started the arduous process of drafting the sin qua non document: the constitution.

But, when it was time for its ratification he {Isayas}, sabotaged it by initiating a conflict with Ethiopia. After the culmination of the war, some influential members of the government and liberation heroes requested, among other things, the democratization process to resume. Driven by his paranoia of losing control, isayas’s response was; to unleash a reign of terror and intimidation in a much larger scale than ever.

Cognizant of the pernicious nature of the regime and realizing the top down reform has failed, the attitude of the people towards it [the regime], underwent a revolution.

Hence forth, Eritreans have become conscious of the fact, that, PFDJ is neither interested nor capable of reform. Or the fundamental conflict between the interests of the people and the regime are so incongruous, genuine democracy under PFDJ is impossible.

Forto and the Ripple Effect:

The Forto revolution was, in many ways than one, a watershed moment; the harbinger of the ignominious death of the regime. It was an event that shattered so many myths about the government and its grip of power; shaken its foundation and left its leaders trembling.

Colonel Ali and comrades may have failed to see the day light, because of isayas’s turncoats, but their sacrifices is transformative. Those brave men, not only did they set a precedent that will steer the country upon a new trajectory path, but also ignited a social radioactive which has inspired whole spectrum of Eritrean society.

Not long ago, it was easy to be cynical about Eritreans’ activist movements that rise up one day just to fizzle out the next. But that is not the case this time. Forto has given Eritreans a sense of civic duty and a new faith in activism to incite change and justice in their homeland.

Sure Diaspora Eritreans have come together in the past to express outrage at the lack of freedom in their country; but past protests were isolated, limited to narrow agendas, quickly lost steam and rarely inspire such high youth participation and galvanized communities across the world. Most of the past campaigns were led by certain political or civic leaders – not that there is anything wrong with it. This time though, individuals are stirring of their own volition.

All these indicate, Colonel Ali’s heroic sacrifice has become to denote an exhortation, well received by Eritreans all over.

In conclusion: to those of you, who are stuck to your policy of pause and see or couch potatoes, waiting down for someone else to do your share of work, you need to understand, silence at this time is as bad as complicity. It is time each member of this group, reflect on your inner most thoughts and examine whether your cowardice or compromise have made you abettor in the suffering of the Eritrean people.

To those of you, who are genuinely confused, use your conscious. Intuition will google you to where you ought to be: on the right side.

To everyone who wishes a happy epilogue for the nation and is committed to today’s killer app [democracy], please, keep in mind, the Eritrean revolution doesn’t need a temporary sugar high, but a lasting protein drink.

To those of you, who have already demonstrated a commitment to honor the legacy of WEDI ALI, guard the revolutionary fuse he has lit – kudos.

Happy march 8

Review overview
  • Romay Abraham March 6, 2013

    Ayte Ezana,
    FYI the book is still available at Awget book store. I bought it last summer.
    Of course it is not available in Mekele!!

    • Dr. Bruke March 7, 2013

      please stay on the issue to discuss and polite

  • Redi Kifle (bashay) March 6, 2013

    Hi Ezana,

    I can see the consistency of brilliance. By the way, forget those who forgot themselves.

  • Dr. Bruke March 7, 2013

    very knowledgeable and timely article.
    God bless you brother