The voluntary ignorance of the Eritrean people
Isaias cannot change; only we can change if we voluntarily let go of our ignorance!9. On self-reliance: Is the present government really self-reliant as it has been deafening our ears for years on end? What
Isaias cannot change; only we can change if we voluntarily let go of our ignorance!
9. On self-reliance: Is the present government really self-reliant as it has been deafening our ears for years on end? What is self-reliance by definition? Are we as a people self-reliant? Are we any different from other nations in Africa in the kind of remittances we receive from our family members or relatives abroad, the aid we need, the level of poverty we suffer from? Has our land yielded enough of its potential if not more than other people’s lands?
Do we have enough to eat, enough to wear, to keep ourselves clean? Our bony and pale features from the cities to the villages testify in the clearest terms to our hardship. To gauge ourselves from our clothing, even people sitting behind office desks are today recognized by their frayed and mismatched clothes. Our teachers too are a case in point. The stigma of tattered and stained clothes that we used to associate with Tigrean beggars has now become a badge of many of our citizens. No amount of wailing and grief for our own selves would suffice. As to cleanliness, may the streets of Asmara which have been flooded with streams of urine, not to speak of the human waste, bear witness. There is also another witness. i. e. the city buses in Asmara in which I ride enveloped in intolerable stench coming out of passengers. We have got as miserable and needy as we can be. Where does our cliché “Ertrawiko” (“The Eritrean is a unique creature” cliché, to use a rough interpretation) fit when we compare ourselves with other people on earth?
Two months ago the Japanese people were hit by a strong tsunami. In the weeks that followed it was reported that the government in Eritrea donated 50,000.00 USD to help in the relief efforts for the Japanese people (http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2011/4/0412_01.html). Well, there is nothing wrong in helping other people in need. In fact it is one of the most humane acts one can do. And in terms of using resources judiciously, it is much better to give 50,000.00 USD to the Japanese than to al-Shabaab, terrorists who are on a monthly basis gobbling up equivalent amount of money that should go to meeting the needs of the Eritrean people. But the timing of the donation, albeit very small, by the government in Eritrea raises serious questions. What kind of intervention has this government made to help its economically ravaged population with the money at its disposal? What substitute livelihoods or assistance has this government offered to the majority of the Eritrean people after the official end of relief aid six years ago? Talking of natural catastrophes, only last summer heavy rains and flooding destroyed much property and a lot of animal herds in the areas around Ararib (Ararib our dejen in the old struggle years) and other parts of Northern Red Sea region. Nothing was done by the government to alleviate the calamity visited on the people. What kind of image is the government trying to project to the outside world by assisting other people while its own people are left uncared for? Does it want to look out of the league of aid-seeking countries? Let’s have a brief look at how much role aid and the myth of self-reliance have played in Eritrea:
· In September 1993 when answering questions from the public on the occasion of the anniversary of the armed struggle, the president defended the grain donation from the International Community for sparing us from going on empty stomach. The president couldn’t have been more honest. From independence until six years ago, Eritrea received an annual relief aid of more than 1.5 million quintals of grain (at times double of that) from the USAID alone (http://medilinkz.org/east-africa/Eritrea/12276.html). 1.5 million quintals of grain means annually half a quintal for every Eritrean. This means, Eritrea received more per capita aid than Ethiopia. The PFDJ in 2005 suddenly refused to take any relief from the USAID. The outcome of the aid freeze has been acute shortage of bread and skyrocketing price of cereals in the market until this harvest season. It was not surplus production of grain from our farms that led the PFDJ to put an end to the relief. To prove this, one doesn’t need to go far off. One piece of evidence from the Eritrean government itself puts it in the open. It is found in the message that was communicated by the Eritrean government to USAID on July 26, 2005 and statements by Eritrean officials such as Dr. Weldai Fitur (http://mg.co.za/article/2005-08-31-eritrea-says-usaid-banning-is-irreversible). The message tried to justify the halting of USAID’s activities in Eritrea saying that the government was ‘uncomfortable’ with the continued presence of the USAID. It then looks most likely that the action by the PFDJ was driven by its fear of being pushed out of power by foreigners. Being ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘hopes of a better harvest’ are two very different things. The year 2005 in which relief aid was banned in Eritrea witnessed the lowest recorded harvest in twenty years (https://www.worldandi.com/subscribers/feature_detail.asp?num=25094) in spite of the promising early rains in that year. If these rains had seemed at first to serve the PFDJ’s propaganda, the hopes of a better harvest were dashed later in that year.
In the wake of the termination of USAID’s activities there came a severe shortfall of food in the market. The food shortage particularly affected the poor, women and children, the elderly and extremely vulnerable groups of people in the Eritrean society such as the AIDS patients who used to receive food aid and were left with no food to eat. And their problem was none of the government’s trouble. Another classic example of the severe shortage of grain is the government’s confiscation two years ago of any rb’it of grain or flour in the people’s possession, even in the form of dough (of which the president in his June 2009 interview boasted of having full knowledge).
I am not advocating foreign aid. I am trying to indicate the total bankruptcy of the agricultural policies of the government beside its obsession with its security without any regard for the people. I want to ask categorically why the government did not use all its time in the world before the ban on aid to enable the people produce enough, if at all it is possible, before terminating all relief in their name. Studies on Eritrea’s agricultural output put the maximum possible yield at 60% of our total food requirement (http://www.er.undp.org/poverty/po_food_security.html;http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=84827). This is the harvest we can get in the most bountiful of seasons. This theoretical yield has never been achieved for several years now. Instead the last many years have seen a harvest that is utmost 30% of our food necessity. Even if perchance we achieved the 60% potential yield, the remaining 40% would have to be purchased or obtained on aid. There is no purchasing power on the part of the government because it does not have income and aid has been refused. The onus has been thrown to the people. The option left to the people has been begging one another. The PFDJ declined all aid impromptu. Perhaps it is embarrassing for it to go public again in calling back the old donors. In 2000, when the war with Ethiopia caused so much destruction and internal displacement, a senior Eritrean delegation was sent to the western world to plead with international NGOs for relief assistance to the Eritrean people. World Vision International, which is one of the biggest NGOs in the world, demanded a written assurance from the senior delegation so that a repeat of the 1997 expulsion of NGOs wouldn’t happen. But the delegation could provide only verbal commitment. And World Vision declined to come to Eritrea. Other NGOs either took the delegation’s plea for what it was or were overtaken by the plight of the helpless Eritrean masses. However, the expulsion of 1997 made a slow replay from 2005 onwards. Now if under the PFDJ another disaster strikes Eritrea, NGOs may have every reason not to come to our aid. In light of the 2005 action on NGOs by the PFDJ then it befits to say the following: on the one hand, the PFDJ may have the habit of waking up every eight or so years to the revelation of aid being detrimental and addictive and uses the people as the guinea pigs for its experiment; on the other hand, it is clear that the PFDJ has ulterior motives in stopping aid, which are to insulate itself from being toppled by the white man’s interference. Behind the scenes, however, there have been instances of new alliances with other donors, old and new ones.
· In the PFDJ shops called ‘Dukan Hidri’ (aka Dukan Hidro, because one has to form queues before daybreak) besides the edible oil that remained from donation by the USAID and marked ‘Not for Sale’, the PFDJ has been selling us packed dates donated by the Saudis perhaps for Ramadan; canned sardines from the Norwegian Kingdom; and canned beef from Poland. We regularly see at the Dukan Hidro coffee sacks with stamps of the names of their Ethiopian packers confiscated from Eritrean merchants. The latest monthly special at the said shops are cosmetics (lipsticks, eyeshadow, and other make-ups) and slippers (who knows this may be PFDJ’s version of district-level malls). The donor? Of course our contraband traders who have filled in the role of suppliers in the absence of legal trade and whose goods are confiscated by the government on the Assab and Tessenei roads. So what the PFDJ boasts in public about self-reliance is simply hot air.
· Government ministries use vehicles donated by the UN or other organizations. These are the Toyota pickups and land cruisers that we see on Eritrean roads with logos depicting the names of the donors. Even the land cruisers the president is driven in are a gift from the Japanese although he has not been candid enough to stick a logo of the donor on the sides of his land cruisers. His white BMW is a gift from his mentor Gaddafi. Roaming through the towns and villages in Eritrea, one is easily struck by the impression of a dependent nation. Billboards abound of the names of donors such as the Japanese, Italians, Europeans, African Development Bank (ADB), Arab Bank for Development, UN, and so on for projects that dotted the landscape across the country. However, the sorry end to these projects is that some have taken years to complete, many others have been aborted either due to the government’s inefficiency to execute projects or as a result of its suspension of bilateral cooperation.
· Who do you think provided the blue telephone booths in the streets of Asmara and other towns? It was the Norwegians who gave us those booths for free (http://www.norway-eritrea.org/Embassy/Development-Co-operation-with-Eritrea/Historical-Background/). On the Norway official site in Eritrea, there is a lot of information on the various kinds of assistance being generously dispensed by the Norwegian government to Eritrea. According to the site (http://www.norway-eritrea.org), the latest assistance from the Norwegian government has been extended to the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture for community forestry project in the form of environmental awareness boards. Hence, the next time we see these bill boards, let’s remember it is not the Eritrean government who has covered the expenses. The Norwegians have even financed and monitored tree planting projects by the Ministry of Agriculture. Norway’s assistance to the EPLF during the liberation war is also well documented.
· It is no secret that diesel is rationed in Eritrea today. That is why drivers supplement their fuel demand with the supply from black market. A question to ask is, in the first place how does the government get the diesel being rationed? The money for this fuel is the money derived in advance from the Nevsun Mining Company, the company which has been commissioned the Bisha goldmine. Nevsun has already paid all the expenses for the coming five years and the cash-strapped government is using the money from Nevsun to import fuel.
· Health projects such as the HAMSET are financed from the coffers of the InternationalCommunity(http://web.worldbank.org/external/projects/main?Projectid=P065713&theSitePK=40941&pagePK=64283627&menuPK=228424&piPK=73230). There are immunization, female genital mutilation (FGM) prevention campaigns and population health surveys that take place in Eritrea from time to time. These compaigns are efforts that should be well spoken of. However, let’s pause for a moment and remind ourselves of the fact that it is the UN and its partner nations who are the donors and program developers behind these campaigns (http://www.norway- eritrea.org/ Embassy/ Development-Co-operation-with-Eritrea/Programmes-and-Partners; www.who.int/immunization_financing/countries/eri/eri_fsp.pdf).
In as much as health infrastructure is concerned: We cannot even maintain our hospitals let alone finance the construction of new ones. In October 2009 the woman of the season, our current minister of health, signed an agreement with the Chinese for the maintenance of the Orotta Referral Hospital every five years, a hospital which was built with Chinese money and Chinese hands. (http://www.shabait.com/news/local-news/338-eritrea-and-prc-conclude-cooperation-accord-in-health-sector-). This agreement, which is open to renewal, also includes expansion of the hospital. In the PFDJ’s myopic vision, Eritrea will not have the capacity to maintain its hospitals in the foreseeable future.
To continue with health facilities, whose money built the referral hospitals in Barentu, Mendefera, Gindae not to mention health centers and health stations? Navigating to the Orotto Medical School, the government through its media outlets has told us time and again that drawing on internal resources the Medical School has been graduating students. What? Did I hear ‘internal resources’? From when have the Cubans and the Americans become our citizens and hence our internal resources? The Cuban University of Santa Clara and the American George Washington University with other partners have been in the frontline of financing and running the school. So could calling them ‘internal resources’ be a way of expressing gratitude?
· Regarding infrastructure in other sectors, who financed the majority of our roads, dams and agricultural projects? To come from a farther point in time forward, whose money and know-how built the MaiSerwa Dam for the city of Asmara? Who paid for the water supply project of the city of Keren? Whose money supplied our towns and villages with water? Let the bill boards in all these places speak. Again, whose money and expertise set up the Hirgigo Power Plant which is working today well below capacity? Who has been bankrolling the repatriation of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern and western Eritrea? It is no secret that the UNDP has been funding the repatriation, and put together the requisite skill trainings for the returnees. The UNDP has also built and continues to build dams and other infrastructure. The UNDP, in addition to these infrastructure projects, is also involved in capacity building of the Eritrean Ministry of Justice, diplomatic training of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sustainable land management and environmental protection, energy and food security, etc (http://www.er.undp.org;http://www.norway-eritrea.org/Embassy/Development-Co-operation-with-Eritrea/Programmes-and-Partners/). How does PFDJ’s fairy tale of self-reliance tally with all these facts? Perhaps as the hysterical talk of self-reliance filled the air in Eritrea, we may have felt we have become self-reliant while below the surface the country has become one of the most aid dependent, as other African nations such as Tanzania experienced before (The Trouble with Africa, 2006, Robert Calderisi, page 106). To add one final point: whose money is financing the school textbooks for the whole Eritrean student population, new schools to be built in the rural areas of the country whose construction is long overdue due to the fast slumping capacity on the part of the government to carry out infrastructure work? Credit has to go to such organizations as the World Bank (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/ERITREAEXT/0,,menuPK:351392~pagePK:141159~piPK:141110~theSitePK:351386,00.html; http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2011/02/17/000333037_20110217033526/Rendered/PDF/575280PJPR0P071d0QK0Comments1final.pdf) and its donors in this and other financing undertakings. What I want to see is concrete self-reliance by the government and not hollow rhetoric. Or it has to meaningfully exploit the assistance of the international community for the betterment of its human capacity and its economy. The government in Eritrea has to be forthcoming about the assistance it has received and is receiving. Otherwise a public apology should be offered for a strategy that has gone disastrously wrong. It should take the example of the great Japanese Government which acknowledged on the official website of its ministry of foreign affairs the donation Eritrea gave to the Japanese people, however paltry the amount might be for a country as rich and able as Japan.
Another ploy the PFDJ has been playing on our credulous minds is the mantra that Eritrea is perhaps the only African country free of foreign debt. We will know the staggering extent of our debt only when our creditors come scrambling following the fall of the PFDJ. Some of them have already started. We will then realize that we and our government have all along been clanging cymbals.
10. Are we truly invincible in war? Is the number of the martyred, the disabled and other casualties we have been told for the last fifty years consonant with what truly happened to us? Did our victory in the war for independence come about because we defeated the Americans and the Soviets? The Vietnamese certainly defeated the French and the Americans on the battlefield, and the Afghans disgraced the Soviets on Afghan soil. But our gallant men and women fighters confronted on the fierce battle ground only the Ethiopian army, in which there were also Eritreans. Their heroism was remarkable, but this heroism shouldn’t be tainted by giving it undeserved credit. We need to look with open minds at all aspects of the armed struggle, both merits and demerits. In light of recent or not so recent revelations, I have come across reports that our independence became possible only because the CIA had sanctioned it and worked towards its attainment since the mid 1980s by sharing its priceless intelligence on the Ethiopian army with the EPLF particularly during the demise of the Nadew in March 1988 and the Fenkel Operation in February 1990. The CIA has finally been found out to be our major benefactor! (Refer to Wuhlul Feday Neguss’s articles from November 2008 on the demo.archive.assenna.com site).
Shall we delve deeper into the fictional dimensions of the war of independence, particularly the circumstances that surrounded the fall of the Nadew and the Fenkel Operation? Few months before the battle with the Nadew, the Nadew Commander General Tariku Aynie was executed by Mengistu in controversial circumstances. Then a new commander arrived who had been only a month at the helm by the time the Nadew was routed. Let’s leave aside the reports of repeated theft of military intelligence done by the EPLF through payment of money to the Dergue’s top brass and the CIA’s generosity to the EPLF with mapping and intelligence. Is it inappropriate to think that the low morale and disarray that prevailed in the Nadew command following its commander’s execution came to the EPLF as a bonanza? Two years after the downfall of the Nadew came the Fenkel Operation. However, mid-way between the EPLF’s victory over Nadew and the Fenkel Operation there had happened a momentous event. This was the fateful coup attempt on Mengistu by his generals. The aftermath of this failed coup meant that Mengistu decimated the ranks of the Ethiopian army. In their place, he hastily appointed low-ranking and inexperienced army officers to preside over a disorientated army. The rest is history. Another significant factor to call to mind is what course would our war for independence have followed if the Woyanes were not on our side in challenging the Dergue’s military might? The same thing can be asked on what would have become of the cause of the Woyanes had the EPLF not acted in their favor. In those times the Woyanes were the EPLF’s partner and protégé. The last time we saw the two in military action was in a bloody war between each other that involved thousands of their people.
In that not distant past, we received one of our bitterest defeats at the Woyanes’ hands in the so-called third offensive. Our feelings might hurt when we hear the opposite of what we are used to believing. Our ears may like to hear what we love to hear. But through the hardest way we have begun to see our own history in revisionist eyes. It is time to look at our history either from a different angle or through a different lens from what the present regime installed in us in the first place.
11. Hypocrisy, a form of ignorance? Is what we speak before government media the true outpouring of our private hearts and our trademark sufferings? Hardly so. Can’t we keep silent during meetings instead of giving wrong impression of allegiance for things we don’t believe in and which will harm us finally? Silence is a powerful weapon in the face of repressive and wild dictators. But we look to be a people suffering from multiple identities (MI). We behave so differently on different occasions. Highly likely that we need old hand psychiatrists to look into the holes of our mental constitution. Where has the integrity that we prided ourselves on vanished? Why have corruption and dishonesty got so rampant while the government tells us that we are free from corrupt practices? The virus of exaggeration and mendacity has equally infected us all, the old and the young, the educated and the illiterate alike. There are quite a lot of our intellectuals in the western world who cannot make use of the scholarship and empiricism they have learnt in the west when it comes to the petty PFDJ propaganda. They simply accept PFDJ’s line that the country is thriving and then sing PFDJ’s praises while the truth is the country is reduced to a population of the aged and children in the face of massive exodus of the youth. These men of letters are concerned more about PFDJ’s sustenance than that of the people and the nation. They seem to believe that the end of the PFDJ is the end of the Eritrean people. However, what they have to realize is that people cannot be exterminated; they live for generations. However a party may be done away with from time to time. The above intellectuals cannot tell between the worthy and the worthless.
We can speak with certainty that we as a people have played a role in deceiving the regime in power since its days as a liberation movement into believing that all is well with us. The regime is not the only one responsible for all its deception and therefore for its wickedness, although, I believe, it takes the lion’s share of the responsibility for not possessing more common sense than the public. Common sense is a most uncommon commodity in today’s Eritrea.
12. Justifiers of our own doom: How long have we been justifying the government’s failings by creating pretexts as if this regime should be given hundred years to see to the success of its failed policies? The PFDJ is terminally ill, its illness is incurable. Whatever projects it intends to implement, even in good faith, cannot bear fruit for it is such an incompetent, pipe-dreaming and cursed group and has landed the country in curse. The gold mining in Bisha and other areas, the massive housing construction highlighted to be the major preoccupation of 2011, the Eritrean Airlines restructuring under Pakistani managers and other projects the PFDJ has put its hands on will not bear their desired fruits as long as the PFDJ is around. Let’s be under no illusion that the PFDJ with its scarcity mentality will never ever elevate us any higher on the rungs of prosperity. It cannot manage prosperity and cannot stand a prosperous population. In the name of social justice, the PFDJ can only redistribute poverty. Look at them now: they who can’t guarantee us our next meal still think they can beat the US. They who have taken us on a fast downhill track where in the Asmara of 2011 a snack bar that serves yogurt with fatta is fined 3,000 (three thousand) Nakfas and is shut for six months seem determined to have us believe that Eritrea is self-sufficient. Maybe we are to blame for this insanity for we all have been deluded to believe up to this point that all scarcity will soon be erased by Bisha’s gold. Wake up! Enough with this national sleepwalking. It is we, the people, who create our own bright destinies by liberating our captive minds from the shackles of irrationality, void promises and never-ending pretexts. Let’s work on our minds!
13. Relativism and complacency, the doorways into our labyrinth of voluntary ignorance. Most of us who are old enough to have passed through the colonial experience under the Ethiopians are very much given to comparing the current atmosphere in Eritrea with one or two personal experiences of imprisonment or torture under the Dergue and we conclude that relatively the present thorn in our side is endurable, however long it might hang on. We have not only numbed ourselves, but also have proven poor models for the young ones among us. Please let’s come to our senses. We are not created for perpetual pain. Turn to the first page of the PFDJ book of keeping people at ignorance and there you’ll have the ABCs. The first of these is “Keep the people at a level much lower than the minimum and a little, occasional lift from that level will keep them happy for they are accustomed to living by comparing themselves to their neighbors.” Our relativism and sadism working in unison! Haven’t we gotten used to being kept at a depth way below the threshold?
Take a lay member of the national service, for example. He had initially owed the land eighteen months of free labor and see where he finds himself now. If, given the cost of living which has gone through the roofs, one has to earn say 5,000 Nakfas a month, the poor agelglot starts with 50 Nakfas and before he knows it, he is given a 200% rise and is happy with 150 Nakfas. Another 200% rise follows in a year’s time and our grateful agelglot is at 450 Nakfas. What a supersonic rise in remuneration that is. He is then unimaginably thankful if he is demobilized after being kept in servitude for ten years, because he knows there are others who have stayed for fifteen years. He is then demobilized and is ecstatic to start with a salary of 1,500 Nakfas, which is equivalent to the salary of a bachelor’s holder. The surprise ‘charity’ of the government never ends. He has been tuned to always remember those below him, etom kab’eu zgedu zelewu (The poorer compatriots worse than he is), and he is content, always thankful. Poor fellow dies or leaves the country before even making it to the bare minimum he deserves.
How long are we going to allow the PFDJ to play with our brains, those of us here and even those outside? I remember the very day two years ago when we were ‘liberated’ from the chocolate-colored bani mashela and saw bani fino. Everybody, including myself, were overjoyed to see bani fino which we had had no hope of seeing again. Then it made a comeback with a new label of Obama – change that is for its timing coincided with Obama’s coming to power. As it stands now, we are allowed one loaf of bread per head per day (of course provided that we can from time to time present evidence of hlawnet). Our ‘Mother Teresa’ government may raise the ration to two loaves per head per day, or even to unlimited pieces per day. So what? We cannot continue being cheated like this; being thankful for being merely lifted to a less deprived level than we were earlier, but not even halfway to making it to the bare minimum that even Somalia offers. The sad part is that we have voluntarily sold our intellect for this elementary treachery. Isn’t this what some of the beles do when they come and visit us come every summer? They calculate their earnings abroad in terms of Nakfa and tell us they earn ten times than we take home here. Look up partner, don’t look down at me.
Let me end this section with what our ‘opportunist’ ambassador in AddisAbaba, the ‘worthless’ Girma Asmerom, said in a bar conversation at the Benifer in the Expo Grounds. (I didn’t coin myself the adjectives for our bootlicker ambassador. It was his president who so nicknamed him when they were comrades-in-arms in the field. For this piece of information you may consult the book ‘Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners’, 2005, Dan Connell, page 130. And let me speculate herein that we will see Girma from now at the forefront of an increasingly beleaguered government as the lead spokesperson and con artist.) Back to the incident at Benifer Pub. For those of you who have not come across Benifer, it is the pub inside the Expo Festival Grounds that has been commissioned to the war disabled veterans. It was constructed for the first Expo in 1968 to symbolize the Fasil Ginb in Gonder. The particular incident that associates Girma and the Benifer Pub for our interest is that following the end of his tenure as Ambassador to the US, Girma was sipping whiskey inside the Benifer with friends. In the middle of their conversation, one of his friends asked Girma why the government cannot do more to feed the people. Girma retorted, “What more do they need over the cup of tea and a loaf of bread we are providing them daily?” I don’t mean this view is exclusively Girma’s. Today it has dawned on us that the whole PFDJ cartel had long condemned us before we knew it to a daily meal of tea and bread. Remember Girma is saying those words over whiskey, the cost of which would have paid for dozens of cups of tea and loaves of bread for us, to use his economic rationale. At the time of this story he was also refurbishing and refurnishing his villa across the Alfa Building. He needed to have destitute people around to comparatively enjoy his riches. His story deservedly earns him the above introductory titles. And let’s hope he will live long enough in this world to recompense the Eritrean people with good deeds.
14. Another show of our voluntary ignorance? In two weeks or so the PFDJ will have expected us to ‘celebrate’ Independence Day in marches and in mass. This will happen at a time when hundreds of our brothers and sisters have already ended up in the beds of the Mediterranean Sea and the bellies of predator fish. There are also others who are unaccounted for. The heartless PFDJ doesn’t care a fig even if we, the entire Eritrean population, are swallowed up in a ferocious storm or lost to accident. That will be Isaias’ ultimate relief for he is Mao’s lifetime student (Remember how Mao shocked his lieutenants when he made known his true intentions about the Chinese people. To quote from the book ‘Mao, the Unknown Story’, 2005, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Page 439, Mao said, “It’s best if half the population is left, next best one-third,” “Working like this,…, half of China may well have to die. If not half, one-third, or one-tenth- 50 million- die.” Around this period, in a space of four years 38 million people perished. Mao must have been thrilled by his performance with fewer deaths than he had projected. Likewise, in the eyes of Isaias, we are mere statistics. He is applying Mao’s tenets to the letter. How about we his victims, his fools? Are we going to react in the same, old manner? Are we going to decline the wake-up call in the form of the death of more than three hundred of our own and meet another disaster that may be on its way to knock doors? We may not be able to stop the mass meetings during the Independence Day. But how about keeping silent from repeating the regime’s slogans; giving a cold shoulder to the dance, chant, ululation or clapping? How about boycotting the reading of Hadas Eritrea and the watching of EriTv as a way of registering our scorn? How about causing a dent in the financial contribution for Independence Day celebration by contributing less than what is expected of us? And why don’t we get dressed casually on Isaias’ big day of flattery May 24 (for which he himself dresses differently, at times in business suits and many a time in safari suits and flip-flops)? Let’s show Isaias that things are no longer normal, that we have begun to wake up from our long, self-imposed slumber of ignorance.