Dossier Eritrea 2 – The Dictator is in Crisis. Dissidents and Defections Increasing

Our Special Correspondent
Saba Makeda
Somewhere inside Eritrea, 10th  November 2014

The presence of and the actions of Dimhit (the militant of Tigray People’s Democratic Movement) in Eritrean towns and cities is generally seen by Eritreans as an insult, generating resentment and increasing the likelihood of open confrontation. Such confrontation is further facilitated by the wide availability of weapons thanks to the People’s Militia programme.  In  October  2013,  Demhit  troops were  deployed to  round up Eritrean youth in Asmara ( the capital city) , at the time  much of the nation was in mourning over the drowning of over 300 Eritreans in Lampedusa, the young Asmarinos reacted to the round up, shots were fired and Demhit militia were beaten and wounded.

eritrea-protestThe mutiny of January 2013 (Forto) is an indicator of increasing frustration with the Isaias regime .The fractures within the Regime are such that increasingly more and more members of the inner circles are expressing dissatisfaction. In 2012 the Minister of Finance Mr Berhane Abrehe was dismissed, after 11 years of service, because he made the mistake of questioning the Government accounting practices in the mining sector.

In  the same year key elements within the  military  openly defied the  wishes of the President specifically  in the absence of the President, the  Minister of Defence Sebat  Ephrem, Eritrean Air  Force Commander Teklai Habteselassie; and  Internal Intelligence chief Simon Debregindel, established a senior military committee to  manage security in  direct contravention  to the  wishes of the President who had appointed General Teklai Kifle (Manjus) as his commander in chief.

In the same year, again in open defiance to the wishes of the President, the Minister of Defence (Sebat Ephrem) and General Tewil visited imprisoned military personnel in Asmara. (UN Eritrea Somalia monitoring Group 25 July 2013)

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The discontent amongst the military was further augmented by the increased support provided by President Isaias to the “People Militia “a programme managed by General Manjus that  started, to the great consternation of the Eritrean people as well as senior military leaders, in 2008. The Peoples Militia programme has placed a large number of weapons in the hands of civilians and out of the direct control of the Ministry of Defence. Presently the weekly and bi weekly drills of the People’s Militia have virtually stopped for lack of attendance.

In the meantime the  army continues  to be  weakened by the  disappearance  of many  conscripts  and junior  officers  within the country, due  to both  arrests,  people  hiding to  escape  conscription, as well as  escaping   across international  borders.

The  Regime continues to be impacted by  defections, the most recent and  widely publicised  defections were the defections of 3  Eritrean  Air force pilots  as  well as  that of the de facto Minister of Information  Ali Abdu in  2013. The defection of the latter has resulted in the arrest of member of his Father Abdu, Brother Sam and his daughter.

Additional evidence of the a  high  level of unrest as well as frustration with the Regime are the actions recently taken by both the Eritrean Orthodox Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church ( the two  largest Christian Churches in the country).

On 01 January 2014   the Orthodox Church excommunicated Mr Yoftahe Dimitros[1] and Mr Habtom Resom two officials imposed on the Orthodox Church by the Eritrean Government. The excommunication was for corruption, dictatorial administration, improper excommunication of member of the church; unlawfully monopolising the power of the Holy Synod and the papacy of His Holiness the Patriarch and the Archbishops. This excommunication was signed by the Abbots of the oldest monasteries in Eritrea.[2]

On the occasion of Easter  2014,  the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea  added their voices of  dissention  and reprimand with  a thirty  eight (38)  page  pastoral  letter with the title : “Where is my  Brother ?“. The letter clearly outlines the failure of the Eritrean Government in managing the country and in particular it sets out the Government’s responsibilities toward the youth of the country and the plight of the youth running away from the country. This is one of the few documents written by an Authority that has managed to speak to the youth of Eritrea and that has recognised their suffering and their plight.

erithrei scheletrici_0I was with Eritrean youth in the Diaspora when they read the pastoral letter.  They  read the letter with  tears in their eyes  and  reverence in their voices and  with a  feeling  that somebody  finally  understood the depths of their  despair and this gave them hope.

It is a pity that this letter has not yet been translated into English and Arabic such translations would allow a wider sharing of the message it contains clearly showing that Eritreans are fast reaching a turning point in their history.

From 24 October 2014 the Eritrean grapevine was very active with information of tensions in Asmara and in Eritrea generally. Families in the diaspora were sharing news that in addition to the usual problems of lack of fuel, lack of electricity, water shortages, ever increasing food and commodity prices, people who had  been  demobilised for  medical  reasons  had been asked to  report to their units and   member of the People’s Militia   had been  asked to  report to the SAWA military camp.

The extra ordinary thing is that the majority of the people called report for national service, including the youth, have not   reported to their designated area and clearly have no intention to report. This is an unprecedented act of mass Civil disobedience as it is happening across the demographic groups.  In the face of such large scale disobedience the Government is resorting to its usual black mail and extortion tactics of arresting family members.  However, unlike what has happened in the past this time the tactic is not working people are not showing up.

In addition families in the Diaspora are hearing that members of the People Militia have been ordered to return to the Government their weapons, and that the People’s Militia is disobeying these orders.

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The people who  are now  disobeying the  directive of the Eritrean  Government  are not the youth, they  are  President Isaias’s Peer Group  and the  Elders. According to the Eritrean grapevine there has already been an extensive round up in Mendefera. There are fears that major round ups are planned for all major towns and cities and that once again the Regime will resort to deploying the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) also known as “Demhit”. There are already reports of the deployment of Demhit in Asmara. Such tactic is likely to result, as it did in October 2013, in conflict. Already the talk is of retaliation.  [3]

The Arbi Harnet campaign is continuing to engage with both Eritreans in the country as well as outside and it is continuing to be a source of information. We are, however, not hearing   the voice of the Eritrean Opposition Parties outlining a programme for the country post Isaias Afeworki.

The danger is that, the Eritrean opposition in the diaspora, after waiting for so long for Eritreans in Eritrea to  react,   remains  fractious and  is not  ready to  lead the country through a transition leaving space  for a possible Military takeover. After so much suffering and sacrifice such an outcome would definitively be an unfortunate result.

Saba Makeda
makedasaba@ymail.com
(2 -fine)


[1]  Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros served as Ethiopian Ambassador in Israel in the Derg Government, now he is working as General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC)   ( source Jelal Yasin Abera).   The  father  of  Yothahe Dimitros  – known as Keshi Demitros conducted a negative  campaign  against  those members of the clergy who were opposed to the Unionist  cause  – http://www.ehrea.org/otherm4.php

[2] ( Monastery Kudus Yohannes, Debre Bizen,  Gedam  Tsaeda Amba Selassie, Debre Sina, Detre Tsege Sef’a; Debre Libanos)

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