By Dan Connell
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The key to understanding why it has done so and how it works lies in an examination of the secret party—then and now.
The Inside Story
Tsegu opens with a deeply personal account of his early experience in the “field”—short for battlefield but connoting much more than just a place where people fought. The field, medda, was as much a state of mind as a physical place, the rarified world of the guerrilla fighter, with all its privations, camaraderie, sacrifice, self-effacement, shared conviction, individual courage, and organizational discipline, much of it the product of the party whose fundamental aim was to remold the fighters into what its leaders saw as the new Eritrean. The results were impressive but also unsettling. What was not always obvious was the level of control behind what we saw from the outside and the extent of the coercive apparatus that imposed it.
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Tsegu immerses us in the details of life within the EPLF in the mid-1970s, giving us a visceral feel for what it was like to be there, from his training and early“political education” in the Sahel mountains to his assignment to the front’s security department, HalewaSewra (Shield of the Revolution), then headed by Solomon Weldemariam, one of the party’s enforcers who would soon run afoul of Isaias and be imprisoned as an alleged leader of a dissident movement dubbed yameen (rightists). The time was 1975, but Tsegu had been a clandestine member of the front inside Asmara, the capital, since 1972. He was not yet a member of the party at this point, but he was surrounded by party cadres without knowing it. Three years on Tsegu is inducted into the party by his political commander, Estifanos “Bruno” Afeworki, a cadre of the EPRP and a member of the EPLF’s central committee who is today Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan. Chapter Two provides us with an inside view of how both the front and the party functioned at a crucial point in their intertwined history, six months after an all-out Soviet intervention on the side of Ethiopia that forced the Eritreans to retreat from large swathes of captured territory while also isolating them from many countries and political movements they had seen as natural allies. It was enough to make anyone paranoid, and it certainly heightened such tendencies within EPLF and its clandestine party leadership, already so inclined. Tsegu’s descriptions of the ways people were wrongly accused of being traitors, coerced into making false confessions and punished unmercifully are instructive, not only for an understanding of this period but for what they presaged for later.
The next chapters recount his experiences in the 1980s with a mix of fascinating insights into such things as the contest among rival liberation fronts—Eritrean and Ethiopian—over the obscure frontier community of Badme, the practice of interrogation of suspected traitors and dissidents, the treatment of POWs, and the party and front’s successive congresses in 1987 when major changes in leadership took place. The EPRP congress was where all major decisions were taken. That of the EPLF was where Isaias came out of the closet as the front’s official leader, mirroring his long-standing role within the party, and where he surrounded himself with hard-line loyalists like General Abraha Kassa, who today runs the national security service.
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His account of the party’s third and last congress at the end of 1993 is one of the most revealing sections of the book, for it was here that Isaias carried out the crucial maneuver in a rolling coup d’état that would less than a decade later leave him the unrivaled strongman atop a tightly controlled one-party police state. The highlight, according to Tsegu, was Isaias’s statement that the movement’s leadership was “rotten”—that it had “lost direction and couldn’t lead.” The only solution was to replace it with “new blood.” And he had already composed a list of who ought to be included.
Key leaders from the independence war were then shunted aside or demoted, while others lower down the chain of command were elevated, including several who had come into the party through diaspora-based organizations in the United States and Europe and had proven themselves loyal to Isaias while avoiding the rivalries, friendships and intrigues, real or imagined, that Isaias perceived among older veterans.
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Tsegu is convinced that Isaias took this opportunity to launch a new secret party. I’m not totally convinced there is a formal organization, but he makes a compelling case for it, and all the signs are there of some version of it. There can be little argument over the fact that the method of operation of the government today, in terms of where and how power is exercised, is little different than that of the liberation front when it was secretly run by EPRP, which is the main point. Now, as then, a secretive inner circle makes the key decisions in all matters of substance and is accountable to no constituency, public or otherwise, other than the boss, Isaias.
Whether they meet as an organization, as the EPRP did, and select their own leadership, hash out differences in policy and program, and function within a more or less defined hierarchy or they simply constitute a network whose members are known to one another but selected and managed by Isaias is beside the point. What Tsegu’s account makes clear is that whatever the extent of current participation by a chosen few, their enforcement of decisions made at the top of the pyramid relies on a toxic combination of deception, fear and intimidation in which violence always lurks below the surface calm. As a consequence, the country’s political culture has been deeply warped—so much so that many Eritreans now take it as normal and either deny it or find ways to rationalize it so long as it doesn’t affect them directly. Under these circumstances, more will have to change in Eritrea than merely the man at the top if the nation is to heal itself. Getting the truth out is a necessary part of that process. Tsegu’s book is an important step.
Gloucester, Mass., USA, 4 July 2016
ብፕሮፌሰር በረኸት ሃብተስላሰ
ናይ ኣፍሪቃዊ መጽናዕትን ናይ ሕግን ፕሮፌሰር ኣብ
ጸጉ ፍስሃየ ወዲ 'ታ ዝፈትዋ ዓባይ ሓብተይ ነብስሄር ብስራት ሃብተስላሰ ስለ ዝኾነ ካብ ንእስነቱ ኣትሒዘ እየ ዝፈልጦ።
ንእሽቶ እንከሎ ዉዑይ ስለ ዝነበረ ሓብቲእኖኡ ሃና ተባኣሳይን መዕገርገርን ከይከውን ትስከፍ ነበረት። ኣይተጋገየትን፡
መዕገርገሪ 'ኳ እንተዘይኮነ ጽኑዕ ተኸራኻራይ፡ ካብ መርገጺኡ ነቕ ዘይብል ኮይኑ ደኣ ዓበየ። ትምህርትን ዕድመን ኣብሲልዎ
ናብ ላዕለዋይ ደረጃ ትምህርቱ ኣብ ዝበጽሓሉ እዋን ድማ ኣብ ሃገርና ዝነበረ ኩነታት ደሪኽዎ ካብ "ተባኣሳይ" ናብ ተቓላሳይን
ስነ መጎታዊ ተዋሳኣይን ተቐይሩ። ተወዲቡን ተሰሪዑን ዓጢቑን ዝዓበየ ክፋል ንእስነቱን ማእከላይ ዕድሜኡን ኣብ በረኻ
ኣብ ቃልሲ ኣሕሊፍዎ። ብኡ ኣቢሉ 'ውን ካብ 'ቶም ሃገር ነጻ ዘውጽኡ ጀጋኑ ሓደ ብሙኻን ግቡኡ ዝፈጸመ ዜጋ ስለ ዝኾነ
እኾርዓሉን አኽብሮን 'የ።
እዛ ጽሒፉዋ ዘሎ መጽሓፍ ከም እተብርሆ እቲ ጸጉ ዘሕለፎ ናይ ሃገራዊ ቃልሲ ህይወት ኣዝዩ ዝተሓላለኸን ብዙሕ ጸገምን
መከራን ዝነበሮ እዩ።
ኣተኩሮ ናይዛ መጽሓፍ፡ -
ኣርእስታ ከም ዝእምቶ ትሕዝቶኣ ኣብ 'ታ ሕብእቲ ሰልፊ ዘተኮረ 'ኳ እንተኾነ፡ ኣብኡ ጥራሕ ዝተሓጽረ ኣይኮነን፡ እኳ ደኣ
ብዉሑዱ ኣብ ሰለስተ ዓበይቲ ኣርእስትታት ዝጥመር ሃብታም ተመኩሮ ኣለዋ ኢለ እኣምን።
1. ቀዳማይ ኣበርክቶኣ፡ ነቲ ንብዙሕ ሰብ ምስጢር ኮይኑ ዘደናገረ መሳርሒ ስልጣን ውልቀ መላኺ ኢሳያስ ዘጣጥሐን
ኣብ ቃልሲ ሃገርና ዲሞክራሲ ንከይስረት ዝዓንቀፈን ምስጢራዊ ሰልፊ ሱሩን ሰራውሩን ምሕዩ ብምውጻእ ብብሉጽ
ትንታነ ንታሪኽ ኣመዝጊብዎ።
2. ካልኣይ ኣበርክቶኣ፡ ንሂወት ተጋደልቲ ብመገዲ ናይ ሓደ ተጋዳላይ ታሪኽ ጌሩ ኤርትራውያን ኣብ ሰውራ ኤርትራ
ዘሕለፍዎ ገድሊ ብዝርዝር ስለ ዝመዝገበ፡ ብፍላይ ነቶም ድሕሪ ፍጻመ ገድሊ ዝተወልዱ፡ ብሓፈሻ ድማ ንኩሎም
ኣምበብቲ ንጹር ታሪኽ ኣቐሚጡ ኣሎ።
3. ሳልሳይ ኣበርክቶኣ ድማ ንስልቲ ኣጸሓሕፍኡ ዝምልከት እዩ። ካብ መጀመርታ ክሳብ መወዳእታ ኣብ ነብሲ ወከፍ
ምዕራፍ ናይ 'ዛ መጽሓፍ፡ ብኣወዳድቓ ቃላት ይኹን ብኣጠማምራ ሓሳብ ብብሉጽ መልክዕ ኣጸሓሕፋ
ዝማዕረገት ጽሕፍቲ እያ።
ስለዚ ንኣበርክቶ ጸጉ "መርሓባ ወዲ ሓፍቲ" እናበልኩ ሓጎሰይን መጎሰይን እገልጽ
ንኣንበብቲ ድማ ጥዑም ንባብ ይግበረልኩም።
ዩኒቨርሲቲ ኖርዝ ኮሮላይና