Post Isaias Eritrea’s likely four scenarios
Winta Solomon 27, april, 2012
Eritrea is at a cross roads, for better or worse. It depends from which political angle one sees the unfolding state of affairs. For the diaspora based diehard regime supporters these are real moments of panic, fearing to lose their dear leader untimely. For many of other opponents president Isaias is the most evil dictator alive in modern times. For his supporters an idol that need to be worshiped, unfortunately he is no longer around these days, may be forever. All of the sudden they have found themselves at a loser’s end. It seems they were unprepared for plan B, as their ‘dear leader’ too.
It is over a month now since the president disappeared from the public sight, it is rumored ‘he could be dead’ or seriously ill or may be ‘fit as fiddle’ as they wish him to be. For the opponents of the regime, this is a golden opportunity, where the country could be rescued from its hijackers, thereby transforming it into full fledged democratic state. As the whereabouts of the president looms there is an increased sense of fear and anxiety in the Eritrean public.
However, one thing is for certain, something fishy is going on behind the scene. Eritrea is a country which doesn’t have a succession plan, without a constitution implemented, no bureaucratic institutions in place; when the president is dead or unfit to rule the country, it is a big dilemma as who should succeed him. If perhaps the president magically comes back to power, this should be the first question his diehard supporters should put forward to him if they love their countrymen more than him. In my opinion, Eritrea could be the only country in the world without a vice president; even terror organizations like Al’Qaeda have got a succession plan.
My guess is, if the president is really dead the public will not be informed for the next several months to come, they could only do so, if they feel they made their entire house in order. If they decided to release all the political prisoners such as the G-15 and others, they would find it hard it to give him a proper funeral service, doing so would make them as co-conspirators of his brutal actions. Consequently, they could be held accountable at any moment. But if they are courageous enough they would try to distance themselves from all the crimes committed by making several if not radical changes, but this would require them wisdom and courage. And the Eritrean public could give them his support inside and outside the country. Perhaps the deliberate delay of announcement about his whereabouts may be using to test the domestic and international reaction towards his absence.
Most of his ministers dislike the way how the president is running the country and above all they are furious for giving them a ministerial portfolio with a meaningless power. However, they could not dare to oppose his policy publicly, partly because they were selected by him to that position but mostly because they have been overwhelmed by fear of execution after seeing the fate of the G-15 vanishing without notable public outcry for their rescue.
Assuming the president is in a journey of no return, what could be the likely scenario after him, who would fill his shoes, what are the options on the table for the generals, I will try to analyze four different possibilities.
Eritrea is the most militarized state in the world after North Korea with regard to the size of its population. Hence, the country has been ruled under an iron fist military dictatorship of unelected president Isaias Afwerki for the last twenty years. Its military generals have the final say in all affairs of the daily life; even though they are accused of corruption and extrajudicial killing of innocents, none of them have been hold accountable for any crimes they have committed. In this regard, they are the most beneficiaries of the statuesque enjoying unlimited power at their disposal.
As most of the generals have low level of education, they are out of touch with the rest of the world therefore they aren’t ambitious for the position of the presidency, they know they are in an a position they don’t deserve, therefore, this is a good reason to be grateful for their master and ready to clean his shoes on demand. Consequently, the president succeeded to maintain his leadership for almost two decades, without notable opposition from any kind of army mutiny.
Now without their master, these very generals found themselves in a big dilemma, increasingly worried about their fate. Consequently, they would try to do everything to hold on power; unfortunately, as they are not reform minded, the general public couldn’t expect much from their rule. They will insist the statuesque to continue and anyone who argues against could be seen a potential enemy. Hence, they would be the biggest obstacle for change.
Therefore, introducing political reform at this juncture would be an unlikely outcome from the meeting of the generals. Above all if there is political reform and rule of law there will be accountability of the crimes committed, and all the generals know deep down their heart, how much blood they have in their own hands. And this would in turn encourage them to fight for a political control and could even clash with each other at some stage of disagreements, as they have existing grudges mainly orchestrated by their master.
Nevertheless there is one thing they could agree on, it is in their best interest to continue the military rule, and could make some compromises to nominate a leader, whom they trust would serve their agenda.
A combination of Civilian and military government
The generals are incompetent to lead the country amid deep political and economic crisis coupled with international sanctions. The civilian ministers or party leaders could persuade them to stay away from interfering directly from the political affairs of the government, citing it would mean additional disaster in the already devastated image of the country in the international stage.
If the generals agree, there will be a civilian government with a huge task on its shoulders. And they could face a big challenge as to how far they could go in making political reform in terms of existing foreign and domestic policy. Any new leader would be ambitious to do anything and everything to win the hearts and minds of the people, least the international community. The question is how far will they go and how much support will they get from the military generals, when they do so. Hence, there could be some crisis and perhaps change of leadership at some stage.
In an effort to strengthen his power, the new leader could attempt to depose the military generals, thereby winning the support of the low ranking officers and the national service. His action would not be difficult as the generals are deeply unpopular by the general public and the national service conscripts, hence this would make them to remain enthusiastic and optimistic.
This is the most unlikely scenario, but could be a reality if the opposition outside the country makes their voice heard meaningfully. Obviously, the division and counter division in the opposition block have been their biggest disadvantage, making the incumbent government enjoying massive diaspora support. But at this juncture, provided civic and political groups recognize this event as a golden opportunity, where they could exert maximum pressure to influence the leaders back home, and in doing so would win the support of international community, it would be difficult task but not impossible. If the opposition appears stronger many high level officials of the regime will began to defect giving additional weight for reform. Such a massive campaign could result in a visible public outcry inside the country as well, and this will bring the country in the international media spotlight. The current situation in Syria could be a case in point, even though the regime there is far stronger in terms of military strength and international support. But, the leader in Eritrea would be weak domestically and internationally making the reform much easier.
Consequently, with an increased and consistent pressure from the domestic public and international community, the caretaker government would be forced to resign to meet the demands of its people.
Pragmatically speaking they would feel it would be difficult to make a priceless compromise in calling a national reconciliation, but if forced they would do so. For many of the government officials seeing the agendas of some opposition groups would make them reluctant to allow all Eritreans to enter the country in taking part in the democratic political process. In avoiding that scenario they would try to determine which groups should be allowed to enter the country and for some that would ease their worry, for others it would be met with a big upset.
In the meantime, they could insist this could only be done and achieved with one precondition, i.e, the senior military and security officials, who have been serving during Isaias’ presidency’s could demand full amnesty and guarantee, i.e they won’t be prosecuted afterwards. This scenario seems hard but if done so, will herald a new chapter in Eritrean political history without much bloodshed, unlike what we saw in Libya.
But this scenario will not be easy, and there will be a lot of ups and downs. And the relatives of the thousands who have been made to disappear would demand justice; possibly the Warsai generation could turn on Yikealo for all their misery, by this time a lot of secret crimes of the old regime would be disclosed that would anger even many more.
Civil war and anarchy
This is also a very unlikely scenario but if things go wrong in handing the transitional period wisely a conflict between different military generals could breakout creating an atmosphere of lawlessness and confusion in the country. But, this problem could soon be resolved with external intervention or mediation to calm down the situation. Exploiting this weakness, Ethiopia could directly intervene militarily, and install its puppet government in Asmara. This scenario would divide Eritreans and create more tension.
However, the national service members are at their lowest moral, even to fight for the so-called enemy Ethiopia, if war is to breakout. Since there is high level of frustration in the army, it could be difficult to predict what could happen. At this point of time the Eritrean people are ready to celebrate any power that would seem ready to liberate them, as they want an urgent escape from the miserable life they are in. The National service are so desperate to go back to their normal civilian life, but as most of them are now in their forties and late thirties, and without little money they wouldn’t dream of starting a normal life anytime soon either, hence, when they get demobilized the 400 thousand soldiers, would be a huge burden for any incumbent government as they would demand to be taken care of or else they would be forced to take matters in their own hands.