Seb do yelen iyu

All is quite on the Eritrean front, except for the hundreds of drowning victims in southern Europe. The expected backlash from it has not transpired so far; but the rumor machine among Eritrean political circles has now shifted, and is replete with stories of a besieged government bereft of any political or military support resorting to the use of a proxy army for mundane reasons. Incoherent as often and almost twenty years since the enactment of the infamous National Service in the country, which has been ruining families and communities, no political or civic group to our knowledge has asked for its complete disbanding; to the contrary, they seem to revere it. Their only qualm is the open-ended nature of it.

In the same manner, Eritrean cyber writers have been lately outraged not by the policy per se, but by the enforcers, who are allegedly people from the Tigray. The illegitimacy of the regime and its Sawa conscription unchallenged, the frenzy about a skirmish with the regime’s proxy army has dominated the cyber world. A few have even compared it to colonization, a poorly understood concept which has been responsible for causing mayhem in the past. This lukewarm opposition has “forced” the regime to state: our army was the enforcer, and the only enforcer! The farce of Eritrean politics has no boundaries. We witness once again the phenomenon of zombification as robust and alive: illicit relationship and sharing the same house is well entrenched in the land.1

Everything is fungible in Eritrea; who can forget EPLF’s and the present regime’s policy of using food aid intended for the drought stricken public for army uses. This does not imply, however, the regime has done the same with the TPDM, one of the rebel groups, under its sponsorship. Other factors may explain it, including the example of incidents from extant empires.

“The sun never sets in the British Empire” described the immense size of the land and population held by the British Empire, the old European power in Asia and Africa until the middle of the last century. A small island but with a vast industrial power, this nation with minimal cost to its economy deployed troops from all races either to quell down indigenous rebellion or to fight its wars in other places such as the First and Second World War in Europe, Africa and Asia. Other post-colonial states with small population but vast land composed of jungles and deserts and weak legitimacy quickly learned the lesson.

The late Mobutu, who ruled Zaire, the current Congo Democratic Republic, had Moroccan troops as bodyguards, who sprinted with their walkie-talkies protecting his large convoy. With poor infrastructure and a formidable jungle, his army was neither disciplined nor rapid enough to crush rebellions; the gap was filled by Belgian and other mercenaries until his political demise. Libya’s late strongman was another case.

Awash with huge money, plenty of weapons not excluding the potential capacity to produce chemical arsenal, and never trusting his army, he had the Tuareg nomads to depend on until his downfall. After his regime’s debacle, and to the dismay of the world, the heavily equipped and unemployed mercenaries took the mission of igniting the old simmering rebellion in Mali and Niger. Lately, Eritrea had joined this group, say some opposition sources in Eritrea. How credible is this?

Eritrea is a small country, a totalitarian state, with a huge army, at least on paper, in the African continent. If we ignore the self-reliant policy mantra of the government, what other factors would force it to depend on the TPDM, an Ethiopian opposition rebel army sponsored by Eritrea? Horrible as the repression is in the land, we have not witnessed any discernible and sustained Eritrean rebel resistance, civil disobedience or army revolts except for the pathetic Forto Incident. Did the army that some of us not long ago claimed to be formidable (despite Ethiopia’s request to degrade it during the Algiers’s Summit), simply vaporize? Granted, tens of thousands of its recruits have been jumping borders for the last several years; it did not however stop the regime from launching conscription campaigns until the present moment. What possible factors explain the incident then? Is there a parallel story to it?

In the 1940s, Eritrea was under British Military Occupation. The military presence of the British was very small in Eritrea as already indicated for the Empire; troops from other races and religions such as the Sudan compensated for it. Not all was dandy, however. Cheap and malleable as it was, the Sudanese contingent became a political liability to the administration, when it massacred the Kebesa-Christians in Asmera, which was already tense under the political situation to determine the future of the occupied land. Small sparks such as arrogance, drunkenness, fraternization with the local women may provoke disturbances or resentment as the case recent case of the UN troops stationed to monitor the border dispute demonstrated. The current situation in Asmera may not be different.

Stretching the facts, such as the spontaneous reaction of some of the youth in the city, does not explain the complete submission of their parents, who though armed by the alleged isolated government have not defended their children, or pointed the gun against it. Regime cadres and enforces have yet to die, but some ordinary citizens may have lost their lives from either an accident or improper handling of the weapons. With this obedient public, what possible factors would force the regime to deploy the TPDM? With the legitimacy of the giffa not challenged, what possible reasons would push the regime for a mercenary army? None, it is only imagined. The above scenario in Eritrea recalls a line from the famous song of Kiros Alemayehu, under Derg’s Ethiopia: “Seb do yelen iyu.”


[1] See the article, “The Umbilical Cord: Child’s Initiation Rites in Eritrea” by the same writer.

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