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“The Year of The Broom”

By The Awate Team
Oct 1, 2001, 00:46 PST

All this talk about G-13, G-15 got us to thinking: What do we call the group that places the words and deeds of one man, Isaias Afwerki, above the rule of law and the fate of the nation?  Obviously, "G-I" ("I" for Isaias) or "G-1" ("1" for one man.)

A “G-I”’s Skunis  who happens to be one of our stealth readers (stealth readers defined: those who deny ever reading us in the past, present and future but then go on to quote chapter and verse of what we write) wrote us a threatening note a few months back.   He promised that soon it will be “The Year of The Broom” in Eritrea.  That  “we”  (the "G-I") will be cleaning house and all the traitors, wedo-gebas, jihadists, G-13, G-15, woyanes will be history.   He must have seen a copy of the G-I (Group Isaias) playbook because that is what they are working on.  A futile effort.

The G-I At Work


It has been a very hectic couple of months for the G-I.  They have been stumbling from one crisis to another, lying about each crisis, relying on the magnitude of the next crisis to dwarf the previous one and its explanations.  The arrest of Reformers and revocation of their passport; the student arrests and the death of two; the closure of eight newspapers and arrest of nine reporters, have all been “explained” away by the G-I with the usual disdain for the truth and people’s intelligence.  Proceeding these events and between all these high-profile incidents, there are dozens of blunders that the G-I hopes you will never know about. 

The Reformers & Their Arrest


Were you shocked that the Reformers were jailed? We weren’t. That is why we called them "Sitting Ducks" in our editorial “The Pencil” of September 10, 2001.


Why did we expect this to be the natural development for the leaders of the reform movement? Simply because the autocratic regime in Eritrea has nothing to do with dialogue and the reformers naively expected to begin a dialogue with the G-I.


The G-I is so intoxicated with its muscle that it has apparently declared force as a new form of dialogue. It jails because it can and not because it has to. It humiliates because it restores its self-confidence by humiliating others. betrey habuni, zeHmQo aleni.  Driven by its stingy character, it  impoverishes others to enrich itself. It has to enslave others just so it can  feel free. It causes others to die because it thinks their death elongates its life.  It has to accuse others of treason, just to be perceived as patriotic. The Reform Movement knows this fact very well; yet they didn’t use it as a guideline. We are hereby appealing to the leadership of the reform movement and its followers to be more assertive. 


You cannot deliberate with the G-I legally; the G-I has shredded all books of law. You cannot appeal to its organizational procedures; the G-I knows no organized procedure but the principle of might is right.  You cannot appeal to its reason; it is a clique of the insane. You cannot appeal to its love for Eritrea; the safety of Eritrea is its last concern. The regime speaks one language; the reformers have got to speak that language.

We think that the reform movement has to attend to the issue of leadership. Since the reform movement was not organized properly and operated from within the PFDJ bases, it is obvious that it lacked leadership. Now, most of the reform leaders are jailed. Technically, Haile Menkerios, Mesfin Hagos and Adhanom Gebremariam are the transitional official speakers of the reform movement. It is high time that the reformers select a leader and then reach out to a broad based Eritrean populace to expand the coalition against tyranny. It is the only natural thing to do. The stigma of reaching out to other Eritreans outside the “G-I” is a “G-I” created stigma and Eritreans have nothing to do with it. That stigma, which is a hindrance to national reconciliation and unity should be discarded and disowned like the many actions and designs of the “G-I”.

The reformers have to be aware of the destructive culture they were part in creating. Political honesty requires that they do not stick to the rules of the game laid by the “G-I”: using the Wahio organizations as the yardstick for measuring political temperature. There is a big chunk of Eritrea outside the “G-I”. And this big chunk has shown its political maturity by supporting the reform movement without any reservation. All Eritreans outside the conventional “G-I” fold showed their good-will; it is time the reformers reciprocated in kind so that a true basis for Eritrean reconciliation can be achieved. And so that, together, Eritreans can start the serious task of healing inter-Eritrean wounds.

The Reformers & Their Passports

When Gedab News reported that the G-I has revoked the diplomatic passports of the Reformers, the Eritrean Embassy in the United States rushed out a “clarification” which, as usual, includes a generous dose of half-truths and concealments.  We will let Mr. Mesfin Hagos address the question of whether he was given a ride by the Embassy and what his conversations with Ambassador Girma Asmerom actually were.   What the Embassy’s paper (whose audience, once again, was not Eritreans but the institutions of the donor nations) wanted to do is convey the impression that revocation of diplomatic passport of people who are no longer diplomats is perfectly logical and is not a big deal because an Eritrean, any Eritrean, could go to his nearest Embassy and get a passport. We know that is a blatant lie.  If that was the case, why didn’t Ambassador Girma, who knew that the honorable Mr. Mesfin Hagos was going to Eritrea, call his former comrade and say, “please surrender your diplomatic passport and here’s a copy of an ordinary passport”?    The answer is simple: as Eritreans who have been made stateless by their government will testify, the Reformers will not be given an Eritrean passport unless they renounce their stands, condemn their colleagues and ask for forgiveness.  They did not want a popular man to return to the country.  A man who, according to some, got more votes than Isaias and would have been elected president had it not been for the vote rigging of the "G-I"   Such are the ways of the G-I.  

The Free Press and The Journalists

Why were the independent newspapers closed?  They were not closed; their licenses were revoked.“ OK.  But why? It depends on whom you ask.  Even the G-I hasn’t figured that out.  In his response to Amnesty International, the Spokesman of G-I, Yemane Gebremeskel said this: the printed media have been operating in clear breach of fundamental provisions of the Press Law for years now. Some of the trespasses include failure to submit annual financial statements (required by the Press Law).”  This coming from a government that never published budgets or audited financial statements.  And from a source who last was heard telling Amnesty International that the arrest of Semere Kesete, the president of the Asmara University student union, is perfectly consistent with the law, which allows the government to remand citizens for up to 28 days.  (He must have thought that the 29th day won't arrive. For the record, Semere Kesete was arrested on July 29 and he is still in “remand”, two-months later.)

Then, Ali Abdu of Eri-TV, told the BBC that the newspapers were closed because they were “not abiding by the press code” although they had been given time “to correct their mistakes.”  This theme was then picked up by two more members of G-I, Ambassador Girma Asmerom and Ambassador  Hanna Simon.   For good measure, Ambassador Girma told his interviewer, All's Charles Cobb, Jr. that  In the future we could debate to change the law. You debate; you could improve the law. Fantastic.”   Fantastic, indeed.  We have debated that cursed proclamation, the press law, for years, going back to the time when another journalist, Ruth Simon, was jailed by the G-I during the height of the crisis between Eritrea and Sudan.  The G-I is a wicked system that allegedly recognizes the shortcomings of an unjust law, tells people they have the right to change the law and then arrests those who try to do just that.  It ratifies a constitution, then applies Dergue era penal codes.

The G-I were very outspoken in their eagerness to explain why the newspapers were closed.  But, a related question, “Why were the reporters arrested?” draws a blank.  Even the All-Purpose Spokesperson could do no more than rely on the Always Reliable “military service” to defend the indefensible in his response to the CPJ on 9/25/01: “… the journalists may have been arrested for avoiding military service.”  But the national service swoop is usually conducted in the cities not by conducting dawn raids at people’s residence.   Plus, as everyone knows, the journalists HAD either served or been exempted from the "military service."  So, could there be another explanation? The G-I has no answer.  The illuminating answers of Girma Asmerom and Hanna Simon ranged from “I have no idea” to  “she had no confirmation of arrests of journalists in her country.”  

This is another way of saying that in the G-I partnership, the “G” cannot speak without the permission of the “I.”  

The newspapers sprung due to a natural development of Eritreans who tried to rediscover their press and literary character of the forties and fifties.  With the exception of the gutless "journalist"  who was bribed into silence by VIP treatments of chauffeured tours of Eritrea “from Massawa to Ali Ghidir",  the other journalists had taken their responsibility to inform the public seriously.  But the G-I, unreformed communists that they are, had never approved of the free press with conviction.  They only did it reluctantly to keep the tap of foreign funds flowing and to fool amateur “friends” of Eritrea, the undoubting and un-skeptical Thomases into making a Mountain out of this molehill.   Since one cannot claim to be free when handcuffs are visible in his wrists, the G-Is tried to conceal the handcuffs and replace it with a new invention of “Handcuffed Freedom”.

We hail our new generation of wel-wels and assure them that to be jailed by an autocratic system is a badge of honor.  We are grateful to the CPJ for the support accorded to Eritrean journalists in particular and to the principle of Freed Press in general. We also appeal to them to continue being supportive for the budding Eritrean Press that is facing a cruel assault by the dictatorial regime. We appeal to them to continue exerting all necessary pressure for the reopening of Eritrean newspapers. We ask for the solidarity of all journalist and newsmen with the young Eritrean press force.  We appeal to them to expand their advocacy on behalf of all journalists who have been exiled and arrested, or those who face persecution if they return, including about fourteen  journalists who now live in different parts of the world. They include:



Now Residing In

1. Khalid  Abdu


Saudi Arabia

2. Habetab Yemane



3. Yosef  Alazar 



4. Gezhae  Hagos Berhe



5. Yoseph Berhe 



6. Kidane  Yibrah  

Hadas  Ertra


7. Rahel  Sahle

Hadas  Ertra


8. Paulos  Zaid  

Eritrea Profile 


9. Abdulaziz Mohamed 



10. Dawit   Issak 



11. Paulos  Gezahe 



12. Solomon 



13. Semre Taezaz



14. Milkias Mehreteab



The University Students

One of the ironies of the G-I is that they "solve" a crisis by creating a bigger crisis that diverts our attention from the previous one.   Had it not been for the arrest of the Reformers, the closure of the newspapers and the arrest of the journalists, the big news in Eritrea would have been the continued detention of about 20 members of the leadership of the Asmara University Student Union.  According to students returned from WiA, there may be more than 2 students that have died; more than a few who are still in military hospitals and twenty members of the leadership still in detention.  We appeal to whomever it is that speaks on behalf of university students to make their case as high profile as the arrest of the journalists.

Who speaks for the others?

Journalists have their spokespersons; diplomats have theirs.  Who speaks for the nameless persecuted victims?  Look at the unfair and unjust system that Eritreans are suffering under.  If you don’t know someone, he doesn’t exist! That is the logic of the “G-I” supporters. See? They know the reformers; they know the journalist; they know the university students and they know the prominent names that are being pushed to “G-I” guesthouses (Girma Asmerom tells us not to call them “detention camps.”). They believe the stories about their jailing and detention to the extent that they go about manufacturing crimes and weaving stories to justify the shameful actions without any feeling of guilt. If you differ with the “G-I” and they can lay their hands on you, you are bound to have a new address, the guesthouse. Do you know how many people are jailed without trial in Eritrea? How many disappeared without trace? How many were “profiled” and ended up in the guesthouse?   We need a nation founded on a just law and a government, not a group, that adheres to the rule of law. Only then can people get a fair and transparent trial and not be condemned to jail simply because a drunk officer decided to do so.

Let’s see at how the “G-I” and their supporters have segmented little Eritrea:

If one is an opposition to the “G-I” and is Christian, he is branded as Wegenawi.  Regionalist.  If they don’t know his village of origin, then he is a Weyane, as well. If he is a Johavah Witness, he is not a nationalist.  If he is a Catholic Bishop, he is a Vatican agent.  In the “G-I”’s Eritrea, if one is a Moslem, with a beard and the “G-I” doesn’t like him, he is a Jihad and he is sent to the guesthouse. If one is a Moslem and doesn’t have any of the stereotyping, then he is a Hamshai Mesre’e.  Fifth Columnist.  If one doesn’t fit in any of the above categories, he is a corrupt power hungry person who is getting involved in politics and he should be stopped.


The “G-I” clique that was founded on regional philosophy for the purpose of mobilization has used its last card. For thirty years, the clique has cleverly used the ethnic card, without expanding its base beyond the makeup of Selfi NetSanet.   In the meanwhile, it has alienated every social force in Eritrea and now is sitting on the shoulders of few hardliners who, thanks to the never-ending blunders of the regime, will wake up soon.  In its stupidity, it branded the reform movement as a regional movement and in the process confused some souls. However, many discovered the true intention of the clique, which this time was a grave miscalculation.


When one accuses a movement wholesale as a regional movement and unleashes all sorts of defamation projects, it will mean that the agitating of another region is in full throttle. This is the traditional tool of the “G-I” clique and it is trying to use it again. The whole of Eritrea is now branded: Hamshai mesrE (fifth columnists), Weyane, Jihad, Regionalist and ethnic agitators. Whole regions are excluded and what remains under the control of the “G-I” is so simple to figure out provided you know the social and political composition of Eritrea.


The “G-I” is not qualified to define Eritreanism. It has failed to define Eritrean boundaries let alone Eritreanism. The forces outside the “G-I” are the true representation of Eritrea. Changing zonal boundaries and erasing historical regional confines will not melt down Eritreanism to a single pot shabbily manufactured by the “G-I”. The “G-I” is running like a deer that is fatally wounded by a hunter and will not find out it is shot until it drops dead. Following the slings and arrows that were wounding the “G-I” for a long time, the last shot was delivered by none other but the reform movement.

The Way Forward

We hate to say “we told you so” but we did tell you so.  

When the Reformers first made their grievances public, we invited you to take a stand and to take a side.  Some of you had harbored a hope that the dispute would be resolved peacefully and amicably.  Some of you were taken by the “G-I” who led you to believe that this was a “political hiccup” that would soon be resolved.   You now know, or should know, otherwise. 

There are now four groups in Eritrea.  Those who support the “G-I”, those who support the Reform Movement, those who support the opposition (The Alliance) and those who are unaligned with all of the above for a variety of reasons.     The supporters of  “G-I” are coming out and by using Open Letters and petitions indicating their support for the “G-I”.  We congratulate them for finally taking a stand.   We think it is instructive for those of us who are familiar with Eritrean names to study the lists of names and learn the names of those who are so quick to accuse others of being regionalist, etc.  Do those names reflect the diversity of Eritrea? Or has the "G-I" never expanded its base beyond the Selfi NetSanet era?  Take a good look at the list, referred as a “Divine List” by a fan, and you have a quick lesson in the Isaias Constituency.


Those who support the Reform movement have been hesitant thus far but are getting more assertive, particularly after they learned how callous and cruel the “G-I” can be.   After all, the “G-I” had no qualms about stripping the citizenship of Eritreans who made the whole concept of Eritrean citizenship possible.  The petitions for dialogue, the letters of support as well as the packed attendance for the DC meeting held in a very short notice is a good indication of the level of support the reform movement enjoys.  The desperate attempt to disrupt the meeting was an admission by the “G-I” that they recognize the potency of the reform movement and the threat it represents to their power monopoly.


Then there are those who support the Alliance.   This group is not looking for reform but a revolution.  They don’t want to mend the government; they want to uproot it.   They believe that there are a series of steps that have to be undertaken, in sequence, to ensure stable democracy in Eritrea.  They want to begin with Reconciliation, followed by a Unity Government (including a Reformed PFDJ) that will draft a new constitution with full participation of all Eritreans (including those excluded in the last attempt), and a popular government elected by a free and willing constituency.


Then there are Eritreans who, for whatever reason, do not belong to any of the three groups.  These reasons could be historical, personality conflicts, ideological incompatibility, or even aversion to belonging to any group, which requires loss of individualism and independence.  It could be due to loss of faith in the leadership of the three groups.  It could be because they are a new generation of Eritreans who want no association with the “baggage” of the past and want to chart a new future on a blank slate.   


How do we assess the future?


We believe that the “G-I” is totally anti-democracy. It loathes freedom of speech. It doesn’t recognize that humans actually have rights. It is an organization built on what we call, ‘The Wedini culture’. It is a government by The Wedini, for The Wedini, of The Wedini.


We urge Eritreans not to be scared of the Wedinis, the disruptive elements. The noisy lot are very violent. If they had guns, and if the stage of their last disruption was not the United States where the rule of law actually rules, they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot and kill their adversaries, their own compatriots. They are the re-incarnation of the violent Bolsheviks. They abhor dialogue; they hate healthy debate. If they ever start a dialogue, due to some sort of miracle, they would offer only two options: you either accept our views or our view. A no-dialogue dialogue. They believe that they have some God given right to control and some divine power to enslave. They are the perpetrators of all inter-Eritrean differences and, as will soon be evident, they are a tiny minority.  


On the other hand, we believe there is enough common ground between the PFDJ Reform movement and the traditional Opposition to create a new platform that embraces reconciliation, democracy and justice that will be appealing to most Eritreans.    This is not to say that there aren’t differences between the PFDJ Reformers and the traditional opposition.   The major ones are the following:


(1) Is there a role for the Eritrean Jihad movement in a new coalition, which is guided by the principles of nationalist, secular democracy?   The traditional opposition believes yes; the reformers will probably say no.


(2) Is there a role for the ethnic-based groups within the Alliance that espouse a “federal arrangement” in a new coalition that advocates secular, nationalist and democratic values?  The traditional opposition believes yes; the reformers will probably say no.


(3) Is the ratified-but-unimplemented Eritrean constitution a good beginning point for establishing a nation governed by democracy and rule of law?   The reformers believe “yes” and the opposition does not.   

We believe these are the three major points of contention.  They are differences but we do not think they are irreconcilable differences.  Bridging differences peacefully is what mature politics is supposed to be about.  To do that, we must renounce the “G-I” culture and the mob mentality that the hardliners espouse which is alien to the generally tolerant Eritrean culture.   The “G-I”  culture, which has been used as a standard for the last decade, must be discarded.  We cannot move forward by displaying arrogance; by heaping insults on one another, by denigrating one another.  We cannot move forward by the “Search-and-destroy” method advocated by the “G-I” in its endless search for enemies.  


If  it is "The Year of The Broom", it is only because it is the year to sweep old ideologies and enmities, not people.  We believe it is also "The Year of The Handshake"--reconciliation amongst Eritreans.  The only ones telling us not to do that are the "G-I"  whose power consolidation is based on creating enemies and sustaining enmity.   

The Awate Team

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