Source: Selam Kidane

Many around the world are baffled by the accounts of cruelty that is being perpetrated by the Eritrean army as consistently reported from victims across Tigray. It has been sudden, totally unexpected and extremely brutal and being perpetrated against people who are to all intents and purposes kin. Victims ask ‘why?’, Fellow Eritreans are baffled and many in the international community ask ‘how?’ How is it possible that a young army of mostly conscripts who were forcibly recruited from across Eritrea to perpetrate a level of cruelty that is seldom seen? I have been asking the same, but gradually and gut-wrenchingly I am embarking on the bitter realisation of the cruelty of the method in Issias Afwerki’s madness.

I have in the past talked about ‘pathocracy’, a system of administration that is built by a psychopathic leadership that institutes cruelty at societal level (I will try and write this out in more details at some point too, it is not the kind of thing one enjoys thinking about, much less writing about), But in short in Issias’ pathocracy normal human beings have three choices: to become a mini pathocrats  by adopting the same sadistic, psychopathic tendencies (I call these the jackals), to submit to the pathocratic rule and supress all conscience (I call these people the donkeys who accept the burden without a question) or to be removed from the system: arrested, exiled or killed… three decades into his pathocratic rule EVERY Eritrean is in one of those three categories (be it inside the country or outside)… the army is no different… the thousands of deserters fall into the third category and the rest are in one of the previous two and hence prime candidates for the kind of thing Issias Afworki has been dreaming to do in Tigray for so long…  

How are they made to be so cruel?

There is a question that is often asked about Eritreans (both from within and without)… why have we become so impotent? Why don’t Eritrean mothers ask after their children? Why do the fathers who have been forcefully issued AK47s simply contend to slinging it across their bonny shoulders and still walk around bowed heads? Why do the ‘ministers and officials’ regurgitate the meaningless rhetoric of greatness even when they can’t speak for their of comrades who have dissipated into nothingness right infornt of them? Why?

The answer is in the humiliation and persistent violation of dignity that has been concertedly perpetrated against Eritreans rendering us impotent… it was insidious, it was multifaceted and it is evil! Its result is the precise total sum of its component… a perfect illustration is Eritrea’s current COVID-19 situation…an entire nation that has no meaningful purpose to exist for: children are not required to attend school, office workers are not required to work, factories are not required to produce anything, everyone can scrape a ‘living’ out of scrounging. No need to buy, sell, import, export, sow, harvest, pay taxes or seek employment. Completely meaningless existence… total impotence!

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm refers to sadism as “the conversion of impotence into the experience of omnipotence”. In this sense the madness of Issias Afworki in turning Eritrea into a nation impotent begins to make sense as being the first step to recruiting sadists to implement his grand scale evil.  Fromm contended that sadism produces an emotional high, because absolute control over another, exemplified by inflicting pain or humiliation, provides a unique sense of power. In this sense the jackals and donkeys that have been rendered impotent for many years and felt humiliated by this impotence have now been provided with a perfect storm of total dominion over Tigrayans, creating an illusion of transcending the limitations of their impotence hitherto, a liberation from a life deprived of productivity .

While the above describes the why, it doesn’t actually say much about how. How did Issias manage to convince tens of thousands of Eritreans whose peers sought refuge in the very land they are being accused of committing atrocities? Herman Goering, Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, at the Nuremberg Trials, declared that it didn’t matter what kind of society you referred to – democratic, capitalist, socialist or whatever; ‘people can always be bought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.’

As I was writing this I read somewhere a witness account stating that the Eritrean soldiers often told victims that they are going to turn the clock on Tigray’s development just like the Tigrayans reverted ours back… now my call is for these things to be investigated independently and for the crimes to be accounted for legally, but I for one can very easily imagine how Issias and his elks would combine this rhetoric, add it to the impotence they so devilishly concocted over the years and create a sadistic lethal force that brutalises everyone in its wake.   

I am an Eritrean and have been advocating for ending the forced conscription of these very people for so many years, but I didn’t see this coming… despite being a psychotherapist and a trauma researcher, who spent several years in the region that is now being brutalised. Infact I had been researching the traumatic stress being inflicted on the peers of the soldiers that are now being accused of inflicting infinitely more atrocities… I write this not as an expose but as an account of my own journey to realisation.  A realisation that I have barely started and it already fills me with horror.