According to planetrulers.com there are 49 dictators world wide and 21 of these are in the African continent and yes President of Eritrea is in the list. They define a dictator as the ruler of a land rated “Not Free” by the Freedom House in their annual survey of freedom. 2017 has seen some changes in the dictatorship landscape in Africa with some changes in the Gambia, Angola and now in Zimbabwe. While the situation in Zimbabwe was unfolding some pundits have been conducting comparative analysis of dictatorships in Africa but surprisingly Eritrea is not frequently mentioned in these discussions. I am afraid Eritrea has been forgotten by both friends and foes and the current regime in Eritrea must be happy with this situation.
Eritrea shares a similar political history with Zimbabwe. Both countries succeeded in overthrowing colonial regimes. Both countries have had their own share of infighting amongst the fighters for liberation of the country. Both countries are being led by former liberation movements and can be defined as one party dictatorships who have mismanaged the economy of their countries, but there the similarities end. Zimbabwe unlike Eritrea has.a functional constitution; Zimbabweans are enjoying the benefits of a free press and at least nine parties are officially recognized in the country – although they have always been rigged out during successive elections. Although Mugabe has mismanaged the economy and the country has consistently ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for civil liberties, it is not all negative with Mugabe. We cannot deny that he was steadfast in confronting western powers who attempted to meddle in the affairs of his country. He also has to be lauded for fighting for the interests of war veterans and for his promotion of education in the country. Eritrea too has made some strides in achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) and there is evidence of improvement in maternal and child health but the political situation in Eritrea can be characterized by multiple negatives – no constitution, no multi-party system, no free press, no rule of law and we could go on and on….
So, are there lessons to be learnt from the events in Zimbabwe? As we witnessed, the role of the military was crucial in bringing about the downfall of Mugabe. Other foreign governments and institutions had no role in influencing the change in Zimbabwe. In fact the African Union even tried to hinder the process. So the current political changes in Zimbabwe were engineered from within. Eritreans have already learnt from their liberation struggle that the success of the struggle for independence was due to internal forces with the support of the Eritrean diaspora. So this strategy is not knew to Eritreans. The question now therefore is if Eritreans are ready to mobilize their internal resources in order to bring about the desired political changes. Change is inevitable and time will tell.