Ezana Sehay   Dec. 23, 2013


Does size matter? It is a question raised by far more men than women; may be men are just more in to measuring things as a matter of proving value. Larger, louder, faster and stronger are verities that appear to explain themselves with quasi-Darwinian implications.


But natural selection actually operates by appropriateness, not by force – a fact lost on those justifying the systemic crushing of opponents or competitors.


History is full of masculine dominance and rivalry, often in depth. That is not surprising, of course, since most history is made by men about men. But even fictional literature is full of duditude. Man against man, man against nature, man against gods … all in the name of leverage, prestige and power.


Man’s insatiable appetite for power and control is not all about testosterone, mind you. It’s much more than that; it’s the search for hyper-masculine status driven by egocenticism.


Human history is full of ego-maniacs looking to empower themselves and subjugate others. That is when the concept of size comes in, they think big equates power and respect. That is how they think the world really works, for better or worse.


Ego- freaks come in all forms; but the dangerous ones are those with power and influence such as politicians.


When it comes to ego Isayas Afeworki; the Eritrean tyrant who squandered every bit of popular support over the years, is the living embodiment of “too big to fall”. He is well up the continuum toward the most extreme examples of megalomaniac narcissist who has done/will do anything in order to stay in control.


The genesis: some say Isayas joined the independence struggle for some insidious motives. Others are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was nationalist to begin with. Notwithstanding his initial reasons, his curriculum vita however, paints a picture of a man obsessed with personal ambition at the expense of the people’s interest.


Shortly after joining the revolution he began cultivating an image of himself far greater than the organization he was leading [EPLF]. I know that well. I was aware of Isayas “the legend” before even having a clue about EPLF.  Growing up, I use to hear things about Isayas that can fit a chapter in the book of mythical figures.


Then came independence which changed everything. Isayas understood legends are supposed to be inconspicuous either deceased or active but shielded from the general public view. So, that was it. At the down of independence the legend of Isayas was exorcised, but not before it transferred all of its powers to the new successor – the ego of Isayas.


Needless to say, When a nation or people come out of any war, let alone a protracted one like that of Eritrean’s struggle, the conventional wisdom is for the leadership to re caliber all its  efforts in to rebuilding the economy and laying foundations for a durable peace and  democratic society.


For Isayas, economic development is an arduous and time consuming process that does little to boost his influence beyond the nation’s boundaries.


As for democracy; Isayas invariably has declared that Eritrean DNA is mysteriously lacking a democracy chromosome or freedom gene. I don’t think democratic rule is all that difficult or that it requires some key biological components, but if it does, for sure Eritreans have it. Only if Isayas could spend a little more time learning about the true history of the Eritrean people, rather than concoct a fictitious one, then he could’ve known that in fact, Eritreans have experienced western democracy before anyone else in the region.


Like a typical egotist, Isayas’s underpinning view of the world is based on Manichaean philosophy. Peace and democracy are antithesis to Isayas’s pathological obsession of attaining influence over others. Isayas saw only maintain strong army would fit his narrative.  He then, counter intuitively, went on building an army disproportional in size, to the nation’s economic and human capacity.


The problem with militarization, esp. in the absence of real threat, is one develops the propensity to be aggressive.  It’s like what they say “a carpenter with hammer thinks everything is a nail”. So, while the people’s demand for the things they struggled for (freedom, democracy), grew louder and louder, all the while, Isayas was busy plotting to stir the hornets’ nest.


In less than a decade, Isayas got involved in armed conflict with all his neighbors.

I remember couple of months in to the conflict with Ethiopia, even before his famous blander; you know the one about the professed solar eclipse if he exits Bademe, Isayas, in a folly of vain pride, declared “might is right”. Needless to say that was the biggest misjudgment of his life.


But, why you might ask, did Isayas want the world to believe he has power and potential he didn’t have? Well, for safety, I suppose. The same reason Sadam Hussein claimed he had a chemical weapon when he didn’t.  The same reason why certain frogs puff themselves up when confronted.


After his lifelong dream of being the Horn’s bully changed in to a nightmare,  some say , Isayas ego checked himself in to a mad scientist’s rehab clinic and signed up for a psychological make over, and checked out with a pariah. Hence forth, He began to ruffle some feathers, antagonizing and defying the international community which subjected him to sanctions.


But, that is fine with Isayas. You see, in his “might is right” universe conflict projects power, belligerence commands respect. It is ironic, but not unusual, that his down fall might ultimately be caused by the bluff he thought would ensure his survival.


Never the less, the greatest weakness of egomaniacs, like Isayas, is, of course, selfishness. It leads one to betray his team mates, comrades and friends. The reason is obvious, because egomaniacs’ obsession with the art of conniving the other guys aren’t able to muster is counterintuitive to friendship.


Throughout his life, Isayas spent more time in developing his one-upmanship than friendship. So, it is not surprising, for a politician who spent his career amassing power and prestige, he developed few skills to make friends even in the long run. Because, he is so deeply egotistical, he couldn’t bring himself to earn the loyalty of his comrades. And they turned on him when they got the chance


The biggest challenge to Isayas’s political career come in 2001, when reform minded veterans and members of the government, questioned his leadership on a variety of issues and demanded accountability and transparency.


His reaction was typical of a paranoid ego-freak leader. He is a man who wrestled his conscious to the ground, convincing himself gaining power and crushing opponents as his main goal. Without an ounce of hesitation he incarcerated all those leaders who have spent most of their time fighting for better Eritrea.


Yes, he came out on top, but that was a cadmean victory. Since then his race to the bottom is underway. Seemingly, His drive to win at all cost obviously is also his undoing.  He is now an old and feeble man with no friends – only few minions. What would be sadder than a man approaching 70 left to scrapping the bottom of the barrel?


Consequently, Isayas’s drive for personal glory at the expense of the country he purportedly leads has had a devastated effect on it. It has left it afflicted with complex of pathologies: a wretched political system, an economic black hole, and a youth exodus that rivals that of the Derg era. In short, a country with an industrious population and a once promising future is only a notch away from being declared a failed state. 


You go back to the beginning and wonder, what was he thinking? At some stage, he must have known he is courting danger to his career. But no, he is a man with little awareness of what lies below his own surface. He is all about marching forward, but has no vision at all how it will end up.


In the grand scheme of things, Isayas’s dream of becoming bigger, mightier, prestigious or achieving a mythical hero status has effectively become a pipe dream.


If Isayas gets the myth/ legendary status he most deserves, it will look less like Prometheus – a Titan punished for stealing the god’s fire to share with humans. It rather, to all intent and purposes, resembles Narcissus, who famously drowned in his own reflection.



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