“Such rankings may, of course, be distorted due to poor international perceptions of, or a lack of access to, the country. (For example, although donors and investors universally acknowledge that Eritrea has very little corruption, it is nevertheless ranked by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt in the world). They may also reflect more on policy choices or attitudes expressed during implementation than actual capacity to govern.” – Seth Kaplan, Eritrea Ideology and Economy
So this is a common sentiment about Eritrea which, according to the usual “Africa experts”, is one of the least corrupt in Africa. And it is a wrong sentiment based on outdated definition of corruption and stereotypical view of Africans.
Corruption, according to these experts, is petty theft, larceny and bribes. You know, stuff Africans are guilty of. Wink. And since that does not happen in Eritrea to Europeans and, well, you know, Caucasians, then, by golly, it doesn’t exist in Eritrea.
But that’s not the modern definition of corruption, which we will get to in a paragraph. But even if it were, the Seth Kaplans are unlikely to encounter it in Eritrea because they don’t have family members they are trying to smuggle out of the country. They don’t have nephews trapped in “National Service” for over a decade who need “moving permits” to travel from Point A to Point B in Eritrea. They don’t have nieces who serve as concubines for entitled colonels and generals whose palms have to be greased to stop molesting them. At some point, Africa is going to insist that any self-proclaimed “Africa expert” speak at least one African language and live in the damn country they pretend to be experts about. But now now.
And that is not even the point. The point is corruption is not just petty theft and bribes and larceny. It is, according to Transparency International (the people who wrote the book on corruption)
“the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.
It is the “and political” definition of corruption that the Seth Kaplans are missing. They don’t really miss it, they just assume that is what Africans deserve. It’s baked in, so its not corruption. When later on, a decade or two later, they learn that the government they are claiming has a human rights record which is no worse than any of its contemporaries and peers (despite a Human Rights Council report saying that it actually does, in excruciating detail), maybe they will feel what George Bernard Shaw, Walter Duranty and Upton Sinclair felt about their defense of the monstrous Stalin. Or maybe they won’t: the ego is a stubborn thing.
So, what is political corruption? It is when those who are entrusted with power use their power to stay in power. They do this by arbitrarily changing constitutions or, in the case of Eritrea, pretending it doesn’t exist. They do this by enslaving their people, including underage children. For the sole reason of staying in power, and ensuring that they perpetuate it and transfer it to their chosen heirs. Because they and only they know what is good for their people.
That is the standard Transparency International used to rank Eritrea as one of the most corrupt in the world. The absence of free press, which gives us (and the “Africa experts”) nothing but government propaganda (which the Africa Experts ignore, flattered as they are by “access” to power.) It is the total and complete absence of independent judiciary. It is the total and complete absence of any form of independent civil society.
Using this definition of corruption, Transparency International says that Eritrea is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. On a scale of 1 for least corrupt (Denmark) and 176 for most corrupt (Somalia), Eritrea ranks number 164. What that means in plain language: Eritrea is in the top 10% of the most corrupt countries in the world.
How did it get there? And what is “there”? Medrek is an Eritrean political organization in exile founded by very senior members of the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF), i.e., the decades-long colleagues of President Isaias Afwerki and most of his remaining flunkies. Emphasis on “remaining” because this is a fast-shrinking club, with yet another one, Abdu Heiji, made to disappear just last week. And this group has a website named Erimedrek.com because we Eritreans suck at coming up with names for websites because we think Eritrea is the center of the universe (Eritreadigest anyone?) And Erimedrek.com is reporting (in Tigrinya, a language that the “Africa experts” haven’t mastered) that President Isaias Afwerki is pulling a Kim il Sung: grooming his son to take over. The tutoring of Abraham Isaias Afwerki, son of Isaias Afwerki Abraham, has started. Oh, it is the usual mercenaries: the tutors are Brit and a Belgian (for political science); a bunch from Russia and United Arab Emirates (in military science.) All in the secluded Asmara neighborhood of “Space 2001.”
Is this corruption? Not according to the “Africa experts.” Why? Because they don’t know anything about it. Neither this, nor his former fast tracking in the Eritrean Airforce. Nor the fact that Isaias Afwerki’s daughter did her “national service” in the cushy Ministry of Information, far removed from hauling rocks in labor-intensive work. But, but but. The “Africa experts” have tried to confirm this information with their only sources Yemane Gebreab and Yemane @hawelti Gebremeskel and the two totally, categorically deny it. Really. And the two should know because, like, they are senior and they have senior titles. Yeah. In the Government. But not in Isaias Afwerki, Inc, which is a whole separate entity and of which they have zero knowledge.
That’s the there. But how did we get there? The path to hell is paved by many, many, many rocky roads. And here is another Eritrean, just this week, one of the tens of thousands of stories that never get heard, talking about how he was conscripted when he was underage, arrested when he was underage, sneaked to prison for the underage in the break of dawn and ordered to crouch in the van so Asmara residents (and all the visiting Mzungus and “Africa experts” in their morning jog) don’t witness a kid, Robel Berihu, 16, being hauled to jail. And the harrowing and so-ordinary-its-banal story of his escape to Sudan then Ethiopia.
Anyway, meet the new boss. Same as the old boss: Kim il Afwerki. Good luck Eritreans. Some new “Africa Experts” will tell you why he is so perfect for you. Whatever you do, please don’t come back and say “I didn’t know.”