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‘Know the enemy; know yourself & fight well’

One morning, on my way to Google out daily News, I watched a Facebook post intended to define the propaganda war pervaded upon Eritrea, the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia and the main drive behind. What I gave ample attention to was one insightful comment.

The comment goes like this: “What we believe is more essential than what we hear and what we know is far more significant of all. So far we believe that ‘we made a nation when someone tried to silence our voices for centuries; we built a subsistent economy when some said that we couldn’t be on our own and, hitherto, we know we made a living country (a land from our bones and flesh; a wind from our lives, and a sea from our blood). This truth is eternal and is, so far, how we identify ourselves.” In the end, the comment doubts if we, as a people, are so much aware of the sidelined enemies and their indirect computational warfare strategy, which is a war of 0’s and 1’s.

In his excellent article entitled “Disinformation and its impact on society”, Simon Weldemicael notes some crucial points on how to deal with the age of disinformation in an Eritrean context. Simon opined that “Today, through various means of communication, more than ever, fake news, slanted reporting of facts or completely false information are at work disseminated to mislead the civilian population. The goal is very clear cut.

“To convince the public by manipulating emotions rather than by making a logical argument, to weaken domestic and international support to the government of Eritrea, to undermine the motivation and morale of the public and to create mistrust and instability, to drain the patience of the civilian population and weaken the fighting spirit of the people so as to create hopelessness among the target society…etc.” At last, the writer recommends for eligible actors to work harmoniously in protecting the mental sovereignty of the Eritrean people through effective retraction, refutation and correction measures.

The writer’s remarks are spot on, and have motivated me to enrich his recommendations by digging-out on the indirect approach warfare.

Unconventional warfare and its indirect approach strategy is a ‘total’ war of intrusions and extrusions objectified for disruptions and wiping out an enemy’s moral.

With all the technological advancements and the spread of globalization, humanity is witnessing the blossoming of sophisticated forms of war. Typically, digital wars (information wars) attack information processes to compromise, change, spoil, disrupt, or destroy state apparatus and its political infrastructures as a rule. The objective is very much clear. To defuse, mislead, and disrupt information processing or decision making processes so as to shake up the psychological set up of a nation.

If we hear news related to data hacking, information leaking, fake news propagations, and acts of cyber war, they are a harbinger of what is to come even for countries like Eritrea in this digital age and this article will partly analyze certain reasons behind waging contemporary warfare, which is totally circuitous in nature, upon the Eritrean people.

Sun Tzo, a supreme military strategist, once stated, “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Thus, targeting the mind definitely makes way for a total control of the physical part. By targeting the mind, courage, commitment, volunteerism, moral status and ambitions will be shattered which in turn perturb organizations, kneel-down leaderships, paralyze military apparatus, pulling-out of financial strength…etc. It targets “the mind of the enemy and the will of his leaders is a target of far more importance than the bodies of his troops.” The strategy is an unconventional warfare applied to annihilate an enemy’s courage without a single drop of blood.

Therefore, psychological warfare is the extension of unconventional indirect warfare in theory and practice. The field will be the mind by itself, where the one who succeeds in upsetting the psychological set-up of its opponent get the chance to celebrate ‘victory’.

In general, the logic behind every psychological warfare is always the same. Firstly, destruction is far easier than construction. Second, the human mind is potentially pathetic to move ahead beyond the levels of watching and hearings. Third, the more the lies are repeated the more likely they could be believed. Finally, humans are inclined to forget the past and.

Modern wars are wars of penetrations militarily, economically and politically. Militarily, however, the goal is to instigate fear, hopelessness and misunderstanding between the defense forces and the masses in order to destroy the courage to defend and fight back. Economically, the purpose is to disrupt national markets through speculation, withdrawing capital and other resources, imposing economic sanctions, etc. Politically, they set to weaken national institutions, empower reactionary thoughts, infiltrate security arrangements, create a space to magnify vulnerable spots, conduct campaigns to cause people to doubt history, culture, and religion, provide support for opposition operatives through material rewards to win the support of the uncommitted and induce defections.

All are intriguing strategies set through indirect means for direct outcomes. The goal is all one — to fragment the entire social, economic and political fabric of a nation.

By virtue of its history and its strategic location, Eritrea is an eye-catching spot in international relations. Its path toward reassuring survival and self-reliance in an environment of hostility has made it a target of psychological warfare from both regional and international actors. The country’s history is full of war of intrusions and extrusions designed to debilitate the country to the extent of ‘making Eritrea a failed state’. This kind of war was practised during Eritrea’s war of liberation whilst consistent regimes strove to weaken its unity, to spread fatalism and defeatism in a way to further obliterate the revolutionaries’ morale.

On the other hand, EPLF fighters pressed for a very grand strategy of challenging psychological wars to persuade their citizens and the world that they were capable of defending Eritrea’s national interests. In one way, they crushed Ethiopian invasions at the battlefield while strengthening transnational public connections, disseminating freedom mentality (they were called ‘rebels without borders’), working vigorously for political support. In nearly a century, Eritrea endured and defeated systemic estrangements, intentional victimizations and economic strangulations through the powerful base of the psychological makeup of the society and its leadership.

Thus, with almost 60 years, 1961 till the present, of experience of refuting regional and international conspiracies, Eritrea has, in deed, tackled psychological warfare like a seasoned fighter.

Over the years, Eritrea has fought against regional and international injustices and post-independence regional adventurism and has come out triumphant by refuting conspiring tendencies of Ethiopian rulers proving she is in no way to be undermined.

Eritrea’s protracted struggle has resulted in the recent historic turns in the Horn of Africa which seem to bring a fresh wind of hope with multiple opportunities and some vulnerability as well. Such a reality is the prize of Eritrea’s tolerant and flexible past while it is also an outcome of an overall historical process of enduring external hostilities for centuries, on the one hand, and Ethiopians’ blatant oppositions on the other. Therefore, while it has taken almost half a century for Eritrea to annihilate all external adventurism, it is imperative that we don’t forget the negative legacies of blatant disregard for Eritrea’s sovereignty, as their impressions and historical evil seeds will linger for longer and will take time to eradicate completely.

Eritrea is coming into this new era, ‘an era of digital information’ with all the misinformation and disinformation weapons, where digital fight is the general rule of Network war. This might not be a fresh war for the Eri-spora’s long time grand motives to challenge “computational propaganda,” via social media while organizing ‘chatting’ forums to strengthen national consciousness for example. But one thing we must underline here is that this kind of war is more pernicious and less visible than conventional battles, with skirmishes that do not culminate in confrontations like Operation Fenkil, and the battle of ‘Adi Begio’.

Therefore, there is a fresh moment entitled to wording but not editing. Then what we have to accept is that each situation should be treated as if it is a completely new situation. If every situation is treated as new, we will then try to solve it with a new approach.

In the past two decades, there has existed an organized conspiring havoc to annihilate the country and to paralyze the country’s socio-economic muscles targeted at the country’s soft and hard resources. The result could be identified in the enormous collateral (physical, financial, political) costs it has entailed. Therefore, it is naïve to expect the desertion of such motives giving two arguments overnight; first, war never ends but it only changes its countenances and second it takes more time and efforts to identify anti-identity, anti-stability, and anti-social hidden motives. The longer the destabilizing chaos has been penetrating into the society’s core, the deeper they have cut.

At last, Machavelli, in his book titled the Prince states: “A prince, therefore, being forced knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against traps and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the traps and a lion to frighten the wolves”. Thus far, we know our enemies as they are tabloid journalists who are masters at spreading fake news and fair weather intellectuals who specialize in finger pointing, recrimination and self-absolution. All shows up when the land is clear, on the eve of victory, to take the historical credit, so goes a saying. And, we [Eritreans] know ourselves and our history — to prepare to fight them very well.

This article concludes by reminding all actors to take similar positions to challenges such as war. As Julius Caesar, in 75 BC, said, “The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.” This is a piercing idea noting that, if we are not socially attentive in respect to the wars of 0’s and 1’s, in negligence we might create the best opportunity for someone who strives to exploit our motionlessness. We have to reassure our moral solidarity in the face of psychological battles and their indirect strategy. Therefore, recognizing that we are left with one immortal enemy, digital warfare and its ‘psychological warfare’ motives, we should prepare to promote balanced approaches smartly, innovatively and responsibly.

At the moment e are living in a fourth generational warfare, which is more fluid, decentralized, and asymmetrical than the warfare of the past. ‘Psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon in the form of media/information intervention.’ Therefore, we have to take full advantage of the opportunities that information technologies can provide at state level, we have to materialize it and we have to train information warriors so as to fight very well in the upcoming wars. If not, someone will take the credit.

In the end, as always, we have to believe on our Eritrean values and their proverbial soundings that applaud, at the end of the day, a talkative bird will never built its nest.


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