In the absence of a central body which monitors and “regulates” discussions of Eritrea’s state of affairs, it is not surprising to see debates turn into fights and political campaign run negatively. In the absence of an arbiter, it is normal to see some people and organizations talk louder. Because the louder you talk it is more likely that you will be heard. If a loud speaker doesn’t help a big noise brings attention even if it causes tension among the people and organizations. This is old politics and I believe, this is why trust has been missing within Eritrean political and civic organization leaders. Until we get a central body with responsibility of “regulating” information, Eritrean politicians and writers will need moral compass to guide them in their political discourse. There is a need for an infusion of good values into Eritrean discourse in order to bring trust among politicians and writers, and restore the confidence of Eritrean people. No, I am not calling for censorship but for responsibility. Moral compass. A new type of politics.
One of the shortfalls of democracy is that it allows aggressive political campaign in order to win arguments, defeat opponents and eventually seize power. In a diverse society such as Eritrea, where political organizations are formed along sectarian lines, aggressive and ruthless politics has far reaching consequences and it can damage the fabric of Eritrean society. Inevitably, this creates tension among the people. For the last 50 years, Eritrean politicians have been fiercely pursuing hostile political campaign. In some cases, they used false accusations and resorted to force in order to impose their will and define Eritrea based on their own image and values. Consequently, many innocent Eritreans have become victims of this adventurism, which has neither rules of engagement nor moral compass. Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have perished in the last 50 years because many politicians, who are devoid of any moral compass and ethics, thought that they have the right to rule Eritrea by any means.
It is wrong to falsely accuse your opponent because you failed to win an argument. For the last 10 years, we have seen opposition politicians accuse each other falsely. Often, this happens when there is fallout among the opponents. Suddenly, the issue of ethnicity, religion and region are raised to justify their split and sardonically, they become spokespersons for the particular people they hail from. Worse, intellectuals are seen to quickly adjust themselves to the new political alignment. Unfortunately, some young Eritreans have also been somehow drugged into this old politics. It has become an infection (“Himam gedli”) that affects all ages, gender, social and academic status. The hope that the warsay generation and beyond will not be affected by gedli factor has suddenly been shuttered. Young Eritreans are now increasingly seen to serve political organizations in promoting their narrow political agenda.
It is simply wrong to attack the whole organization because you have grudges with one individual within that organization. A number of Eritrean websites/organisations have been a bête noire of some people who don’t like legitimate issues raised and open discussions held. Is it morally justified to work day and night relentlessly to destroy an organization because you don’t agree with one individual or one issue? I would have thought the answer to obviously be “No”. But not when you are an Eritrean politician or a seasonal writer. It is confusing to see some Eritreans complaining, for example, why EDA is ineffective but they work around the clock to destroy it. It is also inexplicable to note that EDA (and NCPC) consider everyone who criticise them as enemy. NCPC should know that with mandate comes responsibility. NCPC should act for the interest of all Eritreans including those who don’t agree with it. We can see how the absence of critical assessment of National Conference has lead to “other“ individuals and groups owning the “watch dog” status and sensationalize trivial issues and spiral them out of proportion.
Another shocking old politic phenomenon is the “control freak” style of news management. In an attempt to manage news and information some websites, networks and organizations have become worse than shabait.com. They control information in such a way that only information that they want us to know (and not information that we want to know), are released systematically. They often forget that they are formed to precisely do the opposite: introduce the culture of transparency, free discussion, freedom of information and creation of active citizen. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Amanuel Iyasu for a relatively unbiased, independent and well balanced report of the National Conference.
Another type of old politics is denial. In the current unprecedented soul-searching and transitional period, it is perfectly acceptable to see complains and grievances coming from every corner and every section of Eritrean society. No one should have the right to accept some grievances and dismiss others. The honourable and admirable thing to do is to bring facts and figures to refute the accusations rather than deny, boycott and run a sinister campaign.
Negative campaign, vicious attack, self-righteousness, anonymous briefings and calculated political moves are destructive and old politics. Young Eritreans are turned off when they see politicians squabble each other. And this is partly the reason why young Eritreans show political apathy. A new approach based on transparent and responsible debate is needed. A genuine, robust and candid debate is not only healthy but also a requirement for democracy to thrive. It is disturbing to see people oppose, for example, the invitation of a western academician to a conference to talk about federalism. In fact, if they stand for democracy it is a moral imperative that they support such debate and allow free discussion. If Eritreans cannot discuss freely how Eritrea should be governed why should they waste precious time struggling for democracy? We have become a nation of paranoia of free discussion and open debate.
We have also witnessed recently boycott replacing discussions and debates in the current Eritrean politics. While boycotting a conference is understandably a form of protest, it can also widen the already existing gap among different Eritrean organizations and societies. It is hard to gain credibility when you claim champion for peace and at the same time boycott a National Conference. Some civic societies have abandoned their mission and objectives and are seen increasingly acting as political organizations effectively dragged into the old politics. It is perplexingly inconceivable to see civic societies and individuals boycott National Conference and yet have the audacity to ridicule the outcome and call for an alternative opposition. We need not a new opposition but a new type of politics.