If you ask any of the Eritrean opposition groups who built their organizations on the basis of their religious beliefs & convictions about the nature of their struggle, they will tell you that their mission is not about creating a Sharia-ruled state, but rather about upholding the basic human rights of their people who were the targeted victims of the sectarian and chauvinist PFDJ regime.
In other words, they would say that their people were targeted for no reason other than for being Muslims – and it is only common sense that if they were to defend themselves and uphold their rights, then they do so as Muslims, if they so choose.
So given the prevailing sad situation where Eritrea has no constitution (except for some dossiers of legal jargon collecting dust) and is ruled by a despicable band of shefatu – who could be so arrogant to accord themselves the right to tell these people, that they can’t set their political platforms based on any political philosophy they see fit, including one drawn on but not necessarily limited to their religious beliefs and convictions? Who could really be that condescending?
Who could play the role of the sole kingmaker here? Christians? Atheists? Any Non-Muslims? Communists or may be some fanatic Secularists?
The answer is very clear – none of the above. While each of the above named groups retain their full and unequivocal rights to create their own organizations and set their own political agendas – they have no say whatsoever on how others decide to mould their organizations – period.
If a group of Orthodox monks decide to descend from their monastery with a vision for Eritrea, and if they decide to join the existing political fray, it goes without saying that no one could ever tell them that they are not allowed to do so. Likewise, if Muslims, Secularists, Communists, Federalists, Centralists, Ethnic groups, Liberal Democrats (unfortunately, as we speak, there isn’t a single opposition group which could claim the honour of adopting liberal democracy in its truest sense) or any other entities decide to adopt platforms which others find to be too dogmatic, divisive or outright abhorrent – again, no one has the right to tell them that they are not allowed to do so. In short, as the elders would tell you, what you consider to be halal for yourself can’t always be haram for others.
That being the case, it is important to remember that at the end of the day, if democracy and the rule of law are the end goals for our collective struggle – then it would be silly or cynical to wallow in un-founded fears (fear is purpose-driven when some fake it as cynics do) by assuming that the political platforms or the exclusive agendas of the aforementioned groups would singularly determine the fate of the nation or how it would be governed. There is no way that this could happen, because no group would ever accept a single group’s hegemony over matters of destiny. Besides, no single group could muster enough power or support for that matter, to effect change and impose its will on the others.
No one is trying to re-invent the wheel here, but like many of us have been saying for ages now, the fate of the nation and how it would be governed could only be determined on the basis of a collective covenant, which would be arrived at through the compromises reached and through the give-and-take process of all those groups. This process would take into account all the concerns, fears, aspirations, dreams and the need for all kinds of guarantees required by all – and more importantly, it would be arrived at through consensus.
What this would entail is the need for people to talk and negotiate in good faith. Whether it is the perceived threat of a so-called cultural imperialism (over-amplified phrase for a tiny nation like ours) which petrifies some, or the existing chauvinist hegemony which is disdained by many others – fears could be allayed and the ugly consequences of anarchy could be averted – but only if all negotiate in good faith and only if no one, absolutely no one – however ugly they are perceived to be by others, is left out.
In such a process, that no group gets all it wants is but a forgone conclusion. But then again, if it is through consensus that we want to enter into a covenant which will be the basis for the rule of law in the country, then it is imperative that we all sharpen our pencils – because the whole essence of consensus is built on finding common grounds by making compromises.
As they say, you can’t make everybody happy – but at least, you can make everybody equally unhappy. However flip-sided that sounds, I am sure many will agree that there is a great deal of fairness to it. Besides, it is perhaps the only antidote we have to protect our society against perpetual strife, an epidemic that has been running amok in our region for quite a long time now.
Through common grounds, thorny issues of divergence could be bridged up and cracks could be filled. But to do that, people have to talk, and talk now. It is silly to wait for some kind of miracles to happen on their own. It is even worse to be fixated with the long-gone cold-war mentality of the sixties, where some, if you can believe it or not, still believe that they could be installed by the Western powers as their new puppet regimes in the region. (Somebody should remind these guys that the cold- war has long been gone and that the hatchets have been buried for over thirty years now. The West couldn’t care less about the strategic value of the whole continent of Africa, let alone tiny Eritrea. Even the bloody dictator made numerous futile appeals for reinstatement before he finally gave up and went on his suicidal rampage)
It was based on this premise that the NCDC brought Eritreans from all walks of life, with different social, religious and political persuasions and backgrounds to sit down and talk in good faith. The fact that all these groups and individuals agreed to come together, respecting each other’s rights to have a say on the destiny of their nation, was a clear-cut indication of their INCLUSIVE approach towards the national agenda.
In our current circumstances, where collective efforts and working together are the key ingredients to success – a given party’s inclusiveness can not and should not be determined on the basis of how diverse its membership base is, or on how broad-based its political name or even its political agenda is.
It is the party’s general outlook towards the national agenda and its specific outlook towards the rights of other parties it shares the nation with which would determine how inclusive that party is. In layman’s terms – if the party says “us and nobody else” when it comes to setting the national agenda, then it is an exclusionist party. If the party says “us above everybody else”, then it is an exclusionist party. Only the naïve will confuse inclusiveness to mean diversity within the ranks of any given party.
In other words, no one can really accuse the Kunama, Afar, Saho, Jeberti, Islamic or any other similar organizations/parties of being exclusionists (or less inclusive for that matter) simply because, how they set their organizations or how they define their political agendas is only their business and no body else’s, period.
It goes without saying that, in any democratic setting, diversity is not a pre-requisite for exercising the freedom of association. As such, in defining their organizations and their political agendas the way they did, it is fair to say that all these groups are well within their rights to do so.
If their agendas seem to be too limited or region/religion based, it should be of a concern only to them and to the electorate they will face some day in a free and a democratic Eritrea. If these groups are content with that reality – then really, that’s all that matters. There is no reason why others should lose a sleep over it.
The only time anyone can accuse these groups of being exclusionists is when and if you see them do one of the following things:
- Denying others the right to conduct their struggle against PFDJ tyranny in whatever way they choose.
- Thwarting all national efforts and becoming an impediment to any national gathering with the sole purpose of excluding other groups from having a say on national issues
- Selling themselves as the only group entitled and fit to decide the fate of the nation (not to compete for it).
- Playing down the urgency for immediate change in the country (and in the process, prolonging the agony of the people) with the sole purpose of conducting a controlled change, where it is assumed that they would inherit the entire state apparatus intact by excluding and marginalizing all other groups. (Replicating PFDJ’s treacherous & shameful ascendancy to power, albeit in a pseudo-democratic way).
Nowhere in the stated policies or in the actions and deeds of all the religious or ethnic based organizations will you ever see such futile agendas being pursued, let alone for them to be implemented. Suffice it to say, that if the real intentions of these organizations was to carve up Eritrea into separate entities, the last thing they would have done was to join organizations like EDA, which would impede their efforts in pursuing and implementing such agendas.
On the contrary, the real exclusionists are those who appear to be secularists and liberal democrats in name only – but when it comes to their actions and deeds, anyone could easily discern their political mould. They are neither democrats nor liberals – they are not even secularists, for that matter.
For one thing, in a diverse society like ours, true liberal democrats would never fear being side-swiped at the ballot box by groups who out of their own choice and rightfully so, limited their membership base and the sphere of their influence only to a specific region, religion or ethnic group.
Unlike these groups, true liberal democrats are not constrained by region, religion, ethnicity or any other fault lines, and as such, even under the most horrible circumstances, they would expect to at least hold their ground, come Election Day.
If the exclusionists were true liberal democrats as claim to be (even the PFDJ fancies such names) then why are they so petrified of democracy? Why is it that they always keep their distance when they know all too well that they share the nation with other stakeholders who are equally entitled to have a say on its destiny? Why the walk-outs, the boycotts?
Are they worried about losing an election to those they disparage as “ethnics” or jihadists? That can’t be – because according to them, they are “the biggest” there is, and the only party which “looks like Ertra” (an odd claim, given the near-sweep homogeneity of their religious and ethnic make-up, save and except for a few plug-ins, who never seem to learn from history). A so-called biggest party can’t lose at the ballot box to a few so-called “fringe elements”, can it?
So how come their struggle is always “on hold”? Why the stalling tactics?
Unfortunately, and to the dismay of many who were counting on them, their dubious objectives are becoming clearer by the day for many sensible Eritreans. That the exclusionists are only interested in effecting a controlled change in the country has long been suspect, but for it to be so flagrant and to grow to such a horrible obsession, was really beyond anybody’s wildest imagination.
But the exclusionists better take notice – the people are watching. They should take notice that controlled changes will never work. The last time such a change was connived under similar pretexts of curbing jihadawiyan, wegenawiyan, amma haradit and what have you, it brought to power one of the most despicable regimes in human history – the PFDJ. It would be a tragedy to assume that Eritreans could fall for the same tricks all over again, especially after suffering so much misery and bloodshed under HGDEF’s despicable tyranny.
The exclusionists must also take notice that the last place where controlled changes could be effected, are in diverse societies as ours. They can preach about the virtues of their political platform till they turn blue – but that will never clear the field for them, not an inch. The rest of the political groups be it Islamic, ethnic or otherwise are not going anywhere. They will stay the course for however long it takes.
The exclusionists can dislike them all they want, campaign against them in a free and fair elections to their heart’s content or even attempt to crush them at the ballot box, if they can – they can do all that and more.
But that’s in tomorrow’s Eritrea, which comes with a caveat. To get to tomorrow’s Eritrea, ALL these groups (exclusionists included) have to resolve the issues of today’s Eritrea (NCDC style & spirit).
In today’s Eritrea, there is one thing the exclusionists will never be able to do no matter how hard they try or what tricks they pull – and that is to exclude the marginalized groups from the process of determining the destiny of their nation as legitimate stakeholders.
No amount of shunning, boycotts or walk-outs will ever dissuade these groups into abandoning their legitimate causes for which they have vowed to die, if need be. So it is much more advisable for the exclusionists to stop fooling themselves first, before they could ever attempt to fool others.
Confronting demagogy and megalomania within the hierarchy of any political party are commendable acts of patriotism that should always be supported and nurtured. Through his actions and as verified by others, ex-EPDP official, Issayas Asfaha has set the record straight – one’s country comes first before one’s party. If the denial of party membership is all it costs to speak the truth, then so be it.
This is the pinnacle of personal integrity of which Mr. Asfaha should be very proud. As for the party itself, a serious reflection on many of its flawed stands is way over due. It should stop trying to constrain dissent & the free flow of ideas, attributes which only the PFDJ would be proud of. And more importantly, it should stop deluding itself and come to the national fold where it belongs and start playing a constructive role.
Swimming against the tides
Denying the contributions of ethnic Tigrignas in the making of Eritrea is like denying a big chunk of the story of Eritrea itself. Also, blaming the entire ethnic Tigrigna community for all the despicable crimes committed by the bigots within the community is utterly preposterous. By the same token, absolving the bigots of their heinous crimes, for fear of offending the entire community in which they are deeply embedded, would be the worst act of denial which would only benefit the bigots themselves. As we all know by now, the bigots have been piggybacking on the community, using it as a shield for communal protection (cover) for quite a long time; but alas, not anymore.
Thanks to the emergence to the fore of the brave new Tigrignas who kept saying “not in our name” as we have seen during the convening of the NCDC – the fact that Tigrignas could be taken for a ride at the whim of the bigots is over. These brave Tigrignas don’t mince their words, they tell it as they see it.
They managed to conquer their own fears, they refused to be lied to and they sought truth and they found it – all the while fighting bigotry and ridicule – a whole lot of tides to swim against. Only the brave manage to do that, and if the nation is ever to be salvaged – then it is of the essence that many follow in their footsteps.
Last month, in a meeting with a small group of Eritreans in Toronto, the former HGDEF ambassador and now opposition-turned EPDP official, Mohammed Nur Ahmed, was quoted by his organization’s information department as making the following claim regarding the Eritrean Islamic Organizations:
“Once he said, he challenged the Islamic organizations to convince him on why they want to implement Sharia law and they told him that they are against bars and prostitutions.”
In other words, the plight of those who have been toiling day and night for the last twenty or so years trying to bring dignity to their people while the ex- ambassador was diligently serving one of the filthiest regimes on earth until his late fall out with the regime just a few years ago – the plight of those who clearly articulated the grievances of their people through relentless media campaigns to create awareness – the plight of those who presented to the whole world a litany of well documented charges of massacres, atrocities flagrant abuses and excesses suffered by their people at the hands of a chauvinist and a bloody sectarian regime, to which ironically the ex-ambassador was an obedient servant – all these plights are now according to the ex-ambassador’s claim, reduced to concerns by the “Islamists” as he referred to them, about a bunch of whores and whorehouses in their neighbourhoods.
How dishonest Mr. ex-ambassador; even the most ardent enemy wouldn’t denigrate a people’s struggle the way you did.
If you feel that your long service in the struggle gives you the right to make preposterous claims, then you are wrong – you are dead wrong. It is always humbling to remember that there were many brave and honest fighters and civilians who agonized and died for the country – and in the cruellest of ironies, their families and loved ones are fading away in scattered refugee camps, having nothing to eat at times but dirt.
Try to visit those refugee camps Mr. ex-ambassador, look those people in the eyes and then tell them that their loved ones perished trying to rid Eritrea of some sheramit. May be you will learn something more than what you tried to insinuate. You don’t need to report back.