Hardly surprising, since the reality of National Conference of Eritreans, for long, has been one of failed expectations and mounting frustrations; the power to make change within the opposition camp is always dashed by walkouts and boycotts. Year in and year out, the issue of national conference is invoked, in every meeting of the political organizations within the opposition camp. In every instance, the power brokers have deferred the process when the power seems out of their reach.
This time also, the much drummed about national conference is threatened by a boycott. EPDP officially announced that they will not participate to the anticipated National Conference as posted on Togoruba on April 21, 2010. Reason, they could not get three sits at the preparatory committee for the national conference. Keep in mind and long behold, we were told that each organization will have one sit at the PCNC body. Whether the argument of representation in the preparatory committee for national conference (PCNC) should affect EPDP to boycott or not, we shall see history retrospectively and realistically as I will go through it to show my reflection.
“Men’s heart ought not to be set against one anther, but set with one another, but all against evil only” once Thomas Calyces remarked. For these words of wisdom, it is not only mind boggling but distasteful to see some organizations exhibit very painful and diaphanous antics, absolutely inimical to what the Eritrean dream should be, or to be emancipated from the prevailing political quagmire. Why did organizations set their interest before the people’s interest? Is this the time to compete for power? Is there any limit in deferring the Eritrean dream?
Recently I have finished reading a very important book “Eritrea: A Dream Deferred,” by Dr. Gaim Kibreab. The book chronicled how the Eritrean people are subjected to arbitrary rule of unelected regime, the inhumanity and lack of basic freedoms that perpetuated to the decent Eritrean people. His narration is epitomized by the “dream deferred” to elucidate the lack of dialogue and good governance.” The book accounts only how the Eritrean dream is deferred by the regime after independence. He didn’t factor in the incompetence of the opposition camp that contributes to the deferral of the Eritrea dream at this time, nor did he indicate the historical evolution of the term deferral in Eritrean politics. In some instances, the good doctor falls into the traps of characterization that the splinters use to ostracize each other (see the book Dream Deferred, “questioning the opposition” pp 316-323). His faulty is mainly because his interviews were focused and collected from the actors who compete within the power houses of the political organizations. Dr. Gaim didn’t go further beyond the ostracizing characterization the organizations employ in their fight, to probe why these organizations are behaving like what they are. It is not like what we hear it. It is all politics about the “stupid power.” I will give my perspective how the Eritrean dream deferred since the armed struggle later in this essay. But with all the difficulty of resources and limitations, the good doctor has done a heck of an extraordinary job based on formal research guidelines. His books must be read by all savvy politicians who strive to work as interlocutors to our divided society. You don’t have to agree on all his accounts.
Selassie: Hade Yequenu Seleste Yequenu
The Christian doctrine of trinity teaches of “father, son, and holy spirit” as three persons in one Godhead; or God is the triune God existing as three persons but one Being. We were happy when we heard the unity of the three organizations namely EPP, EDP, and EPM being transformed into one organizational entity, EPDP. Especially myself I herald their unity and summoned other organizations to follow suit. Now to my surprise EPDP demanded EDA to give them three seats in the preparatory committee of the national conference (PCNC) in a way to represent the three organizations (EPP,EDP,EPM). Is there politics like that? At time you will be one and at another time you will be three. Are they mixing the spiritual world with the real world of politics? Can someone help me to sort out this “political hinkil-hinkilitey?” It just seems politics of the unknown universe. If EDA recognized the two “melekots” of the three as defined by EPDP similar to that denoted in the holy book, why did they deny the third “melekot?” On what ground did EDA justify the two sits of EPDP in the PCNC. Is the organization (EPDP) understood as physically and characteristically bonded to produce one organ identifiable with new properties in essence and nature or three identical bodies rotating in a sphere of magnetic field of unity? EDA or EPDP have to come with some explanation to these unnatural occurrences. I believe that EDA has resolved the rules and regulations in the last congress that each organization has one vote. Rules are rules when they are defined and accepted by the parties involved and must be enacted. It can’t be threatened by walkouts and boycotts.
In any case, if EPDP is boycotting on sole misrepresentation ground (of not having three seats in the PCNC) they are really boycotting the process by which unity in diversity based on shared value and co-existences could give birth to real unity. The theme of the national conference is to bring unity in diversity that opt in many ways, reflect the essence of Eritrean approach to govern themselves amicably. Eritreans should embark on their journey independently based on the idea of coexistence. We may not have political unity nor will be based on religion or linguistic. The unity we should have must be at the subliminal level, a unity based on shared values, on co-existence of diversity, and on respect for alternate thoughts of ideas. The challenge for a young nation like ours is to build on this underlying sense of unity and design institutional structure which manages the contradictions that would keep emerging from time to time.
What is The Purpose of National Conference?
EPDP in their response of April 21, 2010, in regard to national conference (in Tigrigna version) have stated some pre-requisites in order to make a successful conference: (a) The need of enough preparation before the conference is convened (b) to build trust and common understanding (c) To reach an agreement on the most important issues by the interested groups (d) to have an open and justifiable participation or delegation of all the stakeholders. As a package, no one will disagree on the “premises” but not as “pre-requisites.” I don’t think the other organizations will disagree on those points as a package of premises either. Let us see each pre-requisite as they put it and sort out whether each point should be appropriated or delegated to PCNC or to the national conference (NC) itself.
The purpose of PCNC is (a) to make sure to have enough preparation within the frame of time given and mandated by the EDA leadership (b) to arrange an open and justifiable participation of all the stakeholders (political organizations and civic society) in the projected “national conference” as deemed by the EDA leadership. EPDP whether it has to be represented by one or two or three (which is still mystery to the public) have a great role to work within the PCNC entity to shape the process. Several months ago, we were told that EDA was making different workshops to clear the road to the national conference. Nothing of their disagreement during the workshops came up to the public. It just surfaced recently during the formation of the PCNC by the EDA leadership. Therefore, it can’t be the process but their melokots, the untouchable abstract behavioral existence of “hade Yekkonu seleste yekhonu” as we lately learned from the organizational manifestation of EPDP and its political calculation.
On the other hand, the purpose of the National Conference is (a) to build trust and common understanding (b) to agree on the fundamental national issues by all actors of the stakeholders. Hence, there is no need to mix the purpose of PCNC and NC to mislead the public in these instances. If (a) and (b) has to be resolved before the national conference at the PCNC as their release indicates, what will be the purpose of NC to be convened then? Will it be for the purposes of election of their leaders and the normal Guaila? EPDP should recognize these basic tenets of national conference.
National conference could be done for different purposes and it will never be a one time political phenomenon. This notion of presenting national conference as if it will resolve every thing at any given time is erroneous and misleading. NC is a continuous phenomenon to manage interests and contradictions that would keep emerging from time to time in all its facets, be it social, economical, or political. For all intents and purposes, let me back up my argument by a set of “historical acts” that by which politicians had kept deferring the Eritrean dream.
(ACT-1) December 1975: Just for a historical reminder to our brothers EPDP, especially to those who where active members of the political organizations of Jebha and Hizbawi Hailetat (long before the formation of EPLF) let me take you back to December 1975. It was the period where the demand for unity had reached its climax by the file and rank of the army in particular and the general population in general. It was at this particular time that a team of social affairs department met with an army Brigade of ELF-PF (hizbawi-hailetat) at Naro- Sahil areas (specifically at Tigse) to discuss about unity. When we raise the issue of unity, sarcastically they told us that it was not in the list of their game book. My colleague pressed the question by saying “hakude’a”? As usual the answer is always given by the political commissioner and he flatly told us, and I quote “ Simret eqo zir’e, bequl, hefess Abilka Zimets’a aikonen” in other words “unity is not something you plant, germinate, and harvest as you guys see at it, but it is endless process shaped by forces of democracy at their own will.” I hope our brothers EPDP are not repeating the same history seeing themselves as forces of democracy and the rest ….etc (fill your vocabulary as it was said to ELF back then).
(ACT-2) October 20, 1977: The split Of Isaias and his group and Sabbe and his group was officiated early 1977. Respectively, the policy of ELF leadership has changed for calling unity with the two splits (klte hizbawi Hailetat), which by the way had brought frictions within the rank and file of the ELF organization itself. On October 20, 1977, President Numeiri called the three organizations to resolve their difference and unite all their efforts for independence. Isaias and his group known as EPLF refused to have any meeting in which Sabbe and his groups could participate. In the end, on a deal that the Numeiri government brokered, Sabbe and his groups agreed to withdrew, provided the two organizations are united. The deal was done and recorded for history. First Sabbe and his group agreed on the deal knowing that the two groups (ELF and EPLF) will not face the challenge of history—the unity of Eritrean politics. Second, by taking that step, Sabbe the savvy politician showed that he was not an obstacle to unity. Interestingly enough, Sabbe out smarted them in that regard. At the beginning Sabbe was an excuse for EPLF to defer any meeting pertinent to unity. Not long after that, it was clear who was against unity. I hope EPDP is not opening some pages from the Isaias book, the strategy of deferring the national Conference as it was the strategy of deferring unity then.
ACT-3 October 2002: ELF-rc walkout from the ENA congress rejecting Hiruy as General Secretary of ENA. In the following months the internal contradiction of ELF-rc reached to a no return point and it split vertically and horizontally into two organizations (ELF-rc and ELF-nc). The rejection of Hiruy by ELF-rc had a historical background that goes to the 2nd National congress of ELF in 1975 from which they carried their enmity to the congress of ENA. By all accounts Hiruy is more competent than all the participants except, Hiruy doesn’t know the use of ladders to ascending to power. Again the split of ELF-rc has nothing to do with regionalism as Dr. Gaim depicted in his book. It was the entire power struggle between the two lines within the organizations. The splinters can give their own versions to ostracize each other but the fact will remain on the ground as a “normal feud for power struggle.” I hope EPDP is not repeating history knowing from far, that someone from their arc-enemies will grab the seat which they themselves were looking for. I remember ELF-rc in 2002 when they went to the ENA congress which they took for granted that one of the two upper seats (the chairmanship or the General Secretary) will be in their grab. As a matter of fact, when one of their senior leader (name withheld) was asked why they chose to walkout from the meeting, his answer was, “why didn’t they listen to us this time when all these years they were open to heed our advice?”
ACT-4 January 2008: EDA congress held in Addis Ababa. They agreed on their charters but failed on how to share the political power. They were divided into two blocks. Again it has nothing to do with sectarianism or regionalism as the Christian elites have the audacity to characterize it. It is all damn power struggle. The fact that they agreed on the drafted charter in itself does show that there was no ideological differences that pulled them apart. I supported the blocks provided the process led them into two distinctly united organizations to minimize the wilderness of cleavages similar to that of mitosis of a living cell.
ACT-5 Brussels Conference of 2009: The conference was hosted by the European External Policy Advisors (EEPA) as reported, to harmonize the policy of USA and EU towards Eritrea and its government as well as towards the Horn of Africa. Eritreans had participated as a Reference Group and as speakers in that event. While the intension of the Reference Group was to put Eritrea on the agenda of the conference, they should have been sensitive to the Eritrean politics. They had two choices (a) as civic organizers they could have taken full task to themselves to organize and put Eritrea into perspective in the conference without allowing political organization to the stage (b) If somehow they want the political organizations to participate in some capacity or another, they could have discussed it with the EDA leadership as to how they could participate in the event.
The Reference Group as members of EDP and CDRiE (most of them) gave us the same response that it is their prerogative as to who should participate and who doesn’t. Yes, nobody denies their freedom to assemble in the way they choose, but they cannot tell us that they are also fighting to unite the Eritrean people. In her recent article“national conference for polarity or plurality” at awate.com on March 27, 2010, Selam Kidane who defended the Reference Group of the Brussels Conference, lamented about the PCNC. Sister, with due respect, it is the same lamentation we heard from the other side during the Brussels conference which you obliquely disapproved. Selam’s lamentation reminds me of my friend’s remark on a similar scenario a few years ago. He said, and I am paraphrasing from his own words in Tigrigna, buddy, “it is okay, skippers of history always prefer hidden sanctuary for the inconvenience of truth.” How true! But one thing is for sure, Selam is transformed from human right activist to a political activist.
Brussels does not only show the weakness of the Reference group but also the weakness of the EDA leadership. It was unimaginable and absolutely incomprehensible that the chairman of the EDA would send a letter to the EU denouncing the conference even if his organization was excluded from the event. Is that all what we have in the store of our political house? Yesdemim!
In any case, I have no doubt that “Brussels Conference-2009” has a lot of implication in the friction of the anticipated national conference. Now, is it really good politics for EPDP to boycott it? What could they gain from boycotting it?
I am still optimistic and I hope EPDP reconsiders its position.
What is Boycotting in Eritrean Politics?
Indeed boycotting and ostracism are social tactics which are closely inter-related and each is considered a form of the other. The term ostracism goes back to the age of ancient Greece, and was referred to the act of excluding of an unacceptable group or person from the fellowship of a group of society through general consent. However, the term boycott was coined by the Irish home rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell to describe the version of ostracism in 1880. It was being used against a certain captain Charles Cunningham, who was boycotted by his Irish neighbors. This specific form of ostracism (boycotting) became an effective tactic in the struggle of the Irish peasants against English landlords.
Furthermore, while ostracism is no more than the punishment of an individual, boycotting aims at achieving social change (for good or bad) by refusing to associate with someone. Therefore ostracism is best explained as “social boycott strategy.”
The ugliest part of Eritrean politics is to ostracize individuals or groups by regionalism and sectarianism, even if the individuals or groups are advocating for their own rights. All the ethnic based movements didn’t come out of the blue. They come out as a result of the injustices that befell their ethnic groups. For example, look at the Kunama people whose properties are being taken away and they are pushed away from their ancestral land; would that make them sectarian or ethnicist if they organize their people to resist and protect their own rights? The same can be said to the other groups who are decimated by the current regime and who are defending their rights.
These regional and sectarian characterizations are not even limited to any group from the lowland as Dr Gaim and other intellectuals from the highland express it. Even the so-called secular organizations, as baptized by the highland elites, which by the way is for their own convenience, do they know that these organizations are also characterized by regionalism (EPP=Serae, EDP=Hamassien, and EPM=Akeleguzay)! These illnesses do not afflict certain groups only. It has become a systemic societal illness used as norm to ostracize each other. As sad as it is, it has been the talk of interest groups of every color of our society for decades. Instead of bringing cross-cultural talk we are rifting the diversified cultures into their own entity. By the way, who can ever tell me (except the external expression of selamta as a norm of communication) someone who tried to build cross cultural family relations? I think Salih Gadi Johar in one of his article even asked us to check our contact lists whether it contains names beyond our cultural circles—a question that probes who we are. A sober Eritrean will take that advice and surely will try to work for relations beyond his/her own cultural affinities. It was a good reminder for those honest people who learn from that sobering message.
My advice to my compatriots in the EPDP is straight forward: I can lend voice of dissatisfactions, but I could not lend my voice to boycotting the conference and possibly stall it. Stop stalling the issues. Line up behind the National Conference to resolve your differences. Don’t walk away from things that matters to all of us. This is a test of political character. The culprit could not be misrepresentation; it is the fidelity to power and its bleak inheritance far in the horizon. I know politics is about power, but the opposition is many miles away from that kind of political theater. I read Samson Redeab’s (an EPDP member) Tigrgna article posted at awate.com on April 13, 2010. Samson explained the importance of EDA as a political umbrella in the current struggle in response to Keleta’s view (let us go alone). I can’t agree more with Samson’s advice, it is full of political wisdom. I call on the EPDP to heed his advice.
Disclaimer: This writer does not have any affiliation with any political organization or civic movement. He is an independent political activist and is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article.