Everything the regime in Eritrea does blatantly undermines what Eritreans stood for when they embarked on the struggle for independence that took 30 years and over sixty thousand brave souls who paid the ultimate price to accomplish their sovereignty. PFDJ relentlessly aims to destroy the very historical fabric that made Eritrea a country of mosaic cultures and religions that served it as an indispensable elixir.
Therefore, I am compelled to write this piece as a backdrop to Saleh Johar’s reposted (14 August 2015) article (“Language & Religion in Eritrean Politics”), which had generated so many comments, sad to say, I mostly took mental note with the exception of one, from which I will quote a paragraph a little later; two that stood out to me, one of which I was reminded by a friend over the phone earlier today, is that 50% of opposition’s challenges would’ve been solved if the language question is resolved today. Alas, the needle as the author later quipped, only moved an inch in the five years since the original posting of the article. Nevertheless, my following of the discussion began to falter when the comments reached 800; as of today, it shows 1099 comments and continuing hither and tither with no discernible solution but there does appear to be clear demarcation along religious lines with some cross overs here and there.
Now, this is not part two of language nor is it about religion per se, but a call to Eritreans in general to deeply reflect in what kind of Eritrea we want to see in the future. The powerfully destructive narrative the regime in Eritrea had unleashed is leaving sizable number of Eritreans in opposition discombobulated, which goes to show the importance of the story we embrace that might as well be one that would end up destroying us all as nationals of this young country. Consider the following powerful assertion that speaks to this notion:
“Stories, parables, chronicles, and narratives are powerful means for destroying mindset – the bundle of presuppositions, received wisdoms, and a shared understanding against a background of which legal and political discourse takes place. These matters are rarely focused on. They are like eyeglasses we have worn a long time. They are nearly invisible; we use them to scan and interpret the world and only rarely examine them for themselves. Ideology – the received wisdom – makes current social arrangements seem fair and natural. Those in power sleep well at night – their conduct does not seem to them like oppression.” (Delgado, 1989, pp. 2314-2315).
Now, we have a choice and the choice is starkly clear, do we want to adapt the bankrupted narrative of the regime which has been hard at work – two-dozen-years doses of it – which seems to nourish, at least some of us, with this false sense of power and security, which left us sleeping at the wheel, as it were.
It is entirely up to us; do we want Eritrea polarized by highland/lowland dichotomy? Do we want Eritrea divided along religious lines? Do we want Eritrea marred by ethnic rivalry and rift? Do we want a country that can use these social markers as a point of strength? Do we want to use these fault-lines as a tool for dividing the nation into mini factional groups as the PFDJ has done or do we want to use it as a source from which innovative ideas can emerge? These are questions not necessarily meant to be answered by this article; nor are they rhetorical questions; they are, however, questions that can help us chart a healthy path in the future of Eritrea. First, however, we must find a way out of the 24 years of the narrative stupor that the regime is keeping us in a bind with, which seems to be etched in our mindset. We cannot afford to move forward with these toxicities inhabited in the personas that we present and in the arguments that we attempt to advance, which are too close for comfort to that of the regime we all despise.
Here comes the comment I saved for a day like this. This is not to single out one person but meant to be used here to help us delve deeper into a larger point that needs to be lillustrated. Before the larger point that needs to be made, context demands that I quote Mahmud Saleh’s view on ELL and his less than sanguine position; readers whose line of thinking ostensibly seem to be commensurate with Mahmud’s are in the loop here as well. Here is what he stated:
“…the ELL wanted to dance tango alone [emphasis mine]. I felt such complaints would best be addressed in a democratically framed constitution. That their grievances would be every Eritrean’s concerns. I have been saying that such and similar issues related to styles of governance, rights of citizens, the vision of the nation, issues of war and peace…would better be addressed by all Eritreans. In order to attain that I have been calling for effective opposition, and opposition that stimulates and enables the domestic potential.” (17 August 2015 Comment Section of awate.com).
Now, while I agree with most of what’s quoted above, I would like the reader to zero in on this: dancing a tango alone. This is really the crux of the matter as far as I am concerned. But, first a little detour toward some concepts that can be made to aptly fit into the Eritrean narrative, namely, Critical Race Theory (CRT).
According to Delgado and Stefancic (2012), CRT was conceived by “activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group-and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious” (p. 17). Granted, the idea of CRT was being advanced with American society in mind. However, there is an undercurrent concept that runs through it that can be appropriated to explicate what myriad Eritrean minority groups have been subjected to in economic terms, from historical standpoint as well as when seen how sociopolitical power was exercised to marginalize each of the ethnic minority group. (Raji, 2009).
Critical Race Theory (CRT) does not stop at the above notion, it goes deeper in breadth and scope than the “traditional civil rights, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (p. 17). To this notion, please refer to Ahamed Raji’s (2009) “The Lost Rainbow” four series articles linked for your convenience at the end of this article, which unequivocally shows the irrefutable facts, through quantitative data, in how the Eritrean system of governance systematically marginalized all ethnic groups, one by one, bit by bit, until it applied its final wrath on the Tigrinya speaking Eritreans, when there was none left to devour. By the time it dawned on us all, it was too little too late, the country is now being investigated for human rights violations as was made clear by the UN earlier this summer and we were all witnesses of how the first CoIE report caught the regime and its supporters unawares.
Some writers have not only contentedly appropriated and accepted, albeit, one hopes, inadvertently, the notions above, but are asking the regional and ethnic groups to “kick the can down the road” to borrow the ever ubiquitous term that has found a comfortable spot in the American lexicon. I am here to say not so fast brothers and sisters, not so fast.
Now, after reading Ahmed Raji’s four volume short pieces, how one can expect these afflicted groups to suspend everything until all in the opposition collectively help remove the PFDJ regime? But as some see it, let us take care of the menace at home, then and only then, can we begin to address all of our grievances! The problem with this line of thinking is that it leaves a gaping hole in the term supposition. The supposition here is that all different groups just to align with the opposition and trust each other in the fight of unseating the regime? Why would these groups trust others the second time when the first entrusting was violated in only seven-to-eight years, the rainbow that took thirty years to build was decimated after independence as the data that Ahmed Raji’s references irrefutably show?
Critical Race Theory also gives us phrases such as “micro-aggressions” (which can be termed in Eritrea’s context as micro-ethno-aggression and micro-religious-aggression”) that occur on a regular basis that inform our assumptions. These aggressions are deeply entrenched into the system of governance, the cultural, social, and media outlets that perpetuate it until they become normative in the lexicon of everyday interaction. For example, when someone makes an erroneous connection between Arabic language and religion in that any Eritrean Muslim who advocates for Arabic language to take its rightful place of being co-official language to Tigrinya as was the covenant that Eritreans made with one another; but such arrangement was vehemently and systematically violated and the Tigrinya hegemonic power that is in existence in Eritrea today reneged from that obligation and such a claim is now met with fierce opposition and suspicion – this, in my estimate, is macro-national-aggression not micro. All what one has to do is see the alignment of unanimous support toward Arabic language on one end of the spectrum and fierce opposition on another with few crossovers swinging both directions.
It is this fundamental structural flaw that I want us to all examine together in the Eritrean context. The above quote is only a case study that becomes illustrative in how we can be sucked in to that vicious circle of influence of hegemonic power that subtly or unsubtly is exercised in every facet of Eritrean lives. Consider Ahmed Raji’s (2009) “The Lost Rainbow” seminal work of scholarship and research that showed the systematic marginalization of Eritrean Muslims, the corollaries of which, one would’ve thought for all Eritrean opposition groups to swiftly bring the marginalized group from the periphery to the center of sociopolitical gravity. Six years since the article was written and five years since S Johar’s piece was written and reposted few days ago we seem to be entrenched in our respective positions. The marginalized remain marginalized and Tigrinya hegemony in the opposition resumes unabated. It is this lack of willingness to correct at the center that leaves other ethnic Eritrean groups disengaged and gravitate toward their respective ethnic enclaves. It is this very resolute center of power remaining in the hands of highland Eritreans that is giving no room for others to join the cause.
One should not be surprised if all of the Eritrean ethnic groups coalesce to counterpoise the sociopolitical onslaught around some of these fundamental principles that they see as their inherent right the highlanders must first accept before any kind of coalition can be made to counter the regime in Eritrea. This is part of the reason why Eritreans from different ethnic groups are reluctant to join hands with the opposition that is Tigrinya dominated.
In the final analysis, Eisner (1991) alerts us to how “[c]ultures throughout the world have provided their inhabitants with the resources necessary to transform experience into a public form so that it can be experienced by others” (p. 22). If the culture of the Eritrean struggle era gave those who participated in it this remarkable experience who are rightly holding and clinging to its memory, post-independence Eritrea’s leaders have marred that experience and turned it on its head so much so that thousands who spent their adulthood to bring independence left in dismay from the very country they fought and were ready to pay the ultimate price for. Now, the question that is worth asking here is this: Are the ones who are choosing to hold onto to the memory of the past at the expense of the reality of the present day Eritrea the ones who should reconsider their position? ELLites, for example, may have started the rain dance when it was not rainy season, but they sure are now finding a whole lot of Eritreans who are courting them to dance that beautiful tango in the process of charting a new course in diaspora. Let us see this as the rainbow in the making and not necessarily a loner dancing tango alone.
Eritreans in the opposition must begin to see the issue as it exists and not as we wish it to remain suspended and etched in our memory of long gone Eritrea of the yesteryear.The present day Eritrea is nothing like the Eritrea our combatants fought to bring independence for – that Eritrea belongs in the history books; meanwhile, we must chart a new path, a path that makes room for those who have been and continue to be marginalized. They all seem to be saying let us renew our sociopolitical pact, the covenant that was agreed upon between and amongst us all, only then can we work with one another.
The following links should have a permanent spot on the Awate page. This is such dignified scholarly work from a scholar and a gentleman and a thousand fold more that Eritrea could’ve benefited from but is not. What a waste of a talent? Meanwhile, the menaced narrative led by a handful of Eritreans has been leading us ever closer to the cliff of the abyss.
The Lost Rainbow (I)
The Lost Rainbow (II)
The Lost Rainbow (III)