Cheap Shots on the National Conference for Democratic Change:
We are heartened by the hard and imaginative work that our delegates to the National Conference put into the task of laying the foundation to heal the country from its harsh past and present, and shape the future that restores dignity, confidence and pride into our people. It is a real patriotic work and essential culture that every Eritrean should ensure that it receives constant encouragement and generous support. Nevertheless, not all Eritreans recognized that the National Conference is an opportunity that must not be missed to maximize the positive impact that could have on healing the grievous wounds inflicted by the brutal dictatorship and on rebuilding the shattered and brutally wronged Eritrean society, that is striving for a future that is vibrant and optimistic, and above all, peaceful and tolerant. Hence, the National Conference did not receive the recognition it deserved from some deviant, conceited and chauvinistic circles whose reasons to stand on its way are related to their fears about the future of their agenda to monopolize power, and continue their policy of subjugation and domination over others.
Some negative perceivers were the victims of bias in assessing the social composition, agenda, procedures, deliberations and outcomes of the National Conference for Democratic Change. Their desires powerfully influenced the way they interpreted information, though some tried to give a false impression that they were objective and impartial. From the very beginning, these Nay-Sayers were motivated to reach a particular conclusion and they did. This way, they scrutinized and then discounted facts that contradict the conclusion they wanted to reach. This tendency will be elaborated further with some possible interpretations.
The negative perceivers were the victims of supporting evidence bias which is the tendency to want to confirm what they already suspected and looked for “facts” to support it. This bias not only affected where and to what extent they went to look for information, but also how they interpreted the “evidence” that they received by the agents they and the brutal regime had successfully planted, and the way they listened to others. This way, they did not act with honesty and responsibility to ask tough questions, even to themselves, but on the contrary totally discounted new information that might challenge their preconceptions. This stemmed from their nature to subconsciously decide what they wanted to do; that is painting the National Conference black, before figuring out or caring at all if that negative attitude benefits the country or damages it. Furthermore, this attitude stemmed from their inclination to be more engaged by things they like than by things they dislike. This blinded them from seeing the social composition of the participants which could honestly be called “Little Eritrea”. It also blinded them from realizing that the issues dealt with were very vital and central to our problems as a nation, people and communities, and that the procedures were absolutely genuine and democratic. It is sad that they lost their balls (if at all they had any) to see the turning point in the history of our people where the bearded fellow, the turbaned and the Hijab wearers, whom they wanted us to believe hide bombs under their turbans or Hijab or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) under their thick beards, showed that they were tied by the same fate, aspirations, ideals, zeal, non-compromising determination to live together, patriotism, shared memories of family-like relationships and bonds, with all their brothers and sisters of other faith and nationalities and that no Eritrean, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or region found that other Eritreans who are different from him/her have horns. I had long and enlightening discussions with many participants of the conference, who enlightened me that they had the opportunity to learn that the identities of Eritreans are not rigid but will develop and change; a matter which reflected a radical change of thought within ten days and the scientific views with which some of them came equipped. Isn’t this the sound basis for dealing with the past and present, and shaping the future? I am forced to ask myself, how could dealing with the harsh past and present, and shaping the future, which is something so right, be considered so wrong?
I would have considered the National Conference a great success had it achieved even only understanding among the participants of different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds, but to the shock, dismay and disappointment of the Nay-Sayers, it achieved agreement on core issues too. In fact, this helped a greater measure of consensus than many of us had expected. During discussions, participants talked of the suffering of their own nationalities and religious communities; this sometimes going as far as blaming the other groups. But gradually, as reported, participants became less offensive, beginning to listen to each other and sometimes even spoke of how the other side had suffered in a way the other side or sides accepted. Isn’t this a great breakthrough we lacked for decades? Could this breakthrough have happened otherwise or without a National Conference? Didn’t the participants humanize their situations through learning about each nationality and religious community? Isn’t this a tremendous growth in understanding, forgiving, repenting and believing in a common fate? Could we fail to see that each participant could bring this understanding back to his/her own community? Isn’t this a wonderful outcome? What is national unity if this is not? Aren’t these the guarantees to safeguard Eritrea as a model of ethnic and religious diversity? Didn’t the resolutions highlight our people’s openness to live in harmony with each other and constitute the message of love and communication?
This is how we knew Eritrea in the past and the supporters of the National Conference want it to be in the present and future in order to remain strong through its sons and daughters of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. What is your problem with this, Nay-Sayers? Aren’t these signs that the struggle of the hostile forces (three- in-one as reflected in Meskerm, the unifier of the axis of evil, to borrow Bush’s phrase, and the mutual friend of the two) to drive wedge between Eritreans of different ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds and throw up sectarian dust about many issues was rebuffed by our heroes who represented us in the National Conference?
When it comes to relations with Ethiopia, there is of course, the burden of some of the past’s milestones, events and hardships that have left behind some wounds, sensitivities, facts and bitterness. In the end, as neighbouring countries, we find ourselves faced with a single option: to look towards the future, irrespective of all that. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea should realize that we cannot escape for long our geographical magnitude or resign from it. The issue of geography is imperative and objective that we can neither ignore nor downplay. Imagine the significance of the veins of interest, the movement of individuals and goods, the gateways of commerce and the gateways of stability. We should not be like the clueless brutal dictator of ours by trying to build policies on resisting geographical magnitude. This backfires and it extremely did in Eritrea. Unlike the brutal dictator and his fans, we need to realize that policies should always be built on understanding, comprehending and containing geography within a network of the higher interests of those who reside on both sides of the international borders. There should be enough realization that the geographical magnitude should neither give the stronger side a delegation to manage the fate of the weaker side nor the weaker side a justification to await any opportunity to topple the stronger side. Isn’t there a place called halfway or closer to it?
I am not talking here about history but geography which nobody could change. The way we deal with history is totally different and that is easier. In history, we can select some stories of our choice and ignore others, amputating some as unwanted organs, and falsifying others. This is to say that history can be embellished or decorated, whereas we cannot have a free hand to do the same with geography. This makes surrendering to history a costly and danger-ridden adventure, as we exactly see it in the case of those detractors of the National Conference who claim to oppose its venue being Ethiopia, showing that their arguments are either flawed or themselves extreme.
As any other neighboring countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea could fall in the trap of clashing, as it happened before the turn of the new century or continue in a no-peace-no-war situation, as is the situation existing since the end of the war. In theory, it is possible for both countries to build walls, distribute barbwire, and even go further than that, if they afford it. As it is happening now, one side could attempt to eliminate the other, change its color, or tame it while the other side could attempt to worry its neighbor, mess up its decisions, or spread instability. Nevertheless, in the end, calculated interests prevail. That is the interests of the peoples and their future. The history of French-German relations is enough to explain the story of geography and history together.
Therefore, the strongest relations are those that are built on mutual interests and the respect of international laws and borders, as we want them to be. Such relations offer opportunities for jobs, communication, prosperity, and stability as the peoples on sides aspire. This is to say that we need to turn the page of the past and look towards the future. This is what the Ethiopians are doing now because they are engaged in tremendous development and they need a partner, not an enemy. Therefore, there is nothing strange about the occurrence of the conference there and the Ethiopian support to it. It would be illogical for some to insist that the conference could have been held somewhere else. The storms that surrounded the opposition for years in the Sudan and elsewhere to a lesser extent, gave it a high level of flexibility and moderation to realize that for Eritrea to have excellent and strategic relations with other countries and a troubled and stormy one with Ethiopia would be illogical. Holding the conference is Ethiopia has stirred up our people’s hopes for stability and prosperity. This remarkable event and the support the Ethiopian government gave to the conference have jointly opened a serious window which should be protected, based on looking towards the future and learning from the past. It confirmed that genuine and honest relations with Ethiopia are a prerequisite for Eritrean stability. The opening of the window required courage and its maintenance requires wisdom, realism, and the respect of mutual interests.
Another cheap shot fired on the National Conference tried to target its social composition, depicting it to be homogenous. Here the detractors received a fatal blow and fell flat over their heads. Any of the five discussion groups into which the participants were split was more heterogeneous to the extent of being closer to the Eritrean people in terms of representing nationalities, religious backgrounds, age groups, gender and political affiliations than all August EPDP conferences combined together. I live in Toronto and I was very curious to closely watch the social composition of the 40 participants of the North American Conference of the party, which proved to be not even good enough as a mere photo opportunity. It was almost one major nationality or from one region, with very few participants from another nationality (I mean only one) out of all Eritrean nationalities. The social composition of their “conference” reminded me of the bad memories I had about the student cafeteria in the Sidist Kilo Campus of Addis Abeba University in the late 60s and first quarter of the 70s, where the most popular meal “Alkulyoum Manana” was called “Therefore”. It was given this name by the students because it was basically Shiro, cooked by Gash Beyene, with three small pieces of meat none of them bigger than the size of a peanut, making the symbol of three dots forming a triangle called “therefore” in Geometry. Taking this reality onto consideration, which is more representative of the Eritrean people, the social composition of the National Conference for Democratic Change or that of the conference of the party which rebelled against the majority rule? Don’t forget that we remember the composition of the delegation of the party during the last negotiations with EDA. Did it look like “Little Eritrea”? Just for the records.
The challenge that the National Conference faced on its first day concerning the election of the secretariat was a blessing; not a curse the axis of evil could capitalize on. The different role players resolved their differences on the morrow, going down in history as the best conference participants this country has ever had. Had they failed in that score, nothing else they might have accomplished would have stopped them from destroying themselves and damaging the interests of our people, while becoming vulnerable to historical responsibility and accountability. How comforting it was for us in Toronto to see, in the video films shot by the photographer who accompanied the delegation from Canada, Eritreans trading hugs, kisses and salutes when they first met, though most of them were strangers to one another. This shows that the hearts met and started reconciliation before knowing one another and starting the actual work. This first impression, the serious work in which the participants were later engaged, and the final results, confirmed that our people are out of the bottle and that the axis of evil cannot put us back in the cage.
If we take the issue of self-determination for the Afar and kunama, it was reported that many arguments were presented in the conference by those in favour and against, finally reaching an agreement by consensus. This was a very healthy and wonderful debate which finally ended in an agreement. PERIOD. But we hear and read all cheap shots on the issue, some trying to be the guardians of the Eritrean national unity, while accusing others of national treason and of being sellouts. We understand that the issue of nationalities is a particularly fertile ground for self-serving biases. Of course, bias thrives wherever there is the possibility of interpreting information in different ways. Nevertheless, I don’t understand how could some Eritreans disagree so vastly, as we see it over the Internet, on something that seems as objective as the oppression some nationalities are going through? We could disagree on the solution but not on whether oppression exists or not.
Does the principle of self-determination always mean to be external or be understood within the context of secession? Not really. It could mean an internal accommodation or within the national unity. But one thing needs to be sufficiently emphasized here: No force can impose unity on these nationalities but we can make unity appear attractive to them and avoid pushing them to go too extreme. This is the way we treat the minorities; not through forced unity. If we do not recognize their miseries and fail to accommodate their needs and aspirations to run their own territories/localities and in a way that ensures national unity, they will protect their rights through “Bole or Bale”, as the people of Addis loved to say during the Dergue rule, to show that the government cannot stop citizens from traveling abroad. Here they wanted to say that citizens will either go officially (through Bole Airport) or, if denied that right, by crossing the borders illegally (through Bale, a remote region bordering with Somalia). We should not make a mistake here; no Eritrean nationality wishes to secede, as was strongly confirmed by our Afar and Kunama compatriots to the participants of the National Conference. Secession is totally alien to our culture and history, and constitutes a red light that no Eritrean nationality will cross.
Our policies and position on the question of self-determination should not be based on baseless fear, suspicion, prejudice, mistrust or oversensitivity that could be utilized by chauvinists and increase their appetite to oppress and subjugate the minorities who are equally Eritreans like anyone of us. The phrase “up and until secession” is nothing but a fake theoretical recognition of the right that should not scare us because historical conditions and international situations repeatedly confirmed that its application only occurs under a wide host of complicated factors. Though the phrase exists in the Ethiopian Constitution, there are the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden Liberation Front and other small liberation fronts, like that of Bani Shangul of Assosa, that have been fighting for decades raising the banner of secession. These examples show that the phrase is nothing but a theoretical recognition of the right put as an idle threat. Nothing more, nothing less! Therefore, we should avoid dramatizing the issue, and by doing so, be in a better situation that enables us to remove the obstacles the axis of evil are putting every single minute on our way. Narrow nationalism, which takes the form of secessionist tendencies, does not come from the blue. It is the result of the existence of chauvinism. If we erase chauvinism from the face of Eritrea, there cannot be a single separatist. Both attitudes have stimulus-response relationship. The point here is that the best way to ensure national unity is to eradicate chauvinism and domination over others. The Front for National Unity should have declared a war against chauvinism and monopolization of power and resources by the few, instead of blaming the victim and doubting the wisdom of the National Conference. That would have earned it credibility, love and respect from the Eritrean people. We need to see things dialectically, if we are genuinely interested in safeguarding national unity. Who has the right to stand on their way if the Afar declares that they want regional autonomy within united Eritrea and that they chose their “Shirt” as the uniform for their police? Who are we to say “NO”? Should we still insist that the “Afro” Tabareh (Eseet Ab Digdegaha) should be their Awraja administrator when they could locally appoint Hamfere or Husna? These are the legitimate issues the Front for National Unity should know at the tips of their fingers before making any statement, just for the sake of the record.
Some writers speak out of both sides of their mouth, supporting the nationality question and then tout their opposition to the issue in a disguised manner by citing trivial things like the teaching of federalism by the Canadian expert as a negative aspect and casting doubt on the way the issue of nationality was put in the agenda. These writers who speak with a forked tongue deserve the Amharic description Band Ras Hulet Melas. A glaring example of this category of writers was Mr. Omar Jaber who wrote a three-article Arabic series entitled “The National Conference: Between fear of the unknown and the toiling for the hopeful” and posted on Alnahada on 18/8/20110.
1. In his first part of the article (1/3) Omar Jabir writes:
“The resolution with which the Conference wrapped up its sessions meets all conditions: preservation of the standing national principles, voluntary unity and recognition of the rights of nationalities, where it confirmed unity based on voluntary choice. The motto of self-determination reflects the fear about the future and expresses a chronic deprivation from natural rights and their practice, while it does not constitute a dire demand for the members of those nationalities.” (Translations are mine).
2. In the last part of the article (3/3) he writes the following (paraphrases are mine):
· that there was not a single line in the papers (he is referring to those presented to the discussion groups) about the right of nationalities to self-determination and that it was added to the final resolutions, though none of the major organizations in the Alliance (neither Muslim or secular) and the civic organizations from Europe, America, Canada and the Sudan approved the principle of the right of nationalities to self-determination. He asks: How was it approved? Then he concludes that it was added in the process of giving the final touch to the resolutions, saying that the proof is that it did not exist in the Tigrigna version.
· that the problem was the result of an emotional and unstudied response to the request by the nationalities or confusion in the order of priorities. Here he presents it as the conspiracy by the Preparatory Committee.
· He finally declares, authoritatively, that all of these issues will be studied by the next conference, though he did not say whose decision was that.
· that the issue of the right of nationalities to self-determination demands a complete and real representation of the nationality applying for it and that the current leaderships do not possess a complete legal mandate. This was originally said by the Front for National Unity but he did not acknowledge that. Can we put other authors’ opinion as ours?
As we read above, in the first part of his article (1/3) he writes that the recognition of the rights of nationalities was one of the resolutions of the National Conference. On the contrary, he writes later in his last part (3/3) that no organization approved the right of nationalities to self-determination. Which of these two statements is correct? Of course, both statements cannot be correct. But as far as we know, all observers who wrote articles and reports, participants who came back from Addis, and those interviewed by Assena and Wegahta websites, confirmed that the issue of the right of nationalities to self-determination was approved by consensus. Why all this confusion, Mr. Omar?
Which part of Omar Jabir’s tongue should we believe: the right or the left?
If Mr. Omar Jabir admits that the motto of self-determination was justified because of the fear about the future and expresses chronic deprivation from natural rights, why does he think that the Preparatory Committee was not supposed to put it in the agenda? Again, if it does not constitute a dire demand for the members of those nationalities, why does he make that much fuss about that?
Another point to quote Omar Jabir is his saying, “The contents of the Afar document ended up in the final resolution. Again, it is disorganization and maladministration.” Doesn’t this statement show his dissatisfaction about the inclusion of the issue of nationality in the agenda? In what way could its inclusion be disorganization and maladministration? I wish I know.
Furthermore, in his first part (1/3), Mr. Omar Jabir tells us his first-hand experience with the kunama workers in his place of birth, citing his familiarity with their dances and culture but he stopped short of telling us that the kunama workers were forced to dance on occasions in order to entertain the fat cats and their families or the exploiters who robbed them of the sweat of their labour (surplus value) to support their spoiled sons who used to hang around with girls in Asmara and Cairo night clubs. He did not mention a single word about the injustice, oppression, miseries, land grabbing, humiliating and inhuman practices the Kunama had and until now have to go through. Dont these realities of the Kunama count? What a terrible place was and is Eritrea for them? Why was Mr. Omar silent on these issues that are the most relevant to their claim of the right to self-determination? It is a long time since the Kunama raised arms and started heroic struggles for a fair and civil cause and against the inhumanity of the brutal regime that cannot be tolerated. Are they engaged in armed struggle merely because they like to kill? Isnt Mr. Omar’s silence on vital issues about the Kunama he claims to know well, like putting the head in the sand while human rights violations reach dangerous proportions? It simply amazes me that some writers do not ensure that what they write are principled, coherent, and non-contradictory. It is also interesting to observe that the National Conference brought, by coincidence of course, the oppressed and the former oppressors together. Strange but true!
To wrap up the issue of the rights of nationalities, I could say that, even though many of us have a fair idea of the lying capacity of some writers, the negative and opportunistic role they had played at different times and for whom hypocrisy is not an issue at all, there were still some of us who would not believe that these writers could so perfect the act of political deception and opportunism. Should we take this behavior as a camouflage to allow them remain indiscernible from the surrounding environment through deception and opportunism?
In addition to the media of the dictatorial regime and the new arrivals the Eritrean people are yet monitoring carefully, Meskerem, the mirror image of its sister shabeit, is spearheading the smear campaign of lies, false propaganda and defamation against the National Conference which has scared them to the bone. I am referring to the Meskerem, which has turned itself into an apologist for the blood-thirsty Eritrean monster, and endorsed the tyranny by providing propaganda for the most despicable human being in the world and perpetuated the misery of those living under his boots. I don’t frequent this website unless I want to enjoy its “comedies” and just have fun to release stress. Nevertheless, I am horrified, as any other Eritrean, to see Meskerem becoming the platform, not only for the dictatorial regime, but for the EPDP too. Can anybody help me out by telling me if there is a worse result of backpedalling than this in the history of this prominent party? Does a principled and consistent advocate for human rights, freedom, social justice, equality and democracy publish his photo or his statement or articles in Meskerem? What does this solidarity mean and imply? We must know that this solidarity implies treason to human rights, freedom, social justice, equality and democracy, as well as complicity with the brutal dictatorial regime. It is lamentable, and it could also be called shameful, that this happens without there being a brave and categorical generalized reaction from the grassroots of the party whom I trust love freedom, justice, equality and democracy. I have no doubt that this type of solidarity is contrary to what they have been struggling. In short, this conduct or solidarity with Meskerem is incompatible with democratic values and with everything that political freedom and human rights represent. Is it different from solidarity with the brutal regime?
I don’t understand what the detractors of the National Conference gained except political retardation and having their entire party frozen in fear and mistrust; this finally leading to measures of Mediscal, which is one of the most inhuman and undemocratic tools of Isias, the most brutal dictatorial regime in the world. They proved to the Eritrean people that their propaganda against the National Conference was exactly the same as that of the dictatorial regime. That is why I refer to the three collectively as the axis of evil. Their campaign is intensifying dwelling on trivial issues. It is amazing that these negative perceivers focused over secondary or tertiary issues and tried to play down what the National Conference has achieved by way of common stand on core and central issues. When I say trivial, I mean focusing on side issues while neglecting the fact that Eritreans, whose social composition that constitutes “Little Eritrea”, for the first time in the history of the country showed unity of purpose, engaged in frank, honest and complex discussions, deliberated and agreed on core issues related to the urgent struggle of ending the harsh past and present injustice, and building a shared future.
Failure to take side with the National Conference will cast doubt on any (organized or non-organized) Eritrean’s commitment to freedom, peace, social justice, equality and democracy. It is the first National Conference in our political history to move past tolerance, towards acceptance and inclusion of all Eritrean ethnic, religious and regional communities. I would like to note here that even tolerance did not and does not exist elsewhere in the Eritrean political institutions but the National Conference went beyond that. Isn’t this a qualitative change and a leap in our journey towards social progress? We thank all participants for joining forces to pull the gathering together and take courageous, historical and decisive measures that put our people’s cause on the right track, while assuring them that all noble Eritreans will stand by their side. At the same time, we remind them to ignore the propaganda of the enemy as one of the participants interviewed by Assena said “Maar Kalekhuna Aynetseben Enna”. Let them say and write whatever they want; they will neither be able to stop the march of history nor snatch the cause from its legitimate owners. They may intensify their media campaign, as we see their outlets multiplying daily. However, it will be waste of paper, energy, financial resources and time for them, and I would finally tell them, “Gunch Malfat Naw!”