Hard Talk: The contours of change And the Equilibrium of its Parts (Part-V)
[This writer warns not to push the envelope of mistrust to the extent of enmity that will hurt the coexistence of our social groups]
In the words of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, “anything outstanding and original in the way of creative thought was a jarring note and a stride towards revolution.” Nabokov provoked the audacity of my sensual dreams, and in the propensity of making transformational politics, his words has left a notable influence in the banks of my thoughts, to discover an art to our politics in its political and social dimensions, thereby to device a structural process for dispute settlements and catering the contours of our social changes.
The history of Ghedli was the history of the sequential elimination of stakeholders, either by collaborating with foreign forces or without, to dominate the Eritrean politics. The strategy was purely for domination and self-fulfilling, an exemplary of Darwinian Theory – the survival of the fittest. Indeed, as the means describe the end, ghedli has installed a centralized authoritarian regime after liberating Eritrea. In short, the history of the current authoritarian regime is the extended narratives of ghedli in its essence and deeds.
With vertical and horizontal centralizing power at the hand of an authoritarian regime, the Eritrean people are suffocated, losing all basic human rights and their inherent optimism. Their collective can do spirit is killed by the seeds of discordant that brought deep mistrust within our social groups. The current mistrust can hardly bring us together to fight the totalitarian regime. But our people, in its stead, there is a growing awareness, that authoritarian regimes are not transitional variants of other types of political systems, but rather, that they belong to a category all their own .
Since authoritarian government is based on the principle of dictatorship and obedience to the power of one man or small group of people, centralized unitary governance and authoritarian government are the same except one defines the nature of the system and the other defines its governing body. They are mutually inclusive in their behavior and patterns in a context-based argument. So the purpose of this essay is to expose the evils of “centralized unitary government,” and along the way, to point out a possible alternative to it. The idea purported in this essay is blended with pragmatism and optimism for building trust within our social groups.
Interestingly enough, articulating grievances and offering better alternative is the domain of ideas has said Semere Habtemariam in his recently article . And hence the thrust of this essay and the effort of this author are just to do that – to articulate the grievances of our social group and offer an alternative to the system and beliefs that brought fears and deep mistrust among our social groups.
Cracking The Armor of Discrimination
In an attempt to be more eclectic in the methods of my approach, more pragmatic in the contemporary politico-cultural reality of our rainbow, and more confident in the ability to redefine the prospect of our nation in the path of freedom and development, I will try to lay out the contours of our social changes and the equilibrium of our social groups as a means to our “coexistence” as well as a way out from the current authoritarian system. Removing the regime is one thing and searching an alternative system is another. My focus will be on the later.
Since my quest is married with social justice, I will try to address the unpleasant reality confronting our social groups – the legacy of marginalization under the totalitarian regime which is the face and culture of centralized unitary government. A tyranny who hasn’t impulse control and who has the skin in the stock of marginalization must be challenged decisively. To achieve this goal we need evidence-based approach to tackle it – a fine line this author attempt to straddle.
No question that I have empathic distress and empathic connection with our minorities, to encourage social activism and to remove injustice as part of my moral reasoning and rationale assessments. Because empathy evokes altruistic motivation to counter the vilified nature and circumstance of minorities [Robin and Peplau, 1975], it is paramount to have a sustained engagement on trying to change society on behalf of our minorities. That includes understanding their grievances and the nature of victim-distress reality or systemic victimization.
Patterns of our reality
It is undisputable that the hopes and expectation of our people are dashed under the current regime. We are at the center of a dark and cynical stage of our politics where hopes and hates are on collision to each other in the Eritrean landscape. No wonder that the existing patterns of oppression have created different grouping along our social cleavages with deep mistrust among each other. Virtually all our social groups (ethnics) have their own organizations as we speak. And beyond their ethnic concerns they are framing the two major religions as opposite and antagonistic to provide a powerful motivation to their bases . Therefore, our internal political instability has religious in appearance and ethnic grievances in essence and content. So I decided to make some effort to study intimately, to have insights about the nature of the oppression and nature of their grievances, either directly or indirectly to make an educated finding to search a solution to the overall problem of our social groups.
To understand and illustrate the nature of grievances of our minorities I will use Jonathan Fox’s two-step basic models (a) how discrimination (marginalization) leads to grievances and mistrust and (b) the variables that explain the nature of marginalization that brings the grievances and mistrust . The relevance of his model to our reality will be seen as I continue to correlate the variables as set forth in his model with little modification to fit my argument.
Marginalization —>Grievances —>Mobilization of Groups—>Rebellion Against the State
Figure – 1 Minorities Risk Model
The diagram shows the theoretical depiction of cause and effect of discrimination or marginalization, grievances, and rebellion (protest) for any given conflict of diversity for that matter. According Fox, there are three variables measuring grievances: cultural, economic, and political grievances. Thus mediating variables of grievances formation and group mobilization are important parts of the process that leads to ethnic conflicts . In our reality though, the three variables exist at a varying degree in our society, the most explicit grievances at this crucial time are political in nature. In fact in my view if we address correctly the political grievances by devising a political system that accommodate our diversity, the politico-cultural and politico-economic issues are addressable within the framework of the political structure, and hence my argument will base on those premises.
Aggregate Signals of Marginalization
In Eritrea, marginalization is real. Political grievances are real. The fear of marginalization and domination even after the removal of the tyranny is real. For years the grievances are rebuffed or ignored by the highlanders. Our minorities are surely marginalized asymmetrically and are pushed to the margin of society economically, politically, culturally, and socially using the policy of exclusion. They are denied access to the formal power structure and participation. History has full of examples that any dominant group doesn’t want to hear the political dichotomy of majority Vs minority; because they want to enjoy alone the decision making process on the fate of the nation and the fate of the minorities.
Unfortunately the fear of tyranny of majority set an alternative-framing to the Eritrean politics along the major religious lines – a political tactic to avoid dominations and to balance the power structures. Once our politics is framed in a politico-culturally, it became difficult even to bring them to a table to talk on a collective interest and remove the totalitarian regime. Two possible explanation to this are (a) the degree (depth) of mistrust in our politics and (b) that there are still Eritreans (especially the highlanders) who believe the tyrant is redeemable and can defend their interest if he change his heart that brews mistrust on the other cultural divide.
Ethnic group suffered from discrimination, indeed necessitate, for forming grievances and organizing themselves to do something about their grievances. The “relative deprivation” by Gurr  and “Group mobilization” by Tilly  elaborate the cause and effect for group mobilization and the correlations of discrimination to grievances. Sure enough, when the repressive control increases, the level of “group cohesion identity” grows proportionally with a purpose and motivation to challenge the oppressor and change their deprivations. Group cohesion is dynamic process that reflects in the tendency for a group (social group) to stick together and remain united in pursuit of their instrumental objectives for the satisfaction to their affective needs [Brawley and Widmeyer, 1998].
The Eritrean social group grievances are aggregate grievances of cultural, economic, and political in nature. Fox’s minorities risk model perfectly suited to explain the variables of marginalization in the Eritrean proper, clearly as depicted in the flow chart of discrimination. Ahmed Raji’s detailed report in his articles “The rainbow lost”  will definitely substantiate Fox’s risk model as shown below.
Framing Our Social Grievances
Ethnic identities are the building blocks to our common identity the “Eritrean identity.” So our social grievances should be framed by ethnic grievances rather than by cultural grievances (such as religion). Our endogenous social groups with their inherent cultures do exist in Eritrea long before the expansion and introduction of the two major religions. It is evident then, religion becomes an additional cultural value to the overall cultural expression for all our social groups. So our politics could be only framed from the interest of our social groups and hence their “social grievances” when their interest is not addressed properly.
In multi-ethnic diversity, social interest is the foundation of their grievances and any cultural grievances could be overlapped within the economic and political grievances when it manifest a multi-facet deprivations by the ruling class of the majority. Ethnic identity, be it in rural or urban areas, remains a powerful force to reckon with, although it varies like temperature, from time to time, depending on prevailing political circumstances . A national identity then must co-exist with the competing of different identities, those self-same citizens who poses or shape their emotional reactions, and their material interests . The following graph shows the building blocks of Eritrean Identities:
Building blocks of Eritrean identity
Identity driven grievances are grievances based on the mobilization of a social group sharing a communal identity trait. An intrastate social conflict is then arise when a given national political frame work no longer commands the loyalty of a rebellious social group . In other words the nation state is no longer a home of the minorities as long as the ruling social group undermines the cardinal rights of the minorities. As a result, it should be about coming to terms with our failing, listening to those who want to voice their grievances and lending them a hand when they stand up for their rights . Ahmed Raji’s statistical report about the employees of the educational sector and health sector or all in public sectors for that matter is a revealing issue as to how our minorities are non-existent in both sectors (the private and the public employment). As such the current constitutional frame work is incapable of managing their grievances or their identity politics. In fact there should be a new modalities and new constitutional frame work that allow for an inclusive polity embodying a wider national consensus to which all citizens share a degree of common loyalty .
In a culturally divided society with the assumption of homogeneity, social cohesion, and centralized power with the winner-takes-all, erode national identity and exacerbate the fault-line of the division. Equally in many developing countries (such as ours) there is simply no economic sector or economic opportunities so to speak outside the state itself. The economy is the polity, and winning political power preserves all or most economic opportunities . In such scenario, with this divided society the implication is that minorities are destined to be perpetual losers both economically and politically. In my view, it is in fact a temptation for leaders of the majority to maintain and even strengthen their political grips.
Shepherding Our Coexistence
According Lijphart, power sharing means participation of representatives of all significant groups in political decision making [Lijphart, 2002, 41]. This applies to all members of certain groups that are not sufficiently concentrated but preserve the right to promote the religious, linguistic and cultural of the social groups through established institutions [Lapidoth 1996, 175].
Since value is a reflection of what we are, of what we live by, it is a kind of unwritten collective agreement or understanding on what is worthwhile and necessary for the well being of our citizen’s relationship, community, and our cultures . When justice is at risk or violated, conscientious citizens ought to raise their voice with the victims of injustice. And if marginalization persists, social comparison and categorization process occur, thereby creating barriers of social intercourse [Blau 1977]. Consequentially, the marginalized group seeks to organize and find a way to articulate their interest and get inform public opinion beyond the established structure.
Incidentally, the psychological processes associated with social identities are magnified by the lack of equitable power sharing in the decision making process, as well as in the economic life of the population at large. In order to shepherd our coexistence then, we have to balance the equilibrium of the parts and the interest of our social groups. A government who doesn’t observe and reflect this cardinal natural law of coexistence must be removed by all means.
An Exit Strategy from our Mistrust
Our nation and its people should be redeemed from the assault of the regime and its inherent social conflicts. AS Edmund Burke reminds us, every virtue and every prudent act is found on compromise. The Eritrean politics should find the ground of compromise to save our country. Yes principle is the expression of perfection. But perfection is relative and is always on the eye of the beholder. We can’t hold the common principles to satisfy individuals’ or groups’ principles. The nation can only be run by our common principles and common Eritrean values. That common principle and common values should be enshrined in the social contract called the constitution. If any constitutional document doesn’t reflect the common values, the interest of our social groups, the values of co-existence based on mutual interest of its parts, it cannot be defended by all its parts.
The 1998 constitutional document was fashioned to fit the interest of one political group and their supporters by undermining and neglecting all other stakeholders. Leaving the speculation of their intentions aside, we will judge the document on the merits of “social justice” and its value on the “coexistence” of our social groups. By all measures the document undermines the interest of our minorities (social groups) from accesses of equitable political sharing and economic opportunities. As we were told during the constitutional process, the way the constitution framed was from the experience of EPLF (I don’t know EPLF’s experience on forging a constitution as guerilla fighters) and the advice and ideas they receive from the political parties in France. First, the idea of EPLF’s experience to imply to the value of a constitution, tells a lot of thing as to the fate of the document and the political culture they want to introduce to the nation. Second, the centralized unitary government with a hybrid structure of parliamentary and presidential was designed to give excessive power to the executive branch in the decision making process. The president being elected from the parliament and with his authority to choose his cabinet from the parliament, thus, will give him the full leverage in influencing the outcome of the bills with their votes in the parliament. This was utterly sham and will rule out the balance of power between the three pillars of the government. Third the constitution by its nature doesn’t give power to the people to demand accountabilities, because the president is accountable to the parliament rather to the people. Fourth, the constitution doesn’t empower the people to elect their regional leaders rather the central government assigns governors to the regions. Fifth, the minorities couldn’t represent in the central or regional governance, and if somehow few are seen in the government structure, they are not those who serve to their constituents but to the president.
Certainly, it is risky to speculate what future hold for a nation mired with mistrust and muddy political ground. But I am optimistic that with “conscious forces of adjustment”, our people will be extricated from the grip of tyranny and from the multiple dilemmas we are in. A conscious force of adjustment in its vitalistic concept is a body which has the innate organizing properties or characteristics for a living scattered social groups with intrinsic healing abilities to our social ills.
Assuming the ICG report analysis on the Eritrea state has some merits on its worrisome political and socio-economic conditions, there are enough indicators that could bank toward the imminent collapse of the regime. But from the get go we have to recognize our divided political mind in this age of discontent of Eritrean politics. There is no illusion in my mind that we shouldn’t make the same mistake – the exclusive political process of the nineties, when EPLF liberated our country from foreign occupation. In my opinion and observing from the deep mutual mistrust of our communities and our social groups, we need fundamental changes in our thoughts and our approaches to build trust and bridges for our unity and co-existence.
Since the identity of the state is explained by the nature how it governs its inhabitants, then the choice of the “state identity” is equally important on how it manages the grievances of its diversity. Therefore, there are two major areas we should look at for a solution from state identity perspectives (a) The nature of the state we need to build (b) the form of government that gives equitable political power and economic opportunities to our diversities. And here is my opinion to the solution: the vertical power sharing and devolving horizontal power to the periphery will heal our political ailment. And thus Decentralizing unitary governance (DUG) is the only exit strategy to consensus building agenda for our future Eritrea as shown in the structural flow chart below.
Theoretically, a constitution must capture or at least take into account the issue of concerns expressed by citizens, social groups, and political organizations, during the political process of its making. A constitutional document by its nature is a political document before it becomes a contractual legal document codified with legal terminologies.
In figure-4, there are three changes from the current state structure of the 1997 constitution. In order the constitution to be a unifying factor, this author argues (a) that the old administrative units must be reinstated (b) suggest a bicameral legislative body for equitable power sharing and (c) foresee the distribution of certain powers to the periphery (administrative units). To make the required changes we don’t need the whole constitutional process. It requires only a revision process.
Actually revising the document will not be a long process provided we know clearly what part of the document should be revised. Other than the national language and land/property issues, we should make two structural changes (a) supersede CUG by DUG (b) reform the legislative structure from single to two chambers. The process: after forming an interim coalition of government, the document can be revised through national convention and adopted through national referendum.
The second unifying factor as part of the revised constitution should be, redressing the grievances of our minorities and avoiding the fear of “tyranny of majority.” In my opinion a bicameral legislature one by proportional representation (population) and the other by equal representation (ethnic identity) will do the cure. In other words, all social groups could get a representation seat on one chamber. The role of the two chambers will be defined as required by the constitution. Generally I am talking about the structure of the government or structural realism, to replace the political anomaly of centralized unitary government (CUG) and not about the duty of the government perse’.
Feasibility And Viability of DUG
It is difficulty and almost impossible to achieve internal cohesion, or share basic common national value in a multiethnic society that built a nation state based on the dominance and hegemonization of the majority ethnic community. DUG is then prescribed as a tool for a state craft and as well as a tool for conflict management for multiethnic society of Eritrea. Going forward, we will see the structural conditions of its institutional arrangement on power, and that is pertinent to the immediate grievances of our social groups and how the institutional structure determine the institutional outcome to address the issue.
Since most of our social group are not sufficiently concentrated and lacks of compact settlement, the argument of “ethnic-based” nonadministrative units is not the logical way to our reality. Rather, the feasible way is to create a bicameral legislative with co-equal power at the center. In restructuring the state and the government as you could notice from figure-4, I took two variables (a) ethnic identity and (b) geographical identity as the basis of my argument to address the institutional arrangement to build trust and peaceful Eritrea.
The Eritrean people took the nine provinces as their geographical identity and the nine ethnics as their social identity, and consequently as the building blocks to Eritrean identity. The Eritrean people utterly rejected the six geographical administrative regions engineered without the consultation of the public or without their approval through their representatives. It didn’t come as a constitutional product or legislative bill, but rather it came from the executive office which has the say for everything. In fact the geographical or regional administrative should be merited to the constitutional process to be decided within the structure of the governance and the distribution of authority agreed upon and reflected in the constitutional document.
The flow chart is then designed to avoid Furnivall’s model of domination, but highlight DUG for depicting power sharing at the center and devolving political and administrative power to the periphery – to the nine administrative units, while keeping the fiscal and judiciary power at the center. Autonomy involves division of powers between central authorities and the autonomous entity [Lapidoth, 1996, 175], which means power is not delegated but transferred and thus may not be revoked without consulting with the autonomous [Daftany, 2005, 5].
The transfer of political and administrative power to local levels which doesn’t include legislative and judiciary is good fit to Eritrean reality. A good example of this type of power transfer is that of Macedonia under the 2001 Ohrid agreement and the Kosovo under the terms of its 2008 constitution. All what we need is a reasonable degree of devolution that goes with our socio-economic development and socio-political consciousness of our population with a room for incremental amendment. In short vertical and horizontal decentralization brings the centrifugal forces in to the equation of equilibrium.
For more clarification and more understanding as to the difference of DUG and CUG in the social sphere of justice and injustice , I will incorporate my previous graph which is deleted during the website crash in 2012. This graph will substantiate my argument to show the correlation of CUG and injustice and the correlation of DUG with justice.
Graphical Depiction of CUG and DUG on Ideal Social Space
From the above graph we can learn that: (a) Injustice is directly proportional to the increase of power at the center. By that it means, with the increase and concentration of power at the executive, injustice on the social groups increase exponentially – refer to the gray social space that depicts the environment of centralized unitary government (CUG). (b) Injustice will decrease proportionally as power is decreased on the center or devolved from the center to the periphery. Refer to the blue social space that depicts the environment of decentralized unitary government (DUG). In a nutshell, from the graph we can observe a big contrast between CUG and DUG in relation to justice.
For undermining progress, there is always strong motive for a ruling political group desiring to concentrate power in the central government in order to distribute the wealth to their supporters and usually at the expense of the larger population. As has been seen in many African countries, strong unitary governments are known for their abusive power, corruption, and oppression for the minorities groups. The result of such system is brutal civil wars and instability. Eritrea can avert such scenario, and to challenge all sorts of problems, we must design a governmental institution in which the civil servants and the elites should be accountable both to the public and the constitution.
In the whole process of my argument I have used the constructivist argument rather than instrumentalist. By constructivist, I mean dealing by the actual grievances of our social groups as oppose to those instrumentalist argument who use religion as way of unifying factor to respond to the power of marginalization. Instrumentalists always use situational factors as oppose to organic identity based grievances to address the issue of marginalization. Therefore capacity or no capacity, our minorities have the right to participate in the decision making and thus will remain to be the bone of contention in my argument.
Since development and capacity is incremental progress by nature, we have to start somewhere by putting in place local governance as institutional arrangement and equitable power to the diverse segments. Many African countries that have DUG embrace the rights of minorities and reflect in their constitutions. For instance Article-36 of Uganda’s constitution embrace the right of minorities to participate in decision making process and Article-56 of Kenyan constitution allows minorities to participate and represent in governance and other sphere of life.
In a game theory, the “Nash Equilibrium” is a solution concept of non-cooperative game, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players. The equilibrium concept in my approach is how our social forces as sets of stakeholders are balanced by respecting the interest of each other in the absence of external forces. I believe my model will allow capturing the idea of social stability as a general frame work where the different set of players (stakeholders) to enable them to work for the good of our people and the nation at large.
In conclusion, this small incentive to make the public informed is directed to reduce susceptibility to deception, misinformation, and political ignorance in the landscape of Eritrean politics. The huffing, puffing, and symbolic resistance of group interest should end with the end of Issayas regime and his cestui que trust. Throughout our history we have fought for our people’s justice and we can’t fail now when it becomes the quest of our minorities. The spirit of unity can only exist in the spirit of accommodation and Ignoring the pain and interests of the minorities is ignoring democracy. Democracy is not about voting and winning the majority. Democracy is also about sharing and prospering together in every aspect of life. Unfortunately, the self-interested group will only ride on the former because winning electoral voting is winning everything. Therefore, if we want to go forward, we must move from politics of passion to politics of realism.
Sadly enough, our long winded politics is stupidity. And indeed our stupidity is constantly grinding sorrow day after day with a dizzying spin. If we don’t want to clot rational thinking, the solution is not that difficulty. The lessons are enough there to grapple with our failure. Are we ready to move and act beyond the appearance of a “collection of contradictions” as Selam Kidane famously characterized us out of her disappointment?
References Ronald M. Schneider, “The political system of Brazil: Emergence of modernity and authoritarian regime, NY, Colombia University press 1969-1970, pp 431.  Semere Habtemariam, “Fight like liberation front; talk like opposition”, Awate.com, Nov 27, 2013.  Tekle W/Michael, “Bridging the divides: Muslim and Christian Eritreans in Orange county, Awate.com, Dec 3, 2013.  Jonathan Fox, “patterns of discrimination, grievances, and political activity among Europe’s Roma: Across sectional analysis”, Bar Ilan University, Israel, 2001.  Guar and Harff, “Conflicts in world politics” 1994, pp 77-96.  Ahmed Raji, “The rainbow lost, Part-III and Part-IV,” Awate.com, Aug 24, 2009 and Oct 1, 2009 respectively.  John Mbiti, “African Religion and philosophy, Oxford, Heinemann educational publisher, 1969, pp 102.  Nicholas Hayson, “Conflict resolution, National building, and constitution making in a divided society”, 2005.  A. Anderson, “Secessionist movement in cooperative prospect,” London, Pinter, 1990, pp 864.  Ahmed Raji, “The Rainbow Lost Part-II, Part-III, and Part-IV” Awate.com, Aug 15, 2009, Aug 24, 2009, Oct 1, 2009 respectively.  Y. Ghai, “Autonomy and Ethnicity: Negotiating competing claims in Multi-ethnic states”, 2009.  Ibid (Y. Ghai, 2000). [13 Amanuel Hidrat, “Nature abhors vacuum: The search of veridical solution Part-IV” Awate.com, Mar. 2, 2010.  Ibid (Amanuel Hidrat) Mar. 2, 2010.