The emergence of literary national identity, Transcendentalism can be an instructive model as Eritreans are grappling toward the formation of a government in exile. In the 1820s and 1830s Transcendentalism helped marshal an emergent American culture in the definition of its literary national identity. Prior to Transcendentalism, thinkers looked at Europe’s past to create literary legend for the United States; but this looking back to Europe for America’s past made it difficult to move forward out of the shadows of the old European influence. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism wanted the country to look forward to the future, to new horizons and to new possibilities for its people to dream the American dream, among other things. Emerson’s original idea engaged a host of subsequent thinkers like Thoreau, Fuller, and Hawthorne, and Whitman, just to mention a few. Some were in sync with Emerson’s ideas of transcendentalism others not only did they disagree with it but mocked transcendentalism and its author, nevertheless, were engaged in it even as they were opposing it.
Eritreans might be having difficulty separating from their past history, which goes way back to the 1940 when some were in sync with going it alone and in keeping the Eritrean identity that was already formed while others looked back at Ethiopia for their national identity. The notion of Eritreans lacking identity is a false assertion through and through. Eritrean identity was established starting in the 1940s. Today, there is a country with its flag with its territorial integrity with its majority who wear their identity as a badge of honor.
The 1940s era of crisis appears to be rearing its ugly face only now instead of Ethiopia they are wanting to cling to another region in Ethiopia. The 1940s crisis led to a thirty-year revolutionary war for independence. A critical juncture seems to be in the offing now where some Eritreans are looking back to Tigray as part and parcel of Eritrean identity.
The forceful push back from some other Eritreans is to vehemently oppose an assertion that ties Eritrea back to Ethiopia in general and to Tigray in particular. Their counter arguments are premised in the ultimate price paid to the realization of Eritrea as a nation being unshakeable; that Eritreans see their diversity as the ultimate strength for their pluralistic society. This group embraces Eritrean diversity to a hilt much as Booker T. Washington poignantly captured what it meant to be multicultural society. He said, “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
What the latter group does is refuse essentialization of Eritrean diversity. In other words, all that needs to be done is rid Eritreans from the regime that only knows how to create a crisis and keep the country in that perpetual loop for generations to come; searching a way of disrupting such untenable existence so Eritrea and Eritreans look forward to the bright future as any other civilized nations in the world is in the reckoning now. Singapore was able to transcend from its Malaysian past, eventually seeing the opportunity a port can offer. Singaporeans made good with it and they made peace with their neighboring, a much larger nation, Malaysia. All they needed to do was, as Booker T. Washington said in 1895, to “cast their buckets where they were” and that’s exactly what they did, and they have had peace and prosperity ever since. Rwanda has been able to overcome the internal obstacle it faced because it was able to transcend the crisis it faced in an efficient manner. That seems to be what Rwandans have done and all indications are Eritreans are more than capable of doing that and more.
Consider two poignant stories told that attest to the solidness of Eritrean national identity, one by an Ethiopian the other by an Eritrean. A fascinating testimony is told by a former governor of Eritrea from the Dergue era. Mr. Dawit Woldegiorgis, unequivocally admits and attests to seeing the Eritrean identity firsthand, which can easily be accessed by entering his name on YouTube.
The Eritrean story is none other than the scholar, Professor Bereket Habteselassie. He relates a story his father told him growing up about a friendship his father had with Haj Imam Musa. One who believed Eritrea’s best interest was becoming a part of Ethiopia and the other who believed in Eritrea’s independence. Their differences didn’t get in the way of their friendships. Decades later the sons of the two parents would end up serving in the constitution commission of Eritrea, both of whom trained lawyers in their respective professions.
The first anecdotal story above illustrates that Eritrean identity cannot be wished away as he was one of the individuals in charge of weakening Eritrean national identity and aspirations to become a sovereign nation. The second story solidifies in the belief that differences can be worked out so long there is that trust between and among all stakeholders. All and all, from Haile Selassie to Dergue to now, Eritrean identity continues to be sealed by blood and bones of thousands of Eritreans’ ultimate sacrifices. Ain’t no unsealing such deeply ingrained identity, come hell or high water.
As an antidote to this national identity crisis and, of course, the major political crisis that has unfolded in our region in recent months, Saleh Younis’s initiative is trying to urge Eritreans to look back to their ghedli heritage to formulate Eritrean Government in Exile. A crisis of its own making has clearly been descending upon the regime in Eritrea since the war of 1998-2000. The slow motion of 23 years of governing in a crisis-mode appears to be in a culmination phase. The rise of an opportunity from this crisis for Eritrea’s opposition groups the obscurity has suddenly shifted to clarity. Click Here for a piece that offers some salient suggestions in how to turn a crisis to opportunity with five point brief explanations.
Questions abound, here are a few worth entertaining: Are Eritrean opposition groups ready to seize the moment? Can the two schools of thought based on the ELF and EPLF heritage accomplish the job of GiE? Is it possible for there to be other schools of thought? This paper will argue there is in fact a third school of thought that should be added in the formation of the GiE before it hits the ground running?
Lessons Gleaned from 25 Years Diaspora Political Activism
If experience can be used as a guide in civil, social, and political activism within the Eritrean context, plentiful can be discerned and ascertained for future lessons. That future is now. One critically important pivotal moment appears to finally be reckoning and has come at the doorstep of Eritrea’s activists in diaspora to seize that moment. The continued failure of forming a united front to fight for justice in diaspora point to a myriad of reasons and directions. The ELF and EPLF offshoots are not necessary to enumerate here, it is safe to say there are more than five on each side of the camp, perhaps triple more in the former than in the latter. The gist of wishing to go back to the drawing board and giving legitimacy to these two fighting forces is understandable as they are not only the authentic heir but part and parcel that put the current regime in power. There is one big IF, however, worth considering.
There are more people in diaspora outside these two opposition camps who – to be blunt about it – belong to neither. In fact, the wish for many of these former liberation fighting forces is to have their proper spaces in the history books and not to be resurrected via the ballot boxes. Granted, Saleh Younis emphasizes for his readers to see the ELF and EPLF as “schools of thought”, and once one makes such a shift in thinking it could proof to be easier to choose one or the other. The dilemma in this line of thinking is this: It has been over forty years now since the hey-day of these fighting forces when they held sway in the public imagination. Today, at minimum, the indifference far outweighs it for anyone to go back to the drawing board and pretend to belong to one of these political organizations. It is why the question of why not include the Yiakil and other popular movements as well as other political parties is being murmured in various social spaces.
History of A Mistrust
One fundamental issue that gets in the way of having a successful movement – be it political, social, or civil – rests not only in needing to have “the active participation of the people struggling in unison” but also when the public senses that “the movement reflects [their] aspirations and when they view the leadership as being capable of leading [them] to victory” (p. 13). Lacking this, it is a definite road map to “disunity” and “lack of trust” between and among various factions. Of course, the natural corollary to this kind of polluted social and political environment will be Government in Exile (GiE) lacking in efficacy, hence, an assured path toward others forming their own GiE as Dr. Awet has warned in the recent conversation he had with Ato Hiruy T. Bairu as hosted on Yiakel’s FB weekend show.
Therefore, limiting mass participation by asking diasporic Eritrean communities the world over to join a tightly run two political camps will be a daunting task. Instead, it would be instructive to face the issue head-on by inviting for “a broad[er] coalition of commitment and not just a coalition of convenience[,] the central features [of which ought to address the] how and [the] why…
Beyond the above, one has to be mindful broad coalitions and alliances require due diligence of the highest order both as vested in the time-honored tradition of activism, time and the wherewithal that could help fund the logistics of the Government in Exile (GiE) until the stated goal is achieved. Taking the liberty to quote at length is meant to show readers that these public documents are a gem where the burnishing of the GiE ought to begin.
“Plurality of Eritrean society demands the adaptation of “divergent strategic views” in order of “form[ing] growing alliance. Partners in an alliance need to have the same or similar views on the fundamental and principal issues. Depending on the degree of similarities concerning their political programs, political orientations and political perspectives on national issues, alliances can be formed at different levels – the continuum could go from complete union at one end to a federation of democratic forces at the other end. In the context of Eritrea, for instance, forces that want to form an alliance at the national level need to have the same or similar views in their vision, mission, and principles by which to abide by.
The Eritrean revolutionary experience should be worn as a badge of honor as it undeniably defined the Horn of Africa and inspired others to emulate it. The EPLF experience is the Eritrean experience. The ELF experience is part and parcel of Eritrea’s experience. Owning both Fronts’ pitfalls as well as their successes is the only way that can propel a society to move forward. The continuous barrage of mistrust needs to be overcome. Countries that have succeeded were able to see beyond their past. Recognizing the weakness of each and finding a way to work in tandem despite it should be the aim. Mistrust is still operating within the psyche of Eritreans and we have not transcended it. Yet, we are ready to fight and die for the formation of a nation, yet the natural resources and wealth that country is endowed with we can’t seem to put it to good use. There is an untapped wealth of human capital that Eritrea has yet to put to a good use. We must find a way of unbounding ourselves from regionally tainted civil or political movements. Similarly, we should do the same toward other narrowly defined as ethnically and religiously based movements.
There is a successful story that transcended the obstacles of religion, ethnicity, gender gaps, where Eritreans from all walks of life who attended the conference can attest to. This group had done what nobody had been able to do in the annals of diaspora activism that goes back close to 30 years now. Through the vision of 50 percent Eritreans from one group to the 50 percent of the other, they were able to accomplish a great deal. It’s all documented for public consumption. The central thesis of this article is not only inspired by their work but all the quotes of which emanate from it. The monumental success of the conference held in 2019 at Berkley, California is your clue. The fifty percent vision is (your other clue) not necessarily a perfect vision, but it is an aspiration that keeps the group to remain faithful towards that goal. At times, granted, the ratios will fluctuate but being faithful to it at all times strengthened the trust. Hiccups are inevitable in such settings of a mosaic population; the work nevertheless was completed despite the obstacles associated with divergent points of views.
Obviously, the above is meant to help Saleh Younis and his colleagues to see for the need of opening beyond the tight ship of ELF and EPLF based GiE that he is championing the formation of. Once some of the above issues are incorporated, then, one can address the nature of the transitional government, the need for a temporary transitional constitution, its mandate clearly stipulated. Thereafter, it would be ostensible for the need of addressing issues of constitution and the rule of law.