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Liberating Civil Society

I should probably start by saying a few words about how amazing the developments in the opposition camp in general and the civil society component in particular have become. I haven’t been following much of the written material with the exception of my favorite writers on Awate and Asmarino. This, added to what we have been watching about the Arab Spring, I must confess, have motivated me to think of the key issues in our opposition camp in a rather fresh way. I have come to realize that what we need most is “National Unity” – the Hade hizbi, Hade libi way. I apologize to all those we had debated Zanga-Zanga style as the Arab Spring has to a certain extent proven the feasibility of their “peaceful ways”. This apology especially goes to the EPDP (Tom, Jerry & “Magoo” in particular) and affiliates and in this particular issue of “peaceful” stuff.

Summary in Zereba Hareg:  

As we all know and as the Egyptian Sa’ayda would conclude in this case, the only three ways out of our current helpless situation are two, and that is rebellion. What happened in the Arab world (and is happening), I believe, has wrongfully been described as ‘revolution’ when it actually was nothing more than ‘rebellion’. The proof: the Tunisians might have managed to democratically elect their leaders, but until those leaders actually deliver on their promise convincing the little guy that life has dramatically changed from how it used to be under Bin Ali, the little guy will have no way of telling if what had happened was indeed ‘revolution’.  Here too, although what we need is ‘revolution’, translated into “Sewra” as “kab suru berquiqka” kind of change implying dramatic rebuilding after destruction, what we can actually hope to achieve, as an appetizer, is the destruction part of the equation and that is “rebellion”. When those that we would elect in the fairy world of democratic Eritrea do actually deliver by destroying ‘Sawa and its environs’, by releasing all kinds of prisoners and freedoms, by persuading Ethiopia to demarcate the border, by allowing exit visas to be sold in Edaga Lakha, by repatriating stranded refugees after liberating their original homelands, and by turning the country into Disney World, then we would know that what we are about to do was indeed revolution.  Until then, worrying about rebuilding should be left to those Deqi Abeyti running around with all kinds of politikawi medeb Eyo with all the details of ab quTebawi meday te’amr kinserH’ina kind of toota b’badela afraza! The reconstruction part of the revolutionary medeb Eyo should be the least of our worries. What we, as civil society, should tell any individual or group that reveals the slightest hint of a possible medeb Eyo under the sleeve, any idea on how to do things in the mind, or even the slightest symptoms of common sense in the heart is: Hansab bejakha!arbaEte igri inte’leka tsibaH niguho n’r’eyeka.

To add spices to my confusion: the concept of “revolution” by its very definition is an oxymoron.  Destruction and construction are contraries that do not fit into one concept together. If you are destroying with a plan to construct or reconstruct later in your mind, why destroy in the first place and who would trust that you are genuinely interested in destroying at all: temeliska ‘tred’o sile’mntay ikha Hadigkayo kt’atu. In both Egypt and Tunisia, the relatively smoother rides of the Arab Spring, the demolition team of brave young wizards appeared out of nowhere with only one thing in mind: to destroy the Mubarak and Bin Ali regimes. They did what they had promised themselves to do and dispersed back to nowhere in the celebrity world of TV talk shows (and a few more demonstrations). Then came Deqi Abeyti with versions of Medeb Eyos and back to the old stink. The reason why Medeb Eyos do not belong in the ‘rebellion’ (or destruction) part of ‘revolution’ is because every one of them necessarily has an underlying ideological pre-disposition in the form of implicit value judgments detailing the ways in which existing ‘value’ should be preserved and ‘new value’ added on to it in the process. Their intention is to define “whose value?” These ideology-pregnant Medeb Eyos are the commodities that are pimped in the political public sphere called “market”: the “public enemy number one” in the destruction phase of the revolution.

The argument here is that revolution should be seen as a process where each phase summons its own monkey business. Each of the two phases of revolution necessarily has its own unique implementation structures called ‘disorganization’ (and if possible ‘chaos’) in the destruction phase, and ‘organization’ (if possible ‘order’) in the reconstruction phase. The logic is simple: the destruction phase (in such a massive scale) requires the freezing of all market forces such that every entity (including political groupings) that serves the establishment (in both its government and opposition faces) loses its value completely. Where there is no value, there is no market. And where there is no market, there are no pimps. We would know when the desired level of ‘chaos’ is achieved, as all rules would disappear because rules are made to either preserve or enhance the (non-neutral) ‘value’ of our organized interactions. Just in case one is tempted into the reverse of this logic and argue that “where there are no rules, there would be no value as well in what the ‘rebellion’ part of the revolution would achieve”, the argument here does not claim the complete absence of ‘rules’ in apparent chaos, just that “random interactions have no rules – but at least not rules that an entrenched bureaucracy of ‘establishment’ pinheads would understand and prepare for”.

I know I am boring you with gual mengedi where I wouldn’t be able to repeat the previous turn in what I have just said. I am trying to become a more responsible contributor this time and am practicing the art of beating around the bush and the technique of missing an obvious head for a tail. Linking the above to the few words in the title of this article, the idea that I am trying to sell here is that: the only qualified candidate for the ‘rebellion’ (destruction) phase of our revolution is civil society; a possible candidate to lead the ‘reconstruction’ stage of the revolution unfortunately is ‘the establishment’.

Lazy readers might leave now. The following is an elaboration of the above.

Public Enemy #1

A proper definition of ‘the establishment’, I believe, is where a fitting conception of ‘civil society’ (in our particular case) should begin. A simple online definition of ‘establishment’ in the context of social order is essentially a reference to the network of freaks that run our lives and set the rules that control the limits of our freedom. Since the idea of ‘establishment’ by definition implies continuity, therefore, its components are both current freaks causing our nightmares as well as potential self-proclaimed freaks bracing to replace them in the future. A defining characteristic of an actual and a potential freak is the existence of politikawi medeb Eyo whereby you are being told “this is how I will run your life once I am in power”. To put it more bluntly: I believe, if we really want to activate the Eritrean civil society into real action, it is absolutely important that we (as civil society) identify the target of our ‘destruction’ as “the establishment” – defined as a basket that includes the PFDJ and every political organization or party in the opposition camp irrespective of whether or not they belong to the EDA, NCDC or variations of them (unless of course they accept to sit aside and wait for the second phase of ‘reconstruction’ to be announced after rebellion).

The Distinction

This, I think, cannot be overemphasized for its importance. The imperative need to distinguish civil society from the opposition version of “the establishment” is nowhere more evident than in the interaction of the bunch of political organizations with the things that ordinary Eritreans care about most. In each of the following typical examples, I challenge you to ask any “leader” (or “misleader” to be exact) of any of our opposition political parties and organizations to report on what they even thought or wished their organization would do (if it had arbaEte igri) in each case:

  1. News about a young Eritrean man or woman committing suicide out of despair in the lack of a way out of the trappings of fleeing Eritrea.
  2. Reports about Eritrean refugees drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to cross from Libya to Europe.
  3. A jailed Eritrean journalist dead due to torture by PFDJ security personnel.
  4. 1000 Eritrean refugees deported by Sudanese authorities face serious problems with the Eritrean regime.
  5. The Eritrean regime plays ostrich on the refugee repatriation concerns.
  6. Eritrea refuses food aid at a time when the country is facing severe starvation.
  7. Eritrean army rounding up young people in Asmara for conscription into forced labor.
  8. The Eritrean regime found guilty of igniting the border war that killed tens of thousands.
  9. The Eritrean regime accusing volcano victims of the Red Sea Afar region of conspiracy.
  10. The Eritrean regime deciding to exterminate the Kunama ethnic group.

I am not saying that our esteemed political parties and organizations do not envision a solution for these problems. Not at all! In fact, they have a radical solution. What they will tell you is this: “All those atrocities are caused by a dictatorial regime. The solution will come when you help us remove the regime after a long struggle and place us in the driver’s seat of government and give us ten years to implement our politikawi medeb Eyo”. The frank ones would even add: “well … until that is achieved, all the victims you have mentioned are mere statistics and we promise to erect a memorial tower for them in democratic Eritrea in addition of course to praying for their salvation in the next life”. They make perfect sense!

What I am saying is that the way civil society, including our infant networks, deals with those events is different. As far as civil society is concerned, each of those events is important for its own sake. Some like brother Amanuel Eyasu and his radio broadcasting will publicize the news together with a sad poem or obituary. Some, like what sister Elsa Chyrum and her colleagues are doing, will advocate for each single individual victim and hope to save a few. Some will collect funds to transport the body bags to Asmara. Some will send e-mails to human rights and refugee organizations or local MPs for help. Some will make a call to express their sorrow out of despair. The majority will just burn from inside watching the inaction and helplessness of our opposition politics. What this silent majority does not seem to understand is the fact that the function of an opposition composed of political parties is nothing more than a registry of victims to be compensated or avenged in democratic Eritrea when and if the people elect them to lead the nation. No political party anywhere on the planet is made to deal with what happens today and at this moment. It is simply impossible to design a political party that would destroy the very establishment it seeks to head after winning an election because ‘the establishment’ itself is nothing more than a set of contending political parties.

The Significance

Dealing with today’s single and isolated events belongs to civil society. Paradoxically, it is these single and seemingly obscure events that take place day-in day-out that always trigger the rebellion that achieves the destruction stage. It was practically the poor nobody who burned himself down out of despair that triggered the Tunisian rebellion.

It was similar insignificant events that would have passed as mere poetry on Radio Assenna or a single entry on Gedab News that have always triggered chains of events for miraculous change in countries other than Eritrea. It isn’t because Eritreans are less courageous than other people. They have more to tell in the department of courage than a lot of other peoples. It isn’t because we are more mindful of the potential destruction of civil unrest than others. Pick me a country that boasts more r’esi Akats with tangible evidence for their genius than our beloved Eritrea. It isn’t because we care less – because we do.

It is because we have been misled into opposing one face of the establishment while grooming the other.  There are several detrimental advantages where the chaotic civil society (or the anti-medeb-Eyo version of it) takes maters into its own hand.

  1. Opposition would become about real issues that happen day-to-day and that mater to real people – not about hypothetical dream scenarios that mater only to an elite bunch of opportunists looking for a free ride to power years from now.
  2. Assigning significance to daily happenings would ensure that when rebellion does indeed take place, persistence and continuity would be guaranteed as those crushed in daily confrontations serve as the fuel that propels the anger – instead of ending up into the pending statistics of thousands of victims in Mezgebe-Sema’etat.
  3. It would universally focus attention on the PFDJ regime as the one-and-only-one responsible culprit for our misfortunes as demanding answers from the regime by demonstrating in front of its embassies is, whether we like it or not, an implicit recognition that the PFDJ is indeed our officially recognized government and the only organized entity that can deliver on our wish-list. If we are already doing it in all our demonstrations, what harm can come from joining the YPFDJ, for instance, in admitting that all we need is better government and an end to human suffering even if that does come through a change of heart from the PFDJ. In other words, we would be looking for answers from the PFDJ that does have the capacity to either respond or follow Gaddafi, than from a bunch of do-nothing organized swindlers in the helpless opposition.
  4. Most importantly, it would liberate the opposition arena for Eritreans dying for lack of change at the bottom and on the ground irrespective of what happens to the PFDJ, and besiege those pimps dreaming of change at the top of the PFDJ irrespective of whether such change will touch ordinary people’s lives at the bottom. For the sake of full disclosure: I think the only organized political organizations that would be likely to survive a shift of opposition core towards the chaotic mob of civil society are the ethnic rights advocates as their issues are about real nightmares happening on the ground. The good news is that, these concerns can be resolved through negotiated settlements even if the impossible comes true for the PFDJ to suddenly recognize that something has gone seriously wrong.

Am I making sense?

Road Map?

I understand what is going on in your mind. You are probably saying: “Nice Preaching! Now tell us how to do it”. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. But that’s where the clown in me comes out to produce another Medeb Eyo and it is the Medeb Eyo of no Medeb Eyo. To relate the above logic of non-logic to the topic of this article, reference (in the back of our minds) might be made to a number of articles on the mess of politicized “civil society” in our diaspora, including the recent conversation between brothers Amanuel Hidrat on EGS and Seyoum Tesfai of EGS. With all due respect to the two brothers, the EGS, CDRiE and their clones (as they stand today) and as we all know are children born out of wedlock – deqi Haram – (as they would say) of the unholy alliances of essentially politically organized (or motivated) entities and individuals as well as the dating websites that facilitate their intermarriages. At their core, these (allegedly) “civil society organizations” are nothing more than calls to transform civil society into the Hafash Wudubat of the totality of the organized political opposition.

What Next?

How about starting with the Addis Ababa NCDC conference due in a couple of weeks?  The central idea behind this conference is to amalgamate every politikawi medeb Eyo in the Eritrean diaspora, shake them together and come out with one grand Medeb Eyo for the whole nation. The NCDC as we have all been following has already finished mixing and shaking the raw material into four documents to be discussed and approved in the conference. Here we have agreed that we are allergic to any kind of Medeb Eyo as long as it refers to the way that some pinhead would be running our lives in the future.

The first step is, therefore, to tell every single representative of any civil society organization, every individual who would be participating in the conference in his/her civil capacity, and as many as possible of the (so far) 553 participants of the conference to rebel. This is what they will do: each of them will come to the podium, tear all the NCDC documents to pieces and dump the shreds into the dustbin. In other words, they will tell the commission or the conference committee or whatever stands on their way: “We are not here to discuss the Eritrea of the future, we have come to discuss the Eritrea of today. If you in the commission or EDA or non-EDA political pimps have any ideas for the Eritrea of the future, call us in a few years to check if your time has come”.

The second step will be to make it clear to every participant that the aim of the conference will be to elect a coordinating committee that would assemble all our human, logistical, public relations and communication resources to enhance and spread the public demonstrations and protests that we have already seen in a few Western cities.

The third step will be to ensure that the concluding communiqué of the conference clearly addresses the Eritrean government that “we as the people of Eritrea are exercising our democratic right to demand our government to act on these specific demands: the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoner of conscience; the immediate freezing of the National Service Proclamation; the immediate demobilization of all non-combat related personnel in the Eritrean Defence Forces; the immediate resolution of the refugee crisis facing the nation; the immediate termination of the government’s land grabbing projects; etc…” This was just to say that, not a single item in the list of demands should refer or imply that the conference aims at overthrowing the PFDJ regime.

The Alternative Medium

The last item in step three above directly ties in to a very critical question in everybody’s mind. This question stems from our realization of the fact that all Eritrean opposition activity, including the “rebellion” suggested above it are diaspora based. The million-dollar question is: “how do we carry it to inside Eritrea?” In other words: “isn’t all the talk about uniting the opposition political parties and forming the National Commission an effort to find the medium that will carry the diaspora uprising to the streets of Asmara?” My answer to the last version of the question is: “Not at all!” Think of it: until, the current opposition camp comes out with such a medium years from today, the only medium that can carry anything to Eritrea (including fresh air) is unfortunately the PFDJ. The only option for the opposition to carry anything into Eritrea is, therefore, through the PFDJ. That of course is impossible because: why would the PFDJ willingly offer itself to carry its replacement to Eritrea?

That pessimism would be true in only one case: if all PFDJ supporters were immune to the miseries that we as Eritreans are living day-in-day-out. That of course is not the case. PFDJ supporters are the ones who are carrying the nation on their backs. We can at least run away and save ourselves. They have chosen not to. The only barriers between us (in the diasporic civil society), and them (in the Eritrean civil society) are the politikawi medeb Eyos of narrow-minded pimping politicians that we arrogantly keep flashing into their eyes. Take the politics of overthrowing and replacing the PFDJ out of the equation and we are all a unified mob of Eritrean civil society. That exactly is what we should mean by Change from Within.

Good Luck!

Let us go now! Take Addis Ababa as our first step in the right direction to mummify the politicization of our pressing concerns, reach out to those that can see no salvation in other than walking the PFDJ on crutches, and to those who might fear that they might never own the coming change and make it happen.

abualisalim@gmail.com

About Ali Salim

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