Opposition at a Cross Road: The Less Traveled Path of National Self Belief and the Bologna Summit 2013
If you study the stories of some of the most successful entrepreneurs on this globe you will find that the attribute that sets them apart from the rest of us is usually one central factor: Their mindset. It entails undeterred determination and above all, the belief that the path to success lies within oneself. Many of these successful entrepreneurs never enjoyed a good education, others had hit rock bottom in their lives, and a substantial number started their global businesses at a tiny bedroom desk. Unfavorable conditions overall.Yet despite these significant disadvantages they managed to develop a can-do attitude and a self belief in their own abilities that is above average. This turned them into high achievers against all odds.
The generation of the struggle for Eritrea’s independence will be able to relate to that. Self confidence and self belief were so widely and deeply entwined in us as a nation at the time that this psycho-political factor was decisive for winning a struggle in which the opponent had a clear upper hand economically, militarily and even politically.
The critical feature that is anchored in ‘self belief’ is an internalized faith in your own abilities to reach your higher goal regardless of external circumstances. Once this positive energy is set into motion, once it spreads through a person, a group, a mass of people …or through a nation…unbelievable inner strength and resources are unlocked turning hopeless and depressing situations into stories of triumph.
The Eritrean opposition is still searching for the key to unlock such greatly admired energy. So far, it was unable to win a really strong popular momentum for democratic change: the silent majority remains silent and the vast majority of people inside Eritrea have hardly any knowledge about the several opposition groups operating in exile. Yet this does not come to anyone’s surprise, we have never really put public opinion inside Eritrea into serious consideration when making political strategy. Have we agreed to start the process of regime change without them?
Across the board, and despite several very positive accomplishments, the opposition still lacks focus, efficiency, strategy, and vision; to sum it up it lacks direction – national direction. How does the opposition engage the people and central military inside Eritrea into the process of regime change and how does it inform the nation about the strategies it deploys? How does the opposition provide tangible support to those who are ready to challenge PFDJ from within Eritrea? How does it communicate principles and policies that safeguard a better tomorrow for the nation? How do we prepare for the transitional period, is there a widely accepted plan and is the plan inclusive? What role can Eritrea’s ratified national constitution play in unifying the opposition behind the building process of democracy? What kind of Eritrea do the various opposition groups seek to build after PFDJ? To this day, Eritrean opposition groups did not tap into national self belief as a possible path or basis towards unity and highly anticipated success. Instead, questions around Awassa-participation and ‘where do you stand in regards to Ethiopia? seem to enjoy a much greater significance and popularity in Eritrea’s mainstream opposition policy and a lot of awareness and inter-group loyalties are drawn along those lines. Where is the vibrancy and hope in this for Eritrea? Where is the vision for a better Eritrea? And above all: what swallowed our national self belief that was so characteristic for Eritreans?
Compared to Mengistu Hailemariam, the current dictator Isaias Afwerki is a toothless monster. He manages a power base that is overall just politically well organized and even that within a very narrow horizon. He has (up to this day) no significant financial capacities, no powerful army to watch his back, and a disastrous track record of providing even the basics to Eritrea’s citizens. So relatively speaking there is not much that strengthens the dictator’s statuesque, but the real problem is: there is not much that weakens it either. The opposition’s internal flaws and its inability to get the dictator where it hurts prolong the tyrant’s rein, and the opposition’s incapability to share a national vision with the masses extends that even further. These weaknesses reinforce a sense of insecurity among the majority of Eritreans; the unknown puts many into a state of indifference and stagnation, and people inside Eritrea may face the added challenge to accept help coming from an opposition operating across the southern border, as both personal scars and PFDJ propaganda sit deep. In the meanwhile, Eritrea’s opposition groups continue to struggle for clear national direction. But is not that absolutely vital to lead a nation? In particular a nation that is in a vulnerable state ?
This article is not about Ethiopia’s involvement, because weighing advantages against concerns is a matter of view point. What needs to be questioned however is our attitude towards our very own abilities and capacities as Eritreans to win against PFDJ. What needs to be questioned is why we have not developed our own resources. What needs to be examined is why the many signs of pro-democratic endeavors inside Eritrea have never received consolidated opposition support, and why no serious political alternative was ever built that put its faith and focus on Eritreans inside Eritrea so those residing abroad can take the role of the political, financial and logistical engine to the struggle.
And active member wrote on EYSC Facebook last week: “..we are not defending Ethiopia. What we are tired of is this unsubstantial fear mongering and baseless Ethiopia phobic. The fact of the matter is that we have not been able to get rid of the tyrant for 20 yrs and counting. We are tired of singing the same all songs. As a result, we are exploring foreign help to supplement our meager capacity to solve our national plight. If you call this nauseating then, let it be.”
But is that not exactly the fact that worries and confuses so many ? The fact that we were exploring foreign help for all this time instead of exploring self-help to solve our national plight? And that until this day Eritrea’s opposition members overall persist (although it is slowly shifting ) to continue this path with a perseverance that has made far too many even unreceptive, suspicious and hostile towards Eritrean groups, renowned individuals, and efforts which focus on a fully autonomous national strategy. How is that to be understood?
The decision of Eritrean opposition groups to use Ethiopia as a platform is anybody’ s right, it may indeed have valid advantages, and who knows, maybe change will in fact come through those southern borders – no one has the final answer after all. What is however worrisome is that this very question of Ethiopian cooperation literally defines major parts of Eritrea’s struggle for democracy at the expense of building up our own self belief, our own capacities, our fully independent strategies within the opposition camp.
The Bologna Summit 2013
The ‘Eritrean solutions for Eritrean problems’ mantra is widely misunderstood in our opposition community. It is no empty rhetoric nor does it imply that some are more Eritrean or nationalists than others. As ‘African solutions for African problems’ or ‘Local solutions for local problems’ it is a self-empowering stand that simply strives for increased responsibility, national/local ownership, and leadership in dealing with Eritrea’s affairs without creating dependencies. It calls upon Eritreans to self confidently take full control of their situation and their destiny. Any request for foreign assistance should be submitted as equal partners and at our own terms.
We may never fully understand why it took so long to gather and organize around the belief that democratic change in Eritrea should and will come from inside. This should be a clear focus and priority by which our struggle, but above all, our path to democracy are strictly guided. From August 30 to September 1, 2013 Eritreans from all walks of life will meet in Bologna to visibly and vividly add a new popular alternative to the struggle and Eritrea’s opposition: The path of national self belief. Yes, we have been hopeless after our liberators turned into our prison guards, yes, we have been psychologically affected by all that unfolded in front of our eyes, yes, we may have little confidence in our own abilities, our motivation, and resources, we may feel impatient, frustrated or depressed…but deep down, as people and a nation, collectively, we have what it takes, we have the will power , the faith, the insight and understanding, the technical capacities, the connections, the finances, the human capital. We need to unlock these resources as a nation, we need to synchronize, strengthen, and draw strategies. And at the center of all this vibrancy should be the visible support to those who fight for freedom and justice inside Eritrea regardless from where you chose to build those links. It is about time , that we believe and reaffirm that these comrades exist, that they are experienced, ready and capable, that thousands more will follow, and above all, that they know best to lead the way in toppling the brutal PFDJ regime once and for all, while they receive our full backing in a coordinated manner and with widespread support. Who knows how far the inspiring events of Forto would have been able to proceed, if we had gathered around the concept of national self belief years ago…
Any doubts? Well, a democratic system is built on social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination by a country’s citizens. And many Eritreans believe that the best way to integrate and uphold ‘political self-determination’ is by taking charge of our own affairs and work fully independently. But it also means that we embrace our differences in opinion by building strong and effective multiple entities across the political spectrum and around our different views – in forms of organizations, groups, institutions, and initiatives. The most efficient and popular parties (and hopefully the most democratic) will in the end be in a position to serve the people as government when the time is ripe. This needs to be an open and inclusive effort based on cooperation of groups across the opposition spectrum not on old-style unity.
Those who believe in change coming from inside Eritrea as an Eritrean solution towards regime change and democracy are indeed many – in the opposition, among civic organizations and activists, among renowned individuals, the Eritrean academia, the silent majority, and maybe most importantly among our suffering people inside Eritrea. It is absolutely vital and long overdue that these groups and masses build their own momentum, their space to work, their platform, their representation, their faith towards a better future. It is the hope that the ‘Bologna Summit 2013 for a Brighter Tomorrow’ gathering next week in the historic city center of Bologna will be a major milestone in achieving exactly that.
Bologna first started in the 70ies as a conference initiated by a small group of Eritreans before the PFDJ turned it later into a popular festival. Bologna is back and the organizers, the Eritrean Youth Solidarity of Change (EYSC) with the help and cooperation of many committed groups and activists, decided to follow into the founders’ footsteps by holding a conference. At this point it is crucial that participants not only meet, socialize and debate, but that we work towards concrete outputs that can be further developed post-conference. Milestones that will help us to a) advance Eritrean solutions for Eritrean problems into a visible and effective political alternative for Eritrea, b) empower pro-democratic efforts inside Eritrea, and c) encourage the masses, in particular the youth and women, to actively participate in the process.
To create hope for Eritrea should never be regarded as exclusive, it should never be considered as unwelcome competition or even as a dubious undertaking by those who chose not to support the Bologna Summit because they believe in a different path. Democracy is all about making informed decisions and if we truly want to build democracy in Eritrea we should embrace the pluralism of groups, initiatives, ideas, and efforts it brings with it.
Lastly, Ethiopia’s representatives have confirmed on various occasions that they are here to support any endeavors that are lead by Eritreans themselves, and as such we should hope that they and all our comrades working inside Ethiopia will wish the gathering in Bologna and its democratic vision good luck. It would be a much welcomed progress. Hopefully one day very soon national self belief and self confidence will shine again and – through the combined and collective efforts of everyone who works for freedom in Eritrea in their own ways – we will see a peaceful, democratic, proud, and prosperous Eritrea in which our people can heal, re-build, develop, blossom, and dream. An Eritrea for which our martyrs paid the ultimate price for, a small and much loved country that leads by positive example and that builds close and mutually beneficial relations with all its neighbors and the world community at large. See you there.
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion
(aka Miriam September)