“Each generation of Eritrean can’t escape but tackle the Muslim/Christian, Lowland/Highland synergy, which boils down to identity politics and diversity, as it is and because it is existential question….mortality and perpetuity of Eritrean depends on it.” [Ghezae H. Berhe]
In politics, conscious belief is the ignition that gets you off the launching pad, while the can do attitude is the essential nucleus that replicate the resourcefulness of human imagination and creation. What ever philosophy may determine our moral clarity, it is certainly true of intellectual nature that I abhor a vacuum. In the weeks of the Brussels cacophony, a friend of mine called and asked me about the disconnectedness of the opposition camp (both the political organizations and civic society). His question was a straight forward and with anger, and I quote, “if there are no pillars in our political culture, how on earth are we going to bridge the divided society?” I had no answer for that unpredictable question. But for sure, I assured him that, his question will detour me from the subject I was writing, a subject I promised to the public on my last posting on awate.com.
Right after my friend hanged his phone, Aristotle’s theory of physics flashed to my memory. In physics, “horror vacui, or plenism” is a theory proposed by Aristotle that “nature abhors vacuum” and therefore empty space would always be trying to suck in gas or liquid to avoid empty. Indeed nature abhors vacuum. Yes I abhor the leadership vacuum in the opposition camp. And yes the Brussels conference sucks in all our energy in vain and created a circus, and is not of course different from the outcomes, to those we are used in every conference in the past, since the nascent nation is created. But this one was marked and masked behind the intellectual disguise, offering lots oxygen of publicity. It was a sad spectacle to watch. In short it was not result oriented strategy to the issue at the core of our people’s unity. Therefore, it was not a surprise to many of us that it will be a subject of critics.
Except the journalistic nature of “Gedab News” which bears the responsibility to inform the public, I concur with Mohammed Berhan Hagos’s intellectual argument and judgments on the manifestation of the clashes between the reformist forces and forces for fundamental changes. If we believe that truth can not only be seen on one angle, but on all its facets and entirety that manifest its value, then Mr. Mohammed Berhan Hagos did it exactly to explain the nature of Brussels conference. Implicitly, his explanation was a metaphor of good riddance of intellectual chauvinism and an appetite of truth for intellectual constructivism.
Fast forward and back to the question of my friend. To find or construct the structure for the pillars of our political culture, one has to view that the current government of Eritrea is a form of domination legitimized through legal ideology that always brings friction to a multi-cultural Eritrean society. As a result it is natural to watch and see a cultural focus of mobilization for, or resistance to the state law in the political context of state-society relations in our opposition camp.
In our multi-cultural politics, communities (ethnic or religious) require special emphasis in our contemplation of law, politics, and society. I doubt the current suspended Eritrean constitution did take into account the sensitivity of our multi-cultural entities. No question that the Eritrean regime is using some provisions of the constitution that does not affect its power; for instance the issue of land and language that Certainly became the existential threat to our Muslim/lowland brothers. In any case whether the existing constitution is implemented or not, the cultural pillars that hold the political unity of the multi-cultural society are not there.
Indeed, after 1960s researchers in “political cultures” has acquired a prominent place in political science. A group of studies has only recently been recognized for its striving to better comprehend political regimes by delving into cultural fundamental law and attitudes (Epstein & Kobylka 1992; Freidman 1985; Kagan 1991, 1999). As part and parcel of this phenomenon, the Eritrean intellectuals in the opposition camp have started to interact on the issues that matters our diversity, and how to hold them in unity, using ascertainable equity and justice. In spite our inquiry into norms, values, attitudes, and practices in and toward co-existence is expanded, the conceptualization of co-existence as a form and source of political culture has yet to evolve. Unfortunately, Social culture has only seldom been explicated as a multi-dimensional fabric in our political context.
To grapple with the issue I have raised, some historical back ground is needed to be in order as to why cultural pillars are so important in a multi-ethnic society like ours. In the era of our army struggle, realistically as well as perceptually, there were two political organizations that stood as two pillars of the divided society (Muslim/Christian or lowland/highland). Remember the call of “Nehnan Elamanan.” The effort of the democratic elements was to bridge these two pillars, thereby to actualize unity and form a formidable force against the enemy. Aside their ideological cover (new democracy and non-capitalistic development) which they use as barrier to their unity, the dominance of their political super-structures (the deciding leadership) reflect to the divided society. That is why most of the time the organizations were defined by Issayas Afewrki and Abdella Idris. In any case, what ever history left for us (good or bad), we are still remained divided. Hence, without delay, the amorphous existence of the opposition camp must be reshaped and re-framed with natural socio-cultural building.
From the get go, I assume diversity in a politico-legalese consciousness, identities, and practice within our ethno-cultural societies, based on some shared concept of the public good, in addition to other collective attributes. Therefore, there is one for fact and critically important I agree with Ali Salim, and that is, the minority multi-cultural entities must unite in a calibrated strategy and purpose, so as to form one strong pillar of our social culture. Empirically, a bridge can not be formed with one pillar, as justice can not be adjudicated without a balance of power. It is a simple formula our minorities must grapple with. One of our icons Ibrahim Sultan understood the necessities of these pillars in the 1940s and was succeed in protecting the rights of the minorities. The highland/lowland or Christian/Muslims political dichotomy are the crucial pillars in the conjunction of law and politics in a multi-cultural Eritrean society. To borrow Ghezae H. Hagos’s words that, “the mortality and perpetuity of Eritreans entirely depends” on those political dichotomy and how to address them and find equitable solutions.
Once these pillars are formed, it is easy for those of us and my friend who is interested to bridge these pillars based on the concerns and desires of our populace. Our task is then to explore the sources of legal consciousness and practices related to law along a multiplicity of Social Avenue. In my posting on March 8, 2009 I have addressed the highland chauvinism and the lowland mistrust and how it obscures our unity. Chauvinism can not be challenged without a strong force (pillar) on the lowland side and trust can not be earned without challenging the skepticism of the lowland in earnest and caring way to their grievances by the highlanders. These are the true challenges and real politics we have to face head on. Face time is crucial and we have to face this reality on timely manner. As usual Politicians will sniff around to see if there is a hidden agenda behind my arguments. That is the nature of politics and I will delightfully encounter it. Furthermore, like Thomas did to Jesus, there are many doubting-Thomases. Oh yes, the doubting Thomases will always live in doubting world every time they heard the grievances of our minorities.
Few decades ago one prominent Eritrean politician (name on hold for reasons to avoid personalized argument) had eloquently uttered two poignant words to a gathering in a military training camp, which are still stained in my memory. He told us to be “belahtn lebamatn kunu” which means be “smart and wise.” I had no clue the context of those words he used at that time. But for whatever reasons he used at that time, they are certainly timeless advices and are applicable to any momentous events. Indeed these words have found a place in the empty chamber of my political mind at that peculiar time. However fallible I might be, those words are still my guidance to my personal life as well as to my political approaches I share with my people. Why did I want to reflect these words in the current political atmosphere? Because, the issues at hand are very sensitive by nature, and if all the indices of our situation do not make you to harbor on these words what else does? Unfortunately, not many can vouch to such kind of advice. That is why knowledge based on wisdom is the scarce political commodity if not none existent in the Eritrean landscape. Aren’t we living in “Kelassi zeyeblu awdi?”
Interestingly enough, the oppositions in the Diaspora have no clue what kind of democracy and the procedure of its application might be workable in the multi-cultural society of our nation. Most of the time from our debate, there are two loosely articulated terminologies we always raise them as a solution to our political ailment – Liberalism and constitutionalism. They are overly used by the elites who do not know the societal structure of our communities and their inherent social development. Within the Eritrean Diaspora, democracy is less understood through explication of procedures, such as elections and formal state laws than they are through analysis of culture and cultural practices. Culture and cultural practices have a long influence in our politics, and are in fact the bases of sorting out powers to adjudicate equitable justices. Communities (ethnic or religious) are sources and carriers of legal and socio-politico-cultures. Therefore, democracy should not only cultivate on individual rights solely (as liberals claim), but instead democracy should stress the virtues of communal rights (ethnic rights). In multi-ethic society, democratic-constitutionalism is not the rule of the majority, but it is the rule by representation structured depending on the specific nature of the diversities of the nation.
Understandably, there are different schools of socio-political thought among our intelligentsia that might offer distinct outlooks on state relations and political-culture. Liberals conceptualize the sources of individual autonomous culture based on dynamic interaction between the diverse attitudes sharing the same democratic procedure. On the other side, elitists conceive contrarily and are focused on state and ruling elites with a view that political cultures are generated by elites and state organs. Without going to the merits and demerits of the values of their conception, their arguments are totally out of the context of the social development of our society. They lack of specific knowledge on the socio-politico Eritrean structure. When such arguments are intermingled with the endless bubbles and squabbles of the organized political and civic organizations, there is only one word that we could call up to, and that is “mehret Yewrdelna.”
Realistically, no one will dispute that the destiny of our people and our nation is in limbo, because who we were, and who we are. Notwithstanding, as I try combing and data-mining of every elements of our failure, I am still optimistic that somehow, we will pull out from this confusion, ineptedness, and dawn word spiral, to extricate our people from the grip of the despot. Freedom is not free yet, and moral courage is still a lonely road, but in the end, this can only be achieved by extending our hand into the “wisdom basket” of our fathers and forefathers. Yes creating positive feelings towards our people is a worthy goal, but it is largely a means to an end. The real goal is making progress in achieving the elements of unity to our diversity.