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The Lowlands: A Project Killed By Memory

[Translated from Arabic by Awate Team]

On March 29, 2014, in London, the so-called Association of The Lowlanders held a seminar. Equally in London as well as on social media, the convening of the seminar was surrounded by mysteries, not because of the seminar or congress in itself, but because “Lowlanders” as a political terminology carries negative connotations in the memory of Eritreans,on one hand, and contrary to such terminologies, on the other hand, is the realization of Eritrea as an entity.

Eritreans do contemplate about the hefty price they paid, and the assassinations of their patriotic citizens who were against such divisive terminologies, and the subsequent watering of Eritrea with the blood of its sons, in order to thwart such terminologies that have been soaked with the blood of martyrs.

The Eritrean arena is wide enough for everyone; each group has the right to express itself and articulate its demands in the manner it sees fit. No one has the right to patronize others–our brethren [the initiators] are not an exception in this regard.

The announcements [of formation] of political or civil society organizations are all forms of struggles; they claim their legitimacy from the injustices and imbalances prevailing in Eritrea. I agree with the initiators, or they have agreed with me, on the legitimacy of the struggle in response to the grievances that are on the shoulders of our people. But I disagree with the means, and in the political discourse, that the initiators adopted, despite the rights and the basic principles contained in the document, though all the goals mentioned do not carry anything new. That is, if they [the demands] are not considered deficient compared to many that were raised by other civic organizations. What is new in the document is the name it carries, and the political implications it contains. And that is what I wish to discuss in the following points:

  1. No one has the right to claim to be a representative or a spokesperson of a tribe or an area because no one has delegated them to speak on their behalf. And we also witness that in the political arena where many organizations appoint themselves as a representatives of certain sectors of our society; it soon fails. Citing the experience of Tadamun, it appeared claiming to represent the marginalized and the Muslims, and whoever held a different opinion to them was described as rogue and odd. But the views of those who had opposing views (including myself) were not reviewed to learn from our perspectives; we believed that Tedamun was wishful movement not based on any political understanding. And so was Awassa and the National Council, projects that I declared my opposition to, expressing my opinion that it will fail despite the high pitched noise that surrounded its convening! It would have been worthy if the initiators presented themselves in any other name commensurate with their goals, and expressed their exclusive self-representation, without encroaching on a community or a geographical location. What did Isaias do more than that? Didn’t he practice authority over the people and take away their will, and assume representation of the Eritrean people without their consent? The wanton representation of the people and robbing their will, is not new to our brethren in EDJE – they are at the heart of such acts because they were among the practitioners and advocates of parliament and government in exile–that exclusive but denied right of the Eritrean people; they didn’t consider that embarrassing, or feel anything was wrong in robbing the rights; they imitated Isaias in doing that. Apparently they did not review their positions and experiences of the past, and they repeated the same political oppression. This time on another segment: the lowland population. But again, I am sure, and I state that the Lowlands cannot bear the responsibility for “strange” ideas that inhabit the heads of the initiators, and that does not represent anything but a desire: just like someone whose name is Noble, is not necessarily noble.
  2.  I do not know of a conflict that is based on geography or one that has the Lowland community as its limit of reference! Conflicts are based, either on ideas and ideologies, or based on religious sectarianism or nationalism. Geography does not respond to any of the conditions of a struggle; it is unresponsive when faced with religious and nationalist realities. For example, how can one separate the fate of Saho/Asaorta from their extension in Semhar and Sahel by considering them a different group and separating them from their kin? Are there no tribes in the lowlands who have strong ties and association with the Tigrinya speakers of the Highlands (that is if you neutralize the religious factor)? What history connects the tribes of Gash, for example, with the tribes and communities of Samhar and Sahel? How are those who have no connections linked and those who have the links severed from each other? And how are the highland Muslims separated from their brethren in the Lowlands, since they have closer ties with them, more than their ties with the Christians who are closer to them in the plateau? On one hand, tearing apart the links between the lowland communities, and on the other hand, the Saho, Asaorta and Jeberti in the highlands–isn’t this a whimsical move, aggressive and patronizing? It seems that the deficiency of a serious strategic planning that the initiators claimed the Eritrean arena suffers from is, apparently, a malady whose first victims are the initiators.
  3. The initiators burdened themselves a lot when they criticized the Eritrean political organizations that have their constituencies in the lowlands, by citing lack of planning and strategic thinking that guides them in dealing with the inter-Eritrean conflicts,  in their attempt to achieve a balance in the conflict, and regaining the usurped rights — implying that the initiators [of the Lowlanders League] have a strategic vision and proper planning and the solutions to the inabilities and problems. If they fail, it means that the elite of the lowlands, and our strategic thinkers, have failed; at the same time, similar understanding of failure implicates the lowlanders!
  4. The lowland document is infested with, and full of words and semantics, closely related to the primordial conflict against Tigrinya nation, while the initiators assert that the lowland society lies in weakness and humiliation, and lacks cohesion and strength. This diagnosis is enough to be one of the accepted blames by the initiators, to distance the society from confrontational concepts. The secret to becoming a member of this organization: one just needs to antagonize the Tigrinya nation and openly declare enmity, based on its injustices and grievances. And the more one is inimical and hate-filled, one is elevated to a higher rank at the center of the activity. On the contrary, if one promotes a national political activity, in partnership with all segments of the Eritrean people, away from primordial prejudices (such as the initiators of the “lowlanders”), or one stays aloof of narrow circles of tribal or regional sentiments, and instead goes out to the broad national space, one is far from, away from them, and one automatically loses membership—this is if one is not labeled indecisive, careless, etc.
  5. Political work is connotations and not verbal assurances (as Gramsci says) and connotations are those that the Tigrinya nation would exploit to form a bloc against it. Do the initiators think they will realize their interest and the interest of those they claim to represent with such coalitions and with such statements? And are the lowland societies on the verge of waging a primordial struggle to achieve their rights despite their weakness and lack of unity and cohesion, with which they are described it? And is the Tigrinya nation inattentive and so gentle to simply watch such a block appear and not forge an alliance of its own with some of the tribes and ethnic groups to disintegrate the already fragile unity? Is it unable to ignite a strife that would rage between the components of the lowlands, or will it fail to incite some tribes within its extensions to liquidate and intimidate some tribes in the lowlands? Or is it unable to prevent the development of the lowland areas because the Tigrinya nation enjoys a solid social structure, national community cohesion, and a solid internal power (and authority), alliances that extend to the depth of the lowlands and its extensions? Or is it just jumping into the void, without the slightest feeling of responsibility for the repercussions of your [the initiators] rhetoric?
  6. No one disagrees with the initiators concerning the injustices and marginalization in which the lowland community finds itself. These grievances, whether it’s regarding power, development, the return of refugees, the issues of language, the issue of land, the rights of pastoralists, and others, are all purely national issues; it is in the interest of the lowlanders that these issues remain national issues instead of becoming the issues of the marginalized alone. Many civil society organizations take these issues as national issues, and we in Citizens for Democracy and Rights (CiDRE) have prepared studies and researches on all of these issues, in all our conferences and our seminars by researchers and professors, Muslims and Tigrinya. This was not a compliment to any Muslim, but dealt with as national issues and problems, to provide national views on how the problems should be solved.

Whoever said that democracy is tool of the vulnerable was right. In the broad space of democratic life, all issues and problems are national public problems that are carried from the peripheries to the center through representatives of parliaments, or submitted to the government as demands and petitions,  or through demonstrations, sit-ins, or through mass media communication, or lobbies and pressure groups, etc, action concerning the grievances of the communities in all its dimensions–this is if we rule out that these problems are already considered national priorities after the change in Eritrea. All the elite realize that the nation cannot be stable and develop unless there is democracy and unless the problems are solved. All national organizations carry these demands and struggles to realize them. On top of that, there are enormous sacrifices made by our people: martyrdom, imprisonment, drowning, death and exile. These struggles are sufficient enough to meet the cost for achieving democracy. Therefore, it is so easy to say that the initiators did not come with a new idea but with one that only benefits the political system in Asmara, and the vindictive person who will consider this a pretext to increase the persecution of the lowland society to worse situation than it is now—and that would be the consequences of the work of the initiators.

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  • Daniel Mehary (metaabity)

    Saleh Aboray, you got it right.

  • Paulos (Be’atay) would better fit that name than is Salah Aboaray. The taboo is not what the article of the initiators depicts but rather the taboo rests squrarely how the CiDRE sees things based on its own interests. Democracy is after all about participating, sharing, hearing your voice………
    Don’t they CiDRE know that all the Biherat have own revolutions to secure their rights, claim their interests, then what is new if they build coaltions among and between Lowlands? Wouldn’t it be faire had you concentrate on the root issue instead on the symptoms. Thus pretend how brilliant you think about the whole Eritrea? Is it better to deal your deals under the table like Be’atays’ do, or better do it oppen and search common ground and show it to the concerned and pretenders alike; how the initators take things seriously. What is wrong if they take their issues by themselves, or better wait your solutions. Wait I will fix it for you…By gone method.
    I hope they can stand for that and do some real for themselves and make the difference. I congratulate them with understanding instead creating escapegoats for Isayas and his huge followers and block you thinking minds because of the artificial “mogogos” for the smooth running of the rat..a high price we are paying up to now.
    Go back to your root cause…and argue there for solution instead blaming Free associations of people to discuss own issues!!!!!!

  • Rodab

    The UN and the GoE’s opposing understandings of the national service program

    The UN:
    National service dominates life in Eritrea entirely. The main reasons spurring Eritreans to flee their country are linked to the indefinite national service and the constant fear of being targeted. In addition to regular round-ups by the military, citizens are targeted arbitrarily for reasons that remain mostly unknown to the victims or beyond their control, or at times on charges of ‘plotting to leave the country. Accountability mechanisms do not exist, leaving victims without any access to justice and perpetuating a climate of impunity and fear which extends beyond the borders of the country. I request the Eritrean Government to demonstrate its willingness to deal with its human rights challenges by taking immediate positive steps to reverse the climate of impunity and fear and by inviting me to assess the situation of human rights in the country first hand so as to find lasting solutions.
    – Sheila B. Keetharuth, UN special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

    The GoE:
    The security and developmental underpinnings of the National Military Service in Eritrea are too palpable to merit explanation. Indeed, when originally conceived and enacted in 1994 by the National Assembly, its aggregate duration was limited by law to 18 months. But the border war & Ethiopia’s occupation in breach of international law have caused its prolongation with all the attendant hardships. Eritrea’s detractors are misconstruing these realities to make prolonged National Service as their hue and cry to demonize the GOE.
    Ms Sheila Keetharuth has joined the chorus to accuse Eritrea of “human rights violations” in relation to the prolonged National Service. But crude political cherry-picking is not acceptable. And Ms Keetharuth’s unsolicited & naive recommendations cannot be taken seriously. Those who keep mum on Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean lands have no moral right to preach to Eritrea on its national security architecture
    – Hawelti, Presidntial spokesperson.

  • ibrahim

    Jurisdiction born dead by astute memory….
    A tigrite proverb goes, once bitten by a snake is frightened of a rope The Chinese as well “Once bitten by a snake will have a fear of a coiled rope for ten years” I would prefer the Chinese for its measurability, 10 years cap, and since things change with the multi therapies that may undo phobias It has been over half a century since we were bitten by the snake of lowland highland dichotomy, never been perilous as it were at a critical juncture of making Eritrea. Are we, particularly lowlanders,  to remain captives for so long and stay scared of any initiative that seeks a new approach??  Is it necessary to draw scissors and fingers to label the seminar a deal breaker, what fragility is this?.  Rest assured Eritreans are immune (at least historically) for what unfolded in the last 2 decades plus would have already qualified a melting pot of extinction not a cutting scissors prophesied in our nostalgic web,,, I think the premises of who authorized these elites?  Is killed by astuteness and memory.. The initiators didn’t claim at least to my understanding formation of another political organization to wrestle wealth and power, they said they intend to  rearrange the lowland house under agreed bottom-line to effectively participate in raising an important pillar in defending the nation from further deterioration…  The geography though is a lifeless space, the lowland has its historical, cultural, and political and most of all under privileged status that qualifies it to a demand similar to Quebec in Canada. Scare mongering has never stopped Awate from initiating guerilla warfare, knowing pretty well the cost involved.. Eritrea was never deprived of PHDs at least as of recent, and it didn’t take academic titles to mobilize for the long march of our armed struggle, this is also true with Fidel, che,  Ghandi , Mandella, MalcomX or Bill Gates…  I agree with you, as to the repercussion within some of the segments, not for fear of the Junta’s further repressions against the lowlands (Dih r selefa/”terfat dibna alabu” )  but as to hijacking the initiative in terms of creating lowland sympathizers within bado something, similar to the version of Jihad. Yet this is not possible because the initiators are a civil society displaying its commodity outdoors and at least under declared opposition programs they have the right to approach their target audience. Unless, they consider your finger pointing tip and twit.
    Since when did logic and pretexts bothered the jjinta?

    Mr Saleh, as a member of the Area targeted you are obliged to give your feedback, revitalizing or opposing and your contribution is certainly valuable.

  • Dawit

    Inside a Hermite Kingdom

    • Hayat Adem

      Hi Dawit, you don’t know how much flavor and content you are adding to the discussions with this thing, and as some one said it earlier, you are getting better at it day to day. On this one, though, border excuse of pfdj came after 1998.

      • Dawit

        Thanks Hayat. Thanks for the correction. I can’t remove and edit it. I tried with the previous one but was unsuccessful.

  • sara

    i dont hear much from you this days… i am sure many are asking where is he this days.

  • Dawit

    The political value of more land.

  • Dawit

    The political value of more land.

  • Suleiman

    Salah, you wrote a brilliant article. It takes courage to call a spade a spade. It also takes a clear vision and strategic thinking to realize that the way to bring the sufferings of Eritreans to an end does not by playing the game of those who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo which they can only achieve if Eritreans fall into the trap of divide and rule. It is simply stating facts to say that the Eritrean lowlands are areas where the bulk of the war of independence was fought and hence have suffered more destruction compared to others. I can not agree more when you say that the new project’s only potential is to make things even worse.

  • Saba

    Displacement, an immature defense mechanism.
    Dear Salah,
    Here is how i read the criticism to your post. I do not think it is directed to you, it was directed to the organizers of the “lowland society” but people are affraid to touch it because it is divisive. So instead they criticize you in your method of opposing those organizers even though they agree with you in principle that those organizers are divisive. If you say “isayas does not represent the lowlanders” it is still your opinion and they will criticize you for saying that.

  • Kim Hanna

    To whom it may concern.
    Mr. Zula and those with similar views might be entirely correct if the whole process stays inside the family.
    Suppose Eritrea has a mortal enemy or enemies that is always looking for a way to weaken it. I don’t think it has one now, but suppose it does.
    Now, all this enemy or enemies have to do, with the least cost to them and do it in secret, is fan this discontent a little bit. Provide as needed funding and various resources. Recruit the best and the brightest for political and military training. These new recruits, some with legitimate issues visit capital cities and meet Presidents of host countries.. voila the beginning of a 20 year war waiting for the regime in Asmara to do some stupid things..
    No wonder some far sighted Eritreans are upset about this organization or attempt to organize in this format.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam Salah Aboray

    I don’t want to repeat What “Zula'” has pointed out to you. Zula’s historical argument on the questions of representation clearly fly’s on your face. If your question is that “no body get the authority of representation from the people they claimed to represent”, then we will ask you to show us any struggle (in the world) which you consider it justifiable, have received the authority of representation from their people? None to my knowledge. When someone come with criticism, he/she should back up their criticism with some facts to disqualify the opposing argument. However I will agree with you on one thing. We can’t frame a political argument by geographical locations. Contradictions are social in nature, and the source of their contradictions are marginalization or deprivation of social rights (political,economical as well as social), Those who are marginalized have the right to organized in the way they fit to them by framing the nature of their marginalization in a way the other side could understand them and support their struggle for justice.

    From the get go the initiators are wrong to frame their struggle as Highland vs lowland. The social groups in our diversity are the building blocks of Eritrean identity. There is grievances within our social groups. When there are grievances, the aggrieved groups could organize to address their grievances. There is no one who can address their grievances more than themselves ( Mr. Aboray don’t tell them I know for you). Henceforth there is no ill intent to organize your own social group to address their deprivations. So Mr. Aboray you are right on one account – to disqualify the initiators framing their argument on geographical alignment and wrong on the issue of representation – as starters of any movement do not get authority from the people they represent. They represent only to the aspiration and desire of their people. It is implicit representation by nature.

  • T..T>

    Hi Balah,

    Isayasists have gotten into every Eritrean home’s affairs and made themselves the masters of the divided family members and the weakened Eritrean and Eritreans. Don’t under estimate the Isayasists in their art of impostorism. They even cheated the whole world into believing that they are, at the same time and place, the friends of two
    enemies: west and east, Arabs and Iran, Arabs and Israel, black and white; when they are indeed a friend to none because they are snakes and no one wants to be bitten by a bad snake.

    Salah, if you or any of your family members never have been bitten by the Isayasist yet, that makes you who you are now, one who does not want to be bitten and do whatever pleases the Isayasists. On the other side, there are those people who are defending the Eritrean people by doing whatever pleases the Eritrean people: coming together to save the Eritrean youth and Eritrea’s tomorrow from what the Isayasists threatening Eritrea on the departure of Isayas to be
    plunged into a Somali like situations.

  • Zula

    Dear Br. Salah Aboray
    Eventhough your argument in your article looks and feels sound, it has a lot of holes that leaks.
    In a society in general no body asks anyone to lead them, only those with vision and strong will come out and stand their ground and with time the rest of the society will follow.
    No body asked Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan to emancipate the Tigre but once he stood up he got follows
    No body asked Ustaz Mohammed Said Nawid to establish Harakat, but once he stood up he got follows
    No body asked ELF founders to establish a liberation movement on behalf of all Eritreans but once they stool up they got follows

    No body asked Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or any other nationalist, civil right activist to stand on behalf of some group of people, however their personality, zeal and concern about a subject makes them stand in the fore front as an initaltors and with time followers will follow. These is the 80/20 of Pareto principle.

    So please don’t demonize anyone who wants to stand up for a cause as an initiator, since no action and result comes by those who stand by and wait for the intiators. Also, every programme and process it not a written in a stone, it gets reviewed and improved with time to give these people a chance to show off their work.

    • Kokhob Selam

      “No body asked Mahatma Gandhi, Martin….” that is nice one. let me add one also, Hamed Idriss Awate.

  • Kokhob Selam

    01. “No one has the right to claim to be a representative or a spokesperson of a tribe or an area
    because no one has delegated them to speak on their behalf…” Lol, whom should they wait? When do you want them to start? Any movement is ok and don’t have to wait for permission of others in country where there is no rule of law. In fact this will lead you to that step (finding the mass is only through meeting in every chance possible and with everyone found. Till the legal management emeges) “I do not know of a conflict that is based on geography or one that has the Lowland community as its limit of reference! Conflicts are based,” we keep cheating ourselves in saying so. We try not to show but be honest to yourself and you will find programmed to hate one another.

    02. “The initiators burdened themselves a lot when they criticized the Eritrean political organizations that have its constituencies in the lowlands, by citing lack of planning …..” they are no more caring who is going to be criticizing that can
    be including their own society.

    03. “The lowland document is infested with, and full of words and semantics, closely related to the primordial conflict against Tigrinya nation,..” let things be open and discus them let’s accept our different views and solve them openly is the massage.

    04. “….those that the Tigrinya nation would exploit to form a bloc against it….” there is no way to solve things except by exploiting? We highlanders can come with the ideas like lowlanders and discuses it.

    05. “No one disagrees with the initiators concerning the injustices and marginalization in which the lowland community founds itself. These grievances, whether it’s regarding power, development, the return ….” If we don’t disagree then why even afraid when we see them organizing themselves. We should support them.

    We don’t have parliament or well organized national umbrella. People are starting and failing in having a collective and well organized leadership. We are all suspicious of everyone who move to do things right. That PFDJ is also playing its negative role using this chance. Now the way out is to respect every type of movement and solve things with strong management. How do you create that management except on those meetings? Let the people organize the way they want. we Eritreans are always hiding the feelings and we are not used to be clear and to the point. we want to cover what we think of each other and when we want to create common ground we fail as the truth did come out. look all our neighbors the officially organize geographical or in any grouping they want and are still united enjoying the difference.