I, and my friend Khaled, (both from Sweden) were some of the early arrivers to the Wa’ala or the National Convention; ten days ahead to be precise. So we, inspite of our hosts insistence that we stayed put and helped out in their headquarters situated at Sar Bet, Addis Abeba, finally decided to proceed to Shimelba and Mai Aini refugee camps, to visit our brothers and sisters who after fleeing the regime in Asmara seemed to have completely undergone a drastic behavioral and ideological change as compared with the normal Eritrean youngsters we left behind some years back. Sawa had done its share in the process! Fully brainwashed by the regime to last for a long time as reliable cadres, they had been primed to go on brainwashing the rest of Eritrean youngsters in the Diaspora. Well, they had to be stopped one way or another. Our mission was therefore to stop the spreading of the disease at its early stage, before it wrought havoc to the minds of all Eritreans of sound disposition and stable spirit. And our project was aptly named: Eritrean Youth Empowerment and Democracy Building. How do you like that?
After meeting with the young but disoriented Eritreans in both camps, a journey made possible thanks to concerned authorities in Addis Abeba and Shire, and having delivered our healing speeches and lectures and promising to come back with material aid, we headed back to the capital before the Convention could start.
For some time, our minds were still with those young Eritreans we had met at the camps. The specter of the regime seemed to have kept haunting them right inside their tents and hastily-made adobes. Although most had already succeeded to break off their shackles, a few remained attached to their tormentors back in Eritrea (a Stockholm syndrome of sorts) and felt suspicious of their new surroundings while their hearts were set on a fast arrival at their eventual destinations, a third country ready to welcome them. I only wish them good recovery!
After a few days’ stay in Addis, we were told to move to Akaki, a town about 20 km away from the capital, known for its iron foundries in the past. The Convention or Wa’ala was to be conducted there, far from the madding crowd.
One look at the site and we felt we were in Europe. I never expected to find such a place outside Addis. We were told it was a post-graduate university campus. It could have very well passed for a seminary or a convent somewhere in Spain. Again one hard look and we wondered why post-graduate students in Ethiopia needed to move to Europe or America, when Europe or America could easily come to them!
The Convention hall was superb, able to accommodate more than the 330 participants gathered there. The last Eritrean National Convention was held 64 years ago in the open, at Bet Girogis, a city park 5 km on the Asmara-Massawa road.
In this new setting of Bet Girogis, the food was excellent, fit for princes, and everyone had his or her room for him/herself with hot shower and balcony. Most of the rooms were provided with Tv and although we were not allowed to go out of the campus, who would have wanted to do that with all the comfort and facilities one can hope to find only in five-star hotels in Addis?
What kept me worried for some time however was the mood of the Convention participants. Most of those I met looked distrustful of those who invited them to come. They didn’t like the idea that the Eritrean Democratic Alliance which called the Convention should ‘manipulate’ the Convention. They had a grudge in their hearts right from the time they boarded the planes that brought them to Addis. I don’t understand why they boarded the planes in the first place. In some of the airplanes, the Convention must have started quiet early!
A few seemed to have questions that couldn’t be formulated in human language. As for me, I had been already ‘counseled’ not to sign any document that might compromise my country, whatever that meant. Neither I nor the person who said it, could have understood the purport of such a statement. Did he say it just for the sake of saying it? I felt I was going to some Nuclear Disarmament Conference with insufficient briefings from my boss. Was it some sort of paranoia or phobia, a fear of the unknown, a cadaver under the bed?
I remember the insults heaped upon me and my friend Khaled as we prepared to travel to Addis for the Convention. One diehard Shaebia sympathizer told us in our face, while we were still in Stockholm, that the Convention was trash and that those who went there were altogether rubbish. Khaled asked him to explain why he was then talking to two heaps of rubbish if he were not somehow rubbish himself. Anyway, I am now happy that we proved him wrong.
Another doomsayer warned me that I was going to a Jihadist meeting under the guise of a Convention. What for? To be taught how to strap bombs around my waist? Many must have misread my name as Al’amin Salih. Prejudice can blind one’s vision. Well, it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. The human mind is capable of creating demons and angels out of the blue. Witch-hunting and burning of heretics do appear from time to time in diverse guises even in our modern days. Add to this the interminable propaganda of lies and deceit spewed from Eri-Tv channels and recited by its loyal worshippers, and you have a collective disease spreading stealthily among the people.
Of course my detractors had to say something to stop me from going to the Convention. They did their worst to stop me; I did my best to go.
My first impression of the Convention after two or three days into it was however that it was an organized chaos. I always thought that chaos and order were two antagonistic forces. During the Convention I thought of revising my chaos theory and came to this conclusion which I will quote from my book entitled ‘The Universe According to Delphine‘: Everything is chaos. What we see and feel and think are the things we are programmed to see, feel and think. We can see order in disorder, beauty in irregularity, symmetry in confusion. We make sense out of life when it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all….
Based on this, what mattered was therefore our good intentions and our vision. Those who came with pure hearts, with malice towards none, with feelings of fellowship and eventual harmony, changed the mood of the Convention, and hence no bearded Eritrean Moslem from the Middle East, nor a Bible slinging Eritrean Pentecontalist from Texas, nor a chauvinistic Eritrean Highlander, nor a grumbling Eritrean Jeberti, nor a lamenting Eritrean Afar, nor a moaning Eritrean Kunama, nor a vociferous Eritrean feminist, nor an Eritrean doubting Thomas could blind our vision as to the fact that we came to build the future Eritrea upon the ashes of such grievances, claims and doubts and prejudices; yes burned to ashes by the fire of reasoning, the fire of our mutual trust, love, fellowship and unity of purpose.
Our differences were our assets. Where else could we expose our differences and aspirations if not in a National Convention? Where else could we air our age-old grievances if not in a National Convention? The turbaned and bearded guy who sat beside me at the Convention or in the study circles or in the courtyard benches during breaks, could have inspired fear to an American from the Bible Belt, but to me he was my brother and will remain one with his legitimate demands and claims. The Afar who looked at me, a highlander, with suspicion and wanted to go as far as secession for his region might have caused the stomach of a Shaebia sympathizer to ooze with bile, but to me he was and remains my brother with the inalienable right to say what he wanted. The scholar from America who felt he was Thomas Jefferson was also there, and despite his sometimes arrogant behavior was and is still my brother. We may sometimes disagree with our fellowmen, but we should always respect their right to say what they have to say.
The victim of Shaebia who fled to Shimelba or Mai Aini was also there. All were there, including the regionalist, the fanatic, the odd man out, the pain in the neck, the provocateur, the nihilist, the killjoy, the schizophrenic (whose mind swayed between PFDJ and the Wa’ala), the ELF member with a grudge in his heart, the painter, the poet, the singer, etc. All came to listen and to be heard.
Eritrea belongs to all and Eritreans do not own one single heart, but millions of hearts, only that these hearts should, like the mariner’s compass, point to one Cardinal point, i.e. the point of mutual trust, love and unity. Ours is not a ‘homogenized’ heart owned by a tyrant. The millions of hearts that we possess are different in size, texture, hue, weight and thoughts, but they all have one purpose: they work under a united and peaceful Eritrea.
To those who feel uneasy in such a meeting, I say that our worst fears should be exposed, our suspicions should be settled, our veils of prejudices burned, and our ears open to reason if we are to eventually unite. Let us on the other hand close our ears to the deceptive Siren-like tunes of Eri-Tv and its dark whisperings that are spreading the disease of division and strife among us Eritreans.
And then along came Meskerem Website. For this brazen-faced website, the Convention was an answer to a long prayer. Not that it welcomed such meetings, far from it, but it was a chance of a lifetime for it to try and destroy it right from the beginning. And it did its worst to defame the Convention going as far as writing an obituary for some living participant. Well, all I can say about this Website is that, despite its claim for objectivity, is a cloning of Shabait Website, and if I were a doctor, I would prescribe for both owners of these websites, a massive dosage of Norton Anti Virus tablets!
Good Lord, after having attended the Wa’ala, I found out how much we Eritreans needed such a meeting even if its purpose had been for the sake of catharsis only. Well, it was far and beyond catharsis. It was a healing journey. A healing journey for us whose mind needed to burn the accumulated rust of decades, a healing journey for the country which is trying to find its soul and its identity. An agonizing but a purifying journey, a long overdue meeting of Eritreans, their thoughts, aspirations and dreams that have, through the passage of time, began to assume a nature of incompatibility and incongruity, making us Eritreans strangers to each other in more ways than is permitted by a civilized society like ours.
What else can I say? I think we need more Wa’ala and more consultations for a complete and thorough healing for ourselves and for our country!