As the English adage goes “a fault confessed is half redressed” – it would have been much easier for CDRiE and the other Eritrean participants at the Brussels conference to say that they made a mistake, plain and simple, in not making the group of participants more diverse, by inviting others from a larger pool of Eritrean entities. This would have been much more palatable, given that no body is perfect, to all those who got offended by the exclusionary tactics that are alleged to have been employed.
Instead, they chose to go in circles, saying that it was a private matter just because it was in the hatch for over a year and half or so, and that they were the ones sitting on it – not their chicken (cause as the fable goes, the fox ate all their chicken).
Even if EEPA was the group that extended the invitations and not them, one would assume that given their experience, the invitees would have been fully cognizant of the repercussions and the uproar such an exclusionary act may cause – thus, they could have recommended to EEPA a more balanced group of participants.
The omissions, whether intended or not, would have been noticeable even to a rookie advocate/politician, let alone to those who claim to be seasoned politicians and who have been in the scene for decades.
Also, based on the time frame we are told it took for this thing to hatch, time constraints weren’t an issue. So if some are accusing these participants of being “deliberate” or “calculating”, it is hard to imagine that they are making these accusations just for the heck of it. There were a lot of loose ends that just didn’t add up.
If the intention on the part of CDRiE, EPP/EDP and the other participants was to send a message to those who don’t fully subscribe to their political views, then obviously they sent the wrong message.
To make matters worse (tina wezadoha balla) their pop-up surrogates (whether solicited or not is debatable) started attacking everybody left and right in a very condescending manner. They attacked veteran fighter Tewolde Gebreselase for doing his job and funny enough, they tried to give him lessons in diplomacy. Funny because the brazen act of snubbing a major stakeholder, EDA, which obviously irked brother Tewolde, was in on itself very crude and un-diplomatic.
The conference itself wasn’t quite the memorable slam dunk or home run which brought the league home. It was a lobbying effort, and to be fair to all, with nothing negative to speak of, except for the typical clichéd recommendations, which usually accompany such gatherings; nothing more, nothing less.
And mind you, the idea here is not to be a downer, or to trivialize the efforts of all those who worked so hard for it, not at all. It is rather an attempt to have these folks reflect on the severity of a rift within the opposition groups vis-à-vis the nominal gains such a gathering may present.
A simple cost-benefit assessment of the event would show that a rift within the ranks of the opposition groups would be far more detrimental to Eritreans than a loss of some clichéd recommendations of a lobby group would.
There is no denial that there is a confluence of ideologies between CDRiE and the EPP/EDP alliance. They have been cajoling each other for quite sometime now. This in on itself is not a crime. In fact the more these groups converge, the better.
But where it becomes a bit lop-sided for a nascent citizens’ group which thrived on non-partisanship, is when CDRiE openly disparages the rest of the opposition groups. This can easily be surmised from the writings and speeches of many CDRiE leaders and founding members, which by the way is a matter of record, because it was discussed in open forums.
Again, changing or re-aligning positions is also not a crime – so if CDRiE wants to immerse itself in the bosoms of Eritrean partisan politics by siding with the EPP/EDP alliance and campaigning on their behalf, it is fully entitled to do so. Either way, Eritreans could still benefit from an aligned or a non-aligned CDRiE’s contributions to the cause of justice and democracy in the country.
However, getting involved in the prevailing petty politics of exclusion, the murky business of political gimmicks and of silly and amateurish media stunts, which unfortunately has become the overriding goal of some within the so-called “secular” opposition groups – will not in any way shape or form advance the cause of providing Eritreans with an alternative or a different approach of fighting tyranny – which ironically, was one of the main objectives for CDRiE’s creation.
If we look at some of the opposition groups, those who thrive on the politics of exclusion, we would find that they are not afraid of democracy – they are actually petrified of it.
These are the ones who try to suck and blow at the same time. On one hand, they tell you in their usual pompous style that the stands espoused by their groups encapsulate the whole essence of democracy – but then on the other hand, you would see them do and say things that would make you shudder in utter disbelief.
They have no qualms forming their groupings and adopting political gimmicks which they think would enable them garner the support of not only their ilk within the Eritrean political landscape, but also that of the West, the U.S and EU included, which they actually put a lot of undeserved weight on.
Their ethnic make-up is clear and easily discernable even to the un-initiated; and yet, just like a bottle cap (known as “kurkush” in Tigre) tops or crowns a bottle, in some cases[i] they would put a front person who is of a different ethnicity, so that they could appear more diverse. If they get two or three karaksh so to speak, then that would even be a feat – more bragging rights of diversity and inclusiveness.
What many find appalling is not their ethnic make-ups or their political ideologies to which they are fully entitled, but rather their dubious double-standards when it comes to practicing freedom of association.
The fact that people find commonalities be it in religion, ethnicity or socio-political persuasions is not a crime. It is only natural that they use any attributes they deem binding enough to form their groups. This is nothing more than practicing one of the most basic rights in any true democratic system – the freedom of association.
If Eritreans of different political backgrounds want to rally around Tadamun, it is within their rights to do so. Likewise, if Eritrean Kunamas, Afars or Jeberties want to rally around their respective political organizations, it is also within their inherent rights to do so.
Only those petrified of democracy will try to sell this as a threat to national unity, as they have been doing all along through their cries of wegenawiyan, jihadists and what have you.
But national unity is not going to be attained by promoting the political platforms of one or two political parties – which is in reality what these groups are, but rather, it will be achieved by the consensus arrived at after the give-and-take deliberations of all the stake-holders of every conceivable background in the country.
So whether the exclusionists like it or not, those disparaged as wegenawiyan and jihadists are not going anywhere – they are here to stay. They have been toiling day and night for years on end to get their dignity back, long before some PFDJ offshoots switched sides to the opposition. They have carved a path – a destiny if you will, and no amount of persuasion, snubbing or smear-campaign is going to talk them off it.
Ever since the so-called independence of the nation dawned, these marginalized groups were the immediate targets of the chauvinist PFDJ regime for its ethnic cleansing agenda. Had they reciprocated in kind, they could have plunged the country into a bloodbath, destroying it beyond recognition.
But despite being subjected to the regime’s despicable atrocities, and despite being sneered at as weak, terrorists, too few to matter and a lot of other profanities – they withered it all and throughout their struggle, they never lost focus. They targeted the regime and the regime only.
So for all those among us who preach democracy but want to practice it only in a controlled environment, it is time to take notice. Our quest for democracy is not for lab rats, it is for humans; and the most deserving of humans at that.
If a full-fledged democratic setting of one-person-one vote, where the marginalized get their voices to be heard and counted goes head-on against the pre-conceived notion of yet another “bigoted Ertra”, then so be it.
The exclusionists have to stop being petrified of democracy, because not only is it the sensible way out of our predicament – it is the ONLY way out.
[i] It is important to notice the emphasis and the qualification here – No generalization is intended.