The conference is almost here! In a few days, hundreds of Eritreans from all over the world representing all kinds of political organizations and civil associations will converge in Addis to participate in what will surely be recorded in Eritrean history as an important milestone. The grand gathering will attempt to tie up all the loose ends from last year’s conference and will pick up or resume from where the previous left off. According to the NCDC political committee, the conferees will wrestle with the following major issues:
a) The adoption of the Charter
b) The adoption of the Road-Map
c) The adoption of the interim or Transitional Constitution
d) The adoption of grand strategy for the Overthrow of the Dictator.
e) The adoption of the policies and the creation of Necessary Institutions.
f) The establishment of a leadership that is “Eritrean National Council for democratic change”.
Each a major undertaking in and of itself, the attendees will tackle them all in one gathering! A certain degree of optimism seems to be driving the event therefore but the optimism is not totally unwarranted as most of the necessary legwork was done in the previous conference and thereafter. Additionally since controversial issues such as division of power (federal vs. unitary); form of government (presidential vs. parliamentary); electoral design (proportional vs. majoritarian) etc… will not be finalized in this conference (if the roadmap will be followed that is), the success of this conference is almost a cinch. Conferees can increase the chance of success even more if they participate with the right frame of mind fully anticipating and welcoming a healthy dose of disagreement.
The preliminary documents mentioned above lay out broad themes in a draft form but are detailed enough to reveal a political leaning or preference that we can’t help but wonder if the conferees’ role will simply be to endorse its stipulations. I hope that is not the case and I hope issues will be debated vigorously. Constitutions in particular are such critical components of nation building with far reaching consequences for the entire country that they should be given sufficient time to evolve and mature before casting them into their final permanent form.
Until then, constitutions should remain fluid and flexible though enforceable which in turn means we (the people) should also be reasonably flexible fully acknowledging that our interests and aspirations will be as diverse as the composition of our population. This does not mean that we should therefore unduly dwell upon those differences. No. It just means that we should pay heed to and respect other views that may be different from ours while at the same time taking care not to overstate our differences. Nitpicking or excessively moaning over differences is a sure way of escalating them into bigger and wider hostilities which we can ill afford at this stage in our struggle.
Initially, therefore consensus should be sought by all. In other words, decisions should not be made robotic-like by a majority vote without first considering all views carefully and respectfully otherwise a “tyranny of the majority” will result generating anger and bitterness in those minority voices whose views were hastily disregarded. This can have unpredictable or unintended consequences down the road.
The word “tyranny” used in the context of democratic parlance tends to confuse some people but it is a real danger in all democracies. Unconsciously resorted to by some, deliberately by others, it happens more often than we think even in our ordinary day to day interactions. Let us say for example that you and about five others want to set up a Skype meeting to discuss certain issues and everyone (except you) agrees to a date and time. If the others (the majority) proceed to convene the meeting without considering any mitigating factors that may have prevented you to attend and without considering alternative dates and times that all can agree to, then this majority could be said to have committed a tyranny against you in every sense of the word because they did not try to accommodate the concerns or wishes of a minority – you. It would be even more tyrannical if they didn’t provide you with a summary of what they discussed.
This is a trivial example of course but that is exactly how things play out in bigger issues. Some Eritreans, for example, believe the Tigrigna speaking biher being a majority should have or will have its way in democratic Eritrea regardless of how this may impact the rights of minorities. It is to prevent such intransigent tendencies of the majority that most modern democracies provide sufficient safeguards against its excesses in their constitutions. It is therefore one of the important pitfalls the conferees should guard against. Here are some others to keep in mind as you head to the conference:
- First give yourself a pat in the back (if you are departing with good intentions) and a whack on the head, otherwise.
- If you are going to the conference believing that you have found the perfect solution to all our problems, please stay home. You will do more damage than good at the conference.
- If you are still nurturing hopes of reforming the dictatorship or believe that it should have another chance to evolve into a democracy, you should definitely stay home or better yet go to Asmara where you will be welcomed.
- If you are going to the conference prepared to let Ethiopia dictate the terms or do all the planning and thinking for you, you should also stay home or like Professor Bereket dream of one day uniting with Ethiopia.
- On the other hand, if you suffer from sleepless nights because you keep hearing Ethiopia’s roar from the south (20 years after independence!); please don’t waste your time (and those of others) by attending the conference. Watch instead Eri-TV where you can share favorite nightmares with kindred spirits.
- Speaking of nightmares, those who conjure up the specter of Ethiopia’s reconquest are – not surprisingly – the same set of people who whip up fear of Islam and Muslims. In this, they are helped by worldwide frenzy of Islamophobia that is spiraling out of control. Do not become a victim to global propaganda against Muslims and don’t let stereotypical caricatures of Muslims poison your relationship with your fellow compatriots. I will share my views a little more in detail at a later time but for now; remember you are hearing only one side of the story and often from highly sophisticated enemies or rivals.
- The weather in Addis will be warm, so leave your coat behind along with your individual and collective egoism. If you are learned, avoid showing off. If you are not, respect the learned but don’t let them jargonize you into silence. In general, the more the jargon, the less the knowledge. In discussions among specialists, it is true; terminologies are needed to explain complexities but it has no place in conferences full of non-specialists. Its use in such a setting can only be to show off or impress others not to inform or discuss. Eritreans as a whole are new to the multi-faceted concept of modern democracy because, the scholarship of Eritrean political elite had been focused on mastering the intricacies of socialist/communist political discourse. The two fronts (ELF and EPLF) both regularly trained and churned out many experts in the field. Even ordinary tegadelties could discourse learnedly on the subject. But when communism suddenly became irrelevant in the world, the value of such an expertise went down with it. Finding themselves in a quandary, our elites then scrambled to quickly acquire expertise in the new field (democracy) but found it too slippery for the knowledge to sink in. Compared to the highly structured body of knowledge that the communist knowledge-base unfolds or makes available, the erratic jumble of literature about democracy can be unsettling particularly to those not used to such writings.
Our sympathies therefore go to our old politicians but our young ones are not any better either. They know the slogans, the catch-phrases, the Facebook, tweeting etc… but few have taken the time to study the subject in depth which all goes to say that Eritrea suffers from lack of qualified experts in the field to guide it into a post-Isayas Eritrea. We have plenty of copy/paste experts who scavenge various websites and then reproduce them wholesale in their articles or websites but given the right tools, my three year old son could do that.
Be that as it may, the main challenge we face is not lack of knowledge for that could be acquired or assistance sought elsewhere. What is far more important at this juncture in our history and what will lead to a stable peaceful democracy is an in-depth knowledge of Eritrean people; their aspirations; their needs; and their culture. Striking the optimum balance that will satisfy all or most will not be easy but that is what we should shoot for.
- But above all, keep in mind that this conference – as significant as it is – is still a temporary affair. Nothing that happens there will be cast in stone. Everything that will be proposed there will be or should be revisited in a post-Isaias Eritrea and reevaluated. Ultimately, binding decisions can only be cemented after our people endorse them. Of course meanwhile, law and order should be kept hence the need for creating an interim constitution and the various democratic institutions as outlined in the excellent roadmap. So if you are after fame, influence or honor, please be patient. You will have plenty of opportunities to do so later. In this conference, concentrate all your energies and all your knowledge on the essentials, on ideas, and on how to combine forces and target all resources of the opposition to fight and remove the dictatorship once and for all!
Bon voyage and good luck beloved compatriots!