Comparing Two Commissions
It was in the old days when the hand picked members of the constitutional commission of Eritrea were busy touring the nation teaching and explaining the need and importance of a constitution. The constitution’s final draft was obvious for any critical observer—it wouldn’t divert an inch from what the EPLF willed regardless of what the populace needed or aspired to achieve. All those public gatherings and theatrical maneuvers were calculated moves to give legitimacy to an otherwise totally illegitimate exercise. (To those who want a convincing argument about the illegitimate nature of the whole exercise please google Dr. Tesfatsion Medehane’s article on the subject).
Before the commission started its official assignment to draft a constitution, and soon after his arrival from the U.S.A, Dr. Bereket Habteslassie gave a public speech to an audience gathered in Cinema Capitol. After a long speech and before the stage was opened for questioning, Dr.Bereket gave a piece of advice to the audience, in which he noted that the government is new but a mature one with the interest of the public in its heart, and that we should be patient enough to give it a chance to deliver. Twenty odd years later, they proved that the EPLF leaders were neither mature nor politically smart enough to deliver anything but suffering, misery and a nation on a verge of collapse.
After two years of maneuvering, the constitutional commission came up with a final draft of the Eritrean Constitution of 1997, which was ratified by the Parliament but left the implementation date open. Soon after ratification and before Dr. Bereket left Eritrea to USA, he was invited by the law School of Asmara University to share his experiences and provide advice to law students regarding the importance of the rule of law and the role of law students or lawyers in safeguarding and protecting the law. He stressed the importance of being loyal to the law. His advices that temptations in the form of power, fame and money should not deter us from standing up for the truth, justice and protecting the rule of the law.
Three or four days previous to that meeting, Almain Mohammed said, PFDJ top official and loyal servant of the President had an interview with HEWITE Magazine, PFDJ mouth piece, in which he asserted that it was because they willed that the presidential term has been limited to two terms, and if they want they can easily get rid of that article in the constitution, or something to that effect.
To those who already lost hope that Sheabia would bring democracy to the nation, such comments from top official of PFDJ was not a surprise at all. However, there were other students who believed that there was hope that the constitution would be implemented and democracy will flourish in Eritrea. To the latter ones Alamin’s assertion was upsetting to say the least. Thus, a student who was right at the back of the room, if my memory served me right, Ghezae Hagos Berhe, a top performer in the law school and a journalist, asked Dr. Bereket to comment on Alamin Mohammed Said’s statement.
The good doctor claimed not to have seen the interview but stressed the fact that it is a people’s constitution and it is up to the Eritrean people to decide on that. It was clear that the Doctor was not happy at all. He was disappointed not by Ghezae’s question but by Alamin’s bragging. He cut his answer short. No condemnation of Alamin at all. That evening or the next day Dr. Bereket left Eritrea for good. I don’t think he went back after that.
Dr. Bereket who started with hope and was advising people to be patient just two years ago in Cinema Capitol has now ended his mission with disappointment. That is how I read it anyway. Sheabia is such an evil that it even cheated such a fine professor and a few others.
Anyway, the constitution died soon after its birth. As one of my friends, Brhanu M. Said used to say the constitution is like Qola’a Shefia’a (a Tigringnized Arabic meaning a baby who dies soon after birth), not a lot to remember and talk about though the death is painful and sad for the mother. Truly, the Eritrean constitution of 1997, which in the first place was questionable in terms of its making process and legitimacy, had been killed by its sponsors soon after birth in 1997. I don’t think it would be beneficial to bring it back from the grave and pump artificial life into it. The Eritrean people have forgotten it all except a few Eritrean “elite” who dream of using it to impose their chavonisticic policies over the wider population.
What followed was fourteen years of national calamity and barbaric rule of EPLF over the nation. Eritrea is almost in a point of no return in terms of viability. The social fabric of the people has been shaken to its foundation. A politically retarded regime has destroyed the economic infrastructure of the nation. So, what can be done?
Blaming the opposition group won’t help. Those who blame the opposition for being weak should remember that the opposition is a reflection of all those who claim to oppose the regime. It is a reflection of us all. What is needed is to join hands and make it strong. Belittling the opposition and the resistance groups from far away places would only reflect back at who we are, particularly those who claim to oppose the regime.
There is hope from the commission (ENCDC), which unlike its predecessor since it is formed by all opposition and resistance groups, Eritrean civil societies, ethnic groups, independent individuals from around the world and Eritrean refugees in neighboring countries, to discuss Eritrean problems and agree on how to resolve it and replace the regime with a democratic and inclusive government in Eritrea. Sadly, there are Eritrean groups and individuals who opted not to be part of the process. It would have been nice to have all Eritrean opposition forces in the fold. However, if some refuse to participate and put their input in it, that is a matter of choice. In the previous constitutional commission it was not a matter of choice, it was a deliberate act of excluding all Eritrean opposition forces and social groups.
To all the resistance groups, opposition organizations, civil societies, refugee groups and independent individuals who have rightly decided to participate and actively contribute to the downfall of the regime, be aware that some of your own brethren have chosen not to participate. You need to respect that choice; and debate and address the issues they may have in an open forum. The door should always be open for any Eritrean to come and join you. However, you should also be mindful that the evident nationalism of many Eritreans did not imply any enthusiasm for genuine pluralism. And this is the sad part of our history which we all need to work together to bring about a paradigm shift in our political thinking.
March forward with one clear objective: getting rid of the ogre regime in Asmara in the shortest possible time and replace it with all inclusive government that would represent all social components of the Eritrean society. Utilise all possible options, peaceful or otherwise, after carefully analyzing the objective reality on the ground back in Eritrea.
Above all, ignore the phony baloney debate folks; your basic instincts are right. The regime has to go by all possible means to salvage the people and the country. Time is of essence here; hurry up before it is too late to salvage what good is left.
Success to the up coming national congress.