Hard Talk Real Fear: ‘Tyranny of Majority’ (Part-III)
It has been almost two decades since I observed the distinguishing characteristics of our diverse socio-cultural groups, and the seemingly incurable fears of “tyranny of the majority” by our minority social-groups. Throughout those years, I was utterly disappointed by the constant effort of evading the discussion of the issue—the incessant reduction of all reflections of our social behavior to the act of the regime by our highlanders. Incidentally, it would be a complete insincerity, nourished with a good dose of hypocrisy, to somewhat or somehow try to argue that the “majority cares about minorities.” It has never happened in the history of mankind and it will never happen in Eritrea. A system that dictates the will of majority interest over the minority is so evil from its conception to its absolute command. That is why I refuse, and resist the dictatorship of the majority and the power it seeks.
But if we let the “tyranny of the majority” to reign in our nation, it will be an impious and an execrable maxim, and the majority will do whatsoever it takes, using a majority’s law, in the name of “justice.” The majority always seeks unlimited power which is arbitrary in nature. Walter Lipmann, the most influential journalist of the 19th century had once said reminding the minorities and warning the majority, that “power of the majority is an arbitrary and absolute in nature”, and that it is quintessential to limit that power in order to dispute its moral authority, to deflect its impact, and to dissolve force that is detrimental to liberty and equality.
Our minorities are fully aware about the concept and the desire of majority’s interest. But most importantly, they are also observing the hegemonic and chauvinistic sentiment in the political discourse of the highlanders. In many instances the highlanders are trying to separate individual rights and group rights. In fact they believe that resorting to a fight for group rights is fundamentally problematic. Let us see some of their arguments:
“There are crucial points that he and I are in complete concurrence, in particular his analysis of not resorting to group rights to solve Eritrea’s problems.” (Mogos Tekeste referring to Semere Tesfai’s argument)
The problem with this argument is two fold: a) They failed to recognize the relationship of individual rights and group rights, and b) they resort to suppress group rights for the purpose of majority rule. If someone believes in individual rights, they must also believe in group rights. An individual is a subset of his family, a subset of his community, and a subset of his ethnic background. If this individual is given all his rights including to organize to defend the rights of their communities, the rights of their ethnic-origin, aren’t we also recognizing either to group rights directly or indirectly? We can’t separate the dialectical relationship of individuals and their ethnic group to define their identity and their individual or group interest. If we try to suppress group interest for the sake of majority rule, which by the way Mogos is strongly advocating for it, this in itself it wouldl be a fertile ground for the “tyranny of the majority” to chip away the rights of minorities slowly . The following is again to what Mogos wrote:
“He comes across to me, maybe inadvertently, as advocating for the majorities to do whatever they desire since they have the numbers. Democracy may allow this, but the rule of law does not. Democracy without the rule of law is unworkable; in fact it becomes a “tyranny of the majority.” (Mogos oppose Semere in appearance but not in essence)
Here Mogos tries to explain the separation and at the same time the relationship of democracy and Rule of Law. He is absolutely right that the democracy of “majority” is Tyranny, because it allows the majority to do whatever it desires. But he is wrong in saying that Eritrea needs more Rule of Law than democracy. Rule of Law simply means that “a law must rule.” But what kind of law must rule? Since the law will be the law of the majority which determines what will be the rights of the minorities, isn’t it this kind of argument that spreads fear within our minorities? The reason why the highlanders are resorting to such kind of political calculation of majority interest are mind boggling.
Trying to legislate for the majority of a society with no principles that extends the same rights to the minorities is an extreme inequality in power and possession. That is why our minorities consider that the shelved constitution will do exactly the same in the way the power structure is enshrined in the document. They are telling us that advocating for the shelved constitution is advocating for social marginalization and social polarity. In their political overture though, our minorities seem to agree to the English Libertarian, John Lilburn, when he said that “equality of power couldn’t be preserved except by violence in an environment with an extreme inequality of possession.”
In my view, the document restrict the realm of choice and change, and if does not deserve respect it will not command obedience , unless it is implemented by decree and an obscene coarseness. What I like from Mogos’s and and Semere’s argument is their forthright and straight forward fighting for the interest of their social group, unlike the silent majority behind their argument. Once more, this is what Mogos has to say:
“Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and self-identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and contribute to their country’s democratic institutions.”(Mogos demand trust of minorities using platitudinous argument).
This kind of argument is thought-terminating cliché a kind of interjecting folk-wisdom to quell cognitive dissonance. He is asking our minorities just to have faith that a government will protect their rights and their self-identity but not group-identity. This is a tactical strategy that shows how majority teaches minorities using a platitudinous argument. Let me ask Mogos and his elks to lend me their ears to share and spell my core belief. Majority always tries to give its birth by itself and then expects maternity benefits. Therefore asking the minorities to trust a “government by majority” is simply asking them to look on the brightside of any catastrophe and when they quit doing so, the catastrophe will still be there. Our minorities understood that a government is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
Mogos also admires and cites the constitutional democracy of the USA in his argument to substantiate the rule of the majority, but he forgot that it took the USA a century and half to give basic rights to the black minorities. I hope he is not projecting that kind of transitional democracy to our minorities.
Now here is Semere Tesfai’s arguments.
“As far as tyranny of the majority, permanent underclass of minorities, fake democracy, dictatorship in disguise….is concerned, there is something you need to understand. Democracy, justice, freedom… are all relative expressions. Who is judging who? What is your standard of measurement? Dictatorship for some is rule of law for others. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to express ones grievance… for some, is decaying of morality, anarchy, and lawlessness for others. To have real freedom and justice, everybody doesn’t have to be happy. You’re in business as long as the majority of the population is happy.” (Semere Tesfai advocating tyranny of the majority)
Semere’s argument is purely problematic rather than solution. He is arguing for his ethnic interest rather than for equitable division of power and resources among all our diverse groups. Semere does not have the instinct to fight for what is right. He has no standard of measurement of the issue in his argument. Look the above statement; as far as he is part of the happy majority he will not be concerned about the unhappy minorities, because he sees politics as business where one profits and the other loses. If we follow Semere argument, then, since there are opposites in everything and every time, who will judge who? Who will decide who is wrong or who is right? Your right is your right and my right is my right. What an absurd philosophical approach it is! Can someone somehow see this as a philosophical approach? In every debate there are basic standard of philosophical issues, even if opposite in nature thay are studied, researched, and find their places in the scientific communities. We use them as a standard nstruments for our argument to support or oppose the issue at hand. In the eye of the public, those are the standard of measurement that enables us either accept or reject an argument.
Reading Semere’s views, it is not difficult for one to pinpoint the implicit meaning that are between the lines. He is telling us that since democracy, freedom, and justice are relative, the regime in Asmara is relatively doing a good job on democracy, justice, and freedom. Don’t touch it, but bargain with it in order to get a share of the pie. If you don’t do so your dream will be lost in thin air. These are the fear mongering messages being relayed to our minorities, and the consequences are enormous and will deepen the mistrust that is already affecting our current struggle. Here is again more of his platitudinous argument:
“If Muslims want to demand greater opportunity to reach their fellow Muslims through different media outlets, they have every right to demand greater opportunity to reach their wider audience. If the Afars, Kunamas and Naras want to express their grievance in any shape or form about their land, their people, their culture and ethnic identity being eroded, they have every right to express their grievance collectively.” (Semere tesfai recognizing selective rights)
Semere as an advocate of majority rights recognized selective minority rights. With his authoritative and declarative tone, he tries to tell them do this but don’t do that. You could have these rights but not the other. Blend to blur you religious identity and do not organize as a Muslim League. Majority is determined by ethnicity and not by religious denomination. All these messages implicitly say, we don’t like Muslim to organize as a political party because it upsets our ethnic majority. Semere knows very well that there are many Christian democratic parties in Europe which are voted to power and voted down from power every time. If our Muslim brothers wanted to organize as a Muslim league to compete as a political party, it is a self-evident and inalienable right. They had it in the 50s and should have it now as far as it is plausible to them. “Messel Te’akinu zwehab aykonen.” You can’t control the rights of others but you give it to them in whole.
Let me share some history to support my argument.
In 1969, two prominent political activists, Omer Mohammed and Mesfun Bahlibi ignited a memorable student movement at the Poly-Technical Institute in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Omer was working at the textile factory of Bahir Dar and Mesfun was a colleague and a junior student in the Institute. These two genius individuals wrote a one page political attack against us (Eritreans) and made it look as if it was written by the Ethiopian student in the campus. During the night, they posted it on the electrical poles (utility poles) in the streets of the town and in the campus. The friction between us and the Ethiopian student was heightened to the extend that we refused to sleep with them in the dormitories.
When we refused to sleep in the dormitories, a colonelof Emperor Haile Sellassie, Royal Guards that was stationed in the vicinity of the town came and told us as follows: “tegna silih metegnat tekelalkel silih mekalekel”. Paraphrase it means, “when I tell you to sleep you sleep and when I tell you to blend blend.” Similarly, Semere is telling our minorities that when the majority tells them to blend, they have to blend and when they receive their slice from the pie as appropriated by the majority, they could take it or leave it. Such kind of coercive languages increased our political consciousness of the cause of the armed struggle during our student life. And of course Semere’s language will increase the consciousness of our minorities about the attitude of the highlanders and the struggle ahead of them. Semere must be reminded that a forceful and coercive language such as ‘blend’, is hostile and pompous language and reflects an exaggerated dignity of your background; it is detrimental and it carries consequences to the unity of our people. (In any case, the story of the student movement of late 60s and early 70s is another subject for another time).
At this juncture, for me it is not idle to look for the spark either in flint or steel, as it isn’t difficult to understand the “double hermeneutic” nature of social knowledge to make change in our political practice. To emancipate our thoughts, Socrates told us to bring all things to the test of incessant inquiry and not to content ourselves with the verdict of the majority to judge of right and wrong and nor by the will or sentiment of others, but by the light of reasons and conscience. That is the demand of our minorities if we listen to them carefully. Whether the highlanders can make “social polarity therapy” in their core beliefs – an alternative therapy to the already inflicted society using an alternative political solution is still up in the air.
The minorities have been persistently probing the intent of the majority in their covert and overt reflections of their social behavior for so long. Regrettably, the bashing of our minorities by the EPDP and some elements of CDRiE has added fuel to the suspicion of the political path from tyranny of a dictator to the tyranny of majority – a political contract in the making with the repressive regime. These forces are calibrating the institutional and legal framework of the dictatorship of the majority. But even those who advocate for equitable power distribution (very few in numbers but sagacious to hold the unity of our nation) are still unable to articulate their vision in a manner that would help build trust within our diversie communities and diffuse the fear that looms over our minorities.
The concept of the dictatorship of the majority applies in places where the majority is usually uneducated and easily manipulated by the bad intentioned elites who usually lay blame against specific social groups in order to divert attention from the true responsible quest for equitable governance. In fact, subjecting our minorities to the caprices and omnipotence of the dictatorship of majority is robbing their rights in broad daylight.
Devil in their Political Platitudes
Two years ago I had a heated political conversation with a friend who is from a different ethnic background than me. It was all about the endless Eritrean politics. The focal point of our discussion was essentially pivoted on the equitable power sharing and equitable resources distribution among our diverse population. The subject was not only complex in its political essence, but also extremely intricate to design an equitable equation that relatively satisfies the demand of our diversity. No wonder, we agreed tentatively on the technical framework and how it should be approached.
At the end of our discussion, my friend left with a pessimistic remark, and he said, you see my friend, “the highlanders love to talk politics in a platitude without expressing their true opinions. They are good in triggering emotions using negative comments which may make you lose track of your higher selves and become a human animal with an urge to protect yourselves when attacked.” For a fewsome minutes I was puzzled by his remark. Then I realized that I had to check my own political action as well as the political behavior of my own ethnic background.
To begin with, I tried to make some research on the political organizations that are dominated by my ethnic background as well as some independent writers who politically engage in the issues that matters to our nation. Interestingly enough my friend’s observations were correct on two accounts (1) talk of political platitudes (2) triggering emotions by attacks. Let us start and listen to the common political rhetoric’s as depicted in the EPDP’s arguments:
(a) “b’hizbawi kewam – et’mahder democrasiawit Eritra n’mhnatz.” Meaning to establish a democratic Eritrea that will be administered by people’s constitution. Remember, this is in response of EPDP and many individual writers to the grievances of our minorities.
This is a rhetorical political platitude since there is no detailed explanation of what kind “people’s constitution” will bring and address the grievances of our minorities, and what kind of democratic Eritrea will respond to the demands of our minorities for equitable power and fair economic distribution. In reality, this is what is knowan as “the devil is in the detail” wrapped by political platitudes that no one can extract its essence and content to get a political vision from it. The driving power of our social consciousness know exactly the limits of EPDP in addressing the grievances of our social group as we will see in this quote:
(b) “እዚ ማለትና ብሃይማኖት፡ ብሄር፡ ኣውራጃ ወዘተ ናይ ምውዳብ መሰል ብወገና እንኽብሮ ጉዳይ ምዃኑ ብምፍላጥ እውን ምስ ከምኡ ዝኽተላ ውዳባት በቲ ዘራኽበና ክንሰርሕ ፈቲና ኢና” Though we respect the right to organize along religious, ethnic, and regional (province) lines, then what?
Do they mean that progress on a collective level no longer seems to be a realistic goal and that they want to distant themselves from the organizations that are organized to address the grievances of their ethnic group or religious group? If EPDP respect the right to organize along religious, ethnic, or regional basis and at the same time opted to distance themselves from the agents of our diversity, what will the social base of their struggle be? The answer is so clear that anyone can respond to it without a blink. In any case all their efforts are a meaningless obstruction for a nation already wounded by politics of hegemony and politics of conflicted diversity. Isn’t it directly aimed to prevent the grievances of our minorities from being addressed? Yes, but it is a futile exercise in their part to create a political dipole that is known in physics as “polarization magnetic field” moving to opposite ends. EPDP can’t walk or travel on a branched road at the same time. They have either to embrace them or disown them. We don’t need guessing on political platitudes. Again let us listen to the following platitudes:
(c) “ከም’ቲ ህግደፍ ንህዝብና “ማሕበራዊ ፍትሒ” እንዳበለ ንህዝብና ዘታልሎ ዘይኮነ እምነ-መሰረት ናይ ዲሞክራሲ ውልቀ-ሰብኣዊ ነጻነትን ሓርነትን ደሞክራስያዊ መሰል ናይ ዜጋ ምኽባር ይኸውን። እዚ መሰላት እዚ ንኩሉ ባህላውን፡ ሃይማኖታውን፡ ቀቢላውን፡ ቦታውን ብሄራውን መሰላት ናይ’ቲ ውልቀ-ሰብ እውን ዘጠቓልል እዩ”።
Paraphrase, “This is not like the deception of PFDJ of “social justice,” it will be the respect for the basic democratic rights of an individual freedom and liberty. These rights include culture, religion, ethnic, and regional rights of the individual.” Well said. But here is the crux of the matter. As I have indicated in my previous argument, individuals are sub-sets of their family, a subset of their religious communities, and a subset of their ethnic group. If these individuals have the aforementioned basic rights, don’t they have the rights to organize in any shape or form to fight for their rights? If it is so, what did our minorities do except organize and teach their own social groups how to fight for their basic rights? What kind of politics it is that the EPDP follows? Their argument is that one could fight for his individual right but not for the right of his social group—which by the way is a parallel argument with that of Mogos. We will respect the components of the groups but not for the groups as a whole. “Ye Areza neger medakemia yebla Adey Mulu.” It is really tiresome to put the politics of EPDP in a prospective.
In conclusion, this is my advice to the minorities: Except those few who are decent enough to feel your grievances, and who could try to make a difference by fighting along your side, you are on your own. The so called “majority rule and minority rights” advocated by the majority is simply a cliché of political platitudes that could only allow controlled rights that slowly chip away all you rights. The strategy is to coax the effort and energy of all minorities that strives to find a momentum, to limit the power of majority, to dispute their moral authority, and to resist forces that are detrimental to your equality and liberty. If they try to trigger your emotions, don’t give them a room for manipulation, instead challenge them intelligently with philosophical and ideological merits. On my article of December 6, 2010 (coaxing variables), I just called for that. No rights are gained without a fight and no equality without a political struggle.