Hard Talk: The Turbulence Of Eritrean Unity (Part-I)

It is a cast loaded with all the discordant seeds, and it is a textbook example of what I always get in my mail box. Anti-Muslim rhetoric is vying for influence within some section of our society, employing all kind of rhetorical tools to elicit nods to the susceptible part of our society.

Recently, I received a very divisive and religious e-mail which was circulated to certain section of our society. The title “malice towards Tsion brewed in the city of destruction” is certainly directed to hatch dissonance between the two religious beliefs. It is hard to share the details with the public, but I will use it to address the real issue in the hope to dismantle such conspiracies.

Never mind, those who have anti-Muslim and anti-Christian crackpot stew, laced with all kinds of threats are not solution-seekers and are not difficult to distinguish. They are all venerable and hypocrites. In fact both ends of extremism do not appreciate the quest to understand the fears and history of the two Eritrean Social divides.

Indeed, most of them do not even seem to have a high school-crush lesson on Eritrean history, nor do they have the knowledge of the atomic social structure of the Eritrean society. They will still continue to spew their jack-food politics to pollute the earnest debate and will throw all sorts of ethnic and religious vilification against the seekers of systemic solutions to our social problems. No wonder I am visualizing them nodding their heads and saying why is this guy defending the Muslims; but here is the niche: Have an in-depth understanding of the general social behavior of your society and the reasons that governs those behaviors. Above all, have the fortitude to defend our people and its unity and make history before condemning history.

Sometimes I believe on reflexive politics in an effort to deny them a dibble for making holes to plant the seeds of discord, and at the same time to show them the legacy and character of our fathers in relation to the issues at hand. In fact their loot policy as usuallly not fair and balanced. Hence this essay will focus on the topic in an effort to give them the necessary taste of our social behavior in the context of “culture and identity politics,” all for the purpose of distilling the elements of unity out of the current chaotic Eritrean politics.

As the topic indicates, the Eritrean unity is in turbulence. And coping with the turbulence is not easy as far as our “isometric behavior” and “repulsive engagement” to each other as a social group, or as a political group, is persistent and enduring in the “politico-cultural sphere.”  We are in…..a political medium that has never seemed within our comprehension. For most of us, there is nothing that has a “depressing-effect” than the “turmoil of unity” to any social bonds and social fabrics of multi-national citizen of any given nation.

Like a disorderly motion of crowds, our political organizations and civic organizations in particular and the general public in general are isometrically in a turbulent move to each other. We don’t own isotropical set of social behaviors….social behaviors that move us identically to all the direction we set our discourse to. Therefore, for the b of my benefit of my readers “turbulence of unity” will be precisely defined as “disorder and instability of unity that throws us into agitation”. Any argument will be within the inscribed and prescribed parameters of the definer as set forth. Certainly, it is not a closed perspective, rather it is an open perspective based on the same frame of reference.

Argument and Dimensional Analysis

Institutions consist of cognitive, normative, regulative structures and activities that provide stability and meaning of social behaviors, and they are transported by various carriers – such as cultures, structures and routines of lives (Scott 1995:33 quoted in Arild Vatn, 2005). For sure Scott’s and Vatn’s definition of social behavior will help me to probe on evolutional reason how to approach the intricate dimension of our diversity and their cultural implication to the vorticity of our politics or rotational spin within the axis of nationalism.

 From the start, it is quintessential to identify the identity politics framed in reversing the momentum of the current regime and gaining the seat of power at the proverbial table, but still fails to address the inherent inequality of the table itself. In a complex intertwined identity, identity politics is not a cure-all to our social ills, but it can broaden our understanding of how social inequality is now working within our society. Nonetheless, it is more fruitful to comprehend the art of managing cultural diversity and the equilibrium that maintain all the factors which constitute the Eritrean identity.

Apart of the shaky models of some quarters, the tone and content of our debate tells it all, that we will be dictated by culture and identity politics; Because, “knowledge is constructed from experience and thus learning is an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis of experience” (Smith and Regan, 1999). For instance, talk about the current circumstances of the Kunama people under PFDJ regime is simply an illustration between “hegemonic-majority and marginalized-minority”. Actually some argue the regime wrought on the ethnic kunama demonstrate the neglect of minority or the primacy of majority. Others argue that hegemonic ethno-crates (PFDJ) against the minority more fully explain the humanitarian and social crises the regime has produced to our social fabric, and hence the kunama are part and parcel of the victimized society.

For me insisting the separation of the two sides of the arguments is tantamount to arguing that the best way to study “carbon dioxide” is by examing “Carbon” apart from “Oxygen”. We know the essence of Carbon dioxide is the combination of the two (1:2 ratio Carbon: Oxygen molecules). Therefore we can not examine one without the other. By the same token ethno-crates can not be explained either by t he neglect of minorities or primacy of hegemonic majority alone. The essence of ethno-crates is examined by the mirror-image of the two interdependent concepts. So to discover the concept of ethno-crates, which is dependent “on neglect of minorities” and “Hegemonic of majority,” could be approached by visiting Collin’s theory.

The process of power relations and socio-political oppression are identified by Collins as being constructed by four domains and are as follows: (a) structural domain (b) disciplinary domain (c) interpersonal domain (Collins 2000). According Collins all these domains are sites of “oppression” and “resistance” and are permeated by hegemonic domain. She further dissects the anatomy of hegemony and the link of its institutions. She made it crystal clear to the proponent and opponent of her idea that “by manipulating ideology and culture, the hegemonic domain acts as a link between social institutions, organizational practices, and the level of every day interactions” (Collins 2000, 284).

In our case these four domains have clearly specific sites of “oppression” and “resistance”, in which structures of ethnics, religion, region, and nationality are mutually constructed to serve the hegemonic-regime of Asmara. Hence these social grouping are vital in determining the systemic influences in the dynamic social relations within the opposition camp as a reaction to the specific nature of  oppression for each social grouping by the hegemonic domain installed in the state of Eritrea. One can’t refute the rainbow color of our oppositions as they are simply the reactions to the hegemonic domain, but expressed in different forms of resistance that reflects to their specific nature of oppression.

 Indeed the subtle and open forms of ethnic chauvinism, considered as normal, natural, and common sense within the PFDJ camp and some quarters within the opposition camp provoke all sorts of organizations to mushroom and defend their interests. This hegemonic structure present significant and systemic problem, and must be addressed and dealt head on to emancipate the process as soon as possible. To facilitate the emancipation process, we have to deconstruct the truth in order to expose the power relations within the PFDJ and its copy-cats or image in the opposition camp.

So often we have noticed their own biases and systemic chatter implicated in our social discourses, in which by the way hinders equitable service delivery to our society. Very sad indeed for those who live in such pejorative accusatory light to sustain dominance in all domains. And yes their hegemonic ways of understanding and articulation can be tantamount to as Prevatt-Hyles put it “a socio-political formation elucidating the power dynamics that maintain personal shame or marginalization” (Prevatt-Hyes, 2000).

Before we try to emancipate the process we are in, one has to emancipate himself/herself. Again Collins identified four concepts that facilitate “activation of consciousness and exercise of power” that lead to individual and collective action, and they are: (a) self-definition and credibility of definer (b) self-valuation and respect on content of definition (c) necessity of self-reliance and independence (d) centrality of the changed consciousness (Collins 2000, pp 119).

The Eritrean people spearheaded by its organized political and civic entities have failed to show “change of consciousness.” For sure they couldn’t “exercise power” gained from experience with the “same consciousness”. If experiences don’t help us to acquire a “new consciousness”, there is no way of constructing a learning process that links the old and the new generations. Look at all organized civic and political organizations, their squabbles and intolerance for each other—an expression of a society that failed to communicate with each other for constructive resolution and meaningful developed consciousness, that tears barriers and builds bridges between and among its parts.

Constructivists Duffy and Cunningham for whom I subscribe myself viewed knowledge and learning process as follows: “learning is an active process of constructing than acquiring knowledge and instruction is a process of supporting rather than communicating knowledge” (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996).No wonder that our intellectuals are coming with a pre-determined agenda from different corners with an instruction from their acquired knowledge that has nothing to do to the specific nature of our cultural conflict. Acquired academic knowledge without the knowledge of the convergences, divergences, and confluences of interests of our diversity (that require by the way practical experience) can not help us to device a pragmatic centripetal force to the multi-interested socio-ethnic groups. Of course, “the mind is the source of meaning, but experience with the environment is critical to learning (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

Eritrea in its 20 years of existence as a state has failed in managing its cultural diversity, be it by the regime or by the opposition camp. Is an Eritrean identity that embraces all its culture possible? The answer remains open depending how our young generation will handle it. But one thing is for fact and that is the war-of-politics within the Eritrean landscape is very much between the anti-diversity mono-lingual proponents, who strive for superior status of the majority and the diversity of bi-lingual proponents who fear losing benefits and mutual-conditions as a result of conferring power and privileges to the highlanders.

Cultural activism is now embedded in the political organizations. It is a contemporary social reality in Eritrean politics. It is not a political statement only; it is a way of political-life as a choice. For them conceding any social and cultural basis means undermining their political effort for accommodation. For those who do not want to swallow this reality, I can assure you that there will be no collective action against the current subjugation (the regime) no matter what. Remember these cultural organizations are struggling for empowerment and reclaiming space. And yes they are struggling against power… the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Harmony and Equilibrium of Diversity

In the long history of the Chinese civilization, harmony and equilibrium has always been a highly valued virtue according Zhizhen written in “The Epoch Times” of October 7, 2008. Harmony is a pre-requisite for governing a nation and stabilizing the interests of diversity. To find the equilibrium, again according Confucius teaching, people must be loyal in dealing with people, and treat others in the way that they would like to be treated. Indeed, this has been the missing virtue and approach all the way long in the political discourse of Eritreans.

Harmony is the parameter of unity in the phase of equilibrium. Therefore modeling a phase of equilibrium within our diversity is highly essential to break the endless distension forces of disunity. Equally, Social harmony must be understood as maintaining the level of equilibrium in the power relations and resources among our conflicting social groups.

Philosophically, harmony and equilibrium are explicitly deployed to find peace and stability among diversity societies… a concept for unity and social order. In the interest of the public at large then perhaps, the maintenance of harmony and equilibrium should be at the core of our debate before even we think the removal of the regime, where flexibility rather dogma will best serve the interests of our diversity.

Nevertheless, let me conclude my remark, and here is my political effleurage to the lawless adventurers: For the Ghedli bashers get over it. Your message has cultural implication and sectarian connotations that is detrimental to the co-existence of our diversity. If you have something to offer (solution) to the current problem (the regime) the Eritrean people will appreciate it. For the Religious and Ethnicity bashers (from both sides) learn new knowledge that generates “new consciousness” and “new impulse.” There is no Eritrea without the two religious institutions and our indigenous ethnicities. Recognize this reality to enable us to device and formulate equitable institutions that address the nature of the grievances and the contours to our harmony. We can’t live in a limbo for indefinite time being people who need each other but never understand each other.


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