Learn and Practice Equitable Co-Existence

“In this postmodern world, cultural conflicts are becoming more dangerous than at any time in history. A new model of co-existence is needed, based on man’s transcending himself.” Vaclav Havel (pres. of Czech Rep.)         

I am provoked to write this article by the Awate team; provoked in a sense to argue against their premises. On Sept. 29, 2009, “The pencil” under the title “Practice diversity, don’t preach” took me by surprise, when the team missed the logic and process of learning of knowledge as pre-requisite intend to practice any set of values (the value at issue was diversity). Despite the supposedly intended argument is within the proximity of the topic, they attempt to disconnect the continuous learning and teaching process of diversity even if we are “practitioners of diversity. ”The purpose of our debate is for learning. In fact “Learning the treasure within”, the “Delors report” to UNESCO by Jacques Delors shows us the four pillars of education—learning to know, learning to be, learning to do, learning to live together [1].  There are always stages and bridges of learning even in the process of practicing. Keeping the “theory-practice-theory” nexuses in mind, I hope the Awate team will not tell me, practice co-existence, don’t preach; because diversity and co-existence are interdependent social terminology that interplay to each other. Hence, in this essay I will explore the needed equitable co-existence to our diversity and the inhibiting factors that encounter them.

It appears as though we are destined, first, to learn about co-existence before retracing our steps to face our ineluctable realities. How else one does start on our land of hope as well as to the conjecture of our future? In any case there are those who believe on the concept which was curved in stone by the old Roman Empire, that is the concept of “ceteris paribus” which means, make only one change and maintain everything else the same (removal of Isaias only, the rest will be solved). Of course they maintain “linear thinking”, the inability to understand the interdependent relationship of our complex society and their conflict of interests. We learn them from the debate on language and land (property), how dismissive and intellectually dishonest they are. One who believes on the web-of-relationships of our society should offer a “system thinking”, the ability to understand and see the patterns of our diverse society and how to accommodate them. Indeed to live at peace in pluralistic society is to perfect the art of give and take, live and let live. It is to learn to choose your battles for the common aspiration of your people.

Co-Existence Like it is:

Co-existence is a condition or state in which two or more social groups are living together while respecting their unity as well as their diversity, and often times resolve their conflict peacefully [2]. Although the idea of co-existence is not new, the term itself came into common usage during the cold war. At initially the policy of peaceful co-existence was used in the context of USA and USSR relations as a cover for aggression. But eventually it developed as a tool for refraining from confrontation to the relationship between the two powers. Co-existence comprise multiple definitions: including, to exist together within a given space and time and exist in mutual [3] or to learn to recognize and live with difference [4] or to have relationship between groups in which none of the parties is trying to destroy the other [5] or to interact with commitment to tolerance, mutual respect, and the agreement to settle conflict or (grievances) without recourse to violence [6].

Whether it was crude or lucid argument, the recent debate imply to a call for equitable co-existence. The opportunity for citizen to exercise their voice and demand their rights, the numerous initiatives that sought to address the issue of marginalization to certain of our social groups, the issue of cultural equality and decentralization of governance, have become the immense centripetal force to the need of co-existence of our social fabric. Equitable co-existence and democracy goes hand in hand in nation building. These undoubtedly present a challenge against the status quo and future power holders, and break the culture of silence behind which official discrimination has flourished. Despite there could be many different definitions of what constitute a democracy and co-existence; they both have common principles, which is to protect the freedoms and liberties of all social groups. Dr Ibrahim Nasr El-din of African research and studies at Cairo University writes, that democracy seeks to provide a platform that allows all social groups to express their interests in attempt to coordinate those interests to attain consensus of equitable co-existence [7]. Since democracy explicitly values inclusivity and consensus-building and implicitly values peaceful expression of difference, it is safe to argue that democracy is a natural tool to promote positive co-existence in multi-cultural societies. On the flip side, it is also safe to argue that applying a co-existence lens to democratization effort can help society to build a fundamental foundation, for a sustainable political progress to a nation with its rich ethnic and religious diversity.

Due to the high level of cultural divides such as ethnicity and religion, discussing diversity has been taboo in our nation. Instead, there is pretence of unity and oneness, making it extremely difficult to find entry points for honest and open dialogue, where fears, aspirations, and hope are expressed. Another challenge to our social cohesion is how democracy will be manipulated to bring social co-existence. Unequivocally, I am deeply suspicious whether or not, that a constitution of centralized governance could address the symbiotic relation of democracy and equitable co-existence in a multi-cultural society. For the time being the burden of proof will be on the defenders of the document. On the other side, I have no illusion that the alternative method of governance (decentralized governance), by virtue of its structure (devolving power to the periphery), will accommodate the symbiotic interplay of democracy and equitable co-existence.

The fluid sense of ethnic identity, peaceful co-existence, and the pervading interdependence among our social groups is uprooted by the current regime to serve its purpose. In other words, it has exacerbated the ethnic fissures, undermined the co-existence of our diversity, and carried the vestiges of forced co-existence. It is under these circumstances, that history dictates us to examine critical factors about what constitute equitable co-existence and how equitable co-existence clinics can be established to teach our people to strengthen the unity of our diversity. As a result I call upon Eritrean sociologist in particular and the Eritrean intellectuals of all merits in general to focus on this issue as one of the primary agenda in post-Isaias era.

Equitable Co-existence Clinics

As a proponent of equitable co-existence, my effort have been to conduct civic education against the backdrop of a plural society that has, as its ultimate goal, the establishment of united Eritrea-nation from among its many ethnic groups. This goal has circumscribed and influenced the thinking and action concerning all important social problems, including those pertaining to ethnic-marginalization. As such, efforts at addressing and resolving such problems have acquired an added urgency to the idea (a) to find a formula for peaceful co-existence and harmonious multi-ethnic and multi-faith life within our nation (b) to restructure our society to correct economic imbalances so as to reduce and eventually to eliminate the identification of ethnic with economic function (c) to reduce and ultimately eliminate social and economic inequalities and imbalances.

Learning and understanding the education of equitable co-existence can be a key change agent and one of the main instrument through which a diverse society can address inter-group relations. The aim of the co-existence clinic should be designed for a meta-level approach to embrace diversity, actively pursued equality, and openly recognize the interdependent of different social groups.

Educational co-existence clinics should often be at the heart of our community and should also be the central agents of socialization. They are important channel through which to promote social cohesion and address inter-cultural, inter-religious, or inter-ethnic relations. The clinics should be sensitive to social cohesion. If the co-existence education is not sensitive to issue of social cohesion and does not incorporate the perspectives of stakeholders, it can be divisive and alienating, thereby contributing to injustice and violence. A case in point is the current regime’s policy towards our diversity.

We have learned from history that to guarantee security with sheer power carry with them the seeds of failure and collapse, and always accompanied by resentment and discontent from one side and arrogance from the other. Likewise those attitudes have manifested themselves in our debates and to some extent in our history. These are facts on the ground that needed to be corrected. Sadly enough there is also a move to justify and further two-tier societal group, the monopolizers and the marginalized on one hand as described by the aggrieved society of ours, albeit unfair reality; on the other hand there is a growing social anger and justified objection to such discrimination.

My key point is how our nation’s history, which in many ways includes violent conflict, repression, youth exploitations, or other dark moments, can be shared, relayed, and taught in order to address past and present injustices, learn from them and move forward without fanning the flame of animosity? How equitable co-existence be taught, so that all groups see themselves reflect in the teaching? How can we identify the importance of presenting the different approaches, where the focus is in the perspective rather on the event themselves? What is the legacy of our nation’s multi-cultural history, and how does it play in our current endeavor? These and other questions must be addressed and answered in our future co-existence clinics.

Many nations are struggling to find the best model to promote the concept of equitable co-existence education, which encourage national unity and cultural equality. There must be always a delicate balance between promoting diversity and encouraging unity. It has been proved that “Unity without recognition of existing diversity results in cultural repression and hegemony by dominant group[8]. Regrettably, this scenario is proved in our nation under the current regime. However, we are failed to break the silence to teach about the truth—the stereotypes and intolerance that exist in our community. There is no politics apart from equitable co-existence, so we can give glad tidings to the process of co-existence that will bring peace and tremendous good to all our nationals. To supplant equitable existence, after all, we need dialogue.

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Foot Notes

[1] Learning the treasure within, by Jacques Delors, report delivered to the director general of   UNSECO, on April 11, 1996.
Eugene Weiner, The hand book of inter-ethnic co-existence, 2000, pp 13-24
Oxford Dictionary, 1997 by Frank R. Abate
Kumar Rupesinghe, In culture and identity, ethnic co-existence in Asian context,1999, pp 3-37
Louis Kriesberg, co-existence and the reconciliation of communal conflict, 2000, pp 182-198
Co-existence Initiative brochure.
In criticism of Western mind and practices, by Nasr El-Din, African journal of political science vol-8, No-2, Dec. 2003, pp-4
[8] Teaching for social Justice, Diversity, by Banks James A. Volume-68, pp-290



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