National Unity Requires More Than Mouthing Slogans



I will start by clarifying a few things (that I explained repeatedly before) to set the record straight regarding any misunderstanding that might have resulted for lack of better words on my side. Just to make sure that whoever reads this article is on the same page with respect to any expressions that I had used in the past and might use in the future, I would like to make the following points clear:  


1.  Neo-Nazi regime of Tigrigna supremacist:  the concept of “Neo-Nazi regime of Tigrigna supremacists” as used in my articles exclusively refers to (specific individuals) those who are active members of the inner workings of the regime, those who share the regime’s vision of Eritrea as an exclusive Tigrigna paradise at the expense of others, and those who have an interest in the regime’s ethnic project. I do not see any reason why this narrowly defined concept should be taken as blanket demonization of every single Tigrigna: whoever makes that allegation must believe that those three criteria are true for every single Tigrigna.


2.  Land Grabbers:  The concept of “Land Grabbers” refers (to specific individuals) specifically to those who have chosen to occupy other people’s land without their consent and in their absence in disregard of the fact that given the unfortunate situation of Eritrea their greed would eventually deprive the hundreds of thousands of refugees of their dream to one day come back and resettle in their ancestral lands. Those being the “actual Land Grabbers”, the “potential Land Grabbers” are their extensions who would not have hesitated to do the same if given the opportunity and are evident by either their outspoken cheerleading in defense of the twisted and discriminatory implementation of the so called “Ratified Constitution and Land Proclamation” or by the apparent indifference to what is going on today in the hope that the successful settlement of today’s Land Grabbers would create precedence for more settlers in the future, setting the stage for a different demographic reality. Actual and Potential Land Grabbers show up as “Teraro” in my Tigrigna dictionary. The definition does not in any way lump every single Tigrigna under one class of “Teraro and Cheerleaders: whoever makes that allegation must believe that every Tigrigna necessarily falls in either of the two extensions.


3.  Lowlanders/Highlanders vs Muslim/Christian:  The concepts of Lowlanders Vs Highlanders are terms I use to define the conflict on the basis of very specific and easily negotiable (resolvable) material grounds pertaining to legitimate competition over division of wealth and political power between the two segments of our population as opposed to the concepts of Muslim Vs Christian which degenerate the debate into irreconcilable conflicts of faith between civilizations. “Highlanders” in all my articles is narrowly defined to include exclusively ethnic Tigrignas, the traditional support base of the PFDJ regime. It does not include the Jeberti, who I regard as an independent ethnic group that has nothing to do with the Tigrignas apart from the coincidence of sharing a common language. It also excludes the Saho ethnic group of the Highlands which historically lied at the centre of the fight against Land Grabbers of ethnic Tigrignas. Hence, for the purpose of the arguments that I have been trying to make, both the Jeberti and the Saho have always been at the centre of the functional definition of “Lowlanders”.  


Lumping the three provinces of ethnic Tigrignas under this definition of “Highlanders” might itself sound unfair (I apologize) given the provincially stratified citizenship within them (under the PFDJ) including the Hamasien with Gold, Akeleguzai with Silver and the Seraye with Bronze citizenships (or their corresponding organizations of EDP, EPM and EPP respectively). The fact that the Seraye of the EPP (specific individuals), Bronze Medalists, have suddenly turned out to be among the staunchest defenders of the status-quo (of cowboy politics in the Lowlands) is (to me) no coincidence as it is a manifestation of what I call “the culture of followers”. The answer is nowhere clearer than in the list of Seraye and Akeleguzai villages that were rewarded (for their services to THE PROJECT) with free access to a better life in the Promised Land (that the Weyanes confused for Dubai). 


Accepting Mohammed Ahmed’s call, I do sincerely apologize for any inappropriate generalizations with regard to the Tigrignas that I might have made in my attempt to provoke the reader into realizing the urgency of coming clean with the legacy and culture of indifference to the plight of others and the dangers of playing games with the PFDJ’s ethno-centric project of demographic engineering.  


This brings me to a very valid observation that Ahmed Raji (The Lost Rainbow III, Awate August 24, 2009) made about a phrase in my last article (Within Arm’s Reach). This is how Ahmed puts it: 


“… it is important that we stay focused on the common goal … (Ali Salim) said: “do not entertain the unreasonable and unfair hope that Lowlanders might give up on their right to ancestral land and equal citizenship for fear that the cost of walking the walk might be devastating for the nation.” … I don’t think that any legitimate resistance to restore the rights of any disadvantaged segment of our society could be conceived outside the wellbeing of the larger society itself. Why should the welfare of one section of Eritrean society and that of Eritrea itself be put in opposing poles? Isn’t the fight for restoring the rights of any part of society, a fight for a better society at large? By fighting for justice and equality for disadvantaged groups, one is also fighting for more equitable, more just and peaceful Eritrea.  That’s why this fight should be everybody’s fight.” 


Ahmed’s monumental series of well documented articles supported by some of the strongest arguments that speak for themselves in defense of the right to equal citizenship do reflect his noble assumptions and uplifting optimistic outlook and an unshaken belief in that Yes We Can come together and chart the way for a better nation than the one we have. I cannot but salute Ahmed for drawing our attention to an outlook that I share with all honesty and a question that Lowlanders across the board are asking themselves: “What if the Tigrigna nationalists play dumb and keep doing what they are doing pretending that the Land Grabbers and the Exclusionists that we are talking about are fictional characters of the past re-invented by wicked-minded Lowland writers? Where do we stop?”  




One of the unexpected consequences of this debate that has left Lowlanders dumbfounded has been the overwhelmingly negative reaction of some Tigrigna, organized as well as individual, writers towards the Lowlanders’ outrage at the news of their ancestral land being invaded by a bunch of government sponsored Land Grabbers. Most of the blind advocates of National Unity (including myself – stop it, I know what you are thinking) never anticipated the amount of implicit popular support that this most despicable PFDJ project of Land Grabbers actually enjoys among ethnic Tigrignas provoking us to revise the assumed sincerity of the so called “opposition” political and civic organizations. We have all watched flabbergasted and with open mouths as intelligent Tigrigna writers many of them Professors and respected educators who know full well that their own villages in the Highlands would never allow “non-natives” to share a piece of burial ground that fits a dead body, lecturing us on how Eritreans are guaranteed free land everywhere and that we should be “civilized”. The question that still needs to be answered is: Do we as Eritreans really have a common goal of a nation united under the principles of equal citizenship? Most readers won’t like it but my answer happens to be “NO & NO” and that’s why I think it is imperative that we sign contracts and agreements and build barriers so that no one will violate other people’s God given rights and get away with it.   




Even under the best assumptions of goodwill, given what is actually happening on the ground, there are strong indications that our National Unity will not hold for long, on moving sands of deceit and mischief, unless the Tigrignas stand up and take concrete measures to reverse the trend. Just for argument’s sake, let us assume that Eritreans (Highlanders and Lowlanders alike) share the principle of equal citizenship and that the well being of either group is not mutually exclusive. Let us even take it further and embrace the EDP-EPM-EPP group’s claim that even the PFDJ (that they have condemned for everything else) shares the conviction of equal citizenship and that it is an equal opportunity oppressor. Under these assumptions, the only explanation for the rush in completing the project of land grabbing in the Lowlands by moving thousands of them within weeks would be the PFDJ’s obsession with preserving National Unity by creating “equal opportunities” for all citizens. Imagine a simple theory of expectations where, say, in a market of currency trade, if a substantial volume of speculators believe the US currency would go down and start acting accordingly by selling their holding of US dollars, then the rest of the market would catch up in no time and the exchange rate for US dollars does go down.  


By the same token, if a substantial volume of Tigrigna nationalists in the PFDJ (and Diaspora extensions) obsessed with keeping the nation together (while doing their usual business) start believing that National Unity is breaking down and start acting accordingly in self-defense by digging trenches and positioning the frontline militias and informants of the next civil war in the Lowlands where they believe future battles will be fought, then the rest of the market will definitely catch up in no time and National Unity does break down. Obsession with preventing National Unity from breaking down and acting on this obsession in self-defense (or national defense) triggers a powerful signaling mechanism leading to diametrically opposed interpretations of mutual motives turning the obsession into nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the embracing of the reality that National Unity is in fact breaking down and taking concrete measures of confidence building to reassure the side for whom the obsession is a matter of life or death that can prevent National Unity from breaking down. And in our situation, it is Lowlanders who are threatened with the possibility of turning into stateless vagrants and eternal refugees that need to be reassured that Highlanders have no sinister motives and hidden agendas of re-engineering Eritrean demography. It is not the bunch of Land Grabbers and night raiders who are in an expedition for better life and more luxuries that need to be appeased.  




That precisely is why I think the ball is in the court of ethnic Tigrignas. The PFDJ and its Land Grabbers are their exclusive business: they deserve credit for anything good (if any) that it accomplished in the last 18 years and bear the blame for anything bad that it did during that time. I am definitely one of those who are waiting impatiently with crossed fingers for some wise Tigrigna intellectuals to come forward and lead the way by doing the right thing. And for those who do not know where to start here is a piece of inspiration from Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech (March 18, 2008) describing what it took to transform the promise of equal citizenship in the American Constitution into the reality that he pledged to polish to perfection:  


“… words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens … What would be needed were … successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time” (Emphasis mine).  


We, Muslims and Lowlanders, have done more than our part in the last 18 years by overlooking hundreds of our own young men and women being singled out of the crowd for torture and for disappearance; by pretending not to be seeing when history is being re-written to satisfy the whims of arrogant ethnic supremacists; and by letting our pride and self-respect be trashed to preserve a hypocritical National Unity of winners and losers. It is Highlanders’ turn now to stop their own ethnic supremacists before it is too late for a future that we as Eritreans can predict and control.  


Stop talking about the “netsan dimokrasyawitn Ertra” crap that has defined the traditional opposition for the last 18 years and led us to nowhere other than the daily nightmares of youngsters in the prime of their ages stampeding to get away from a horror story that most of the Diaspora have no way of imagining. It was 150,000 US Marines and hundreds of billions of dollars that lost themselves into a bottomless quagmire trying to materialize the illusive dream of “netsan dimokrasyawitn Iraq” for years and in vain. Can you give me one good reason, why we should believe that a bunch of naïve Professors, helpless ex-peasants and taxi drivers (including myself) will succeed in delivering a democratic Utopia in Eritrea, when the mighty United States of America backed by the best minds of the whole international community failed to deliver the same in Iraq or Afghanistan? One of Mohamed Medeni’s poems might have the answer you need (my translation): 


“Never dream of a new world hereafter …
As every Caesar that dies is succeeded by another” 


The democracy that we know in the West (the same democracy that the Tigrigna elite and a few misguided Lowlanders are promising to deliver overnight once the PFDJ collapses) is a protracted process that took centuries of cultural and institutional development to achieve. The lack of realistic and achievable targets is in fact nothing but a deliberate ploy marketed by those with sinister motives to paralyze the opposition by divorcing organizational thinking from the realities on the ground. To all those who are telling Lowlanders to postpone their “secondary” demands until they deliver “netsan dimokrasyawitn Ertra”, I say nice trick – but please come up with a better idea or join our party. 




Lowlanders should forget (for now until we master another language) about trying to convince a meaningful weight among the Tigrignas to deliver by tipping the scale against the very influential infrastructure of their own supremacists. That isn’t going to happen – period. I am proud that we have already come a long way towards building the capacity and willpower to deliver on the promise of reclaiming our rightful position as proud citizens thanks to the very insightful road that our Kunama and Afar organizations have charted; the courageous and disciplined sacrifices that our Islamic organizations have made; and the excitement and optimism that the ELF and the Federalists have added by chipping in where they belong and doing what they should have done a long time ago.


The circle will hopefully be complete once the Jeberti and Saho organization of Al-Nahda and National Salvation (respectively) stop flirting with the wrong people and start taking bold steps to speak up for their true constituents and for their brothers in the cause and the faith and join hands with the other ethnic groups to bring an end to the pain and humiliation of Tigrigna ethnic supremacists that no other ethnic group knows better than the Jeberti and the Saho. All eyes are on October 15, 2009 when the first conference of the National Salvation Front will be held. I would love to see every Saho brother or sister who gets represented in that conference to stand up in the middle of the monkeying politicians and say I AM A SAHO AND I AM PROUD and I want an organization that defends my ancestral land against the Land Grabbers that have over-flown to Gash and Barka, and an organization that will defend my right to stand in the middle of Kombshtato to preach my beautiful faith to others the same way that Christian Pentecostals have done for years before the tide turned against them.


I can’t wait to see if after the “national” conference, Ahmed Nassir and Abdalla Adem will stand up to speak for the Sahos and the rest of their fellow Muslims who need them most; or if they will continue to become the Pappagallo of the EDP-EPP to reprint the statements of “forced involuntary settlements” that they have been publishing in defense of the Land Grabbers simply because the victims this time were the unrelated Kunamas and Western Lowlanders. I have no doubt that our Sahos have more courageous people than they need to kick these guys in the behind and get them moving on the right path to lead those who need their leadership in feeling proud of who they are. 




The following is (my translation of) part of the statement of Eritrean Solidarity Front – Tadamun (August 28, 2009) that I am very, very proud of: 


“We [the Tadamun] would like to assure Meskerem [the website] and whoever revolves around it that the [regime’s project] of demographic engineering and the policy of settlements has become a central cause whose neglect will only bring tremendous damage and its effects will be dangerous for the political, social and economic relations between the two components of the Eritrean society [Muslims and Christians]. Succumbing to the regime’s policies of Land Grabbing and attempting to deface the historical and social profile [of the nation] by expelling the indigenous inhabitants and replacing them with new settlers from elsewhere will be challenged with [appropriate] force and the least that these confrontations will lead to is a reversal of the situation back to normal and a return of the rights [land] to its rightful owners. Whoever accepts to become an instrument for the implementation of the vicious [hateful] policies of the regime and to rely on it [the regime] in depriving others of their rights should blame nobody other than themselves.”    


So many Lowlanders are impressed by the progress that the Tadamun has made so far in trying their utmost to meet and exceed our expectations in standing up for our cause with the force and the maturity that it deserves in facing a formidable enemy with sophisticated infrastructures of networks of outright as well as disguised ethnic supremacists. Given the experience of our opposition organizations in the last 18 years, however, the valid concern and logical skepticism towards the extent to which the Solidarity and its component organizations would remain on a steady track and in control of their destiny remains to be proven as misplaced. There is, I believe, one very familiar trap that the Tadamun and any other Lowland organization that hopes to remain relevant through time and is serious about its readiness to continue to serve the larger cause must avoid at all cost. And it is to stop claiming to represent anything other than the interests and aspiration of the constituents that are directly and physically represented under the organizational umbrella.  




Any ethnic or regional group that does not wish to be represented under another organization or has already made substantial effort to create its own representative structures must accordingly be supported and encouraged unconditionally. The Tadamun (whether its politicians like it or not) should agree to apply the same identical yardstick that we are applying on the PFDJ and the EDP-EPM-EPP groups to conclude that they are essentially organizations of ethnic Tigrignas. The Eritrean Solidarity Front (Tadamun) in its current composition (given the well known make-up of the memberships of its component organizations) should recognize that it is primarily a regional organization of the Western Lowlands who desperately need exclusive representation and unique voices for their cause. Speaking on behalf of the whole nation (that you do not physically represent) and specifically including the Tigrignas in the Solidarity’s cause is not only hypocritical but is contradictory to the organization’s own claim (and essence of its existence) that the PFDJ (and opposition extensions) are organizations of ethnic Tigrignas, unless of course the leaders of the Tadamun have a good reason to believe that Tigrignas are under-represented.


Similarly claiming to represent the Kunama and Afari ethnic groups that have already established their own mature and vocal organizations, for instance, does not only undermine their efforts and undo the achievements that these two ethnic groups have made to ensure that their own voices are heard loud and clear with no intermediaries. It also risks replicating the other face of the PFDJ, an ethnic organization pretending to represent everybody when it does not, paving the way for its own ethnic supremacists and their familiar business. If the Tadamun does in fact wish to represent and speak for the Kunamas, the Afar, Jeberti, and the Saho as well as the Christian Lowlanders (that Woldesus Amar is trying to sell away) the way their own organization would represent them, it has no short-cuts other than to negotiate and create the physical environment to strike deals with each of their respective organizations.


Strengthening these ethno-regional organizations is instrumental to defeating the PFDJ’s ethnic supremacists for several important reasons: 


1.  It ensures the grassroots confidence and participation in the expected outcome of the struggle by seeing the empowerment of their own men and women who speak their language and feel their pains first hand being encouraged to articulate the specific peculiarities of each and every region without having to worry about conformity to blanket specification that do not speak to their specific priorities.


2.  It restricts the mandate given to the Tigrigna elite and the Lowland opportunists associated with them in presenting the problems and worries of ethnic Tigrignas as those of every other ethno-regional group. The government’s Land Proclamation and Dr. Berekhet’s Constitution are living examples of this fiasco where the Tigrignas are actually led into believing that state ownership of the land is a good idea for every Eritrean simply because it gives them a mandate to solve their problem of limited access to the land at the expense of others.


3.  It ensures that every ethno-regional group or nationalist movement that manages to rule the nation cannot do so without convincing other regions that it is in their interest to hand over mandate over their affairs to a national entity. Any ethno-regional group that feels its rights are being violated the way Kunamas and Afaris, for instance, are feeling today, would have the requisite capacity and popular support they need to reverse injustice.


4.  It paves the way to welcoming the PFDJ into the solution table with open arms as long as its leaders accept the fact that it is an ethnic organization of the Tigrignas. It is imperative that the Tadamun and other opposition organizations recognize the PFDJ as a legitimate ethnic organization that must be called to negotiate the conditions under which Tigrignas share the nation with us. Outlawing the PFDJ does not serve our cause in any way other than implicitly giving the organization the mandate to speak on our behalf.     




I have no doubt that those who are reading this article against the background of the traditional wisdom of Eritrean politics are asking themselves: What if strengthening ethno-regional groups with no strings attached ends up breaking the Union and risks the existence of a United Eritrea? I might as well ask them back: What is the use of having a United Eritrea where helpless ethno-regional groups and minorities fall prey to dominant ethnic supremacists the way our traditional wisdom has led us to? The paradox with National Unity is that it can only be kept if it can be broken. In other words, we will keep our National Unity as strong as it can be only if each and every group realizes that any breach of (or indifference to the breach of) the natural rights of other groups will lead into destabilizing the physical balance of the nation, and that this is indeed a feasible probability. This can in turn only be done if each of the component ethno-regional groups does possess the physical capacity to deliver in destabilizing the national balance if the violations of their specific rights exceed beyond tolerable limits.  


National Unity is a delicate commodity that each and every component group in the nation must guard by respecting its limits and adhering to morally and legally acceptable codes of conduct; not through appeasement and hypocrisy and smooth talking. Where the relations among the component ethno-regional groups of the nation turn out to be irreconcilable, solution within a United Eritrea is of course only one of several other options and those who are at the receiving end of the hot potato should never hesitate to consider all available alternatives. If you are planning to respond with “a Constitution can do that” kind of crap, I want you to first tell me why the Sudanese Constitution was not enough to enable our closest neighbor to avoid the nightmares in the South and Darfur. And Good Luck with that! 



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