Nature Abhors Vacuum: Understanding Nature of Competing Values Part-III

We have got to take back the ideal of justice; we have got to take back the principles of human dignity…we have got to say, look we are all in this together.”  (David Kaczynski)                                                     


To foster cross-cultural success in modern Eritrea, both political and civic organizational institutions must promote empathy and understanding. To do that “political apprehension shifts” must happen. Eritrea has two major cultural divisions. Each has its own set of values reflected in their political priorities and isomeric social configurations. So far there is no clear understanding to these social configurations and their demands within our populace. Part of the reason is because the cultural divide is embedded on religious traditions, which are always sensitive to speak about them.


 For the purpose of feeding hope to the public, I have a net-work of friends who are interested in solving our problems and its manifestation. They are of different interests, some political, some of social and cultural values with different priorities. I am blessed with their provocative and challenging questions that helped me to shape and understand the nature of competing values in a given set of conditions. In our current socio-political culture where the competing values are conditioned under the duress of intimidation and wars, my friends are entangled on how to prioritize the two values “peace and justice.” Most of us we don’t know each other, but we share the values of the issue at hand to build a common understanding. Their openness of mind is magnificent but they differ on how they set priorities. Most of my highland compatriots prioritize peace over justice and most lowland compatriots prioritize justice over peace. However, they asked me to tackle these competing values.


In post wars, I believe “peace and Justice” are the competing values we are going to face them in the near future. Dominique Moisi, in his book of “geo-politics of emotion” brilliantly chronicles the geopolitics of today. He characterized it by a “clash of emotions” and how cultures of fear, humiliation and hope reshaping the nations of the world. Dominique’s theory reflects the pending fears of losing sub-national identity, national identity, and purpose of peaceful coexistence by our minorities in the face of the current reality.


While war is not necessary to be the byproduct of religious pluralism, many of our citizens have deep concerns about the cultural contradictions within our society. Contrary to their unfounded fears, “very often, it is not faith which brings us into conflicts,” said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, prime minister of Malaysia. “It is politics and the pursuit of economic and military power, and the violent reaction they produce. It is often the manipulation of ideology.” Yes our minority brothers felt the combination of historical grievances, exclusion from the economic and political sharing, and civil injustice by the regime in Asmara. I felt and I saw the symptoms of the pending fears in all our debates. It is these all pending fears forced me to address using three quotable quotes that were uttered and reflected from their prominent leaders. For the sake of the public to avoid stereo-typed judgment, I will hold the names. The quotes were told long before some forces from the other side of the isles have joined the opposition camp.


Quote-No#: The camel is in but the owner is out.”  When a senior veteran of the army struggle was interviewed by a senior (activist, politician and journalist by training) about how he feel when the currency of the nation became “Nakfa” and the camel got recognition as symbol on the currency, the veteran retort and said “the came is in and the owner is out.”


Quote- No#2: “The constitution is tailored to fit them only.”  When a senior veteran-political leader was asked how he saw the drafted constitution, he retorted the same and showed his indignation by saying “the constitution is tailored to fit them only.” By them it means the EPLF.


Quote- No#3: “I am not seeing my image in the mirror of hadas Eritrea.”  A remark of a senior political leader posed to a renowned law professor during Q&A in a political festival.


The three quotations were uttered from our lowland brothers when they felt the injustice of the EPLF at the time they came to power, before they even called themselves EPFDJ; and not when they became the “power of injustice for all” at the beginning of the new century. The pending fears are understandable taking into consideration the injustices of the 90s to our Muslim brothers. History is a whole task of securing justice, so they were, and are taking the task of securing justice; no matter how long the journey might take is their motto.


Now before revealing my intake, Let us watch the two sides of my compatriots those who prioritize peace over justice and vice versa. Interestingly enough they are the microcosm of our divide. My compatriots from the highland say peace is the prelude of justice. The border war became the barrier for peace. If the border is demarcated and Isaiah allows implementing the constitution justice will reign. On the other hand, my compatriots from the lowland say justice is the source of peace. The border war has nothing to do with our internal peace. We were not at peace even before the war. We were not part of the constitutional process nor does it reflect our cultural values and our rights. Two diametrical approaches that demand reconciliation.


 The potential clash between peace and justice can sometime circumvented by pursuing a sequential approach.  That is why my compatriots have different positions. It is perceivable though; those competing values are in fact a formal principle of procedure in a rational and moral argument rather than a political right to do anything. Hence, I have framed the argument as it sounds and how it looks and hopefully might help us for developing and gauging alternatives to converge to a practical mutual understanding.


The Morality of Compromise


We have seen how the arguments of my compatriots of both sides are framed. Now, I will try to factor-in the “morality of compromise” to examine the competing values “Peace” and “Justice” thereby to make a sound argument to the issue at hand. Often, we are ambivalent in valuing compromise, precisely because we are in a grip of irreconcilable picture both in politics and morality.


 Cognizable enough, “Our ideals and our principles tell us what we would like to be, but our compromise tell us who we are”, said Avishai Margalit a philosopher lecturing on human values at Hebrew University. In an intricately constructed argument centered on the morality of political compromise and its relationship to peace and justice, Margalit contend that the need for establishing peaces could, in fact, sometimes trump the pursuit of justice. It is precisely this possibility; the fear of trumping the pursuit of justice that swayed me to take the position justice as a prelude to peace.


Just to elaborate my argument, soon after EPLF grab the power of transitional government, members of the central committee made “indecent compromise” with their leader Isaiah Afewerk; an agreement that establishes and maintains a political order based on systemic cruelty and humiliation as its permanent features. Unfortunately that indecent moral compromise bounced back and hit them unmercifully. Many thanks to Aklilu Zere who made us to be familiar with the “circular” meeting of 1976 few years ago, which decide the fate of the nation and its people. He now also came with a telling story myth “Nsu”- the admirer compatriots use to call him. Nsu was everything; Nsu was the omnipotent and omnipresent of the organization and by extension to the Eritrean people. Nsu is also the power that devoured his own admirers.


 Yes, humiliation is dehumanization of others while cruelty is a pattern of behavior that inflicts pain. And surely, compromising on cruelty and humiliation is in the ideology and practice of compromising and subverting morality itself. Then, how could we restore justice from the ideology of cruelty and humiliation?


Restoring justice after conflict is as much a political imperative as a social necessity. “Peace without justice is only symbolic peace” expressed by a noble peace laureate, Rigoberta Menchu (Gunson, 1996). Indeed political leaders will not make concessions, negotiate peace or respect agreements unless their major political, social and economic grievances of their social-bases have been addressed. In such scenario, activists and leaders of the aggrieved sections demand distributive justice. Distributive justice is stemming from structural and systemic injustice as well as from distributive inequalities. Therefore, structural change should be inevitable to avoid the elements that causes to a conflict.  Interestingly enough, studies show that it is group inequalities within a particular society that creates the fertile ground of grievances. I believe both sides of my compatriots be it proponent of peace or justice will agree on these premises.


                    Justice —-àPeace ——-à Stability


As we observe in the flow of sequence above, Justice is source of peace, and respectively peace is the source of stability. For Pluto, there are inherent qualities in all things and that each be in its rightful position and its proper function would be the very balance; indeed essence of justice. So justice means peace.


 Incidentally, I came across an article written by Abdullah A. Ado an Eritrean-Afar posted at Aiga website. I saw a silver lining of hope in concluding his article. He said, and I quote, “As freedom is a free asset to strive for, we are determined to zoom through the protracted and long march to attain freedom for our inalienable human rights and dignity at all costs; and bound to join hands with our brethren on the other side of the isles to enrich our communities freely as we deem it proper.” He saw the brotherhood that bound us to join them to enrich our communities freely and mutually. As an intellectual of Afar community, he presented that the core issue of his community is human right, dignity, and representation. Who will deny these fundamental human issues except the ruling regime? The opposition camp in general and EDA in particular must reset their priorities and show in theory and practice that they will not be another force of oppression be it in different shape or form.


If at this point, the socio-political hypochondria are correctly examined, I will try to propose a solution in the next installation (Part-IV) to pull the two side’s argument to the center. The proposal will be in an attempt to address the grievances retorted by our citizen as quoted above; to search a sense of justice that all citizens can sense it and feel it.


In conclusion, the more information we have the more informed decision we could make. That is why many of our citizens are being proactive in determining their individual and collective values. Our goal should be to find a new tone of mind from our debate—a  new tone of mind which gradually wins influence and in the end determines our character. That new tone of mind should not bypass history, freeze history, and betray history. Citizens are ready, the time is ripe, and the interpretation of that common consensus will be writing justice in our state of mind and fraternity in our social order. That dream is still alive.



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