Opposition By Default
It is a matter of common sense that any two should not dispute, that the primary task of any opposition is to call and struggle to bring about the necessary democratic changes by all possible means to achieve what the ruling government has failed to a achieve for its people. In a case like ours, where the nature of the regime does not permit a peaceful and democratic means of opposition, the opposition has no choice but to resort to all other alternatives—be it violent or non-violent forms of resistance as circumstances deem necessary. The organisational forms, structures, policies and strategies that has to be adopted should effectively rally, mobilise and channel the efforts of all concerned sectors and truly express their hopes and aspirations and facilitate its realisation. Those work devices and plans must continually be upgraded and efficiently applied to achieve the objectives in the shortest time possible. Such palpable facts cannot escape the minds of laymen let alone matured and seasoned politicians with a life-long experience in leadership. Thus, in a normal situation, such facts shouldn’t be reiterated or highlighted as it is a matter of common knowledge, it is the ABC of politics.
But is it considered normal when an opposition group devotes all its effort, concern and focus to oppose other opposition forces that are supposed to be its allies in purpose and compatriots in trenches against a common enemy! Is it normal for an oppositional group to automatically opt to oppose, without genuine reasons and without any consideration, all attempts to consolidate and join efforts with forces that strive to realise democratic changes?
I really could not find any legal or moral ground that explains why the EPDP and its satellite “civil societies” envisage themselves as the only rightful, qualified leaders who should think and determine what is good for the people and assume to judge who has the right to struggle and how. What credentials does such groups that support and justify such a role have?
According to my modest knowledge, at least the majority of those group are the last ones to join the opposition.They are still among the most mild critics and gentle in their means and ways of struggle against the regime. They are the proponents of a softy-softy approach, very anxious to keep the system of 90% or more hegemony intact as that is perhaps of their making, and which probably one day they are looking forward to take it all over again. They apparently seem to only oppose the dictator who is also of their creation. I think they would have never gone so far if the dictator had only introduced some reforms or cosmetic changes as had been solicited and pleaded by his old comrades including the above mentioned types of course. Until very recently, their advisors and loyal supporters, at least the elite, were the apologists and applauders of the regime. It has been indicated that the absence of free civil societies during the liberation era has nurtured the development of the current dictatorship in Eritrea. How can we explain the partisan stands of certain so-claiming “independent” civil societies of our time?
Normally with such credentials and history, no one would have blamed the already established opposition forces to turn its back to or reluctantly embrace such force, but to the contrary and the surprise of all, it is this new force that refuses to work with the old opposition. They arrogantly try to impose their conditions, dictate their terms and define the rules of engagement with regard its work relation with the opposition. They expect the others to submit to all their demands and preconditions or otherwise they boycott, withdraw and/or unleash smear campaigns as was the case with the last conference—it would possibly be the same in the coming one too.
The EPDP website has become a notice board where every sort of article criticising the conference is posted and welcomed. I would like to challenge the EPDP to say anything positive about the outcome of the conference.
The traditional opposition forces within the EDA and others are perceived by EPDP and its supporters, including some of our esteemed professors and elites, as opposition groups that are based on unfavourable and backward social phenomena of tribal, sub-national and religious inclinations and doctrines that cannot be a good ground for a national political work. Assuming the claim is true, is the EPDP and company, including our esteemed professors, really immune from these social diseases they the accuse the others of? To attest, they should carefully look up to themselves in the mirror and be brave and honest to admit how much the glaring image resembles the one they paint the other with. To any objective and honest watcher the image reflects the reality that they are not different in essence from the picture they have painted of the others. They are mainly composed of Christian Kebessa and they inadvertently or not, reflect the interest of Kebessa group. Their political nature and thinking is a manifestation of Kebessa chauvinism, reminiscent of disease that afflicts the regime.
It is not wise to throw stones (accusations) at each other since we are all living in glass houses that are very fragile and transparent. And as the popular saying goes stti ma ahssan min sidi (no one is better than the other)
I have to make it clear that I’m not trying to blame anyone or justify anything; I am trying to convey a message that we are all in this awkward situation. This is our grim reality whether we like it or not. Let us call the spade is spade and then try to find a way out of this mess together.
The latest bone of contention that the opposition by default is grabbing hard at, with nails and teeth, is that of the right of self-determination to all nationalities that the NCDC has adopted. The claim is that this is the straw that would break the back of our national unity. I wish there is a still a viable national unity among all components of our societies that has lived the regimes’ fatal blows that is worth lamenting about. What the conference, and all concerned, has done was propose ways and means to remedy the serious damage that had al ready been inflicted in an attempt to lay a solid foundation to build a durable national unity that safeguards the geographical unity and the peaceful coexistence of our people. This could be done only when all stake-holders’ interests and rights are preserved and guaranteed by this unity.
The conference discussed this issue exhaustively and responsibly taking into consideration fundamental human rights principles, the understanding of the current grim reality, the gravity of the issue at hand and its implications and repercussions in the future of the nation. Thus it asserted that any national unity cannot be imposed upon any group, it must be voluntarily upheld and preserved by all stakeholders. This cornerstone principle is feasible only when all find that their rights and interests are protected, acknowledged and guaranteed by law and enshrined in the constitution of the nation. Moreover, these rights must be exercised through a suitable constitutional decentralised form of governance that practically enables a fair sharing and participation of all national components in power and wealth proportional to its size in the central government. While locally each component must be allowed to rule and administer its district or regional concerns by itself in a way that promotes its interest and does not conflict with the general interest: sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Thus, every one benefits from such a unity and will certainly preserve it willingly.
The conference has agreed upon a unity on voluntary basis. Acknowledged the diversity of our people, cultures religions and languages and recognised the rights and interests of all national components. It asserted the adoption of a decentralised system that balances between the distribution of power and wealth locally and centrally to safeguard the best interest of the people and the nation—all of that to be endorsed in a national constitution.
Let us not argue about the terminologies and jargon. Whether we call this self-determination or not, it is a leisure I leave to our elite to indulge in. For me and the conference members, our focus was on the rights and not the terminologies that describes it: call it self determination or whatever you like or even’ a matchbox.’
The above expression is from my recollection of an event where a prominent EPLF leader argued to precisely define a political terminology that he used in course of his lecture to a group of student about the form of unity desired. He said, “As long as the content is clear, call it whatever you like.” It happened he was tossing an empty matchbox at that moment. He continued, “Call it even a matchbox for that matter.”
At present, the reality is dismal. Decades of injustices and their consequences have become detrimental to the wellbeing of our nation because of the policies and atrocities committed by the regime against all, and intensively against certain national components in particular. This has badly damaged the social fabric and dissipated the long and hard earned trust that has been won over years of peaceful coexistence that was enhanced by the common struggle for independence. People in different parts of the country who have led a life of hell on earth under the current regime, in an independent Eritrea that all struggled for and paid their share in toil and blood, feel betrayed by all the political establishments and by those who support the regime. Political organisations and political programs, no matter how progressive and inclusive they are, will not regain the public trust that has been squandered.
For any objective reader of Eritrean politics, and able to read between the lines, the rampant growth of national, sub-national, religious and other organisations represents something serious. These groups represent sectors of the population that has suffered atrocities and injustices and have lost trust in traditional political means. Thus they have resorted to basic, or primitive, forms of struggle—though more committed and authentic and true to their causes. The message: they are no more ready to risk their vital interest by relying on the goodwill of the others like in the past. The stakeholders themselves must take things in their hands and see that they are accepted and recognised as a precondition to work with the others in bringing about change for the entire country. Each may represent only a small section of the population, but the sum of all these small parts is large enough to be dismissed under any pretext. No one has the right to veto any group from struggling against the regime in the way it chooses.
And there is a question of ‘who would be eligible to rule?’
It is up to the people to decide in the future. The task at hand is to work together to bring about change. Let’s set down the principles, the rules and the plans that will help us realise the aspired change. A change that safeguards the interest and rights of all and preserve a peaceful coexistence under a united nation.
The fears and concerns expressed by some people, that the nation could be disintegrated due to the exercise of self-determination are only perceptions but not real. There are more real risks of disintegration that the nation is facing today but this risks are not worrying the new crusaders of national unity at all though the risks are more serious than the fear of self-determination. The real threats are the from the prolongation of the regimes’ life due to weakness of the opposition forces that some are contributing to—whether intentionally or not. The dreams of replacing the regime by a replica, in a new form of certain national group that would dominate power either democratically or conspiratorially constitute a real risk. Any political group that underestimates these risks and contemplates about ruling the country by a central hegemonic system that falls short of accommodating the interests and rights of all stakeholders, through the devolution of powers and wealth from centre to the regions, is paving a way for new Somalia.
Let’s not squabble about whether it was right or not for the conference to adopt the resolution of self-determination for nationalities as it is for the coming conference to confirm or revise that position. The question that some are trying to evade, in order to distract the attention of the public away from, is, whether they intend to attend the coming conference where they can contribute. Anyone who is concerned about the state of the nation, at the present and in the future, is required to play their part in assisting in the ongoing process of preparations. They must be part of all relevant activities that will facilitate the holding of a successful conference. A conference where the general features of the future Eritrea would be debated, and the roadmap for democratic changes will be drawn with a consensus of all stakeholders. A change that aims at enhancing our unity, realising the ambitions of Eritreans to live in a free and democratic country where all will fulfil their duties and responsibilities as full citizens and enjoy their share of the benefits fairly and squarely.