“Common Country” And Not “Common Enemy”
I have taken a break for the last few weeks just to watch the debate from a distance and see what it looks like to a bystander. Most of those who appeared to comment on the issues focused on the semantics of how the subject should have been framed and what kind of etiquette contributors like myself should have followed instead of cutting the bull and getting straight to how the problem should be resolved. The problem of Land Grabbers, for instance. If “framing” is all they care about, there was even a better option (I wonder why it never crossed their minds): gather some twigs – arrange them into a rectangle – paint the edges red – stitch the corners with mesfe’n fetlin and, voila, you have just made your own frame. Now lift the whole structure around your face, turn towards Asmara and tell the Land Grabbers to get the hell out of other people’s land.
I am by no means implying any intentional conspiracy by any of the honorable writers (including Desbele and Asfaha: the Tom & Jerry of the Eritrean People’s Party), although most of them, unfortunately, ended up sounding like the old children’s story about the fox and the rooster if you still remember (I am sure you were just a little kid.) The fox emerged one day dressed as preacher, stretching his arms in repentance and heralding a new era of love with roosters. The story ends with the rooster (who had learned the hard way) reading between the lines and concluding: mistaken is he who assumes faith in the fox. I don’t want people running around wailing timali Neo-Nazi iluna lomi dima fox iluna, but if they do, tell them “ab ri’esikhum yigberelkum”.
Some of my favorite readings (unlike the above) were the articles by regulars in the Awate community including: two articles by Semere Habtemariam, “Not In Our Name” and “What Do The PFDJ and Procrustes Have In Common?”; “The Cabbages and Kings” series by Mengs TM; “The Rosa Parks Moment” series by Tewolde Stephanos; Saleh Gadi’s “Aged Wine”; The “PPP” by Selam Kidane; & Ismail Omar’s “Adi Yeblu – Andi Yeblu”. The conclusion was: build the ark using PPP circles, find out Rosa Park’s measurements and Procrustes’ couch on eBay, measure all Cabbages and Kings and stretch them for baptism on Aged Wine to qualify for the Ark. Watching the pictures of the congregations in Saleh Meki’s funeral (May God bless his soul) it was easy to conclude that, provided we buy a reasonable size couch, only one guy would probably have to be chopped to fit in. As painful as it is, the rest will have to be stretched to qualify for the Ark and that is exactly what we are trying to do by suggesting a solution as simple as: Place President on Block “A” – Hit it with Block “B”.
My other favorites were (in Arabic): (1) a series of very courageous articles supported by a wealth of information and insight entitled “The Nine Vices” by Ustaz Omer Jaber (check Al Nahda for Part VII of the series and get to know the esteemed Tekhle Michael who according to Ustaz O.J. had tried to sneak in some Land Grabbers to Ad-Ibrhim and was busted by Jebha); (2) “Why equate the prisoner to the jailer?” by Abu Hayot (Al Nahda Oct. 05, 2009) in response to Ibrahim Mohammed Ali’s article describing the PFDJ and the Islamists as “two faces of the same coin” (“Sheikh Hamid Turki: Fomenting Religious Differences for What End, for Whose Benefit?” Nharnet, Sept. 04, 2009). Thank you both for standing up for those who need you most to stretch the dwarfs amongst us. We are all of course very happy to hear about Ibrahim M. Ali’s quick recovery from the surgery and wish him long, healthy and happy years ahead. I look forward to the day when the honorable Ustaz Ibrahim who once inspired generations with his insights (to end up with everybody in Kerekon) would also recover from his latest hallucinations to explain to his own tribesmen what happened to the promise that they would one day see their own sons and daughters in government offices in their own neighborhoods and that they would be free to plough, preach and worship. I don’t want to sound too pushy on family matters but he might as well tell them (tekuselom style) why he thinks ganging along ethno-regional lines is bad for them when he knows full well that it was those who ganged along the same lines who managed to achieve an independent Eritrea in 1991 and continue to control our destiny to date. I apologize that I got carried away trying to say “Happy Recovery”.
Now back to the topic (seri tezaribom zezarbukha yikhla’ana). The distinction between the two sets of writings lies in a critical divergence in the premises on which they built their respective analysis.
The first group (with some exceptions) starts with the assumption that “we” in the opposition have a common enemy called the PFDJ and that it is imperative that we come together (preferably as organizations) and join hands to defeat it. The second group (including myself with permission from the idols) starts with the assumption that “we” Eritreans (including the well known supporters of the PFDJ – minus Yemane Monkey and Hagos Kisha for understandable reasons if you know what I mean) have a common country called Eritrea to share and that it is imperative that we come together and join hands to devise the parameters of a better future based on equality and mutual respect.
THE “COMMON ENEMY” VIEWPOINT
This analysis views the hundreds of thousands of Eritrean citizens (overwhelmingly ethnic Tigrignas) who for some reason or another are serving the PFDJ regime’s projects with selfless dedication as nothing but misguided or coerced souls (“slaves” to put it bluntly) with no right to determine the nation’s future. They provide no explanation as to whether respectful Eritrean citizens have the right to support the PFDJ [at least as a temporary structure until some “transitional business” (not necessarily of Land Grabbers as they may not be alone on that) – but such as making sure that the Weyanes do not show up again – is taken care of]. They provide no justification as to why Eritreans who support the opposition that may risk chaos and destruction [at least as a temporary mechanism until some “transitional business” – such as making sure that the PFDJ is overthrown – is taken care of] should deserve precedence in riding the Ark. They fail to recognize that according to an EPP-EDP statement all Eritreans (I would add “including the PFDJ supporters” according to Hadas Ertra) do “share an identical dream” of a prosperous democratic Eritrea in the future – once (divergent definitions of) the “transitional business” is taken care of.
THE “COMMON COUNTRY” VIEWPOINT
This analysis argues that since the “we” refers to the Eritrean people as a whole, any artificial organizational entities that can be formed or deformed at a moment’s notice (and at the whims of some ri’esi tanikas in Europe) are irrelevant to the sustainability of societal relationships that have endured for centuries. The real conflict (to be distinguished from power struggles among the elite), they say, should be analyzed from the point of view of the natural rift lines underlying the current organizational make-up of the Eritrean landscape, which necessarily is transitional by nature. The underlying assumption here is that any societal conflict over real issues (such as land) will eventually create its own organizational manifestations once the grievance among the stakeholders (those treading the embers) brews to a boiling point and accumulates enough energy to explode creating new realities on the ground (standard teachings of Ibrahim M. Ali and others during our armed struggle).
Conversely, of course, this implies that any organizational entity established on artificial private initiative by the detached elite (“for the common good” for instance and we appreciate all initiatives by the way) will sooner or later end up being irrelevant to “the common good” itself, as more representative structures (of the real grievances) inevitably gain momentum. Somalia’s recent history is testimony to what a nation of relatively more dynamic (than Eritrea’s) networks of civic and political organizations on the one hand, and ignored societal grievances running along regional and tribal lines at the grassroots level on the other hand interact to inevitably create a new reality (in this case) of chaos and destruction (hopefully lasting only until some “transitional business” is taken care of). Conclusion: No organizational drama of pinheaded politicians will ever be able to stop the floods of angry and disgusted common men deprived of their right to equal citizenship in the land of their ancestors and robbed of the dream of ever having a place to call home. Why? Because: betri Haqi tiqeTin imber aytsbern.
AN ACCEPTABLE COMPROMISE
An acceptable compromise could be reached between the two sides however if either side minded its own business. We all need change and share “an identical dream” to quote the EPP-EDP (I guess the last time I quoted them for doing something good was when they broke the news of the heroic people of Adi Gebray although I still blame them for not keeping us updated on how the story of Colonel Woldu and his dead mother ended) and if coming together to face the PFDJ turns out to be impossible (thank you for all the 18 years of serious trials) it doesn’t hurt to venture into other ways of doing the same.
I apologize if I have misled some writers (including my favorite, Ismail) into concluding that I do not believe in democracy (I have no clue if I ever said that). For the record though: I don’t think democracy itself (the system that brought Obama to the top in the face of Neo-Nazis and Supremacists) is wishy-washy at all. What I think to be Tricky-Pricky is the claim that such a sophisticated system (in terms of requisite infrastructures designed to ensure that Neo-Nazis and Supremacists become the losers) will replace the PFDJ regime in a couple of years (or a couple of decades for argument’s sake).
Don’t get me wrong, inehele golgol – inehele feres for any Harry Potter who is willing to try. Just don’t ask us to put our own worries aside and wait praying for the spell to shatter the evil empire into a happy ending where Land Grabbers depart with hugs and kisses and Exclusionists open their doors to give and share. I don’t think any sensible person would argue that empowering disadvantaged ethno-regional groups to enforce an equal playing field or even granting those who may not want to be part of a united nation (if they fail to secure the plain field) their right to self-determination is not part of laying grounds for democratic rule in the long run. That is the contribution of the Lowland & Muslim movement to a future democratic state (or states) of Eritrea. Can the rest of organizations show anything they have contributed to that end, other than a manual for institutionalizing Land Grabbers and Exclusionists?
UNITY, UNITY, YEY
The hysteria and phobia in our traditional opposition thinking, I believe, has its roots in the liberation era constructs that a national goal (such as independence or even terminating the PFDJ) can only be achieved through organizational unity i.e. Unite or Die slogans. Jebha Abay as we all know perished singing “simret … simret” (kab kifu’e yedHinena). PFDJ as we all know succeeded singing “kitet … kitet” (kem’om yemasilena). No matter what horrors took place on the ground, no matter how desperate the nation became for someone to take initiative and do something (anything) that would relieve us from the jaws of the monster the pursuit of an elusive “Unity” became the full time job that preoccupied the opposition in endless inklil every moment of the last 18 years. The truth that we fail to pay attention to is that there has never been one single moment in our history where political organizations ever stood together (in a meaningful way) let alone unite to achieve anything at all, not even at the most desperate times of foreign occupation, death and destruction.
This is not to say that Eritreans were never united as such a mindless claim can easily be refuted by the fact that Eritreans did come together (under the EPLF for instance) to beat up mighty enemies and achieve independence (or under the ELF for instance) to kick-start the armed struggle). The reason for this confusion (of best achievements always correlated to organizational disunity) lies in our misguided elitist pre-conceptions of the way Eritreans at the grassroots level unite and the formula for every serious organization, I believe, is as simple as: crush anybody who wastes your time with the inklil of organizational unity and march forward to show results and everybody will follow. The history of the ELF in its earliest days and the EPLF in its latest days is a reflection of this fact. The only favor you should be prepared to do is to either join or congratulate and give up once another brother proves more effective. Do not linger around to tackle and do not stand to be an obstacle. Don’t you think we would have been in a much better situation if the ELF had given up and joined the EPLF in the late 1970s since it was on its way to quitting a year later anyway? Watch out, though, for those (exclusively Diaspora groups) with vested interests in tugging themselves to those with the potential capacity to walk it alone with the intention of either hitchhiking to political power or acting like Trojan Horses carrying the Men in Black.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY ENEMIES
We have all been reading the hoopla that some individuals and a group of organizations have been writing to argue for defining the PFDJ as the “Primary Enemy” and to postpone for a later date the confrontation against “Secondary Enemies.” You may need to get drunk to fully appreciate the argument and, if you do, this is probably where you will end up: tomorrow’s “Secondary Enemies” are expected to join the struggle against today’s crumbling “Primary Enemy” to first help create an established “Primary Enemy” for the future battle.
My modest understanding had always been that once independence was achieved, it would be the end of the story of “primary enemies” because from that date on, all conflicts among Eritreans would be considered “secondary”. The PFDJ, as far as I know, is an Eritrean group (unless someone has evidence to the contrary) and however evil it might be it will always remain a “secondary enemy” vis-à-vis other Eritrean opponents, just so we reserve the title of “Primary Enemy” in case some neighbors (cousins if you will) pop-up to say “assalamu alaykum” one morning and we need to mobilize all Eritreans including the PFDJ (or may be behind it) to respond “wo’aleykum” the way it was done in May 1998 (out of the spirit of good neighborliness).
In fact, one of the few slogans that enjoyed a complete consensus during the armed struggle was the partitioning of the struggle in two phases: unite to deal with the primary enemy until Eritrea was liberated and then take it as it comes to deal with secondary enemies after liberation. None of the liberation struggle organizations ever entertained the possibility of an independent Eritrea with no “secondary enemies”. True to their history of keeping promises (with selective exceptions) the EPLF, backed by an overwhelming popular support of all Eritreans, managed to liberate Eritrea and immediately started dealing with the “secondary enemy” (singular). The general opportunistic impression among all the ELF splinters was that “secondary enemies” (plural) stood for organizational leaders sitting on their behinds in the Diaspora, who would eventually be invited to negotiate the settlement of secondary conflicts between the triumphant EPLF and the ghosts of the lifeless ELF.
Contrary to this elitist analysis, however, the general understanding within the EPLF always assumed the objective and independent existence of the political infrastructure from the organizational structures justified by it. In other words, the EPLF’s (and latter the PFDJ’s) perception had always been that it was possible to liquidate any organization as long as one managed to effectively compete and outsmart it in dealing with the problems it claims to stand for (drawing a line between unity of organizations and rallying people behind tangible resuls). In fact, apart from the bragging ri’esi tienos, the EPLF’s core cadres believed that the ELF died (of natural cause) because the EPLF managed (through action and leading by example) to persuade Muslims & Lowlanders that the ELF was no more relevant as far as confrontation with the primary enemy was concerned. This essentially was the reason why ELF splinter groups who continued to meet and plot in coffee shops in the Diaspora were declared “ri’esi Akats” that represent only themselves and in the case of most of these groups the conclusion turned out to be well justified (as it became “nay adebabay misteer” that they are just “Imet gezaf wo’angeb ib’hala”).
The only exceptions to the EPLF’s successful campaign to render the opposition groups irrelevant were the Lowland & Muslim organizations, whose efforts to galvanize their intended constituents (mostly in the refugee camps of Sudan and the Western Lowlands in Eritrea) were rewarded as the ethnic supremacists in the PFDJ gradually gained momentum and eventually claimed total control of state institutions. (The reasons why those Lowland & Muslim organizations apparently failed to exploit the opportunity are family matters that I hate to discuss in public but for those who are curious: the hint is “dediHri adgi zikhede TiraT adgi lemede”.)
The collective name of Lowland & Muslim organizations became “Hamshay Mesri’e” and that came to be what the PFDJ considered as the structural manifestation of the “secondary enemy” and a campaign to dry the sea that feeds the fish was unleashed. The inherent conflict of interest in the ethnocentric priorities of the supremacists eventually paralyzed the old proven tricks of winning the hearts and minds of Lowlanders & Muslims (by getting Dehab Faytinga to do her moves) leaving them with fewer options. The regime’s aggressive and phobic campaigns to block any influence from the Arab-Islamic world; its resistance to the repatriation of refugees; its well known “national languages” campaigns; and of course the viciousness of its security forces against anybody remotely associated with any Lowland-Muslim political orientation speaks of nothing other than the PFDJ’s obsessive determination to eradicate the “secondary enemy”. To be fair, never has the PFDJ (as far as I know) implied the “Primary Enemy” to be anything other than non-Eritrean foreign powers, in spite of their conviction that eradicating the “Secondary Enemy” represented a necessary pre-condition for entertaining any chances of standing up to “Primary Enemies” (and that for the understandable reasons of ethnically stratified loyalties within the nation).
It was this obsession and the realization that the nation (of ethnic supremacists) was up against a formidable “secondary enemy” that came to define what the new State of Eritrea was to become in the latter years as every major government action became intricately rooted in that obsession. Turning the nation into a training camp for whoever volunteered to give the Sudanese government a hard time and the emergence of Eritrea as the “peace-maker & deal-breaker” blackmailing to pressure the Sudan to change its mind from backing the Lowland & Muslim resistance was a gigantic project that defines the nation to date. Promotion of Eritrea as a regional power willing and capable of fighting the spread of fundamentalism in the region and the eventual branding as the “renaissance” were campaigns that engraved the image of “Haddas Ertra” in the minds of many Eritreans with special effects on the psyche of the Tigrigna elite. Frustration at Ethiopia’s procrastination and reluctance in contributing its share to the PFDJ’s efforts to overthrow the Sudanese regime with the aim of sealing the western border from sneaking “Hamshay Mesri’e” and the resulting feeling of betrayal among the Tigrigna supremacists was (among other things) a critical factor in the regime’s spontaneous reaction to an otherwise negligent transgression by Weyane officials in May 1998.
During the 18 years that the PFDJ wasted on fighting what they defined to be the “secondary enemy”, Eritreans (all of them) gradually found themselves trapped in an ever intensifying and expanding spiral of horrors (and an undeclared civil war) as guidance for government action came less from insight and more from frustration with a “secondary enemy” that would never die. Gradually expanding military operations by the Lowland & Muslim organizations (to some extent varying with fluctuations in the Eritrean-Sudanese relations) had practically paralyzed the Western Lowlands and semi-liberated territories in parts of Barka, Sahel and Senhit, where no government official would think of visiting without the company of heavily armed soldiers, had started to emerge as early as 1993.
Two important developments declared the official beginning of the showdown with the “secondary enemy” in 1994: (1) the EPLF was replaced by the PFDJ and with that what was described as the “new breed” of cadres, including the Kishas and the monkeys of the supremacist core, declared war on the old guard (within the organization) and gained the free reign they desperately needed to devote the whole state structure into the pursuit of narrow ethno-centric agendas; (2) the military operations of the Islamic organizations and their intensive diplomatic campaigns in the Middle East facilitated by the Sudan’s NIF regime had reached levels that motivated an increasing flow of funds and fighters from the Arab world threatening to expand the conflict to dangerous proportions.
The magnitude of the reach of the gang of ethnic supremacists, “the new breed” that sneaked to hijack the PFDJ and to purge it of any traces of nationalistic hangovers from the EPLF, is one of the most guarded secrets of the supremacists. It is only prudent for Lowlanders & Muslims to base their preparations for the inevitable showdown on scenarios that leave no room for underestimations. Some basic facts are, however, well known to all those who have followed developments within the PFDJ regime through the years, starting with the fact that by late 1994 (following the congress) a ghostly government of experts within the “President’s Office” mirroring the mandate of almost each and every ministry had already started pulling the rugs from under the feet of the last remaining strongholds of the old guard: the ministries. Early manifestations of the emergence of this mysterious entity appeared in the form of competitive animosity on increasingly overlapping responsibilities between the Macro-Policy Office and almost all the economy & resources related ministries; between the PFDJ and the Ministries of Local Government and Foreign Affairs over control of regional governments, embassies and Eritrean communities in the Diaspora; and between the President’s Office proper and power centers within the Military and Security structures. Those who won the contest were Tigrignas and those who lost were predominantly Tigrignas (just a note for those who are selling the idea that our reference to “Neo-Nazis & Supremacists” is a blanket for all Tigrignas).
Very soon it was the President who would lecture the Minister of Agriculture, for instance, on what pesticides to apply in which specific project; it was the President who would give the Minister of Public Works expert advice on what building materials were best suited for Eritrea’s environment in the construction of a specific bridge; it was the President who would kindly inform the Minister of Education that the boarding school in Asmat needed 15 more beds and 14 pillows because one of the students was borrowing a pillow from Haboba; and it was the President who would let the no-clue Minister of Foreign Affairs know that Eritrea had been forced to sever diplomatic relations with Sudan because of problems that the latter had no idea they existed. All that the Excellencies in cabinet of ministers could do was bow down and kiss the boss’s feet in gratitude for saving them the embarrassment of not doing their jobs properly. Do we have any reason to assume that those ministers (who knew the President the way you would know your older brother) actually believed the work to be that of a random dictator running around dictating to them whatever crossed his mind? Not at all! This well justified (and thankfully accepted) rip off of responsibilities intensified by the day and by the time the G15 started to speak out, the weight of each one of them from an operational point of view was nothing more than that of the janitors who cleaned their offices.
Hold on, don’t rush it too fast: proving the incidence of a sneaky, ghostly coup d’état does not prove anything about the ethnic supremacist nature of the regime, as that is what each one of us should conclude for him/herself by noting that the regime is what the regime does. Following the disappearance of the G15 and, in more recent years, we have all seen the emergence (out of the blue) of the tip of the iceberg of the underground structure out in the open in the form of “Operational Zones” composed of military officers with powers not only unparalleled by any ministerial authority but with the guts to defy the President in public. You may consider this outlandish (feel free) but today the grip of the supremacists has grown to such proportions that even President Isaias (the Grandmaster of the Priory) himself is nothing but a helpless spectator and a docile pawn in the games of the Land Grabbers and the Exclusionists. So many know-it-all writers and Halefti-ne’rna-behalti pinheads will come forward in the coming days to try to convince you that the “government of Eritrea” (that has managed to maize its way out of countless local and regional conspiracies during the last 18 years and at least managed to win Baduma on paper) is a collection of a single guy and a number of clueless puppets. Just keep what I tried to explain in the back of your mind whenever you are tempted to accept the proposition of the “one-man- dictatorship” or the popular initials of “DIA” for granted.
The policies of the PFDJ’s ethnic supremacists, their insistence in eradicating the “secondary enemy” and the natural enraged reaction, whose initial symptoms have just started to emerge, combined to set in motion a process whose outcomes are most likely irreversible. The traditional formula of unconstrained peaceful coexistence based on pure goodwill and naïve trust among the component elements of the Eritrean society was completely overturned in the last 18 years. Our insistence to hold on to this primitive characteristic that does not stick any more has denied the nation of the most important infrastructure of natural checks and balances that are critical for the development of transparent and accountable structures necessary for the establishment of any sustainable democratic system in the future. The extent to which the nation is ready for meaningful democratic change will be determined by the extent to which these spontaneously natural ethno-regional checks and balances gather the capacity to actually be able to check and balance regimes that might at any moment fall in the hands of vicious ethnic supremacists.
In today’s Eritrea, holding on to the title of “nationalist”, thinking in terms of the whole nation, and looking away from things that go on in your own ethno-religious environment has become an extremely expensive endeavor not worth the effort for Lowlanders & Muslims, as more stringent conditions requiring one to plug the ears, shut the eyes and seal the mouth from what the ethnic supremacists of the PFDJ are doing have become the minimum that the most vocal among our partners are prepared to tolerate. This selfish and insensitive attitude and the resulting lifestyle of humiliating and disgusting self-denial with unsustainable and hard to adhere to conditions are being promoted as the standard against which good is judged from evil.
As a Tigrigna intellectual, you have a very rare opportunity to make a difference by first recognizing that we, as a nation, are dealing with a much more sophisticated problem of determined supremacists than some would like us to believe and then by getting out of your little shell and acting as an honorable citizen to reverse a phenomenon that is a shame not only to ethnic Tigrignas by association but a stain to the history of a nation that deserves far better. As a Lowlander and a Muslim remember that you are not doing a favor to Tigrignas through appeasement that might only help delay the diagnosis of the disease of demanding supremacist games that have already eaten them to the bone. It is time to reach out to every Tigrigna that you care about and that cares to listen and invite them to join the rituals of exorcising the nation from their own demons.