Stay Engaged, Be Relevant

A friend implores that those of us who write on Eritrean affairs, do so, from a middle-of-the-road perspective. I understand the appeal: the extreme is reprehensible and the middle-road is praiseworthy. To me the art of compromise, the art of navigating from the middle is the art of peace-making, and a sure sign of political maturity. This, of course, assumes the presence of freedom, which is the natural state of politics, where free citizens assemble in their Agora (baito) to determine public policy.

Our situation is, however, completely different. Ours is a face-off of two mutually exclusive and hostile ideas, and one has to lose for the other to flourish. We’re either free people under a government that is by, from and for us, or deprived, oppressed and enslaved by a regime that is not by, from and for us. The choice is clear, but realizing freedom is much harder and quite often very elusive. The cruel fact is that no easy way exists to fight tyranny. We don’t have Aladdin’s lamp with which we could conjure up the genie of democracy, human rights and rule of law. Sacrifices have to be made. But, what kind of sacrifices?

If I knew the future of Eritrea—my home-land–depended on my temporary surrender of my fundamental rights, then, I would be the first one to submit to “higdefite” dictatorship. But, I know better. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” There is no compromise with evil; it has to be fought, crushed and totally annihilated. And there are good reasons why those rights are called fundamental rights; they cannot be taken away under any circumstances. Besides, compromise works best when the rules of the game are clearly spelled out and all stakeholders have taken a solemn oath to abide by them. Unfortunately for us, the regime in Asmara is neither known for honor nor for the rule of law. We’re placed in an un-envious position where we have to ask ourselves of how to fight extremism without resorting to extreme measures. In my view, tyranny as experienced in Eritrea, North Korea and many other places is the worst form of extremism.

Things are bad in Eritrea. Those who have chosen not to see it are neither blind nor innocent; and their moral obtuseness is fueling the engine of oppression. They are like the ancient Arabic sayings, “He who weds his daughter to the grave has found the best of bridegrooms.” But, for how long can they patiently wait for the shadow of tyranny to recede and its waves to roll back? When do they say, “Enough is enough?”

And, as far as those of us, and there are many of us, who have already responded to the clarion call of freedom, it is incumbent on us to ask if we’ve any relevance to what goes on in Eritrea. Whether we see it or not, the gigantic wheel of nature is rolling on, and we have, as it has been said many times, seize the moment: lead, follow or get out of the way. History will not be fair to all of us if we let generation after generation of Eritreans be sentenced to never-ending conflicts, misery and oppression. Whatever differences, small or big, important or trivial that are consuming our internal squabbles are of no consequences to the Eritrean people. The sooner we realize this the better off we will all be.

There is a need for assertive action, not the passive lamentations of the erosion of our cherished traditions and the betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of our long struggle, but one that resonates with the people we intend to liberate and with a nation we aim to salvage.  In two simple words: be relevant. One thing is for sure; if we can’t inspire hope, we can’t bring change. Hope is what fuels the carriage of life to move forward. Sometimes, I fear that the long years of lassitude in the meaningless drudgery of cottage-industry opposition have blinded the so-called leaders from aiming high. As a Texan, what I see is too many hats and no cattle, and one can’t be a cowboy without cattle.

Leadership is a tricky business: seek and you will find it, neglect and you will lose it. Sadly, leadership, has been neglected more too often in the world of “lHe” opposition. (Those who know Tigrinya should get a kick out of the word “lHe” and those who don’t, I’m hoping your curiosity will compel you to start a conversation about the term with your fellow Eritreans, and that would greatly please me.)

Freedom is what we were destined for; and what is destined cannot but be. We just need to work harder. No humanbeing should be ruled without their consent; for that would be an affront to their dignity and an abomination in the sight of God. We’ve the power to choose between right and wrong and no endeavor should be dearer to our hearts than the cause of freedom. Freedom has eluded us many times, and the question that has rightfully taken center-stage is not only how we fight for it, but how do we hold its torch and live it.

I say: the means will determine the end and the end will justify the means. Let’s be counseled by the wisdom of yesterday and work by the knowledge we have today. Whatever means we choose, the litmus test is the same: Are we relevant? Are we walking on the road to Asmara?

Stay engaged, but be relevant.

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