The ELL: Context And Method
Disclaimer: Say you are telling a friend in Adi-Qontsi about an argument you had with an ugly woman in Siberia, who had long nails. Your next-door neighbor (you never mentioned her name) jumps in and starts explaining. Applying simple logic: (a) your neighbor thinks she is ugly; (b) she has long nails; or (c) she is up to something. The probability of meeting an ugly woman from Adi-Qontsi in Siberia and meeting her again next-door in Adi-Qontsi a week later is close to zero. Since probability can never be zero, however, in case you find anything offensive, please skip because if you obsess on these things, they become about you. If you get to that stage, stop reading and meditate about the wrongs you might have done.
I am definitely one of those who get obsessed with some stupid thing and stuck mainly for lack of perspective. Most of the time the culprit is a simple idea that I picked from a nightmare. Think of this for example: in my typical nightmare, Eritrean opposition appears to you as being about “opposition” as a cause – not a means to an end but the end itself. In this scenario, opposition organizations and politics, as old as the stars, are born out of opposition parents before Eritrea had a government to oppose and they always become opposition long after the PFDJ is gone. They come to thrive “as pigs in a puddle” and you are in the middle of it all. Read the lines a couple of times until you feel it has become a reality outside your making. Now you should feel that “the opposition” is more of a liability to the struggle for change than an asset. I will give you the details of the nightmare below so that you may consult a dream-dictionary.
The puddle has more to it than you would like to believe. The “criticism” side of opposition cyber-activism is saturated with the Tigrigna version of the disability of Eritrean politics of change. That is how we come to own the license to bash the “Tigrigna elite” and assume as given “the Grand Conspiracy” of the Tigrigna. The only problem you need to deal with (as a Tigrigna basher) is that “you should not generalize”. It is out of question even for intelligent Tigrignas that ‘some Tigrigna elite are doing conspiracy’. The logic of this (you may say straw-man fallacy) is simple – there are crimes being committed, therefore there are criminals on the loose and “bzey-Tiwy’wy” – ‘the criminals are Tigrigna and please help catch them’. The other side (lowlander and Muslim) – as featured in the nightmare I am telling you about – is a black box that no one dares to open for the simple assumption that ‘you cannot blame the victim’. If you want to try, some proficiency in “double-talking” is required.
There is no question that, the Arabic language side of the Eritrean cyberspace is way ahead of the English or Tigrigna sides of Eritrean debate forums in terms of excitement and relevance of substance debated. That is why almost every new organization fertilizes in those forums. Tigrigna language material is too descriptive or trivial to be of relevance. Coalitions of “halelew” and “inkililo” experts have taken over the couple of English language forums driving the once vibrant space into the corner of irrelevant. Traditionally, Eritrean English language forums have their roots in an environment when three assumptions used to hold: (a) Eritrea having nothing to do with Ethiopia was a fantasy never tried before; (b) opposition activists posing on Ethiopia’s lap was fashionable revolutionary defiance of taboos; and (c) sub-national grievances overwhelming and subsequently crowding out the Unionist agenda was unimaginable. Now that these assumptions are dead, leaving three naughty kids that do not look like the parents at all, English language forums and their esteemed writers are stuck wrestling the ghosts.
Conversation in the Arabic language forums, however, is an encrypted exclusive monologue among lowlanders in a way that does not reach out and is, therefore, incapable of making up for the death of English language media. The main dialogue in all Eritrean websites takes place among individuals posing as “hardcore opposition” freelancers distancing themselves from any responsibility towards the organized opposition. English language opposition websites take extra precaution and do not even publish original statements of political organizations (for fear of being misconstrued) and take extra effort to distance themselves from acts of ‘the uneducated commons’ not fit for ‘the elite’. Both Tigrigna and Arabic forums do publish original formal statements of organized groups and individual unassociated “abukato” carry out the covert action always making sure not blow off the ‘educated cool standard’ distance from ‘the mob’. Two things define the “educated cool” standard: (a) conviction that association to ethnic politics is shameful; (b) conviction that only when they intend to do ethnic politics do opposition activists organize and give themselves a name (“yeHfirom”).
As someone whose membership application in the ELL is still in the air, I will try my best to prove my worth, by assuming the best in this new and very promising initiative that many lowlanders are vowing to make into a success story. In my personal opinion, it is the Tigrigna above the rest who should be most eager for this experiment to succeed. What makes the ELL a critical part of a responsible solution is its rejection of under-table time bombs for “New Eritrea”. We still need to test this presumption and only time will tell if its leadership and activists are up to the challenge. We (all of us) will put the text to the extreme until we figure out whether it is another ostrich in the sand or a new brand of opposition politics in the making. Let us hope that we make it before the disguised Unionists end up castrating the optimistic start.
We have had a bit of an experience, as you may remember, with a few “ostriches” that promised a lot more than the ELL and had a much better chance of success. The first was a group of organizations (theological Islamists and federalists) who called themselves “the Tadamun” and came at the most opportune time that any political adventurer could ever hope for. The opposition was broken, lowlanders were helplessly attentive to anything that could inspire hope, and swarms of land-grabbers were red-handed right in the act of making history. Later we discovered that it was actually “opposition politics” at its best – some guys were looking for votes at an ENCDC conference, got the votes they needed and sneaked out of the deal.
Around the same time, a group of mysterious intellectuals (it could be Mongolian secret service for all I know) declared something called “Covenant” and published a whimper document under the name of an absolute hero in our history. For those who never read the document, 75% of it was explaining and apologizing because some “lowlanders” (the authors) called themselves “lowlanders” (or versions of it), 25% was begging and prostrating for the “chauvinists” (in “No-Name” brand) to have mercy on lowlanders. We all stopped, braced and waited, if there was any more to it. Nothing happened. Several opposition conferences, deep to the ears in Ethiopian stink, passed and we started looking for some “intellectuals” who might have had something in mind or come up with some surprise plan. Nothing happened.
This time the ELL came with the “Wathiqa” which in fact does not say much more than what its predecessor had said in absolute terms but showed signs that are more specific on the lowlander side. At least we know and trust the people here and we have already seen very uplifting activities and unprecedented excitement on the ground. As you might have noticed in the couple of articles, following many of my favorite writers in the Arabic media, I did put a few more words into the mouths of the authors (beyond what the document actually said) because I hope (plus “Hushukhshukh”) that was what they really wanted to say. Trust your instinct and if anyone tells you the Wathiqa or any of its authors wanted to say different, give them the boot. Even if they never said what I said they said, that is what they would have said if it were not for embarrassment from the coffee-shop Unionist friends. Should we let the personal convenience of “shy leaders” dictate our politics? If they insist, then you should know they are actually the disguised Mongolian Unionists mentioned above and another boot please. Remember, we are not playing the “sleeper” in this “cultural revolution” and your job description as an enforcer of this glasnost is to purge the doublethinks out of the ELL and tell them ‘not this time!’
The Mandatory of ELL
The attitude I have described above is the minimum condition for joining anything that has to do with either this ELL and if it is aborted for any reason the next ELL, as it is strictly dishonest to push the disguised Unionist agenda in this new excitement. It is critical for the leaders to appear strong and defiant – not broken and apologetic – against pressures to pull the movement back to the puddle. You may say you do not have to be offensive to appear strong. I say if you are not saying something “offensive” to someone, chances are you are not saying anything that matters to anyone and your silence is as good as your nonsense. If you are one of the adherents of the “educated cool standard” obsessed with the sexy look, or the “ri’esi Akats” who think “sub-national” is a last resort that, Eritreans should only follow after exhausting other options, you are in the wrong time zone. “Sub-national” is where the new Eritrea or any “rights-based” nation building anywhere on this planet must start the brick-by-brick bottom-up process. You MUST assume that debate on the “what” part of the equation is sealed for good by what the ELL Wathiqa represented as an Eritrean citizenship where we (lowlanders) can impose the conditions of our “equality under the law” to the extent that we do not infringe on the equal rights of others.
There are two critical conditions that are necessarily built-in as part of this specification:
- Rejection of Trickle-Down Formulae:
The initiative rests on the belief that (as far as lowlanders are concerned) the core challenges causing “inequality under the law” in Eritrea cannot be resolved by simply setting up a democratic regime (with all the “rule of law” and “justice” claims) under or after the fall of the PFDJ. It is a rejection of the conception of “democracy as a trickle-down system of rights” and a move towards the conception of “democracy as a preformatted system of peacefully managing deals among components.” The “preformatted” adjective of democracy is where the ELL resides. Whether you like it or not, “democracy” is neither necessary nor sufficient for a system of managing sub-national grievances to the satisfaction of all to emerge. If any ELL members or leaders actually believe that a democratic regime is capable of delivering “equality under the law” for lowlanders, then they would be playing typical dishonest opposition politics because unless they think you are stupid they would never try to convince you that a fragmented opposition for “democratic change” needs more of the same.
- Rejection of Excessive Orientations:
The initiative rests on the assumption that Eritrea is composed of a finite number of ethno-regional components. That is why, it is easy to envision a one-time deal that will structure and set the rules of the game for non-stop free market transactions among an infinite number of combinations of individual preferences, which may range from political orientations to your favorite chewing gums. As per “the sealed what” of the Wathiqa, the ELL’s mandate is strictly limited by the imperatives of reaching a deal with the other components, primarily the Tigrigna, on the parameters of a nation that we (lowlanders) can all call home and nothing more! “Tigrigna” in ELL’s dictionary is not some racist specification of an ethnic group premised on bloodlines but a restricted reference to those who sustain the PFDJ regime as a Tigrigna Supremacist regime.
The Optional of ELL
This is an internal dialogue among members. Please skip if you are not an actual or potential member unless you are interested in the gossip. What follows in this section is optional. I might be wrong in what I am trying to promote and there might be better ways that you know of. Because the “how” is what matters most, it is also the arena of our internal hopefully healthy competition over which orientation or strategy becomes the rule of the game in the operational of the ELL. The intention is to contribute to internal conflict of ideas that is necessary for dynamism.
The “mandatory” of the ELL sounds sweet and you are smiling. Hidden in this conception is one little thing you should know and all ELL “abukatos” should memorize. It is not within the mandate of the ELL to produce “the good citizen” for either this Eritrea in both PFDJ and opposition versions or that Eritrea, which will be born the day the anticipated deal is signed with fellow ethno-regional components.
The good citizen is not the creation of blanket prescriptions of how individuals should behave or what they should believe in. Only God can create humans and once created we should learn to take them as given. Good citizens are those who ask their leaders: “who are you to tell me what to do?” That is why we have Muslim lowlanders and Christian lowlanders, feminist and non-feminist lowlanders, Islamists and communists, nutcases and knuckleheads, pro-opposition and anti-opposition, as well as “nHna nsu” and “nsu nHna” – all of whom are “good citizens” as far as the ELL’s mandate is concerned and as long as they agree that lowlanders deserve equality under the law. The implication of this conception is that under no condition should the ELL or any of its associates behave as a retail outlet for some opposition (or PFDJ) agenda that may represent the personal political preference of some gang of its leaders or members. The tendency (if any) to piggyback the agenda of opposition organizations or their coalitions including the ENCDC to the ELL initiative must stop immediately or put on hold until an inclusive conference mandates the specifics. Thank You!
Now that we are done with the ELF series of organizations that obliterated the lowlands polity into endless tribal and clan divisions, I do not think it is a smart idea to trigger a new ELL1, ELL2 and ELL3 series. The sad reality is that, political orientation in Eritrea – including the broad division into opposition and government camps – is not a random grievance-based distribution. Especially in the case of lowlanders, political affiliation follows tribal and clan lines and mimics the positions of respected dignitaries (some of who may support or oppose the PFDJ) in local communities. Building political mobilization on inferences and presumptions of the position of individual grassroots without accounting for the impact of opinion makers whose role in the rational community is to aggregate individual preferences is a post-dated license to failure.
Example: say we go door to door asking grown-up and able Eritreans if they agree for the PFDJ regime to be removed. We find out that 99%”strongly supported” the idea and 98% demanded that after being removed, PFDJ leadership be handed to them for crushing. If you decided to start an organization to remove the PFDJ, what proportion of the ones you polled do you guess would show up and enlist to die for the noble goal under your leadership? The answer is “none” because it is the 1% who said “strongly disagree” who take the role of aggregating the votes of the 99% in operationalizing them into political action on the ground. That is where the opposition is wrong. The moral principle that no “good citizen” will be able to skip is that avoiding “worse” take precedence over generating “better”. The “good = bad” (neutral gear) point of departure is always today’s situation. Even if it is hell today (as it actually is in Eritrea), it is still the “neutral gear” point of moral reference. You cannot convince people on “today is horrible” because “worse” and “better” are about tomorrow and tomorrow is about the extent to which they trust you will deliver as promised.
The secret that you may not have thought of before is that no bloodshed at all – not a drop of blood – is required to end Tigrigna ethnic supremacy in Eritrea, while it is virtually impossible to effect “democratic change” through revolution without destroying the state of Eritrea and a lot of bloodshed. Focusing the struggle on a specific set of people, who happen to be Tigrigna, doing things that the majority of Eritreans (including Tigrignas) consider as disgusting and wrong unleashes the powerful weapon of “shaming ethnic fanatics” invented and perfected during the armed struggle. The premise that fuels the destructive capacity of shaming as a political weapon rests on the presumption of good in others. On the surface, the thing may look rough, ugly and offensive. In essence, the message that every Tigrigna who does not subscribe to the sickness would take is this: “you are too good to let those stinky supremacists continue to abuse your fellow citizens.” If you meet any Tigrigna who gets a different message, he is definitely sick.
Every political organization, which was destroyed by another organization during the armed struggle, was first successfully branded as an organization of some ethnic fanatics. I am challenging you to find a counter-example. Where this label stuck in people’s heads, the opponent was gone usually within weeks. For some reason, religious labeling does not seem to work. It did not work when “niHnan Elamanan” labeled the ELF as “Islamic”, when the ELF labeled the EPLF as “Christian”, and for a quarter of a century when both secular and theological Islamists labeled the PFDJ as “Christian”. The “Yemin” (Muslim) label might have worked on handfuls of activists but their movements never died and they did come back much stronger.
Today, as we are labeling the PFDJ into a “Tigrigna fanatic”, so many have threatened or tried to counter-mobilize the Tigrigna. It will never work because in the court of public opinion of the most descent nation on earth, Eritrea, where you are accused with a crime, you first have to be cleared of your label as “possible criminal” before you are allowed to accuse others. The only and the shortest way to defeat the PFDJ – excepting “Acts of God” – is by branding it as an organization of ethnic fanatics. We have plenty of evidence to prove beyond doubt to all Eritreans that the PFDJ is what it is – a Neo-Nazi Gang. You may use this weapon and take us through the shortcut for a radical change that is good for every Eritrean (Tigrigna and non-Tigrigna alike). Evade this shortcut and you will end up in the garbage bin of bankrupt opposition organizations in Ethiopia shopping for hired hit men to destroy your own country. It is your call!