The Honest Eritrean’s Road Map – Part I
Those who like to conclude matters before they even begin, those who like to have the final say before most have even spoken have declared dead the debates surrounding the Lowland-Highland or Muslim-Christian dichotomy. I must admit that we have yet to initiate or provoke real communication on the issues that matter most between “Us” and “Them” as the other side, led by task forces and joint committees, has accelerated the fortification of trenches instead of giving “Us” the benefit of the doubt to heed a little bit of attention to the pain and disappointment of “the other” half of our population. However, in terms of the seriousness of engagement in our private meetings around the kitchen table and in coffee shops, where honesty rules and politcal correctness is nowhere to be seen, the debate is claiming new ground every day. That is the real value of the debate and the thermometer of what the future holds in store for us. The restlessness, the loss of focus, the confusion, and the desperation to move our politics away from narrow corners that we sense in almost every article and speech written by all the decent Eritreans is reflecting a new or renewed context for the future of Eritrean politics. This, then, is why I am calling this article the Honest Eritrean’s Road Map, because we have seen the Road Map of those who like to deal with superficiality and fake politeness, QelAlem, has produced: a dead-end where aging men sign agreements on the details of how they will reconcile with their forever-diminishing expectations.P4L Street
To be honest, I did not see the investigation of what goes on among our Tigrigna brothers and trying to find out where the general trend of their mainstream political thinking is heading relevant to the debate and did not bother to check out their closed Hishukhshukh even out of curiosity. The issues, I believe, are crystal clear: we have Land Grabbers and Exclusionists that must be stopped; we have Israeli style Settlements that must be dismantled; and we have hundreds of thousands of Refugees that must be returned to their ancestral land. The end result is well understood to those who matter: we have to achieve the three NON-NEGOTIABLE GOALS by hook or by crook because “We” cannot afford to fail. No offense to all my decent Tigrigna friends and favorite writers but we would rather give you some privacy to allow you to put your house in order and think it over before the “task forces” of the supremacists brainwash the people through your honest miscalculations into embarking on the rough ride ahead on PEACE for LAND Street because, no matter what they tell you, WE ARE HERE TO STAY (to borrow Mohammed Ahmed’s words). P4L St. is where many Lowlanders are moving and, trust me, it is a rough neighborhood.
It is amazing how a very intelligent, pragmatic and mutually exclusive debate is going on among members of either side of the debate. The general trend among non-Tigrignas is grappling with cartographical lessons learned from how the two detached sections of the West-Bank and Gaza have defined themselves as integral components of one Palestinian destiny. Nearly all those that I talked to (one way or another) in an attempt to assess reaction to our debates in the last few weeks had no doubt at all that the dream of a united Eritrea is almost a lost cause (as is the debate about a Middle Eastern nation that unites both Palestinians and Israelis under one roof) and the conviction that we have no practical options other than to look beyond the limits of old politics is approaching an overwhelming consensus. Highland Muslims (in Gaza Strip) seem to be seriously worried and struggling to solve a very difficult equation in the form of: “what if our Lowland brothers (in the West & East Banks) opt for separation and we are left behind – an island in hostile waters?” The exact same equation is the subject of heated debate among Lowlanders and the fact that the Gaza Strip is stuck in an unfortunate situation and the inability (so far) to develop a precautionary strategy to deal with the risks that its people might face if things take the wrong turn is the source of great frustration. We are all waiting with crossed fingers hoping that the Saho mutiny of the courageous young men in Eastern Akeleguzai would evolve into an honorable representation of the collective interests of Highland Muslims. We are also all waiting for the shameless politicians in the National Salvation Front (NSF) – both versions – to remember that the EDA is still open for business, the baboons in Asmara are still in power and Highland Muslims have too great a stake to squander on daycare politics and the theatrics of a dog chasing its own tail. This dormant trend (within the EDA) also includes the “wait & see” groups of Al Nahda and Mr. Salman’s Islamic Congress and the question to help them decide is: “when another Alemseged Tesfai writes another Aynifelale in future generations, do you want your names to appear on the Andinet or on the RabiTa side of the book?”
TRENDS WITHIN THE EDA
Excluding the Langa-Langa section of the opposition, the EDA as we all know is reflective of three fundamentally different trends in Eritrean politics roughly represented by the three groupings that constitute the bulk of the umbrella organization.
I. The “Uniting Group” consisting of the EDP-EPP-EPM is well focused and a relatively more structured alliance of Tigrigna intellectuals dominated by Tigrigna supremacists who have more in common with the PFDJ than with the rest of the opposition (the grouping is discussed in more detail below).
II. The Eritrean Solidarity Front (ESF – Tadamun group) of confused Muslims and Lowlanders who get the credit for acknowledging the threat posed by Land Grabbers and Exclusionists and for confirming their readiness to do something about them (and for actually acting on that promise), but have so far failed to come up with a sustainable, coherent and transparent strategy that assures Lowlanders that the statements issued during the formative weeks of the solidarity are not mere public relations pranks. Although individually, the member organizations have well developed political outlooks, the Tadamun as a collective entity, is under enormous pressure from its actual and potential constituents to prove that it is not just an Islamic version of the EDP-EPP-EPM grouping.
III. The Democratic Front of Eritrean Nationalities (DFEN), composed of the Kunama and Afar organizations so far, is the grouping with a sketch-map of the most coherent, transparent and pragmatic strategy of dealing with the Land Grabbers and Exclusionists head on. Individually, however, its member organizations have serious problems of convincingly articulating their anticipated final destination to both their direct constituents in their respective ethnic groups as well as to the broader Eritrean public. This of course is a problem faced by every ethnic movement in Eritrea and nothing unique to either the Kunama or the Afar, although these two ethnic groups have come a long way and gained valuable experiences along the way, that all Eritrean ethnic activists have to learn by heart.
Two distinct trends (within the Lowland and Muslim section – trends I & II) are in fierce competition over “which way is the highway?” The first and currently more dominant axis favors unity along religious lines (not along sub-national geographical boundaries) and is inclined towards campaigning for what Saleh Younis rightfully described as the New RabiTa. The second and rapidly expanding axis (check some of the articles on the Baden-Kunama website) recognizes the dangers in equating Lowlander to Muslim especially when it comes to defining our cause around the central issue of ancestral land ownership. This axis argues that unless the grievances are defined in terms of clearly identifiable geographical jurisdictions, no feasible solutions that keep Land Grabbers and Exclusionists at bay can be developed in the form of independent or semi-autonomous political arrangements that can last.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Under the most optimistic circumstances where free debates within each of the three groupings is given the necessary space to develop unrestricted; the assumption of the most perfect environment where the grassroots take charge and vote along their true convictions and genuine interests away from the manipulations of the misguided elite; and the emergence of organizational leaders who actually understand the implications of what they themselves tell their constituents, the EDA’s future should look something like the following chart. No meaningful dialogue can, of course, take place unless Tigrigna supremacists are kicked out of the first grouping and “our” opportunists are chased out of the ESF and DFEN and most importantly if and only if some kind of consensus is reached with respect to Land, Settlements and Refugees.
But do not try this at home because it is a distant dream that is good only for analytical purposes. We will come back to it in another posting (if I remember). The remaining part of this post will focus on one trend, the “Uniting Group”, because “Everybody Loves Raymond”. The two other trends (closely reflected by the ESF & the DFEN) will be discussed in a separate article.
And EPP and EPM. This grouping consists of predominantly “Tigrigna membership and their non-Tigrigna allies” to borrow a modified terminology of Sheikh Hamid Turki, concerned with issues that are an exclusive priority only to the Tigrigna elite most of whom see nothing wrong in the regime other than “the one single man at the top”.
The grouping reflects the interests of three powerful trends in Eritrean politics including: (A) Tigrigna supremacists who differ with the PFDJ only on issues of efficiency, political expediency and regional (awrajawi) competition in administering the Project of Land Grabbers and Exclusionists; (B) obedient well-wishing patriots that have so far been driven like sheep into imagining an illusionary Eritrean reality that is nowhere; (C) opportunistic pragmatic speculators (mostly Lowlanders) who are betting on the supremacist part of the grouping as the most likely replacement of the PFDJ. The distinction between these trends will very likely be more pronounced in the future (once they are done with the unending unification Hashewye) as the united entity (if it does last, which I doubt) will be required to navigate the rough waters of having to take tough positions in the growing Lowland-Highland divide.
The strength of the grouping lies in two important factors:
1. The abundance of relatively well connected Tigrigna intellectuals in Europe and North America and networks of civil society organizations whose dynamism and involvement is being motivated on the one hand by the signs that the PFDJ era is coming to its end, and on the other hand by the realization that “THE PROJECT” is in danger and that the need to lay the foundations for the future battle in the post PFDJ era is wiAl-Hider zeyebl.
2. The unity of purpose among Tigrigna intellectuals and politicians and the complete consensus among them (see Sheikh Hamid Tirki’s latest article) on what a future Eritrea should look like in terms of rejecting any arrangements that preclude ethnic Tigrignas from solving their problems (of land ownership for instance) at the expense of others.
Although the combination of these two factors might give the recipe for a perfect reincarnation of the supremacist regime of the PFDJ (after its death), the grouping (as a collective entity of the “uniting organizations”) suffers major structural defects that make its emergence as a major player in post PFDJ battles very unlikely. I will skip discussion of the merits and demerits of the political programs of the individual organizations for two reasons. First, the entity being discussed in this article is the collective body of the three organizations and I do not want to offend supporters of the EPP and EPM by revealing the fact conspiracy that these two organizations have actually abandoned their own political programs and adopted the EDP’s manual (Constitution) and culture of the Land Grabbers as their rallying instrument – in other words selimom (but we better wait until the united entity declares it on its own.) Second, they have no use for any political program anyway since (as per their “soft landing”) they are ready to embrace whoever comes to power as long as he/she does so “through peaceful means” (assuming the group that carries out the anticipated coup d’état have basic common sense to have thought about and agreed among themselves as to what such a dangerous move intends to achieve i.e. have drafted their own political program). In other words, any political programs that the “Uniting Entity” might claim to have adopted will be of use only as talking material in seminars and lectures until the day for change (equipped with its own program) does arrive. In other words the big talk about delivering democracy is empty promise.
The major weakness of the grouping lies in their elitist conceptualization of realities on the ground and opportunistic aspirations of hitch-hiking for easy rides to political power in Asmara (as they say Hasekha ab zilemlemelu). The ‘Double Whammy’ of elitism and opportunism of the EDP-EPP-EPM grouping and their networks of “civil society organizations” (acting more like an improved version of Hafash Wudubat of this grouping) is reflected in several critical areas that define Eritrean politics on the ground:
A. Failure to recognize the fact that the PFDJ is a real entity with blood, flesh and a history of good and bad in the Eritrean political arena and that the twenty years in power did produce a whole set of institutionalized interest groups, power centers and believers in its philosophy and methodology towards the Eritrean political discourse. One reality that we shall never evade is that, unless regime change comes through an Iraqi style invasion by a superpower that has the capacity to implement effective “de–Ba’athification” and to purge the “Fedayeen Saddam” out of existence, the well entrenched remnants of the PFDJ will continue to be the most important actors in Eritrean politics for a long time to come.
B. Unwillingness to entertain even from a distance the possibility that the allegations of persistent systematic ethnic and religious persecution directed against non-Tigrignas might have some truth had sealed the group’s chances of appealing to diverse memberships (who are well aware of facts of the ground) outside a selective cult of ethnic Tigrignas. The active campaigning to block debates focusing on critical ethno-religious concerns, the dubious activities that continue to undermine the EDA and the insistence on representing non-Tigrignas through Abdella Jaber look-alike effigies of the Lowlands have deprived the grouping of any opportunity to resemble anything other than ni’eshtey Higdef.
C. Lack of genuine interest in developing an orientation that both respects and involves the public at the grassroots level is behind the group’s inability to overcome its major structural inefficiencies. This is probably a direct consequence of the fact that their core operations area is too far away from the boiling pot and restricted to Europe and North America, where if a member of the grouping is not educated enough and well connected (unfortunately a rare luxury among Diaspora Eritreans) the role he/she plays is nothing more than an audience in a seminar, a spectator in a show and a foot soldier in coffee shops and his/her net contribution to the struggle is virtually a fat zero. This in turn nurtures the perfect environment for empty debates focusing on glamorizing the personalities and the stars of the show, which constantly impregnates the grouping with the seeds of fierce personality competitions for attention and expensive battles to reconcile differences about nothing. A typical Elal (wenesa) among any random sitting of EPP or EDP or EPM members, for instance, looks more like an MTV program on Celebrity Gossip.
The opportunistic outlook of exclusively anticipating “change from within” (from the PFDJ’s Eritrea), renders the grouping into the most dangerous component of the Eritrean opposition movement as their readiness to embrace zinegese nigusna (whatever is left of the PFDJ) will place valuable public relations assets and a wealth of expertise in the hands of whoever sets on replicating an enhanced version of the PFDJ experience. The steady public mistrust that the grouping suffers and the repeated skepticism towards even the most honest of its activities (if any) takes its roots in the widespread awareness as to where the new monster is heading and the constant nightmares that we all continue to have. The ball is in the hands of ordinary members of the grouping, who might not have thought what they are getting in, to chase the supremacists out of sight and bring the grouping back to its senses. If you do succeed in chasing them out, I offer to host them in my notorious dust bin (You are very welcome!)