The Past & The Future: Important But Not Urgent Questions

The human brain is designed in such a way that is responds to external messages according to their importance and urgency. The ability to understand and analyze those messages depends on how every individual’s  mental capacity is prepared.

Education, culture & I.Q

Once the brain gets the message, it applies certain criteria to classify those messages:

1-On Important & urgent matters it know that an immediate action is needed.

2-If it is not important & not urgent, it is ignored.

3-If urgent but not important—mainly related to issues of misunderstanding it knows that needs clarification and explanation.

4-Important but not urgent—circumstances not suitable, time factor is not supporting and lack of means of applying what you want to do.

Few weeks ago, Mr. Semere Tesfai wrote an article titled: Making a case for political Immunity and Nonviolent Regime Change (, May 4, 2011). In that article he quoted me to prove and support his argument. Fair enough, but he disagreed with my concept about the political future of the PFDJ. I respect his argument and his right to express his opinion. Semere put forward two main questions, not expecting answers from me, but to support his argument. That is acceptable especially Eritreans are going through unusual conditions characterized by repeatedly asking questions that are not answered. Here are the questions:

1-      This is a “package” of questions starting with an introductory one that asks,s who is right & who is wrong?

(Conservatives or Liberals, Atheists or believers, ethnic & religious political organizations or nationalist political organizations, ELF or EPLF leaders, loose Federal system of government or strong centralized government, Arabic as a national language or against Arabic, ethnic & clan land ownership or government ownership, injecting faith –religion – into our politics or separating faith from our politics ? …..)

I am glad the usual question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, was not included!

Dear Semere, I really don’t mean it as an insult, on the contrary I am grateful for the kind words you showered me with, and I  also appreciate your positive contributions in elaborating and analyzing events of the crucial chapter of the Eritrean Revolution.

We are all stuck in a political quagmire (opposition & government alike) and we are not moving forward, it is a stage characterized by posing questions only to be get an answer in the form of more questions (PIA is best example here.) This is not because we Eritreans are unable to answer questions, but simply it is due to the absence of conducive environment to implement those answers. The outcome, as you put it, is a matter of perspective, subjective judgment in the war of ideas! That does not answer the question, but it might give self-satisfaction or temporarily mental rest, though it will only add to the existing problems, not solving them.

There is only one answer to all those questions and any other question and it consists of two words: Ballot Box!? But that needs a constitutional state; freedom of speech and the exercising of democratic rights. In other words, it is regime change! Our priority must be attending to that target and then we can answer any questions, even those asked by ancient Greek philosophers! And that will not be an overnight shift or change; it is a long process that requires the transformation of the whole society. Accepting & respecting the opinion of others; recognizing the legitimacy of the winner ( whoever they may be) and recognizing the programs of the winning party as a guideline for the government of the day and by extension of the whole nation.

2-      The second question was in fact the main one and the reason for asking the series of questions. It is about the future of PFDJ in Eritrean political life. The question was: where does the circle of the dictator and his cliques start and end?

My answer is: Starting from the dictator, the Central Committee of the PFDJ (those who are alive and not in jail), the generals, ministers and senior cadres. We are talking about a limited number of people, the decision-makers who were given the chance to run the country for two decades and proved to be not eligible to remain within the political realm. Did you follow what happened in Tunisia and Egypt? We should be more inclusive because we really believe that the majority of the PFDJ members are misled and brainwashed. Still those who would be given a chance to resume their political activities are more than the required number of people to establish a political party according to the charter of EDA! For sure there will be many voices opposing such a step, arguing what experience are those people going to pass, what knowledge are they able to disseminate and what values do they have to teach? But what can we do, that is democracy and we have to accept it with all its shortcomings. Churchill argued that democracy was the worst system except for all the other systems are worse!

Here I am not talking about the crimes of PFDJ leaders; we should be able to differentiate between the culprit & the innocent and that can only be verified through mechanisms of a fair trial. I am not advocating “revenge justice” but supporting transitional justice to ensure that no one is above the law. Forgiveness comes after judgment; you don’t forgive an innocent person. As for the political measures which you considered to be “isolation”, it is a process of pumping fresh air into the political life and creating a healthy environment where democracy can flourish and survive. Sometimes in surgical operations, you have to sacrifice part of the organs (cancerous cells—dysfunctional tissues etc …) in order to save the rest of the body.

Does that mean there are not important and urgent questions? Definitely there are, here is an example:

How can we change the regime?

To start with what is meant by regime change? Is it replacement of names & faces or is it a radical change of an existing vision, institutions & programs?

I believe the answer is, we want a radical change of the regime, here are the reasons:

1-PFDJ had been in power for the last two decades, it proved to be incapable of bringing any positive change into the life of the Eritrean people. Not only that, but it became an obstacle for any future change. The post independence influx of refugees to neighboring countries (one hundred thousand), the economy is not only crippled but stagnant & dysfunctional, and the absence of any innovation and achievements, all of that and more made the country one of the poorest states in the planet.

2- The whole state is on its way to be a failed state if it had not already reached that stage. Lack of constitution, absence of elected legislative body, absence of elected government & lack of independent judiciary system; those are the main signs & symptoms of a failed state. If we add the international isolation of the government, the UN sanctions & the on-going conflicts with our neighbors, the outcome is an African version of the North Korean regime.

3-Alienating & marginalizing all other political groups except loyal PFDJ members. Not only that, but the marginalization has extended to affect Eritreans of diverse ethnic & cultural background. Absence basic human rights, arbitrary jail terms and disappearance of prisoners (more than thirty thousands) & loss of all types of liberty.

4- The post independence generation is the main victim of PFDJ. For more than two decades that generation had been the target of an on-going program consisting of physical torture, mental manipulation & brainwashing. Moreover, character assassination policy is the daily practice of the regime. The outcome is the appearance of individual who became negative & obedient, who lost the ability & desire to resist –in short a human robot! (Story told by Eritrean refugees in Israel about the Rashaida gangs – 85 against two – they couldn’t resist, because they did not receive orders!!) The whole generation had been deprived of its dignity, pride, humanity & instinct of resistance & survival.

5- The older generation, the parents, on one side want their children to grow up & help them, on the other side though they are scared when they remember the infamous slavery laws, the so-called national service. Sometimes those parents wish their sons & daughters find a way to escape & cross the borders. But then they live a nightmare when they watch TV and see those who lost their lives in deserts & high seas.

The PFDJ will not recognize any opposition group, it will not negotiate with any one, and it will fight to the last minute not to give in to its opponents. And as their ally Gaddafi said, they will fight until the Day of Judgment! The only option left for Eritreans is to fight until that day? Here comes the confusion & mixing of aims & objectives with means & ways of struggle (which is more likely intentional).

The second question is, how? What are the criteria that we can follow to describe certain movement as being violent or non-violent? Is it the number of victims that are killed & injured, or the type of weaponry that is used or the aims & objectives of the movement? What about the reaction of the regime that we want to change? In Libya it started peacefully but ended to becoming an international war.

What is non-violent (peaceful) change and how can we achieve it? The mistake starts when we mix between force & violence. Let’s take the example of Libya: both sides are using almost the same weaponry, victims fall on both sides—which one is using force & which side is using violence? Now if we define both terms (force & violence), we find the answer as follows:

Force is the positive action taken by an individual or a group for self-protection & to pursue legitimate right.

Violence is the negative reaction taken by an authority to defend an illegitimate claim, property or right

The answer is clear: Gaddafi is using violence while the rebels are using force! Let us explain the meaning, content & limits of (force) that we are talking about. A wide range of actions are included in a struggle whose aim is to achieve legitimate change:

The word of mouth “NO” to the dictator is an exercise of power (force); organizing rally in streets (as what happened in Europe, America, Canada, Cairo & Australia) are demonstration of force. Diplomatic & media activities to expose the crimes of the dictatorship are a manifestation of acquiring and using force. Organizing masses & putting them in a challenging position against the dictatorial regime is the climax of demonstration of force. We need a whole range of actions & measures to achieve a total cultural, social & mental transformation of ourselves. We don’t need a Chinese style “cultural Revolution” but it is enough to use all our resources (historical & heritage) to reschedule our priorities and acquire a clear vision for the future. The experience of the Independence Block might help in that direction. That process of transformation must be exercised on the individual level, including (praying). I don’t mean the traditional religious rituals, but prayer as a human practice that existed since time immemorial which includes as “ Amanuel Sahle” put it :  holding a deep conversation with one’s Ego. At last, military force might be an option, depending on the reaction of the regime! We are not talking here about a wide scale armed struggle that might not be possible because Eritreans are exhausted physically & mentally, and socially dispersed & fragmented. The new generation is fleeing the country looking for  safe haven, even the army.

Is a national army (practically they are conscripted & all are our children). But the military option is a selective one, qualitative operation targeting the decision makers & top officials of the state–especially those involved in torturing & executing innocent citizens. Sometimes when Western media criticizes “violence” as exercised by NATO & its Western allies, officials become so embarrassed & cannot deny it but they use the term “excessive force” instead of violence.

All the above means & ways, aims & objectives depend on acquiring a “vision” that translates & expresses them.

The final target of the opposition movement is the creation of a wide national front that includes all components of the opposition organizations & groups (Political & civic). That Front should be the framework & environment where all Eritreans can exercise democracy and learn how to live & work together in mutual respect & understanding. National dialogue is the main weapon capable of restoring our collective memory & and it can reinforce & strengthen our social & cultural fabric. Even after a regime change, there comes an important question though it is not urgent at this moment: can Eritreans live together in one “state” & share a common future? That will be my next article.


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