Tigrigna Domination: Myth Vs Reality (Perspective Part I)
“If PFDJ is this evil even to the Kebesa, why is then it is SUPPORTED BY KEBESA people only? right? I believe the question is the most baffling of all questions and almost all our writers have tried to chip it away in different questions since opposition websites started.
For Ali Slaim and other brothers it is simple: Highlanders support it simply because it keeps their interests. But we know many interests of Kebesa are not heeded. So again, our Tadamun brothers tell us then fight it? why are you waiting? Like the rest I wrestle with the question everyday, yes every single day. I would be utterly lying to tell you if I know the answer to it millions are asking and searching for.
I don’t know for sure. What I know dear brother is simple explanation of ‘oh! That is because they serve their interests and wanted to dominate the rest of lowlanders’ doesn’t sit well with many of us who are toiling in the opposition. All I know our Kebesa…has always lived peacefully with you long time before PFDJ comes along; are waiting for deliverance from PFDJ rule itself, and because it is not coming anytime soon thousands are fleeing every month”. (Ghezae’s honest response to Kenina @ Awate Forum 06-11-2010)
When Ghezae said “I wrestle with this question every day”; it is not just him; it is a challenge we all wrestle every day; especially those of us from ethnic Tigrigna. Because it is very hard to accept, when some of our Muslim brothers on the other side of the isle try to make us believe, the regime is sectarian regime that serves the interest of ethnic Tigrignas. Like Ghezae I say to myself, “the idea that the regime serves the interest of ethnic Tigrignas….doesn’t sit well with me”. And I believe the majority of ethnic Tigrignas also feel the same way.
But let’s face it, Eritrean Muslims and Christians don’t see the regime with the same prism. Eritrean Islamic and Ethnic organizations in the opposition are skeptic to say the least about the sincerity and motive of the opposition organizations that base their political struggle for democratic change on the following arguments:
- Ethnic Tigrignas are suffering by the PFDJ regime like all other ethnics
- Our problem is nothing but regime problem
- Regime change should be achieved through peaceful means
Well, in the struggle for democratic change, Muslim perception is everything. When your political position is trenched on the above arguments and your Muslim brothers are skeptic about your argument, then you have a problem. If you want to spare yourself from being swept away by the tide of skepticism and the consequence that follows it, you better have a bullet proof argument that is proven to withstand the challenge of the skeptics and critics alike. If you can’t challenge both your skeptics and critics on these fundamental political arguments in a very convincing way, you are creating doubt in the minds of your constituents and others. If there is doubt in your argument, then by default your argument is not credible. If you lack credible argument, you are not believable. If you are not believable no one will take you, as a serious opposition force for a positive change. If people are not taking you seriously, your forest will start thinning each day that passes by, and before you know it, you will become insignificant player in the struggle for positive change. Now tell me:
Why is the regime the way it is: Tigrigna Dominated? How could a regime that is dominated by ethnic Tigrignas be repressing all ethnics and faiths equally including its own ethnic? How could a regime that is ethnic Tigrigna dominated come to power without any evil intent to dominate? How could you defeat a repressive regime that understands only gun diplomacy without using a gun? Are you sure the problem is the regime not the opposition camp? These are honest questions that need honest answers.
We all know dodging a question is dishonest or a sign of guilt. We all know honesty starts with an honest answer for an honest question like the above paragraph. Therefore, we shouldn’t be afraid from having heated arguments and challenging each other on every hot button issue that makes people go nuts. Because not debating our contentious issues is not a solution; it is a problem in itself. And without a doubt, after long heated arguments, not only we are going to know how each of us feels about every issue, but also we would be able to reach some sort of compromised consensus we all can live with.
The argument for regime change by peaceful means is another discussion for another day. But in this article, I’m going to put myself in Ghezae’s shoes; not because I have an answer for every question, but because I’m willing to challenge and be challenged. And this is what I believe:
I believe the following arguments are arguments that are clouding our political vision simply because we failed to explain them correctly. I’m going to try to articulate the best I can and challenge the reader that these arguments are nothing but full of myth and half truth that can’t pass public scrutiny. And here is my take:
PFDJ Is Sectarian Regime That Serve the Interest of Ethnic Tigrignas
Fact: Yes, we can argue about statistics and numbers; yes, we can compare data and say, the suffering of Eritreans is not proportional to the size of our ethnics and faiths. But make no mistake, under PFDJ rule ethnic Tigrignas are also having their fair share of misery. The mass exodus of young ethnic Tigrignas, not only it is real, it is unsustainable national tragedy that has to stop, and stop now. The death of young Tigrignas at the unforgiving hot desert-sands and shark infested high-seas is real. The death and suffering of ethnic Tigrignas without due process at the regime’s prison camps is real. The death of young ethnic Tigrignas by the PFDJ regime shoot to kill policy at Eritrean borders is real. The suffering and exploitation of young ethnic Tigrignas by contrabandists, human traffickers and prison guards is real. Religious persecution of ethnic Tigrignas by the PFDJ regime is real. The persecution and lynching of ethnic Tigrignas who dared to oppose the regime is real.
Denying the suffering of ethnic Tigrignas under the PFDJ regime, not only it is wrong, it is simply un-Eritrean. Yes there is inequality in the current government. Yes we should have a government with fair representation that reflects the size of our ethnic and regional proportion in all layers of the government. But ethnic Tigrigna domination in the PFDJ regime is not reason enough to vilify and demonize the whole Tigrigna ethnic community.
Make no mistake there is a good reason why many Eritreans (of all faiths and ethnics) in the opposition don’t want the regime to be labeled as a Sectarian, Christian or Tigrigna regime. Even without the argument; ‘ethnic Tigrignas can’t be responsible for the deeds of a regime they never elected’. Even without the argument; ‘it is not a winning strategy because you can’t win when you demonize and vilify half of the population’ argument. There is a wisdom why people distance themselves from the ‘Sectarian Regime’ argument.
Without a doubt PFDJ regime is not Sectarian, Christian or Tigrigna regime. But the wisdom why many Eritreans don’t want the PFDJ regime to be labeled as a Sectarian or Christian regime is; – the implication for the alternative is problematic to say the least – it alienates half of the population by default – the label portrays even to the victim as a villain – it can only lend time to the life of the regime – even after PFDJ regime is long gone it will leave bad aftertaste – or simply it is divisive politicking that will create suspicion and mistrust among our communities. Therefore, if you believe what many believe to be true, irrespective of the regime’s color, there is no wisdom labeling the regime, as a sectarian regime.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for many people who are toiling in the opposition camp, but this is the harsh reality they have to accept: the regime is not standing on its own feet because of the support it enjoys from ethnic Tigrigna. The regime is alive and well due to the weakness of the opposition. The PFDJ regime is standing tall because it is more popular than the Opposition Organizations. The silent majority is silent because there is no viable alternative organization that has earned the respect of its citizens. Ethnic and Religious politics is not going to bring regime change. Making an enemy out of your potential allies is not a winning strategy. Counting and magnifying PFDJ mistakes and misdeeds every single day is not a vision. If you portray ethnic Tigrignas as your enemy and keep Demonizing and Vilifying them every single day, then they won’t be moved by your cause even when they are fed-up with the PFDJ regime which is exactly the current reality. Therefore if the regime is alive and well, don’t blame the PFDJ crazies or ethnic Tigrignas. Don’t look for excuses and escape-goats. The problems and the solutions are right under your nose. Honesty starts with taking responsibility for your failure.
There is ethnic Tigrigna enmity and prejudice against Muslims…..
Well, that is a myth. And this is the fact. But even before attempting to explain the fact, there is a fundamental flaw on this argument: painting the whole Tigrigna ethnic community with the same brush. You can’t say the whole Tigrigna ethnic community has the same attitude and feeling towards Muslims, and get away with it. Of course as the old saying goes, there is a bad apple in every bunch; but who doesn’t? Isn’t that true in every ethnic and every faith? Who is judging who?
Listen, contrary to this myth, in Eritrean history there has never been religious feud between Muslims and Christians except between TsenA-Degle and TorA which was instigated, armed and fanned by outside forces of these two communities. Give credit where credit is due; Eritrean Muslims and Christians have lived side by side with respect for centuries. Many Christians has converted to Islam and many Muslims have converted to Christianity. Mixed marriages between our ethnics and faiths have existed for hundreds of years. Muslims and Christians have been neighbors, friends, coworkers, employees and employers for as long as anyone can remember.
I don’t know if it surprises any Eritrean, but contrary to the above myth, there have been and still are villages in Kebessa with a population of three, four, five and six hundred Christian families, and among them, less than ten Muslim families living happily and freely practicing their faith. This is the reality in Eritrean small villages. In big and small towns, don’t take my word for it; just visit any town and you will be awakened early in the morning by a loud microphone from a mosque, a Church-bell or both. And that is a lesson to anyone who doubts Eritrean religious harmony. Any person who tells you otherwise could only be a person with an evil hidden agenda.
The genesis of the Sectarian regime can be traced to Nehnan Elamanan, a manifesto that served as a blue print for Tigrigna ethnic domination
That is a myth. And this is the fact: again right off the bat, this argument has two fundamental flows.
First, When your number is equal to all ethnics combined, you will be visible everywhere. It is within your right to hold political positions equal to all ethnics combined. And that is a given right no one should be accused for, or anyone should be ashamed of. Eritrean ethnic group’s fair share of the pie is not equal to the whole divided by nine +1, it is proportional to the percentage of an ethnic group to the whole. And ethnic Tigrignas fair share is always half of the pie. Due to its ethnic proportion, ethnic Tigrigna’s fair share of the pie for better/worse is equal to all ethnics combined. With Nehnan Elamanan or without Nehnan Elamanan, with Isayas or without Isayas, before Isayas and after Isayas, ethnic Tigrignas, were and still will play dominant role in Eritrean politics if Eritrea is going to remain peaceful, prosperous and stable country. That’s a reality we all have to accept.
Second, a single manifesto can’t change the course of history. Individual leaders can’t change the course of history. Group of leaders can’t change the course of history. They can only be catalysts who play important role in history. Leaders only lead public passion by being loyal instruments to the passion of their community. They became big celebrities by spearheading and advancing the cause of their people. They advance the cause of their people by reading and following the heartbeat, temperature and mood of the wider public. And by doing so, they lead their people to victory when the moment is right. Therefore the argument that, ”ethnic Tigrigna domination and all the enmity and prejudice against Muslims can be terraced to a single venomous Nehnan Elamanan or to a single group” is nothing but a shallow argument that doesn’t hold water.
Now let’s present the whole truth about ethnic Tigrigna domination; and let’s see the role of the authors of Nehnan Elaman, their manifesto and how Eritrean revolution transformed itself from Muslim dominated ELF to ethnic Tigrigna dominated EPLF/PFDJ. Make no mistake, Tigrigna Domination was pre-determined if Eritrea was ever going to be a sovereign country. Since Tigrigna domination was pre-determined even more obvious than ever at an early stage of the game, 1967 to be exact, it was inevitable, it was just a matter of time. Contrary to the Tigrigna-bashers argument, Tigrigna domination became reality because:
- A. The ethnic reality on the ground dictated it
- B. ELF’s leadership failure to accept change, Facilitated to it
Remember now, an environment that is conducive for Tigrigna domination is not enough in itself to create a Tigrigna dominated organization. History is full of missed opportunities. Always remember the word of wisdom: Opportunity favors only to the prepared mind. When opportunity knocks, it needs a receptive mind. And without a doubt, the authors of Nehnan Elamanan had the prepared mind when the moment was right. And that is why they created a Tigrigna dominated EPLF when others couldn’t.
We may see things through different prism. We may agree or disagree with the motive, content or action of Nehnan Elamanan and its authors, but give the authors of Nehnan Elamanan the full credit they deserve. They made possible the impossible. They made history when others couldn’t. They made history by turning the course of history. They empowered ethnic Tigrigna and by doing so they brought stability to Eritrean revolution which was a necessary requirement to the victory of the revolution. And that is history that will live forever.
The authors of Nehnan Elamanan did it, and they did it the right way – by forming coalition and by merging with other Muslim organizations that had common understanding and common interest. That is a lesson the Tadamun camp need to learn. Why Tadamun you ask; because of its potential, we want it to hold its cards right and be one of the dominant players in Eritrean politics. Now let’s see the nitty-gritty of, how, why, and when, the authors of Nehnan Elamanan exploited the two realities mentioned above to make Tigrigna Domination possible.
Not Nehnan Elamanan – Ethnic Reality Dictated Tigrigna Domination
When the founders of ELF launched Eritrean revolution, without a doubt there was a lot of dough on their plate. In order to achieve the intended objective (National Independence), the founders of ELF had to jump a lot of hoops, some hurdles that were foreseen and some that were not. To name a few:
Ethnic Tigrignas which constitute 50% of the population were not part of the process. So, somehow sometime they had to be accommodated to play their role. ELF was launched right after the bitter political division of the forties and fifties that led to Eritrean federation with Ethiopia, and somehow sometime reconciliation, building bridges, building trust, negotiating and formulating a sustainable power sharing mechanism was a necessary must, to move forward.
To make matters even more complex and more difficult to move forward, the Barka dominated leaders of ELF refused to widen their organization’s tent to accommodate other ethnics and regions. ELF’s failure to accommodate other ethnics and regions led into ethnic and regional squabbling within ELF. As if ethnic and regional squabble was not enough, early in the game (1967), while ELF was consumed with internal ethnic and regional feud, Ethiopia completely altered the demographic reality on the ground never to be the same again.
The leaders of ELF, unmoved or unaware (choose your own description) by Ethiopia’s radical demographic change, were dead locked with their internal feud. To reform the Front (ELF), the leaders of Semhar formed their coalition and challenged the Barka dominated ELF leadership. When Semhar and its coalition refused to accept the status quo, under the mantra of “Eritrean field can’t accommodate more than one organization”, the Barka Dominated leaders of ELF declared Tesfia (liquidation) on them.
Contrary to the Tigrigna-bashers “Tigrigna’s evil intent to dominate” argument, back then, ethnic Tigrignas in the arena were at the mercy of the movers and shakers of the game: the Tigres of the East and West. The authors of Nehnan Elamanan were so insignificant they could have been eliminated at any time. They just took side to live to see another day. But things got so ugly, the violent spiraling wind-storm span out of its trajectory, and the ‘controlled’ Tesfia war that was supposed to be a ‘War of Tigres for power and supremacy’, ended up with ‘unintended outcome’ that changed the course of history: Tigrigna Domination. But, before we go to the argument of what went astray, let’s first look at how Ethiopia altered the ethnic reality on the ground for good.
In mid 1980s, the then governor of Eritrea Dawit Weldegiorgis did a survey on Eritrean population for his own business. On his book ‘The Red Tears’ he claims, in the mid 1980s there were about two million Eritreans inside the country. Out of these two million Eritreans, he asserts Muslims were only 350,000 or 17.5% of the total population (Red Tears, pp 73). And I assume when he said, out of estimated two million Eritreans, he is well aware of the Eritreans outside the country, which is irrelevant to this argument. Shocked by his survey? Don’t be. Was this survey accurate? I don’t know, but it has some merit to it. And I don’t believe it was far off from the truth. And let me tell you why:
Let’s assume, in 1966 the total Eritrean population was three million; and the Muslim-Christian ratio was at 50/50, which is 1.5 million each. Between 1966 and 1971, men, women, and children of Eritrean Muslims in every village and in every region were slaughtered and massacred by Eritrean Commandos and Ethiopian Army. Women of all ages were raped. Entire villages were burned to the ground. The only Muslims who were spared from this round of havoc were Muslims who resided in small and big towns.
As a result, thousands of Eritrean Muslims from every village and every hamlet migrated to Sudan in mass leaving their farm, property and livestock behind. Our Muslim brothers call those agonizing and painful years Ayam HarayG (ኣያም ሓራይግ) (The Years of Wanton Burning) or Ayam LjuE (ኣያም ልጁእ) (The Years of Mass-Exodus). It is estimated on those four to five years alone (1966 – 1971), between 450,000 and 550,000 Eritrean Muslims migrated to Sudan, less than a third being UN registered refugees at refugee camps and the rest were dispersed all over Sudan, North Africa and the Middle East. On this round of mass killing, the massacre of Ona, Korokon and Ad-Ibrhim are among the most memorable ones.
If these numbers are believable, that would put the Tigrigna population inside Eritrea around 65% of the total population. Therefore, in 1970 when the young authors of Nehnan Elamanan were toiling to write their manifesto, they had unrepresented Tigrigna ethnic population which is close to 65% of the total population inside the country.
The misery of Muslims didn’t end there. After consistent declining numbers of ELF fighters from 1967 – 1972 (which we will discuss the reason later), starting 1972, the number of Tegadelti (freedom fighters) grew dramatically due to higher number of young Tigrigna recruits. Between 1974 and 1978 ELF and EPLF gained so much strength, they started new offensive to liberate all country sides including big and small towns that were sanctuary to the majority of Muslims. By mid 1978 except Asmara, Massawa, Adi-Keih, Barentu and Assab the entire country (Eritrea) was controlled by Tegadelti.
Due to Eritrean fighters offensive, Ethiopian air raid and Ethiopian security death squad (key shibr), now it was the turn of Muslims who were spared the first round to face mass killings, torture, rape, looting and vandalizing by Ethiopian army and security agents. On this second round, the mass killings on the streets of Asmara, Hirgigo, Um-Hajer, Agordat, Wokidba, SheEb and Massawa are among the most memorable ones.
Due to the Tegadeltis offensive, again the world witnessed a second wave of Muslim mass exodus heading to Sudan, only this time with their Christian brothers. Even the towns that were under the control of Ethiopian army were empty of their residents due to constant shelling and fighting. Towns like Nefasit, Embatkala, GindaA, Dongolo, Mai-Atal, Massawa, Nakfa, AfAbet, Karora, ElaBerEd, Keren, Hagaz, Aderde, Engerne, Mensura, Agordat, Tekhombia, Barentu, Gonge, Hykota, Teseney, Ali-Gider, TelataAsher, Adibara, Goluj, Um-Hajer and other smaller towns became literally ghost-towns. The residents of these big and small towns and villages near them packed what they can, left behind what they couldn’t and just headed to Sudan.
Was that the end of Eritrean Muslims misery? Unfortunately no, it wasn’t. In 1980 and 1981 when ELF was pushed from the Field, thousands of Muslim fighters and Muslim civilians migrated to Sudan with the defeat of their organization. Again to add icing to the misery of Eritrean Muslims, the draught of 1983-1988 coupled with the forced recruitment of fighting age Eritreans that started in 1978 and never ended until Independence Day by all Eritrean political organizations, did the finishing touch to the chain of Muslim mass exodus.
For those of us who were old enough to remember, Eritrean Lowlands were so empty, there were not any fighting age Muslim youth to recruit. And that was a sad chapter in our history no one would forget or dare deny. Therefore, it would be fair to assume, the number of Muslims who migrated from Eritrean Lowlands between 1974 and 1988 to be close to 15 – 20% of the total population. And that would put Eritrean Muslim population inside Eritrea as close to Dawit Weldegiorgis’s population survey as it can get.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting the misery of Eritrean people was limited to Muslims. What I’m asserting is, yes ethnic Tigrigna population had suffered by Ethiopian barbaric acts, famine, draught and Eritrean organizations forced recruiting, but Tigrigna Christians misery started at the end of 1974 and ended in 1991 while Muslim misery never stopped from start to finish during our thirty-year armed struggle. And that was the reality that dictated Tigrigna domination in the Eritrean field.
Without going into details about the suffering of ethnic Tigrigna, just to give you an idea how bad things were in Eritrea, out of 200,000 in 1974, the population of Asmara dwindled to less than 90,000 in 1977 (Red Tears, pp 91) which a lot of these residents were Ethiopians. And the Wad-Sherife Eritrean refugee camp at the outskirt of Kessela town had a population of 140,000 in 1986 (Against All Odds, pp 214), making Wad-Sherife refugee camp, the largest city of Eritreans, and the third largest city in the Sudan. And the highest concentration of Eritrean refugees wasn’t even around Kessela, it was around Ghedaref.
Due to Eritrean Muslim migration, from late 1974 until Independence Day in 1991 there were more Tigrigna fighters than all ethnics combined. From 1975 until 1981, ELF’s fighting force was 75% or higher from ethnic Tigrigna alone. And from 1975 until 1991, it is fair to assume, EPLF fighters to have been 80% or higher from ethnic Tigrigna. Since the bloody fighting with the highest casualties in our history took place between 1975 and 1991 and since ethnic Tigrignas were close to 80% of the total fighting force in those years, it wouldn’t be to any one’s surprise if close to 80% of the maimed and fallen heroes of our thirty year war, happen to be from ethnic Tigrigna alone.
Now tell me: from 1961 until 1974, ELF’s fighting force and its leadership was dominated from top to bottom by Muslims. Was it justified Eritrean Muslims to dominate and lead ELF? Can we say ELF was an Islamic Organization that served the interest of Eritrean Muslims simply because it was dominated by Muslims? Can you hold all Muslims responsible for ELF’s past mistakes? Why or why not?
Again, from 1975 until 1991 EPLF’s fighting force and its leadership was dominated from top to bottom by ethnic Tigrignas. Do you think it was justified ethnic Tigrignas to dominate and lead during those years? Do you think ethnic Tigrignas should be held accountable for EPLF/PFDJ’s past and present mistakes? Why or why not?
Do you believe Tigrigna ethnic domination happened because of Nehnan Elamanan or ethnic Tigrigna’s evil intent to dominate Eritrean Muslims? The Islamists say it is Nehnan Elamanan and its author’s evil intent to dominate Muslims that got PFDJ where they are today. The PFDJ die-hards say it is their ingenuity, fierce fighting and their vision that got them where they are today.
So, all things being equal: the manifesto, the evil intent to dominate, the hate, the prejudice, the ingenuity, the courage, the leaders and their perfect vision for the future all being the same; if ethnic Tigrignas were the size of ethnic Nara (1%), do you think the authors of Nehnan Elamanan would be where they are today? If not what do you make of the arguments of the Islamists and Higdefites?
To focus on our main argument, we said the Eritrean ethnic demography was completely altered after 1967, never to be the same again. We also said from 1975 until 1991, ethnic Tigrigna fighters constituted 80% or higher of the total fighting force of the two main fronts. Therefore, it seems ethnic Tigrigna domination on all levels of the revolution was, an open and shut case. But was it?
Not Venomous Manifesto – ELF Leadership Failure Led To Tigrigna Domination
Tigrigna dominated PFDJ is a simple derivative of Tigrigna dominated EPLF; that’s no brainer. The thorny argument is how Tigrigna dominated EPLF made it to the top. Yes reality on the ground necessitated it. But one has to be very savvy and shrewd to do what the authors of Nehnan Elamanan did. In the sixties and early seventies, it was impossible to form Tigrigna dominated organization in the field of Eritrea. Due to ELF’s leadership failure and mistreatment of ethnic Tigrignas, many fighters from ethnic Tigrigna at different times have tried to form an alternative organization to ELF. And all things being equal, all of them failed. And this is why:
To form a political organization that fits your image, you need:
- Strong social base that believe in your cause
- Corridor that connects you to the outside world
- Foreign power that is sympathetic to your cause
Now let’s see the odds that were stacked against those who tried to form ethnic Tigrigna dominated political organization:
- Being from Seraye, Akeleguzai or Hamassien, they had only one corridor that connects them to the outside world: Ethiopia.
- Being from a region surrounded by Muslim countries, and being young Christians who don’t speak Arabic and don’t know Muslim culture, they couldn’t have walked to a foreign government building, explain their cause and expect to get sympathy and help.
- When they tried to form Tigrigna dominated organization, it was logical to start their organization with few people underequipped and underfunded in a hostile area. Being weak, vulnerable, and nesting between two bone crushing jaws that were determined to kill (Ethiopia and Jebha), their chance of making it was slim to none.
Therefore, contrary to the “Tigrignas evil intent to dominate”, “venomous blue print for ethnic enmity and prejudice” and “we were educated but they were…, we were fierce fighters but they were….we were excelling in democratic ideals but they were…” arguments, we can conclude with absolute certainty, had ELF accommodated all Muslims of all ethnics and regions united under one organization, Tigrigna dominated organization in the field of Eritrea would have been just a pipe dream.
Could Eritrean independence have been possible without giving ethnic Tigrignas their fair share of power? Would have Tigrigna Christians joined the revolution at a record number and play the role they played without having their fare share of power? I don’t know and nobody knows. That is a speculative argument we could argue forever and ever and still would never know the real answer.
Well, that will open a floodgate of questions. How did the authors of Nehnan Elamanan, pulled it off? And when did ELF had it wrong? Which came first; a political organization that honored ethnic Tigrignas role in Eritrean revolution or the flow of young ethnic Tigrignas to Eritrean revolution at a record number? Did ELF modified its attitude towards ethnic Tigrignas because it was a, ‘do or die question for its survival’ or it modified its attitude because it was ‘the right thing’ to do? Answers to these questions and more will be the argument of our topic on part II of this article.
Finally: Let me comment on the question that was directed to Ghezae by Kenina. The question goes; if ethnic Tigrignas were against the PFDJ regime why don’t they fight it? Well, that’s a fair question that deserves an honest answer.
You know Kenina, fighting the regime to achieve democratic change that will make us all winners is a national task. National task requires unity of purpose and joint effort of all stakeholders. And in my opinion, Eritrean stakeholder’s objective is best served, if it is led by genuine nationalists who build bridges between ethnics, faiths and communities so all of us can feel safe at home. And the only way we would feel safe at home is, when we believe there is something for all of us.
If we get the process of change wrong, if any segment of the population feels threatened, or if any segment of the population feels there is nothing for it at the outcome of change, it will opt out from the joint effort. Yes even if it is fed-up with the government it has. Now tell me, who do you blame if that happens; “the community who is opting out” or the leaders who are leading the “common cause”?
You know Kenina, you and I, your family and my family, your community and my community, your ethnic identity and my ethnic identity, your faith and my faith will be safe if and only if we have a Secular Government that doesn’t give a hoot about religion and ethnicity. Erecting walls between our ethnics, faiths and communities is not a solution but a problem. Inequality of resources is a source of instability and conflict. Separate but equal would bring you and me neither peace nor equality. Because Christian political parties will threaten Muslims; Islamic political parties will make Christians nervous; and Ethnic political parties will polarize our harmonious mixed communities.
Kenina, let me put it in a very personal way. My name is Semere Tesfai. I’m from ethnic Tigrigna, not by choice but by birth. I don’t like the way the PFDJ regime is running the country. I believe we can do better. I’m for democratic change that makes us all winners. I’m for a peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections. I’m for a rule of law that guarantees and protects the rights and freedoms of every single one of us. I want to join the opposition to make Eritrea the kind of Eritrea we all want it to be; free, prosperous, stable and peaceful. I want to be a credible member of an opposition. And I want to be welcomed by the opposition organization that I’m in. And these are my options:
Eritrean Islamic Jihad, Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), Western Lowlands Liberation Front (Tadamun), Kunama Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front, Bilen Liberation Front, Saho Liberation Front …….
I can’t join the Eritrean People’s Democratic Front (EPDP) and be “genuine opposition member”. “They are not serious; they are not credible opposition; they are PFDJ franchise; they mimic PFDJ’s every move”. I can’t join the Bilen Liberation front; I don’t know how to speak Bilen and I don’t even know if I would be welcomed. I can’t join Saho Liberation Front; what I’m I going tell them? I don’t even know if they would want me to be part of their team. I can’t join the Kunama Liberation Front; I don’t even know if they want me near them. I can’t join the Afar Liberation front; I’m not even sure if they would allow me to set my foot on their land. I can’t join the Western Lowland Liberation Front; after what ethnic Tigrignas did to their “God given ancestral land”, I don’t think they would welcome me and enjoy my company.
Well Kenina, I guess the choice is very obvious. To become a ‘credible opposition member’, I have nothing but one choice. I have to convert to Islam and join the Islamic Jihad. With few strings attached, I think I would be welcomed to their party.