Undemocratic: Youth Organizations vs. Youth Conference Organizers
Indeed, the Eritrean Youth Conference in Ethiopia is extraordinary, but what inspired me to write today is Dr. Mohamed Kher Omer’s facebook message to Kiros Yohannes and others concerning the conference. I want to thank Dr. Mohamed Kheir Omer for his advice, his valuable information and his continuous articles at awate.com. I stand corrected, but Dr. Mohamed Kheir Omer seems to know a lot about the Eritrean Youth Conference in Ethiopia and its inner workings, than he is letting out, especially in his facebook posting in general and particularly the telltale signs his message contained:
Dr. Mohamed Kheir Omer stated the following:
“By the way no youth group that organisers knew about was excluded. There may have been some groups the organisers did not know about.
“I am aware of a number of youth groups where the chairperson who received the invitation did not share the invitation with the members simply because he/she did not support the conference.”
Although Dr.Mohamed Kheir Omer did not mention the lack of openness and transparency on the part of the youth conference organizers, he highlighted the lack of transparency that exists in some of the youth organization when he stated, “I am aware of a number of youth groups where the chairperson who received the invitation did not share the invitation with the members simply because he/she did not support the conference.”
Unfortunately he is right because this mode of operation is a norm that needs to be addressed; and I am not surprised at all because I myself have experienced, firsthand, similar lack of transparency and democratic principles, and information hoarding at EYGM and the Eritrean National Commission for Democratic Change. I don’t expect all youth leaders to be transparent or to adhere to democratic principles when is a culture of complete disregard for those values by our elders, opposition leaders, personalities and media, Eritrean intellectuals, and organizers of the youth conference.
The lack of transparency, disregarding democratic principles and lack of effort to build strong public confidence surrounding any conferences, are our serious shortcomings. It is this continuous lack of transparency and the question of inclusiveness, clarity and diversity, that had a negative impact throughout the process of the Brussels Conference, the National Conference, the Intellectual Seminar, and now the youth Conference. These serious deficiencies didn’t happen by accident and how the youth conference was handled is not an anomaly either. It is the end result of our past experiences and the experiences of the opposition camp in the past years. I believe these serious deficiencies have been the cause of the heated discussions before and after all the gatherings that produced setbacks, lack of confidence, division and misgivings– and that is the reason why we are having these discussions with respect to Eritrean Youth Conference in Ethiopia.
Dr. Mohamed Kheir Omer stated, “By the way no youth group that organisers knew about was excluded. There may have been some groups the organisers did not know about”, this is admittance on his part that the conference may have ended up excluding some youth organizations, why? He did not shade light on why the organizers of the youth conference in Ethiopia opted to use the very controversial process of handpicking participants! Did we not learn from the past? Shouldn’t the process of handpicking 150 participants for the National Congress that was vehemently unacceptable by the public tell us something? It worries me that after 20 or more years of struggle, after many conferences and congresses, after establishing National Council, we still operate on the basis of who knows whom (personal networking) which is very arbitrary, shortsighted and it delegitimized the existing establishment and institutionalization. I believe that not only many youth organizations were excluded, but many youth individuals were also excluded. I understand this youth conference has been in the working for over 10 months, so why not invite the youth and its organizations publicly to register and to indicate their interest to participate at the conference? The conventional thinking of ‘what matters is the end result, that the end result is far more important than the means’, or ‘what matters is that we focus on PFDJ’, may look mature, attractive and sound thinking; but to do it by ignoring all common sense, institutionalization and transparency, is not mature at all. Communications to organize a gatherings such as the youth conference on the basis of such conventional thinking without due consideration to all other factors may not be the right approach.
It would have been better if the organizers planned the youth conference as a national public project, use the conference not only to gather a few hundred people but also to motivate and galvanize the majority of the youth. Such a process would have nurtured public engagement, confidence and ownership of the conference which at the end of the day would have been a game changer. Unfortunately, the organizers chose to keep the conference in full secrecy as a personal pet project than treating it as National and public mobilizing project, which has triggered the heated discussion, misunderstanding, mistrust and confusion. As Dr. Mohamed Kheir Omer rightly stated “we suffer from lack of confidence in ourselves when conspiracy theories flourish every time we have meetings.” But what should we do to overcome that? Conspiracy theories are inherent; had the process of the youth conference been fair and square, had it not been handled with so much secrecy and handpicking, I don’t think we would have had this kind discussions and anxiousness. The only way to build confidence and to preemptively defuse conspiracy theories is to be open and transparent in handling the conference by making timely and necessary communication to the public. It is important to make appropriate disclosures and engage all concerned parties in order to enhance clarity and to build trust among the majority of the change seekers.
Why do people make so much fuss about gatherings in Ethiopia?
There was not much fuss about the recent Eritrean youth conference in DC by EYSC, nobody made a fuss about the move by a group of Eritrean youth from Israel who travelled to Ethiopia to raise arms to struggle. Why do you think people make so much fuss about the gatherings and youth conferences in Ethiopia is not an accident and it should tell us something. We all should do a serious reading of these scenarios, one can conclude that the venue (Ethiopia) is no longer an issue among the majority of change seekers but how we go about doing public gatherings in Ethiopia does need rethinking. Our recent past experiences indicate that we don’t lack initiatives, in fact we are becoming good at taking initiatives, we also don’t lack organizations, we have tens of them but we lack vision that brings together all organizations together and enrich them. We lack planning that brings synergy among the already existing organizations and we also lack execution that turns initiatives into ACTION that will inspire the majority of us. Despite the public outrages and concerns surrounding the past gatherings and calls to chang our approach, what is worrisome is that these serious deficiencies keep happening undeterred. Given the outcome of the past gatherings, the political atmospheres we created, the progress we have made so far should give us enough reason to change our approach. We should attend to the public concerns and consider better planning and better execution. It is in our common interest to sense the public concerns and act appropriately by engaging the public.
Eritreans are becoming experts at deflecting important inquires by making them trivial, we are becoming experts at damage control but not at preventing damages: and those who make decisions are also becoming infamous for not listening to public demands, questions, concerns and not learning from past experiences. If we really care about people then it is time we listened and acted responsibly. In respect to Eritrean Youth in Ethiopia, I think the public has the right to information and the public has been asking these questions: Can the media seek out answers to these kinds of questions and inform the public? Why the process was kept in hush-hush? What criteria have they applied in handpicking the participants? Why have they ignored the idea of self-reliance which was applied during the National congress? Why have they forgone seeking public funding for the youth conference? Why was the youth affair department of National Congress not commissioned to coordinate this youth conference? Why haven’t the organizers lobbied the idea at the youth conference that was recently held DC and Switzerland? Why haven’t the organizers met all youth organizations to set up a coordinating committee from them to legitimize the initiative, to assure ownership of the event by the youth for a better outcome? And Who are the organizers, how were they brought together?
A slogan on a poster at the conference caught my eyes: “Our Vision is to Establish Justice and Democracy.” I am sure the poster was prepared by the youth conference organizers. This is good, but were the organizers just, have they practiced democracy in preparing the conference? We can only deliver democracy and justice when we have them in us. Slogans are hallow words unless acted upon. We need to be consistent; we also need to be aware of what we say, what we do and how we do it.
What needs to be done:
Pressure should be exerted on those who are supposed to lead by example; pressure is also needed on those who advocate the lofty democratic principles to adhere to those principles and practice them. It has been said that, “the devil is in the detail,” so, we cannot keep looking into things and comment on them in general terms; we need to focus on the details and address the specifics if we are to remedy these serious deficiencies. The change seekers among us, our organizations and our leaders need to act urgently and overcome the apparent intellectual and political dishonesty, public apathy and media indifference towards these deficiencies. Only then can we have a better chance of creating a better youth and youth leaders who would follow the best practices of their elders and implement democratic principles. Unless we change our attitudes towards these deficiencies and change our approach, they may become irreparable and the real change we inspire in Eritrea would be elusive; it would be unattainable and we may also end up replacing Isaias’ PFDJ by a similar dictatorial rule. I hope my worries and my misgivings are misplaced.
I would not dwell on Ethiopia’s handling of the Eritrean youth conference, this is not to say the Ethiopian government doesn’t make error of judgment; but nothing happens without our involvement. Before we blame Ethiopia for what happens with the Eritrean opposition camp–its failures, shortcomings and inactions– first we have to take responsibility and get our acts together and clean our house. I believe that our inability to create a unified, credible body with a vision and strategy that has the backing and mandate of the public to partner with Ethiopian government, has been the missing link. The absence of this important element has been sufficiently noticed and it is time we address it seriously. However, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the Ethiopian government and Sanna Forum to make a thorough assessment of their handlings and partnership with the Eritrean opposition groups throughout the last decade.
In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to the people and the government of Ethiopia for their continuous support and generosity. I also want to command the participants of the youth conference for their readiness to take part, I hope the participants understand that the Eritrean people’s dire situation requires that we all take extraordinary measures and go beyond what is expected from us. I also hope the participants would live up to the expectations and shoulder their responsibility. I wish they act with a sense of urgency to save Eritrean people and the state of Eritrea. I wish the best of luck to all those who participated in the Youth Conference in Ethiopia.