After a fulfilling career at Microsoft, Patrick Awuah returned to his native Ghana to start Ashesi University with the goal of cultivating ethical leadership and innovative thinking for a new
Africa. A month after starting the project, he received an email from a student which he says almost moved him to tears. The student’s email simply said “I am thinking now. Thank you”. Imagining the transformation the young man must be going through, Mr. Awuah describes the elegant simplicity and power such a short message can generate.
Recently, I saw the beauty and spirit of that simple yet powerful email put in practice by one group of Eritreans and trashed by another. Three leaders of the Eritrean Community in Santa Clara, California, with the best of intentions paid a personal visit to the regime-affiliated group in San Jose to deliver an invitation for civilized dialog1. That is the “thinking” part. Unfortunately, this noble step was harshly rejected and boycotted by the San Jose group2. That is the part where people are willing to let others do the bad thinking for them – remotely from Asmara. Both are listed below for your reference. Read them and judge for yourself.
To the best of my knowledge, I will describe the dynamics of what took place. Although obvious, I must also mention this is only my opinion and I alone am responsible for any errors or other shortcomings.
There are two Eritrean communities in the South Bay – one in San Jose and the other in Santa Clara. The Eritrean Community Center in Santa Clara is open to all Eritreans including regime supporters. In other words, no litmus tests. The same cannot be said about the higdef group in San Jose as illustrated by their abrasive reaction to an otherwise friendly and timely call for action. One of the services I like that is provided by the Santa Clara center is bringing Eritrean and non-Eritrean speakers to share their knowledge and diverse experiences with the community. On top of being educational, these sessions tend to bring the best in people where ideas are shared freely. Windows are opened to a much bigger world with its infinite possibilities. And that is why I support the Santa Clara center.
The regime in Eritrea and those who serve it have routinely used fear and fabricated stories to demonize, intimidate and eliminate free-thinking Eritreans for decades. In line with these practices, the Santa Clara center is falsely painted as being “anti-Eritrea” for simply refusing to exclude anyone. Some have privately admitted they actually like what the center stands for but they are afraid to be seen in an “anti-Eritrea” establishment for fear of losing visitation privileges to Eritrea. Although this is a poor justification for inaction, the fear is not totally unfounded. Regime informants in the Eritrean Diaspora have been instrumental in getting innocent Eritreans jailed during their visits to Eritrea. Why? For exercising their individual rights to think for themselves and for attending gatherings the regime in Eritrea doesn’t approve of.
Unwilling to accept this disempowering status quo, the Santa Clara center leaders took the initiative to reach out to the community at large and to the San Jose group specifically. The three gentlemen from the Santa Clara center who took this worthy initiative have no problem with the existence of multiple community centers. They fully accept any individual’s right to think freely. As a result, the San Jose group’s right to affiliate itself with the regime is not in question. (I also agree it is their right but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. In my opinion it is a huge mistake to give unconditional support to a failed regime whose primary trademarks are total and complete abuse of power, active promotion of poverty and ignorance, unparalleled cruelty against its own citizens, mind-numbing propaganda and massive national robbery where no one outside a handful few know how Eritrea’s resources are being squandered. Support should only be given if and only if such feudal practices are absent).
The leaders of the Santa Clara center found the divisive environment and lack of communication among Eritreans to be unacceptable. As a gesture of goodwill, they took the admirable step of going to the San Jose group in person to explain what they are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, their noble call to come with “open mind and softened heart” fell on deaf ears. Worse, without a shred of evidence to support their claim, the good deeds were dismissed as “dirty tricks”. Unwilling to reciprocate the courtesy and respect paid to them in person, the San Jose group posted their rejection publicly in dehai instead. Of course they have the right to do that, but not a civil response.
By boycotting the event, the San Jose group actually deprived themselves of a good opportunity. If finding the truth was their objective, they could have used the genuine call for civilized dialog to ask questions and to clear their doubts about hidden motives and dubious funding sources they seemed to be concerned about. The motive was pure and it was explained to them in detail and in person. The venue was donated through the tireless efforts of an Eritrean who passionately believes in the culture of dialog. The cost of the water offered to participants was $15 or less. That is all — no dirty tricks, no hidden agenda and no CIA funding as they are so fond of accusing anyone who dares to think independently. The regime’s long history of sowing mistrust and ignorance in our communities has blinded us from seeing genuine acts of goodwill occurring right in front of our own eyes. Isn’t it time to stop asking for permission from others to confirm what our own eyes are seeing in real time?
The San Jose group mentions “true identity” and “dialog with whom” as if they don’t know the identity of those who came to them with the olive branch. I will have more to say on this insanity about identity another time. For now, it is sufficient to mention they know exactly who came to invite them – three thoughtful gentlemen any level-headed Eritrean would be proud of, ready to address the problems they see in their community. So why knowingly perpetuate the regime’s culture of division and backwardness? The undeserved harsh response will only strengthen the resolve of those who are determined to build the culture of civilized dialog. Efforts to build the much needed common ground will go on, the fear will be defeated and the healing process will continue.
The challenge to the community at large and specifically to the silent majority is this: do we have sufficient courage and self-respect to overcome the fear and to embrace good ideas no matter where they come from? Are we ready and willing to mend the fractured trust? It is time to go beyond empty slogans to solve the complex problems Eritrea and Eritreans face jointly. Mr. Awuah’s goal of cultivating ethical leadership and innovative thinkers is not only good for Ghana. It is also good for Eritrea — or any place for that matter. Everyone should be able to say “I am thinking now!” because enlightened societies got there by rewarding their citizens to think. Why is thinking a punishable crime in Eritrea?
 – All-inclusive invitation by Eritrean Community Center in Santa Clara
PLATFORM FOR CIVILIZED DIALOGUE AMONG ERITREANS
Dear Eritreans in Bay-Area
The purpose of this letter is to invite you to attend civilized dialogue among Eritreans.
Upon private conversations we, Eritreans everywhere, discuss issues concerning Eritreans. However, our private discussions are limited to small groups that we rarely share our ideas outside of our inner circles. We tend to enjoy discussions with those who have opinions like ours. As a result we have refrained from coming together and have civilized and open discussion with those who disagree with our opinions. This undesirable behavior is forcing us to live in a divided society and hence it is preventing us from solving common problems for our common good. The division is so bad that we have two community centers in San Jose who hardly talk to each other. Our new Eritrean immigrants are disoriented and try to survive in their new countries without the support of a strong community. The list is too long and we feel it is time to stop this destructive behavior and come together for civilized dialogue
We are, therefore, inviting all Eritreans to an open and all-inclusive forum to share ideas on how we can focus our energies towards:
1) Solving real problems that are common to all Eritreans
2) Bridging the gap and bringing harmony among Eritreans by cultivating a genuine sense of cooperation
We strongly believe we can do great things together. And it is with this spirit we invite everyone for a free exchange of ideas. Please come with an open mind and softened heart to share your ideas and to listen to other voices.
 – Rejection of above invitation by higdef group in San Jose posted in dehai.org
21 መጋቢት 2013
ዘተ ኣብ ሳን ሆዘን ከባቢኣን ብጉዳይ ኤርትራን ኤርትራውያንን ምስ መን ?
ኩልና ፈሊጥናዮ ከምዘሎና ጸሓፊኡ፡ ኣዳላዊኡን መዋሊኡን ኣብ ዘይፍለጥ ኩነታት ንጽባሕ ቀዳም፡ 23 መጋቢት 2013 ኣብ ሳን ሆዘ፡ ካሊፎርንያ ኣኼባ ኤርትራውያን “ንምርድዳእን ምምያጥን” ዝብል ንክትሰምዖ ደስ ዘብል ዝመስል ግን ካልእ ኣጀንዳን ሸርሕን ከምዘለዎ ምርዳእ ዘየጸግም መደብ ተዳልዩ ኣሎ። ሓድነትና፡ መንነትናን፡ ተጻብኦታትናን ልዕሊ ኩሉ እዋን ዝንጸረሉ ኣብ ዘለወሉ ግዜ፡ ዝኾነ ኤርትራዊ ኣብ ከምዚ ዝኣምሰለ ምድንጋርን ዘየርብሕን ጉዳይ ብምእታው ክቡር ግዜኡ፡ ጉልበቱን፡ ገንዘቡን ከየባኽን ንሕና ደለይቲ ሓቀኛ ፍትሒ፡ ሰላምን፡ ሓድነትን ዝኾ’ና ኤርትራውያን ብትሕትና ነማሕጽን ኣሎና።
ሓቀኛ ሓድነትናን ረብሓናን ብመንነትናን ጽንዓትናን ይደልድል !
ዘልኣለማዊ ዝኽሪ ንሰማእታትና !
ወትሩ ዓወት ንሓፋሽ !
ኤርትራውያን ካብ ተኸታተልቲ ጉዳይ ከባቢና
March 21, 2013
“Platform for Civilized Dialogue Among Eritreans” with whom ?
We all know what is going in Eritreans’ affairs these days. In light of this, we would like to alarm and warn all true peace loving and justice seeking Eritreans not to fall for the dirty tricks of those who are pretending to broker peace among Eritreans of San Jose and environs, scheduled this Saturday, March 23, 2013, in the name of “Solving Real Problems” and “Bridging the gap and bringing harmony among Eritreans by cultivating a genuine sense of cooperation”. So far no body has openly disclosed where this “Civilized Dialogue” initiative has come from and who is sponsoring it.
Peace can only be achieved through true identity and perseverance !
Eternal Glory to our Martyrs !
Wetru Awet n’Hafash !
Eritreans who follow up real developments