Political forces that are truly determined to change a social order, which is cruelly unjust, and build a fair society that enables the people to catch up with the civilized world, has a point of departure from which they should start their long journey. The most logical point of departure is standing against the legacies of the past, that make-up a series of harsh realities of concrete injustices, and listening to the voices of the future, whatever community they come from. This cannot be an option at all but rather a basic requirement for future progress and proof of commitment.
To refuse such a point of departure explicitly, evade or dodge it, or to try to run away from catching the bull by the horns, would be to make oneself an accomplice of injustice. How do we claim to be the tools of change and write beautifully-phrased party programs that “build the future”, if we do not denounce the injustices of the past? The act of denouncing injustices cannot be fearful to any political leader or party in the opposition, unless they are informal enforcers of the same injustices and claim political correctness as a veneer to mask what they really think, believe and contemplate or plan. Political correctness cannot be a mask for anyone or any party to hide behind. It is a short-lived technique that leads to fiasco or foolish failure, and the political history of the world has confirmed this conclusion with glaring examples.
Facing a situation which works so seriously against human dignity and against peace and justice, the Eritrean people, with all its different ethnic and religious backgrounds, expected the “big names” in the opposition, their parties and the whole opposition collective constituting the Eritrean Democratic Alliance, to assume their responsibility in the promotion of justice, fairness, humaneness and peace in the future of our country. To assume this responsibility, where was the National Conference for Democratic Change expected to start from? What does that start need and demand by way of requirements?
First and foremost, the Eritrean Democratic Alliance was and is expected to mercilessly denounce everything opposing justice and destroying peace. If we really believe that the future peace of our country largely depends on our attitude, denouncing Nehnan Alamanan, the mother of all evils and injustices, and endorsing its anti-thesis, the Eritrean Covenant, is a courageous and effective action for our shared future any Eritrean nationalist worth his/her salt should not hesitate to take. In this connection, it should not be forgotten that also responsible for injustices are those who remain passive for fear of losing narrow sectarian benefits or personal risk implied by that courageous and effective action. Could anyone argue that denouncing the Holocaust or the 1994 Rwandan massacre or the Ethiopian Red Terror of 1976 had no effects in preventing similar tragedies in the respective countries and the world at large? This definitely needs high level of political commitment which in turn demands all-embracing, courageous, urgent and profoundly renovating transformation, including (to amaze and surprise the readers) stopping the racist slur of “Islamai AyqebalenEyye”; a favourite disparaging remark at the tips of the fingers of some opposition leaders. Should I say “Khabdi Yetsoro”, and treat it with the contempt it deserves?
The withdrawal of the Eritrean Democratic Party from the Preparatory Committee of the National Conference for Democratic Change is nothing but the manifestation of the above-detailed reality, driven by blind and powerful urge of intolerance. This was by no means a surprise for many of us, who were following the absence of political tolerance rearing its ugly head in the Eritrean opposition since long time ago. The absence of political tolerance definitely collected momentum with the release of the Eritrean Covenant and the consolidation of the armed struggle against the regime by some members of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance and forces outside it determined to resist the state terrorism in progress. The sad thing is that the leaders of the party had been talking the good talk about reconciliation to finally walk in the opposite direction. This could appear as a mystery for some but it is “Sayetalem Yetefeta Now” for many who had been connecting the dots for a long time and were familiar with the tendencies of the three merged party leaders and what brought them together after a long strive against each other.
The said party knows that the work of the National Conference will definitely include discussions on all types of injustice committed on all Eritrean communities in general and the peculiar ones committed on Muslims who constitute more than 50% of the Eritrean people and spread across all Eritrean ethnic groups, without any exception. Here the questions that impose themselves are: Are the interests of all Eritrean ethnic and religious communities as mutually exclusive as these sectarians see them? Why do they think that they have a soft target to kick and keep on kicking? Do they afford abusing the patience of the communities that for decades have borne a situation that would not be acceptable to anyone with any degree of awareness of human rights, justice and dignity? That is the thin end of the wedge for the party.
Perhaps the esteemed leader of the party could point out why on the one hand he seems insistent on crippling the Alliance whilst at the same time complaining about its being weak. Can’t the party find a middle ground that helps the whole Alliance out instead of withstanding? Isn’t the party behaving like disgusting totalitarian parties imposing their will on the people pretending that they know best?
It is deeply regrettable to see a party calling itself a “democratic party” to rebel against the majority rule as 1 against 10 parties in the Alliance. Didn’t the party leadership study that one of the principles that has made the USA great is that it has been a nation of majority rule? Didn’t history teach them that minority rule has led to dictatorships, rule by kings, Caesars, communism and socialism? Isn’t human history full of glaring examples of the immeasurable damage which minority rules were capable of inflicting? Didn’t they see that the miseries and tragedies they claim to oppose in present Eritrea, as the most spectacular atrocities of our time, are the results of minority rule in a country living through the gravest crisis in its history? Have they ever read in the constitution of any country in the civilized world where a few can decide for the many? Why do they want the majority, constituting 10 parties, to bend to the will of one party? Why was it difficult for the party political advisors to tell the esteemed leader that withdrawing from a national forum and rupture with working groups were not different from Isias’s political gambling and that very few gamblers, if any, made a happy ending? Or just like his identical twin brother, Isias, listens to nobody or nobody dares to tell him the truth? Does the party have a bigger fish to fry than the collective agenda of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance? Everybody should better realize that such chauvinist dreams are crumbling under the onslaught of new realities: the awareness of the Eritrean people as the true owners of their destiny, the new visions that are gaining credence as they filter into our national consciousness, the level of the political organization of our people and their readiness to defend their rights at any cost until they establish a fair and equitable political system for which each one will bring something vital to the table. We sincerely wish no ethnic or religious group or groups would make peaceful democratic changes impossible, urging that we should have the foresight to realize that blocking peaceful democratic changes could sadly make violent changes inevitable. In short, the monopolization of power and resources by the few, as it stands now in Eritrea, would be a mirage in future Eritrea, I hate to say. Nevertheless, borrowing Meles’s phrase, I would wish any chauvinist group trying to do that, “Mangadu Cherq Yargelachuh”.
It does not need extraordinary intelligence to conclude that the message is clear and simple: We are the only qualified and honest people to do all jobs; preparations, writing of the agenda, leadership, management, scheduling, selection and the allotment of seats to participants… and the rest will only be “Gahwaji” and cleaners for us. How nasty and spiteful to scapegoat all honest and hardworking colleagues to disrupt a noble work that ensures common interests and shared future? For democracy to work in Eritrea tomorrow, we need to practice now at the Eritrean Democratic Alliance, and this needs the full participation of all sides. Shouldn’t anything outside this principle be considered an act of denying space to other nationals, attempts to marginalize all and monopolize everything? What are the aims of Nehnana Alamana other these? Mr. Woldesyesus wrote more than any other politician about Nehnana Alamana before his party married with the other two. Who or what changed now, the contents of Nehnana Alamana or its yesterday authors and enforcers who are his today’s comrades? I am still having a hard time making sense of this. What is the party’s behaviour at the Eritrean Democratic Alliance if it is not racism, discrimination, xenophobia and claim of monopoly? Isn’t this an obstacle to progress? We are just beginning to work together. What will happen tomorrow when there are more difficult tasks in front of us: the drafting of the constitution, the establishment of institutions, territorial curve up, elections, equitable and honest electoral system, the allotment of material and human resources, curriculum..? How are we going to work together with people having such mentality, when time comes to do the real work to build a completely different political system after the collapse of the dictatorship, practically from the ground up?
Riding two horses at the same time, the Eritrean Democratic Party condemns violence against the regime, on a worryingly regular basis, though I have never read any convincing argument on that. Are the Eritrean people supposed to sit with folded hands while acts of state terrorism are in progress? Isn’t violence the only response available to halt state terrorism at this point when peaceful change became impossible? What made violence permissible while Eritreans were fighting for independence and unjustifiable now when the need dictated to halt a dictatorial regime from its terrorist acts? Isn’t this a double standard and bigotry resulting from the fear that the parties with fighting forces in the field will change the political formula and bring about change in which all will have equal access to power and resources? In his article Gandhi vs. Terrorism, Mark Juergensmeyer, who opposed sitting idle while terrorism is in progress, argued as follows:
“If Gandhi had been sitting next to the suicide bomber in the London subway during the 2005 attack, for instance, he would have been justified in wrestling the man to the floor and subduing him. If no other means were available than a physical assault–even one that led to the man’s death–it would have been preferable to the awful event that transpired when the bomb exploded.” (Mark Juergensmeyer, Goliath Business News).
The people of Eritrea have been left waiting for too long for reconciliation and for the strategy of shared future. The vital issues that all Eritrean communities have been raising for years deserved action two or three years ago. Therefore, every day unused by the Eritrean Democratic Alliance was a precious day lost for common work, for the shared future and for all the people of Eritrea. This will lead us to the question: How come that the Eritrean Democratic Party and its cadres call for the postponement of the National Conference for Democratic change? Is this call a slip of the tongue or well-thought of rhetoric? It is utter madness to call for postponement when the country is at the cross-roads. It is sheer lunacy to evaluate the Preparatory Committee as weak and ineffective while putting “tacko” here, “tacko” there and “tacko” every where to undermine its efforts and finally call for postponement of the conference claiming that no sufficient preparations were done. Do these behaviours mask the fact that the real motive is to disrupt and sabotage any work that could be done? We also hear the argument that members of the Preparatory Committee are not qualified to do the job. These are what the country has produced “Hager Yafarawo Yeh Now”. We cannot bring Americans to do the work for us. I do not understand if they are suggesting that we stop doing anything until we mature and our skills develop. Skills mature and develop while we participate and do the job. This is what we call “on the job training” which is an important component of any educational program. If you want to learn how to swim, you have to get into the water, as the saying goes. Why are these invalid arguments raised? What do they suggest?
There is no way that the members of the party, which embraces many noble fighters of freedom, equality and justice, can continue indefinitely looking the other way when such naked sectarianism is enacted in their name. They should act as Brother Mohammed Mansour Abdalla, a member of the party, courageously and delegently did on April 23, 2010 by writing a letter of condemnation to the leader of the party, who exited his organization from history, through its widest door, reducing it into one desperate rat in a hole. Members of the Yemeni Socialist Party of former Democratic Republic of Yemen, who ousted their leaderships on June 22, 1969 as a “Correction Step” and on January 13, 1986 as a violent upheaval, irrespective of the latter being very controversial, -were the first in our region, if not in the whole Third World, to record the correction of the course of their party history. Where is party life if you do not discuss this destructive development in your primary organizations?
I suspect that the members of the party will eventually wake up and be the second, after the Yemeni Socialist Party, to correct the course of the history of their organization and fix its relations with the other Eritrean contingents, but I hope that will not come as too little or as too late.
To conclude this piece, I would like to ask: Is it possible for the Eritrean people to restore and rebuild mutual trust and confidence after the downfall of the tyranny? The answer is a big “YES” tied up to a conditional “if” we work together. Working together goes further than fine words. We need to give and take, compromise, trust, accommodate and care for one another. We do not lecture anybody on the importance of moving towards a society where there is respect and understanding of each other’s tradition, culture and believes, but we do recognize the need to make a fundamental political change in relations. This change will only come if we address the past legacies and ensure a shared future. Here we need to remember that voices urging us to address concerns and grievances cannot disappear into the thin air just because we ignored them. This connects me to the release of the Eritrean Covenant which was an occasion to generate fresh thinking, debate and awareness. It put the accent on justice and equality that is increasingly viewed as a political and legal requirement for peaceful co-existence. It teaches the appreciation of diversity, the ability to live and let others live, the ability to adhere to one’s convictions while accepting that others adhere to theirs, the ability to enjoy one’s rights and freedoms without infringing on those of others. This way, the document teaches tolerance as a value that has always been considered a moral virtue. Tolerance is also the foundation of democracy and human rights. Intolerance in multi-ethnic, multi-religious or multicultural societies leads to violations of human rights, violence or armed conflict. The document shows that the interests of all Eritrean ethnic and religious communities are not mutually exclusive. I cannot say that for me to live, you have to die. There is enough amount of oxygen for both of us in Eritrea. We can both live together; without anyone of us dies. So, we work together to create the right atmosphere for peaceful co-existence. This needs discussions and dialogue. Dialogue demands a willingness to listen, to be open to change and to have the courage to disagree with others. By rejecting dialogue, aren’t we putting the very cohesion of the society at risk? This is the problem of withdrawal from dialogue. However, the question remains: Doesn’t the silence over the Eritrean Covenant mask a lack of political commitment to denounce everything opposing justice and destroying peace, and to make a fundamental political change in relations? How do we fix the situation?
I hope our greatly respected brother, Professor Bereket Habte Selassie, who recorded very noble remarks about the Eritrean Covenant, which he said is the anti-thesis of Nehnan Alamana, will pick up from where I have ended. I have handed the torch to Professor Bereket Habte Selassie. I hope he will accept it. This is a relay system.