By Goitom Emam
As any other nation with diverse nationalities and beliefs, the Eritrean people have commonalities and differences in many aspects of their livelihood, beliefs and experiences. Yet, with all our diversity and hues, we all belong to the same young nation, Eritrea. Eritreans have sacrificed for five decades to have their own statehood in order to live in peace and harmony within a country that they call it home. Although Eritrea is independent of colonial powers, still its people are oppressed under the tyrannical rule of PFDJ leaders headed by Mr. Isayas Afewerki who created an empty slogan of “One People and One Heart” (Hade-libi hade-hzbi), a political culture that overtime turned Eritrean people to be submissive and putting unquestioning trust on their government.
In my opinion, the Eritrean repressive regime does not care about race (ethnicity), region and religious affiliations. The regime is an equal opportunity oppressor that is hostile to differing views and is mainly interested to stay in power at any cost. As any other dictatorship, the regime of Isayas uses region, religion, ethnicity etc… to divide and rule in order to prolong its stay in power. That does not mean the regime likes and favors one region, ethnic group or religion over another. Loyalty to its rules and practices is what the regime really cares and expects from any citizen. For example, having a position in the government is not based on the job experience (competency, skill), race, region or religion of an individual, but rather by the sheer loyalty one owes to PFDJ’s rule. We also know the dictatorial regime is not tolerant of any type of political opposition; and it is known for its cruelty against humanity in general.
Historically, highlanders, and Christian Tigrinya speakers had always dominated EPLF. It is not also a secret that the overwhelming base of the PFDJ dictatorial regime still stays similar to what it was in pre-independence era. But highlanders have never been the beneficiaries of this regime. Although it is known that the regime of PFDJ continues to impose its will on all Eritrean citizens indiscriminately, the Eritrean Islamic opposition organizations characterize it as a Tigrinya speaking Christian Highlander dictatorial regime that discriminates against non-highlander Eritreans. On the surface, it might appear that the government of PFDJ discriminates against the non-Christian and non-highlanders based on the overwhelming support it gets from the highland region and based on the demographic background of the majority of the people in power. However, the Islamic organizations and some individuals from the Islamic faith ignore the fact that the same dictator is oppressing the same Christian Tigrinya speaking people.
We need to understand that power in Eritrea lies in the hands of one man and all positions held by other people are accessory apparatus or subordinate to the individual at the top, Mr. Isayas Afeworki. It would not make a difference whether those messengers in the power circle are Christians or Muslims. Do we think many Ali-Abdus would make a difference to the agony of the Eritrean Muslim Community? Similarly, do we think many Hagos Kishas would help ease the suffering of the Christian Community? Give it up! It does not matter to which faith they belong to under such kind of dictatorship. To the Isaias regime, what matters is Loyalty, Loyalty and Loyalty. If he could get loyalty, let us say, from the Tigrai people, he would not care about an individual’s citizenship or background. If “Kinijit” could provide his security to stay in power, he would not hesitate for a minute to sell Eritrea in a broad daylight to them. It is not only the Eritrean people’s future and dream that are at stake under the dictatorship of PFDJ, but also the fate of our country. For example, have we already forgotten about his comment and ambition to the extent of confederating Eritrea with Ethiopia 16 years ago after independence?
It appears that some of the political opposition organizations’ problem is the fear of domination of Christians and not a dictatorship as a political system per se. It means they would accept dictatorship if the person at the helm was a Muslim and the messengers were of the Muslim faith. In fact, this belief seems to be the main reason why they distrust the Eritrean people’s Democratic Party (EPDP) even though the party is more diverse and inclusive than any other political organization that there is. It is also undeniable fact that they know that party is a party for all; and it is a party of inclusion not exclusion. It is a party of all members of the Muslim faith, Christian faith, and other faiths and all ethnic groups. It is a party of change and not a party of status quo. It is a party of future generation and not a party of the 70’s. It is a party of practical approach and solution and not a party of hate mongering and emotions. It is a party of unity and not a party of divisive agenda. It is a party of an open, honest and transparent dialogue in solving problems and not a party of blackmailing, deception, and hatred.
For example, it is no secret that Tadamun was created in reaction to what they call the fear and domination of EPDP. Do we know as to why a secular organization like ELF (Headed by Abdalla Idris & Hussien Kelifa) joined sectarian organizations and formed solidarity, the Tadamun? Is not it obvious? Is not religion the main underpinnings of their partnership in their attempt to distract and prevent EPDP from getting Eritrean people’s support? Do we know why all the fabricated blackmailing is being directed towards EPDP? Is this really a legitimate fear of EPDP, or is it a tactical maneuver to use region and religion as a means to empower themselves by calling all Muslims to join them through blackmailing and disparaging EPDP and its members as PFDJ supporters and sympathizers. For them EPDP is guilty because its majority members are from the Tigrinya speaking or Christian faith. All other members of EPDP are exception to this rule, and they are as such labeled as Satellites of the highlanders. Is this really the way to go and the way to remove the common enemy? It seems to me, they do not care about the suffering and agony of our people, but power. They are blind to the discontent and to the reasons of dissatisfaction of our people as to why they are not joining the opposition. We need to ask ourselves, is it practical to remove the dictatorial regime without the support of our people and especially the people who live in the country? We in the opposition need realty check and assess our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). At present, we are really out of touch with the Eritrean reality, and we are squandering an opportune time instead of adjusting our approach, transforming our thinking/ideas and prioritizing our organizational tasks.
There is much evidence to substantiate that the regime is cruel to Christians as much as it is to Muslims, lowlanders and highlanders. Case in point, do we think the PFDJ cruelty and mistreatment of the G-15 prisoners is based on their faith and demographic backgrounds. Was there any G-15 Christian soul spared on the account of their religious background? I strongly believe that the opposition, obsessed with the ‘we are more oppressed than you are mentality’ wasted its precious time, instead of trying to eradicate the root cause of the problem, which is the dictatorship.
In order to have a good grasp of our problem, consider how Tadamun views and perceives Christians or highlanders. Its politics is politics of guilty by association in which every Christian, highlander or Tigrinya speaker is considered part of the evil politics of PFDJ regime. This mentality and tendency in and of itself is discriminatory that denies people’s birthrights and sense of belongings to their birthplace. I think we need to get out of this kind of narrow mentality and direct our undivided focus on eradicating the agony and injustices of Eritrean people rather than toiling for an exclusive attention or localized approach in solving problems. We should care and get concerned about all of our citizens regardless of their birthplace, whether they live in Barka or Hamasien or whether they belong to the Muslim faith or not.
For example, no ethnicity has ever suffered more than our Kunama brothers and sisters under the hands of the current regime. Who do you think planned and executed the massacre of our Kunama brothers in the suburb of my Dima and the subsequent action to bury them in a mass grave? Are we supposed to overlook such a heinous crime? Are we justifying the actions of Omer Twill and Ali-abdu, who are the perpetrators of this crime, simply because they are from the Muslim faith, or are we saying that we do not care about the dead souls because they are not from your own faith? I believe we all should fight for the agony of all Eritrean races, ethnic groups, regions and religions. We should not slice and dice the Eritrean people and manipulate people’s emotions in order to fulfill our individual power ambitions.
We must underscore that no political power, without the consent of the people, is going to be granted in Eritrea anymore. Those who are trusted by the people will be the ones chosen/elected to be the messengers of the people and serve the people. Our role as an opposition should be limited to helping and laying the foundation of smooth transition to democracy and Empowering Eritrean people. Keep in mind a Muslim dictator is as bad as a Christian dictator and vice-versa.
But the opposition is ill equipped in figuring out what is required to remove the dictatorial regime from power. The majority of the opposition forces are hiding behind their narrow comfort-zone or base (constituents). They do not have a road map or blue print that enumerates their overall vision in addition to the lack of resource that is necessary to challenge the regime. The truth is the opposition is pre-occupied positioning itself for the future, is being consumed with in-fighting, and is engaged in squandering its resource and time in blackmailing each other instead of concentrating in winning the hearts and souls of our people, which is crucial in removing the dictatorial regime.
The opposition failed to realize not only the discontent of our people but also what is expected of it. With the exception of few political organizations, the majority of the opposition organizations are not organized based on ideological vision or secular philosophical type of governance. Although they accuse the dictatorial regime for being a partisan based on the support it gets, they also hide behind region, religion, and ethnic belongings, which are equally destructive. I understand that it is everyone’s right to organize himself or herself based on what they feel is right, but I am also within my right to criticize it when they are following the footsteps of the entity they criticize and not focusing on efforts that materialize the removal of the regime they hate. Yet, criticism alone is not enough to resolve the issue.
The bottom line: we need to find a formula that is suitable and agreeable to all of us, a formula that accommodates our diverse backgrounds, regions, and religions or ethnicities, and bring us together as one people under the statehood of Eritrea. But first we need to recognize that this is a long-term goal and therefore, we need to strive starting today in finding the right path that we all can travel on it and make our people’s agony history and their dreams a reality once and for all. The question is how can we do that? Please do not tell me, your answer to my question is the so-called “Conference for Democratic Change”. If you want to read about my opinion on that subject, you may need to read my article on WegahtaBirhan - http://www.harnnet.org/images/stories/Special%20Magazine/Wegahta_Birhan%203rd%20Edition/index.html .
Some General Discussion
The following are two recommendations specifically directed to the opposition forces:
We need to have a pragmatic approach to remove the dictatorship of Isayas Afeworki, using the available resources that our people can bear and endure. I do believe we need to get away from the mentality that Guns will solve all of our problems. Instead, the best approach is to mobilize our people to rise-up and to stand together and oppose the government in unison in a peaceful and democratic way. This includes partnership with the “Warsai Yikealo” generation, which is also a victim of the authoritarian regime. This is where we need to be prudent and strategic in differentiating between the real enemy and the victims of the enemy on the one hand and, the means of struggle we use to depose the regime on the other hand. What means of struggle we use to remove the regime and how we execute the strategy itself will determine whether we establish a sustainable, peaceful and democratic Eritrea in the future.
I believe our fundamental strategy to remove the dictatorship regime should be through peaceful and democratic means while reserving the right to defend ourselves in the event of any danger we might face from the regime during our struggle. Among other things, the peaceful and democratic strategy needs focus on infiltrating the real enemy institutions and not attacking the innocent messengers and bystanders. I like to use the term a Top-Down Silent Strategy of infiltration tactics in dealing with the real enemy and a power of persuasion in mobilizing our people. The main objective of the infiltration tactics is to bring about a popular uprising against the repressive regime and its policies. In other words, our role need to be the role of catalysts and activists in effecting change through establishing a strong partnership with our people in general and with the “Warsai-Yikealo” generation in particular.
In the international arena, we need to mobilize the available resources and launch a sound diplomatic activity, focusing on isolating the regime as well as blocking any support it gets from the international community. Eritrean scholars, experts, and others should be encouraged to lead and help in winning the war in the diplomatic front. Another situation that requires immediate diplomatic focus is the Eritrean gold mine venture to which the regime of PFDJ will be gaining profits, which potentially will give life-support to its dying political power and prolong the suffering of our people.
I strongly believe an outright violent means of struggle by the opposition groups is a strategic blunder and a mistake that will indirectly benefit the dictatorial regime. In addition, it could also damage our cause by victimizing the victims who we know very well are forced to serve the regime. Waging a violent means of struggle against the “Warsai-Yikealo” generation is simply suicidal; it will simply push our people and the army to take side with the authoritarian regime.
We need to put the strategy of violent struggle in some perspective. At present, both our people and our younger generation are fed-up with the culture of war. In particular, our younger generation is not interested in a war that kills their brothers and sisters. It is also evident that with the exception of few warmongers among the opposition, no one is driving for a violent war because Eritreans know that such type of violent culture and militaristic mentality is a recipe for disaster that will progressively prolong the suffering of our people.
Furthermore, every decision we make need to be analyzed based on benefit and cost analysis. We cannot afford to make decisions and take actions on them based on emotions, feelings, hatred, and a wishful thinking. We should learn from the practices of the authoritarian regime of Isayas whose survival depends on violent conflict, on echoing national sentiments, and manipulating Eritrean people’s emotions behind real and perceived enemies. This has been the hallmark of the present regime over the last 19 years, which never brought peace and democracy to the country. It is within this background that I urge the eight opposition organizations that are planning to wage a violent method in order to topple the regime of Isayas to rethink their strategies based on benefit and cost analysis. I am not against having a military wing as long as it is used for self-defense against any possible attack from the regime while conducting political campaign inside Eritrea. In fact, I see the importance of strengthening the self-defense capability by bringing all the military wings under one command and making them free of the influence of individual organizations and/or partisan politics. The fundamental objective of these military wings, if indeed they are out there, need to be defensive in nature. They must act on behalf of the oppressed people rather than a political army of a specific organization/s. However, given our history, the danger of having various military wings is obvious; having different military wings that owe allegiance to different opposition organizations is a cause for potential conflict among those various organizations as well as among our people in post PFDJ regime.
Currently, there is an intense mistrust between the opposition members as well as between their constituencies. And there are many reasons behind this mistrust. But I am not going to dwell on the reasons of mistrust at this juncture. Instead, my attempt it to come-up with a solution that could help us restore trust in the opposition, build confidence in our work relationship/interactions, and respect each other as Eritreans irrespective of our background, religion, ethnicity, gender, and experiences. I do not believe we need a mediator to solve our own problems. What we need is an open, transparent and honest discussion, a process that can bring us to an agreeable solution based on mutual compromises that we all could agree-on. It means we need to work on an agreeable future vision to which we all can rally around and travel together. I think such process of restoring trust and confidence building is crucial and prerequisite for everything members of the opposition plan to do.
Although the ultimate decision-making power remains at the hands of the Eritrean people, the formula that I am proposing has to do with the kind of future government structure that might help Eritrean people in one way or another. This type of government structure is intended to bring Eritreans closer together, to provide us all a fair representation in the political system, and help us coexist peacefully with one banner and with one country. Formulating such proposal will require application of democratic principles, with a focus mainly on accommodating and protecting the rights of minority groups and women in Eritrea, and with a serious consideration to the balance of political power between the two major faiths of Eritrea. The system should be designed in such a way as to protect the minority from the majority domination. It means the majority ethnic groups in Eritrea have to play a role of accommodators and must endeavor to earn the trust of the minority ethnic groups and on the other hand, the minority ethnic groups need to distance themselves from the idea of secession (self-determination up to secession). I do believe this type of compromise between the majority and minority ethnicities will be a win-win situation for both sides and Eritrean people in general.
In Eritrean context, the components of a harmonious government should include fair representation of ethnic diversity, embracing democratic principles, empowering women, and avoiding the domination of one faith over another in our political system. It is no secret that Eritrean minority groups are afraid of the majority domination and we need to accommodate their concern and protect their rights without sacrificing too much on the democratic principles.
One of the major components of the type of government that I favor is a decentralized system of government where people can self-administer their locals based on an agreeable national constitution that is ratified democratically. At the central government level, we need to divide the government into three branches. Those three branches need to be designed or structured in such a way as to fit the above-mentioned objectives. To effectively monitor and maintain a balance of power between the two faiths, a clause can be added in the constitution stating that no power should be granted to one faith greater than 55% of other faiths or something to that effect. It means each faith would be represented in the legislative (senate) and judiciary branches between 45% and 55% range. This type of constitutional arrangement would help promote people’s trust on their own government and trust between each other. (The name of the government is irrelevant for this discussion, so I will give some abstract name for this discussion sake)
Since the house is an elected body based on majority vote, their decision might impose hardship to minorities. To balance such act, the Senate can be used as a buffer for check and balance in making sure that the rights of minorities are not abused.
My view on this branch is to stay within 45% and 55% in order to maintain the equilibrium between the 2 major faiths of Eritrea, and 20% to be reserved for women. In other words, if the number of judges agreed is 10; my recommendation is that two seats should be allocated or reserved for women. The rest of the seats can be allocated based on the 45% to 55% proportion. To ensure that both faiths and all ethnic groups have trust in their judicial system, the two houses need to approve the nominees to the judiciary branch.
In conclusion, I do understand that my formula might not be a perfect formula, but my hope is to initiate an honest and open discussion among ourselves that can help us to come up with best possible solution for our problems. I hate to suggest this kind of proportional power based on religion, ethnic and gender in the 21st century. It is also my desperate move to cling to such kind of solution because of the obstacle we all face. As far as I am concerned, I do not really care if 90% of the people in power are from the same faith. What I really care is whether the people in power uphold the law and treat our people with respect regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliation or political views. But Eritrean reality is not what I thought it would be in the 21st century and certainly not, what I had hoped for during my struggle for independence. I guess I am swayed by our current situation and I am ready to compromise and free our people from the hands of the PFDJ regime.
For those interested in responding to this article, I suggest you to come-up with a better alternative and pragmatic solution in addition to any objection or criticism that you may have. In addition, I also encourage you to write using your true name instead of Pen names. I am allergic to any writing in Pen Names; after all, it does not create a healthy discussion; and it does not solve problems. It simply worsens the existing mistrust and suspicion between each other, and sometimes adds fuel to the fire.
May 18, 2010