Part II: Moral Crusade that Has Changed the Political Landscape of Eritrea
By Petros Tesfagiorgis
The legacy and the challenge:
The Forto 2013 uprising remarkably highlighted the issues critical to democratic change. They are the rule of law, respect of human rights, freedom of worship and freedom of expression and of course the release of all prisoners of conscience.
In all these the members of the Defence Forces made a political storm, a history by making visible the demands of the voiceless people of Eritrea. The uprising represents a powerful legacy and a unifying factor. The martyr Said Ali Higai (Wedi Ali) symbolizes that history. A school, a library, a research centre or a foundation must be called in his name to immortalize him and the just cause he and his comrades stood for.
The opposition political parties and civil societies are more likely to achieve their goal if they live up to the challenges.
However there is a problem in the way the political parties are formed. Eritrean political parties except for a few are based on Ethnicity and religion such as Kunama, Afar etc. There was also a move to form Tigrinya which thankfully has failed. Political parties organised along those lines unleash a culture of exclusion and more often than not are obstacles to unity. It is used by politicians to serve their vested interests, to come to power, rather than the interest of the people. This is even worse when the level of consciousness of the people is very low as is the case of Eritreans in this moment in time. Out of ignorance or sheer fear large number of people have internalized the PFDJ system that is oppressing them and keep on rendering their supporting.
The way the Eritrean political parties are organised is below the standard of what has been achieved during the long years of struggle. Dan Connell in his thesis "From dictatorship to democracy back to dictatorship " wrote."The Eritreans achieved an extraordinary level of Cultural and Political unity among their diverse constituent parts – Christians and Muslims from nine ethnic groups at a time when most of their neighbours were mired in civil war and sectarian violence."
After independence I remember a TV crew from Kuwait which took photos of St. Mary Orthodox Church and the Mosque located near to each other down town Asmara and the reporter in his narrative expressed a wonderful example of Christians and Moslems living together side by side in harmony. During the struggle in the field the degree of camaraderie reached a high level to the extent that it has become common to witness the intermarriage of Moslems and Christians. The wife of Ali Abdu ex-minister of information is Christian. The Wife of Afeworki Abraha, ex-Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the charismatic Tigre singer Fatna is a Moslem. She was a member of the EPLF cultural troupe – Today Fatna is on a wheel chair in London, paralysed by a car accident.
Although an umbrella organisation was formed at the conference in Awasa – Ethiopia- in 2011 called “Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change” there are no reports of worthwhile activities that attracted the attention of Eritreans let alone the international community. One may wonder why?
The focus of the political parties has become on exposing the PFDJ for gross violation of human rights and the mismanaging of the Eritrean society and economy. Such exposé is carried out by people who dissent from the EPLF/PFDJ such as Tesfay Temnewo (who is doing a detailed expose of the dark side of EPLF in a lengthy interview now reaching number 38) the Pilot, Tegadelai Said Saleh a member of the security forces , Kibrom Dafla, ex-head of Eritrean Inland Revenue etc. These are people who personally experienced and witnessed repression. Of course the political parties must continue their exposure of PFDJ but the core strategy must focus on the activities that would bring fundamental change in Eritrea.
The importance of clear and coherent ideology:
The Eritrean political parties also suffer from lack of a clear ideology and dynamism that enables them to live up to the expectations of the people for leadership, as well as to the challenges left behind by the uprising.
The overall struggle of Eritrea merits the building of a new way of life that allows all Eritreans to live in peace, harmony and prosperity.
A new way of life requires a new ideology E.g. Leninism is unimaginable without talk of "dictatorship of the proletariat", “the vanguard party", the correct line and "democratic centralism.”It is the ideology of communism.
It is very difficult to win support unless people relate to a specific ideology, principles and vision of an organisation. And it is difficult to relate to an organisation unless its ideology is clearly stated and debated and put in a written form and made available to the ordinary people.
Organising along ethnicity or religion will have a problem in mobilizing a modern society which is composed of working class, the business community, the women, and the youth and in the case of developing countries the peasants. It is true in many societies there are marginalized people along the lines of religion and ethnicity, tribe and region. For example Orthodox Christians are marginalized in Egypt. The Christians are more concerned today since the Government is not secular and it is run by Moslem Brotherhood which obviously would exclude Christians in the Government. In Eritrea pentacostlists not only are excluded but are brutally prosecuted and are leaving the country in droves. We have to recognize also that the Kunama are the most marginalized ethnic group in Eritrea. But the best way to make their cause visible is to form a strong association and promote the issues specific to them. They can lobby for positive discrimination. E.g. to ask the Government for more infrastructure building such as roads, electricity, schools etc. in their areas in order to catch up with the rest of the country. Would a Kunama based political party go out and look for Kunama working class, Kunama youth, Kunama business community, Kunama women when they go out to canvas for election. This is not sustainable.
On the other hand to assume power by promoting religion did not serve Iraq, is not serving Syria. The Shiites and the Sunni are at odds and in battle. The Somalia experience based on ethnicity and radical Islam, the Al Shebab, has proved to be disastrous. By now the Eritreans must draw a lesson from all these sectarian violations taking place in the Middle East and in Africa.
In Eritrea both Moslem and Christians are great tradition who lives side by side in peace and harmony. These two traditional religions are our identity and our pride. For us Christians the Moslems are our Eritrean Moslems and for Muslims the Christians are their Eritrean Christians. We should not let a policy of divide and rule destabilizes us, nor the radicalism of Islam in the Middle East influence us. Yes it is worrying that in this moment in time Eritreans are getting organised along those lines in order to get out of PFDJ control – it is beyond doubt and crystal clear that PFDJ is control freak – and the only way of liberating from the clutches of PFDJ is to fall back to ethnic and religious sanctuary. But unless consciously handled it may bread the seeds of conflict because they have their own unforeseen consequences and one cannot tell how it will negatively impact the unity of all the people.
The concern of ICG must not be taken lightly, it defined a fault line, it goes " the fault lines, especially of ethnicity, region and religion (Christian versus Muslims) are still there, some deeper than before.
There are some indicators that lead to the assumption that the political parties where not active enough as to be taken seriously. Could it be partly because of the way they are organized as stated above.
It is a common talk among Eritreans (not substantiated) that a high ranking Sudanese Official once asked Isaias –if he could arrange him a meeting with the opposition after expressing thanks to him for reconciling between the Eastern Sudan and the Central government. Isaias said, “what opposition we have no opposition”. He must have said so because he may not feel any threat from them.
The Eritrean politicians in the opposition do meet with Foreign Government officials particularly EU every now and then but what impact would they have unless they prove themselves united and have a strong support from Eritreans in Diaspora, the base.
There are some political parts which have an armed wing. Why don't they intervene and do something against few traffickers who managed to kidnap hundreds of Eritreans in order to harvest their organs for lucrative profits? This comes out in many informal discussions where Eritreans gather mostly in bars and coffee houses. They should have given them a strict warning to the traffickers to stop their evil mission or else. Taking tough action against traffickers would have raised their profile and so support from the base.
The risks of the lack of institutions of governance along with the absence of a united opposition were expressed by Dr. Kidane Mengisteab of the Pennsylvania State University, USA in a talk he gave at a CIDRiE- organized conference in London in 2012. Mengisteab recounted that Aljazeera invited him to write a brief commentary on ‘Eritrea after President Isaias Afeworki’ at the time when rumours of the President’s death were rife. After finding out that the rumours were false Mengisteab informed Aljazeera that their information about the passing of the President was incorrect. However, he said he started thinking about what he would have written if the rumours had been true. There are no institutions of succession in the country. There is also no united opposition that would step in to govern the country. Under the circumstances, he said he realized that there is very little he could have said other than describing the huge risks the country faces. He said, this is a wake-up call for Eritreans to organize and avert risks hanging over their country.
Recently there is some breaking news as follows.
In all these there is little reference to the opposition parties. Could it be that the opposition parties are taken as divided and weak and is not worth talking to them? This must be analysed in depth by the parties themselves and find an answer.
The concern is highlighted in the report by International Crises Group – a group working to prevent conflict worldwide. I quote from its Executive Summary, as posted in Asmarino.com "It is difficult to predict what an eventually post-Isaias Eritrea will look like: after and in spite of 21 years of forceful nation-building, fault lines, especially of ethnicity, region and religion (Christian versus Muslims) are still there, some deeper than before. Since the state lacks any institutional mechanisms for peaceful transition of power or even a clearly anointed successor, instability is to be expected, with the corrupt army the likely arbiter of who will rule next. But even the generals appear split over loyalty toward the president".
The wake up call must ring continuously. In this The Forto- 2013 uprising is an event of remarkable significance: a history changer: It has inspired the population that the only guarantee to bring change that serves the interest of the Eritrean people is when it is carried out by the people themselves. Any change led and concocted by the outside, such as an effort from Qatar or anybody else, that will not take into consideration the pains and suffering of the people will serve more their interest than those of the people of Eritrean. But that doesn’t mean to negate any help from the outside.
It doesn’t mean to change totally the formation of the political parties and civil societies – the present formation is a reality, because it is in reaction to the divide and rule policy of PFDJ- but to see the bigger picture and create a momentum to reinvigorate the united approach as the only way to avoid chaos in Post PFDJ Eritrea. In this empowering the people is fundamentally critical. The Diaspora has enough manpower and financial strengths to embark on this road and it can make a difference to the struggle for change and to the way a new Eritrea is built, inclusive, united and harmonious, Eritrea that contributes to peace and prosperity in the Horn and Africa. It means not only they have to do it, but they have to be seen to do it. Such move by the political parties and civil societies will earn the support and respect of the ordinary people.
What are the characteristics of the political organisations (parties) that can win support from the people and can be taken seriously on the international political arena?
The ideology and the vision must be incorporated in a manual type handbook, like the EPLF’s “Sewrawi Timhirti Ntegadelti- (lessons in revolution for fighter) or like the EPLF manifesto of 1994- issued during the third congress. (Like the constitution this manifesto is shelved aside and it was never discussed or brought to the attention of PFDJ supporters in Diaspora in particular and the people in general.) Why is that?
There are some good writers who continuously contribute in the websites. From their writing they seem to be energetic and knowledgeable. Their writing can be incorporated in the work of putting together materials that goes into the manual. This is the time to work more than yesterday because Eritrea is at a crossroads. There are lots of materials written in Tigrinya that can be read by ordinary grass root Eritreans than what the English language writers offer. The writing of Merid Zeru on EPDP website tiled “ግንዛቤታት ካብ “ቀዉዓዊ ሰዉራ ሃገራት ሴሜን ኣፍሪቃን ማእከላይ ምብራቕ” “ and that of Estifanos Tewolde on Assenna.com titled ቃልስና ‘እንጣጢዕ ንዘርእ ኣለና’ ክኸውን የብሉን are good examples. There are definitely could be similar writings in Arabic, for this Abdulrahman Said Bahashim of Arkobkobay.com can be consulted.
The writings can be incorporated into pedagogy similar to the Brazilian Paul Fraire’s “Pedagogy of the oppressed” that raises the level of consciousness of the people, empower them so that they can be in a better position to define the destiny of Eritrea, their destiny.
La Luta Continua
Continue part 3: The challenge to civil societies: