SAGEM & ITS RELATIONS WITH TPLF  excrept from An Interview With Tewelde Gebresellasie :

An Interview With Tewelde Gebresellasie


3.1 There is not much I want to ask you regarding the rest of the period until Independence Day. I will go to your relations with the TPLF. When did your relations start and how was it like in the period before independence and how did it develop after independence? 

We had put strategies and a plan to cooperate with all forces that oppose the occupation army.  That included the Ethiopian organizations.   Based on our principles, we planned to form means of joint struggle. When we entered the Eritrean field, and when we were split, we started communications. The EPLF didn�t like it. There were hindrances that prevented us from developing economically.  

In 1986, we started to cooperate with them. In 1987, we met and identified the points of agreement and differences. We all had our own problems, and we started to cooperate. We differed, for example, in their interference in the Eritrean revolution. But we were agreeing on the mode of the struggle. 

3.2 Did you have military presence on the eve of the independence? 

Yes. We had military presence inside Eritrea in Gash and on the other side of the highlands, in Akele Guzai.   

3.3 Let me ask you this.  Your vision of governance of Eritrea is based on the Killil module-- where each region would have its own government federated with the rest of Eritrea along with a right of self-determination up to secession. Why did you adapt this view? 

This was adapted in our congress, which was held just before independence. The vision was developing from the beginning. And this is our basis for it.  Eritrea is a multi-ethnic country. Therefore, there was a discussion on how Eritrea should be administered. This issue was being developed and we reached to an understanding that the administrations should reflect the situation. We believed that a federal system would be better for Eritrea because the differences were growing and the gap was widening.  

We believe that nationalities should have big autonomy with regards to internal administration. This is our belief because, when the differences are widening, the solution should be this.  But the barrel of the gun should not impose this solution; the people should consent and accept it. This is our view; but it is not a �final� view: that decision is up to the people.  

This is only the choice of administration held by our organization. The Afar issue and the Kunama issue are all emerging; and we saw our proposal as a means of diffusing this potential explosion because we have an obligation to present a solution.  

We believe in equality. What we see in Eritrea today is a ruling class that emerged out of the Tigrigna ethnic group, allied with the ruling class from the rest of the ethnic groups. It protects the gains and interests of the ruling classes. It doesn�t protect the interest of the oppressed Tigrigna people but protects the interest of the ruling class. It practices class oppression on the Tigrigna people and practices ethnic oppression on other peoples. It is hurting the Tigrigna people through class oppression and hurting the rest through ethnic oppression.   The chauvinism it created is to make the Tigrigna feel as if it is developing the Tigrigna culture to make them feel like they have  an upper hand on everything and to relegate the rest to feel like second class citizens.  

This chauvinist attitude is spreading� economic oppression, political oppression, social oppression and religious oppression. It [PFDJ] uses all divisive elements in all manners. This is why ethnic and class oppression is getting bitter. We saw this and found that everyone in Eritrea is not able to feel the freedom.

3.4 Do you think it is that bad? 

Naturally. We are witnessing it; we are aware of all the sentiments. We want a democratic solution. Based on this, we advocate internal autonomy�. And it is not necessary that each should go alone, maybe two or three can agree to go together. There are others who believe like we do. For example, Dr. Jallal, in the paper he presented in Stockholm, proposed a federal solution for Eritrea. Those ideas are developing from the concrete problems facing the Eritrean people. What would happen tomorrow: would the Tigre ruling class control power and oppress the others? 

3.5 SAGEM believes in the self-determination of nationalities up to secession. Your program is seen as a carbon copy of the TPLF program. You place too much emphasis on the chauvinism part.  Who is oppressing whom? Don�t you think everyone is sharing the same fate, whatever the fate is? 

First, the fact that Ethiopia adapts the system of self-rule by nationalities is a product of their concrete situations and experiences. Secondly, this system is not limited to Ethiopia; there are many countries that have adopted it.  For many countries that have different nationalities and face similar problems, this is a solution. For example, in the Sudan... 

3.6 Could you mention three countries with similar systems? 

The system is adapted in countries as far back as pre-1956.  For example, the Soviet Union. Self-determination is even adapted in the United Nations Charter. Practically, it comes from the concrete situation in our country and it is a solution to situations like those in Eritrea. Now,  there is a situation to respect the right of everyone. Even during the anti-occupation struggle, everyone came from his distinctive and different social, linguistic, religious, cultural, geographic and historical background. And, practically,  that is how it really works.  They don�t express it openly, but that is how they share power.  Unless it finds a means to share power, no political power can continue.     

All organizations do this.  But, in the process, they oppress some and misappropriate power; otherwise, that is what it is.    This is the premise; this is the development of this issue.  We start from that.  

We have to think of alternatives. The country is a multi-national country. For example, I remember during the period of armed struggle, when the ELF was pushed out, the issue of autonomous regions was considered in Denkalia.  Even the EPLF had similar problems. This is very sensitive. Unless we hold that we are democratically equal, there is a problem. We don�t believe there will be secession. But in principle, you can�t say �you can enter but you cannot go out�. This is a contract. You enter because you believe in equality. We believe in the unity of choice and not a compulsory one. Democratically, Eritrea is not for one more than the other. That is what we believe; that it should be stated that we are equal. This being our stand, in principle, our propaganda and politics is not about disunity but for unity. We aspire for a democratic state and we believe that the right of people should be handled that way.  

People try to relate this to many things. There is nothing wrong in taking good examples from others. This issue was being debated in our organization for a long time. We believe this is right for Eritrea.  Secession comes from pressure. 

On your question about chauvinism, the oppression of the Tigrigna is the worst. It is class oppression. The poor peasant is poorer. The poor worker is poorer. The Tigrigna who has a capital is hurt, as well. We ask, who is benefiting then?  Who are benefiting from this system?  

The ruling class, very little in number, is benefiting.  The way of thinking of the ruling class even goes to the poor peasant. Even the oppressed think that it is their government; that is how it is presented to them while, at the same time, they are oppressed. The beneficiary is the class on top, by allying with the other ruling classes with the other nationalities. And all the common people are oppressed. All are oppressed.  

It is chauvinism. The kernel, repeat, the kernel, repeat again, the kerenel of Eritrean politics is chavinism: this is what the intellectuals have not tackled.   And if chauvinism is not broken, there could never be a democracy in Eritrea. The chauvinism of WE, WE, WE.  A typical intellectual thinks that Eritrea is only Asmara. This sentiment is psychological and is inculcated. Tactically, they are flattered into thinking that they are the makers and the breakers. He shows them that they are the center of attraction. It is chauvinism that makes one think he is above the others and that he is more important that the rest. To see the rest as second-class citizens. The ruling class creates such sentiments and spreads it in the oppressed people. The chauvinistic class thinks that if he is gone, so will the nation be gone. Though religions in general are oppressed, he shows the �superiority� of one religion over the other for the purpose of divide and rule. This is what we call chauvinism. In a unitary form of state, where everything is centralized and trickles down, the participation of the bottom becomes lesser.  

3.7 Fast forward to the last war. You had presence in Ethiopia since 1991. Then the Ethiopian government kicked the ELF-RC out of Ethiopia in the nineties and left your organization and EDM to stay in Ethiopia.  Why didn�t you face the ELF-RC�s fate? 

Our presence in Ethiopia started in 1986 and mainly since 1987. We were moving among our people in the regions. The EPLF was hindering us from struggling against occupation and from organizing our people in Eritrea. We were in the region between Gash and Ethiopia and were struggling in the region. Starting in 1989, when we observed that the independence of Eritrea was about to be realized soon, we changed our orientation. We started to debate our future mode of struggle. In spite of the differences that we had with the EPLF, we gave our full support to the anti occupation struggle that the EPLF was waging. We believed it was a national patriotic organization. When independence was declared and we evaluated the EPLF, we concluded that after the victory over the occupation power, a new ruling class had emerged in the form of the EPLF. We concluded that the EPLF was a hindrance to the democratization process and was becoming anti-people�