Why Not the Way Forward for the Horn? A friend who knows that I have no time to read regional websites (As I am very busy editing my upcoming books) gave me your thought provoking article and I have read it with rapt attention and keen interest. It has some bold steps, but still remains short of complete breakthrough for the basis of reconciliation and peace between the two sisterly countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Besides you did not make your stand clear enough, meaning sometimes you want to uphold Ethiopia’s borders with its border in the Red Sea (that includes Eritrea) and sometimes you believe Eritrea’s independence and sovereignty is final. Congratulations as after writing this article I was told that you had many readers. However before I proceed with my burning issues I would like to ask you to ponder over the following solution deserving questions.
If the abolition of the Federal State was unanimous and real what caused the bitter and bloody Eritrean struggle for 30 years? And why did that harsh struggle got popular support from almost every Eritrean family at home and in the Diaspora? If the fight for liberation was not just why did it enjoy the support of Ethiopian intellectuals and change demanding Ethiopian underground movements? And how come you forgot the big chunk of the Ethiopian population, the Oromo in peace building? And since peace can only be obtained in collaboration with your neighbors is it fair to forget Somalia which is in deep turmoil? What about the simmering unrest in Darfur? Doesn’t it need an African solution? Can the Horn get peace without settling the unrest and dissatisfaction of the peoples of Ogadien, Benshangul, Gambella, Guragie, Hadiya, Sidama, etc. etc.? Can we have peace in our region without solving the crisis of ethnic identity? Are our politicians and intellectuals of both Eritrea and Ethiopia poised to bring peace to the two sisterly and neighboring countries? Why are the intellectuals of both countries short of seeing peace in relation to the global perspective? When the TPLF government in Addis refused to implement the international border ruling the intellectuals are still silent. Why? Does this stand manifest brotherhood and peace building? When the TPLF government horribly deported innocent Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin what made the intellectuals (except Professor Mesfin Woldemarian) silent to speak against the shameful and unEthiopian brutal action? What can we learn from the melting pot America, European Community and Asean? What should be done about the supremacy syndrome or malady of some Amhara elite as well as the supremacy syndrome of some Tigrawot in and outside the TPLF? Don’t other nationalities have a say in peace building? Can peaceful solutions come out of nothing or without addressing the supremacy syndrome or እኛ እናውቅልሃለን ”egna enawklehalen” meaning ”We know what is good for you? Can peace prevail in the absence of economic benefits, power sharing, human rights and social justice? And above all how should we handle the economic disparity? Or can we have peace without equal distribution of power and natural resources? Finally should citizens be aliens in their own country or locality?
In the outset I would like to humbly tell you what one American educator said when he taught us how to be effective teachers; ” That a teacher should bring himself to the level of the students”. I also always hear some politicians claiming to ”come to political talks or negotiations from the position of strength”, forgetting keeping mutual interests at the forefront as the key to ultimate success. Some use sheer threats to subdue their enemies. Some also use appeasements; guarantee of survival, economic benefits, fraternity, fame etc. as a political weapon. It also surprises many as some politicians approach is not based on the ”win-win or I win and you win principle” that can solve any problem in the world. As such they never bring any change in any conflict. Why? Because they forget that time tested principles like honesty, patience, generosity or self sacrifice, fairness, respect, openness etc. are good instruments to bring in peace anywhere.
As regards us Eritreans we have bled, suffered and became humiliated too much for too long by our some Ethiopian brothers and successive governments to simply forget the past atrocities. We have sacrificed our intellectuals and heroes because of the cruelties meted us by successive Ethiopian governments up to the present. And strangely enough Eritreans fought for Ethiopia’s survival during the Italian occupation up to the toppling of the Derg regime. But what humiliating rewards we are still getting from our Ethiopian brothers in power is open for everybody to see. And the most irritating approach is that our Ethiopian brothers seem to be concerned of us more than we can do for ourselves.
By the way I commend you and Goshu Woldie as you took a bold step to leave the defunct Derg regime. I personally know also how much your sister (a well known nurse) suffered because of your defection from the Mengistu regime. Needless to say I closely know your brother Ambassador Ayalew since I met him during my stay in London as a guest of Wondimagegnehu Assefa and his wife Almaz in 1982. Besides you were working with my cousin Ato Yishak Tsegay who was the Chief Administrator of Eritrea at the time you were the head representative of the ruling party. So will you please allow me to address you as dear Dawit instead of Colonel Dawit? I hope you do.
Dear Dawit please understand that we have the sacred pledge handed down by our dear martyrs to safeguard and heal Eritrea politically, economically and socially. This is our main task in the life of every Eritrean. Ethiopia should not always expect the sacrifice of Eritreans to address its thorny problems of ethnicity and governance. This solely remains the task and responsibility of all Ethiopians combined. And as you may have seen the theme: ”There is nothing that can’t be done if we raise our voices as one” displayed at the Memorial Service of our dear icon Michael Jackson, it is not an impossible task to heal and unite Ethiopia. But to heal and unite Ethiopia you need to stand together. Accept all Ethiopian nationalities as equal partners in uniting and rebuilding Ethiopia. Give special care and attention to especially minority groups. Please allow me to elaborate this point clearly.
When speaking of the southern people of Ethiopia, like Wollayta, Hadiya, Sidama, Gammo, etc. you brand them as ”our decoration” meaning Getachn ጌጣችን instead of የኢትዮጵያ ጌጦች” You never brand them as Ethiopia’s decoration. And this is very shameful and divisive. You know there are Germans in Austria, Poland, and Switzerland etc. as much as there are Italians in Switzerland. But nobody sees them as decorations of the major ethnic group in a country. They are respected as an integral part of a nation. They are given equal opportunity to share power and natural resources. What a good lesson for all of us! So if you respect all nationalities in Ethiopia equally and make them participants of the nation’s power, financial and natural resources you have solved almost all Ethiopia’s problems. But as of now you don’t seem to be ready to accept a Gambella, Guragie, Hadiya, Oromo, Sidama, Wolayta or Somali president or leader, no matter how qualified he might be.
I remember to have purposely met Demise Belete who is the owner of Negat Radio of the Washington DC area and his group at the Eritrean Festival in Asmara few years back. He insisted that people like me who know Ethiopia very well should work to unite Eritrea with its motherland” as he put it. I squarely told him that it will be enough if they can safeguard Ethiopia from disintegration by the many mushrooming armed movements. He had to be told that Ethiopia is getting ethnically and in some regions religiously divided everyday. This is very annoying and shameful as Ethiopia enjoyed peaceful co-existence internally for centuries. But as soon as TPLF took Ethiopia and its resources hostage, ethnic and religious unrest started to emerge. And at the midst of erratic and faulty ”economic boom” Addis and even small towns of Tigray are busy raising high rise buildings and establishing high schools and universities in almost all towns of Tigray, that even Amharas and Oromos from very rich regions are urged to attend. Sadly enough millions in the Ogadien and elsewhere are going to bed hungry while the TPLF government boasts of its false and faulty double digit economic growth.
Note again the expression of supremacy: ”Eritrea and the Motherland”. Please note what this statement implies: ”That the suckling baby of Eritrea will vanish without the well fed and wealthy Ethiopia.” Is this the right way to handle Eritrea that helped Ethiopia get liberated from the brutal Derg regime? Is it fair to raise the issue of Eritrean unity with Ethiopia when Ethiopians are not right now breathing freedom and democracy at home and in exile? (Please refer to Aster Awoke’s moaning song; Agerie) Yes while Ethiopia is in deep and sad political, social and ethnic crisis under the so-called democratic TPLF government which existed under the borrowed time of G. Bush and his few misinformed officials who were smartly influenced by well paid TPLF lobbyists in world capitals and Addis.
Please don’t take me as a person working against unity. In fact as you can listen to my interview with Dr. Kiros Woldu Fre of Rahwa TV in Sweden and in the Website Eriplanet I am much for unity of the Horn. I have no ill feelings whatsoever against any ethnic group in Ethiopia, with whom I grew and prospered during my forty years in Ethiopia. The people of Ethiopia are not to blame for the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. They too were not against the horrible deportation. I firmly believe that that the Horn can be pacified and united if its intellectuals can entertain healthy ideas of common progress, accommodation, good neighborliness, human justice, sharing power and natural resources equally. Mind you this is engrained in the Ethiopian principle Ante tibs; ante tibs አንተ ትብስ አንተ ትብስ or አንቺ ትብሽ አንቺ ትብሽ which is the like the famous American ”Win-Win” or both side winners principle.
It would be fitting if our Ethiopian politicians and intellectuals could have the gesture of unity if Ethiopia were rich and peaceful like West Germany of old. Otherwise who yearns to join a government which stirs war and unrest among its ethnic groups? Yes who joins erratic though seemingly powerful intellectuals who think only of themselves and their great past and who do not consider the prevailing all inclusive global approach and thinking on peace building and true economic growth? Why don’t we march along the path of new realities that is swiftly changing the new global world order? Yes, as I always emphasize in my writings quite often why don’t we keep the interest of the people first in our agenda to succeed in everything we do?
But above all let us remember that sheer greatness, abundant natural resources, and large population do not guarantee economic and military might. The Central African Republic, Brazil, Chad and the Sudan are abundant with natural resources. But the tiny nations of Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the Republic of Taiwan are far richer than these. Mind you South Korea was run by army generals who helped it establish knowledge based economic progress. It is aggressively competing Japan in everything. Its prowess in construction and ship building is so enormous that it is surprising the whole world. The cohesive social fabric, human and material resources management and work ethic are beyond compare. And mind you too that South Korea and Ethiopia were in the same footing in the sixties. Why all this progress in South Korea? Because it set priorities to tackle backwardness through education, economic progress and careful human as well as natural resources management.
The problem with some Ethiopian politicians is not lack of ports. It is lack of keeping up with the times of new realities. It is the Imperial past outlook. Fake or real they think of greatness only. Even when not under their control they can legally use Eritrean ports. Under the new realities in the global world any port, metropolitan cities, financial markets, shipping and insurance companies, business facilitating offices etc. are all properties of the world community. As for the TPLF regime they don’t seem to make the choice to peacefully co-exist with their Ethiopian brothers and neighbors. For them financial and military power towards their long and painful march (asserted by its slogan: ጉእዞና ነዊ ሕን መሪርንዩ ዓወትና ናይ ግድንዩ our march to victory is very long and painful, but it will become a realty by all means) to greater Tigray seems to be the only option. Fighting three rounds of horrible wars to destroy the Eritrean State and to capture the port of Assab is a case in point. Badme has never been the case as asserted by various TPLF statements. The maintenance of the Ethiopian Navy in Djibouti is an additional proof. So is its refusal to implement the international border ruling.
But they are totally wrong. Be it right or wrong the demolition and/or subjugation of Eritrea will bring them peril. Mind you they are already in trouble internally by fomenting ethnic and religious conflicts within the regions. Plus the invasion of Somalia is their heaviest burden still. Their donors are diminishing funds and material aid every day. Besides industrialized countries have understood that fanning wars goes against their economic interests as wars hinder the free movement of life sustaining goods, services and money. Their boast of democratic rule is becoming a farce or pure pretense. Arresting prominent people like Bertukan Mideksa, Brigadier Generals Teferra Mammo and Asamnew Tsegie have not only exposed how undemocratic the TPLF is, but is also eroding mass internal support. Whatever evil action they conceive it boomerangs on them or backfires on them. All these are not in line with the ”win-win” principle of survival, peace and economic independence. They should have realized long ago that even past conflicts’ shock waves are still reverberating and creating havoc to our world. Besides even when conflicts seem far away, their repercussions are felt around the world. And that is why political actors are forming new alliances to meet the economic, security, and social challenges of a new area. Delving ourselves in war, conflicts and purchase of military hardware will only push us out of the global economic competition and create crucial social problems that can and do destabilize us adversely.
The TPLF government is always working to thin the Eritrean Defense Force to easily destroy the Eritrean nation. Toppling the Eritrean leadership and establishing their version of a democratic government in Eritrea has never been their option. Their main goal is to destroy Eritrea and its people. Period. Their evil struggle of all sorts; military, economic, social and psychological is all designed to destroy and subjugate Eritrea. This is not an exaggeration. They are doing the same in Ethiopia. They don’t lead and govern Ethiopia. Ethiopia does not have its defense force. It has a TPLF defense force. They rule it. That is why they are imprisoning prominent and patriotic Ethiopians. Imprisoning Tamrat Layne on the cover of corruption is a case in point. Mind you he was publicly promised mercy if he accepts his fault. But he was mercilessly imprisoned when it is a public knowledge that the TPLF is awash with corruption. Only because he was one of the many Ethiopians who knew where the TPLF is heading. Otherwise whose hand is clean in the TPLF leadership? Please read the new revealing book Yegazetegnaw Mastawesha (የጋዜጠኛው ማስታወሻ) by a former EPRDF insider Tesfaye Gebre’ab to believe my points.
Worse they are inviting deportees to return to Ethiopia and claim their properties and bank savings, without legally opening the border crossings. As usual this is putting the wagon before the horse. This way they are allowing only rich people to claim their property and bank accounts. They are not inviting people of adequate means who cannot pay large amounts of money to go the long way to Ethiopia to claim their property and bank savings. This is designed that people only with lots of money go to Ethiopia in order that Eritrea becomes bereft of its rich people to kneel down under the mercy of TPLF. Mind you no bank interest will be paid to the returnees. In fact they will be asked to pay revenue that accumulated in their ten years absence. And all these in view that their properties, business enterprises’ stocks, Ekubs (cultural saving accounts) and house rents are looted during and after the deportation. The act of brutal deportation remains then a lasting pain and memory. Please frankly judge if this is just that creates venue for reconciliation and redressing economic damages and ill feelings caused by the horrible deportation. They are only bent to destroy the Eritrean State. Otherwise implementing the border ruling is the better choice to redress the effects of grave past mistakes. Everything seems a strange puzzle as no Eritrean inside or outside the government wishes the destruction of the people of Tigray.
Did I nag you dear Dawit and my readers by this lengthy article? It has a purpose and is a sign of deeper pains of us all. While the TPLF government is doing all it can to meet its unrealistic goals and when it is harassing the Eritrean people to the maximum no Ethiopian politician or intellectual raised his voice. Besides when the whole Horn is on fire why do we localize our problem? Please let us see the bigger picture. You cannot be safe with all the fires around you. The main issue in the Horn is unrepresented and unwarranted ethnic power and greed. It is also narrow mindedness as you can see that we are not taking the world’s new realities into consideration. Yes thinking and caring about the dynamics of a changing world should be central to our approach to solve all our problems. The forces of globalization have affected us all and forced us how to run our economies and how to manage our human and natural resources in line with the new global realities. Eradicating poverty and backwardness will require us a lot of effort, humility, and flexibility in the way we manage our human and natural resources.
Finally a lot have been said about the racial, cultural, linguistic, religious and skin similarities of the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia and the Horn. And this is presented as a basis for unity and good neighborliness. And if you examine ancient history African countries had a proud historical past. The East African languages of Aderie, Amharic, Guragie, Silti, Tigre, Tigrigna, etc. are dialects of Ge’ez. East Africa is the cradle of humanity and civilization a fact attested by recent archeological discoveries, historians and the numerous fine stone monuments all over Africa. I know unity is good for all of us and we all should work hard towards this goal step by step. Otherwise forced unity will simply balkanize us adversely or negatively. And if unity deems necessary what kind of unity do we need? The European Community type or that of Asian countries? Or the one that many like me propose. That is the economic, cultural and political integration of the Horn countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalis and the Sudan?
What about territorial unity? Alas, I wish you safe journey friends! Our Arab brothers have tried this for decades, but failed. And why squeeze lands, cultures and languages to be physically united and one? What is wrong with nations peacefully leaving as neighboring brothers? The nation or community of people that share common history, culture, destiny, landscape and languages of their choice is also a good foundation for national and international co-habitation and economic progress. The division of the world into nations or states makes it manageable and peaceful.
What is wrong is not to be interdependent, especially in our globally interconnected world order. The East European countries which were too euphoric about their new found freedoms are finding it hard to exist without interdependence. While enjoying their new freedom they were confronted with harsh conditions and brutally crushed expectations. They have now realized that new uncertainties, economic problems, testing world events and unheard of global social crises need to be solved in cooperation with the larger region. Even the giant US economy and thinking are demanded quick adjustments. So this is more than true for the smaller nations that aspire to have economic self-sufficiency and peaceful life.
With all due respect and humility I am not saying that Eritrea is a paradise with no problem whatsoever, as it should have. No country is without a problem. Otherwise it does not exist. But many of the problems arise from the fact that it is in no-war-no-peace situation. However we can fare better once we put the fundamentals of economics to action, even if we live under virtual siege by people who do not know how resilient the Eritrea people are. I do not want to speak through the mouth of foreigners by quoting what they say to harm Eritrea. It is known that Ethiopian officials have the habit to quickly stereotype Eritrea for their political, social or ethnic and military failures at home and in the TPLF invaded Somalia. And shamefully the fragile African Union followed suit. The African Union which is very sensitive of even the smallest criticism is never expected to pass unbiased resolution as its history proves. And heaven knows who directs the African Union! The AU itself seems under siege by some governments and interest groups, as we never saw it acting on itself. However the fact they passed a resolution to harm the Eritrean people testifies that they don’t stand for any African cause. The AU has no mouth to speak against its big patron; Ethiopia, but it can speak against Eritrea at the invitation of even a passerby let alone at the invitation of any leader, group or country. What a shameful and strange drama and from a Union that was created to stand for the oppressed and bring peace to Africa! All this is done against the wishes and aspirations of the founding fathers and to the disgrace of Black Africa. They don’t even consider the ascendancy that our Afro-Americans are showing in education, business, media, politics, the arts and legal practice. But imagine if Eritrea were to behave the way Ethiopia is behaving against its people and neighboring countries, the AU may drop any bomb under its disposal over Eritrea and its law abiding and peace loving people to destroy us. Is this utter exaggeration? That is exactly what they did when they are forcing the UN to put sanctions against the Eritrean people who are living under virtual siege already. Both the AU and the UN are punishing Eritrea for their failure to implement the border ruling. There is a fitting Amharic proverb; …አህያውን ፈርቶ ዳውላውን- ahyawn ferto dawlawn meaning beating the saddle instead of the donkey because of fear that it may fight back.
Leaving that as it may I want to discuss the excuse I frequently hear. Many people tell me that Eritrea does not have dollar earning export commodities. Before telling them that Eritrea has many dollar earning commodities, let me remind them that Maldives, Malta, Seychelles, Tunisia, the Republic of Taiwan, etc. have no exportable commodities. But they are not poor, as poverty is man made. There are many invisible export commodities in almost all countries. We know the Asian Tigers do not have natural resources for export. But they created export commodities from the natural resources they import by their educated and skilled manpower, work ethic and non-violent and saving culture. Their people are not only taught and convinced to conserve energy, but are also equipped with energy saving implements and machines of every kind. Even Great Britain does not grow all the food that it needs. But though short of all the resources to run its economy, the abundance of its wealth flows to those in need elsewhere. Tunisia is said to have no natural resources. But it is economically strong thanks to its clear sighted leadership and its resourceful cohesive people. The United Arab Emirates have built a lot of sport arenas and golf fields following the example of Singapore that attracted Japanese and Asian rich people. The Philippines is a recipient of billions of dollars annually from its citizens working abroad by simply allowing them to open foreign currency bank accounts at home. I can go on and on to prove points towards economic recovery, but I have to stop here.
I realize the government is doing all it can to be self sufficient in food. And this is commendable. Access to clean water is on the rise and is eliminating water born diseases. Many villages have dams even for their cattle and farming. Mother and Child mortality rate is falling; a fact verified by UN agencies. The Eritrean forest maintenance is improving from time to time. Number of wild life is rising. But we still can enhance maintenance of our forests and wild life by not only controlling, but by also rewarding the people living nearby the forests and wild life. The Alebu twin factories are also a good start. Production of garlic, onions, pepper, potatoes, and tomatoes is increasing yearly. Other vegetables and fruits are on the rise. However do they meet the demands of our growing population? And are they affordable as world high fuel prices may make them expensive. Can the government subsidize fuel consumed by genuine farmers? Or should we consider other cheaper energy sources like wind or solar energy, as higher oil prices had been and is still unkind to emerging nations like ours? But it also needs to diversify towards other sectors of the economy as well. Opening the economic free zones as promised is the expectation of everybody. The spirit of hard work and entrepreneurship of our people will definitely be enhanced by so doing. Remember that we can only start by starting, as plans need action to be realized. Producing import substitute items should be our main step. Processing or producing vegetable oils even from imported pulses saves hard currency besides maximizing animal feed. Manufacturing garments and children wears at home is conserving and earning foreign currency, a fact verified by Dolce Vita, Baraco, Asmara Textile and other home grown clothing factories. Many small spare parts manufacturing houses should pop up in imitation of ERI-SOC, and SASBRE or the Eritrean brake lining factory. Although I know the government is working on big size cement factory starting medium sized reinforcement steel and cement factories will not only save foreign currency, but also speed up the much needed domestic construction, besides creating jobs. And above all, these economic activities will shame enemies and thwart their subversive activities.
The final point that I want to address is the pollution free tourism industry. True, it creates some undesirable habits. But to counteract the bad influences of tourism we can brace up our people with knowledge and evil shunning enduring characters. Otherwise its dollar earning visa services, embarkation fees, duty free shops, taxi fares, hotel and guest houses rent, tours, tourist guide fees, restaurant services, Internet services, telephone charges, porter fees, scuba diving, domestic bus transport, etc. etc. can help us a lot as are helping many nations survive. The Eritrean mild weather, our unpolluted sea, the islands, our sea shores, our peaceful and hospitable culture are all invisible dollar earning commodities. These facts should alert us all to realize that there are numerous weightless and invisible dollar earning commodities in Eritrea.
Sorry for the diversion, but in conclusion I want to emphasize that we East Africans will fare better if we can solve our economic, social and political problems even without creating new conflicts. I say this because we are starting to see the effects of global warming, desertification of sub-Saharan Africa, new epidemics, financial crisis, waves of fundamentalism of every kind that deserve the attention of all of us. Let us all be inward looking and realize that we need reconciliation to shape our future for the better. All nationalities major or minor are important to our survival. Self sacrificing spirit like that of Chinwa Achebe, Desmond Tutu, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Senghor, Mzee Jommo Kenyata, Mo Ibrahim, N. Mandela, Negib Mahfous, Newal Elsaadawi, Ngugi W thiango, Woldeab Woldemariam, Wole Soyenko, etc. We are closer towards one another as confirmed by dear Dawit Woldegiorgis, who initiated me to write this article. Since I write out of pains I may irritate some politicians and intellectuals. People don’t understand realize what deep wounds we Eritreans have due to the prolonged harsh circumstances we went through. Anyway please be informed that it is only designed to alert us to come to peaceful rapprochements. If I have irritated you and my esteemed readers, I humbly ask you to forgive me. The world is always tough my dear sisters and brothers in the greater Horn. If we are waiting for a good time to come we may be waiting forever. We can hope relief from thorny problems, but never an easy time. However, remember only tough and principled people do outlast tough times. Finally I want to tell friend or foe that the resilient Eritrean nation will emerge strong as it has done in the past. Let us please be assured that the nation that survived all kinds of odds has the capacity and the will to determine its bright hopes. And I fervently pray that God and the future be on the side of the people of the Horn.
(Please read my upcoming article: A Call to the Intellectuals of the Horn and my book: The Deportation of Eritreans from Ethiopia, where Africa’s problems and their solutions are vividly explained and QV: ስራ ነጻነትና የተሳካ ሕይወት)
Mellese Woldeselassie is located in Asmara, Eritrea. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org