Critical review of Professor Tesfatsion Medhanies’s discussion paper Eritrea ’’kem adebo’’
Critical review of Professor Tesfatsion Medhanies’s discussion paper Eritrea ’’kem adebo’’ problems and challenges in history and the present (Tesfatsion Medhanie, Bremen, September 2012)
By Haile Yibrah
[Prof. Tesfatsion Medhanie's paper: www.ethiomedia.com/2012_report/eritra_kem_adebo.pdf]
By Haile Yibrah
Professor Tesfatsion’s discussion paper rotates around the word ‘’Adebo’’ and by extension of Eritrea as a nation and its predicaments. The paper deals with the historical background to the creation of Eritrea and to some extent about the peoples of Eritrea. The paper discusses in detail the Tigray-Tigrigni concept, its inception under the British trusteeship and revival during the present. I have no problem with the description of nature of the Eritrean political entity. As I am not a historian I prefer not to comment on the historical part of the paper. The focus of my review is rather the political content of the paper and its implication on the Eritrean struggle for democracy and justices and on the relations of Eritrea and Tigray. Like an inexperienced cooker, who mixes different raw materials in a cooking pot with a hope of producing a tasty soup, forgetting that right and compatible ingredients are required to produce a tasty one, Pr. Tesfatsion has tried, by mixing irrelevant terms and issues, to create political sensation. He has publicized his discussion paper using different media outlets. Since I believe that it lacks objectivity, I have felt obliged to respond and put the record straight by comparing his claims with the facts on the ground. I want to make it clear from the very beginning that this review is not meant to defend Isayas and co. It is a question of principle if they are defended for being Eritreans.
On the concept of ‘’Adebo’’
Professor Tesfatsion defines the term ‘’Adebo’’ (see p. 14, 3rd para. from bottom) as follows: ‘’Adebo, in the usual (common) understanding or when it is taken word by word, means a place (can be a district, sub district or a village) where your parent and before them your grandparents live or lived. Politically, however, Adebo has deeper meaning. It does not only include a limited or known area. It actually indicates to a people with special political, cultural and social values. In its developed form it means a society in a known area inhabited by people (for generations) with common language, culture and original social values (meseretawi kibritat) (translation mine). This is pretty much closer to the Stalinist definition of a ‘’nation or nationality’’ as a ‘’historically constituted stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.’’ (www.marxists.org./reference/…/Stalin).
It seems that the good professor is confusing the meaning of the word: I am not a linguist. But as I understand and as it is understood in the Tigrigna speaking community the word ‘’Adi’’ means a village (many villages have the suffix ‘’adi’’ before or after, for example. ‘’Adi Abun, Adi quala, Adi Keyih, Hadish Adi etc etc.). All names indicate the names of villages/towns and not of a country. Therefore, the perception of the word ‘’Adebo’’ as confirmed by the response of the majority of the Tigrigna speaking community (both in Tigray and Eritrea) means one’s birth place or village or district (see p. 15 and 16, last and 1st & 2nd para:s respectively) in contrast to Pr. Tesfatsion’s ascription of a definition to the word. Here we note that the definition given to the word ‘’Adebo’’ by Pr. Tesfatsion does not correspond to the perception the majority of the people has about the term. This means his analysis based on his wrong interpretation of the word and of the response to the posed question leads him certainly to wrong conclusions. After defining the term ‘’Adebo’’ to mean a ‘’nation’’, he continues to argue that Eritrea ‘’kem Adebo’’, as a nation) is on the formation, forgetting the fact that it is a multi-national state composed of nine nationalities.
On the Tigray-Tigrigni concept/project
On the question of the Tigray-Tigrigni concept or project Pr. Tesfatsion tells us, that it was a concept/project advocated especially by the pro-independent groups in Eritrea during the British administration. Their motive was as he tells us to create an independent state by uniting all the Tigrigna speaking people on both sides of the river Mereb. The project failed not only because it did not have the full support of the Tigrian nobility, but also because there were other much stronger forces which did not want to see it happened. Had it succeeded, Pr. asserts, it would have led to the disintegration of Eritrea as it is now, because it would have led to demographical imbalance as the Orthodox Christian Tigrigna speakers would have been on the majority (see p.19, 3rd para from below). This means Eritrea continued to exist because equilibrium has been achieved (at the expense of the unity of the Tigrigna speaking community) between the highlanders and the lowlanders. This is a wild speculation without any basis. What the result would have been if they succeeded is any body’s guess. Any way the issue was dead before it took off. The federation was accepted according to him as an alternative to save the unity of Eritrea. Looking back however, standing in the age of regionalization and globalization, the federation per se can’t be considered as wrong, The mutual benefits which would have been achieved by both countries would have been great, had it been abused.
On the PFDJ as a promoter of Tigray-Tigrigni project
Professor Tesfatsion has relentlessly tried to link the current political development going in Eritrea with the dead Tigray-Tigrigni project. He wildly asserts that the main and long term objective of the struggle under the EPLF was to revive the Tigray-Tigrigni, that the struggle for the independence of Eritrea was just a take mantel (cover) to the Tigray-Tigrigni project and that the present government of Eritrea under the leadership of Isaias Afeworki is working day and night to materialize this project (see p. 11, 3 and 6 par). Pr. Tesfatsion presents not a single evidence to support his assertions. The main question to be raised here is: Did Isaias and his group have a goal of establishing a Tigray-Tigrigni state from the outset? Have they been working towards that goal since they took power in Eritrea? The answer to both questions is capital NO. The EPLF manifesto ‘’nehnan elamanan’’ didn’t have any reference what so ever, which points towards Tigray-Tigrigni. For the record immediately after they assumed power in Asmara the first thing they did was to deport Ethiopians, especially Tigrians who lived their whole life in Eritrea and their subsequent actions prove beyond any doubt that they did not want to have anything to do with Tigray.
According to him the war EPLF waged was for the benefit of others and not Eritreans. To support his allegations adds: “there are those who benefited as a result of Eritrean martyrs (mark the word ‘’deki Eritrea’’ on p. 11, last para, 4th line, which he means ‘’pure’’ Eritreans) and they are: western countries who were working to overthrow the Derg regime in Ethiopia succeeded in their objective, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front who was able to capture power in Ethiopia and Iasias Afeworki and Co in Eritrea and some Eritrean individuals’’. The benefit of the West as a result of the demise of the Derg is exaggerated. Their arch-foe, the Soviet Union was already on the brink of collapse at that time. The collapse of the Derg had no impact on the fall of the Soviet Union. His claim that the TPLF was brought to power by the support of the Eritreans is not either surprising. It has been a common habit of many, if not all, Eritreans to indulge themselves in this type of claims to glorify their own image of invincibility beyond limit. Here it is enough to make only one remark: If the Eritrean fronts had the strength to put another group to power so easily, they wouldn’t have stayed in the bush for more than 30 years before they managed to come to power.
It is true that the people of Eritrea did not benefit from the result of their struggle. They didn’t get what they expected or what they deserved. But that was not a surprise to those who had a deep knowledge of the nature of the Eritrean fronts. Simply put, the Eritrean struggle was started without having any vision, which stretched beyond independence. Already in 1985 (or 1984 not sure of the date) the TPLF has made it known to everyone in its book titled ‘’Kalsi Eritrea Kabey Nabey’’ (Eritrean struggle – from where to where) after analyzing the nature of the Eritrean fronts (both the ELF and the EPLF), that they would bring independence, but not democracy to the people of Eritrea. Time has vindicated it.
The most controversial issue here is Pr. Tesfatsions assertion that the incumbent regime in Eritrea under the leadership of Isaias Afeworki is not a government of Eritrea, but one that has been ‘’imposed on Eritrea by those (conspirators) who had grudge against Eritreans’’ (see p. 12 last para.). He writes ‘’these conspirators, no matter that they are Tigrians by origin, are those who could have been Eritreans, but because of un researched reason (adversely affecting our people) have chosen to be promoters of the Tigray- Tigrigni’’ (see p. 12, last para.). Here he is insinuating that Isaias and his group are deliberately realizing the project because of their Tigrian origin, because they didn’t want to remain being Eritreans. In the first place Pr. Tesfatsion is not presenting any credible evidence to support his hypothesis, that Isaias and Co are promoting the Tigray-Tigrigni project. Second he has told us (see above) that the initiators of the Tigray Tigrigni concept were pro-independence Eritreans. He didn’t condemn them for advocating the idea as sell-outs then. Why is Isaias and Co to be condemned now if they were to promote the same idea? Is it because of their Tigrian origin?
Further Pr. Tesfatsion asserts that all those Isaias arrested and kept in the prison of Era-Ero (Haile W/Tensae, Mahmud Sherifo, Estifanos Seyoum, Petros Selomon, Germano Nati, Aster Fisehatsion, Beraki Gebreselassie, Okbe Abrah, Berhane Gebreigziabher etc. ……….. have no sins other than that they are pure Eritreans (wutsuat Eritrawian) (see p. 13, 1st para.). I wonder to what extent he knows about their family pedigree. He adds further ‘’as many have told me there is no Eritrean of Tigraian origin among those who have been made to disappear or arrested. This is a very important remark’’ (see p. 13, 1st para). Should a person who respects himself engage in malicious gossips’ spreading or rumor mongering? It is regrettable to see Pr. Tesfatsion to sink so low as entertaining a Nazist way of thinking during the 21st century , about 70 years after the fall of Nazism in Germany. Hitler and Co accused Jews for all sorts of problems in the third Reich (Germany) in the 1930 which led to pogrom and the extermination of millions of Jews not only from Germany but also from all countries which were occupied by Germany at that time. Now Pr. Tesfatsion is calling the ‘’pure’’ Eritreans to rise up and get rid of the non-natives, meaning those with Tigrian origin, in order to save Eritrea. By the way how many of the Tigrigna speaking Eritreans have no Tigrian blood in them? How many of them would he like to get rid of? Shame on you Pr. Tesfatsion!! The main question is: why is he propagating such a toxic idea? We will find the answer later.
Uncalled he goes on to compare the development in Tigray with what is happening in Eritrea as if Tigray is also under the PFDJ regime. Let us look to what he says: ‘’after this so called Independence Eritrea didn’t only progress forward, but has retarded from where it was and all its neighbors have left it. Even the one which was very backward in terms of modern development, Tigray has left Eritrea and marched forward. The development in Tigray is very encouraging. Tigrians are really doing well. The question is: how come that Eritrea became weak? How? – When it is being occupied by Tigrians (btegaru inategezeet) !! To see Tigray developing fast and Eritrea on the contrary regressing back is difficult to comprehend’’ (p. 13, 2nd para). Why is he feeling so much anxiety? What is Pr. Tesfatsion telling here? In clear language he is saying that Tigray is developing at the expense of Eritrea, that all the horrors and misfortune that has befallen Eritrea and Eritreans is because of Tigrians. What has development activities in Tigray got to do with the regression of Eritrea? Don’t get surprised if he says the PFDJ is deliberately investing to develop Tigray. Pr. Tesfatsion anxiety because of development in Tigray is difficult to understand. May be he felt bad because Tigray and northern Ethiopia will not any more remain as a source of cheap labor and material resources for the development of Eritrea and as a market for Eritrean industrial products as the PFDJ had planed. By a twist of events that didn’t happen and is not going to happen.
Pr. Tesfatsion asserts that everything being done by the repressive regime in Eritrea is ‘’to weaken the Eritrean identity of Eritreans, to make Eritrea devoid of its youth, to force Eritrean youth to look toward the one, where encouraging development activities happen currently, meaning Tigray, for inspiration. In short – everything done is to prepare Eritreans; especially those who speak Tigrigna to accept the Tigray-Tigrgni concept’’ (see p. 13, last two para.). This assertion forgets that fact that Tigray belongs to Ethiopia and is governed by its own regional administration and has nothing to do with the regime in Eritrea and the fact that the PFDJ of today and the EPLF of yesteryears have never been observed to show any sympathy to the people of Tigray or promote good relationship with Tigray or Ethiopia. On the contrary they have been the most notorious enemies of the people of Tigray. Three case examples can be mentioned to show the deep hatred the EPLF/PFDJ harbor against the people of Tigray. 1) In 1984, when thousands of starved Tigraians were on their way to Sudan through the western lowlands of Eritrea the EPLF refused them a passage. As a result hundreds of children, women and aged persons perished and buried in the sands of western Eritrea. That inhuman deed remains written in the history the people of Tigray for ever not to be forgotten. 2) In 1991, immediately after they interred Asmara the first thing they did was to force Tigrians, who lived their whole life in Eritrea, to leave Eritrea by confiscating their belongings (Eritreans prefer not to know about this episode or to ignore it totally while condemning the Ethiopian government for the deportation of Eritreans when the war of 1998 started). 3)The destruction of Tigrian towns, villages and schools and the loss of human life including school children in the beginning of the war in 1998.
If the objective of the PFDJ was to revive Tigray-Tigrigni there was no reason to commit the above mentioned horrible crimes against humanity. While this is the truth why Pr. Tesfatsion has to fabricate lies is a mystery. Simply put – all his assertions are absurd and lack logic.
On the Ethiopian government (TPLF/EPRDF) policy on the issue of self-determination
Pr. Tesfatsion’s criticism is not limited to the policies and strategies of the PFDJ regime. The policies and strategies of the Ethiopian government towards resolving the national issue in Ethiopia are also his targets. He considers everything done from the Ethiopian side as a preparation for the Tigray-Tigrigni project. The main element of this preparation, according to him, is the evil (seram) principle of the right of nations and nationalities to self-determination up to secession enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution. He believes, according article 39 of the Constitution, Tigray can secede (see p 14, 1 para.), that the principle of self-determination including up to secession serves the Tigray-Tigrigni project. He further asserts that the TPLF has been working hard to introduce the principle of self-determination to Eritrea. Here one can raise many questions: why is he calling the principle of self-determination up to secession as an evil one in the first place? Is he saying that oppressed nations and nationalities anywhere in the world don’t have the right to demand their democratic right to determine their own fate at all? An answer to this question would reveal where he stands in this important question of democracy.
His opinion on the policies of Ethiopia on the nation/nationality issue is also taken out of its context. It is known to everybody that Ethiopia is composed of many different nations and nationalities. These national groups were oppressed under the successive Ethiopian regimes by the Amhara ruling class for generations and a number of them rose up with arms to liberate themselves from national oppression in the 1970s. One of them was the people of Tigray. It was true the program of the TPLF was open-ended. But secession has never been the prime objective. Priority was given to living in a democratic Ethiopia with others. The option of secession was to be considered as a last resort in case it wouldn’t be possible to build a democratic society within Ethiopia. The TPLF has never entertained the question of Tigray-Tigrigni in its program or its publications. Its decision to stay within the Ethiopian framework has been proved beyond any doubt in 1991 and since. That is what matters.
With regard to the Eritrean question TPLF has recognized and supported from the outset that the Eritrean struggle as a struggle against occupation. Whether the stand taken at that time was based on proper study and analysis or not or whether it was right or wrong is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important to note here is that the program and actions of the TPLF didn’t indicate in the direction of Tigray-Tigrigni or didn’t have an objective of uniting all the Tigrigna speaking people. Considering all Tigrigna speaking people as Tigrians does not necessarily mean that they have to form a common state or live united in one state. However, it needs to be recognized that it had a God given right to stand for people it felt to represent, if it had done so a la Sinn Fein in Northern Irland. It becomes to be wrong only when it does it by force, i.e. without the consent of the people.
The EPRDF coalition’s policies and strategies outlined were directed to solving the national issue in Ethiopia once and for all by letting nations and nationalities to decide on their own fate. It didn’t have a hidden agenda. As a result the government system was changed from a unitary into a federal system. Article 39 was included in the Constitution in order to guarantee the nations and nationalities that they can secede whenever they feel that their democratic rights are not fully respected. The article was not specifically designed to fit in to the Tigray-Tigrigni scheme. This being the truth, how Pr. Tesfatsion came to such conclusion is a mystery.
The federal system of governance was designed and introduced as an alternative to the unitary system which failed to satisfy the aspirations of the peoples’ of Ethiopia. About 20 years have passed since the introduction of the new constitution and the establishment of the federal system. But no nation or nationality has opted to leave the federation so far (of course there are some disgruntled elements here and there who claim that the constitution has not been fully implemented) because of their sinister motives. On the contrary relative peace and stability has been achieved. All nations and nationalities feel belongingness for the first time in the history of the country. All nations are autonomously administering their affairs. Power has been devolved to the regional and wereda level everywhere in the country. Relatively balanced economic development has been achieved in most parts of the country. Even the marginalized nations/nationalities (The Afars, Somalis, Gambelas and Benishanguls) are getting special attention from the federal government. The economy of the country as a whole is accelerating fast. The image of Ethiopia is changing to the better. Ethiopia’s image is no longer that of hunger and despair. Its status at regional, continental and international level is growing. Ethiopians have started to see light at the end of the tunnel. Ethiopians are today more hope full than ever. Having said all these, it does not mean that everything is rosy. A lot more could have been done and needs to be done. The road has not always been smooth. There are forces, which don’t want to see Ethiopia succeed.
What would be the basis of professor Tesfatsion ‘s criticism regarding the implementation of the principle of nations’ rights to self-determination then? The answer is to be found not in the failure of this successful experiment of ethnic based federal system, but on its implication on the Eritrean nationalities. Professor Tesfatsion and Co. are terribly afraid that the Eritrean nationalities will be inspired by the conditions in Ethiopia and demand their democratic rights. In his fear he is not alone. His views are shared by the PFDJ and many others who have no confidence in the system they want to build.
On attitude of Tigrians towards the question of ‘’Adebo’’
As a proof to his weird assumption about the intention of the Tigrian elites towards the issue of Tigray-Tigrigni he refers to the response given by individual leaders when asked a question as to what they consider as their ‘’Adebo’’ is, in a study conducted by Alemseged Abay (see p. 16 and 17 of his discussion paper). Their response was of course Tigray. The meaning of ‘’Adebo’’ as understood in Tigray does not indicate a country, but once birth place or village or district. Therefore, Tigrian elite’s response to the question does not indicate by any means a denial of the fact that their country is Ethiopia as he wants us to believe (see p. 17). It seems he is confusing two terms, ‘’Adebo’’ and ’’Hager’’. As indicated above the word ‘’Adebo’’ means one’s birth place or village or district, where as the term ‘’Hager’’ means country. This means if they were asked ‘’hagerkum men’ya’’, i.e. ‘’what/where is your country’’ the answer would have been different. In fact what their answer proves is that his interpretation of the word ‘’Adebo’’ is not in agreement with the perception of the majority of the Tigrigna speaking community. Simply put, Pr. Tesfatsion is walking in the woods or he is just deliberately trying to confuse the innocent. It is also very important to stress the fact that the opinion of individuals (luliat abalat weyane as he calls them) cannot be used to draw a far-reaching conclusion on the opinion of the people of Tigray as a whole. There is no need to tell Pr. Tesfatsion about how scientific research is conducted and how much sample/data is needed in order to make a valid conclusion, because he is academician himself. It is enough to point out that correct material and methods are prerequisite for a reliable research output.
Tigrians believe that Tigray is part and parcel of It Ethiopia. Tigrians have never ever denied their identity and their belongingness to Ethiopia. The issue of Tigray-Tirigni has never been a big issue in Tigray (he has confirmed it in his paper) and there is nobody who entertains that issue today. How is it then possible then the Tigray-Tirigni project to materialize without the will and full participation of the people of Tigray, even if the regime in Eritrea would want it? It is absolutely impossible. In fact the leaders of the EPLF/PFDJ are allergic to anything that has to do with Tigray or Tigraians. In any case Pr. Tesfatsion should feel assured that the issue of Tigray-Tigrigni project is a non-issue in Tigray. Having said this, however, it does not mean that the Tigrigna speaking communities on both sides of the river Mereb don’t need to forge relations. On the contrary, as they share not only border, but also common history, identity and cultural values, they should re-establish and develop their relations to the maximum possible in order to secure peace and economic prosperity for themselves and for the stability of the region at large.
Professor Tesfatsion’s double game
Professor Tesfatsion is aware that his views are controversial and he tries to balance his statements regarding his support to self-determination of Eritrean nationalities and his diatribe against the people of Tigray in particular by qualifying what he meant regarding respective issue. In doing so he contradicts himself several times. I can’t understand whom he wants to deceive. In any case let us look at what he says regarding Eritrean nationalities: ‘’I believe in equality of our nationalities. I also believe (accept) in the rights of our nationalities to self-determination’’ (see p.14, 4th para. from above). However, he qualifies what he means by adding ‘’but when I say this I mean the rights of our nationalities can be insured under one united Eritrea’ (see the same page as above)’. What he actually means is nothing other than internal autonomy is the solution. He professes to support it and then contradict it at the same time as he tries to decide for them that their rights can only be realized under one united Eritrea. If he says he believes in the right of Eritrean nationalities to self-determination, then he must also accept their right to decide on their fate. It is up to them and not up to him or anybody to decide whether their right is insured in one united Eritrea or through secession. By the way what is the difference between Pr. Tsefatsion’s view and that of the PFDJ’s concept of ‘’hade hzbi-hade lbi’’? The issue of nationalities is a central issue in Eritrea whether Pr. Tesfatsion admits it or not. He can’t pretend to stand on both isles. One can’t eat a cake and keep it at the same time. I wonder if he understands the difference between rights to self-determination and rights to autonomy or he is purposely confusing people.
He has tried hard to his level best to prove what the PFDJ regime in Eritrea and the Ethiopian government are doing is to revive the Tigray-Tigrigni project. He has tried hard to convince us that all the crises and misery facing Eritrea today are because Tigray-orginated Eritreans hijacked the Eritrean struggle and took over the state administration as well. At the same time he understands that all what he says wouldn’t fall on fertile soil among Tigrians. To be on the safe side, he adds: ‘’advocating for the land or territorial integrity of Eritrea does not mean opposing Tigray; it should not be interpreted that way. I want to stress this point. Even if Eritrea and Ethiopia are two different sovereign countries there is no reason why all round brotherly relations would not exist and develop. Since Eritrea and Tigray share border their relation is of special nature (halefa zelowo)’’. There is a saying in Tigrigna ‘’tehin wielens bealemariam yibla). This is as an insult to the intelligence of Tigrians. One need not be a genius to understand what he is writing. I can’t understand whom he wants to deceive.
On Eritrea ‘’kem Adobo’’ (as a nation)
True, Eritrea as a political entity is an artificial one created by the Italians in 1890 through the amalgamation of the different ethnic groups (highlanders and lowlanders). But his claim that ‘’Eritrea as a nation (kem Adebo) is on the process of formation (see p. 1, 2, 3 and 4 para.) is far from true. If we were to accept his definition of ‘’Adebo’’ to mean ‘’ a society in a known area inhabited by people (for generations) with common language, culture and original social values’’, then Eritrea is in no way near to be called ‘’Adebo’’ or a nation. In fact Eritrea is composed of many Adebos (nationalities), the nine ethnic groups. He is telling us that ‘’it is a project to be finalized’’ (p. 18. 2 para) without clarifying how that project is to be finalized if not through assimilation? And that is precisely what the PFDJ regime is experimenting by conducting social engineering at the Sawa experimenting station to create a brand new Eritrean identity from without. But the outcome has become division along ethnic lines, not unity.
On identity crises and strengthening Eritrean nationalism
He also admits that Eritreans are confused with regard to their identities. He says ‘’ It seem to me that some of us are afraid to know our true identity’’(see p. 18 last para.). This is the feeling of shame many Eritreans purposely don’t want to talk about. Many Eritreans are afraid to know their identity, because if they know and accept their history they think that the independence and sovereignty of Eritrea would be compromised. In fact many Eritreans, especially the elites are not only afraid to know their true history, but they also have been concocting a false history to themselves and have been busy in deceiving others for the last thirty years with dire consequences to Eritrea’s future generations and its development. Most of Eritrean elites have been working hard since the 1960s to convince the people of Eritrea and the world at large that Eritreans are of different breed, that they have no relation what so ever with the peoples of Ethiopia. They have been in complete denial about their true identity all the way through. To be linked to the ‘’backward’’ Tigray has been considered a shame, which should be avoided at any cost. This attitude has led to frequent conflicts with their neighbors. Here lie the reasons to the present predicaments in which Eritrea finds itself today.
With regard to strengthening Eritrean nationalism he says: ’ ‘Children need to be nurtured and taught that their country is Eritrea’’. What he wants to say is not clear. Is he saying that Eritrean children don’t know that their country is Eritrea? In fact the PFDJ regime is doing its best to realize exactly that by collecting all school children to Sawa for indoctrination in valueless extreme nationalism. The result has been so far disastrous. The young today is confused more than ever, because it has been devoid of its roots. The Eritrea they came to know is a one not to be proud of. It is a hell on earth, where they are forced into a slavery like life. Don’t accuse the young for not being patriotic. They don’t see anything in the name –Eritrea except oppression, mistreatment, misery and shame. That is why they are leaving it in all directions when opportunities arise. Young Eritreans need not more of nationalism and isolation. They need to know about their real history and about their cultural values. They need to know more about their relations with peoples living across the borders, about tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Today is the era of integration ,not of isolation.
At glance it seems the main objective of Pr. is to protect the sovereignty and unity of Eritrea at any cost. What is puzzling, however, is why he chose irrelevant terms (Adebo, Tigray-Tigrigni) to achieve his goal, if that was his goal? Pr. Tesfatsion seems not to understand the objective realities in Eritrea today. The main issue today is not about safeguarding Eritrean independence or sovereignty or about creating a united Eritrea, because that question has already been resolved 23 years ago. The main issue today is about bringing a democratic Eritrea, where justices prevails, where all citizens enjoy their democratic rights and where people can live in harmony and in peace without fear. There is a repressive regime suffocating the people of Eritrea. People are living in Agony. The youth is crossing borders to neighboring countries in thousands every month and exposed to human trafficking with grave consequences. The opposition is divided as never before. It is under these grave circumstances, that he is coming up with irrelevant issues, which have nothing to do with the present situation. When the unity of all Eritreans of goodwill, irrespective of ethnicity, sex or age is sought more than ever, he is engaged with his divisive notion of ‘’we’’ and ‘’they’’. This is what is called insanity, i.e.is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.This type of propaganda can only come from the apostles of the Eritrean regime.
The specific issues raised can be summarized as follows.
- Probing a term like ‘’Adebo’’ which doesn’t have any political meaning on the ground or resuscitating a dead issue, the Tigray-Tirgni concept/project, just for consumption cannot be used as a platform to unite opposition forces. The Tigray-Tigrigni issue doesn’t exist. Leave it to rest!! Appealing to the emotions of people is old fashioned and a recipe for disaster. Time has changed. Professor, you need also to change your way of thinking or retire from politics at all. Probing a dead issue or dividing people on the basis of their familial descent into ‘’we’’ and ‘’they’’ does not help to strengthen Eritrean unity or the cause of the struggle against tyranny. Today’s political problems can’t be solved using yesteryears methods.
- Attributing all anomalies in Eritrea only to Isaias or a group of individuals is not going to help the Eritrean struggle for democracy. Understanding the real source of the problem is the main part of the solution. The solution to the future is found buried deep in the past. Eritreans should deal with it without compromise in order to arrive at alternative options.
- Accusing the PFDJ regime in Eritrea for promoting the Tigray-Tigrigni project is nonsense and absurd, because it is not supported by facts on the ground. By pointing fingers at Isaias and his closest associates of Tigrian decent as the main culprits for the horrors in Eritrea should not be used to exonerate other regime collaborators and the EPLF /PFDJ as an institution. It is the ideology (if it has any ideology) and the working culture/system of the PFDJ as an institution which should be fought by dismantling the PFDJ itself.
- Accusing Tigrians for occupying Eritrea is also nonsense to say the least. There is no Tigrian occupying Eritrea. Iasias and his associates should be individually and collectively accountable for what they have done or are doing not on the basis of their familial descent. Pr. Tesfatsion may have his own interpretation on who is Eritrean or not. But Isaias is no less Eritrean than Pr. Tesfatsion himself. This is very important point to be grasped. Accusing people because of their descent is considered as playing with fire. Mengistu Hailemariam was a cruel murderer, But his Ethiopian identity was never questioned.
- With regard to the principle of self-determination, the best thing to do is not to condemn the principle. The question will not disappear because you condemn it or fear it. The solution rather lies in learning from others’ experience and take what is positive, i.e. best possible solution that would work and adapt it to your objective situation in order to sort out your own problems. When the policies of the Ethiopian government on the issue of self-determination and the success or failures of the ethnic federal system in Ethiopia are evaluated one should not depart from their implication on Eritrea or Eritrean nationalities. Likewise what Ethiopia/Tigary does or not do or how or what Tigrians think or not think is not an issue of importance for Eritrean internal political dynamics. Ethiopians/Tigrians have chosen their own way and that must be respected. In the same way Eritreans need to choose a way suitable to them.
- Baseless suspicions of Ethiopian government’s intentions regarding Eritrea as a tactic to unite Eritreans is like scaring children with a ghost coming through the corner. In the age of information technology it is impossible to trick people with baseless arguments and lies. It does not help to create mutual trust among peoples of both countries. It does not create good ground for peaceful coexistence and cooperation. This type of propaganda is also employed by the present regime in Eritrea to prolong its life. In what way is Pr. Tesfatsion different from Isaias and Co?
- Accusing the ‘’Weyanes’’ always for what they did or not have done in general terms doesn’t lead to any solution. I understand the grudges he has with regard to the role the TPLF played in ejecting the ELF from field in the 1980s. However, that has no connection to the present polices of Ethiopia on Eritrea. Time has changed. One cannot live in the past. If he is criticizing what they are doing now, he must make it clear what he expects of them. What has to be clear to every Eritrean is that the sacrifices to be paid for democracy in Eritrea should be borne by Eritreans themselves. Ethiopia’s support plays only partial and secondary role. Externalizing the cause of Eritrea’s problems doesn’t bring any solution. Besides outside supported solution does not always come with desired outcome.
- What is important for Eritreans today is to face the challenges in unison and defeat tyranny and then look forward, to make Eritrea a better place to live and integrate themselves in the region. It is important for all Eritreans to grasp the real change unfolding in the horn of Africa and see the potential. Ethiopia, because of political, economical, demographic and other factors, is becoming the center of gravity in the Horn of Africa. All roads lead to Addis Ababa. Countries in the region are being connected through motorways, railways, power grid, fiber optics etc. So strengthening the relation with Ethiopia is strategic for Eritreans. If Eritrea wants to stay isolated from the fascinating developments in the region, it will be at its own peril. The historical, cultural and social relations Eritreans have with Tigray should be considered as an asset than liability. So Eritreans should not be held as a hostage not to establish and strengthen contacts with their kin on the other side of the border. Eritreans should see Tigrians as their partners in development and not as their competitors. If Tigray can be an inspiration for Eritreans to do better, it should only be appreciated.
To sum up, although Pr. Tesfatsion pretends to stand in opposition to the PFDJ regime, his opinions don’t differ in almost all issues in any way from that of the PFDJ, whom he accuses so much. Another trustworthy remark is that his opinion is the same as those of the vociferous toxic Ethiopian Diaspora politicians, the remnants of the old system, who have been wishing to see the doom and gloom of Ethiopia for the last 20-plus years. Of course he has the right to have any opinion on any issue. But he doesn’t have to disguise them. If he wants to stay relevant in Eritrean politics, he better play a positive role in the creation of cohesion among Eritrean opposition forces without tramping on the rights and wishes of individuals and communities and in advocating good relations with neighbors.
Note: All translations enclosed by quotations in the text are mine.