Eritrea: Knocking 2013 into shape…

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 3rd, 2013
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Selam Kidane
I was intending this to be my short reflections on 2012, it turns out the year was too short for me to be doing a proper reflection on (or is that a nifty excuse from my end?)… sensible people who keep a diary are able to look back and reflect properly… I am not one of those… instead I reflect on my feelings of hope, optimism, disappointment and despair… and at times anticipation… so rather than events I am going to reflect on these…

Hope and optimism…

The most hopeful I felt this year (to be honest) was when I thought IA was dead… I thought here finally was an opportunity for Eritreans to chart a way forward away from the strangle hold of a man whose actions, reactions and decisions have become totally irrational. The state of Eritrea is now a perfect reflection of the state of IA mental health…. whilst his resurfacing was a damper of sorts the nation’s reaction to his ‘death’ was a story that must have hit him and his supporters hard… especially as reflected against the death, of the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, that he refused to even acknowledge in State Media (to date).

…but there were other really hopeful and optimistic moments too (thankfully)… the late afternoon/early evening (I was so jet lagged and events post didn’t help either)…I arrived in Washington DC for the EYSC conference in May was an amazing moment of solidarity that demonstrated to me the hours of work behind our laptop screens were actually producing something…walking into a meeting on the top floor of an Eritrean restaurant… and carrying on working as though we were a group of people who work from the same building day in day out despite the fact that many of us had never ever met in the flesh before was simply amazing… recognising people by then voice even more so than their face was simply magical (of modern technology)… but the synergy… the zeal and solidarity of conviction was no modern day invention… it is what movements are made of and to discover it among my friends was simply one of the best felling I ever experienced…

Hence my disappointment….

When few months on the same group of people were tearing each other’s hair out (virtually… thankfully… a lot to be thankful for!)… over the most trivial thing that many outside the group couldn’t even understand!  And boy do we fight like the fierce clictivists we are! Erinet was buzzing with our shenanigans… and when all was said and done the disappointment to discover that the heaviest casualty was infact ourselves! The friendships, the solidarity, the trust and yes the synergy that was my source of optimism…

Despair….

There were moments…(many)  that filled me with despair… infact the word Sinai has come to spell despair for me… and possibly the most desperate I felt was when in April I was in Tel Aviv, with my friend Semhar… who was 19 when she landed in the hands of Criminal Bedouin Traffickers… who gang raped her, beat her brutally and extorted $19,000 from her poor lone mother… before they left her for dead… Semhar was crying asking me to help her… I cried harder for I didn’t know where to begin helping… I still don’t! every time that story is repeated (and it is not the worst case)…I cry more ‘God I really don’t know where to start’… but that wasn’t my only desperation…where I really despair is upon hearing the apathy in the voices of many that I share these stories with… including my own organisation Release Eritrea… lying in my bed after my meeting with Semhar and with images of the refugee scene in Tel Aviv playing seamlessly in my head… the preoccupation of my somehow disoriented mind was how I am going to tell this story… to tell it so that we are all mobilised in doing a little bit to help… going by the level of mobilisation around this concern… I have failed dismally!…

…there is a flickering light of potential hope though…

I have seen several reflections on the year, mentioning the Eritrea youth movement… many positively and some not so positively… most of the criticism is warranted… as with most new movements this spontaneous awakening of young Eritreans is messy and rather frightening in its potential to make or break…where the combination of technology… matured guidance and goodwill have converged we have seen the result in effecting achievements that have hitherto been unattainable… the wall to wall coordinated Independence Day demonstrations, flash mobs and face to face challenges against PFDJ (at large) have been unparalleled in our resistance movement and this is extremely positive… as mentioned above where this is supplemented by guidance and support from seasoned activists (minus those who just want to usurp the independent movement under their failed organisations)…this has resulted in the beginnings of promising organisations that we are proud of…. May 24 movement in Egypt is an example to behold… there are many others that are worthy of mention here too…

A cause for concern are the once that claim to be ‘big and beautiful’ (my words…)… the organisation that I am now a member of EYSC… needs to learn to walk, before it can leap… I am very aware of the fact that I am criticising friends (hell I am criticising myself too)… we have made a start and it is a beautiful beginning but we need to recognise the fact that we are now swimming in a league where we can’t prance about admiring our own fete… many have paid dearly for what we have inherited as our legacy and we need to acknowledge that…we must also learn from where others have failed… all Eritrean organisations are strong on paper… they have structures, systems and plans… it is the execution of those plans and the operation of those structures that keeps failing them… and mainly because the building of those structures is a result of an in-fight that creates mistrust and grinds the organisations to halt… our biggest asset is not our constitution and the structures it is the availability of a  capable human resource that has a track record (albeit a short one) of delivering set objectives… let us maintain that… let us start by healing the wound we have inflicted on eachother during Silly Season… the reason I am saying this in public is partly because the public knows all this as we were stupid enough to fight in full public view… there is a lot to be hopeful for… but I will not be so blind as to ignore the fact that there is a lot of work that needs doing and acknowledging where we failed is a start… a good start and right at the start!

I am not that versed on EYSNS…but my cursory analysis, is of it being pulled in every direction, without it being given the opportunity to chart its own course…EYSNS has the opportunity (or is it a poison chalice) of offices and officers, that are able to (unlike in the case of EYSC) dedicate their fulltime to the development of a vibrant movement… it was birthed at a weeklong face to face meeting of over 200 young people committed to challenging PFDJ… no other organisation can claim such good fortunes… hence my disappointment in the fact that the gains are really insignificant especially as compared to the opportunities and potentials… I have a feeling that it is the push and pull of the external forces (fighting their proxy wars) that seems to be hampering EYSNS…the attractiveness of the youth movement for many was the recognition that both the regime in Eritrea and the Eritrean Resistance have failed the Eritrean public and I think the way some people within EYSNS are allowing themselves to be played by the very organisations (and individuals) that failed us is a let down… the dream is an independent youth movement…you guys need to recognise the value of the support and guidance from seasoned activists but that should never be at the expense of your independence…

Finally (but still on the theme of hope)… a quick challenge to our  veteran activists… I will start with Awate team… so you think the youth movements are ill informed of history, lacks conviction in standing up for what it believes in and are rather fuzzy (or is it fizzy?) in approach? Well… blame it on PFDJ propaganda and education system (one and the same so far us our dear brother leader is concerned!)… the challenge: what are you going to do about it? And please don’t tell me you are going to continue to embolden us from the confines of awate.com… ever thought about mentoring a few of the emerging leaders?
Next a word to the political organisations if I may:… please stop trying to usurp the movement wholesale… many individual activists may well join your respective organisations given the time and your input, but some of what you are doing is killing the movement as a whole and movements die after the enthusiasm and conviction of individual activists is extinguished and hence you will end up with listless activists who will not give you the awakening you are hoping for… let the youth movement find its feet let it develop and mature and let individual activists find their way to you…

I sometimes wonder if we have made joining the Eritrean Resistance into some sort of a gang initiation ritual… where a new segment joining has to repeat every mistake that its predecessors made before it is accepted fully… can we not allow some to learn from our experiences?  Letting them use us as their ladder to bigger and better things for the cause?

Nothing lasts and particularly nothing as bad as PFDJ currently lasts long… so it won’t be long before these dark days are over… but we need to build institutions and movements that are worthy of the acronyms and aspiration in the vision documents we come up with and that starts with investing in the very activists that make up those organisations… again…has anyone thought of mentoring… supporting… and encouraging the individuals behind the movement we talk about as an institution made up of robots rather than individuals with a lot of struggle in their hands? Let’s not knock the youth movement before we attempt knocking it into shape…

Let me stop here… and wish everyone a blessed 2013…

Selam

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