“Eritrean Solutions for Eritrean Problems”: A Xenophobic or a Rational Nationalist Slogan?
By Seyoum Tesfaye
Eritrean opposition politics without self-inflicting controversy will be a summer without heat. Summer passes and the mild season follows. The beauty is that the squabble, the infighting and the strident conversation is all about Eritrea: love for Eritrea expressed in passionate way. We are now going through one of those episodic heated conversations.
The Bologna 2013- Eritrean Summit for Bright Future under the slogan “Eritrea Solutions for Eritrean Problems” has generated such an intense positive and negative reaction ( before even the event materialized) one is compelled to try to make sense out of the intensity of the support and the negation.
The primary responsibility is reserved for EYSC to go beyond initiating the Bologna Summit and address all outstanding and possible concerns in a palatable manner. Leadership demands having the skill to minimize unnecessary residual conflicts that will block future win-win relationships among all those who are struggling to usher in justice and democracy for the people of Eritrea. With all their refined digital campaigning (political marketing) skill EYSC could have done a better job in presenting the intent and overall desired outcome of the summit thus minimizing the magnitude of polarizing interpretive (subjective) narrative that is saturating the Diaspora media. In short they could have done a better ground work. Over stressing ones position is not necessarily an explanation but subliminally taking a defensive position.
Usurping Bologna’s legacy and symbolically proving that the regime’s influence is evaporating is tactical brilliancy. The rest is open for subjective interpretation and extrapolation. The heated controversy is what is the “true” intent and meaning of the slogan “Eritrean Solutions for Eritrean Problems”. It is necessary that we pose few questions to create a better context to make the conversation educational and productive minus the character assassination, condemnation and further fractionalization.
1. Was the slogan designed as an anti-Ethiopia platform or to negate all forms of relations with Ethiopia? Is this slogan advancing a xenophobic agenda? Is this a rallying cry to gather all anti-Ethiopia political elements?
2. Was the slogan intended to condemn and negate Eritrean political organizations that are based in Ethiopia? Was the intent of this slogan to come across as an ultranationalist just to attract political followers?
3. Is the slogan a reformulated diaspora version of the isolationist PFDJ so-called self-reliant cleverly and artistically phrased? We can stand on own feet with no help? Is every help and interference by definition? What is true help and what is interference?
4. Was the slogan formulated with its content to be defined by the speakers, the attending audience and the organizers as the summit unfolds? Is the slogan content neutral or have the organizers put limitation on the interpretive right of the presenters?
The underlining principle that every Eritrean group has the right to organize its own meeting without asking permission or approval from any other organization has to be firmly stated. This democratic principle makes the Bologna Summit a legitimate meeting. Those who are working hard to abort or subvert this meeting have deficiency in understanding democratic rights. The concern must be getting clarity about the guiding slogan, the proceeding (the articulated content not the assumed positional argument) of the summit and its implication moving forward.
If this slogan and the underlining purpose of the summit is motivated purely by anti- Ethiopia political posture it is not only counterproductive it is will also be an infantile political activity that will inject meaningless euphoria that will fizzle out by expanding the conflict within the Eritrean opposition.
More importantly IF it is intended to cast negative shadow and negate the Eritrean political organization that are based in Ethiopia it will be by default advancing the agenda of the ruling party.
If this is intended to negate or diminish the sister youth organization EYSNS it is not only political folly bust also a Shylock “ My pound of flesh” mentality that shows vindictiveness and does shows lack of strategic leadership. The Bologna Summit should not be counter posed to the EYSNS on the basis of where the two meetings took place. Venue by itself does not make one more nationalist than the other.
When pushed to the extreme nationalism becomes jingoistic and xenophobic. If the slogan “Eritrean solutions to Eritrean Problems” becomes a high sounding empty slogan devoid of globalized reality and is presented as a sharp dagger against perceived enemies it produces unintended consequences. The organizers have the responsibility of making sure the agents of the Eritrean government do not subvert this slogan and contaminate it with their jingoistic and xenophobic germ.
The fundamental issue then becomes how Eritreans address their national issues in a rational, tempered, in a none-arrogant, none-isolationist political deliberation that does not deploy nationalism as a toxic weapon but as a source of pride that engenders a sense of responsibility to do our share to resolve our vexing national conflict.
I have yet to read any slogan proposed by Eritrean political organization that states “Ethiopian Solutions for Eritrean problems’. Was the sublime message of the “Eritrean Solutions to Eritrean Problems” to counter pose a none-existing slogan? The Editorial Committee of Meskerem in its usual xenophobic style has been working hard to hijack EYSC’s slogan and turn the Bologna Summit into anti-Ethiopia rally. Those who try to sell one summit as a turning point or the best thing to happen since sliced bread are misguided. This is just one more meeting among thousands we have seen. As long as Eritreans are seating down engaged in a conversation that itself is a progress. Minus the labeling (the best and the worst) we ought to be encouraged that we are trying to find a joint path to our national salvation.
Looking at Ethiopia as a friend or as an enemy is creating a false choice. This is simplistic. This position based: we cannot succeed without Ethiopia’s help or we can do it without their help is the ultimate political naiveté masquerading as a serious political conflict. To bring division within our struggle on the basis of this kind of anachronistic paradigm after 75 years of complicated political struggle shows that we have a need for some more political training on how to deploy modern political skills. Position based “I am right you are wrong’ approach is a very simplistic political posturing that fosters division and political paralysis within our rank.
It might be going too far but it will be fundamentally true most of the divisions, splits and confrontation within the Eritrean opposition are due to the application of the worst form of conflict resolution technology. In overwhelming cases the Eritrean opposition deploys position based political struggle to “manage” its relation within its organization and in relation with other organizations. “I am going to Ethiopia.” “I am not going to Ethiopia.” Two months of political hyperbole. Followed by strident characterization and condemnation- the result of excessive desire to be right (the ego dominated position) as opposed doing the right thing based on advancing the overriding interest beyond and above the political position of the individual organization( the interest based approach).
How does interacting with Ethiopia advance or retard our collective national interest given Eritrea has now graduated into Africa’s North Korea? Our relation with Ethiopia cannot be all love or all hate. These are emotions we cannot afford when engaged in serious political struggle. We have to have a calculating mentality that will not be swayed by simple gestures one way or the other. Define our mutual interest and the mechanism that will be used to manage our mutual interest.
We should deal with Ethiopian state actors from perspective of interest based negotiation. It is their duty to define their interest. It is our duty to define and underline our interest. The central control of defining our interest- agenda, policy, structural set up, electing our leaders – should be ours. The minute we loss this control we have already lost managing the present and to some extent the future. Where there is convergence of interest we have to find principle based transparent working relationship. To automatically equate working with Ethiopia as betraying Eritrea’s and Eritrean national interest or inversely considering not working with Eritrea as a sign of super nationalism and commitment to The State of Eritrea and Eritrean people is a false dichotomy – At the center of this kind of posturing is our inability to conduct interest based Realpolitik in a globalized century.
If the Bologna Summit advances the real interest of the Eritrean people and the State of Eritrea, well and good. If it is about public relation posturing and personality circus then it will fade away like some unproductive meetings that were more about the activity than the result. Let us wait and see.
Well if we put listening, questioning and collecting enough information before we pass judgment we will have a better political conversation. Interpretive politics on the basis of our strongly ingrained political positions turns us into talking heads that dominate the digital outlet without creating a better middle ground that will give us a chance to minimize and contain differences in perspective by expanding the possibility of strengthening the win-win approach to our political struggle.
Should the Bologna Summit beyond the music and fanfare produce a qualitative political analysis, rational resolutions and clarify the content of the slogan they have generated they would have contributed qualitatively to enriching our collective discourse. Should they fail short we have the duty not to glow or take pleasure from their short coming. In a kind and generous way we should review the project and create a climate to address the short coming without lashing out at the organizers.
Wishing the Bologna Summit a positive and constructive meeting.
Disclaimer: The perspective presented in this article is mine and only mine. I am responsible for the opinion expressed.