• Do Not Let Anyone Enslave Your Mind.


In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 13 of 24)
By Yonas Araya

(First Published on Asmarino.com in June 2002)

How Did the Majority of the Christians Have Long Viewed the EPLF and ELF?
Deep down inside, as far as the Christians were concerned, since the end of the British rule, they were torn apart between wanting to become independent of Ethiopian domination on one side and the fear of being “Arabized” in an independent Eritrea on the other. And to that end, when the EPLF promised them both independence and Tigrigna, the majority of the Christians found their perfect niche in it.

But in all fairness to Issayas, he was never responsible for hatching such a fear of being “Arabized” among the Christians. It was there, but he knew how to exploit it. He even used it recently against the “G-15” when they abruptly uttered about it, and by the way, his position on this issue might now be serving him as one of the last few cords to link him with his Christian followers. Case in point: even now, as many of his followers are abandoning him, many still get terrified or even turn their faces back as if wanting to return to him at hearing the term “Arabic” from the opposition fronts.

(My perception is that even the extremist Christians know deep down inside that they cannot always have a Christian for a leader.)

On the other hand, despite the ELF’s noble treatment of the Highlanders, with its outstanding social services, such as free and real academic education for their children, free healthcare, and the like, from the beginning of the mid-1970s, it was never able to make significant in-roads into the hearts of Christian Eritreans. By many Christians, ELF was regarded mainly as a noble Moslem but also as an “Arabist,” which does not fulfill both of their dreams – independence and Tigrigna.

But also, the ELF was never able to sell Arabic successfully, even to its own Christian rank and file, much less to the general Christian public. Almost all of the rank-and-file Christians of the old ELF, even the ones in the leadership, were not any different from any ordinary members of the EPLF when it came to this issue; they simply hoped that Arabic would somehow, or someday, vanish into thin air, or that they would deal with it in due time.

And toward that end, a great majority of the Christian Highlander Eritreans, including a significant number of Christians who are rank-and-file members of all opposition fronts, have been hoping that in the end, or someday, Eritrean Muslims might accept Tigrigna as the only official language, or Tigrigna as the national language and some or all of the remaining native languages as official languages, or that Eritrean Muslims might accept Tigre as the second language, or that Arabic would someday be systematically eliminated. But on the other hand, Eritrean Muslims have been hoping that the Christians might embrace and study Arabic as one of their own and that both languages might live happily ever after. Worth mentioning here is that Eritrean Muslims, including the majority of the vocal pro-Arabic, have never rejected Tigrigna, as many of the pro-Tigrigna tend altogether to do with Arabic.

But I think both of these hopes might remain hopes – Tigrigna will not be recognized as the only language of Eritrea, and Arabic will never be cheered on by all Tigrigna-speaking Christians. For the latter one, the more the pro-Arabic individuals spearhead the endeavor for the advancement of Arabic, and the more the pro-Arabic insist on promoting it, the more the majority of the Christians will resist and become suspicious of the motives of its promoters.

Who is to Blame?

In the past, I conversed with some of the Christians who were members of the leadership in the old ELF, including those who spoke Arabic fluently and asked them about their views on the complexities of implementing Arabic and Tigrigna as the only official languages, including on the danger they could pose to all native languages, but to my surprise, I found out that they neither contemplated the issue from all sides nor had a definitive plan to dealing with the consequences.

Nevertheless, some of the opposition fronts and their leaders found it in the past and still find it “politically correct” to support the legislation of official languages by basing their position on the constitution of the Federation. But still, for some of the fronts, “politically correctness” can only take them so far because what might be “politically correct” to some might also be “politically incorrect” to others.

Suppose those Eritrean organizations committed to secularism want to earn the blessings of the skeptics, the majority of Eritreans. In that case, they need to have a road map with concrete steps for implementing the arrangement, and if they already have one, let’s hear it. And if they do not already have one, I do not see how they can draw up in the future a mechanism that deals with all the complexities of implementing the arrangement; nonetheless, they need to confront the issue head-on, even at the risk of alienating their own Christian or Muslim followers, and draw up one. They need to think pragmatically. They need to take a fresh and hard look at their old positions from all angles and make bold decisions.

Yes, they have talked the talk for over 40 years now, and it’s time to walk the talk. Hey, there is almost a universal reality to this phrase – no one wants surprises. Therefore they need to make their road maps freely available to be scrutinized by all citizens. One thing I would like to remind them is that they should not try to sell their convictions on this matter by basing their logic on the constitution of the Federation because it won’t be enough, nor should the mechanisms for its implementation depend on coercion through law enforcement. It simply won’t work that way, either.

You see, any party can assert its position on official languages, but no party has, so far, laid a definitive road map for its implementation. Remember, this undertaking was never implemented before, probably never in the history of the world, and was only briefly experimented on in the 10-year Eritrean federation with Ethiopia, which no one can tell us now, in precise terms, where that experiment could have led the nation into. No country in the world, with an evenly divided Christian and Muslim population, has adopted a second language for the followers of the other religion solely on the basis of religion alone.

Countries, including highly developed nations such as Switzerland and Belgium, always suffer from the complexities of adopting more than one language as their official language. But thankfully, in the cases of those countries, the adoption of multi-languages was not driven by religion but by the native people’s need to use their native languages. Again, in Eritrea, no one should assume that the undertaking will be perfected by trial and error in an open laboratory along the way; instead, one needs to have all the complexities worked out in advance.

Because if we want to envision an Eritrea that will survive for fifteen to twenty years or less, any solution will do; however, if we’re going to anticipate an Eritrea that will survive and thrive for several decades and perhaps hundreds of years, we need to draw up a road map that goes beyond our present circumstances, one that deals will all future objective conditions, because, without such a definitive road map, I have a feeling the legislation of official languages for the sake of legislating is a recipe for disaster.

The Tigre language, spoken by about 35% of the Eritrean population, has been, to this date, the most popular choice of communication of the overwhelming majority of Eritreans who travel in the Lowlands, except in Dankalia, and maybe along the Sudanese border, including the choice of those Highland Christians who correlate with the Lowlanders.

In addition, the language is very much related to Tigrigna, yet not more developed than Tigrigna; therefore, it cannot be regarded as a threat to Tigrigna by the pro-Tigrigna; and most of all, it has no religious strings attached to it as Arabic does, although a few Christians might mistakenly regard it as the language of Muslims; so it would less likely create an Islam/Christian competition.

Together with Tigrigna, spoken by 50% of the Eritrean population, the Tigre language could have become the perfect compromise for Christians, perhaps even the whole nation. However, this scenario is dead in the water because Tigre never garnered any favor, even from the Tigre-speaking, vocal  Muslims, much less from other Eritreans.

Why do the Majority of the Vocal Eritrean Muslims Favor Arabic?

It is hard to know. But some Eritrean Muslims regard Tigrigna as the language of Christians, and in the same way, some Christians believe Arabic as merely the language of Islam.

If all Eritreans were Muslims, I am sure that Arabic, natively spoken by less than half a percent of the population, might not have been remotely considered the nation’s official language. Eritreans would have adopted any widely spoken native language as their national language. Case in point, predominately Muslim countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many of the former Soviet predominantly Islamic nations in Asia, use their native languages. The exceptions are Djibouti and Comoros, with a predominantly Muslim population, which have adopted two foreign languages, Arabic and French, both for political reasons. Nonetheless, the lingua franca in both nations is their native language.

(Chad also adopted Arabic and French as its official languages, but Arabic is mainly for the about 750,000 Arabized Chadians in the north who use their version of Arabic in their day-to-day lives. In Eritrea’s case, Eritrea does not have Arabized people. All Eritreans use their native languages in their day-to-day lives.)

Also, it is hard to know the position of the silent Eritrean Muslims on the issue of the languages, but since favoring Tigrigna and Arabic has been primarily regarded as a “politically correct” view among the Muslims and very few Christians, I don’t believe the opinion of the silent Muslims can be any different.

What Really are the Motives of the Vocal Pro-official Languages?

The majority of vocal pro-official languages are also vocal pro-Arabic; therefore, they feel, without legislation, Arabic might lose its status in Eritrea, and toward that end, they provide one or more of the following arguments in support of Arabic:

  1. For religious reasons: Islam requires Muslims to learn Arabic.
  2. For historical reasons: due to Eritreans’ close relationship with the Arabs.
  3. Eritrea received help from Arab nations during its struggle for independence.
  4. Tigrigna is flourishing in Eritrea at the expense of Arabic.
  5. It is the preferred language of communication among Eritrean Muslims in Eritrea.
  6. All Eritreans should be forced to learn Arabic and Tigrigna.
  7. The opponents of Arabic oppose Arabic simply because Arabic is the religion of Islam.
  8. The opponents of Arabic are bigots because Ethiopia has brainwashed them to hate Arabs and their language. They need to be educated about Arabs and their language.
  9. Encouraging all languages to grow equally, instead of legislating official languages, will divide Eritrea along ethnic lines.
  10. Federated Eritrea had embraced both Tigrigna and Arabic as its official languages.
  11. It does not matter what the reason is; Arabic is the choice of all Eritrean Muslims, and they prefer it over Tigrigna or Tigre; therefore, their will must be respected.

*** I will respond to each of the 11 reasons or arguments briefly, and finally, I will make a 12th reason, which I like to think might be the real reason behind all the 11 reasons or arguments.

Argument #1:
For religious reasons:
I think this reasoning is not only lame but also dangerous; it implies Muslims need a separate language to communicate with one another and Christians another one. Nonetheless, if Arabic is adopted for religious reasons, what language do the pro-official languages have in mind for non-Tigrigna-speaking Christians?

Learning a language because your religion requires you to learn it is one thing, but importing and adopting it as your official language is unreasonable. Moreover, if Arabic is to be adopted for religious reasons, then Eritrean Muslims have to be the only Muslims in the world who will do so, for example:

  • The most populous Islamic nation in the world, Indonesia’s official language is not Arabic. Not only that, its native language uses Latin alphabets and not Arabic.
  • The most conservative Islamic nation, Bangladesh’s official language is not Arabic. Moreover, Bangladesh uses alphabets similar to the Hindu’s (Devanagari, Hindi) alphabets because the Bengali people believe that the Bengali people initially developed those alphabets.
  • Iran’s official language is not Arabic. Iran uses the Arabic (Perso-Arabic) alphabet because it believes the Persians developed the Arabic alphabet, but later, Arabs adopted it.
  • Pakistan’s official language is not Arabic. Pakistan uses the Arabic (Perso-Arabic) alphabet for its native languages. Some speculate Pakistan’s adoption of the Perso-Arabic alphabet was driven by its disgust with India.
  • Malaysia’s official language is not Arabic.
  • Somalia’s official language is Somali.
  • Turkey’s official language is not Arabic. Turkey used the Arabic alphabet until the beginning of 1900, when it replaced it with the Roman Alphabet.
  • India has over one hundred twenty million Muslims, yet Arabic is not one of its 18 official languages.
  • Afghanistan’s official language is not Arabic.
  • All former USSR Moslem nations in Asia use their native languages.

All these countries have one thing in common: they are predominantly Muslim nations, except for India (with over one hundred twenty million Muslim population), and none of them has adopted Arabic as one of its official languages; therefore, this clearly shows the desire of the pro-Arabic Eritrean Muslims to adopt Arabic is driven by the presence of a relatively large Christians population in Eritrea, and otherwise had Eritreans been predominately Muslims, most likely, Arabic would not have been considered at all. And most likely, Eritreans would have made one or more of their native languages official languages, as did all predominately Muslim non-Arab nations, or they would not have pushed for any official language. Therefore, this request to adopt an official language on the basis of religion in a country with two competing religions is unreasonable and dangerous for the nation’s future.

Argument #2:

For historical reasons – due to our close link with the Arabs.

This is another lame reason because Eritreans, both Muslims, and Christians, have a more historical link with Ethiopia than with Arabs, but it did not stop them from rejecting Ethiopia and its languages. Nevertheless, if investigated, the Tigrigna-speaking, who are predominately Christians, might have a closer genealogical link with the Arabs than any other ethnic Eritreans.

Argument #3:

Eritrea received help from Arab nations during its struggle for independence.

This implies that Eritreans must pay back the Arabs by adopting their language.(Read part 22 to learn about the supposedly received support)

Argument #4:

Tigrigna is flourishing in Eritrea at the expense of Arabic

It is true that under PFDJ, Tigrigna is thriving at the expense of Arabic and other native languages, but legislating official languages will not lessen the threat to all native languages. All Eritrean languages, including Arabic, need to be protected from becoming the victims of one another.

Argument #5:

It is the preferred language of communication among Eritrean Muslims in Eritrea.

This is absolutely wrong and requires examination. For centuries, no one has told Eritrean tribes how to communicate with one another; instead, they chose the medium of communication themselves, and Arabic was rarely one of them.

In their homes and their day-to-day lives, Eritreans use their native languages. Outside of their homes, Tigre was the most popular choice of all Eritrean tribes who lived in the Lowlands or interacted with the Lowlanders, except for the Danakil and for the majority of the Saho Eritreans, who are highlanders.

In the Lowland, many tribes, including the Highlanders, except in rare places, use Tigre to communicate with one another, even when no Tigre-speaking person is among them. If fact, Tigre is the lingua franca in the Lowland except in Dankalia, spoken from Zula to Emini Hajer.

I have witnessed a gathering in Gerset, Upper Gash region, of people from the Saho, Kunama, and Beja tribes, who instinctively chose to conduct their conversation in Tigre, even though there was no native Tigre-speaking person was among them, and no one ordered them to choose Tigre.

Except for a few, Eritreans who live in the lowlands are bilingual or multilingual. Some, and especially those who in recent decades traveled to Sudan as migrant workers or merchants, speak Arabic, yet, at home, with their children, and wives, they communicate in their native languages.

  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual in Saho/Tigre/ Tigrigna/Afar among the Saho people depending on which part of Akeleguzai they live.
  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual, but usually multilingual in Bilen/Tigre/Tigrigna/Arabic among the Bilen people.
  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual in Kunama/Tigrigna/Tigre/Baria among the Kunama people of the upper Gash region. And it is common to find many bilingual or multilingual in Kunama/Tigre/Arabic/Beja among the Kunama people of the Lower Gash.
  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual people in Nara/Kunama/Tigre/Arabic/ among the Nara (Baria) people.
  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual people in Eleet/Kunama/Tigre/Arabic languages among the Eleet people.
  • It is common to find many bilingual or multilingual in Tigre/Tigrigna/Arabic among the Tigre people who live in towns or places bordered by Tigrigna-speaking villages or closer to the Sudanese border.
  • It is common to find many bilinguals in Tigre/Beja among the Beja people who live in the upper Barka region and multilingual in Beja/Tigre/Arabic among the Beja people who live close to the Sudanese border.
  • It is common to find many bilinguals in Afar/Amharic/Tigrigna/Arabic among the Danakil men depending on which part of Denkel they live.

In addition, many from among the Bilen and Kunama people speak Italian. Many Eritrean Muslims, primarily men and some Christians of, mostly men, who live in towns from Keren through Arbata Asher and in the Massawa and Dankalia regions speak some Arabic.

In the Denakil region, the men frequently travel to Arabia, and thus they are bilingual in Afar/Arabic, yet, at home, they communicate in Afar with their children and spouses. The Afar people, maybe because they interact with the Arabs more often than they do with other Eritrean nationals, have, by far, more prejudice against the Arabs than the Tigrigna-speaking Eritrean Christians have against the Arabs.

Many Eritreans who attended Ethiopian, Arabic, and Italian schools speak Amharic, Arabic, and Italian languages, respectively. Many who worked with Italians also spoke Italian. Many Eritrean Muslims, especially the men, and children who live in Eritrean towns, also speak some Tigrigna.

It is common to find bilingual and multilingual people among Eritreans who live in the Gash region regardless of what their native languages are.

Be that as it may, because Arabic was mentioned multiple times in the above paragraphs, one should not infer that it is the most used language among Eritrean Muslims. Still, Tigre is the lingua franca in the Lowlands; it is the most fluently spoken language by those who choose to use it, and Arabic is used in the Lowlands as the last-resort medium of communication. It was used mainly when an Arabic-educated person or an ELF’s Tegadalai insisted on communicating in Arabic with the public.

(Some members of the leadership or cadres in the old ELF in the past insisted on conducting seminars with the public in Arabic, as a matter of formality, regardless of whether or not their audience was ready for Arabic or their scholarly Arabic, for that matter.)

In reality, Arabic has been used as a medium of communication, in the day-to-day, by the very few Arabic-educated Eritreans since the 1940s; again, their number is anybody’s guess. It is spoken fluently and used day-to-day by a tiny percentage of Eritreans. Still, most of their children and spouses (women) in rural areas and most of their spouses (women) in towns do not use Arabic.

The vocal pro-Arabic know well that Arabic is spoken in daily lives by a very tiny population. But they want legislation and government money, and decree to raise the size of that population so that they can say, look, 20, 30, or 40 percent of Eritreans use Arabic in their day-to-day lives. The pro-Arabic should have the right to raise the ratio of the Arabic-speaking population to 90% if they have the means to do so, but they should not seek to be armed by legislation or government money to achieve that.

The largest percentage of Arabic-speaking Eritreans are found in Sudan, mainly in the refugee camps. But suppose one wants to use that as the bases for argument. In that case, one should also consider all Eritreans in the Diaspora, including in Ethiopia, who use or have adopted their adoptive country’s language.

Still, the argument that Arabic is widely used and preferred as the medium of communication among Eritrean Muslims is incorrect.

Argument #6:

All Eritreans should be forced to learn Arabic and Tigrigna.

This is, again, very wrong. It will not work and will only backfire as it did against Ethiopia. Besides, no government or taxpayers’ money should be spent on imposing anything against the people’s will, be it for the Tigrigna or Arabic. These languages should be given only to those who request them.

Argument #7:

The opponents of Arabic oppose Arabic because Arabic is the religion of Islam.

This may be true, but the same can be said about the pro-Arabic and their views or prejudice against Tigrigna.

Argument #8:

The opponents of Arabic are bigots because Ethiopia has brainwashed them to hate Arabs and their language. They need to be educated about Arabs and their language.
Again, this aggressive tactic will only backfire against those who use it to mute the opponents. Eritrean Christians never embraced Amharic either, although Amharic is supposedly spoken natively by Christian Ethiopians. Furthermore, the promoters of Arabic need to understand the issue has nothing to do with whether or not Arabs are good or bad people. It has to do with one’s pride, which must be appreciated. Because even in the 1940s and 1950s, the majority of members of the Unionist Block, which primarily were Christians, though were in favor of integration with Ethiopia, yet contrary to the anticipation of Ethiopia, were in favor of using their native language.

By the way, who will spearhead the task of educating the Christians about the Arabs? If the promoters of Arabic are going to take on this job, they will appear suspect in the eyes of the Christians and dismissed offhand.


Argument #9:
Encouraging all languages to grow equally, instead of declaring two languages as official languages, will divide Eritrea along ethnic lines.

Maybe encouraging every nationality to develop its language might divide the nation along ethnic lines, but declaring Arabic and Tigrigna official languages will undoubtedly divide the nation along religious lines. So which one is the lesser evil: dividing Eritrea along ethnic lines or along religious lines? Given Eritrean tribes’ history of peaceful coexistence, before this new law, which one of the two problems would be easier to tackle? Which one is potentially dangerous?

But most of all, which one is democratic and which one is discriminatory? Giving every nationality to choose its destination or imposing something upon it?

Again if having two competing religions is not potentially dangerous enough, why would one want to arm the followers of the two competing religions with separate languages?

Argument #10:

Federated Eritrea with Ethiopia had embraced both Tigrina and Arabic as its official languages.

In my opinion, this is the only valid argument, in that not only did federated Eritrea adopt the two languages, but also the ELF promised Eritreans of it, and many Eritrean Muslims fought for the nation with this thought in their minds.

Many years ago, I was discussing with a Moslem Eritrean who was raised and educated in the Mid-East, and in our discussion, he explained to me that he had nothing against Tigrigna, nor did he have anything for Arabic, but that he invested in the language all his life anticipating Arabic had a future in Eritrea, and that he cannot let his entire life investment go down the drain. I found his argument to be the most valid of all other reasons.

Nevertheless, my argument is not about denying anyone from using their preferred language but about denying both Tigrigna and Arabic preferential treatment. Also, my concern is based on the premise that both languages might not transcend religious boundaries. Both languages and other Eritrean languages should earn their places as de facto official languages on their own merit, without legislation.

Argument #11:

The reason does not matter; Arabic is the choice of all Eritrean Muslims. They prefer it over Tigrigna or Tigre; therefore, their desires must be respected.

No one should stand in front of the will of the people. Therefore, if this is the will of all Eritrean Muslims and not just of the vocal pro-Arabic and pro-official languages, it must be respected even if it will eventually create two identities, one identity for the Muslims and one for Christians.

But first, Christians and Muslims need to understand the long-term implication of this arrangement, and equally important, those who see a danger in this arrangement deserve to express their disagreement freely without being harassed or dubbed bigots.

(Humans’ identities, tendencies, and psyches can be molded by nature through the languages they communicate with, books they read, and movies or films they watch.)

Reason 12:
I believe the real reason is a political one.
Whereas the predominating number of the Tigrigna-speaking Eritreans is Christians, who are close to or more than 50% of the population, the predominating number of other Eritrean nationalities, except maybe for the Kunama and Bilen-speaking peoples, are Muslims. Therefore not declaring an official language fragments the Muslim population into ten factions while keeping the Christian population almost intact. For example, Issayas Afeworki, by appealing only to the pro-Tigrigna, though in his early days openly and now silently massages religion, has always guaranteed himself close to 40-50% of the population.

On the other hand, since there has been a consensus among all Eritreans that playing the religious card is wrong, for any Muslim politician to win at least 50% of the population, playing the language card becomes the safest reach. A Muslim politician could reach more Eritrean Muslims, including a more significant number from the native Tigrigna-speaking Muslims, by only invoking the language card.

But in reality, Christian and Muslim politicians are using religion under the disguise of language because, really, beneath the language lies religion, and you do not have to dig deep to find it. But the question is, are these tactics healthy for Eritrea’s future?

The answer should not be to temporarily soothe one’s concern and jutting out a brand-new and potentially destructive problem. First of all, as long as the politics of languages remains at the top of Eritrean agenda of politics, other much more important topics, such as the issue of respect for human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, creating jobs, and the like will be swept under the rug not only by politicians, by also by the constituencies of the politician, and even legislating official languages will not remove the issue of on official languages of the country’s top agenda. Any agenda that symmetrically divide Muslims and Christians will also at the same time strangle much more critical agendas.

For example, the Christians, who also overwhelmingly happen to be against the legislation of official languages, choose to overlook the crimes of Issayas because they feel he represents them in this issue. Similarly, Muslims could also overlook the weakness of a Muslim politician because they could believe he represented them in this regard.

That is why then I believe the dilemma of Eritrean politicians, Muslims and Christians alike, can be resolved only by creating a level playing field where any Eritrean, irrespective of their religion and ethnicity, to run for office and win without infusing their politicking with religious or linguistic demagogy, instead on political platforms such as creating jobs, education, respect for human lives, individual liberty, freedom of expression, freedom to worship, national security, etc. Hence the need to remove the issue of official languages from the agenda of Eritrean politics and set up competing secular parties under God, more than ever. (Yes, you can establish secular parties under God) Then again, this is something that can never be achieved under the PFDJ, hence the need to remove the hurdle, the need to remove the PFDJ.

Most recently, consensus against Issayas has been growing among the Christians and will continue to grow and reach its pinnacle in the foreseeable future, yet, on top of the great number of the Christians’ agenda might not be legislating official languages.

Again, the constitution of the Federation should not be used as the basis to promote the legislation of languages. In the 1940s, the founders of Rabita al Islamia were overwhelmed by the impending threat from Haile Selassie, which was more of a threat to Muslim Eritreans than Christian Eritreans. Hence during those years, they used any tool available to them at their disposal, including religion and languages. (If one wants to believe that the British bureaucrats had nothing to do with the constitution.)

They even named their party Rabita al Islamia (Islamic solidarity), which is politically incorrect in today’s Eritrea. I do not believe they would have engaged in that kind of politics had they known, even after more than 50 years down the road, the agenda would have some negative ramifications on Eritrean politics.

Now more than 50 years later, there is not such a threat directed specifically against Eritrean Muslims alone. The threat from Issayas is an equal-opportunity threat against all Eritreans; therefore, any agenda that will solely unite the Muslims or that will solely unite the Christians can only weaken the forces of good, and it will only push much more significant, more critical issues to the back burner. Also, legislating official languages will not remove the issue from Eritrean politics; on the contrary, it will bring the issue to the forefront and openly divide Eritreans along religious lines, as the supporters of official languages could remain to be largely Muslims and the opponents could remain to be largely Christians.


My analyses are based on my sincere conviction to find a compromise and my desire not only to see Eritrea survive but also to thrive for hundreds of years without being derailed by internal religious and ethnic differences.

Here is the summary of my convictions:

  1. Creating a political atmosphere that Muslims and Christians should be passionate about. Healthy politics, one that will not divide the public along religious lines. It is wrong to arm the competing religions with their own languages. If they cannot transcend religious boundaries and win the followers of both faiths equally, two languages will eventually create two identities in the country. There is no guarantee that they will transcend the followers of the two faiths equally.
  2. Creating an atmosphere for healthy politics that will focus on respecting human rights, freedom of the press, creating jobs, etc., Healthy politics will not sweep critical issues under the rug.
  3. Promoting true democracy and true equality. The respect for the rights of minority Eritreans who are pro-native languages, regardless of how small their size is at any moment. It is inappropriate to legalize discrimination. It is wrong to legalize inequality.
  4. Future generation Eritreans, including the offspring of the present pro-Arabic, should also be considered when devising a constitution because their needs may not be in concert with that of their ancestors. During their time, if they choose to advocate for the development of their native languages, they should not have to go through the amendments of the law.
  5. Let development run its course and let all languages compete on a level playing field, and if Arabic can come out as the only winner, then so be it; or if Tigrigna can come out as the only winner, then so be it; if the speakers of all other Eritrean languages will help manage their native languages stay the course, or choose their native languages to be wiped out at their own will, without legislative pressure, then so be it. As long as all the changes are brought about without pressure, without legislation, in the long term, whatever change will come about will be less antagonistic and less likely to breed resentments among native Eritreans. Some believe that all Eritreans favor both Tigrigna and Arabic. If so, these two languages do not need preferential treatment. If they have already triumphed on their own, then they will continue to triumph on their own.


I invite all parties to reassess their positions and agree to remove the issue of languages from the agenda of Eritrean politics because by doing so, the country and the parties have much to gain and nothing to lose.

>>> Part 14 of 24
Next, in part 4, I will discuss PFDJ’s prisons and prison camps and whether or not the Christians have benefitted from the organization that Issayas had claimed to have formed on their behalf.

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