In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 20 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in July 2002)
An Assault on the Resilient Culture, a Matter of Urgency for the Survival of the PFDJ
Those dictators who came to power through revolutions know the revolutions that brought them to power were the products of the society’s deeply rooted culture that treasured liberty; hence they know that the same resilient culture can someday turn against them. Therefore right after they come to power, the dictators scramble to uproot the culture that brought them to power and replace it with one of their own. Dictators, especially communist dictators, do not build up their culture on the existing tradition but on its ashes. They erase anything reminiscent of the past and transform society to live as if in a twilight zone, so to speak, where that which is into that which is not, and that which is not is into that which is. Tito, Mao, Stalin, Castro, and many other communist dictators have done such things.
In much the same way, Issayas, like all dictators that predated him, and especially all communist dictators, knew the resilient culture of Eritrea was a threat to his survival; therefore, from the outset, he was eager to uproot it and then replace it by one of his own. For instance, in 1994, suddenly, without a mandate and without consulting with the very people who were to be affected by his reckless decree, also without even waiting for the drafting of the constitution, he surprised Eritreans by reshuffling the regions or Awrajas. He arbitrarily drew up a new internal map on the ash of the old map. When asked to clarify the decision, the vague reply from his cadres was the old map was not suitable for the new Eritrea; the old map was a source of discord among Eritreans.
But for anyone who has studied his past, the re-defining of the internal map was consistent with his character: erase that which impedes the society from fully committing to the PFDJ and his persona. But unlike the way he obliterated religion, which was systematic – although he recently assaulted the minority religions in broad daylight – with the reshuffling of the regions, Issyas had realized that he could do it openly without provoking any resistance from the public because he knew the public, although adamantly against the decree, would only watch him quietly from the side for fear of being branded regionalist.
As far as the claims by the PFDJ that the old regions were the source of discord among Eritreans are concerned, no credible evidence or research supported it. The fact is, the old regions were never impediments to the unity of Eritreans. On the contrary, vis-a-vis any people in the world, during their armed struggle against Ethiopia, Eritreans were believed to be the most solidly united people on earth. They fought and died for Eritrea under the old regional map in unison for their freedom.
Again, no recorded history claims any conflict between any regions of Eritrea. Even the much negatively publicized regional differences believed to be exhibited by the fans of Eritrean soccer teams, which took their names after the names of the regions in Eritrea during Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule, was nothing but a false conception about Eritreans; because even then, the unity of Eritreans was as solid as a rock. Of course, like all sports fans worldwide, the teams had their fans, but their fans never resorted to violence against one another. The truth was that all Eritreans united as a single fan for an Eritrean team during the playoffs against teams from Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia.
Also, of course, as human beings, some individuals might have practiced favoritism here and there, but that practice was by no means representative of Eritreans as a whole. Eritreans respected one another much better during that time than they are now under the PFDJ’s culture of political fanaticism. Issayas claimed that the old regions were a source of discord; he claimed they were hampering Eritreans from working together, only to introduce a system that breeds the worst forms of discord among all Eritreans. Case in point: the hooliganism witnessed in London last year at the conference invited by Mesfun Hagos was not motivated by regionalism but by political fanaticism, which is incubated and nursed by none other than Issayas himself. Yes, Issayas has bred a culture of hooliganism that does not respect the elderly, the mother, and the Liberation War heroes. He produced a culture of intolerance and discord.
Again, as every one of us can witness, Eritreans, as a people, are less united now than they were in 1993, 1983, or 1973. For example, in the past, Eritreans respected one another; generally speaking, a citizen’s region did not matter to many Eritreans. When Eritreans met a person from another region, they generally did not respect him any less than they respected one from their region. On the contrary, sometimes, they might have respected someone from a different region more than they did from their own region. None of us has ever heard of such a thing that a group from Seraye ganged up on a group from Hamasien, or vice-versa, and if there ever was such a thing, it could only be by a very tiny number of Eritreans.
The unity of Eritreans starts at the personal level; then, it elevates to one’s immediate family, then to the not-so-immediate family, then to the clan or village, then to the district, then to the region, then to the nation. Therefore, when viewed as a whole, the structure of Eritrea and its unity resembles a pyramid, with the individuals and families as the base and the nation’s interest being the pyramid’s pinnacle. The structure of a pyramid has proven to last thousands of years. The pyramidal structure of Eritreans’ unity has also proven to be a nightmare to Ethiopia. Issayas knows that, and it’s no wonder he fears it.
Before 1998, Issayas had feared less a threat from Ethiopia than he worried from the unity Eritreans. Long before the Badme War, for Issayas, delineating the Eritrean border with Ethiopia was not an urgent matter, but forging his comfort zone, thus doctoring up the Eritrean regions, was.
The Formation of New Regions and New Boundaries
During its incumbency in the past 11 years, when Eritreans begged the PFDJ to implement the universally accepted, successfully implemented by many countries for hundreds of years, the elementary right for any human being, the prerequisite to democracy, the primary demand of Eritreans, yes, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, it dillydallied and has been doing so to this date. So, while this is its track record, can we assume that in 1994, it had comprehensive research to re-tailor the Eritrean map? And if there ever was research, who did it, and how was it conducted? Where are the documents?
Was the new map formulated to make the lives of Eritreans easier or more complicated than it was? What really was behind the decree?
When did the PFDJ find out that Eritreans were suffering from regionalism? Right after independence? Who is a regionalist, and how was it determined?
How was the survey conducted? What were the questionnaires? Who prepared them? Was the issue discussed and approved by the “National Assembly”? What percent of Eritreans were found to be regionalists?
Have Eritreans benefitted from the new map? Is there data that supports it? In what way? Have Eritreans complained about the decree, and were they allowed to complain?
What’s Wrong With the New Map?
Firstly, Eritreans did not demand such a change to happen. Eritreans did not have a say in it. Secondly, the new map, forged with such urgency, considers no topographical, transportation facilities, economic, or public office proximity. It does not consider the rights of the communities affected by the change. For example: In the old regions, a person from Mekerka, Anseba, had to travel all the way to Asmara for a public office. As the reader might have guessed, it was a long and costly trip for that individual to travel to Asmara. But the new map is even more inconvenient and costlier in terms of money and time for everyone involved. Under the new map, the comfort zone of Issayas, the person is punished twice – he has to take a bus to Asmara, then take another bus to Keren. Now, where is the logic, and where is the common sense?
Similarly, in the past, a person from Shumezana might have complained about the distance he had to travel to Adi Keih. Still, under the new map, the comfort zone of Issayas, he will have to travel to Adi Keih and then take another bus to Mendefera on the rugged dirt road if he is lucky. Worse, he will likely have to travel to Asmara and take another bus to Mendefera. And so do many Eritreans in all parts of Eritrea who have to endure this injustice. Again, where is the logic, and where is the common sense?
All Eritrean regions were the pride of all Eritreans in general, and each was the pride of its inhabitants. Now, the PFDJ wants us to believe the old Eritrean regions had a stigma attached to them that Eritreans should be ashamed of. Was it, or is it a shame to be a Serewotai, Denkelay, Semharay, Barkawi, senHitai, Akeleguzetai, “wodi gash” … is it?
I believe Eritreans should be proud of their background, and no one should attach a negative stigma to their environment.
I see Americans proudly introduce themselves as Texans, Southerners, etc., and those who present themselves as such are not lesser Americans than those who do not. Similarly, there is no reason why Eritreans should be ashamed of their backgrounds or where they came from.
I am opposed to the decree as a matter of principle. For these reasons, I propose to the post-Issayas Eritrea to revert Issayas’s actions to what it was. Having said that, if there is a request by all Eritreans to make changes to the map, after consulting with the public, after consulting with the communities and villages that are to be directly affected by the decision, I believe that a democratically elected constitutional government can make some thought-out changes to the eternal map. But until then, I am a Hamasienay and will remain a proud Hamasienay.
There is no stigma to being a Denkelay, Serewotai, Bazawi, Jebertay, Ga’asotai, Bilenai, SenHitai, Ansebetai, or Asfedetai, so let freedom ring in all regions, families, and religions of Eritrea, and let all Eritreans have a say in everything that affects them positively or negatively. No government should rule Eritreans with decrees.
In conclusion, all of you Eritreans opposed to the decree, go ahead and identify yourself any way you want, and if anyone calls you a regionalist, tell him to go back to where he came from. All Eritreans are as beautiful as one another, and no one should have them believe that they have backgrounds to be ashamed of.
Next, in part 21, I will comment on why the PFDJ imposed its flag on Eritrea and the need to restore the Eritrean flag, which symbolized unity for all Eritreans. Will also discuss why a true-multi party system is a must-have for Eritrea. Also, the need for all political parties to drop their old names and prohibit parties from including terms that connote violence or militancy, etc., in their names.