In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 7 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in April 2002)
The Issue of Land
I think it was in early 1974 or late 1973 EPLF’s newsletter was passed on to me by a friend. The newsletter cover was torn, so I did not know, nor did I care to know what its name was, but it might’ve been “Fitewrari, ፊተውራሪ“ The newsletter described all plots, pockets of lands, and regions, known as Demaniale (state property), pockets of fertile lands belonging to Eritrean peasants, then usurped by Italian colonists and handed out to or became reserved for Italian citizens. After Italian colonialism ended in Eritrea, those pockets of land were later inherited by Haile Selassie, who, in effect, kept them to his government or allotted them to his trustees. That day, I learned the best lessons about Eritrean lands in my life from that newsletter.
But also I was even more impressed by the newsletter because the newsletter after explaining in detail the kind of plight that Eritrean peasants were undergoing under the decree of Demaniale, it categorically stated that Eritrean peasants needed to have control over their lands; moreover, it noted that the EPLF should unconditionally return the lands to their rightful owners.
Then, I think it was in October or November of 1974, my friends, who later both of them paid with their lives for their country, and I, led by our curiosity, cruised over Hamasien, starting at the district of Minabe Zeray, then through Dembezan, and into Karneshim. After that, one beautiful morning, we loitered on a beautiful meadowland near the village of Serejika in Karneshim, where plenty of cattle were happily grazing on tall, beautiful grasses and there many beautiful exalted children were horsing around. When we inquired with the children about their jubilation, they told us that the pastureland, as a Demaniale, was off-limits to their cattle until that day but that, on that day, the EPLF had announced that it be returned to its rightful owners. You see, although the Dergue was a few miles away, the EPLF delivered on its promise in areas it party controlled, and as a result, it won the hearts of the poor peasants. And in return, the poor peasants compensated the EPLF by voluntarily flocking into it, joining its front, or providing it with food or logistics. I am certain that all of the children we met that day, as well as their brothers, sisters, and maybe even their fathers and mothers, might have joined the EPLF, as was the case for most of the Karneshim people during those years. Sadly most of them might never have lived to see an independent Eritrea, as has been the case for most Eritreans who joined the EPLF in the 1970s.
The point that I want to make here is how the EPLF mimicked the public’s (Hafash) language, enticed them to its side, then used them, and later on implemented a much worse policy than what it had been preaching against – The EPLF declared all Eritreans soils Demaniale (state/PFDJ’s land), immediately after the independence of Eritrea. Yes, the sacred Eritrean soil, for which tens of thousands of Eritreans have died, has become one of the many properties of the conglomerate of organized crime, the PFDJ.
Why the PFDJ Usurped All Eritrean Soil?
According to its commissars, the US and European countries are enjoying economic prosperity because the lands in those countries are controlled by their governments; thus, the PFDJ took possession of the land because it wanted to speed up the process of economic prosperity in Eritrea.
But my answer to those commissars is, first of all, in the US and Europe, lands are not controlled by governments alone. Sure, governments control some lands, but individuals, families, farmers, and land developers control the vast majority.
Secondly, the magic of Western civilization has stemmed from the commitment of the Europeans to a free enterprise system, which is the opposite of a Planned Economy. Yes, the US and Europe succeeded because of their democratic institutions, respect for human rights, freedom of thought, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, free enterprise system, and most of all, the result of their commitment to the system of checks and balance; the result of all the elements which make Issayas and his clique terrified.
Suppose the PFDJ is indeed genuinely committed to prosperity. In that case, it should start by taking the first and elementary steps to prosperity – respect for human rights and commitment to the system of checks and balances. These elementary steps have led people to prosperity for over 200 years, and there is no other shortcut to economic prosperity. So far, the PFDJ’s land policy is nothing less than copying the Western module of civilization out of context. But it fits more into the Communistic or Marxist doctrine than a Western one.
Indeed, if giving the government control over the country’s soil had been a shortcut to development, the USSR would’ve exported and not imported grains. The Planned Economy, which the PFDJ is stubbornly striving to implement, has died and been buried after languishing in a coma for over seventy years in the Soviet Union.
Moreover, in the case of the US, the government indeed controls a vast land, and many governments of the US: federal, state, counties, and cities, control lands and have been selling them to whoever can afford them. But those lands were seized from the poor Indians. The Indians did not give up their lands without a fight, but they lost. The US killed millions of Indians before it took possession of their land and placed the remaining defenseless Indians in Reservation Camps.
However, in Eritrea’s case, native Eritreans are not Indians and should not be treated as such. Nevertheless, the PFDJ has treated the native Eritreans the same way the US has treated the Native Americans. The PFDJ has been cashing in (or should I say cashing out) by selling off the lands native Eritreans owned for thousands of years. It has usurped the lands of native Eritreans and has been selling them off to anyone who came to it with a foreign currency or anyone who pledged his allegiance to the PFDJ. By the way, is the PFDJ preparing reservation camps for the native Eritreans? That should be the next natural step!
Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone Is the Motto of All Eritreans.
When Eritreans fought and died for their land, at the top of their agenda was liberty, to have freedom over their land. It was never about economic prosperity, or it was never at the top of their agenda.
Yes, Eritreans demonstrated their desire for liberty over and over in the past, but more so recently during the Badme War. Eritreans demonstrated it to the Woyane when they preferred losing all their possessions and wealth to staying in Ethiopia under subjugation. They said, “Man cannot live by bread alone”; they refused to exchange liberty for money. Of course, they mistakenly imagined liberty was awaiting them in their homeland. Moreover, many Eritreans, Moslems, and Christians have been voluntarily leaving many wealthy Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for Western nations because they prefer living in democracies to living in rich but despotic countries.
Eritreans are industrious people, and they know that economic prosperity can be achieved through hard work, and they don’t need any instruction from the Clique in Eritrea about that. Eritreans have achieved economic prosperity in Ethiopia, Sudan, many African, Arabian, European countries, and North America. And they know they can achieve it in Eritrea, too, if they are left to be free.
Eritreans had for so long longed for a system that is committed to letting them free to live and work. Eritreans have always described their ideal system in a simple phrase: a system dedicated to Hires Harestay, Niged Negaday, (ሕረስ ሓረስታይ :ንገድ ነጋዳይ)which in English means: “simply liberty.” Again, at the top of Eritreans’ agenda was liberty and never economic prosperity. Nevertheless, under the PFDJ, Eritreans have lost liberty and their inherent power to achieve economic prosperity.
The Confiscation of Land: a Tool of Social Control by the PFDJ.
For generations, many Eritrean villages had classified their dwellers into two groups and referred to them as the “strangers” (“Ma’akelai Alet”) and the “nobility” (“Chiwa”). For example, one would be described as Ma’akelai Alet if they had moved into a village from Ethiopia, Sudan, or anywhere in Eritrea, including a neighboring village.
And in many villages, as a Ma’akelai Alet, one would have no right over the village’s administration, including over the piece of land allotted to him by the village. He would be under the mercy of the Chiwa. He needed to fulfill the arbitrary wishes of the Chiwa constantly; he would always be in the business of pleasing the Chiwa; he would have no pride; he would live in fear that someday his piece of land would be taken away from him by the Chiwa. In short, for all practical purposes, he was owned by the Chiwa.
One might say it was a very horrible system. Yes, it was. So, would anyone want to live in that kind of system? Well, that is precisely being practiced in Eritrea now under the PFDJ regime, except this time, the PFDJ led by a clique of Tigrean-Eritreans is the Chiwa, and all Eritreans are the Ma’akelai Alet.
By confiscating all their lands and putting them under its control, the PFDJ put all Eritreans under its heel. All over the country, Eritreans are now under the mercy of the Clique; they need to please it constantly; they live in fear that someday, someone will come to them with a piece of paper from the Clique and might take possession of their little plow fields, their hills, their grazing lands, and even they water wells. Someone might displace them from their lands of generations. They fear this because it has been happening in many parts of the country, and everyone is only hoping that it might not come to him sooner than it might come to his neighbor. They fear because, for all practical purposes, they are wholly owned by the PFDJ.
It is clear then the PFDJ did not confiscate the land because it believed it was the shortcut to prosperity, but the shortcut to put the public under its thumb, the shortcut to controlling the society, the shortcut to destroying the pride and the fighting spirit of Eritreans.
Issayas Played a Victim
After it had indeed taken control over their lands, the PFDJ kept sending many conflicting messages to any peasant who inquired. I don’t know what it told the Lowlanders, but to the Highlanders, it told them that the Government did not indeed confiscate their land. And sometimes, it told them the policy was required to benefit the Highlanders so they could control the vast land in Lowlands.
But not only that, at one time, when Issayas was asked in private by an elderly man why someone was building a house on lands owned by the village of Adi Guadad, around Asmara, in a seemingly sad expression, he responded that it was wrong and he knew nothing about it. He did not have the sincerity to tell the senior citizen man that the village of Adi Guadad had no more control over what was its land for many generations. Issayas then continued and hinted to the man that some of his staff members from other Regions might’ve been pushing for such actions.
Issayas attempted to play the victim and simultaneously drive a wedge of discord into Eritrean regions. The poor elderly man, of course, believed him; but the fact is, nothing in Eritrea is implemented without his knowledge and his approval. Nothing.
Did the PFDJ Have the Mandate to Confiscate the Land?
In 1993, when Eritreans asked the PFDJ to implement the universally accepted and practiced cornerstone and prerequisite for economic and social development, a policy that may not need more than a couple of days of studying and researching, yes, the freedom of the press, its answer was that it would not do so until it did a careful study and drafts a good constitution. In contrast, when confiscating Eritrean land, the PFDJ saw no need for extensive research or conducting a credible discussion by the national assembly. In fact, the PFDJ had already confiscated the lands before the drafting of the Constitution began, and it presented it to the drafters only as a fait accompli. It did not wait for the drafting of the Constitution to complete. But most of all, the PFDJ did not have the mandate given to it by any constitution or otherwise to pass laws regarding the land.
When the PFDJ confiscated the land, it had only three goals: making money, rewarding those who swear by PFDJ regardless of their past history, and punishing those who refuse to embrace it and its politics. The PFDJ never researched the land and never evaluated the consequences of its decisions on the cultural, moral, family ties, and patriotism, all the ingredients that made Eritreans the high-spirited people they have been. Then again, Issayas may have done enough research and discovered the method to engineering a submissive society was by taking away its pride, keeping it impoverished, and making it wholly dependent on him.
Drafting a Constitution
Undoubtedly, constitutions can positively and negatively affect a nation’s history and future generations. When drafting constitutions, especially those related to lands, you should not be dictated by short-term political and economic interests. When drafting constitutions, just because you can read and write in foreign languages, you should not assume that you know better than your ancestors and the systems they had placed in their times. Many times, your ideas could be wrong or can be proven wrong by future generations; future generations might prefer the one that had existed before yours, but if your bad decisions are widely implemented, future generations might find it hard to revert your choices to the one that had existed prior to yours.
To draft a constitution that will preserve the past and withstand the test of time, you need to follow the three scenarios below or something to that effect. If you make your decisions after gathering enough data for these scenarios, you will save yourself from embarrassment and being written off by future generations. I hope post-Issayas governments will apply this method or something to that effect when reviewing the constitutions. Here are the lists of scenarios:
- What will the short-term effect be? What will the impact be in 1 to 7 years?
- What will the long-term consequence be? What will the effect be in 25 to 60 years?
- In what way will it affect the past? (You can go back as far as 100 years)
If the answers to all scenarios are “good,” then you apply it.
If the answer to any of the scenarios is “bad,” you stop taking action, but you may want to collect more data or revisit the issue at another time in the future, after some years.
If the answer to any scenario is “blank,” then in this case, “blank” means you are drawing blank, and the effect is unclear. This means you need more data on which to base your decision. You either need to drop the idea, obtain more data or revisit the issue at another time in the future after some years.
What Is Wrong with PFDJ’s Land Policy?
Unless someone is a blind follower of the PFDJ or is the beneficiary of its policies, one should understand that government means the government’s bureaucracy or individual government officials. Therefore, when you place the land under government, in essence, you are making government bureaucrats the sole trustees of the land and, for all practical purposes, the sole owners of the land, which they can do anything with. The land is under their merits. And since land means dollars, something one can exchange for dollars, government officials, including those who may be God-fearing, will be quickly drawn to corruption or pressured by demand and, or peers to use the lands for their benefit.
Even if the government’s intention was good, which in the PFDJ’s case was not, no law or threat of punishment will stop government officials from succumbing to the temptation of corruption. But worse, because corruption will smear all government officials at some point, all of them will share in the common guilt, forcing them to shut up or to conspire in cover-ups or scandals. And sure enough, this has been happening in Eritrea for the past eleven years under the leadership of the Issayas. The lesson for all Eritreans and post-Issayas governments is that some things are better off left untouched.
Even Issayas’s lovers, who entertain, “We have a clean government under Issayas; We have a corruption-free government: We are in good hands,” should contemplate that Issayas won’t live for eternity; all future governments cannot be free of corruption, that is, if they still believe the PFDJ and Issayas aren’t already corrupt.
Furthermore, the blind followers of Issayas must understand that the law or decree they are supporting now will be used by all future governments, including the leaders and governments they will not be fond of or trust. However, for Issayas’s lovers to contemplate this, they need to accept that Issayas is human; he will be tossed down or die in his bed tomorrow. And only then will they be able to forecast the future clearly, and make correct decisions based on what is good for their families and fellow citizens rather than what will please Issayas.
Everyone has probably heard the expression, “Love is Blind,” but what is often not expressed is that blind love also, in effect, lowers one’s IQ when judging the person for whom one has blind love. (A treat to Issayas lovers)
>>> Part 8 of 24
Next, in part 8, I will analyze and try to trace the source of Eritrean nationalism.
Will also compare the expression “land to the tiller” with our native expression: “Nrsti Ywaga’ala Ansti.”
Will also discuss the Yugoslav experience.