Where are the Dots to be Connected Here?
Nebarai Keshi, October 11, 2003

Note: First, it should be noted that the Woyane regime declared the peace settlement reached between Eritrea and Ethiopia in December 2000 null and void. In a letter sent to UN, Meles Zenawi said Ethiopia won’t abide by the “final and binding” provision, and that unless an “alternative mechanism” is set up by the UN to his satisfaction, his government has no option but to resort to force and violence against Eritrea and its people. Once again, Eritrea’s sovereignty and independence is in grave danger. In fact, Woyane never accepted the peace settlement from day one. What is different now is that the government of Meles Zenawi made it public. In the midst of rejection and defiance of Woyane, the ELF-RC and the so-called ENA continue to remain silent. In a manner that defies reason and conscience, they keep on professing democracy, Eritrea, justice…etc as opposed to registering strong protest and condemnation of Woyane regime. This complete inaction, in the face of Woyane’s flagrant rejection of the peace settlement, only carries a great testimony to the maneuvers and deep partnership they have with Woyane Tigray. It goes without saying; their obsession with power has become a liability and curse to Eritrea, which continues to be played into the hands of Woyane. Over the last five years they sang Woyane’s song despite strong condemnation from their own people. Now, I am afraid they are repeating it again. The alliance leaders with strong ties to our lethal enemy, with prevailing schism amongst themselves, and with no clue what is at stake can’t cry for democracy and share of power in Eritrea; they aren’t listening to the power of reason. At this juncture there is nothing important, but to rise to the challenge and defend the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of our nation regardless of political differences. If any opposition is to bear fruit, we as people and nation have to stand to the obvious – defend our country. The country doesn’t exist to the exclusion of its sovereignty and independence. 

Last August, Woldeyesus Ammar, the leading ideologue/figure of ELF-RC, a strong ally of the chairman side, and a proponent of restructuring and revamping the so-called Eritrean National Alliance from bottom up presented an interesting piece titled “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics”. Also, Ammar is accused of engineering the entire ELF-RC crisis by introducing leadership reform in the organization. Ammar is reported to have campaigned relentlessly against Nassir long before the 2nd session of the RC (Agust 2002), in which Suim was finally ascended to the chairmanship position. In addition, Ammar is believed to have pioneered this leadership reform mainly to replace the “old guard”, Ahmed Nassir by a “new guard”, Suim Ogubamichael. But some members of his organization dismissed the change of chairmanship as no reform, pure politics, isolationist, and a cause of upsetting the long held norm and tradition of power distribution in ELF-RC. Also, another critic views the change of the leadership as nothing, but a replacement of one old guard by another new old guard (both Suim and Nassir belong to the same old guard generation), in which Wocho integlbetkayo is Wocho sort of analogy. Finally, Ammar is accused to have employed religious tactics to the exclusion of Moslem ELF-RC leaders in an effort to bring Suim to the position of chairmanship. This brings us to the crisis at hand, and that is whether the cause of the split is limited to chairmanship change or to the pullout from the Alliance camp or to the alleged religion and ethnic practices that may have contributed to the final break up of ELF-RC into two groups. 

In my view, Ammar’s “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics” series (part 1,2,3) comprises two parts. The first part is essentially a historical account that goes back to the 60s and 70s in search of mistakes and practices allegedly committed in the name of religion and ethnicity. I have less concern with the first part, but in all fairness establishing some questions is in order before I move on to the second part, which deals with multiple issues starting from the current split of ELF-RC to ENA, and to many other controversial items. First, it takes a great deal of extensive and thorough research to pinpoint where exactly Eritreans went wrong if we did when it comes to practicing religion and ethnicity in our national politics. Second, in handling an agenda as big as “religion and ethnicity”, one can’t cut short and present own depiction for some political ends. Nor would it be considered conclusive findings if events/developments aren’t presented and analyzed on basis of the context in which they occur. I don’t see those elements included on Ammar’s presentation. Rather, his presentation is full of distractions and willful distortions, which can be easily contested from a number of angles. I would have considered it educational and constructive contribution if it had been based on reason rather than on method of political madness. 

For example, Ammar didn’t hide his critical stand against every political group he disapproves and distrusts, but he left out our old ELF from the equation and even absolved it from all the past wrongs and sins it committed. This is troubling. I found it extremely difficult to settle with his claim. The bottom line is, history isn’t about producing selective outcomes; nor is it about steering facts. It is about verifiable accounts that changed a given course of events in the past. And I would say all factors surrounding the subject in question must be weighed, presented, and researched. No history can be erased at the stroke of a pen.  

 Overall, Ammar’s argument on “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics” lacks objective and impartial account on the subject in question. It disproportionately hails and credits one side while aggressively blames and puts at fault another side.  For example, Ammar accused president Isayas Afeworki as the “top polarizer” and inventor of the “Nhanan Elamanan” manifesto authored in the 70s, in which some still wrongly view it as a leading vision upon which Hizbawi Hailtat was established as a splinter group. Nevertheless, incriminating the current president of Eritrea for political expediency is fine with me as long as it addresses the root cause of the “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics”. But it doesn’t because Ammar’s approach isn’t a true representative of the entire picture of the alleged practices and causes of the “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics” during and after the armed struggle for independence. Ammar didn’t even remotely attempt to refer to the circumstances under which Hizbawi Hailtat (Popular Liberation Forces, PLF) was forced to split in the 70s. How cynical, irresponsible, and political can you be? Nonetheless, even if for the sake of argument, one assumes what Ammar says about the president, Shaebia, and the rest is true, it still raises and opens a myriad of historical questions unanswered. In order to have a sort of historical fact sheet on “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics”, one needs to include certain critical questions and developments into the whole picture:

·         What was the level of religion and ethnic harmony within ELF prior to the period leading to the formation of Popular Liberation Forces (PLF) in 1970/71? Hizbawi Hailtat Eritra was a union entered into by three groups, namely Sabbe’s group, Isayas’ group, and Ubelin group in the 1970s. Ubelin were minority in that union because shortly before the formation of PLF, ELF units ambushed Ubelin in Ila Sada and almost wiped out the whole group.

·         What started the popular “reform movement” of ELF grassroots in 1965? Wasn’t the movement, among other things, against religion and ethnic polarization? Did it succeed?

·         What was the negative effect/influence of zonal policy “zemene kifltat, ayam menatik” on religion, ethnicity, and highlander/lowlander? Didn’t some ELF leaders start polarizing and Balkanizing everything in the early years of the struggle? Do we know the ramification of the zonal policy on religion and ethnicity in the present Eritrea’s politics?

·         Does the “religion and ethnicity” politics apply to ELF in any form or shape? For example, ELF liquidated the democratic movement of 1977 after it dubbed it “Fulul, Kedi Bethek” anarchist and lawbreaker. How could you arrest, exile, and liquidate thousands and thousands of freedom fighters on pretext of organizational centralism?  This is very simplistic view of the entire situation. Why would an organization’s ‘centralism’ be considered of any thing if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the whole community?

·         What about the declaration of war on the alleged Yemanwi kinfi (right wing) in 1978 in Dankalia, in which many unsung patriots such as Omer Suba were killed and liquidated by special ELF units. When do you declare religion and ethnic polarization? How much selective can you be? Isn’t liquidation one major form of polarizing Eritrean society?

·         What about the era of the infamous policy of ayam tesfia (the era of purging) declared by ELF in the 1970s to eliminate the then newly born Hizbawi Hailtat (PLF)? Isn’t “purging” the worst form of political and social polarization? Isn’t purging a process of getting rid of groups (perhaps minority) who hold different opinion than yours? Isn’t this basically anti democratic measures? Isn’t this measure anti unity of Eritrean people?

·         What about ELF’s declaration of war on Sabbe’s group in 1979? Sabbe and his group were pushed out of Eritrean field following ELF’s well-organized military attack on his forces in places such as Hashenit and Homib. In fact, martyr Saeed Salih, one of the then leading military strategists in ELF, organized the attack. Do we know how many young Eritreans perished in this bloody civil war? Isn’t this ELF’s hostile and long-established policy of elimination, alienation and domination of other Eritrean political forces? Haven’t these policies badly damaged and polarized the unity of Eritrean people?

·         What about the bloody coup d’etat carried out by none other than the notorious Abdella Idris in Rasai in 1982? Isn’t this act of betrayal and violent takeover a form of polarization? However, despite the violent takeover, ELF-RC embraced Abdella Idris. What a double standard political culture. 

The truth is none other than the former and some current ELF leaders themselves introduced “religion and ethnicity politics in Eritrea”. In fact, the practice of religion and ethnicity may have reached its worst form perhaps before the actual birth of Hizbawi Hailtat (PLF) in the 70s. The birth of Hizbawi Hailtat in the 70s became imminent only after ELF leaders failed to lead and declared a policy of liquidation, domination, and purging every group that peacefully opposed and democratically questioned the then leadership or had a different approach to the armed struggle. In fact, this era is best remembered in our history as the most destructive and divisive one: “Eritrea can’t and won’t accommodate more than one organization/front was the motto of ELF leaders.” Historically, one can’t be oblivious of the “religion and ethnic polarization” and the rest of the political turmoil that ravaged ELF during the first decade of the armed struggle. Forget about the “top polarizer” allegation for a second if you will, and talk about the many “chief polarizers” who ruined ELF from top to bottom and made a career out of it. The point is bending and squeezing historical facts to promote one’s political ambition only denies Eritrean people the right to know their own history. It is not right to subject Eritrean people to such twisted, opinionated, and widely unrepresentative historical facts. I believe we need to go back to square one and produce objective, unbiased, and helpful research on the subject of “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics” with the sole purpose of mitigating those differences. What is also crucial to understand here is whether the assertion and justification presented by Ammar on “religion and ethnicity in Ertirean politics” as a whole constitute a common cure. In my opinion, no it doesn’t. In fact, if the whole exercise of Ammar was intended to mend the fences and alleviate the alleged problem, he hasn’t done so. In the contrary, Ammar may have worsened it by presenting nothing of substance, but questionable, inaccurate, and slanted historical account on “religion and ethnicity in Eritrean politics.”  

Remember, each of these purging and liquidation policies (directed at Hizbawi Hailtat, PLF in the 1970s, or at the alleged Falul in 1977, or at the right wing in 1978, or at the Sabbe forces in 1979) by ELF leaders over the years brought one thing: and that is ELF’s own destruction and disintegration. The bottom line is, it is fine to learn and draw some lessons from our past history. But the single biggest mistake is the propensity and inclination to dwell on it (promotion of political schism); it is the unrelenting efforts to apply our past to the current political reality of Eritrea (method of scoring points and stifling democracy). Listen, the era of armed struggle is over; it is history. Let’s leave this for historians and social researchers to grapple with. The central tenet of any would-be opposition should focus on embodying contemporary legal and peaceful instruments to effect change in Eritrea. What we Eritreans need is bigger ideas, not guns and violence; secular constitutional parties, not extremists and subversive groups; and politically matured leaders (not with pay back attitude), not with a frame of minds of 60s, 70s, and 80s. We can’t think, speak, and act according to 60s, 70s, and 80s. We need to take off our old hats. Finally, nothing is important, but the Ertirean people’s history. And if you want to write people’s history, you better do it right. One shouldn’t risk the relevance of their character and political reputation by presenting skewed account of our history. There are many watchful eyes in Eritrea. No body monopolizes the people’s history.   Next...

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Previous Articles by prominent Eri24 political contributor, Nebarai Keshi
Triumph over Factionalism: ELF tragedies and setbacks
Nebarai Keshi, Posted on 06 Aug 2003
Proxy opposition, contempt, and disloyalty, Nebarai Keshi, July 23, 2003
Reflections: Eritreans observed the most revered day in the history of the nation, By Nebarai Keshi, July 1, 2003 
Defeated: The Alliance leaders aim all out annihilation, By Nebarai Keshi, June 17, 2003
Eritrea and the People of Eritrea  Celebrate Twelve Years of Independence, By Nebarai Keshi, May 24, 2003
Badme: It Was a Pretext Then, and It Is a Pretext Now, By Nebarai Keshi, Posted on April 28, 2003
The Woyane Treachery and the Unquestioning Political Faith of the Alliance Forces, By Nebarai Keshi, March 31, 2003
It is one and the Same
Nebarai Keshi, December 28, 2002
The Threat to Eritrea is not on Grounds of EPLF/GoE or Democracy, Nebarai Keshi, November 2, 2002
The Fame of Democracy: Kill it before using it, By Nebarai Keshi
Self-determination up to Secession: The Breaking up of Eritrea into Nine Mini States
By Nebarai Keshi, September 14, 2002
Abdella Idris: The Architect of Violence and Beneficiary of Undemocratic Uprising,
By Nebari Keshi


Nebarai Keshi, who is solely responsible for the contents of this page, contributes the above article. For any comments, the writer can be contacted by e-mail:  bagoni76@hotmail.com