What has prompted me to write under the theme “Re-branding of the opposition” for this article is Mr Mohammed Ismail’s article titled “Be part of the change”
The term change has become a practice that has widespread throughout the world- but its relevance has never been stronger that today, especially from the start of the Arab Awakening. Focusing on ourselves in the Eritrean context, many youth are apathetic about Eritrean politics. Thus first of all we have to face this fact and then try to address it as a society or opposition in Diaspora. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, however, we have begun to see a grim sign of hope from the Eritrean youth in Diaspora. As a matter of fact it is true that in life specific events do change the course of history. In the last eventful year there was optimism and then there was delusion as we the society, youth and opposition failed to maintain consistency and struggled to live up to expectation.
Throughout this article I use ‘opposition forces’ as a generic term for anyone who is a member of a political opposition or a civic organisation, independent individuals, religious leaders or intellectuals who are opposing the PFDJ’s regime.
Let me take you back to his article again in which he claimed that both youth and women attendance was poor in the meeting held in London in January 2012. Again apathy is and/or has always been the only winner on dismal attendance. I can’t agree more that the figure he mentioned- at only 3 women and a dozen youth is both eye-catching and alarming. To some extent without being judgemental, the majority of opposition political and civic organisations do not take the slightest notice of such scenario. They collectively miss every open goal.
As much as they are to blame for such occurrences over the years I do take a portion of that as well. EYGM UK is one of the few independent and free youth organisations which have been working really hard to inspire the youth in UK and beyond. We are ordinary youth from different backgrounds with similar concerns and values. On different occasions we have held youth meetings, organised demonstrations and participated at different Seminars of the opposition. And most importantly we sent a delegation and a representative at both the National Conference and Congress. From those exposures we have obtained vast knowledge and invaluable experience pertinent to the subject of youth issues, women and overall about the opposition. To help us consolidate what we have learnt we also at times have used questionnaires and carried out researches and so on and on.
From our interactions, dialogue, discussions, engagements, research conducted (not empirical though) and activities undertaken with concerned Eritreans and peers regarding the non-attendance and disengagement in opposition activities and what could be done to improve and reverse that to new ideas. The problems we face now have been building over the past 2 decades or so and I am sure it will take time and seeks the meeting of a great many minds of youth, women and opposition figures before we know what the solution to these major problems will be.
But we as EYGM UK believe that by coming together along with all stakeholders, to discuss the issues of common interest, we can start to realize what a solid allegiance we can all create. The answers are within all of us.
Here are some opinions we believe the opposition should not ignore.
The opposition forces should recognize the need for the struggle to bring democratic change in Eritrea to be sustainable. The change in culture is therefore inevitable.
Changes in society: the following changes should have driven the opposition to review their approaches, strategies and political programmes to meet the new challenges.
Further, issues such as under-achievement, underrepresented in many sectors and discrimination are constant reminders of the grim experiences of everyday life for our people in Diaspora. They all demand robust and innovative approaches. Thus the opposition is required to seek leaders and cadres who can demonstrate certain essentials that can enable them to reconnect with the general public, youth and women’s needs, aspirations and dreams. Our opposition should learn to listen, have the ability to arise to a challenge, show determination, and have big heart and patience that can win him / her hearts and minds.
EYGM UK is formed first and foremost in solidarity with the Eritrean people and what unites us with the opposition is fundamentally our willingness to first change ourselves and then bring democratic change. We are not a special group and have no organisational or party political affiliations though. We would like the voice, views and concerns of the youth to be heard and ultimately to create a return to public discussion involving both youth and women with the opposition. However, we must all make a concerted effort to address the issue on time.
For instance too many of them usually say, “Forget their charm and articulate style when they always talk and describing the actions of Isaias and PFDJ - this opposition are and would just be as dictator as any of their predecessors. And we know better than them about Isaias and co than they do.”
Even though we have acknowledged that there are weaknesses and divisions within the opposition but at the same time we have tried to convince them that what they claim is not always the case. It is understood when they question the opposition’s leadership quality, lack of focus and at times split caused by friction and infighting over power but they should not question their dedication and commitment. Obviously those people whom we exchanged views with we try to encourage them to engage and take part in any opposition activities themselves and then to make comments there. Sadly their response would be that the current opposition political system/structure is fundamentally flawed and based on the phantom leadership contest of power vacuum.
Apparently they indicated that they would make a U-turn providing the opposition has become appealing and find out what the majority of Diaspora need. We at EYGM UK campaign for Eritrea's alienated youth, but still we have given approval and encourage our members or any other youth to run for youth representation whether in the Commission and Council or local opposition co-ordinating committees, including for political office in exceptional circumstance to protect the Eritrean opposition from schism, ensure youth representation and other direct threats to both the people and youth in general. Unfortunately some youth activists and members of youth movements have accused some of the opposition organisations/parties of trying to hijack their movement in a bid for power and use them as tools instead. Moreover, some of them even accuse them of negative influence if they fail to affiliate with them. According to some of them, they are control freak, so if you do not work with them they would infiltrate you and then bring and use unnecessary agenda or tactics that could potentially lead to split or weaken the youth activities. They suggest it would be better had each opposition organisation whether political or civic have or form their own Mass Organisation of Union of Women, Youth and etc... Then we would not have a problem how to deal with them on given terms.
EYGM UK acknowledges there are difficulties and have always have demanded change of strategy when the opposition are engaging with the youth. Correspondingly we believe the opposition needs the youth but at the same time the youth also need the opposition to help them co-ordinate and organise effective activities. Neither will succeed in bringing democratic change without the other in Eritrea.
To sum up most youth who fled Eritrea and living in Diaspora think political organisations do not represent the interest of the Eritrean people. Like PFDJ they would barely care about themselves. For this reason the opposition should conduct an outreach and reverse such perception. Demonstrate to them that you put ordinary people first in practice not in words, and then other similar organisations could learn a lot from that approach. Also try to show great empathy towards their plights that the majority of these youth have no sense of belonging (citizenship) any more as they have not been given one. They have no stake in Eritrea as citizens because Isaias and his clique told the youth there is no such thing. As you have already by now surely noticed, whether EYGM UK or I don’t know enough about politics or the traditional opposition organisations sense of purpose and function to ponder an acceptable solution. However, what EYGM UK knows, as well as the majority concerned Eritreans intuitively know, the solution is not mainly political, but surely spiritual. This reminds me what Mahatma Gandhi said, “BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.”
In my next article Part 2 I will write about the youth perception of Civic Societies in detail and also I will try to cover women’s issues and perspectives on the opposition as a whole.