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Home مقالات Eritrean National conference concludes as a stepping stone for democratic change – Part II
Eritrean National conference concludes as a stepping stone for democratic change – Part II PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tedros Abraham Tsegay   
Monday, 27 September 2010 17:47


The discussion was carried out in five major groups; my reporting reflects for the most part the debate of the first group, where I was part of.


The first group also discussed thoroughly one the issue of national and official languages that should be used in post Isaias Eritrea. Accordingly, it was agreed for Arabic and Tigrigna to be recognised as official languages, whereas the rest of the languages to remain National languages. Despite the fact that Arabic language is spoken only by the Raishayda, who constitutes 2% of the Eritrean population, however, our Muslim brothers predominantly opt for it to be used as an official language primarily in light of its religious and academic significance. Hence, it was adopted by choice but not by conviction, as some of the Christians were unsatisfied by arguing that there are no legitimate grounds for Arabic language to get an official language status, however, they submit to the fact that Arabic language was also instituted as the official language during the 1950’s federal system, and followed by the current regime.    


In addition the use of mother language in primary schools is another contentious policy in practice by the PFDJ regime. Some of the participants argued it is a worthless policy for it is hindering the minority groups when they look for job in other parts of the country, they are faced with the dilemma of lingafranka, and consequently this makes them unsuited. Nevertheless, there were also in favour of the policy, the confusion was finally settled by agreeing it should be up to the concerned people to decide on the subject matter on due time.


The conference was attended by a good deal number of youths, who for the most part came from the different refugee camps in Ethiopia, even though a handful of them came from different countries of Europe, United States, Canada and Australia. They were pretty much very well organized and were actively engaged on the ongoing lively discussions. For seven consecutive days, they debated mostly on the evening hours i.e. after the end of the conference on a wide ranging issues. They had a fierce debate on the issue of the unity of Eritrea, most of them argued the Unity and territorial integrity of Eritrea as the forefront of their argument. Having seeing their sharpness and patriotic spirit I could see their promising future, provided they get enough space, or else they may have to create it themselves. At the end of the conference they have declared the establishment of worldwide youth movement, where they are tasked to agitate and mobilise the youths in their respective regions.


When it comes to the participation of youth women, it remains a lot to be done in the future, as their participation was pretty much symbolic. They were not more than one digit in number, but they were very energetic and effective in making their voice heard.


The role played by our women of the older generation, who flocked from all over the world, predominantly from the United States and Canada was very remarkable. They have played an inspiriting role and at times they were putting pressure for amendments and resolution on controversial discussions. Had it not been for their efforts, many doubt the conference could have been hijacked without notable success, as it has been the case in the previous occasions.


The conference was very much dominated by the older generation, pensioners, who are in their late sixties and seventies. Most of them have been opposing the ruling regime from their ‘Meda’ days; consequently, some of them have never touched their foot in an independent Eritrean soil. That is why; some of the youth wonder ‘is it a fight for a democratic change or change of personality.’ The older generation also accuses the younger as being ‘opportunist and unpatriotic, when they get the chance to live in the west, they opt to remain silent, in worst case scenario they even tend to collaborate with the regime that at once used to torture them.’ There is clear mistrust and misunderstanding, that could have been resulted from failing to read correctly each other’s state of mind. I have discussed thoroughly about the missing link between this two generations, in my last year’s article entitled: situational Analysis of Contemporary Eritrean refugees in the Sudan. The question is how far the fight for a democratic change will materialize without the genuine participation of the youth; undoubtedly, there remains a lot to be done to narrow this gap.


When it comes to the opposition parties they have clashed with the civic society organizations on more than a couple of occasions, however, it was addressed timely in a matured comportment. In this conference, the role played by civic society organizations, was pivotal in changing the course of the fight for a democratic change. The final amendment that was reached for the newly established commission to be made up of 60% from the civic society is a clear indication of their success. However, success should be measured by its outcome, they have been shouldered  a big assignment, to mobilise the Eritrean masses from all over the world in an effort of establishing Eritrean Congress in Exile, within one year’s timeframe. If they could not live up to the task on the specified time they could also request an extension of additional six months.


Most of the political parties are run by older generation, who have been in different leadership capacity for many years, and this clearly shows their lack of reform. A political party that is supposed to struggle for a democratic change, should champion itself with democratic principles first. They need a new blood leadership, if they are to win the minds and hearts of the youth. Some of the youth accuse them for closing their doors. Certainly, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the political parties, one can easily understand this complexity by the number of the existing political parties, as we speak, their number topped close to thirty. Consequently, some people worry the opposition camp’s diversity could be the by-product of personality cult than principles. 


I had an informal talk with some of the political parties’ leaders, inside the KIDAN (Coalition), and outside of the coalition.  And I have learnt that some of the parties’ opted to dissociate themselves from the coalition, for the coalition encompasses Islamic political parties, and Jihadist movements, when they claim in principle they fight for secular leadership. Hence, it becomes very unlikely for them to work jointly. This division is still been a very tormenting scenario, that needs to be resolved, if at all it could. So far the issue of religion in politics has been the most worrying and controversial issue in the opposition block. However, in the conference, there was no any notable manifestation of rivalry between these groups, as was predicted. 


However, some of the major shortfalls for the conference was that the agenda for discussion was kept secret until the final minute; many of the participants were not comfortable with this.  They said it has hindered them for a well informed discussion, on the paper presented. The discussion paper which was chiefly prepared by the organizers of the conference touched almost all the most important issues that need to be debated. 


The issue of representation in the conference was very controversial before the start of the conference, however, it looked as an exaggeration when the figures that leaked on the internet contradicted with the reality on the ground. Having said that, it was not to mean a perfect job was done when it comes to representation of the two major groups. Some people criticised the decision taken by one political party for opting to withdraw from the conference, others were also complaining only predominantly Muslims were invited from the Sudan and other Middle Eastern countries. A group of thirty individuals from Sudan, members of different political parties were attending the conference, none of them were a Christian, and consequently, some of the participants were very dissatisfied for the conference overlooked the real suffering of the thousands of Eritrean Christian refugees living in the Sudan.  I asked some of those participants from Sudan how it become very easy for them to participate in the conference, they state that most of them have Sudanese nationality. As I lived as a refugee in the Sudan myself for two years, I had the chance to notice what it means to live being a Christian refugee in the Sudan. Let alone to have Sudanese passport, their movement is very restricted outside of the refugee camp. There is indeed, untold story of suffering of Eritrean refugees in general and Christian refugees in particular. I have seen Christian refugees being tortured because of their faith, and we are also constantly hearing similar stories from Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These are the only countries mercilessly deporting Eritrean asylum seekers to the dictatorial regime; consequently, my love affair goes to the government and people of Ethiopia, who are intervening to rescue the lives of these unfortunate refugees. Accordingly, I have seen Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia very much appreciative of the Government of Meles Zenawi, for his positive impact on their murky lives. Hence, in the upcoming congress or any other gathering of Eritreans for that matter, this group of people should never be neglected, for an all inclusive participation; something needs to be done in order to insure their participation, as they have their own version of the story to tell.


Finally I would like to conclude by stating that the conference was a stepping stone in cultivating the culture of tolerance in our democratic political culture. The conference manifested the Unity of our people with all its diversity, and the mood was breath-taking and the hope for a better future was a living testimony.


It would be unfair to set out without mentioning, the organizers of the conference and the Ethiopian government, deserve the acknowledgment for diligently working in converting Eritreans dream into a successful reality.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 October 2010 20:06

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