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Focus on Eritrean election Part 8

Focus on election 2001 (Part Eight)
By Tesfamicael Yohannes
May 28, 2001
I recall my article by the same title (Part Seven) May 09, 2001 at Asmarino.com.

In part seven, the topic was "culture of secrecy and suspicion”. Under this topic I tried to say few words on the economical status of Eritrea and I said, "To tell you the truth, with out reservation, about the economical status of Eritrea, if it would not have been of the natural factor that the Eritrean people is hard working people by now the country Eritrea would have collapsed. I am going to come back with this sensitive topic some other time in detail” That was my promise and today I came back to say it in detail.

Today’s topic comprises of different terminologies regarding the arena of the political, economical and social status of the different actors on the expected election 2001 and the formation of political parties either during the election process or aftermath the election.

The main actors are the interest of the elite versus the commons. Who are the elite? And who are the commons? Before proceeding to analyse the generality of the concept, difference in interest between the elite and the commons on one hand and the difference of interest among the elite on the other hand, the definition of elite and commons should come first.

Elite: is meant the best (of): the best of society, the best people. Best in education. Best in sport. Best in army.

Commons: is meant 1. The common people. (The aristocracy, the nobility.) The House of Commons, assembly (lower house) of those elected by the common people. 2. Provisions shared in common, be on short common, not have enough to eat.

Now let us have the right hand to pick personalities of high quality who could possibly represent the different categories of elitism in Eritrean politics. I personally feel safe to name Dr Amare Teckle, Mr. Hirue Tedla and Dr. Berket Habteselassie. The reason for my free hand choice is: these are the people whom you can say freely about their personalities and there is no any fear for reprisal or revenge you expect from them. They are democrats, intellectually matured and persons who don’t act on revenge. Therefore, the game with them is safe.

First, let us mention Dr, Amare Teckle to represent the elites working with the government. I call these groups’ elite the "On" side. Second, let us mention Mr. Hirue Tedla to represent the elite group who work against the government. I call these groups’ elite the "Off" side. Finally, let us mention Dr. Berket Habteselassie to represent the elite group that works some times with the government and the other time against it. I call these groups’ elite the "On-Off " side. Apart from them, every elite being internally in Eritrea or in Diaspora can categorize it self in one of the above mentioned categories.

Now let us talk of the interests of these different elite groups. The interest could be of strategic, tactical or common use. What are the interests of the elite? Of course, the interest of the elite is control of power. Why are elites much afraid to give power to the representatives of the commons? Why are generally elites too much sick of power? Elites believe that, at any circumstance, if the commons were in power the interest of the elites would not be protected. That is why elites want to control the pace of democratisation, to fit and protect their interest as much as possible. In any case, if elites senses that democratisation will endanger their interest, they appeal for the sake of unity of the people or sovereignty of the country to be passive and accept the guidance of the elites as the saviour of the circumstances. Elites knows that civic education or civic conduct upgrades the level of consciousness of the commons. As the knowledge of the commons increase in quality and quantity as well, there would be a favourable condition of the whole people to be united, organized and civilized to accommodate and tolerate differences in language, culture and to come together to decide the future of the destiny of the country. In this situation, if the change that is power to the commons is solidified and protects the interest of the elites, then there is a real chance of democratisation to succeed. If not, that is if the power of commons endangers the interest of the elites then democratisation fails and violence follows. Who creates violence? It is the elites, no body else.

Having the above-mentioned fact as a base, how democratisation succeeds in one case or fails in the other case and the consequence of violence as the result of the failure of democratisation as an example will be examined. But first, let us see the different rolls of the elites mentioned above.

1. The elite on the "On" side.

The elite on the "On" side have the opportunity to play either a positive roll in democratisation or the opposite. Since the elites on the "On" side are in power, first and utmost their concern is, if democratisation succeeds and their position is to be taken by others, they realize what means for their livelihood. Therefore, their concern is, do they have an alternative?

Eritrea has about 40 small-scale manufacturing plants. Eritrea is not an industrialized country, therefore, as an alternative the elites do not have a means of livelihood in the industry sector. The agricultural sector is poor and underdeveloped. This cannot be as an alternative livelihood for the elites. Commerce is not well established in Eritrea and the manoeuvre in this sector is very limited to very skilful traders and merchants in the towns. The chance to participate in commerce is narrow, particularly this time in Eritrea. Therefore, generally speaking the condition in Eritrea is not favourable to the elites in case they lose power. We can confidently conclude that the alternative than to stay in power for the elite on the "On" side is non-existent. It is for these reason I mentioned in my previous article (focus on election 2001 in asmarino.com) how building institutions that is building a system is the crucial and very important step before taking an action in democratisation in Eritrea.

There has to be a system for those who lose power, to be safe and granted for their livelihood. The system I am talking about is civic education, freedom of press, and freedom of the participation of the commons in the economical sector, and above all liberty of an individual citizen of the country. To this effect, political parties could enhance and play positive roll in promoting the participation of the commons in the same foot with the elites. The question now is, how to reconcile the interest of the elites in one hand and the participation of the commons on the say of the future of the country on the other hand. The elite on the "On" side has a joker card that they can make use of it at any time they felt that their interest is in danger. And that is the card of nationalism. The elite uses unity of the country or sovereignty of the nation as pretext to deny democratisation or participation of the commons on future of the country. And this happens because of the insecurity of their future. Why should be an elite be generous to democratisation if finally after loosing power ends up in jail? The main factor for failures in most countries that tried to democratisation is because of the insecurity for the future life of those who looses power.

The steps that will secure full democratisation are not merely elections or formation of political parties. The basic steps for full democratisation are the following.

1. Social Security is the main factor for all success in democratisation. It includes a secured livelihood for every Eritrean. This is a task of all Eritreans being supporters of the government or foes to work on. With out social security no democracy. Every Eritrean has to feel safe that to get food, cloth, shelter, education and opportunity for better life. These are rights not generosity of the elite ruling class.

2. Human right should be respected in Eritrea. It is of every concerned and genuine Eritrean to support and strengthen human right. To this end an organization that stand for Human right should have to be established in Eritrea and financially should have to be supported.

3. Free press is a guarantee for the process and success of democratisation. Free press plays a great roll in democratisation. It is free press that is most effective to scrutinize and check corruption and misuse of power. I don’t accept a leader who advocates limiting free press on the disguise of national security, unity of the people and other hidden agendas excuses. Only a leader who wants to stay in power by mischievous argues on the name of unity and security of the country to limit free press. I am personally disappointed and still do not forgave for the imprisonment of the journalists on the past time in Eritrea. What ever the excuses are, for me, it is simply a tactic of the elites to warn, to all journalists, if they act opposite to the interest of the elites the consequence is imprisonment. All the time elites use the card of nationalism in case they feel threatened their interest. Therefore, the intimidation and use of subversive act against free press has to be watched and exposed on time. To conclude, free press is irreplaceable by excuse for national security or unity of the country. If there is no free press then it is only the interest of the elites respected and the commons are suppressed. In this situation no body can claim that there is unity of the people.

4. Civic education is a means to bring the commons together to one plat form. Civic education helps people to live together by respecting each other’s differences. The difference in culture, language or mode of living is tolerated in a civic educated people. Elites do not want to work on civic education. The reason is civic education will hinder the elites to play the divide and rule tactic to strengthen and stay in power. But if the elites are granted a secured social life and if there is a system or well developed institutions that respect their interest then elites play very positive roll in civic education. Therefore the success of civic education is totally dependent on the elites interest. If the unity of the people threatens the interest of elites then they act to weaken civic education. On the other hand if the interest of the elites is protected even after losing power then elites are the one who has the means to speed up the civic education. One can conclude that civic education is at the mercy of the elites. If we have to work, now is the real time to work on civic education.

5. Opportunity of participation. Every Eritrean has to get an opportunity to contribute in any of his or her capability. A writer has to write on free and safe atmosphere. A dancer has to dance free on the style he or she prefers to represent it. A manufacturer has to get a chance to produce samples of his product and be able to present it freely. A constructor has to get a chance to construct the buildings of his or her style. The opportunity of participation has to exist in Eritrea. The elites on the "On" side used to this date restrictions in each and every field in Eritrea. The reason the way they are doing is fear of uncertainty on their future. They want to have full control on the pace of the development. Their interest is to watch that the development of Eritrea to be under full control that fits their objective. By limiting the opportunities in Eritrea the elites on the "On” side created a wider sector of the population as their opponents and now they have to some extent lost the trust of the commons. The grievances are many and the frustration is high. I can mention a simple fact that disappointed the concerned supporters of the government. The government issued a proclamation to give land for housing construction. The trustees of the government considering the fact that the government needed the money at the crucial time welcomed the proclamation and paid the money at the requested time. The government promised to issue ownership of the land to be on October 30, 2000. Now it is almost going to be 8 months and no hope at all. What other could possibly frustrate a people by a trusted government than this? Therefore, let the opportunity exist in Eritrea.

One person that I can mention safely and I believe that he is pragmatic to the concepts mentioned above is Paules Tesfagiorgies (Wedi Batai). I know him only from what I heard about him and some articles that a read written by him. I categorize him as an elite on the "On" side. I wish to know him personally and I hope one day I will get chance to talk with him in depth about his outlook. I assume that such persons can play very positive roll in democratisation of Eritrea. I mentioned his name because I read in one of his article about civic education. That is why I gave him credit. Civic education is my hearts’ agenda and I will give great credit for those who want to act on it. The other person that I can mention safely is Mohammed Sherifo. I see positive roll that he can play on democratisation of Eritrea. On my side, the rumours spread about him are unacceptable and I totally reject them. The reason is, I found it very damaging to democratisation of Eritrea to isolate him by judging him using rumours. If that was unfair to him, for sure, it will unfair and great harm to democratisation of future Eritrea. By the way, we have to be able to see the contradiction between him and the others as contradiction of elites interest conflict. It has nothing to do with the interest of the commons. It is the strong elite used the card of nationalism to protect its interest. Therefore, my opinion is we have to stop to judge by opinions and let us base our judgement by facts. The facts are we need persons like President Isseyas, Sherifo and others for our benefit. We have to concentrate on solidifying democratisation by inclusion and not by exclusion. Next we are going to see the effect of inclusion or exclusion in the process of democratisation.

Let me begin by the concept exclusion. Exclusion is a weapon used by the elites "On" power and those "Off" power. Exclusion stems from fear to the opponent and it is very effective to weaken an opponent. Elites use exclusion effectively and systematically to destroy opponent. Defaming, blackmailing and character assassination are the main weapons of exclusion. The aim of elites using exclusion is to win the support of the commons against the opponent. By isolating and denying an opponent possibly could use access to the opportunities are the main targets of elites to secure their interest. Exclusion is a temporary success either to the elites "On" power or the opponents "Off" power to win the opinion of the majority of the population. Exclusion creates enmity; it is divisive, unstable and always leads to violence. All causes of violence are because of exclusions. For example, the Eritrean government is excluding certain sectors of our society. These excluded sections are the cause of violence and destabilization of Eritrea. What ever propaganda is used or endeavours are made to show to the people that we achieved success or we are progressing positively and still we use exclusion the accumulated result at the end will be a disaster. It is a complete failure at the end every development or peace is boasted by the elite on the "On" side still if exclusion is used. Complete success dependence on inclusion. Exclusion though now seems the only viable solution to the elite on the " On” side, but on the long term it is going to end in violence. Next I am going to deal with the concept inclusion.

A favourable condition for democratisation are building institutions that grantee each and every individual citizen of Eritrea safety. The safety is to give chance for every individual Eritrean belong ness to Eritrea. Every Eritrean has to be included in the system. Even the Islamic Jihad has to be included in the system. Every Eritrean has to be secured and assured that being Eritrean is God given gift of life and not curse by itself. The first step to inclusion is hard, complicated and frustrating situation. Courage, wisdom and humanity are the decisive factors towards taking measures for inclusion all sectors of Eritrean citizen. But above all, our elites on the "On” side to take this decisive action for endurable peace, development and democratisation of Eritrea, they have to be secured a decent and better life in case they loose power. For inclusion to work we have first to establish a system of stable institutions that grant every individual safety in Eritrea. Inclusion is the permanent solution for Eritrea. Therefore for democratisation in Eritrea to succeed building the institutions that is already on process by the government has to be encouraged and whole heartedly to be supported.

Conclusion for the topic mentioned above, that is, the interest and conflict of elites against the interests of the commons in democratisation of Eritrea was outlined regarding in particular the interest of the elites working with the government. We said that the civic education for the commons to succeed, which is basic for full integration of the Eritrean society and to create a harmonized inhomogeneous society, that is tolerant and respectful to coexistence in diversity but unity inclusion is the main weapon for success. Every elite who tries to govern by exclusion is a failure and at the end it culminates in violence. The election of 2001 to be pure of casting ballots and not of violence depends completely on the wisdom, courage and humanity of the elites on the "On” side to act decisively to include all sectors of our society. Next, part nine of the same topic will fellows and it will discuss the interest of the elite on the "Off” side.


God bless Eritrea
Tesfamicael Yohannes
Oslo, Norway

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