The Lowlands: A Project Killed By Memory
Written by: Salah Aboray Translated By: Awate Team
On March 29, 2014, in London, the so-called Eritrean Lowlanders' League
held a seminar.
Equally in London as well as on social media, the convening of the seminar was surrounded by mysteries, not because of the seminar or congress in itself, but because “Lowlanders” as a political terminology carries negative connotations in the memory of Eritreans,on one hand, and contrary to such terminologies, on the other hand, is the realization of Eritrea as an entity.
Eritreans do contemplate about the hefty price they paid, and the assassinations of their patriotic citizens who were against such divisive terminologies, and the subsequent watering of Eritrea with the blood of its sons, in order to thwart such terminologies that have been soaked with the blood of martyrs.
The Eritrean arena is wide enough for everyone; each group has the right to express itself and articulate its demands in the manner it sees fit. No one has the right to patronize others-our brethren [the initiators] are not an exception in this regard.
The announcements [of formation] of political or civil society organizations are all forms of struggles; they claim their legitimacy from the injustices and imbalances prevailing in Eritrea. I agree with the initiators, or they have agreed with me, on the legitimacy of the struggle in response to the grievances that are on the shoulders of our people. But I disagree with the means, and in the political discourse, that the initiators adopted, despite the rights and the basic principles contained in the document, though all the goals mentioned do not carry anything new. That is, if they [the demands] are not considered deficient compared to many that were raised by other civic organizations. What is new in the document is the name it carries, and the political implications it contains. And that is what I wish to discuss in the following points:
No one has the right to claim to be a representative or a spokesperson of a tribe or an area because no one has delegated them to speak on their behalf. And we also witness that in the political arena where many organizations appoint themselves as a representatives of certain sectors of our society; it soon fails. Citing the experience of Tadamun, it appeared claiming to represent the marginalized and the Muslims, and whoever held a different opinion to them was described as rogue and odd. But the views of those who had opposing views (including myself) were not reviewed to learn from our perspectives; we believed that Tedamun was wishful movement not based on any political understanding. And so was Awassa and the National Council, projects that I declared my opposition to, expressing my opinion that it will fail despite the high pitched noise that surrounded its convening! It would have been worthy if the initiators presented themselves in any other name commensurate with their goals, and expressed their exclusive self-representation, without encroaching on a community or a geographical location. What did Isaias do more than that? Didn’t he practice authority over the people and take away their will, and assume representation of the Eritrean people without their consent? The wanton representation of the people and robbing their will, is not new to our brethren in EDJE - they are at the heart of such acts because they were among the practitioners and advocates of parliament and government in exile-that exclusive but denied right of the Eritrean people; they didn’t consider that embarrassing, or feel anything was wrong in robbing the rights; they imitated Isaias in doing that. Apparently they did not review their positions and experiences of the past, and they repeated the same political oppression. This time on another segment: the lowland population. But again, I am sure, and I state that the Lowlands cannot bear the responsibility for “strange” ideas that inhabit the heads of the initiators, and that does not represent anything but a desire: just like someone whose name is Noble, is not necessarily noble.
I do not know of a conflict that is based on geography or one that has the Lowland community as its limit of reference! Conflicts are based, either on ideas and ideologies, or based on religious sectarianism or nationalism. Geography does not respond to any of the conditions of a struggle; it is unresponsive when faced with religious and nationalist realities. For example, how can one separate the fate of Saho/Asaorta from their extension in Semhar and Sahel by considering them a different group and separating them from their kin? Are there no tribes in the lowlands who have strong ties and association with the Tigrinya speakers of the Highlands (that is if you neutralize the religious factor)? What history connects the tribes of Gash, for example, with the tribes and communities of Samhar and Sahel? How are those who have no connections linked and those who have the links severed from each other? And how are the highland Muslims separated from their brethren in the Lowlands, since they have closer ties with them, more than their ties with the Christians who are closer to them in the plateau? On one hand, tearing apart the links between the lowland communities, and on the other hand, the Saho, Asaorta and Jeberti in the highlands-isn’t this a whimsical move, aggressive and patronizing? It seems that the deficiency of a serious strategic planning that the initiators claimed the Eritrean arena suffers from is, apparently, a malady whose first victims are the initiators.
The initiators burdened themselves a lot when they criticized the Eritrean political organizations that have their constituencies in the lowlands, by citing lack of planning and strategic thinking that guides them in dealing with the inter-Eritrean conflicts, in their attempt to achieve a balance in the conflict, and regaining the usurped rights - implying that the initiators [of the Lowlanders League] have a strategic vision and proper planning and the solutions to the inabilities and problems. If they fail, it means that the elite of the lowlands, and our strategic thinkers, have failed; at the same time, similar understanding of failure implicates the lowlanders!
The lowland document is infested with, and full of words and semantics, closely related to the primordial conflict against Tigrinya nation, while the initiators assert that the lowland society lies in weakness and humiliation, and lacks cohesion and strength. This diagnosis is enough to be one of the accepted blames by the initiators, to distance the society from confrontational concepts. The secret to becoming a member of this organization: one just needs to antagonize the Tigrinya nation and openly declare enmity, based on its injustices and grievances. And the more one is inimical and hate-filled, one is elevated to a higher rank at the center of the activity. On the contrary, if one promotes a national political activity, in partnership with all segments of the Eritrean people, away from primordial prejudices (such as the initiators of the “lowlanders”), or one stays aloof of narrow circles of tribal or regional sentiments, and instead goes out to the broad national space, one is far from, away from them, and one automatically loses membership-this is if one is not labeled indecisive, careless, etc.
Political work is connotations and not verbal assurances (as Gramsci says) and connotations are those that the Tigrinya nation would exploit to form a bloc against it. Do the initiators think they will realize their interest and the interest of those they claim to represent with such coalitions and with such statements? And are the lowland societies on the verge of waging a primordial struggle to achieve their rights despite their weakness and lack of unity and cohesion, with which they are described it? And is the Tigrinya nation inattentive and so gentle to simply watch such a block appear and not forge an alliance of its own with some of the tribes and ethnic groups to disintegrate the already fragile unity? Is it unable to ignite a strife that would rage between the components of the lowlands, or will it fail to incite some tribes within its extensions to liquidate and intimidate some tribes in the lowlands? Or is it unable to prevent the development of the lowland areas because the Tigrinya nation enjoys a solid social structure, national community cohesion, and a solid internal power (and authority), alliances that extend to the depth of the lowlands and its extensions? Or is it just jumping into the void, without the slightest feeling of responsibility for the repercussions of your [the initiators] rhetoric?
No one disagrees with the initiators concerning the injustices and marginalization in which the lowland community finds itself. These grievances, whether it’s regarding power, development, the return of refugees, the issues of language, the issue of land, the rights of pastoralists, and others, are all purely national issues; it is in the interest of the lowlanders that these issues remain national issues instead of becoming the issues of the marginalized alone. Many civil society organizations take these issues as national issues, and we in Citizens for Democracy and Rights (CiDRE) have prepared studies and researches on all of these issues, in all our conferences and our seminars by researchers and professors, Muslims and Tigrinya. This was not a compliment to any Muslim, but dealt with as national issues and problems, to provide national views on how the problems should be solved.
Whoever said that democracy is tool of the vulnerable was right. In the broad space of democratic life, all issues and problems are national public problems that are carried from the peripheries to the center through representatives of parliaments, or submitted to the government as demands and petitions, or through demonstrations, sit-ins, or through mass media communication, or lobbies and pressure groups, etc, action concerning the grievances of the communities in all its dimensions-this is if we rule out that these problems are already considered national priorities after the change in Eritrea. All the elite realize that the nation cannot be stable and develop unless there is democracy and unless the problems are solved. All national organizations carry these demands and struggles to realize them. On top of that, there are enormous sacrifices made by our people: martyrdom, imprisonment, drowning, death and exile. These struggles are sufficient enough to meet the cost for achieving democracy. Therefore, it is so easy to say that the initiators did not come with a new idea but with one that only benefits the political system in Asmara, and the vindictive person who will consider this a pretext to increase the persecution of the lowland society to worse situation than it is now-and that would be the consequences of the work of the initiators.