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Ethiopia and the Ethnocisation of Eritrean Political Problems

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Ethiopia and the Ethnocisation of Eritrean Political Problems


Last week several Eritrean groups participated in a seminar in Addis Ababa Ethiopia- called for and chaired by Ethiopian government officials.


The seminar seems to have been organised in haste and without any prior disclosure of any agenda to those selectively invited to participate in it. It is also clear that the Ethiopian officials tasked with overseeing Eritrean opposition affairs are concerned that their attempts to craft an alternative satellite Eritrean regime in exile may never see day light, especially after the failure of the last so-called “Eritrean national conference” in Addis held in early August 2010.


According to information coming from Addis, it is anticipated that there will be further seminars under different titles including “intellectuals/educated”, “youth” “religious leaders” etc. all designed to give Eritrean cover and legitimacy to the final project outcome that the Ethiopian authorities are busy crafting for Eritrea.


In our modest efforts we have been trying to inform our readers and the public that the strategic interests that bound the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia can not be promoted and attained by pursuing policies based on narrow partisan and sectarian interests and or on short-term gains. Both the PFDJ (ruling party in Eritrea) and TPLF/EPRPF (ruling party in Ethiopia) have been trying to exploit the oppositions of each side to destabilise the two countries and the region at large. We are firmly against such policies. Instead, we reiterate our call for a peaceful and legal resolution of any conflicts between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and for a subsequent normalisation of relations between the two sisterly countries. The task of regime change in any country is the sovereign responsibility of the people of that country. This has to be respected by all parties. This is the most effective way of depriving dictatorial regimes of any legitimacy and public sympathy.


In this editorial we will focus on two main issues. First we will briefly outline why we believe the Ethiopian government is pursuing a misguided policy in relation to Eritrean opposition politics, and then address the issue of whether the PFDJ regime is an “ethnic Tigrigna regime”. It is said that one of the issues raised and endorsed at the Ethiopian seminar was the classification of the Eritrean dictatorial regime as “Ethnic Tigrigna regime”. We believe such a classification is not only misplaced, but also criminalises a section of the Eritrean society by associating them with a criminal regime. In reality PFDJ tyrants represent no one except their own membership and beneficiaries, which include Tigrigna and non-Tigrigna including elements from the Rashayda Bedouin tribe.


TPLF-Ethiopia and Eritrean opposition politics


First, we acknowledge that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (PMMZ) and his TPLF party were known for their support of Eritrean independence and could have played a more constructive role in putting an end to the border stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia in addition to supporting pro-Democracy efforts. Unfortunately, in the last ten years the TPLF has been engaged directly or indirectly in creating obstacles on the way to emerging effective nationalist and inclusive Eritrean opposition force that can seriously challenge and put an end to pfdj tyranny. They have been doing this by first fostering and nurturing ethnic and regional armed groups, and later by attempting to re-define Eritrean politics along the lines of communal polarisation. In addition, their officials tasked with overseeing Eritrean opposition politics have also been captives to misinformation fed to them by Eritrean gossip-ridden elements leading to their inability to become a positive source of complimentary support to Eritrea’s pro-Democracy struggle.


It is true that in PFDJ Eritrea there is widespread injustice perpetrated against the Eritrean people at large including ethnic, cultural, regional, religious groups as well as individual citizens. Hence, we do not condemn any group of Eritreans that choose to struggle to defend and restore legitimate rights at the level of a particular ethnic, or religious or regional community, even if we are to have some reservations on the methodologies pursued by some of these groups. Our criticism is therefore not targeted at the principle of whether there should be any group to defend and promote any legitimate right at any level, national or local levels, but, in the case of this article, at the Ethiopian policy, which we believe, leads to either of these two results:-


         1. prolonging the life of PFDJ dictatorship, or

         2. establishing a toothless weak satellite Eritrea post PFDJ to make Ethio-Eritrean relationship similar to the relationship that existed between Lebanon and Syria pre-2005, when the Syrian regime effectively ruled Lebanon through security apparatuses and client local sectarian parties until they were forced out of the country under international and regional pressure in the aftermath of the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister – Rafiq Hariri – on 14 February 2005.  


We believe the above two results are not conducive to Eritrea’s strategic interests, nor would they promote Ethiopian interests and or regional peace and security. Instead we call on our Ethiopian neighbours, in particular on PMMZ, to engage Eritrean independent pro-Democracy forces with the intention of setting a solid foundation for a more durable and mutually beneficial strategic partnerships between Eritrea and Ethiopia as a prelude to a wider economic and possible political confederation of the Horn of Africa, while in the immediate future ending the no-peace-no-war situation by allowing the demarcation of the Ethio-Eritrean border thereby depriving the PFDJ regime of any pretext to continue using the border issue as a justification for repressive dictatorial rule in Eritrea.


Is the PFDJ representative of Tigrigna Ethno-Linguistic group?


We wish to pose the following questions to those who give the PFDJ regime the legitimacy of representing any section of the Eritrean society. 


  1. What are the criteria used to come up with such a classification? If the Ethiopian seminar participants believe in Democracy and Democratic     legitimacy, then how on earth can unelected regime be branded as representative of “ethnic Tigrigna” when ethnic Tigrigna have never elected the PFDJ to represent them?

  2. Is it because the PFDJ membership is composed of majority Tigrignas? If so, then how would you classify the ELF that was also composed of majority Tigrignas after mid 1970s? or the ELF pre-mid 1970s which was predominantly composed of Muslims? Was the ELF “Ethnic Muslim” organisation pre-1975 turned “Ethnic Tigrigna” post 1975?

  3. If written policies and principles are the criteria, then there is nothing to indicate that the PFDJ Charter or even their 1997 Constitution promotes Tigrigna interests.


In conclusion


We believe that the Ethiopian authorities can best promote Ethio-Eritrean mutual interests by continuing to support the people of Eritrea and Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. Their recent decision to allow Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia access to educational and employment opportunities is commendable. This is the type of wise policies that promote brotherhood/sisterhood between the two peoples.


We also believe the Ethiopian authority will need to revise the current policy of ethnocisation of Eritrean opposition politics. Any investment in projects that open unnecessary windows to “communal polarisation” is not just potentially destructive, but has so far resulted in total waste of Ethiopian time and funds as proven by the collapse of the 4+1 project in 2004 and the ongoing unsuccessful attempts to create a satellite government in exile through ill-conceived and unrepresentative events and gatherings here and there. Such events will not legitimise any misguided policies on Eritrea. It is the same policies that had already proven a total failure in Somalia when Ethiopia attempted to use Abdalla Yousif and his Baidoa based government to legitimise the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006, but resulted in more suffering to Somali civilian population and in breeding violent extremism that was irrelevant in Somalia prior to the invasion. 


It would also be totally wrong to assume that the Eritrean people and Eritrean independent pro-Democracy groups would welcome any scenario that endangers communal harmony after 20 years of consistent struggle against PFDJ tyranny. Because the struggle remains to be for a better alternative!


As for the ethnocisation politics, it suffices to state that it is unjust and undemocratic, and prolongs the suffering of the Eritrean people. It is true that there is Tigrigna domination in Eritrea, but that is not a direct result of PFDJ policy or membership composition. The Tigrigna constitute 50% of the Eritrean people. They are settled farmers and have always had better access to small industries and urban settlements. This position has always enabled them to be the dominant group in the country not only during the Ethiopian (1962-1991) and PFDJ (1991 to present) tyrannical rules of Eritrean, but also during the Ethio-Eritrean Federation (1952-1962) when most of the Eritrean government’s civil service was predominantly occupied by Tigrigna. They have also been dominant in the liberation struggle: 1958 to 1991 for the same reasons. We do not claim that this is fair and or should be condoned, NEVER, but we do believe Tigrigna domination in Eritrea is an outcome of a structural national problem that should be institutionally and constitutionally addressed by pursuing national Democratic policies that promote sustainable development, fair and equitable distribution of educational and employment opportunities, and restoration of land, economic and political rights of all Eritreans.


It is for these reasons that encourages and supports well meaning researchers, political and human rights groups and activists to continue highlighting issues of unfair distribution of power and wealth in Eritrea, criticising the PFDJ regime for contributing to such structural problems, or for not doing enough to address them or for ignoring such problems that they exist at all. This can effectively be done without the need to condemn any section of our society for the crimes and maladministration committed by the PFDJ regime. This is the way to be part of the solution to Eritrean problems.



We wish all Eritreans and Muslims a Happy Eid Elfitre Elmubarak and 50th Anniversary of September 1st!


Arkokabay Team

29th August 2011

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