Asmarino Fundraising: Because There Is So Much More to Be Done!

CDRiE’s Open Public Seminar in the City of Birmingham: Sunday 11/04/2010

Critical response to some Fundamental Questions:

Political parties, civil society, human rights organisations and professional associations need to explain their objectives to the public to justify their activities and lobby for support. However, the wider public has no access to the internet and there is also a language barrier as most of our literature is produced in English.

CDRiE has always been concerned about meeting the public but its effort is restricted by lack of resources. What is interesting in this particular public seminar is that it is an initiative by few individuals who invited CDRiE to come along to Birmingham and engage them face to face.

The language of the seminar was in Tigrinya and Arabic. Any body who wanted to use other Eritreans languages were free. But there was one multi-lingual interpreter sitting together with the speakers as the chairman, moderator and translator. He is captain Kamal Ismail who was proficient in English, Arabic, Tigrinya, Tigre and Saho languages. The use of Eritrean languages enabled many people to express their view clearly and ask relevant questions for clarification.

The speakers:

The first speaker was Suleiman Husssien the Chairman of CDRiE. He highlighted the mission and vision of CDRiE among which is to promote the culture of peace and tolerance among Eritreans.

The second speaker was Professor Gaim Kibreab: Gaim referred to his book, “Dream Differed” a dramatic narrative and a critic of “what went wrong in Eritrea” and how yesterday’s liberators have becomes today’s oppressors. It is profoundly significant to learn past mistake in order to sail safely from the troubled political waters of Eritrea by working passionately for unity, tolerance, transparency and accountability.

The panel discussion: Critical responses to some questions:

The most important part of the seminar was the panel discussion: This was particularly interesting because through out the debate CDRiE was able to dispel some of the misunderstanding or confusions due to some hostile publicity in the internet.

The crowed was small 40 to 50. They were largely men who seem to have affiliation to some opposition political parties now or in the past by the way they debate. However, it was marked by the absence of women except one of the moderators, Tsedal Yohannes. There were relatively few young people. Unlike London where most Eritreans live, the Eritrean community in Birmingham is small and relatively new. Taking into consideration that the Diaspora is largely allergic to political or civic activities I can conclude that the seminar was a success.

Questions, compliments etc:

There was one blunt question that took CDRiE as political organisation bidding for political power. Suleiman clarified that CDRiE is not a political organisation. The one who raised the questions stood up and said that it is for the first time to learn that it is not a political party. This shows that there is a lack of understanding of the differences between the political parties and civil organisations as well as the relations of power between them and the population. Many of the misunderstanding of the work of CDRiE emanates from various Eritrean Website’s misrepresentations. On the other hand it clearly highlights the need for more engagement between the Civic Societies that are usually composed and led by intellectuals and the ordinary man and women whom we call the masses or “the people”. This is a confirmation that the Civil Societies, who are more often than not led by intellectuals, are not communicating with the masses. Civil Societies can not pretend to be the voice of the voiceless if they don’t win their trust and if their work falls far short of the expectations of the people. They can only earn their trust by their activities and achievements, and by their effort and willingness to engage the youth and the women. This is the challenge of CDRiE but the beauty of it is CDRiE is very much aware of it and women have started tickling down to be members.

Civil Society & Political parties in the case of Eritrea:

Although in democratic countries the two institutions (political parties and civil societies) don’t need to work together, in the case of Eritrea close cooperation is essential. The wider picture is that the PFDJ has subjected the people to extreme repression and have presented a formidable challenge for all. Political parties and civil societies are illegal in Eritrea. In the eye of PFDJ they are enemies and PFDJ will do anything to destroy or weaken them. It is not uncommon to hear that activists are being kidnapped from refugees’ areas in the Sudan.

In such situations political parties can not be totally democratic nor should all their activities be transparent. They are not expected to waste their limited resources in conferences and debates. In this case the concern of Yosief Ghebrehiwet is justified.

But the Civil Societies can play a very significant complimentary role to the political parties by way of promoting the idea of civil liberty and empowering the people through conferences and public meeting as the objective of the Birmingham Public Seminar was meant to be.

Some of the questions reflect the accusations and criticisms thwarted to CDRiE, particularly in relation to the Belgium Conference and the London Peace Conference. Suleiman pointed out that there were a lot of misrepresentation campaign spearheaded by some website, but there was a lot of support as well.

He clarified the Brussels Conference as a historic event that was held to promote the cooperation of US and EU in developing policies towards Eritrea and the Horn. This is the most effective way of making the case of the voiceless people very visible and opened the door for any Eritrean political parties and civil societies to talk with US and EU authorities.

There was a blunt question as to why don’t CDRiE becomes more inclusive in launching the London Peace Conference.

Sueiman’s answer was brief. First it was not organized by CDRiE but some members have played a pivotal role. Suleiman said, “I have participated but as an individual and not representing CDRiE. And I find it fruitful and I am very happy that the Peace Conference has been very inclusive despite all the campaign to tarnish this event as a “sectarian gathering”

Some people are genuinely concerned that conferences about peace, democracy, land etc. have become a diversion to the present challenge of getting rid of PFDJ. Recent Articles by Slash Gadi and Yosief Gebrehiwot have echoed such concerns.

Yosief Ghebrehiwet expressed his concern at the end of his article under the title Eritrea: the Al Qaeda connection to Somalia in Asmarino.com dated 9 April 2010: In the last chapter he wrote, “The role of the Eritrean opposition in owning the sanctions has been lukewarm at best and apologetic at worst. Instead of the endless meetings that the opposition keeps conducting in promoting “democracy”, “peace” and “unity” elusive and diversionary – it would have been great if it spends its time and resources in owning the sanctions so as to facilitate and usher the downfall of the regime as soon as possible”.

The London peace conference was trivialized by Saleh (Gadi) Johar in Awat.com dated April 1, 2010 under the title “Negdet London – Kahsa Weyane”. Which means “The London pilgrimage, an indemnity to Weyane”? Gadi wrote, “There is no enmity between Ethiopia and Eritrea so there is no need for peace”

Apart from the fact that his remark is an insult to the intelligence of all those who participated, it gives rise to very serious fundamental question. Peace is one of the most important challenges facing the people of Eritrea since the break out of the destructive war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Can one who ignores these facts own a moral high ground to pretend to be the voice of the voiceless, or to speak on behalf of the people? But it is easy to say from USA’s comfort-zone away from the pains and suffering of the people.

On the contrary the search for peace has been and still is central to bringing the suffering and pain of the people of Eritrea, Somalis, Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia to an end.  between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been tried by USA and Rwanda and by some friends of EPLF and EPLF such as Alex Dual, the most active human rights campaigner in the Horn particularly the Sudan. Alex was shuttling between Addis and Asmara to meet the two leaders to beg them to resolve their differences peacefully. And there was meeting between Eritrea and Ethiopian religious leaders in Norway to be followed between people to people in the border areas.

Citizens for peace in Eritrea (CPE) also had launched 3 days Peace Building conference on 2001, February 15 -16 in Keren and 17 in Asmara.

Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE) – of which Tewolde Estifanos, an outspoken critic of PFDJ and my self – were part of the founding members have lived through the most tragic days of the senseless war and have personally witnessed the pain and suffering of the IDPs (Internally displaced people). The conference has proved to be the expression of peace wish of the entire Eritrean people particularly those who suffered the most, the front line IDPs.

CPE had believed that a sustainable and just peace cannot be achieved by efforts of governments alone. Many other actors and stakeholders-civil society organisations, national and international humanitarian and human rights groups and individuals need to play an active role in the promotion of peace and reconciliation. This requires that Eritreans undertake internal peace-fostering activities as well as dialogue with each other. The CPE conference was envisioned as a first step in such a process. The London Peace Conference has just reclaimed the right to take the initiative which was denied to people in Eritrea.

What was unique is that the conference in Keren was able to provide a platform for the representatives of the IDPs (internally displaced people) more than a million of them to express their grievances, to discuss the healing and above all to demand an urgent need of humanitarian assistance and also to discuss the promotion of durable peace. The representatives composed of elders’ men and women, adults and younger people who came from 7 IDP camps scattered in different parts of Eritrea. At the end of 2 days meeting they chose 6 representatives to attend the last day of the Conference in Asmara which was held at Intercontinental hotel. There was guest speaker from abroad such as a speaker from South Africa representing the “Peace and reconciliation commission” and one from a women’s organisation in Somalia, an organisation which lobbies for peace among various groups in Somalia, the voice little known outside of Somalia.

When people achieve some degree of empowerment they can realize that they own untapped potential that enable them to participate in activities on a scale that can shape the destiny of Eritrea, their destiny. They would have realized that they have a big stake in democratic Eritrea where they can live in dignity, self-esteem and peace. And they can confidently join the political parties they could relate to in terms of clear objectives and commitment.

Today debates on issues like democracy and peace have moved more and more into public domain and organisations must stream line them properly and judiciously and not loose the moment. Thus civil society activities must go parallel with the activities of the political parties which are in the business of urgently getting rid of the repressive PFDJ and install a democratic government.

Conclusion:

The Birmingham conference was a good beginning and one can call it a pilot project. The audience was so enthusiast when the seminar was over informal discussion continued outside of the hall.

To the credit of the Birmingham audience the need of continuous engagement between the ordinary people and civil society organisations has become apparent. What is particularly interesting is that spontaneously the Birmingham residents started putting constructive criticism to each other? One said, “Even though we live in the same city some of us have never seen each other. Let’s get to know each other and start doing something.” They were talking about where and when to meet.

The panellists have managed to highlight CDRiE’s revolutionary perspective on the process of democratic change in Eritrea. They made it clear that CDRiE does not aim for political power but it is concerned about the ethics of politics and to put justice into politics.

 
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