By Seyoum Tesfaye


Dear Yosief,

Thanks for taking your precious time to address such a relevant issue in Why the Tunisian Revolution Cannot Be Replicated in Eritrea .My answers or stipulations are not all directly hanging on every word you have written. Please allow me the latitude to convey few words on subtexts that gravitate around the general subject you have tried to address.

With all due respect I did not accept your final analysis when you first postulated your definitive conclusion in 2007 and I still will not and do not ascribe to it.  But the fact that you conduct your argument in a civil manner and try hard to raise the issue in an enriching way is to your credit. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

I have been on an introspective sabbatical away from the website politics: un-nuanced Greek tragedy with sequences of exaggerated farces – ( the toxic self-defeating polemics and the water grinding politics that seems to sap the vitality out of the opposition “camp”).  This is the laundry we are saddled with. In the overall process of nation and democracy building this is unavoidable integral part of the protracted unfolding.

I have come to the same affirmation that I started with: the salvation for Eritrea and the people of Eritrea is to conduct a robust principled non-violent struggle. While I respect other Eritreans’ right to believe in a different method of struggle I choose to believe the most prudent, cost effective, self-reliant, sustainable and conducive to future restorative justice and national reconciliation is the path of Strategic Nonviolent Struggle.  The fact that the present political outlet: website, radio and Pal talk are dominated by the proponents of a nebulously defined “armed struggle” does not diminish the credibility and applicability of peaceful struggle in the Eritrean political theater. The Eritrean reality, from my perspective, resoundingly affirms the necessity and need for peaceful political and civil struggle.   We will get a chance to exchange meaningful conversation on this subject. We are just scratching the surface. I am hoping for robust give and take moving forward.

I once again go on the record registering my objection to your conclusion in the strongest terms possible. “The only option that is left for us is the Ethiopian card, and we might as well use it before it is too late”- Pessimism has its places but this far from pessimism. Is this defeatism couched with brilliant words?   Is this hopelessness underpinned by the need for expediency? The irrational behavior of the power-wielding elites in Eritrea who continuously confuse self-confidence with unbridled hubris and try to corrupt the Eritrean mind by creating a superhuman Eritrean image cannot be counter balanced by totally giving up confidence in the Eritrean people and assigning the salvation of the people and State of Eritrea to the Ethiopian ruling elite.  This comes from an exaggerated overestimation of the power of the Eritrean regime and total underestimation of the potential of the Eritrean people to take things into their hands in a multi-faceted protracted process.  Because they did not get up at the ending of an eloquent declaration of an opposition leader or organization, frustrated and exasperated blogger's belittling narrative or a radio broadcaster's passionate  voice they are categorized as sheepish, helpless and worst yet lazy and not prone to change. This is the condensing and un-holistic understanding of the people according to the Diaspora petty bourgeois. Here I am talking to the overall "thinking" that dominates most Diaspora politics. The people are supposed to jump at their beckoning and it is not happening. Those of us struggling to be agents of change have yet to earn the respect and confidence of the people. 

Let us trust the people of Eritrea. Just because they are not moving at the pace well meaning intellectuals and exhausted politicians want to push them we cannot farm out the responsibility of putting our home in order to another state. The best Ethiopian can do for us, at the extreme best, is help us create a genuine favorable condition for the least destructive solution. They will help us more by minimizing not only any thought of intervention but the semblance or perception of intervention. They have to see beyond their immediate and the usual interlocutor and take the grand view of things. Any exaggerated move beyond maximizing the containment of the brutal regime in Asmara will generate a diminishing return of good will on the side many Eritreans. Ambiguity and equivocation on the side of the Ethiopian government on this issue is a bad omen. We have the right and duty to be cautious. When you make it the only option for the salvation of the Eritrean people we have to be double cautious. Is this an error in judgment or a wrong premises leading to wrong conclusion? I pick the latter one: A wrong premise leading a bright mind to a wrong conclusion.

The strategic interest of the Ethiopian State is not static for that matter the interest of all states. Those who take Ethiopian intervention at face value and assume the best really need to review not only the preface of history but its epilogue as well.  They need to go further than that and conduct a thorough postmortem analysis of changes through intervention. Romanticizing intervention will only lead to short term solutions with unintended strategic consequences. My dear friend on this subject your argument goes way far to the edge. I do not question your motive but as you are one of our brightest thinkers I venture to question your logic and judgment while still respecting your right to own your own idea and affirming my duty to defend and unequivocally support your right to have and hold this kind of idea without reservation.

Eritrea is fertile for peoples’ uprising. Our difference is on how we interpret the political landscape.  Where you see cowed and defeated people I see slow to anger and slow to explode people. Where you see bleakness I see a percolating intense volcano. Where you see a dumb Eritrean government I see an oppressive system based on the wrong ideology, wrong agenda and with terrible results and a brutal regime now cornered by its own predicament- it is matter of perspective.

The desire to expedite solutions and a certain level of political exaggerations are understandable but in the final analysis: short cuts will cut us short. We created the monster in Eritrea and it is our responsibility to bring an end to it. With all due respect you started your wonderful article with the wrong question. The question for those of us who are firmly committed to nonviolent struggle is: What is that Eritreans have to do to replicate their own version of the Tunisian Revolution?  Far from the immediate headline and opinion pages we need to go deep into understanding the substance and mechanism of how this kind of peaceful struggle unfolds. What is particular about the Tunisian revolution?  Education and technology have a role to play but are they a prerequisite for people’s uprising?  Do Revolutions always start in the capital cities'? Did the Tunisian Diaspora created, commanded and manage this revolution? Did the Tunisian ask for Egyptian government's intervention? Do people who want to get rid of a hard authoritarian encourage illiberal democrats or soft authoritarians to intervene on their behalf? What kind of political and civil work was done ahead of the rupture for daring demonstrator to put a flower in the muzzle of the policeman's gun? 

The time has come for the nonviolent advocates in Diaspora to pull their minds, skills and resources together and do everything to empower Eritreans inside the country so they can be the primary owners of the Eritrean Revolution. That is the call of the day. The best insurance for justice, reconciliation and democracy is a people based non-violent struggle inside Eritrea. We have a duty to present our rational and peaceful program to the people without infringing on the right of those who opt to follow a different struggle. We have to present our positive agenda without compromising our right to criticize the alternative agenda- criticizing the idea not the individuals who hold and try to advance the alternative agenda. 

The core perspective for nonviolent struggle is that when it comes to Eritrea: War, armed struggle and violence will only add to the further brutalization of an already militarized Eritrean mind. All choices have intended and unintended consequences. Minimizing the unintended side effect is the beginning of non-maximalist thinking.  I disagree with Yosief's strategy of prescribing Ethiopia as a midwife for Eritrean change. That said one thing has to be clearly stated: Yosief's integrity or deeply held belief is not under scrutiny. He writes with the might of his mind and heart. What a gift. In a nation that has produced many who are only animated by slogan having an eloquent writer like him has to be treasured.  I value his contribution to the expanding discourse on how best to sort out our national crisis. Our principle based differences make it imperative we continue the discourse.

Let us use our pen to encourage and awaken the young generation. Let us not confuse their departure from Eritrea as a sign of giving in or lack of resoluteness. East Germans protested with their feet before the mass uprising. All protesters do not come with manicured slogans under the direction of the multitude of “Central Committees".  In our case the Exodus is a brilliant example of defiance. Their departure is a peaceful protest. Each generation has its own mission and its own approach -it cannot be spoon fed by the Diaspora opposition, smoothly managed by the Ethiopian government or squashed by the brutal tyrant of the Asmara regime. Let us help them realize their dream so they can walk with their heads up and accomplish an earthly miracle as it happening in Tunisia and maybe even in Egypt?  

The struggle is more complex than we like it or want it to be. Our approach has to be more nuanced. The rush to impose a Diaspora manufactured solution on our complicated political process will only lead to more disappointment.  You have been the leading expert on conducting an on going autopsy on the Eritrean opposition. Underscoring their strategic mistakes and shortsighted political infighting is helpful. More important will be avoiding the tendency for autopsy and coming up with realistic alternative strategy and ways of resolving our deeply flawed national politics. Calling for Ethiopian tanks on the streets of Asmara is a prescription to chaos. 

I know you will disagree with this “prescription” or interpretation.  More power to you. That is the beauty of democratic conversation.

Looking forward to your next writing! 

Wishing you the best in all your endeavors,

With respect,

Seyoum Tesfaye

Atlanta, Ga. 

{jcomments off}