In February this year, Radio Assena conducted an interview with Prime Minster Meles Zenawi covering wide range of subjects including the current situation in Eritrea with tens of thousands of the young leaving the country en-masse. As usual, Meles conducted himself brilliantly explaining the issues in their economic, political and sometimes philosophical complexities. But of all the answers he gave the one that struck me most was when the interviewer asked ‘would the popular uprising in North Africa inspire the people in Eritrea’. He went on to imply that ‘the people of Eritrea are perfectly aware of their oppression, but are ‘unsure of the future’ partly because of their diminishing trust on the opposition groups. In effect the people view each and every one of them as unreliable partners to effect any change. He continued to elaborate that the young is despondent, nuclear and fending for himself/herself to be bothered by the banality of ‘for the good of the cause’. Their immediate and perhaps ultimate goal is to live for themselves. But the notion’ I come first’ is natural trait in all of us and therefore nothing abnormal. Take for example, in a scenario where an airplane losses altitude and against the advice of the airline personnel the less mindful passenger putting air mask on her child first rather on herself. By doing so she is certainly exposing her loved one to more risk. Looking after yourself but at the same time caring for people that you are bound to by birth or by a sense of belongingness to a wider family of humanity is a lofty ideal that distinguish man from animal.
In the case of the Eritrean young there is one fact that is indigenous. The fact that the majority of those who left Eritrea ‘throwing kubo’ at it are practicing what they have all along dreamt doing for a long while, that is, since their ‘arkebe’ stage, is not surprising. To the contrary, what would be unusual is for them not to meticulously plan their escape once opportunity avails itself. The questions remains once they shade off their shackles do such characters remain aloof much less support the regime or fight it tooth and nail.
Somewhere in his writing or may be in a commentary to a piece written by some author years back, Zekere Libona postulated that perhaps the young no more trust the old, the so called ‘yikalo’, hence for their utter resignation to the malice at home. It might as well be. My own take here is that, either the ‘yikalo’ who decades ago was obviously youngster himself was unwilling participant (but a creature with no personality of his/her own living or dying by the dictates of the urbane petit bourgeoisie leadership) in the armed struggle to transmit the same trait of submission to the young today or else today’s young is highly motivated and conscious enough to metamorphosed into a global citizen. By that I mean, for the young in Diaspora and even for the ones who are poised to join the Diaspora in not distant future, it might look too trivial to be preoccupied by Eritrea and its problems alone while the whole world is unfolding in front of them, albeit in skewed fashion. The view of the young on the world of today is valid. The world according to the young of today is full of opportunities for jobs, faster bandwidth speed for internet connections, marrying a Bolivian or Bangladeshi person free from castigation by family members, converting from the Orthodox religion to Buddhism or even professing atheism without the fear of being excommunicated. What bothers me most is for the young not to acknowledge the interdependency of both choices. Should not one act locally while thinking globally? In that case I have no choice but to demolish the edifice upon which the whole gedli adventure is built, that is, that the young did die for a cause to liberate future generation. If my null hypothesis is invalid, then I proceed to ask one simple question; why the tradition of resoluteness and indefatigableness so much hyped by innocent Eritreans would dissipate in thin air without a try. Moreover, how would one explain the fact when the slave drivers are by far outnumbered by the slaves and still the slaves cannot react to their lot?
With the risk of contradicting me, the young once gained his/her freedom from the perpetual bondage of the EPLF is busy finding a niche in his new home without completely forgetting where he came from. Bear with me as I am still in the mode of contradicting myself. This I say because the young continued interacting with the old and the infirm he left at home, very well indeed. But more paradoxically he/she is also ready once more to be raped by the very system he/she took the trouble to abandon. With little exaggeration, they are the first to badmouth the opposition, to voluntarily pay whatever amount the regime asked them to pay, to cheer and clap for the motherland and its guardians in short to act more Catholic than the Pope.
Let me use one anecdote to make myself understood. This, however, is not an attempt to absolve myself from the contradictions I made earlier but rather to invite others help me shade some light on this predicament. During the New Year celebration in London I was shocked to observe many of the new asylum seekers and old arrivals queuing to gain entrance to ‘Fihra’s’ concert while few of us amounting to 25 men and women holding placard condemning the dredges in Asmara. If truly global, as I took the liberty to label the young, why then is this benign neglect to their fellow men and women occasionally raped by the god-less Bedouin or the hapless young in the refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia. What makes them not sympathetic with those imprisoned for life? What guards their eyes not to see the hidden hunger, the helplessness and the arbitrary decisions taken day by day? Did they see it normal not to protest to the mandatory carrying of ‘menqesaqesi’ paper reminiscent of the pass law in Apartheid South Africa? What holds back the young both in the refugee camps of Ethiopia and the Diaspora not to violently expose and subsequently act to deprive the thugs of their luxurious life style in a country as ‘betek’ as Eritrea . It is mind boggling indeed. Perhaps Meles’s assertion is correct that they have lost faith in the future. Perhaps this is true, but then who should make the move to change his/her situation than the young himself/herself who is destined to lead. Do they need space within the ongoing struggle to make an impact? But it is not up to the old to open ‘some active spaces’ to borrow Gabriel’s phrase to the young, but rather it is the young’s duty to create his own space and lead. Does the young realize that history is on their side?
But not all is doom and gloom. Despite the burden of the gedli legacy weighing heavily over the psyche of the young, few has been in the forefront trying to change for the better. The Paltalk discussions and the numerous associations of the youth worldwide are but the beginning of the end. The courage to confront the regime’s muzzled news outlets by their own, the website posting to challenge the old order of ELFs and EPLFs are few among the many achievements of the conscious young men and women of Eritrea. More deadly is the unknown intention of the young bearing arms. No one not even the brutal regime is aware of the invisible politico-military undercurrent within the structural edifice of the ‘army’. Time is not on the side of the old order.
In the mean time the country is bleeding. Never mind, of the dams, water channels, roads, schools and clinics we are told are built within the last twenty trying years. Never mind of the gold mined and the bumper crop harvested, when the chips are down the Eritrean people are hungry, cowed and leading a monastic life. What a pitiful scenario. What a loss. What a price to pay in exchange for a crippled state that gulped 85,000 of the young plus unaccounted 100,000 more peasants, pastoralists, the weak, the infirm, the young, the old, women and children . Not to mention the opportunity time lost to build better homes instead of the millennium old hidmos and agnets, instead of transforming the self-ruined railway system to a trans-regional one, instead of improving agricultural implements from its current archaic form to semi-modern one.
Here, for what it’s worth and as a consolation price to the ultranationalists at least Meles Zenawi has an Eritrean blood in his veins.