Q+A with Ahmed Nasser – Chairman of Eritrean National Salvation Front
Michael Abraha – Hawassa, Ethiopia
Ahmed Nasser is one of the most tested, secular and multi-lingual (Tigre, Saho, Tigrinya, Arabic, English and Amharic languages) Eritrean leaders. Of Saho ethnic background, Ahmed Nasser has devoted all his life to the struggle for liberty and democracy in Eritrea. He chaired the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) from 1975 to 1982 and later headed the breakaway ELF-Revolutionary Council from ‘82 to ’95. Ahmed is now leader of the Eritrean National Salvation Front which is dedicated to the immediate dislodgment of what he calls Isaias’s shameless despotism. I sat with him at the Haile (Ghebreselassie) Resort Hotel in Hawassa for a brief interview on the state of the Eritrean opposition and on the Eritrean National Congress.
Here are some excerpts. First his views on the National Congress in Hawassa:
AHMED NASSER: This National Congress is a milestone in our democratic struggle although it will by no means solve all problems. I am optimistic the Congress will achieve its goals especially in bringing our people closer together. It is unfortunate some of our friends and colleagues are not taking part. But it is evident that no one can stop the will and determination of the people to establish a united and peaceful Eritrea.
Q: Why has it taken so long to organize a National Convention?
A: It has taken time. The concept of an umbrella organization had to evolve slowly. The formation of the Eritrean National Alliance in 1999 marked a significant shift for the opposition to start moving toward a national consensus. This followed manifestations of heightened tension and resistance by ethnic and Islamic based groups against the regime’s arrogant violation of the rights of the Kunamas, for instance, and the infringement on religious values. Therefore, the need for the creation of a national front became abundantly clear to the various opposition forces everywhere. We have, in fact, been talking about convening a national conference since 2001. It has taken us ten years to get where we are now.
Q: What should be the priorities of the Congress?
A: First, this is an opportunity to reaffirm our national sovereignty and integrity. Of course, the number one priority is to oust the PFDJ regime. Then there will be a national plan of action to guide our struggle from here on. Any call at the present time on adopting a constitution for the new Eritrea is premature. We can only begin to study what kind of constitution is better for our situation. And it is up to the people to decide the final outcome.
Q: Detractors of the National Congress are Skeptical of Ethiopia’s Role. Is there good reason for fear ?
A: It would be wrong to think that Ethiopia is not serving its national interest by supporting the Eritrean opposition. But we haven’t seen any interference in our hopes and plans on the part of the Ethiopian government. Such criticism is hypothetical and is merely of propaganda interest for Isaias and his clique. The anti-Ethiopia allegations are not backed with facts. Ethiopia supports Eritrean sovereignty. We have been kicked out of Sudan while Ethiopia is advancing its people to people links by supporting tens of thousands of Eritreans fleeing servitude and repression in their homeland. This year alone, over 600 qualified Eritreans have been admitted to various colleges and universities throughout Ethiopia. Such Ethiopian action will further strengthen our political, social and cultural ties.
Q: Is there any last item you wanted to highlight?
A: The system in Eritrea will definitely be removed. The question is what happens after it is gone. We should work harder as we prepare for the future. We owe this to the young generation who are bearing the brunt of PFDJ’s repression and who should also have a full cooperation from their elder brothers and fathers in this struggle . Furthermore, I urge those who haven’t participated in this National Congress to reassess their position and play their part in the on-going political process for a united and democratic Eritrea.