Michael Abraha: The June 19th demonstrations in Washington D.C. come amid increasing international condemnations against blatant abuses of human and democratic rights in Eritrea. I gather you also have other events lined up. What issues will you be dealing with in DC and what is the main message you want to get across?
Seyoum Tesfaye: The best way to cast the June 19, 2009 demonstration and Martyrs’ Day Commemoration will be to see it as a genuine collaborative positive effort by Eritrean civic, political institutions and concerned Eritreans to deliberately start refocusing the dialogue from the usual posture of “Down with Isaias’ dictatorship” to a more positive agenda where we speak more about the people’s need and agenda. The one party régime in Asmara stands exposed without any possible chance for redemption. Political activists and the suffering people of Eritrea have an identical understanding about the nature of the regime. Our energy now has to be refocused into shifting the hearts and minds of our people into a positive agenda. The conversation has to shift qualitatively to the next level. The central purpose of the four day effort is creating the environment where the shift to the new direction can be vividly articulated. We have learned from our past shortcomings and have made honest effort to do things differently this time.
Q: What new ways of doing things are you planning to propose and introduce?
A: We feel it is our primary responsibility to mobilize and organize our community to bring an end to the unhealthy political condition in Eritrea. Cleaning the dirt out of our home is our duty. To do this we have to pull together the committed elements and find ways on how to work in tandem, efficiently and effectively; then create conducive environment, for those who know that injustice is being perpetrated on our people but, for personal but valid reason, have not yet decided to start openly depositing their voice on the people’s side of the ledger to join the struggle at their own pace. In short the DC gathering will try to use a positive agenda to mobilize a much larger segment of our community. This effort will assure our people at home that we have not abandoned them and the international community and that slowly but surely the forces of change are gaining momentum.
Q: These events are happening in the US capital. Are there plans to meet with US government officials?
A: Yes, we are making earnest effort to meet face to face with various branches of the US government to open a series of ongoing conversations and in order to find mutual grounds on how the Eritrean people can achieve peace and democracy. We like to lay the ground work for a sustained dialogue not the usual pre-functionary and ceremonial diplomatic drop by. This is one of our Achilles heels. We have to get more organized and come up with a strategy to turn our effort into an institutionalized relationship with US policy makers. Our voice has to be heard. To be heard we have to have a clear agenda and the dedicated task force to work on this agenda tirelessly. We hope to lay a better foundation this time and work on it after the four day mobilization is done.
Q: What exactly does the Eritrean Global Solidarity hope to achieve out of this process?
A: Through the process we will learn what our skill deficiencies are and use the lesson to reach out to Eritreans, Eritrean Americans and Eritrean Canadians with talent and skills to join us if possible or be generous enough to teach us how to correct our shortcomings. We have a lot to learn and we in the EGS are ready and willing to be good students. Our people need everyone’s contribution. No one is irrelevant. We all have a role to play. Our combined effort will get us closer to positive resolution. The door is wide open. Everyone concerned about the people of Eritrea has an opportunity to make a difference. On June 19 we will make a modest effort to practice this. We will say: It time for Change and network with other concerned Eritreans to do a proactive diplomatic and lobbying effort. We hope to expand the talent pull dedicated for democratic transition. We hope to give an alternative venue for our intellectuals to share their view with the general population with the respect and support they deserve. We hope to bring forward to the leadership the dynamic youth that is has already paid its due under the tyrannical regime. We will give it our best effort.
Q: I understand there will be experts and academics to discuss Eritrean and Horn of African issues.
A: While the June 19th demonstration and Martyrs Day Commemoration is a joint effort of EGS and EDA – the June 20, 2009 symposium is strictly an EGS event. The civil society wants to broaden the conversation by offering a democratic platform for individuals who want to present their perspective on the ongoing massive civil, human and political rights abuses in Eritrea. This is an aspect of the long range vision of EGS. We deeply believe we have to expand, as a matter of principle, the content and form of the discussion in the Diaspora. Democracy implies diversity in interpretation and perspective. Uniformity is the anti-thesis of democracy. EGS, as budding civic umbrella, has to reach out to wide verities of individual Eritreans irrespective of ideology, political belief and organizational affiliation to give their interpretation of current events and long range solutions to the myriad of challenges being faced by the people of Eritrea. The Symposium is a nascent effort on our side to move in that direction. We appreciate the Eritrean presenters who have accepted our invitation to participate in our first effort. This does not take away anything from the primary reason why EGS was organized: to be a voice for the voiceless; to publicize the suffering of our people and to lobby both to Eritreans who can make a difference and the international community as well to stand and support our people.
Q: Would you like to mention some of the names of the presenters at the Symposium?
A: The names and subjects of the Symposium’s presenters will be released within a day. And it is an impressive list. While we appreciate those organized under the EGS umbrella, we also are well aware of the reservoir of intellect, talent and skill that is within our community. To think otherwise will be a folly. We hope and pray for the day the best amongst us will take the stage and build on our meager effort a vast civic movement and lead us forward. The symposium is open to those who think Eritrea is in good hand and to those who believe it is being pushed to destruction. We have confidence in what we are attempting to do. All we ask is the discussion should be civil and productive. The regime’s pejoratives and adjectives have failed to torpedo our desire to do our share. We are finding our voices. The symposium is a stage for some of these voices. At present there are about 12 presenters ready to share their perspective. We are sure more of Eritrea’s best and brightest will follow. The wind has shifted. We now have the responsibility of harnessing the wind of change and channeling it properly and prudently. We are thankful that we have managed to reach this stage. We count our blessing. The reward is the fact that the event will materialize.
Q: There have been so many peaceful demonstrations and petitions in the past demanding changes in Eritrea. How is this coming Washington experience going to be different?
A: We are building on previous efforts. Every demonstration was an extension of the learning curve. The difference we are seeking is that we feel there is a much wider frustration among Eritreans in Diaspora about the way things are unfolding in Eritrea this time. Most, Eritreans, Eritrean Americans and Eritrean Canadians have moved from silence to whispering and from whispering to murmuring and from murmuring to wondering what should be done. There are two ways our community is processing this shift: one side will raise it in the form of a question: “what should be done,” and the other segment states it in the widest form: “something has to be done.” Both are two aspects of the shifting attitude. A welcome shift. To full time politician and dedicated civic activists this might look like a minor shift. We feel we should not fail to see this as a profound shift in the desire for a solution. That is why we decide to come up with the unifying umbrella slogan that summarizes this shift in attitude. “Enough is enough: It is time for Change in Eritrea”- We are taking the political dialogue, living room and coffee house conversation into the public domain. The March in DC is a venue for those who want to participate in a demonstration that stresses the need for a change without too much political baggage. This march is an honest attempt to give a platform for those who think they know what has to be done and to those who know that Eritrea is in trouble and something must be done. We have expanded the point of unity. We may not totally agree on the final prescription but we all know the status quo is not acceptable. It is time for something different. The slogans we have chosen represent the broadest point of unity.
Q: What lessons have been learned so far in preparing and working together with other players?
A: EGS and EDA have learned, through this experience, to work together while respecting each other’s organizational identity and purpose. The level of confidence has increased. We have learned how to communicate with each other in a qualitative way. This has helped in the organizing of the June 19 demonstration. Good beginning. We are hopeful after this demonstration lots of Eritreans will give the EGS-the civic society approach- a chance and start earnestly organizing and mobilizing their respective community into a civic forum, society and associations. The DC demonstration is about mobilization and networking. We hope Eritrean intellectuals, former fighters; graduates of Asmara University, Political refugees etc will get a chance to reconnect and expand the conversation. Come, converse, connect and commit to make a difference that is the underlining message and the driving reason for this peaceful demonstration.
Q: Any particular message you would like to convey to Eritreans who are yet to make up their minds about taking part in the events
A: First of all let me thank you on behalf of the EGS for giving us an opportunity to express the overall purpose of the upcoming event. While I am at it I want to salute the Free Media: Asmarino, Awate, Assena, Meselan Delina and all other local outlets etc for being so generous with publicizing the June 19 event and the June 20 symposium. The regime has not broken the spirit of the Eritrean people. The mushrooming media is evidence to that effect.
At this juncture Eritreans can disagree about the details of the strategy and tactic on how change should come to Eritrea BUT there is a growing and expanding consensus on the fact that the situation as it prevails now is not acceptable. Crystallizing this consensus is our duty. Expanding the platform and being more inclusive is the agenda of the day. History will judge us harshly if we do not put our egos and minor differences aside; close ranks and stand up for our people. The destiny of Eritrea cannot be left in the hands of a self- appointed political actor who suffer from a Messiah complex. Every Eritrean is a stakeholder. No one gets extra vote or privilege in sorting out the complicated national crisis. This is our joint duty but we have to choose to accept or reject it individually. We feel silence in the face of national obliteration is closer to submission. This cannot be entertained as an option. Just cannot be! We will not submit to the madness called PFDJ. It is time for democratic change. There is no other option on the table.
EGS appeals to all who can make it to DC to join us with a sense of purpose and determination in these peaceful events. We like also to encourage those who live within a 200 mile radius from DC to make a sacrifice and attend the Demonstration, Commemoration and the Symposium. We hope to see you in Washington DC. We look forward to your journalistic coverage.