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Fetsum: My experience in Denver festival (Part V)

I congratulate the hard working Assenna family for its outstanding achievement in its successful satellite TV communication to Eritrea. I think this is a very expensive project that can make a difference to our society

I congratulate the hard working Assenna family for its outstanding achievement in its successful satellite TV communication to Eritrea. I think this is a very expensive project that can make a difference to our society only though continuous public funds. Please help out as much as you can and God bless you!

In my last article, I wrote that we fully discussed Dr. Mohammed’s proposal in the meetings. Yes, it was available for discussion but we did not dig into the points as deep as we should have. There was no time, frankness and courage for that type of engagement but certainly was plenty for follow-up discussions after the festival. To me, whatever we pick for discussion in any scenario should be specified, recorded on paper and transparently communicated with project plan and continuous progress report to be considered substantially discussed. Unfortunately, we did not specify points for future dialogue out of brother Mohammed’s very important points. I, therefore prefer saying the proposal was ‘briefly touched’, to reflect the true nature of the engagement.

I also said that Dr. Mohammad’s contribution was a team effort. Yet, Dr. Salihadin had also submitted his own proposal to the committee. In disclosing it hereunder for healthy communication between all of us I solemnly request my readers to participate without judgment and negative energy. Acceptance is the only way to constructive input; Please welcome my brother’s proposal with open mind!

 “Selam to All, (June 30: 4:56 PM) Dr. Salih: Advancing an idea, a concept, a theory, not only in believing strongly on its rightness based on social justice but also in the willingness to advocate for it, it must, by necessity, be rooted in grassroots movement. The following principles are meant to work for all Eritreans, not necessarily that they will all be equally received with the same level of urgency. To some, the issue of land will be their only concern; to others only the language issue; to yet others only the ethnicity issue; to yet some others only the Eritrean refugees’ plights.

In their totality though, these issues will touch every Eritrean one way or another. Done in the right spirit, they can become the rallying cry that will help bring all Eritreans together. It will, however, need intense orientation, which is where the leadership part of it kicks in to play a critical role. With no further ado, herein follow the five principles:

The Five Pillars Briefly Defined

1)              Refugee Repatriation: Thousands of Eritreans were forcibly expatriated from their land since the early ‘60s and have been languishing in various Refugee Camps around Sudan and elsewhere. Bringing experts on this subject to educate the public and formulate cohesive plan towards the long process of repatriation is the ultimate goal.

2)              Land Proclamation: The question of land in Eritrea has been mishandled, misappropriated, and taken away from its legitimate owners. Eritrea’s local lands belong to its local owners and must be allocated by local governments that are elected by their respective local inhabitants. The subject of land distribution and ownership is one of the most critical and contentious issues facing Eritrean people and as such deserves thorough and expert discussion that should lead to Land Proclamation or Land Acquisition Act or both.

3)              National Language: Historical & sociopolitical formations of Eritrean people provide ample evidence that Arabic and Tigrigna worked in tandem as co-official languages. This time honored social covenant worked well for the mosaic Eritrean population before and during the Eritrean federation with Ethiopia. After Eritrea’s independence in 1991, Tigrigna became the default lingua franca by the undemocratic, totalitarian regime of PFDJ, the hegemonic forces of which led to political marginalization and disenfranchisement, all at the expense of half of its population.

4)              Diverse Eritrean Ethnic Groups: Eritreans are blessed with eclectic ethnic groups who have had long history of participation in the struggle for Eritrea’s independence. The dialogue among all ethnic groups is essential in that process not only for common understanding but also toward the empowerment of each ethnic group in the future political process.

5)              Developing Eritrean Human Resources: Initiating and encouraging empowerment tools toward national dialogue among all Eritrean sectors on the present and future political landscape in Eritrea is of profound importance. Identifying and defining the role and responsibilities to the dynamic sociopolitical realities through continuous engagement must begin in earnest. As such leadership training will serve such purpose and function.”

Comment: We briefly discussed the material and left it there without any future projections. In this opportunity, I like to share Dr. Tsegai Isacc’s reaction to Dr. Salihadin’s proposal for the record. He wrote the following message on June 30, 2018: 10:54 AM: SAL NUR, Aren’t you worried your symbolic use of the terms ”five pillars” which are Islam’s holy rituals might overshadow your intent to create harmonious Eritrea; furthermore aren’t you worried that your argument stating Arabic is an Eritrean language will be translated as a hidden agenda of promoting Islamism and Pan-Arabism in East Africa? If Arabic is a legitimate Eritrean language, why the need to validate the obvious? Why not let Eritrean Arabic speak for itself? Tseggai”.

I don’t remember any response and don’t have anything on record to this effect. But the Doctor’s “Refugee Repatriation” (1) and “Land Proclamation” (2) are excellent proposals that we should research on for their successful implementation in democratic Eritrea. His suggestion for dialogue on “Diverse Eritrean Ethnic Groups” (4) is fantastic. We all equally sacrificed for the independence and we equally deserve the land and the society with respect to one another. Something important I learned from him was the existence of totally ignored ethnic groups beyond the nine on the record. The lesson was a wakeup call as to how much work we need to do to secure equality and justice in our society. The dictatorship did not do anything about this and the elite class did not reach the level of consciousness necessary for united resistance to assist.

His approach to “Diverse Eritrean Ethnic Groups” (4) is outstanding. Empowering our minority groups as much as we can by securing their freedom to develop their ethnic resources (history, language and cultural values) should be in the top list of our priorities. We must respect their native languages and fight for their right to educate their communities with their own languages. We should empower them to participate at the highest level of the country’s political configuration, needless saying we should respect LIBERTY as a fundamental principle and secure the freedom of any citizen to follow and practice (in private or in group) any religion or spiritual denomination through individual or public resources without State funds. We must separate Religion from the State for us to succeed in this regard. I, therefore suggest SECULAR DEMOCRACY as our best choice given our ethnic and religious diversities and based on my brother’s outstanding input in this experience. Still, we could not effectively participate in his “Developing Eritrean Human Resources” (5), nor could we locate potential leaders because we have not seen any open dialogue between the groups in the Civic Society yet. Every potential is confined within the groups under permanent leaderships with no chance for the public to cultivate. We are not cultured to democratically alternate leaderships because we could not empower the grassroots through local dialogues and elections with inclusive management (global leadership) that would have given us the chance to identify temporary and future leaders from.

As for number 3, I think I have already discussed my opinion in the last article in relation to Dr. Mohammed’s important proposals. But I can extend it here to cover a wider aspect of the issue motivated by what Dr. Salihadin stated in relation to Arabic and Tigrigna. My lovely brother said, “Historical & sociopolitical formations of Eritrean people provide ample evidence that Arabic and Tigrigna worked in tandem as co-official languages. This time honored social covenant worked well for the mosaic Eritrean population before and during the Eritrean federation with Ethiopia. After Eritrea’s independence in 1991, Tigrigna became the default lingua franca by the undemocratic, totalitarian regime of PFDJ, the hegemonic forces of which led to political marginalization and disenfranchisement, all at the expense of half of its population.

I thought Tigrigna and Arabic were working in tandem as our official languages since the era of federation and as of today. I am not sure what might have changed since 1991 and I appreciate if the brother educates us a bit on this matter at his convenience. I, nevertheless have no problem with the statement considering the people hardly had a chance to vote on this subject. The two official languages were one way or another imposed on our society. My bother expressed it as; ”historical & sociopolitical formations of Eritrean people provide ample evidence that Arabic and Tigrigna worked in tandem as co-official languages. But I would say historical and sociopolitical conditions beyond the people’s capacity forced them to use Arabic and Tigrigna as their official languages without their inclusive consent. They helplessly adapted them to be so because of their peaceful and patient nature as a unit and lack of genuine democratic approach to the matter in question. I can then deduce that all other Eritrean native languages were unjustly ridiculed by multi dimensional linguistic chauvinism; Tigrigna from within the family and Arabic from the external despite the justified excuse of the setup in the past. But our mutual historical connection with the Arabs in terms of religion and culture and our sociopolitical contact in terms of economics (trade, commerce, etc.) including slavery (domestic servitude) do not have anything to do with the Eritrean people’s fundamental “formation” at originality level of the merit. I believe our people’s contact with the Arabs in relation to our respective regional spiritual contributions in general (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc.) was at equal or balanced level of mandatory interdependence as neighbors. Apparently, all our native ethnic groups have their own indigenous histories, religions or beliefs, languages and cultures that define their dignified essentialism or their respective historical & sociopolitical formations as part of the oldest people in the world and independent of any external influence beyond artificial ornament. I, therefore, can not see where the expression “formation” of the society can relate to Arabic at indigenous level of our joint actuality; but I believe our collective indigenous African formation or roots goes deeper than our psychological and circumstantial identification with the Arabs.

Yet, Arabic is important to our society because we have thousands of Eritreans educated in different Arab societies. We need them to Apply their collective knowledge in our country with the most convenient language they prefer. So should this apply to those thought with English and other European languages in different countries of the world. Besides, Arabic should certainly have a respectable place in our society because it is the mother tongue of the originally Arab Rashaidas that constitute a small percentage of our society. “The colorful Rashaida came to Eritrea from Saudi Arabia about 170 years ago. The Rashaida are one of Eritrea’s nine recognized ethnic groups [and] represent around 2% of the population of Eritrea.” We have to secure the constitutional rights of this sect of the family like the rest of us but Arabic is not the indigenous language of 98% Eritreans. I, thus found the phrasing “at the expense of half of its population” confusing and fallacious in this pretext vis-à-vis Tigrigna as a target language. The expression makes sense if it implies to the non-Tigrigna speaking Eritreans exclusively in relation to the language because Tigrigna was imposed on them without their approval. If the statement implies something in relation to Arabic though, I must admit I would have a big problem to accommodate because Arabic is also likewise imposed on our people, yet without democratic and indigenous legitimacy. Now, which parts of the society belong to said half of the population in this relationship between the two languages in question and how have they been violated here vis-à-vis Arabic beyond the Rashaida factorial? Does said “half of the population” represent our Moslems and if so, do they really have anything special to do with the Arabs more than their spiritual relationship with the entire Moslems worldwide? Do they really respect Arabic to the point of glorifying it with a national language status at the expense of their natural languages? Has there been any research on this subject matter and can this be statistically proven for us to seriously consider? Do our Moslems overall consider the Arabs closer than the Christian Eritreans? Would not this thought entertainment disqualify our people’s unified sacrifice for the Eritrean independence.

Clearly, Tigrinya, Bilen, Afar or Dankalis, Saho, Tigre, Kunama, Nara and Hidarib have their indigenous African mother tongues equally significant to any other languages on planet earth.We should not relate Arabic as a national language to our linguistically and culturally diversified Moslems, nor should we illegally impose it without their consent (voting rights). Because Arabic does not represent our Moslems including the Jeberty family beyond religious factors. I don’t see any relationship here unless empirically proven, the burden of proof obviously belonging to my brother Salihadin.

In so saying, classifying the Jeberty community outside the Tigrigna ethnic group is very interesting to imagine because its is not Ethnical by universal definition of Ethnicity. The family’s minority status within their indigenous Tigrigna is only based on religion (not on culture, history, language, tradition, food, music and rituals). But there exists a communal question from our Jeberty elites that we have to approach with maximum reason and respect. To this effect, a source of information says “Although the Jeberty are a Tigrigna-speaking group and the Jeberty mother-tongue is Tigrigna, their cultural language is Arabic“.

Cultural language is briefly defined as “language that is learned by many members of other speech communities for the sake of access to the culture of which it is the vehicle.” Further, “Learning a language, therefore, is not only learning the alphabet, the meaning, the grammar rules and the arrangement of words, but it is also learning the behavior of the society and its cultural customs.” From this description, our people in general had to learn Arabic as a matter of necessity; to well understand the Arabic culture similar to some of them adopting English and European languages because of voluntary or involuntary displacement from their native homes. They learned the languages to use them as their “cultural languages” for survival in other societies. This, however, does not mean they sacrificed their native languages for other languages or they turned Arabs, Americans, Europeans, etc. as a result. The first because they knew their history and the importance of their native languages by instinctual commonsense; and the second because they can only and always be their indigenous being by genetic makeup and inherent self conception. Therefore, Arabic is equally common to all Eritreans in this situation. The cultural relationship between the Arabs and our Jeberties cannot be any different from that of the rest of our people and the Arabs. Eritreans from all ethnic groups equally speak Arabic as a matter of common circumstantial experiences (asylum affected us all similarly, at minimum). We are all Eritreans with East African roots and distinct indigenous languages that use different “cultural languages” for survival with other societies.

In trying to share my opinion based on very limited information and inadequate knowledge of the subject in question, I see the request of our Jeberty elites as comprising two critical NON-ETHNICAL components unlike the norm. I, thus have the tendency to entertain their resistance as a “CULTURAL QUESTION” in contradiction with the Tigrigna ethnic group in the dimension of IDENTITY that must be resolved within the group; and one in the dimension of LANGUAGE in contradiction with the Eritrean people that must be resolved within the Eritrean society.

Whether this or otherwise, the theoretical contemplation of relativity and rejection is a derivative of the elite elements of the family in that state of conviction; it does not necessarily represent the Jeberty community in general. But we should respect their right to entertain any ideology they want as long as they respect the people’s supreme power to decide on. In so sharing, I consider the Jeberty question as an exceptional challenge that probably has never been experienced in history. It, thus asks keen interest, creativity, flexibility, honest brotherhood, wisdom and patience to properly manage. Nothing will change by repelling one another but by embracing and tolerating each other without personifying the matter beyond necessary. We cannot ignore the challenges and watch each other without trying to overcome them through healthy compromise and genuine rationality that must start at this point of the struggle. Nor can we save our country together for our children to fearlessly enjoy with MY WAY OR NO WAY attitude. We have the responsibility to leave them a law abiding country that they can develop, prosper and protect at equal level of responsibility. Our difference on this topic must then amicably reach an end as soon as possible before it infects the next generations. It has already weakened our struggle against the dictatorship and we must wake up not to let it drag the people’s freedom any longer than it did. As brother Salahidin said in one occasion of the experience, ‘the outlooks of children start at home depending on how their parents raise them’. We have to prepare them to enjoy their country with love and respect for each other. We brought the nation through unity and sacrifice and we should narrow our differences with love and compassionate resilience depending on democratic values for our mental comfort and sake of our children.

The Jebrty community could have been discriminated within the majority Tigrigna Christian group. They may have been victims of some sort of chauvinism that necessitated their communal question as such. They may have developed mistrust as a result of our insensitivity to their concerns. We must then listen to each other, learn from one another, compromise and impartially depend on the merit and due process to peacefully coexist in our beautiful country. To enjoy the bliss, we must all depend on neutrality, reason, democracy and law. We need to seriously study the Jeberty’s cultural question through healthy dialogues starting from here on and deeper into democratic Eritrea. We should encourage free participation of the people on the issue and use available domestic resources, the elders and local experts on the field to tackle the challenge from academic and universal perspectives. We should also approach it in relevance to pros and cons in our society; based on its concrete realities backed up by lobbying rights, statistical substance and with full freedom of the elites to contact the people pertaining the issue on the ground. We must respect t the people as the supreme power of the society with exclusive right to democratically decide national issues. The State should fully cooperate for the idea to be exhausted within the society and for the people’s parliament to approve based on the merit and constitutional substance. We should understand that issues as such require the highest court of the nation to legalize and for the government to practically implement, preferably through exclusive referendum of the Jeberty people.

In conclusion, whatever we entertain today as a family will have no effect without genuine democracy in the country. The challenge brought to the table was thus something the committee could not solve as a team. We can only leave the matter for the Eritrean people to decide on the official languages in the future. This difference should not stand in the way of our struggle for justice and democracy as a unit. I, thus have no problem putting Tigrigna in the contest and resolving the stalemate through all inclusive involvement and national referendum of the Eritrean people. Let us put them all on the table with equal significance for the society to decide on which native languages should legally become the country’s future official languages.

I think this is the maximum our people the can offer in this situation. But we have more immediate issues we need to discuss about than what has been presented in this material based on the proposals in relevance. We need to be very careful about the Nazist Agazian movement that wants to disintegrate our society on the lines of religion and ethnicity. Their Oritawian or Geez Christian fantasy should never be fueled by extremist or radical tendencies on the other side of the fence. I believe the intense attachment of some Eritreans to Arabic beyond religious circumference has been repeatedly used as a reason for Agazian actuality. We cannot stretch the already over stretched society between two complementary extremist ideologies based on religion unless we want chaos and disintegration. I am optimistic about our people’s willingness to accommodate the Jeberty issue with selfless engagement of out intellectuals but I don’t think the Agazian threat has a place in Eritrea; it should be rejected without any contemplation. It is too shallow and dangerous to qualify for settlement through any democratic venues because the ideology does not respect the Eritrean people, the country’s geographical and sociopolitical nationhood to begin with. We have to first save the nation and the society from the common enemies despite our differences. Our main focus should then be working together under global leadership and agreeing on a neutral transitional government as the immediate challenge of the society. This is the only way we can guarantee a smooth ride to democracy and justified solutions to our communal inquiries. Thank you my brothers Mohammad and Salihadin and God bless you. To be continued!

Review overview
  • Temesgen January 5, 2019

    Who cares about your flipping experience in Denver or in Detroit?
    What is your real action and contribution to get rid of the brutal PFDJ regime?
    Eritreans back home are really sick and tired of your type talkative waste of time opportunists.
    All our young and professional people are leaving Eritrea because of you so-called useless/gutless oppositions.

    • Mesfin January 5, 2019

      Temesgen, I agree with you that so many writings or meetings are NOT going to force DIA and his cruel gangsters out of office or out of Eritrea. But, what is really and urgently needed is collective actions and committments against DIA and his enablers/enforcers.

    • Asmara Eritrea January 6, 2019

      Dear brother Fetsum

      This is an impressive article. But should we Eritreans care about this currently given the very existence of our country is at stake? The short answer is frankly ‘no’. These sort of long articles divert the Eritrean people’s attention from what is absolutely critical. I would therefore suggest we focus on the important issue – namely how to remove Isaias from power by mobilising our people. To my mind, all else is secondary. Let’s get the beast hanged first and the rest will fall into its logical place.

      Eritrea forever, death to dictatorship.

      • fetsum January 7, 2019

        Dear Asmara Eritrea;
        No we should not focus on this topic because we have other priorities to deal with. I said that in my articles and specially in this one. I said let things wait for until we free the nation from devil. But I am talking about what happened in Denver festival to inform the people how the intellectuals in the committee took the task individually and what is the problem with this?

  • Kidane January 6, 2019

    Dear Fetsum, thank you for the info but respectfully gisagree with your opinion on the language and the jeberti issues. First, granted the arabic language was used, in a small capacity, as an official language like school certificates due to the confusion of the society at that time in prioriting of important issues. For the Eritrea for Eritreans block it was important to agree to it to create a strong unity. In short, it was a diplomatic cleaverness on the part of our parents, they prefered our Moslem brothers over the Christian Hailesselassie’s Ethiopia. At that time , I believe only few jebertis spoke arabic let alone the other tribes. The obssession of jebertis with arabic came after some of them moved to some arabic speaking countries. With their new found relatioship and infinite money they are getting from their wahabi masters, they want to create chaos in Eritrea at the expense of our people. They don’t want the current situation to change because they are grubbing somebody eles’ ancesteral land with money from the arabs to build Mosques everywhere. They know that our people will not forget this and they are working hard to stifle the struggle for justice, an empty Eritrea suits them well. Hence, to accomodate a cancerous 2%, Eritreans should not be exterminated. We should forget them till a legal parliament is established to discuss the issue. Keep in mind, other non-jeberti moslems are helping them on the issue to create a united moslem block agaist the tigrigna. He will not respond to Dr. Tsegay’s factual inquiry because his priority is not removing the evil dictator. Why should they? Their struggle is to weaken the opposition but if we remove the evil dictator, they have their agendas ready including repatriating non Eritrean moslems to counter the tigrigna majority status. Therefore, if I were you I would not waste my time with such people. One thing is clear though, they may pretend but they don’t represent any Eritrean tribe. We will sit down with the elders of our people and solve our differences through our time tested brotherly discussion. These self appointed “I know what is good for you” shameless educated spoilers will be embarassed at the end.

    • Dawit January 6, 2019

      Brother Kidane,
      Excellent observation and well said dear brother, I just couldn’t agree more. God bless you.

    • fetsum January 7, 2019

      Dear Kidane;
      I don’t see any difference between us and I agree that our fathers did what they had to do to distance themselves from the Ethiopians, meaning “In short, it was a diplomatic cleaverness on the part of our parents, they prefered our Moslem brothers over the Christian Hailesselassie’s Ethiopia.”
      second, i have said in the article;e that this matter has to wait until a democratic government comes to eritrea. I don’r see any difference with u here as well. I have said everything u said in this article except the judgment part that u have the right to do. I am not discussing the Denver thing because I consider it a priority but only to inform you all about what happened there and how I feel about the activities. Thank u

  • k.tewolde January 6, 2019

    “Let us put them all on the table with equal significance for the society to decide on which native languages should legally become the country’s future official languages.”>>>>>Fitsum,you sound xenophobic to a foreign language and promote local ethnic dialects regardless of their utilization in the market place when it comes to the future Eritrea you envision,ironically I don’t see you proudly making an effort to communicate with the only written language we have to reach the core audience you are fighting for.Who is your intended target? Language is an expression and a communication tool,it is not a race,a name of a country or a religion as long as it brings people in the market place and gets business done smoothly and efficiently,it could be Fulani.Dwelling in this Arabic and tigrigna thing, subliminally you picking on the scab of societal wound and exposing the purulence,it just doesn’t ease the chronic agonizing pain of the Eritrean people,it is an old debate which the tyrant got us engaged and probably he is laughing we are still in it today. With all due respect brothers,our people are pleading with all 9 ethnic dialects including Arabic to get them out of this terrestrial inferno they are in and they don’t have time or luxury to debate.

    • fetsum January 7, 2019

      Dear K.Twolde;
      I recognize so said local dialacts as equally respectable as Tigrigna my brother. Togrigna is not better than any other Eritrean language to me. I am not rejecting it but this is what i believe. I am not dwelling on anything here but discussing what happened in Denver as far as the proposals of the two brothers were concerned of course with my opinion on. Some of us suggested other things and u will see them next. but I have to inform u about all if I do. otherwise, it will be selective presentation. Cheers!

  • Alazar January 6, 2019

    Rihus baal lidet to everyone Christian believer.
    Peace. fast development and prosperity to all Eritrean & Ethiopian peace loving people.
    Happy year to all too.
    Esayas and his mafia group would be destroyed in 2019 by the brave EDF – Eritrean defense forces.
    Judgement day for those Esayas supporters (betrayals) would come soon.