By Amanuel Biedemariam
In the past I have expressed my view about the process Ethiopians will go through to accept Eritrea’s independence and called it “Stages of Grief”. I opined Ethiopians will go through the stages of grief as explained by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, Death and Dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After the events of the last 18 years, it is easy to see the process may have played-out and culminated. Initially, Ethiopians rejected and denied Eritrean independence saying; they will be back to rejoin their “mother-land” Ethiopia when they come to their senses. During the wars in 1998-2000, the repressed anger exposed itself in the streets of Addis, in the media and particularly on the Internet. That was followed by consistent call to bargain for Eritrea, and if not, to fulfill the dream of acquiring the port of Assab. However, the process was expedited post 2005 elections because Ethiopians uncovered the true nature of Weyane thugs for the killers, criminals and liars that they are. That created a sense of helplessness and depression amongst Ethiopians. Consequently, Ethiopians begun to reexamine their position and views on Eritrea and many visited Eritrea as a result. The interview Ethiopian Review conducted with President Isaias Afewerki affirms a new stage of relations between the good people of Eritrea and Ethiopia has been reached; a stage of acceptance and a willingness to learn from the past and move on.
The fact that Ethiopian Review went to Eritrea and interviewed President Isaias is a major step and an example of willingness to engage. Moreover, the overwhelming positive reaction the interview received signals the beginning of a new era; direction and a new way of looking at that relationship.
For years and particularly over the last decade, suspicions and rift between Eritreans and Ethiopians widened in large part as a result of deliberate instigations by Weyane and the wars that took thousands of lives in both sides. Weyane used fear and wedge issues to divide because that is the only environment it can thrive in. The threat Weyane poses is real and deliberate. It is an imposed threat that created tremendous loss of life, wealth, displacement, fear and instability. However, as time went on the tactics revealed them-selves and exposed the real nature of the Weyane thugs. As a result, Ethiopians begun to open up to Eritrea realizing Weyane is the true cancer, and its removal will be a major step towards creating a peaceful and stable neighborhood based on mutual understanding and respect.
However, years of mistrust have given-way to misconceptions and misguided feelings in both countries. Ethiopians believed Eritreans want a frail and fragmented Ethiopia that is less of a threat. And based on that assumption, many Ethiopians concluded that Eritrea’s cooperation and support of Ethiopian groups fighting Weyane is to use them as tools to that end. Conversely, the Assab obsession and insistence by some Ethiopians that Eritrea belongs to Ethiopia served as a reminder to the existential threat Eritrea faced constantly. To sum it, the threat is real, existential and created a cycle of intractable division based on suspicion and history.
President Isaias busted myth after myth by exposing the wrong understanding people in both sides have regarding Eritrean views in relation to Ethiopia. The interview provided a vivid insight into the thinking process of the Eritrean government, a point of view, a foundation for a constructive dialogue and opened doors for a genuine trust amongst the people of both countries. The interviewers asked questions from a list of two hundred questions compiled over three months from Ethiopians every where. It was the most frank exchange between a leader and journalists I personally have ever witnessed.
The interview covered the gamut. It touched on all the sensitive issue including some that have nothing to do with the Eritrean Ethiopian issues like election and democracy in Eritrea. It addressed Assab, border demarcation, dialogue, Somalia, Djibouti and other related issues. It is hard to think of a subject matter that was not covered. He was even asked about future federation possibilities for Eritrea and Ethiopia. However, President Isaias candidly, honestly and meticulous addressed the issues to educate and inform Ethiopians and Eritreans by giving detailed analysis and the genesis of the issues. He did it in a way that made sense, by allaying concerns logically, by providing historic evidence and facts. One can argue about the merits and even disagree with the President on issues, but no one can deny the genuine exchange and its impact!
The point of this paper is not to restate the four hour interview. It is an attempt to look on what it achieved and opportunity to asses what was stated, and use it to further the cause for PEACE in the region. In addition, it is an attempt to build-on the fast paced momentum that is building-up engulfing the Ethiopian political seen in particular and its implication to Eritrea as well as the region. What did it achieve?
For the past 18 years, President Isaias was probably one of the most hated figures around Ethiopian circles. He was not trusted, his motives were always questioned and he was blamed for many problems in Ethiopia. In fact, Elias Kifle asked the president if he holds secret consultations with Meles Zenawi.
That changed overnight! Because for the first time, President Isaias was able to speak to Ethiopians unfiltered, directly and genuinely. He addressed their concerns, questions, fears, suspicions and wishes in the most respectful way he can frankly, clearly, and to their satisfaction.
Clarified Eritrean positions
For 18 years, Eritreans and Ethiopians were unable to communicate openly and effectively because they lacked a foundation and mutual understanding. That in large part is due to the fact there was juxtaposition. Ethiopians believed Eritrea is in a much weaker position and to keep the conflict going will better their chances of acquiring Assab. However, in the backdrop, the political seen in Ethiopia deteriorated from bad to worse leading to giving up on Weyane altogether. That forced Ethiopians to look at every avenue to fight Weyane. Eritrea is a viable option and opportunity. However, for a long time Eritrea was perceived to be enemy number one and to go to Eritrea was considered unpatriotic and those who went were chastised as traitors and the Weyane clique sold it very well to their advantage.
The president clarified that the Weyane clique is in Menelik Palace because of Eritrea. However, ones in power, instead of working for greater good, they interrupted the dream of a peaceful, powerful and stable region for their own gains, and at the expense of the people in the region. The Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians were directly impacted. “The last 18 years have been a dream interrupted”. The president assured Ethiopians, if Eritrea wanted to divide Ethiopia all Eritrea needed to do was support article-39 which gives every ethnic region in Ethiopia the right to secede, thus fulfilling Weyane’s agenda!
President Isaias stated Eritrea’s principled stand guided Eritrea to fight for the long term interest of all, avoiding any temptations to betray Ethiopians for a short term gain even at the risk of potentially hurting Eritrea! In reverse, Weyane placed Eritreans, the people of Tigray, Somalis, Somaliland, Puntland, Oromo, Ogaden, and all Ethnic groups in the region for sale and in serious jeopardy. The President noted, Weyane put the people of Tigray, in particular, at a greater risk of isolation and harm because Weyane committed hateful crimes claiming to represent the people of Tigray.
The President elaborated Eritrea is not threatened by a strong and united Ethiopia because instability in the region will impact Eritrea negatively. Therefore, Eritrea will give Ethiopians all the means at her disposal to strengthen the position of Ethiopians. The President assured Ethiopians, this is not a stand taken for political expediency, rather it is a principled long standing policy because Eritrea can not live in a vacuum.
For the last 18 years, and particularly over the last eight, Ethiopian mainstream agenda was dictated by Weyane. They controlled and manipulated the issues to suit their needs and U.S. interests with the help of some staunch supporters like Dr. Jandayi Frazer. They essentially controlled Washington with a strong PR and lobbying force led by former Congressman Dick Army and the War-of-Terror as a cover. All Diaspora Ethiopians could do was react to Weyane’s actions. The duplicitous Weyane clique paraded Democracy, DIALOGUE, War-of Terror and peace-keeping in an effort to gain a political upper-hand.
The interview Ethiopian Review conducted changed all that. For the first time, Ethiopians are dictating their own agenda bypassing the clique and addressing each other directly. That means Ethiopians are in charge of their own destiny for the first time. President Isaias accommodated and spoke directly to Ethiopians every where. When asked about Diaspora Ethiopians talking to Eritreans; it was a resounding yes. He stated, even if you don’t agree you have to sit down and hash it out. Ethiopians have an open arm and mind to talk amongst themselves openly and honestly in Eritrea as well as with Eritreans everywhere. The President expressed Eritrea’s desire and readiness to work with Ethiopians regarding security, economy, ports and all matters of bilateral concerns after he dismissed Weyane by telling Ethiopians, there will be no dialogue with Weyane.
Obviously it worked because the clique is out saying anything in an effort to change the subject and retake the agenda. Seyoum Mesfun is mumbling about returning Eritrean properties he stole from Eritreans to change the subject. However, while Seyoum tries to appease Eritreans, in contradiction and in what is probably the most vivid example of desperation, the morally bankrupt Aboy Sebhat Nega said, “It is not Isayas Afeworki that is “sick” but the Eritrean people who have been hypnotized to believe whatever Isayas told them who they were and are!”
This is a THUG they call Aboy (father) spewing venom. He is one amongst the many thugs in charge with absolutely nothing good to do but sell hate. The people of Tigray deserve better. They don’t need to call Aboy (father) to a morally bankrupt criminal who is using their name to stay in power at any cost. This is a good example why Ethiopians and Eritreans are ready to start fresh with the spirit to cooperate and good will for the sake of peace and prosperity while making a clean break from these thugs!
In May of 2000, the devious Weyane found opportune time to hold elections while the world focused on the war, and sailed through it. Emboldened, they continued the trend to the 2005 elections. However, they were rejected by all Ethiopians! And surprised, the clique became belligerent and put all opposing leaders in jail exposing their criminal nature. Ethiopians were at a loss because the world and particularly the Bush administration made a mockery of justice and Ethiopian politics. Ethiopians were let down by the West and particularly the US. Ethiopians didn’t have any where or any one to turn to but to their brothers in Eritrea. However, misconceptions and misinformation held them back.
The interview gave all involved a relief by clearing the misconceptions and misinformation. President Isaias explained the best interest of the people in the region is served by peace and unity, while conflict and division served the interest of Weyane. This is what should give all interested parties the freedom to partner with Eritrea in order to achieve bigger and better things for the suffering people in the region. Most importantly, by opening a dialogue at the highest level, President Isaias gave a viable opportunity for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia to begin the healing process by urging all not to be held hostage to history.
And combing through the reactions in the comments section of the interview in EthiopianReview.com, I stumbled over a commentary that can serve as example to that effect:
I am an Amhara. I lost my beloved brother in Dekemehari, Eritrea, during the Derg regime. I used to picture Isayas Afeworki as a cruel man and an inventor of Woyane and always behind Woyane to destroy Ethiopia. But this interview washed away everything. I am sorry about the innocent Ethiopians who are kept hostage by the woyanes. Who doesn’t want to learn from this genius person? He is the living witness for all the past and present mess of the Ethiopian/Eritrean politics. He knows Ethiopia better than the narrow-minded woyanes. After I listened to the interview, I have found another point to hate Derg. They should have created peace agreement with Isayas/Eritrea and this parasite Woyanes should have been left out. Today, we would have enjoyed United Democratic Ethiopia, which would be a proud home of Tigres, Amharas, Oromos, Gurages, Benshanguls, Somalis…
The question one must ask is why did President Isaias reach out? The President did that to present Ethiopians with accurate and genuine picture, to open a dialogue in order to help put the past in the right perspective, and to help establish a foundation for future relations that are based on respect, trust, mutual interests and to expedite the ouster of the Weyane thugs from Menelik Palace!
Why now? Eritreans have gone through many thorny hurdles placed in front of them and sailed through them united. It was difficult to reach out to Ethiopians for a while because there was a filter, history, wounds and unmet expectations. That was a major obstacle. In addition, there is urgent need for Ethiopians to come together quickly in order to plan their future.
“There is no army without a doctrine!” That statement says it all. There have been many credible reports in some Ethiopian websites on how the minority ethnic group is dominating and mishandling the Ethiopian army. Ethiopia has been and remains at crossroads. This is by far the most crucial moment in the history of Ethiopia because it will certainly determine the future of the country. What President Isaias did is underscore the urgency. He told Ethiopians in many ways, and openly, the fall of the Weyane clique is inevitable and approaching fast. He told them there is no army but a security apparatus that protects the clique. It has become impossible for the clique to promote leaders from other Ethnic groups because that poses a major threat to their survival.
Ethiopians have an opportunity to come together to address their issues in order to chart their future freely without interference from Weyane and Western meddlers. They have the welcoming hands of the people in Eritrea! And there is one inescapable fact that Ethiopians and Eritreans must come to terms with sooner or later; in order to live peaceful and successful coexistence as neighbors, they must find the middle ground based on mutual understanding, respect and the rule of law! What President Isaias did is exercise his leadership and jump-started the process in order to plant a seed for future generations.
In addition, I would like to extend my praise to Elias Kifle and Sileshi Tilahun for initiating the process and following through professionally. Kudos for a great job! They have played a great role by adding on to the momentum to put the Weyane thugs where they belong, in jail and dirt-bin of history!
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)