By Ermias G,
AFTER watching the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, I naively joined the Eritrean opposition seeking a similar outcome in Eritrea. At the time, I thought the opposition was an alternative group that genuinely worked for the betterment of Eritrea and Eritreans. Unfortunately, from my experiences, it is nothing more than a dysfunctional organization that has less to do with bettering the country and people, and more to do about appeasing Ethiopia.
From the beginning, I was alarmed by the opposition’s close ties to the Ethiopian regime. In fact, most of the major political positions the opposition has adopted over the years came from the Ethiopian government. From the anti-2% Diaspora tax to seeking federalism (regionalism) in Eritrea to supporting sanctions against the country, these positions, and more, were hatched in Mekelle first, and later became rallying cries of the opposition.
To give an analogy during this blessed month of Ramadan, Mecca is to Muslims as Mekelle is to the Eritrean opposition. Every ‘important‘ opposition member must make a pilgrimage to Ethiopia to stay relevant. And it doesn’t matter if they are secular intellectuals seeking democracy or Islamic extremists seeking to establish Shariah law; their common denominator is their unyielding support for the Ethiopian dictatorship.
Moreover, another issue I have about the opposition is how they take their name so seriously. Many of them literally seem to be in opposition of just about anything Eritrean, including relationships.
For example, three summers ago, my friend, who isn’t involved in politics, met this lovely girl at an Eritrean event. When her father noticed she was becoming serious with him, he asked for his father’s name. After realizing his father supported the Government of Eritrea, he told her to stop seeing him and threatened to disown her if she refused. Long story short, he ruined his relationship with his daughter and soon to be son-in-law, over his demented hatred for the GoE that they had nothing to do with.
That might have been one extreme example, but it’s not a stretch to claim there is this perverse, schadenfreude feeling towards Eritreans that most opposition members seem to have. They claim they support Eritrea and Eritreans, yet the only time they celebrate is when something bad happens to the country or its citizens. That’s like claiming you’re a fan of one particular team and only cheering when they are losing or performing badly. And as any sports fans knows, that is not a fan; that’s a rival.
In my three years as a member of the opposition, I can not think of one instance in which we had civil debates that accommodated opposing ideas that didn’t end in insults in broken English. The conversation was always limited to Eritrea is bad, Ethiopia is great, refugees, dictatorship, Isaias, Isaias, Isaias and if we had more time, they took it back to Paltalk to talk more about Isaias. We also didn’t discuss helping Eritreans back home. The conversation focused on ways to sabotage the economy, and on ways to lure Eritrean youth to leave the country so self-proclaimed human rights activists like Selam Kidane and Meron Estefanos can use their misfortune to collect money on their behalf, and condemn the government for a situation they helped create.
Ironically, some of the more intellectually stimulating conversations and debates I’ve had about Eritrean politics have come from YPFDJ members. And unlike the opposition, they were actively engaging in civil debates on how the country should move forward, and were more than welcoming to opposing ideas. They also had meetings on ways to help people back home. These experiences and more with YPFDJ members made realize I was definitely on the wrong team.
In the end, I left the opposition because they were more focused with spreading gossip and mayhem than ideas and solutions. This isn’t to say all of those in the opposition are bad people, because there are some good people who truly have good intentions. Unfortunately, these people are silenced or ridiculed because their opinions don’t harmonize with the the shot callers in Addis Ababa.
Although I no longer consider myself an opposition member, I still want the government to make much needed changes within the confines of national security. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is rapid change of a government causes protracted instability and devastates the economy. Therefore, we should continue to encourage the government to implement the constitution as swiftly as possible, while at the same time, resisting opportunist in the oppositions who want to remove the government.
As one Eritrean eloquently put it: “change must come to Eritrea but it must come gradually. Heavy rain following drought does not nourish the plant but instead erodes the topsoil.”