By Berhane M Tekeste
15 May 2007 — In Eritrea, democracy has been shamelessly perverted to serve the one-man, one-party Rule By The Barrel Of The Gun guided by the dictatorial modus operandi ‘who is not for me is against me’ and ‘The end justifies the means’ and laced with the tyrannical ‘my way or the highway’ politics ever since Eritrea emerged as a politically independent, self-governing, and sovereign political entity 16 years ago in 1991. Therefore, whatever Eritrea ruler, Afewerki, says or does is based on and is a reflection of this his unblushingly perverted understanding of democracy.
Last week, I pointed out (AfricanPath.com 10 May 2007) the nature of the political apparatus that is in charge in Eritrea. Now get what is wrong in Eritrea from the horse’s mouth himself, the ultimate man in the land, Isayas Afewerki, as he tells the viewers of Al-Arabia TV unabashedly (sudantribune .com 10 May 2007).
Understandably but much to his dislike, the issue of democratic governance pops up any and every time Isayas Afewerki voluntarily presents himself to the international media. And Afewerki’s tortured response has always been the same: Defensive, combative, and philosophical. Confronted with this nagging issue, Afewerki defined democracy to mean “allowing majority of the population to participate in the politics of their country” in an interview with Chinese News Magazine a couple of months ago. Faced with this same issue about 2 months later, Afewerki qualified his earlier definition of democracy and said “Real democracy means participation by the majority of citizens in any country or society through certain means and under certain conditions according to stages” and added “here is a conflict between the way we understand democracy and pluralism and the way others understand them. We cannot depend on foreign ideas that are not in our interest.” This is not only a tortured response but also an unabashed and utterly perverted understanding of democracy.
In its simplest, most basic and most elementary form, democracy means governance by the laws that the people and all the people have clearly laid out and expressed in writing in a document called, in the case of Eritrea, the National Constitution. In a democratic system, therefore, the people are not participants but are the sole owners and masters of democracy and posses the sole authority to amend or fine-tune it when and if necessary. Politicians like Afewerki are mere participants in democracy (the law of the people) with the solemn obligation to meticulously and unconditionally abide by it. Politicians serve at the pleasure of the people and can be hired and fired by the people, not vice versa, Mr. President.
There is no and there can’t be such thing as ‘universal democracy/one democracy fits all’ for it would defy the cultural and ethnic diversity of the planet we inhabit. Therefore, Democracy is defined by the National Constitution of any given political entity, society, or country not by the barrel of the gun or the will and whim of gun bearers? In Eritrea, democracy is what our National Constitution dictates not what president Aferki dictates. Democracy in Eritrea means doing it right by the letters and dictates of our National Constitution. Democracy is not a charitable act of politicians like president Isayas Aferwerki to the impoverished people of Eritrea. Democracy is the people’s will that politicians like Afewerki have the privilege to participate in. History has it, that any and all attempts to deny the people of their will is short-lived and detrimental for sooner or later there is no doubt that the will of the people will prevail one way or the other.
Democracy is not something that is acquired by appointment (some stage) and an expiration date at one or another stage. Democracy starts the day any given society assumes a politically independent and self-governing sovereignty and persists for the life of its existence as such. The most elementary way for people to participate authoritatively in the business of governing their country is via openly, fairly, and freely elected representatives in a forum commonly known as parliament, house of representative, or congress. And that is all the people of Eritrea are rightly asking for, not a replica of this or that form of foreign democracy, Mr. President? Popular participation entails not only consent but also dissent and the right to express dissent openly, freely and peacefully.
Mr. President, rest assured, no one can demand anything of Eritrea that would violate or even remotely disrespect total sovereignty over our land. No one can even try to impose his or her version of democracy upon Eritrea. No one in Eritrea is calling for or demanding democracy ala US, UK, France, Germany, Kenya, Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, China, Soviet Union or any other country. All Eritreans are asking for is democracy ala Eritrea as has been clearly spelled out by our own Eritrean National Constitution that has been arbitrarily furloughed for now 10 years. Unless you, Isayas Afewerki, consider the Eritrean National Constitution foreign, your invocation and reference to “foreign democracy” in conjunction with calls for democracy in Eritrea is utterly ludicrous and baseless.
Mr. President, Eritreans are not asking for democracy on trial and error basis. We are calling for democracy as spelled out by our National Constitution, which was drafted with your absolute and active participation and ratified with your unconditional consent? The constitution was crafted on the correct principle of “Unity in Diversity” and is unambiguous about our vertical diversity. Unless you are having a second thought about it and are considering to declare our National Constitution a recipe for the fragmentation of the Eritrean society along our vertical diversity, which the people of Eritrea would never buy, your persistent reference to “soceities being split in an ethnic and sectarian manner” every time you are confronted with the issue of democratic governance in Eritrea, is utterly baseless and tantamount to fear mongering tactic to delay or even deny the people’s call for constitutional governance. Like every initial national constitution, the Eritrean National constitution is not perfect but it is good. Perfection cannot be the enemy of the good or negate the good.
Quizzed on political pluralism, “Eritrea is a small and young country. Let us see how successful such an experience is in old countries and governments applying it.” said Aferki. Democracy is not a matter of speculation. No two nations are the same; hence there is no one ‘democracy template’ that would meet the needs, wills, wishes, and interests of two different societies. Democracy in Eritrea is fashioned and customized solely from Eritrean perspectives as stipulated and dictated by our national constitution not a copy of this or that country. You want to wait and see how it works in other countries. In the mean time how do you govern a country without a national constitution (democracy), which is the law of the land? By the barrel of the gun? What gives president Isayas Afewerki the authority to dictate when and how the Eritrean National constitution should or shouldn’t be implemented, which what the call for democracy in Eritrea is all about? Again, is it the barrel of the gun?
“the Ethiopian government does not represent anyone as proven by the recent elections in Ethiopia.” So characterized Afewerki correctly the nature of Ethiopia rulers. No qualms, Ethiopia rulers (Woyane) have no popular legitimization for the elections have proven that indubitably. But where does president Afewerki draw legitimacy for his sole authority to reign over Eritrea? The barrel of the gun? The constitution, from where head of states commonly draw their legitimacy, has been quietly discarded and no elections.
Aferki’s proclamation about non-existence of Eritrean opposition in Eritrea need not surprise any one. It is suicidal, for in Eritrea dissent has been declared treasonous and any and every political party but the ruling PFDJ has long been arbitrarily outlawed. But there is an undeniable call and demand for constitutional governance, which what all Eritrean opposition is all about, inside and outside of Eritrea in various forms and shapes. That said, absence of political opposition is not a flattery, something to be proud of, or brag about but a clear indication of the repressive nature of the ruling political apparatus. So has the presidency of Isayas Aferwki voluntarily exposed itself?
Dissent, even in a homogenous society, is human because although all human beings including Eritreans are born equal they are not identical, hence bound to have varying views on various issues including political issues. The right to dissent is, therefore, a human right.
The authoris based in the USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org