BREAKING THE “VICIOUS CYCLE” OF RESENTMENT
BREAKING THE “VICIOUS CYCLE” OF RESENTMENT By Haben Zeray (Those of us who believed in common sense diplomacy have been advocating the need to forge peace, simply because the Eritrean and Ethiopian people can benefit from each
BREAKING THE “VICIOUS CYCLE” OF RESENTMENT
By Haben Zeray
(Those of us who believed in common sense diplomacy have been advocating the need to forge peace, simply because the Eritrean and Ethiopian people can benefit from each other if they can create a process that heals the wounds inflicted on both sides in the last 50 years. I posted this article last year on Assenna and I feel it fits our times to repeat with some minor modifications).
I once heard a wise man say, “Bitterness is a poison pill you take-in and expect the other guy (enemy) to die from it”. Well, if you take the pill you will die from it, guaranteed! Bitterness is like the root of a tree buried inside, and manifests itself by the words you utter, the actions you take, the stress you feel or the opportunities you miss .
Bitterness can be very destructive to individuals, communities and countries.
For example, Eritreans have reasons to be bitter. We have been betrayed for many generations, namely by Italians and the British, we were indiscriminately massacred by Ethiopians (Haile Seleassie), Menghistu Haile Mariam (1960-1991), and now independent Eritrea lacks freedom because of its military dictatorship. Eritreans have every reason to be resentful. For generations we have been betrayed, and this betrayal have created bitterness, and unless we deal with betrayal and resentment, we may end up self-destructing both as individuals and as a nation. As stated above, bitterness is a poison pill you take expecting the opponent to die from it, however, whomever takes the pill dies. For the sake of the Eritrean people and for the sake of the Ethiopian group who are also mired in resentment, we must devise a plan to break this destructive vicious cycle of resentment. And I hope Ethiopians realize this hurtful cycle as well and want to heal themselves.
In the past 12 years the Issayas government has been stuck in the vicious cycle of resentment against Ethiopia. and is having debilitating effect on the Eritrean people and economy. The PFDJ repeated statements have been, not to have any negotiation with Ethiopia on the issue of Badime, and has put the nation in a military alert for over 12 years. I have heard many of the arguments against making peace with Ethiopia. The pre-requisites and conditions of abiding by the “Badime” ruling has been repeated by PFDJ and its supporters. Eritreans have sacrificed a lot. But I want to ask those who refuse to talk, what do we do next? What options do we have? Should we continue to suffer and continue this road of stalemate? The consequences of refusal to talk, I believe have hurt us more than Ethiopia. Here are some of the reasons why I think we are hurting more:
a) Port of Assab could have been a source of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, instead we are suffering from unemployment and poverty, while our neighbor Djibouti is reaping the benefit of our “bitterness”. Why should we suffer?
b) The people of Eritrea are separated from the people of Ethiopia in all aspects. PFJD and EPRDF have let their political differences to create walls among the people. Thousands of Eritreans who have families are separated and are not able to enjoy family life. Some have likened Eritrea and Ethiopia to N. Korea and S. Korea respectively. Eritreans can’t even make telephone contacts to their children who reside in Ethiopia. Why shouldn’t the civilian Eritreans be able to have contact with their own families who are mostly an average one-hour flight away from them?
c) In underdeveloped countries like Eritrea human aresources is the main asset and its people are the future hope for development. PFDJ or the government of Eritrea does not seem to care when thousands of capable and many educated Eritreans are leaving the country. Most are now making their ways to Ethiopia. Why shouldn’t Eritrea be a welcome home for its own citizens?
d) PFDJ have used the walls that got created in the late 1990’s to become an excuse to put Eritrean youth and even the elderly on military alert; while the Ethiopian government is having a field day welcoming the able-bodied and military fit Eritreans to their country. The result is going to make Ethiopia stronger while Eritrea weaker. Of course the GOE leadership will not agree with this assessment. They may not realize it but President Issayas and his followers are laughing themselves to death. The policies of PFDJ work against the interests of Eritreans and are going to be suicidal for the leadership. Does PFDJ care about its own citizens leaving the country? Why don’t they create an inviting environment for Eritrean citizens to stay in their own country?
e) For an Eritrean merchant it is natural and easy to trade with Ethiopians. Most Eritreans know the country, they can relate with the citizens and have a commanding understanding of Ethiopian culture and marketing strategy. Eritreans should make peace with Ethiopia and open the door for trade with Ethiopia. What is wrong with giving Ethiopians tourist visas to visit Eritrea and vice versa?
Resentment is destructive and costly. We must break this vicious cycle whether the Eritrean leadership works on it or not. Even though the government of Eritrea have opted not to start the road to dialogue, the people, especially those in Diaspora are subtly co-mingling with the people. There are more Eritreans visiting Ethiopia in 2012 than any other year in the last 12 years. For many Eritreans, Ethiopia has become the vacation destination. Thousands of Eritreans have made Ethiopia their temporary home now by crossing the border.
I believe Eritreans are tired of wars, rumors of wars and they are also tired of being ruled by military dictatorship that cares more for the dead than the living. Eritreans are starving for peace. They want peace in their homes, they want normal family life where teen-agers are not separated from their homes prematurely. Eritreans do not want to be alienated from the rest of the world and especially from their neighbor countries and want peace so that they can trade and travel freely.
The point I am trying to make is the need for dialogue with Ethiopia is a must in order to complete the process for peace. PFDJ and its chairman have the responsibility to work out ways to implement by further negotiating with Ethiopia, for the best interest of both countries. When you resolve a conflict it is never “my way or the highway” resolution. It has always been, how can I get what I want by giving what they want. All Conflict Resolution Models (CRM) suggest that, in order to resolve a conflict, you must have a concern for self, and at the same time you must have a concern for others. In our case, the Eritrean government is not even willing to sit and discuss. In my opinion this stand-off is the “ poison pill” that is killing us.
While the brave Eritrean military performed their jobs superbly, the leadership of the Eritrean government has chosen a hard-liner policy that does not solve the current crisis. The government of Eritrea has the responsibility to negotiate for the best interest of its citizens. The government defiance has worked to go against the welfare of its own people. The consequence right now is many Eritreans are taking matters into their hands and are beginning to speak out and ignore their stubborn government. We must think “outside the box” and break the “vicious cycle of war and rumors of wars” and forge peace with our neighbor. Eritreans and Ethiopians will benefit from this and can be done.
I understand time is of the essence in our quest for peace for Eritrea. I believe the “youth” of Eritrea are the hope who can bring the dignity that all Eritreans deserve, a democratic process that the people desire, and peace and reconciliation within ourselves and with our neighbors.
We need to learn from history. In a war situation everybody is a looser. No one wins. Even the super-powers with all their technological might have a hard time winning a war. Peace is only achieved when “enemies” sit on the table and mediate for peace.
Talking about reconciliation is a complicated subject in a country setting, because the wounds that were inflicted on both sides are still fresh. As neighbors though I believe we need to learn to step aside from politics and make business decisions. We need to set aside our emotions and use our intellects and become rational. The options now are either we continue this road of a non-ending tantrums and bitterness, or we break this resentful vicious cycle and choose the road of healing the wounds and ultimately achieve peace. Are Ethiopians capable for bringing more misery to Eritrea and keep us from developing? Yes, they can. Can Eritreans do the same to Ethiopians? Yes, we can. But to go this road is to choose death, destruction, poverty and ignorance. We must be courageous enough to stand for peace and achieve healthy living, economic development and respect among ourselves and with our neighbors. I applaud those who have already started this process. Ethiopian and Eritrean churches are praying to God (as we must) for peace in our countries. Eritrean university students and professors are now collaborating with their Ethiopian students and professors to bring understanding with the two brotherly people. We have began to see “light at the end of the tunnel”. Ethiopian leaders during this current administration have shown the need to move forward and forge peace with Eritrea. We should respond in kind. Let’s remember peace starts within each one of us.