The Long-delayed Constitution and the Claim of “Eritrea is an Island of Peace”
Many Eritreans quietly commemorate the “referendum day” every year. The commemoration is in celebration the Eritrean struggle finally liberated the whole country in 1991. The total liberation of the country imposed referendum to be held
Many Eritreans quietly commemorate the “referendum day” every year. The commemoration is in celebration the Eritrean struggle finally liberated the whole country in 1991. The total liberation of the country imposed referendum to be held in 1993, which resulted in the Eritrean people’s 99.83% “Yes” vote for independence. The referendum’s results compelled the Ethiopian government to declare Eritrea an independent country. With the declaration of the independence of Eritrea, the illegal Ethiopian occupation officially came to an end on April 28, 1993.
The declaration of independence gave the Eritrean people a beginning to live their peace and liberty. For many Eritreans, regaining the liberty they know under the federal administration gave them the strength and power to make changes in the ways they process their thoughts and the ways they express their political views openly and freely. People believed under the same political climate they would need no body’s consent to live their freedom and liberty to pursue their dreams that they gave up under the Ethiopian occupation.
Eritreans expected that the transitional administration, if not more, would at least have the same policy as the federal administration towards worker’s and government employees’ rights of going on strike, also known as Sciopero in Italian. During the federal administration, Sciopero was a normal form of protest as a way to express, through disobedience, employees’ disapproval of unfair policies and practices by the employer, be it a government department or a company.
In some cases, even the workers union would call for general strike to arouse the conscience of the people over injustice or mistreatment of any employee. Thoughts propelled by the rights of going on strike against injustice during the federal administration were first and for the last time indulged by the disabled fighters. The disabled fighters in MaiHabar were the first, in 1994, to test the borders of rights under the transitional administration.
The disable fighters believing they were following the appropriate procedure, they first sent their request to the authority to visit their accommodation. After repeated requests for improvement of their accommodation and the harsh quality of life they were living, they decided to take their case to the street. Marching towards Asmara, the disabled fighters demanded chanting their accommodation to be made fit for their disabilities. Suddenly, the peaceful marchers were met by the tyrant’s troops, who poured a hail of bullets into them. Many were seen lying injured and dead. The tyrant, as usual, denied giving the order.
The tyrant’s behavior of “giving order and then denying,” made Eritreans feel unprotected under the transitional administration. The way the disabled fighters were treated, dangerously frightened the believers in the rights of taking grievances to the streets. Thus, the incident of MaiHabar proved that the right of Sciopero (going on strike) was not part of the rights to be revived under the transitional administration.
For many of those who believed that the freedom of speech was part of life like food, they were expecting freedom of speech to be enjoyed within a reasonable context. Believing it was their right to enjoy freedom of speech, some people started imparting their discussed views. Raised concerns about the roles of the transitional administration started to give new life to the Eritrean politics by disseminating the discussed issues for further discussions by others. The open discussions were seen to increase the political awareness of the people, even promoting the behaviors of those who not believe in multiparty system to accommodate controversial political discussions.
To prepare better the people for the expected political changes, some Eritreans started to speak of independent newspapers. The dream of having independent newspapers became a reality when Setit became the first to obtain a license and the first its bi-weekly issue to hit the stands and be distributed on August 21, 1997. Soon, 14 other independent newspapers began their editions.
The failure to revive the right to demonstrate peacefully and the limitation to freedom of speech were never expected by the Eritreans. It was a shock to see the iron-willed disabled fighters, who never felt intimidated by the enemy’s tanks and cannons, to be defeated and weakened by one man. After all, the march of the disabled fighters was a march of anger at the way they were treated. They did not deserve that cruelty.
Many believe that the excessive force that turned into horrible massacre of the innocent disabled fighters was meant to make the people witness the horror and scare them into total silence. The fear of that day appears to never fade away so long Isayas is in power. A leader, whose cruelty springs from the fear of his own people, never sleeps a peaceful night until he is sure he could overpower the whole population.
How the Pre-existing Conditions Killed the Drafted Constitution?
The excessive worry for Isayas was that the constitution, if implemented, would protect the strong and the weak equally. The implementation of the drafted constitution would also uproot the existing order, where competition with Isayas was totally not allowed and that everything was entirely under his control.
As unfavorable as the constitution was to all those who were involved in crimes, Isayas appeared to have read the fine prints of the constitution. Isayas was well aware that the constitution, as the supreme law, would make him march into the courts of law. Because of the fact that Isayas always showed contempt for the rule of law and denied shared decision-making, most of the Eritrean people were anticipating somehow distractions from Isayas to hamper the implementation of the approved constitution.
According to his life-long comrades, Isayas who enjoyed imposing his will on others and hated to be checked would not be welcoming the implementation of the drafted constitution. Those who were familiar with Isayas’s web of intrigues knew that the unexpected could happen any time. They were dreadfully waiting for the approaching death of the constitution but they never expected it to be through a declaration of war with Ethiopia.
Although power was handed over to Isayas by his comrades, he never showed any sign of sharing it with them. Throughout the struggle journey, Isayas sought superiority and dominancy. Lest not lose the journey and the goal of the struggle, Isayas’s comrades had to accept his dominance. In the process, many members of rank and file of the EPLA, who were known for their unswerving devotion to the struggle met their fate or were thrown into Isayas’s secret prisons. At any time, anyone who questioned Isayas’s behavior was deemed guilty of treason.
There were enough evidences that Isayas was not going to support the constitution or defend its constitutionalism and abide by its laws. Although Isayas provided all the grains of the drafted constitution, he appeared to be threatened by the fact that the drafted constitution if implemented would only protect his victims.
The constitution drafting committee, knowing Isayas well should have demanded their work to be protected by a higher body composed of members of the collective leadership. The body would have helped to ensure safe implementation of the constitution by making it less prone to distraction or surprises of Isayas. The implementation of the constitution was awaited to protect the people’s life and properties from the depredations of criminals. Yes, the law abiding Eritrean people needed the constitution to live in peace. The people knew, if the country was left for land lords, they would suffer from crime spree, looting and premature deaths due to starvation and lack of access to adequate healthcare or affordable medicines. They were not wrong.
The constitution drafting committee, during its drafting process, had to deal with a number of Isayas’s differing perspectives. Isayas’s uneasiness with a lot of issues was a clear message. Indeed, Isayas’s attempts to push the committee fall into his traps contributed to divergence. The committee was looking forward for a “country of peace” through rules of law, while Isayas was seeking to rule with unlimited power that was firmly to be framed in the constitution.
On the onset of liberating the country from the Ethiopian occupation, Isayas decided to continue his absolute dictatorship. When he realized that he could not conquer the people’s demand for constitution, Isayas lowered his desire to a constitutional-dictatorship. But, when Isayas sensed that the drafting committee was firmly focused on constitutional-democracy and there was no chance to convince it to give in to his demands of constitutional-dictatorship, he started to weave new strategies on how to hamper the pace of drafting the constitution and the process of enacting the implementation of the constitution.
To avoid being hit the hardest, the constitution drafting committee should have been on the lookout in order to protect and insulate itself from Isayas’s surprise attacks. Indeed, to guarantee a smooth transition, the collective leadership of the Front and the party should have delegated a body with an authority to isolate and corner those who were believed to be against the implementation of the constitution. Those who deemed Isayas’s surprise attack impossible not only proved they were wrong but also have become victims of his betrayal. The worst yet was that the Eritrean people have failed to understand how Isayas had hidden behind his distraction the border war with Ethiopia and his further plans of “no war, no peace” to totally kill the approved constitution. Ever since, the Eritrean people are suffering for failing to build the needed resilience and the commitment to achieve the wanted changes.
Fighting Injustice is an Individual and Collective Thing
Isayas refused to cave in to constitutional rule of law but has succeeded to force the people to surrender to his absolute rule. He also denied the people the right to hold opinions without interference and freedom of assembly. Isayas not only compelled the people to cease their claim to constitutional-democracy but also left them to crush under the weight of corruption, poverty and starvation.
The Eritrean people with their wounded pride could not fight back. Since the country is drowned in a sea of problems in that nothing is left undestroyed, the people are fleeing the regime’s brutality, gross human rights violations, endless conscription and arbitrary imprisonment.
To gain complete control over the people inside and outside Eritrea, Isayas has sown hatred against those who do not want to cease their claim to constitutional-democracy. Still worse, Isayas’s divide and conquer policies have destroyed the ties among the Eritrean people including members of an Eritrean family so that they don’t work together to find solution to their problems.
The Eritrean people have failed to stay shoulder to should to defend their rights as well not to come together for a coordinated action to force Isayas to accept the implementation of the constitution. The feelings of helplessness and humiliation are due to never taking action in time. Such lack of action gave Isayas an opportunity to ensure his rule-for-life by leaving no stone unturned to subdue the Eritrean people.
Isayas’s arrogance in the region and with other countries has continued to weaken him. The weaker Isayas gets the more venomous, unpredictable and dangerous he becomes against his own people. Indeed, Isayas’s policy of divide the family members to weaken the Eritrean people fractured members of a family, villages, towns and cities by eating away at the fabric of the Eritrean society. Many Eritreans believe that the damage done to the unitary family, unitary community and unitary state is beyond repair.
The pro-Isayas Diasporas are eyes witnesses to all damages done, through and through. This visitor from Europe was an eye witness to the sufferings caused to the Eritrean family members time and time and time and time, again in prisons and mistreatments. Those who could are crossing the border to liberate themselves from Isayas’s oppression and tyranny.
The Eritrean people to avoid being doomed to the same humiliation have to join hands to defeat Isayas’s tyranny. Only concerted efforts, be it at an individual’s or group level, can help to repeat the liberation and referendum victories. All Eritrean Diasporas should first stop destroying with their own hands the relationship between the Eritrean people and their country by not putting themselves at the service of the tyrant to undermine the unity of the people.
Since only freedom from fear gives the people the right to live in peace, all Eritreans should condemn Isayas’s rule by fear and force. For years, the transitional administration of Isayas has depended on fear and force to silence the people and claim that Eritrea is an island of peace.
Only the Eritrean Diasporas can spread hope inside Eritrea by doing what is required and putting salvage of the people inside Eritrea first. The hopes must be reinforced by commitments to overcome all the indifference towards joining hands to salvage Eritrea and its people from the ongoing destruction.
In commemoration of the referendum day,
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