The State of Eri-Ethio Relations in the Diaspora Today
In February of 2009, Ethiopians joined fellow Eritreans to demonstrate against the illegal and unjust sanctions the US and TPLF authored and passed. That was the first time Ethiopians, adorned with Ethiopian flags, and joined Eritreans in action to support Eritreans in their cause for the first time. It was a historic event that started a new chapter.
Since, Eritreans and Ethiopians have been working together for collective advantages, to fight against the criminal TPLF regime and advocate in advancing issues of common concern. They worked to identify issues of common interest, worked through many hurdles and have taken many confidence building measures. Today, due to the hard work, one can confidently assert that both parties have a great deal of understanding of one another’s needs, expectations and approaches. They understand the nuances, the challenges and have overcome a great deal.
For Eritreans, to deal with Ethiopians in the Diaspora is like dancing in a field full of landmines. Their expectations, the way they view Eritrea’s independence, the political games the TPLF plays, the various opposition groups with varied approaches and political views, their divisions and how the issue of Eritrea polarized and to some degree paralyzed their movement. To navigate through that and find individuals or organizations to work with was a challenge.
Until the 2005 elections, it was unimaginable for most Ethiopians to work with Eritreans. The election was the final straw. Since, Ethiopians toyed with the idea and finally determined, in large part for lack of options, to entertain the idea of working with Eritrea. The 2008 interview that President Isayas Afewerki conducted with Ethiopian opposition groups opened the doors for this cooperation. That also gave assurances to Eritreans that it is ok to partner with Ethiopians in working towards common goals and issues of interest.
In the beginning stages of the cooperation, the relationships underwent many changes and faced some major challenges but the conviction to work together endured and these challenges were dealt with slowly, methodically and meticulously with the sensitivities it required. These are complicated issues that required patience, understanding and time.
For most Ethiopians, partnering with Eritrea was a process that went through various stages. Phase one required efforts by individuals and groups to take the initiative and two, it required selling the idea and three, to navigate through the hurdles which meant that the various opposition groups needed to come to some understanding on how to partner with Eritreans.
For Eritreans, to work with Ethiopians meant a) partnering against the TPLF regime and b) to create understanding into a future of relations based on mutual respect, cooperation and in an environment that fosters peace for both peoples and the region.
Throughout all this process the one constant has been the commitment to work together and deal a final blow to the dying TPLF regime. And it is safe to say today, for most Ethiopians it is clear what Eritrea’s stands are and have decided to join and work together. Eritreans on the other have long accepted and embraced the idea of working toward common goals and to that end, are engaged at all levels from the President to every Eritrean.
The relationship underwent some stages to get to where it is today. The first was confidence building. This involved continuous meetings and attending each other’s public events. Ethiopians by now know Eritrea’s celebrations, who is involved and how it works from a firsthand experience. Ethiopians have learned to understand and appreciate Eritreans not in the way the TPLF tries to sell it but the way it truly is. For Eritreans, it meant attending Ethiopian gatherings, meetings and getting to know the stake holders and their issues.
The second phase was to work on agendas of common interest. That meant identifying and selling the ideas on both sides. There are many goals of great importance in the pipeline. But the key goals that both parties identified as important were the lobbying efforts designed to expose the criminal TPLF regime; to isolate the TPLF operatives and their sympathizers; to kill the issues that the TPLF exploits (the TPLF regime can only survive in a constant state of conflict by selling fear and use of brute force); to invalidate their messages; and forward the agenda of a brighter future based on cooperation and peace. The third is creating strategies and addressing the issues head on.
While the TPLF operatives have been boisterous, eager to display every move publicly, injecting divisive and controversial issues designed to create wedges; Eritreans and Ethiopians in the Diaspora on the other hand have been working to establish their agendas and work towards it silently without public fanfare and achieved a great deal.
There are many identifiable achievements that both parties can boast. What was unimaginable yesterday is happening today. It is hard to find groups that do not embrace the idea of working together. This is a major achievement. Yesterday, the propaganda battle against one another was pitch-high; today they have coordinated messages. Yesterday, they worked against each other in the halls of congress and many other places. Today they are working the halls as one successfully. Yesterday the TPLF stooges were able to infiltrate and exploit agendas. Today, that is harder for them. Yesterday, the TPLF agents were invisible. Today they are as clear as day light easy to identify which means that it is hard for them to hide. Yesterday, it was easy for them to use Eritrea as scapegoat and today no one buys their lies.
Tragedies as Political Tools
It is clear to many Eritreans and Ethiopians that the TPLF and the Eritrean TPLF sympathizers have no interest on fighting for justice and the interest of the people of the region. Instead, politicizing human calamities is what they are after. After the tragic events of Lamapdusa that took away the lives of many Eritreans, these groups went on a month long demonizing campaign against Eritrea. Instead of focusing on the root causes that are the sources of the flight they tried to sensationalize and make it Eritrea specific. The TPLF was in the forefront ignoring the plight of Ethiopian refugees and used it to attack the situations as if Ethiopians are unaffected. As tragic as it is, the TPLF and their agents tried to exploit the situation. Unfortunately, the voice of many Ethiopians was blocked. Many came out and openly stated that there are many Ethiopians that claim to be Eritrean for safety and asylum reasons.
However, not more than one month after Lampedusa, Ethiopians are raped, killed, tortured publicly. Ethiopians are rightly incensed, outraged and are demanding for justice for their fellow Ethiopians that are needlessly tortured. However, the voices that manipulated the Lampedusa tragedy are dancing the dance of diplomacy not to offend their investors.
The reality is, the issues that afflict one impacts all. The people of Ethiopia and Eritrea are suffering in large part due to TPLF’s aggressive and uncompromising zero sum posture. Had there been peace and stability the economies of the two peoples would have improved greatly improving the lives of the people which would make the flight to other countries harder. Had there been peace, the youth would have focused on building their countries and future of the region. No country would have violated the rights of Eritreans or Ethiopians if there is no division to be exploited. That is the hard truth.
The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia need to work together today more than ever. The urgency the situation requires is far greater. If the situation continues as it is now, the region that means the people will suffer needlessly. All we need to do is imagine what instability in that region would mean. It means the situation in Somalia multiplied ten-fold. This is avoidable outcome. However, it requires commitment to identify and remove the cancer that is TPLF. Much has been achieved but more needs to be done. This requires attention and participations by fellow Eritreans and Ethiopians.
The TPLF wants to exploit the issue by imitating the subject using surrogates to muddy up the relationship but is fails because it has no constituency. It wants to take the voice away from the people for political purpose to perpetuate the status-quo. While it can manipulate events in Ethiopia and the region using money the West hands out; it has no control over what is said and done in the Diaspora. It is up-to all to stand and demand justice collectively for the sake of peace and future of the children in the region.