It is and should remain the prerogative of the Eritrean people to say whether or not the government they brought to power after a long fight for independence is serving their interest or not. So I would be the last person to say how bad or good the government in Asmara is for Eritreans. Whoever, as a mere onlooker from afar I can easily see that they are far from comfortable in the independence they have earned themselves.
The most telling of that all being the exodus of refugees taking leave of that country virtually in all directions regardless to the trials and tribulations that awaited them on the way as they try to reach the Middle East and Europe as refugees. It goes without saying thus the flight to Ethiopia presents itself as a destination of choice since, apart from its apparent proximity, it offers the sense of feel-at-home that comes out of the long lived cultural and social ties that existed between the people of both countries, when home becomes a do-or-die to leave.
Hence no surprise that the grape vines are awash with news of Eritreans leaving their country for Ethiopia on daily basis, the latest being the UNHCR report telling us that at least 70 Eritreans cross to Ethiopia every day. I personally, as do most Ethiopians, cannot go without commiserating with them since the best place to be is at home, not anywhere else as a refugee. I do more so because the same problem happens to afflict us both people though we have parted ways nearly a quarter of a century ago. We can hardly remain indifferent since our problems also have a nature of affecting each other in one way or the other.
When home is broken for any reason leaving home remains the only choice and there is nothing to gloss over it as there is every reason for us to be sad about it whether we are Eritreans or Ethiopians as our fate became life under dictatorship, war, exile, tribulation and tragedy at this time and age when the world around us is in a different world far from ours. I will always vividly remember how a faranjy (white man) reacted when an Eritrean lady said the fact that she was in a celebratory mood on the 23rd anniversary of the Eritrean independence. When he retorted, “you are dependent here all those years,” to say the least, I was hurt internally as it equally registered for me as it must have done for her. Though I was not sure whether or not she felt about it in the same way I did. If she did she didn’t show. Might be she did not get the wit due to language difficulties. Yet, one may say such verbal slights count for nothing compared to how our people get humiliated in the Middle East, perish in high seas far from home, held and tortured in the Sana Desert for ransom or subjected to gruesome mutilations in the bid to harvest their body organs.
The same lady I mentioned here happened to be among the more than 70 thousand Eritreans deported from Ethiopia at the height of the war in 1998. I listened with shock and pain when she narrated to me how she and three others had to walk for 11 days (yes eleven days) on foot back to Ethiopia along the shores of the Red Sea via Djibouti immediately after their deportation. Among the four poor souls who set out including her, only two (herself and another one) made to Ethiopia while two others perished on the way – one blown off by the explosives he run on, the other simply collapsed to his death unable to stand the ordeals of the trek in the near boiling temperature along the Sea. Even their body could not have a decent burial as the ones who remained alive had neither the energy nor the means to give a treat of burial to their friends’ bodies.
This is the extent of the tragedy that had to befall us when our governments failed in their duties to us. And since common problems seem to haunt us (the people in both countries) co-operating towards a common solution appears to be a necessity and we do that first and foremost by carefully behaving towards issues of each other’s countries with the aim of achieving neutrality and non-interference. At this point in time when the cloud of change is hanging very close on Ethiopia, if I were an Eritrean I would not choose Ethiopia as a destination of refuge. If I would have to do, once there, I would restrict myself to a designated camp not to be seen as party to any political activity in Ethiopia either by choice or by accident.
After the bloody war of the 1998-2000 between the two countries that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of young people from both sides and remained technically unfinished, hardly any one would expect Eritreans to turn to Ethiopia as a place of refuge. But they do so with confidence in the enduring friendliness between the two people. We all remember how Ethiopians were seen secretly handing water and food or anything they could to Eritreans at the time they were declared persona non grata who were meant to be hunted down for deportation to Eritrea during the war. I have my concern as do many Ethiopians that this good will and unconditional love between the two people is set to suffer if Eritreans fail to stay away from taking sides in Ethiopian politics in any way while they are on the ground there. Nothing lasts forever especially if subjected to misuse and abuse.
It is true that the TPLF/EPRDF (though the EPRDF part is gradually falling off) government is believed to be controlled by individuals of Eritrean background at the helm and comprised of mainly Tigrians in its rank along with others from every part of the country who are comfortable playing the role of sycophancy as powerless ‘pawns in the entire chess game.’ Thus Eritreans would make the gravest mistake in history if they jump into helping TPLF/EPRDF out at the time of their need merely tempted by the fact that the top brass in the TPLF outfit are of Eritrean extraction.
Apparently the TPLF/EPRDF government stands embattled and cornered from all sides with the Tigraian majority joining hands with the rest of fellow Ethiopians in asking for the rotten government to go. Given this fact one could easily envisage the temptation from the dying government to resort into enlisting the service of any one to hang onto power a little longer. And here comes the possibility of TPLF/EPRDF misleading Eritreans into providing their serves to it at the risk of antagonising themselves with Ethiopians for good. You offer your help to the devil with every risk to your soul. Given how TPLF/EPDRF is known for deceiving, misleading and using people towards achieving their own selfish goals at any cost, it would not come as a surprise if Eritrean refugees come handy to be used this time round.
There is every reason for Eritreans to be tempted into unwittingly lending a hand to their ‘cousins’ in our government who obviously seem to welcome them (the Eritrean refugees) with open hands with the promise of helping them to over throw the government in Asmara though it remains open to questions whether they really mean it or not. Since Eritreans and Tigreans speak the same language the likelihood of Eritreans’ involvement in Tigray on the side of the government has long since been voiced by the people from that part of the country.
When that is the case, it goes without saying that they could as well be expected to take part in other parts of the country passing themselves off as Tigrians though the host people will always have their own ways of telling the difference. Here is where Eritreans need to be extremely conscious of their actions and very careful of their moves if they ever wish the friendliness between the two people to endure and last. As people who leave their country to escape from an oppressive system, they would be the last ones to be told how it hurts the people in the host country if they are even remotely suspected of tending to meddle in the issues of the host country.
Eritrea is an independent country and officially Eritreans are foreigners in Ethiopia. Even though technically they are treated as friendly people the fact that they are foreigners is set to remain until any possible future change comes into effect to affect that in any way. Our cooperation as people and sense of togetherness can only last when we bear and display respect for each other which we would not do in any other better way than making conscious efforts to stay away from involving in each other’s affairs, politically. Our future friendliness and cooperation in any capacity hinges very much on the good will between our people towards each other. That is what we have to guard jealously lest we will risk remaining apart looking at each other suspiciously which none of us really wish for.
The people in both countries are very resilient and hard working. Ethiopia is a very vast country with immense resource and potential if we could be able to cooperate towards saving it from being sold out in its entirety. Then with an inclusive good government in place all of us stand to benefit out of it. The very likely positive change in Ethiopia is an idea whose time has come which nothing can stop except change itself and all of us should strive to be the force towards that imminent change far from the impediment to it only to end up alienating our self from the people. We do favour to our self and justice to the disaffected by playing with the people who are hungry for justice not against them.