By Pietros A. Umet
Prior to, during and after the recently held and concluded “Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change” (ENCDC), the principle “self-determination up-to secession”, has, not only been, one of the hottest and deeply discussed issues, but also something like “the apple of discord”, in many Eritrean quarters, and for many Eritrean individuals, groups of individuals and organisations.
Is it not instead a “constitutional“ issue?
To my understanding, the enigma surrounding such “principle“, lies in the minds and in the hearts of those fellow-Eritreans and their quarters, busying themselves with an issue which is primarily and purely “democratic, viable” and therefore “sustainable”, but which, should neither be raised so often nor be discussed upon so much, at this point in time, when we Eritreans have yet to find ourselves in our own native country and develop such “democratic principles”, which will have to be put under the tutelage of and safe-guarded by our “democratic institutions”. That point in time has yet to come.
The magnitude of a democratic principle such as “self-determination up-to secession”, which, by the way, is neither of “Eritrean” make, nor of few people or nations, but of the entire “international” community, has to be studied, understood and interpreted in the context of the constitution of a given country. Eritrea has yet to reach that level of having its own final constitution written, ratified and implemented, before an Eritrean community or ethnic-group can claim to have its rights violated and therefore make recourse to the principle of “secession”, which would be, anyhow the last and the final stage of the “break-down” of that Eritrean Constitution itself.
During the Eritrean Congress, in Hawassa, it was surprising to listen to some individuals requesting the principle of “self-determination up-to secession”, to be immediately written down and included in the “Constitution”, but which “Constitution” and written by whom?
The writing of a national “Constitutiona”, whether “provisional” or “permanent”, is the task and competence of a body of selected and competent professional lawyers, aided and supported by professional linguists and experienced intellectuals and academicians.
Besides, Eritrea, being a nation of eight (8) diverse nationalities and folk-groups, with diverse and, at times, even opposed cultures and cultural heritages and values, does still need a “Constitution”, of diverse cultural input, provided by the various and knowledgeable members of the diverse nationalities. It is therefore, only in the context of such Eritrean national “Constitution” that the principles like “self-determination up-to secession”, have to be given their right significance, interpretation and execution. All the anticipated arguments are pure speculations, which seem to please the ones and provoke the others.
The two versions, (Arabic/Tigrigngna and English), of the Commission’s “Draft Constitution” did in fact, reflect some contents of the “1952 Constitution”, where the main issue was the “Eritrean official national language”, which eventually resulted, adopting the “Arabic” and the “Tigrigngna”, as the twin “official national languages of Eritrea”, thus satisfying and pacifying only the two major contending forces of the time, the “Christian Tigrians” and some “Arabic-speaking Moslem.
Similarly, the “1997 Constitution”, written under a strict control and supervision of the PFDJ’s regime of Ato Isaias Afwerki, was a document exclusively containing the social, political, economic and ideological packages of the group forming the central-body of the PFDJ’s regime, very heavily dominated by the Tigrian culturo-linguistic heritage and values. It suffice to cite, consider and remember, the diatribe said to have taken place, between the late Dr. Alexander Nati and the Director General of the Constitutional Commission, Prof. Bereket Habtesellase.
Rumour has it that Prof. B. Habtesellase was insisting in giving the “Constitution”, the flavour of the “Tigrian patriarchal social system”,
(nda Abbo), whereas the late Dr. A. Nati was reminding the professor that, within the Eritrean ethnic and culturo-linguitic diversity, there existed also the “matriarchal social system” (nda Anno), of the Kunama society.
Prof. B. Habtesellase, obviously enjoying the full recognition and support of the PFDJ’s regime could afford to care less of such cultural diversities and values, and therefore went ahead to finalise that “Version of the Eritrean Constitution”, which, up to these very days, has yet to see the light of the day. This obviously, proves how even a mature and a highly experienced law Professor, of Prof. B. Habtesellase’s calibre too, by working alone, relying solely on the social, cultural, economic and ideological values and orientations of his own and of his own closed circle, can easily fall into the trap of derailing the expectation of an entire diverse nation and society.
A “Constitution”, product of the input of a multi-culturo-linguistic experts, guaranteeing “constitutional” implementation of equal rights for all members of a diverse society, would not need forcing an ethnic-group like Kunama or others, into making recourse to or calling for the adoption of “secessionist principles”. Why then anticipate such constitutional laws and get into unnecessary and uncalled for diatribes, angry reactions and unfounded worries? Now is the time for us to get, primarily, matured in democracy and in the democratic principles to be utilised in the future.
For the time-being, no one should claim to have either far-sighted views on the future Eritrea, or necessary qualifications to sit down and write an Eritrean “Constitution”, for we are still on the way home and cannot yet and quite clearly conceive, grasp or know the exact expectations our people at home, may be having. The new Eritrea will surely need new concepts.
The most important ones, but yet the least discussed upon, are the issues of the kinds of the political system to be adopted and the form of government and governance to be established in the future Eritrea.
Up to now, “unitary, decentralisation” and “federalism”, are the systems one hears being suggested and circulating in some Eritrean quarters, but none of the three systems has been fully explored and its advantages and disadvantages, clearly laid out and highlighted. Why then, talk of “secession”, when the foundations for “unity” and “peaceful living” have not yet been laid down and solidified?
Taking into account the “naturally” systematized and the century-old traditions which have hitherto, been keeping our ethnically and culturo-linguistically diverse society living in harmony, with each other, in their own respective, as well as in each other’s homelands, “federalism” or a federal system of that nature, to my mind, is the most congenial system to adopt and implement, as it would simply corroborate the already existing elements of our people’s tolerance, acceptance, respect and peaceful living-styles.
It is enough to compare this with the PFDJ regime’s new political and administrative divisions and the new nomenclatures, given to the Eritrean “regions” or “provinces”, as they used to be known, and the disruption, dis-satisfaction, confusion and frustration they have created among the Eritrean population and society. Our people’s century-old traditions which have been keeping them live in peace and harmony cannot and should not be disrupted by such ideologies, conceived to “changing the Eritrean nation and society” at any cost, as it is believed to have always been the EPLF/PFDJ’s maxim.
To my judgement, any system deviating from the existing, ethnically, territorially, culturo-linguistically and traditionally organised structures, innate in our cultures, would not help, either our people or the government, in implementing its social, political and economic plans and programs.
The mobilisations of the Eritrean populations to the various regions, taken place in the last twenty to- twenty-five (20-25) years, can be constitutionally and peacefully accommodated, without disadvantaging, either the native or the settled populations. Those fellow-Eritreans, somehow afraid of, and therefore rejecting “federalism” for Eritrea, and for the Eritrean people, are just the ones siding with and contemplating the PFDJ regime’s, “hade hizbi hade libbi”, (one people one heart) principle.
“Federalism” or federal types of arrangements, congenial to our diverse nation and society, are in fact, the principles to be brought to the fore-front, discussed upon and considered duly applicable, in order not to be faced with the extreme principles, such as “self-determination up-to secession” or the likes. It is to remember however, that “self-determination up-to secession” is a “democratic principle”, and therefore, as such, it should neither be rejected
“a priory”, nor should it be used as a primary discourse and principle, to claim for one’s equal ethnic, social, political or economic rights, which are and should be only “constitutionally” guaranteed.