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people to people reconciliation between the ordinary people of Tigrai and Eritrea
People to people reconciliation between the ordinary people of Tigrai and Eritrea is a must for peace in Eritrea and Ethiopia

Start direct people to people reconciliation between the ordinary people of Ethiopia (Tigray) and Eritrea as soon as possible

By Kalayu, Y.
Tigrai Online, July 12, 2018

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There are always more than one ways of doing things. However, all of them cannot be equally effective and lasting. That is why one has to be very careful with choices. If choosing a method is driven by factors unrelated to the goal it may work for a time but it will surely return to the past often getting worse than it was before. The Ethiopian PM has chosen the palace approach for reconciliation. Whatever two PMs or Presidents feel is the right method can be done at lightning speed. The reconciliation between Prime Minister Abiy and President Esayas did not face any obstacles. Hence, like well prepared race track the path was smooth and convenient. Both leaders agreed on air travel, ports, embassies, and what have you. In the world of diplomacy this must be the fastest ever for two countries, which experienced long and bloody separation and lived in war and war-footing ever after. If the reconciliation could have a lasting positive result for the millions of ordinary people on both sides of the border it can only be applauded.

What I am questioning now and at the same time doubting the intentions is the way this essentially good thing is being done. Like the devil the success of a method lies in the details. The details are the details of the goal. To me and to millions of others the goal is not to walk on the beaches of Gurgusum, not to use Massawa and Aseb for access to overseas markets, not to enjoy a joint concert in Asmera, not to enjoy flying EAL to Asmera, and not to chat on Ethio-telecom from Asmera and Addis Abeba. If these were the goal for starting the negotiations then the way it is being done would be the right path. Isn't this also happening with Djibouti? Such goals are purely the responsibility of governments because they are business and technicalities of tourism and transport. North and South Korean leaders met personally and agreed on many bilateral issues. This is regular in the diplomatic sphere. There is no obligation of holding a referendum or initiating informal people to people reconciliation conferences prior to high level negotiations. It is possible for the cause of war and tension to remain unresolved but continue to invest and trade. We all know the high security fence between the two States has remained in tact. Whether or not the wired border is called "artificial" it is a UN recognized and legally sanctioned potent divider.

What every Korean (north and south) dreams about is to come together as Koreans not merely to freely exchange merchandize, board each other's airlines and tour each other’s treasures. Ethiopians on both sides of the border are pointing guns and missiles at each other’s chest the very hours and days the chief executives of the two countries enjoyed their coffee, the jokes they cracked at each other, the guaila they danced, the broad smiles they wore, and the pleasantries they exchanged. When Trump and Putin meet that is what happens. Beautiful fairies happily fly in large numbers around them. If the goal of their meeting is to discuss disarmament, tariffs, Middle East, and China in Africa then the handshakes, tight embraces, good wishes, and palace banquets are formalities enshrined in diplomacy textbooks. These have little to do with harmonizing Russians and Americans.

The separation of Eritreans and Ethiopians is not 27 years old. It is as old as the notorious Wuchale treaty.  Under a perfect pretext of the lack of food for the army and when Mengesha and Alula could have finished the job of driving Italy away into the Sea as they have been doing unassisted before Adwa,  Bahrenegash was bartered. I had some Eritrean friends during the Monarchy who were saying "why are you blaming us for the rebellion? Didn't you sell us to Italy?" They are right! "yeteshete eka aymelsim". Since then colonized Eritreans have grown differently. Their Tigrigna changed, their lifestyles diverged from their Tigrean kin, their economy and their towns and infrastructure modernized in stark contrast to their fellows across the border, their political consciousness was much higher and more developed than their "free" neighbors under deep and brutal feudal system. There was no anti-colonial struggle of much significance in Eritrea because their buyer was comparatively kinder to them than their seller. This is proved by the fact that the rest of the unsold Tigreans suffered under the rule by Minilik and Haileselassie and became a battle ground. Although colonial rule is bad would it have been worse for Tigreans in that context? Tigreans are punished severely for remaining in Ethiopia. There wouldn’t have been a battle of Adwa for Menilik (which erased his crime of selling Bahrenegash) had the Tigreans refused to weaken Italian troops in Tigray long before the arrival of Menilik for a ceremonial victory.

This was the first in the series of decisions on the fate of Tigreans, Afars and Kunamas on both sides made by leaders (Ethiopian and Italian), without involving the people. After more than half a century of colonial rule of Eritrea the second in the series of non-consultation (meriwoch egna enawkelehalen) came. There was some movement among Eritreans for unity with Ethiopia after WWII. However, the decision to federate was only a UN (superpowers) and Haileselassie's decision without sufficient grassroot participation. There was a similar and superficial euphoria at that time in Eritrea፡ "tezeweri makina tezeweri shewa n 'Asmera koynu mezaweri". Everyone knows what happened afterwards: 30 years of mass-based rebellion. Why? It is because everything was propaganda fireworks. Why would people rebel if unity with Ethiopia was their own decision? Eritreans could have somehow narrowed down the difference with the rest of Ethiopia created by over 60 years of colonial rule; but a second disastrous decision after Menilik was taken by Haileselassie which sent Eritreans much farther away from Ethiopians psychologically. Haileselassie, instead of imitating the republic in Eritrea he dismantled and replaced it by feudal system led by his relatives and in-laws taking Eritreans half a century backwards. What was new to Eritreans was they were never ruled from central Ethiopia. Before colonial rule their rulers were Tigrigna speakers. Tigrigna was eliminated from school curriculum. For Eritreans, as a matter of fact, for any other people, this was nothing less than colonial rule unless there is a formula that colonialism is only a white man's phenomenon. When it was not convenient rulers from Addis Ababa handed over Eritrea to Italian colonialism, when the time came and they felt they need it they crashed it and baked it into a colony. In this process Haileselassie was using some Tigrean dignitaries and ordinary people to do the job for him as proxies. This triggered a wave of hate by Eritreans on Tigreans. While attending school in Eritrea at that time I saw the bitter hatred my Eritrean friends had on their fellow Tigreans. They were tricked into believing that Tigrean "infiltrators masquerading as Eritreans" were the main culprits who united Eritrea with Ehiopia. In the Early 1970s a leaflet was distributed in Addis Ababa university main campus which refers to Tigray (they called it awraja) as an enemy of Eritrean people. We knew very well that Eritreans did not do it! In a few years Eritreans and Tigreans became comrades in arms for over two decades until the lack of wisdom on both sides plunged them into fratricide that should never have happened. This became a blessing in disguise for those enemies of Tigreans to keep the two apart. This time Eritreans and Tigreans (fought not by their own decision but by their leaders'. The solution to the war in South Sudan does not lie in the meetings in Addis Ababa of the "leaders”. The solution is to allow the people to solve it by themselves. Otherwise, after every agreement, a few seconds of nightmare in light sleep of one of the leaders could easily start a war. Who provoked Isayas to start the Badme war after happy years of friendship, unless it was some nasty dream he had. When decisions with huge national implications are done by individual leaders it is not difficult to pull them down the next morning.

It does not matter whether what is done without consulting or involving the people benefits or does not benefit the people. The parameter of justness of the actions is not measured by the transitory euphoria it draws. The participation of people ensures that good decisions become sustainable and bad decisions are avoided. Again another cycle of " meriwoch egna enawkelehalen" has come. Both the people of Eritrea and Tigray are sidelined from taking the reconciliation into their own hands and make it a lasting one. They have become spectators of "useful-looking" palace level reconciliation between a PM who came to power through street violence (introducing lawlessness as a method of realizing dreams) and an autocrat who drove hundreds of thousands of Eritreans into exile and kept more aging in camps, are not expected to have honest intentions, although reconciliation is essentially noble. Both leaders share the view that TPLF and by extension the people it leads, as enemies.

If I were in their shoes and genuinely interested in real reconciliation (not saving one's neck) I would never start from Algiers. What I would do is to organize free and fair election of a national level grass-root based committee of reconciliation on both sides followed by the creation of a joint committee from both. The committees will be empowered by acts of parliament on both sides (unfortunately no parliament in Eritrea and very weak in Ethiopia). There should be a greater proportion fromTigrean, Afar, Erob, and Kunama people in the committees from both sides. The Leaders of Both Countries must keep sufficient distance from the activities of the committees while managing their agreements on airlines, telecoms, embassies, and ports. The committees will have to organize conferences in different parts if Ethiopia and Eritrea and in the Diaspora. Political parties from any side of the political spectrum must be prohibited from interfering without request from the committees for help.

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The Ethiopian-Eritrean issue is a very complex issue. It is like the Gordian knot which should be untied with wisdom and patience. Emotions will only help like a sword to cut the knot and to invite another crisis. If the leaders of the two governments continue to make the Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation as their own acts of personal goodwill and continue to render the people across the borders as mere spectators the people will have to take the matter into their own hands and start the people to people reconciliation before the enthusiasm of these leaders, probably driven by other motives, starts to fade and ugly realities start to come out from their pockets. If it is done by people themselves not a single bullet will be ever be fired between the two people. They will be very close to each other as they never been before. This is a call for all interested from both sides to start the initiative. Fasil kenema in Cicero stadium does not help.

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