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Patriotisn is the last refuge for a scoundrel

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th October 2001 03:00 AM

Afewereki is great but does not own Eritrea, does he?

By Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem Three weeks ago, I wrote about the deteriorating state of human rights and creeping dictatorship in Eritrea. The e-mails have not stopped since. The reaction can be broadly categorised into six groups. One, those who are literally gloating over the sad developments claiming “we know this was going to happen” because “your friends have never been democrats”. They include former EPLF cadres, supporters and combatants. Some of them claimed to have suffered denial of their human rights including death of loved ones and colleagues at the hands of the “EPLF in the bush.” Two, those who blamed “the reformers” for creating the dictatorship that has now turned on them. Some in this group are former EPLF supporters and non-EPLF Eritreans. As far as this group is concerned the chickens have only come home to roost. The reformers, in their view, should not complain. Three, there are people who never supported the independence of Eritrea and seem only interested in evidence to justify their opposition. This group consisted of Ethiopians and other Africans. Four, there are many Eritreans who wrote to thank me for the article and expressed concern that Africa and the rest of the world would not forget Eritrea again. Five, there is a tiny group, almost exclusively, non-Eritrean and non-African, who believe that they are in solidarity with “the Eritrean revolution” and will defend the government whatever the case. This group employs the old “anti-imperialist” rhetoric to justify its subservience to Asmara. Finally, and this is the group that I am most concerned about there are supporters of the government. This is the “my country right or wrong” crew. Their response ranged from “how dare you, who are you, are you Eritrean who is sponsoring you, what do you know about Eritrea, don't interfere in our affairs” and other seemingly patriotic posturing. Some of them even degenerated into crude threats and racist diatribe. I am not surprised at the range of responses but I must admit that I am saddened by many of them, especially the extreme polarisation between Eritrean responders that posit the situation in a simplistic “us and them” mentality in a quarrel that is essentially between brothers and sisters. Those who support the government of President Afewerki believe that to oppose him is to oppose the state and the people of Eritrea, which means treason. Physically, I know that Eritrea is very small but in spite of this, the president, no matter how intelligent, energetic and committed, is not and cannot be the state. He is a human being with weaknesses and foibles like all mortals. He is not infallible, therefore it should not be treason to oppose him. Those who celebrate the current crisis are being short sighted. If you think you are right, so what next? Those who blame “The reformers”, for keeping quiet all this time, may have a point but cannot just stop there. The substance of their current critique of the Eritrean leadership must be taken on and not dismissed through guilt by association verdict. For the anti-independence group, I do not believe that anything that the government of the state of Eritrea or President Afewerki may be doing or not doing, nullifies the claim and right of Eritrea to independence. If states lose their right to exist by the poor performance of their governments or presidents then many states in Africa will not exist. Therefore, we have to separate the government from the people even if President Afewerki's supporters have confused both. I do not believe it was a mistake or against Pan- Africanism, to have supported Eritrean independence. To my friends who are too scared to speak out but are quietly appreciative of all the small efforts to focus on the crisis in their country, I say our solidarity is with the people all the time and with government, on a case by case basis only. Eritrea does not belong to the president or the ruling party but to all Eritreans. As for the “anti- imperialist” rent-a-crowd, I have only two points to make: One, the abuses and infringements that you will not accept in your own countries do not defend as “part of the revolution” in Africa. Two, it is very patronising, bodering on racism, to judge Africa by a lower standard than you will judge your own people and institutions. Finally, those Eritreans who challenge my right “to interfere” (even if only by way of comment) or ask if I was an Eritrean I say: “why did you not ask for our passports and visas in those days when we gave our solidarity "to the struggle,” at a time when you did not even have Eritrean passports yourselves?” Has anyone of you ever thought about it that what you called solidarity then was interference in the “internal affairs” of Ethiopia? Maybe, the cynical words of one of the great figures in English literature are true after all: "Patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel". Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the General-Secretary, Pan African Movement, Kampala, Uganda or

Patriotisn is the last refuge for a scoundrel

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