(Originally posted at http://www.awate.com on December 2, 2016, Recognition of Individual Contribution: A Step to Transparency and Responsibility)
Let’s pause and look into ourselves and identify “who is who” among those who are making history by being in the foremost list of activist leaders in the quest of justice for Eritrea. In today’s political mindset of Eritreans, many may feel discomfort when individual dissidents are picked from the crowds of justice seekers pool. Though these negative feelings have deep historical roots to exist, it is a must for justice loving Eritrean to know who is who among themselves.
The struggle for independence has left a strong footprint of burring purposefully individual talent, creativeness and leadership. Promoting individual talent is considered as nurturing individualism. From the very beginning, the revolutionary concept was designed to be a collective work. Every achievement registered is collective work, even when it is done by an identified individual. It is almost a taboo to give credit to someone who did a typical work. With the exception of the supreme leader, in rare cases, when an individual’s heroism, intelligence, talent, leadership quality etc., trespass collective recognition, political suspicion increases. Soon enough, directly or indirectly, the individual becomes victim of political silencing, often accompanied by complicated accusations of treason and fabricated labeling. The fate becomes either going to prison or get killed systematically. Hundreds of brilliant freedom fighters were passed unrecognized day in day out for this simple reason.
Such acts create organizations that burry individual contribution. Anyone who happens to be pragmatic and competent enough to bring a change within the existing system is systematically suppressed. When many talented individuals are silenced, the hosting institution falls under the mercy of one-man. Not only this, homogenous thinking develops that later becomes impossible to accept diversified ideas. The end result of this endeavor produces one-man rule, authoritative or totalitarian system. As time passes, all powers are concentrated in one that could resemble as a monarchic rule as Saleh Younis elaborated in his recent article titled by Eritrean “System” is a Monarchy (1).
Looking deep into the mindset of Eritreans, the society seems unable to reconcile with talented individuals. The doctrine of ‘the masses’ is still alive; both within those who support or oppose the current system. Individuals who surfaced at the top because of their unique works are continuously becoming the target of harsh criticism and defamation. Though such silencing campaigns are usually initiated by PFDJ security agents, folks within the justice seeking camp apply the same style to disown individuals with outstanding performance. As a result the camp of justice seekers is in constant scrutinaizaton.
Besides its psychological side effect on individuals, failure of giving timely and due recognition has an impact on identifying “who is who” within the pool of justice seekers camp. Parallel to this, it can hamper establishment of transparent and responsible leadership. To avoid such voids, first, it is wise to appreciate someone’s contribution so that it can boast her/his motive. Second when the struggle succeeds these known figures are good candidates to hold public positions. The society can put trust on them. In Tigrigna there is a proverb that reads, “ካብ ዘይትፈልቶጦ መልአኽ ትፈልጦ ሰይጣን ይሓይሽ” (From an unknown god, a known monster is better). The case of PFDJ Eritrea under EPLF and now PFDJ is typical example as during the struggle era, everything was opaque. After independence, all public positions were occupied with unknown figures which later produced confusion, inefficiency, secrecy and corruption of power on daylight.
In a different course however, with an increasing political shakeups and openness to democratic values, Eritrean opposition camp is experiencing a different path. Unlike before, individuals are in the course of being recognized and scrutinized more than any time for their works. Those who pass all the political litmus test are coming to the surface as juice of the shakes. Contribution of some individuals is big enough that it cannot be simply ignored. Eritreans like Saleh Ghadi Johar, Saleh Younis, Amanuel Hidrat, Amanuel Eyassu, Khalid Abdu, Amanuel Sahle, Selam Kidane, Meron Estifanos, Dr. Sara Okbay, Woldesus Amar, Abba Musie Zerai, Gezae Hagos, etc are among the pools of those formidable individuals who are playing a great role in shaping our struggle for justice. If my pen were strong enough, I could not miss this opportunity to write about every individual and give them due recognition on my own capacity and then let the people make it at equal level. If time permits, I will sharpen my pen to write about Amanuel Hidrat*, the unheard thinker who is continuously shaping our approach to struggle for democracy.
Some initiatives are coming to officially recognize individuals on different occasions. My take is to inforce on what is already done and give my testimonies. From what I refered so far, I found some information on this subject. To give you some notable example:
- In 2015, Bologna Forum recognized Professor Bereket Habteselassie for his long service to the case of Eritrea freedom, democracy and rule of law (2).
- Elyzabeth Chyrum, a human rights activist and advocate for Eritrean refugees all over the world, was recognized for her commendable work in 2009 (3) and 2012 (4).
- A conference held by Lead Eritrea in San Francisco University (USA) on September 24, 2016 recognized Dr. Alganesh Fesseha for her courageous role she played in saving Eritrean lives and gave her a Humanitarian award(5).
This official recognition is just a kick. To build transparency, every Eritrean citizen should delve in a much deeper question of individual’s contribution. This curiosity based question is not easy to be answered unless we have a whole picture of the activities accomplished Eritreans across all sectors of struggle. What we need to be caution enough is that the mechanism that every fighter uses is different and we need to give credit accordingly. The roles they play can be as: human rights activists, political activists, politicians, analysist, dissidents, thinkers, philosophers, strategists, propagandists etc. Each role has its own pros and cons in the march that we are endeavoring. It is therefore wise to know each activity. Based on this it is much easier to categorize Eritreans and recognize what they do. I tried to make a tentative list of people who fall in each category based on the keen observation I do on different cheer leaders in today’s struggle. Nevertheless I preferred to chose one and discussion a little further on the triumph and challenges facing during the entire discourse. For today, I have chosen Elyzabeth Chyrum.
Elyzabeth Chyrum: the indomitable and iron lady of Human Rights Activist
It is wise to define first what human right is before dealing with the term ‘human rights activist. Human Rights is defined as: “The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are considered to be entitled, often held to include the rights to life, liberty, equality, and a fair trial, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of thought and expression.” And any person or organization that works for these end goals is a human rights activist. In this category, Elizabeth Chyrum comes in the forefront. Without doubt this indomitable woman has worked relentlessly on her own backs in advocating human rights issues for the last two decades.
Elyzabeth Chyrum, commonly surnamed simply as Elsa, is a known figure among the justice seeking camp. Her horizon is both horizontal and vertical: meaning horizontally she extends her kind heart and unreserved help to people who badly need her help. And vertically, she knocks every door to urge every concerned institution, government and organization to hear the voice of the voiceless Eritreans. Her notable works and known to the public are enormous. Her hunger strike outside the Djibouti Mission to the United Nations in Geneva in support of 267 Eritrean refugees detained in Djibouti was a remarkable and unforgettable phenomenon (6). An article published at Asmarino.com on 2009 has registered more than twenty achievements that gave credited to her role (7). Since then she is continuing to add dozens of remarkable achievements each year. Her pledge to the United States to form a commission that investigate for human rights crimes of PFDJ regime that are later recognized as “crimes against humanity” is her latest and internationally recognized high level score. She is a director of Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE), a UK based nonprofit organization. Anyone who is eager to know about the work of this organization, it can easily be accessed at www.hrc-eritrea.org.
Though Elyzabeth is doing a marvelous work, she is equivocally a target of criticism, defiance, insults and personal threats. It is obvious when PFDJ goes after her and her organization and try its best mechanism to silence her by all means. It is a known fact why it does so. What is worrisome is when forces that are considered as justice seekers go against her. I remember a harsh attack that went after her from a political movement members (now mostly members of Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation (ESMNS)) targeting her when she extended her hand to help an Eritrean who contacted her personally when he was in danger. Though I believe that most of the earthquakes she receives are on unfounded conspiracy, my main theory is very simple and straight: “Many think that she is just against PFDJ. I bet it. She is for humanity; she is for justice, for dignity, respect of each other, and rule of law and accountability of everybody’s deeds.” For this, when she sees wrong on human rights, she stands right to defend it. She is a jewel of justice where injustice is prevailing. Many will continue to misunderstand her noble work until justice and rights of humanity becomes the norms of our daily life. Till then, I doubt she will ever be free from similar attacks. Sadly, today, individuals, institutions, organizations and governments are constantly violating human rights. Unless we are blessed with very rare individuals like Elizabeth Chyrum, human dignity will vanish forever and atrocities will become a norm.
On this occasion, I salut Elsa. Bravo Elsa, vraiment super.
- Younis, Saleh. The Eritrean “System” is a Monarchy. [Online] 2016. http://awate.com/the-eritrean-system-is-a-monocracy/.
- Habtemariam, Semere T. EYSC’s Bologna Forum Recognizes Dr. Bereket Habteselassie. [Online] 2015. http://awate.com/eyscs-bologna-forum-recognizes-dr-bereket-habteselassie/.
- Asmarino Staff. Elizabeth/ Elsa Chyrum: Human Rights Activist (Eritrea). [Online] 2009. http://asmarino.com/alewana/332-elizabeth-elsa-chyrum-human-rights-activist-eritrea.
- Elizabeth (Elsa) Chyrum: A woman of the year 2012. [Online] 2012. http://asmarino.com/editorial/1609-elizabeth-elsa-chyrum-a-woman-of-the-year-2012b.
- Eritrea, Lead. [Online] 08 2016. https://www.facebook.com/Lead-Eritrea-Where-Eritrean-Youth-Start-Leading-709521955835644/.
- HRC-Eritrea. Eritrea: Hunger strike in Protest against detention of 267 Eritrean refugees in Djibouti. 2014.
- AI Staff. Elizabeth/Elsa Chrum: Huamn Rights Activist(Eritrea). s.l. : http://www.asmarino.com, 2009.
*Since 2009 (information available in his column Tebeges at www.awate.com, Amanuel Hidrat has written more than 40 Articles. Each article is worth for scientific analysis. If we spent sometimes on his thinking for sure we will get a light to our path for democracy and governance.