[lg policy] Eritrea: London CDRiE Conference Report

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 2 15:40:12 UTC 2010

Eritrea: London CDRiE Conference Report

Michael AbrahaFebruary 01, 2010 CDRiE London Symposium

"The Eritrean government´s reluctance to adopt two official languages
[Arabic and Tigrigna] that may willy-nilly polarize and homogenize
Eritrean society into two religious groups is theoretically sound.
However, it is equally, if not more important to underscore the fact
that the government and its supporters have got the politics of it
wrong." Professor Gaim Kibreab  On January 9, 2010, a panel of
Diaspora Eritrean academicians, professionals and intellectuals
debated pressing national issues and problems which the Asmara regime
considers unimportant. These ranged from religious, ethnic and land
rights to questions of national languages and governance. About 150
people attended the London symposium which was organized by Citizens
for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE). Presentations were followed
with counter discussions, questions and comments from the audience.
Among the attendees were two former Eritrean Ambassadors, scholars,
social and political activists including human rights activists Elsa
Chyrum and Selam Kidane and other fellow compatriots.

The nine papers presented at the symposium are being packaged in a
book form and will soon be made available to the public. In the
interim, a summary of these papers is being presented in a two-part
series. Part One covers presentations by CDRiE Chairman Suleiman
Hussein (UK), Professor Yebio Woldemariam (USA), Researcher Ahmed
Suleman (UK), and Professor Gaim Kibreab (UK).

Part Two will include papers by Hassan Salman (Sudan), Journalist
Habtom Yohannes (Holland), Senait Yohannes (Canada), Simon M.
Weldehaimanot (USA), and Professor Kidane Mengisteab (USA).

Here is the first report which begins with a description of CDRiE´s activities.

CDRiE Chairman Suleiman Hussein (UK) summarized the achievements and
challenges faced by the agency since it was first launched in London
in January, 2009 as a global civic organization. Suleiman told
participants that CDRiE used its first year in strengthening its
organizational structure on the one hand and its relationship with
Eritrean and international organizations on the other. Suleiman
stressed that after one year CDRiE had succeeded in striking the right

"To those who welcomed us with high expectations, we promised to do
everything we can to become a real catalyst for change and part of the
solution to the Eritrean predicament" said Suleiman. "To those who saw
us with suspicion, we have sought positive engagement and tried to
explain our vision and mission with all modesty", he added. Suleiman
said the results have so far been very positive and that many of our
critics have now become our friends and supporters. "Among these are
some who for one reason or another sympathize with or even support the
present Eritrean Government."

Among the major achievements of the year was CDRiE´s role at the
successful Brussels conference on Eritrea and the Horn of Africa last
November. One other highlight Suleiman mentioned was his
organization´s participation in May 2009 of the African Human and
People´s Rights gathering in Gambia, West Africa. Yebio Woldemariam,
Ph.D, Adjunct Professor York College, the City University of New York.
Professor Yebio´s topic is "Land in Eritrea: A Contentious Commodity".
His discussion is centered on the use and ownership of land as it
relates to agriculture combining livestock and crop production. His
paper analyzes landholding systems in lowland and highland Eritrea.

Internal migration by "environmental refugees" is a common phenomenon
as a means of coping with food shortages, says Yebio. He is by no
means opposed to freedom of movement and the people´s right to decide
where in the country they wish to live. But Yebio is against
government sanctioned migrations or settlements without due
consideration to the customs and beliefs of the indigenous population.

He says dealing with complex problems such as food security requires
careful planning and that activity driven bravado measures won´t bring
solutions. "The desperation of people to lead a decent life coupled
with the extraordinary ability of the plateau people to move beyond
their traditional confines will eventually exacerbate social conflicts
in Eritrea," according to Yebio. In this connection, Yebio warns of
unintended consequences of government measures to "transpose people
from the highlands of Eritrea to the lowlands without the approval and
free consent of the inhabitants".

Ahmed Suleman – Researcher – (UK): The premise of Ahmed´s paper is the
need to build a "Conscious National Unity". Ahmed underscores at the
outset why it is crucial to preserve the "existing national unity,
build on it and plan to refine it." He says our "shared future compels
us to integrate positively", adding: "We have the right to diversify
or differ but we have a religious and historical obligation to remain
united".  Ahmed believes lack of open and constructive national
dialogue is hampering the building of a "conscious national unity"
leading to the "current tense silence and endemic rigidity". He says
integration does not come automatically and that conscious effort is
needed to realize unity under conditions of diversity of ethnicity,
religion, culture and language.

Ahmed identifies lack of integrity, crisis of trust and fear as some
of the main obstacles to achieving true national unity. He believes it
is essential to gather unbiased data on economic inequalities and then
work on eliminating religious or ethnic based discrimination. Ahmed
speaks of the need to raise the level of social awareness and draw
positive programs and effective policies to purge the adverse effects
of any uncivilized acts and attitudes. He recommends the "setting up
of an independent national security committee – as a supervisory body
on discrimination."

Professor Gaim Kibreab (UK): on "Language Policy of the Eritrean
Government". Professor Gaim delivers a very compelling argument in
support of making both Arabic and Tigrigna Eritrea´s official
languages. He appears to have reached this position not only because
of Eritrea´s unique experience in this regard, but also because of his
convincing comparative historical analysis of the development of
national languages policies in such countries as France and Iran. Gaim
chronicles the different language policies operating in Eritrea under
the Italian colonial rule, post-WWII British Administration, the
Ethiopian federal administration followed by Ethiopian occupational
rule, and finally under pre- and post-Eritrean independence. Gaim
argues that the future of both Arabic and Tigringa as national
languages was shaped by attitudes and policies under the British
Administration (1941-1951) and later upheld by the Federal System

Gaim warns against the reluctance to adopt two official languages - a
move the Eritrean government believes might polarize the Eritrean
society into two religious groups. While Gaim recognizes such argument
as legitimate, he discounts it as politically untenable. Gaim
underscores the urgent need to create a society that is fluent in both
Tigrinya and Arabic. He believes such a move would make Arabic and
Tigrinya to cease being the monopoly of Muslims and Christians. "More
importantly", Gaim says, "the perceived links of Arabic with Islam and
Tigrinya with Christianity would come to an end." It is important for
the reader to look at Gaim´s entire paper in order to fully appreciate
how his analysis led him to embrace the two-language solution as
described in his conclusion below:

"During the Federation Muslim children were taught in Arabic and
Christian children in Tigrigna at primary school. Although the
decision to adopt Arabic and Tigrinya as co-official languages was
commendable, the approach of teaching Arabic to Muslim students and
Tigrigna to Christian students was wrong. During the Federation, the
school system instead of fostering national integration fomented
division and disintegration. This mistake should never be allowed to
be repeated. Eritrean children should from the beginning be taught in
Arabic and Tigrigna simultaneously regardless of their religion,
ethnicity and region. The effect of this will in the long-term be the
creation of a bilingual society committed to a single nation of
Eritrea where all citizens live in peace and harmony."

Copyright – 2010-01-31 (RightsResearch.com)

CDRiEritrea at googlemail.com Mikaelabk at gmail.com


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