Nation-building strategies privileging one identity in Eritrea versus state- nation building bolstering multiple and complementary identities?

By Fesseha Nair
25 August 2005

Today most societies in the world countries include more than one culture and community. In a country like Eritrea, one society seeks to dominate the others and such approach creates tensions and conflict. It is now almost 50 years, that Eritreans never resolved their internal conflicts by violence. The victory for one side or the other is not sustainable if it does not respect the legitimate rights of each nationality in Eritrea.

Peace, stability and development cannot be maintained by force but by peaceful dialogue and co-operation.

Currently, policies of assimilation by the government in power and by some political opposition organizations are involved in outright suppression of the fundamental rights of the other ethnic, religious and linguistic communities.

Their nation building strategies in Eritrea are only privileging on singular identity by advocating:-

–         Centralisation of political power, depriving of the autonomy of the other nationalities, all important decisions are made in all political, economical and social fields where the dominant group constitutes a majority.

–         Construction of a unified legal and judicial system, operating in the dominants group’s language and using its legal traditions, and the abolition of any pre-existing legal systems used by the other nationalities in their own territory.

–         Adoption of official language laws, which define the dominant group’s language as the only official national language to be used in the bureaucracy, courts, public services, the army, higher education and other official institutions.

–         Construction of nationalized system of compulsory education promoting standardized curricula and teaching the dominant group’s language, literature and history and defining them as the “ national” language, literature and history but calling the other nationals languages as dialects and sub-nationals.

–         Diffusion of the dominant group’s language and culture through national cultural institutions, including state-run media and public museums.

–         Seizure of lands, forests and fisheries from indigenous people and declaring them” state or people’s property. “

–         Adoption of settlement policies encouraging members of the dominant national group to settle in areas where other nationalities historically resided.

–         Adoption of immigrant policies that give preference to immigrants who share the same language, religion or ethnicity as the dominant group.

–         Adoption of state symbols celebrating the dominant group’s history, heroes and culture, reflected in such things as the choice national holidays or the naming of streets, buildings and geographic characteristics ( eliminating the original names of villages by giving them the names of the dominant group, for example, the village names in Gash, Barka, Sahel and other places reflect this action)

This strategy of coercion to ensure unity and stability in Eritrea is not acceptable, in today’s world of increasing democratization and globalization.

The Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement will reverse this strategy of building “ nation state” to “state nation” where the various Eritrean ethnic, religious, linguistic or indigenous identities can coexist peacefully and cooperatively by:-

–         Decentralization of political power, eliminating all dominance oppression by the dominant group. All nationals will have the right to decide their own destiny.

–         Construction of diversified legal and judicial system, operating in the interest of the communities living in specific territory.

–         Adoption of official languages which define the common interests of all the nationals to be used in all the public works.

–         Construction of compulsory schools and curricula promoting the languages of all nationals, literature and history.

–         Fostering trust, support and identification among all nationals to build a democratic state nation through national cultural institutions. Each national, linguistic and religious group has the right to establish its own institutes that promote its culture.

–         Adoption of nation state symbols celebrating all the history, heroes and culture of all nationals.

–         Returning the lands, forests and fisheries to its owners.

–         No settlement policies that brings changes in demography.

The objectives of the strategy of the Eritrean Federal Democratic movement is to build multiple and complementary identities where the citizens can find the institutional and political space to identify with both their country and their cultural and religious identities, to build their trust in common institutions and to participate in and support democratic policies.

National unity can not be achieved by coercion or imposing a single identity and denunciation of diversity. Nation building strategies privileging single identity in Eritrea will fail like that of Amhara in Ethiopia.

The Eritrean Federal Democratic movement’s and sister organizations like Kunama, Afar, SAGEM, SEDEGE, and other religious movements strategies that promote accommodation of diversity are the only effective solutions for ensuring the longer terms objectives of political stability and social harmony in Eritrea.

Eritreans, either in the opposition camp or the government who ignore this reality will never bring peace and stability in Eritrea but civil wars and disintegration.

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