By Nahum Zemariam
A Historic Journey
ESAT once again did it in a big way. It proved to sceptics that ESAT has been making huge impacts in the media landscape unparalleled by any other Ethiopian media outlet. Since its formation more than four years ago, ESAT has been the largest alternative media organization to Ethiopians back home, and around the world. Despite a determined and pernicious jamming efforts by the regime in Ethiopia and other sabotages like cyberattacks targeting ESAT journalists, ESAT has accomplished many milestones as it serves the people of Ethiopia.
Sending journalists to Eritrea is ESAT’s latest ground breaking media performance, and a historic accomplishment worth celebrating. This historic journey is indeed a turning point. It is a land mark event if seen from the perspective of the three decades war between Eritrean guerrilla fighters and the central governments in Ethiopia that ended in 1991 and the tragic war between the TPLF regime and Eritrea (1998-2000) that took the lives of tens of thousands. ESAT’s journey to Eritrea has effectively blunted years of negative propaganda and demonization the TPLF regime has waged against the government and the people of Eritrea in order to create deep animosity between Ethiopians and Eritreans.
Heightened curiosity about the Journey
When the news broke out that ESAT’s senior journalists Mesay Mekonen, ESAT Radio Managing Editor, and Fasil Yenealem, Editor in Chief of ESAT, travelled to Eritrea, it was received with great anticipation. The trip was timely, historic, and very relevant considering what has been unfolding in Ethiopia. Since the fraudulent election of 2005, the regime intensified its repression against the populace, decimated the independent press, and jailed scores of journalists and politicians. The regime has taken all sorts of repressive measures and legal covers to ensure that the political space is narrowed for a political dissent, making it almost impossible to wage any meaningful legal, peaceful, and non-violent struggle in Ethiopia. Several political opposition leaders and members in Addis Ababa who chose the path of peaceful resistance have said they have given up on this method due to the intensified repression and utter savagery of the TPLF regime.
As the May 15, 2015 “national election” is approaching, the repressive regime has intensified its crackdown on opposition political organizations. It even went to the extreme and disbanded two opposition parties, Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) and the All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP). It created its own cloned factions and gave the names, offices, and resources of the legitimate parties it disbanded to the illegal factions created by the ruling party. These and similar other bad news coming from Ethiopia could have further dampened the spirit of Ethiopians who are longing to see democracy, the rule of law, and justice to prevail in Ethiopia. Creating a sense of despair has been the agenda of the TPLF minority apartheid regime in Ethiopia for taking such desperate measures against opposition political groups waging struggle peacefully and within the ambit of the so-called constitution the regime parades as source of its legitimacy and authority.
Fortunately, Ethiopians have ESAT, regarded as the people’s eyes and ears. It took unprecedented and historic journey to report the merger of two opposition parties, and the current state of those organizations who are forced to wage an armed struggle to change the undemocratic and illegitimate government of the TPLF/EPRDF in Ethiopia. The reports from this trip kindled the spirit of patriotism among Ethiopians who have been hoping to see opposition groups come together and challenge the brutal regime in Addis Ababa.
The on and off popular resistance in the south, central and northern Ethiopia are shaking the government to the core. Defections from the Army and Air Force are in the rise. Just in the past few months more than a dozen air force pilots of fighter jets and helicopters have defected and sought asylum elsewhere due the blatant ethnic discrimination, favouritism, and cronyism, and other contradictions plaguing the minority Tigrayan dominated command and control of the Army and the air force of the regime. This has been source of much anxiety and frustration for the minority regime along with the organized armed resistance in many parts of the country whose intensity is increasing by the day.
The news of ESAT’s trip has generated tremendous curiosity among Ethiopians. In the past so many years, the TPLF regime security operatives and mouthpieces have been engaged in campaign of disinformation that harms the relationship between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Some media outlets in the Diaspora have been parroting the same disinformation or concocted their own negative reporting that the government of Eritrea has been making the lives of freedom fighters in Eritrea hellish. In view of these misinformation and innuendos, many Ethiopians greatly welcomed the decision of ESAT to travel to Eritrea and bring authentic information about the state of affairs of Ethiopian opposition parties that are based in Eritrea.
During their three weeks stay in Eritrea, the journalists were able to visit various places, including viewing the town of Humera in Ethiopia at a very close range , just across the Tekeze river from Omahjer in Western Eritrea. Mesay Mekonen said, “I can say that our journey was historical and beyond our expectation. We had the opportunity to talk with freedom fighters and visit their camps. What we used to hear about them and what we have observed on the ground are total opposite.” Fasil Yenealem also underscores the same point in his reportage interview with senior journalist of ESAT, Sisay Agena. “There have been a lot of talks about the Ethiopian freedom fighters groups that are based in Eritrea. We used to talk with them only over the phone for several years. Our journey helped us to see them in person and witness what they used to tell us. I hope our viewers and listeners too will be happy about our reportage of the truth we witnessed during this historical journey.”
So far, ESAT has released some of the video footages from the trip. One of the footages showed the merger ceremony of two parties who have been waging an armed resistance Ginbot 7 Popular Force and Ethiopian People Patriotic Front (EPPF). ESAT also released field reports where Mesay and Fasil managed to interview freedom fighters, who are trained to fight the illegitimate ethnic apartheid regime.
The Merger of the two Opposition Organizations
The first report by ESAT’s journalists was about the merger conference between the Ethiopian People Patriotic Front (EPPF) and Ginbot 7. It is to be recalled that the two parties, in August 2014, announced that they were heading for a merger to expedite the demise of the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime, which has been in power since 1991. Accordingly, EPPF and G7 officially sealed their merger on January 10, 2015 in the presence of leaders of the two parties, delegates sent from abroad to the merger conference, invited guests from around the world.
After the historical merger, the two parties agreed to name the new organization Patriots- Ginbot 7. The merger also elected 10 Executive Committee members as well as 82 Council Members who were tasked to hasten the struggle by tapping into the new spirit generated following this merger.
The press release issued by the Patriots – G7, following the merger states: “The realization of this merger to create a strong united armed force is a dream come true for the majority of Ethiopians while a nightmare for their tormentors. The merger signifies the quest for unity in their humanity more than their ethnic differences.” The new party pledged to fight and end the dictatorial TPLF regime in Ethiopia.
When asked about his take on the merger, one of the journalists- Fasil Yenealem- underlined, “What I can say about the merger is that it will inspire other freedom fighters, who have raised arms in the fight against the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime, to join the new merged party and unite for the same purpose. You can’t see any major difference with the other armed opposition organizations who attended the merger ceremony. I think it is a matter of time to see others join the movement.”
Testimonials about Eritrea from the Journalists
Both Mesay and Fasil had the opportunity to go around the capital city of Eritrea, Asmara and other places like the port of Massawa. Both were very impressed by what they witnessed in this historic trip.
Mesay Mekonen recounted, “It was like walking somewhere in Addis Ababa. People speak Amharic and they listen to Ethiopian music even in shops and in all modes of public transportation. Fasil Yenealem, shared Mesay’s observation, and said that what he used to hear about Eritrea and its people, and what he has observed in person is totally different. He added, “We are really lucky to visit Eritrea and share with you what Eritreans think about Ethiopia and its people. We will broadcast several documentaries in the near future and leave it to you to reach your own conclusion rather than me attempting to express my feelings in words.”
Ethio-Eritrean Future Relationship
One of the key successes of this trip was the meeting held with the President of Eritrea. This is a huge setback for the regime in Ethiopia, which has been trying its level best, to portray Eritrea as the nemesis of Ethiopia, and create mayhem between Eritreans and Ethiopians as the regime considers a peaceful and harmonious relationship at all levels between the two peoples as a deadly threat to the TPLF minority junta’s determination to subjugate the majority of Ethiopians in perpetuity.
Knowing that Eritreans supported them during their armed struggle and played a key role in toppling the PDRE/WPE regime led by Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, it’s a nightmare for TPLF to witness Eritrea backing Ethiopian freedom fighters. TPLF clearly understands what this partnership means from its own experience and its implication. Now it is obvious that the minority apartheid regime has come to the end of its rope.
President Isaias Afeworki who sat down to give a lengthy interview with ESAT’s journalists was quoted as saying that his country’s support for the Ethiopian rebel groups should not be regarded as a “favour.” Quoting the President, Fasil also noted, “What we are doing is not a favour. We have a responsibility and historical obligation to see a stable Ethiopia. You the patriots are the ones who play the major role.”
The President of Eritrea gave the interview in his temporary office outside of Asmara where he is closely following a major dam construction project. He told the journalists that various platforms for dialogue and fora for discussion should be organized and held between the two peoples to strengthen their historic and unique relationship.
Mesay on his part shared his take on the interview and said “I think the interview we had with the President will open a dialogue between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The President insisted that the people to people relationship of the two countries must be strengthened.”
According to ESAT, the full content of the interview would be released soon where viewers, after watching the full content, can reach their own conclusions. However, it is not hyperbole, if we say that the interview is unique. The President has taken enough time to reflect retrospectively and evaluate EPLF and TPLF’s past relationship while they both were rebel movements prior to coming to power in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively.
President Isaias Afewerki has taken responsibility, and was courageous enough to promise to rectify the mistakes that were done unintentionally in the past, the lost opportunities of the past twenty five years, which he considers a crime committed by the TPLF. For instance, the President recalls, 1994, after he read the draft constitution presented to him by Meles, he advised the late leader of the TPLF and dictator Prime Minister Meles Zenawi not to institute ethnic politics and ethnic federalism In Ethiopia. He was farsighted to warn Zenawi but the latter was not willing to listen, and change the destructive path, the divisive ethnic based rule he charted for Ethiopia. Recalling that historic moment, the President shared, “I remember, we advised them (TPLF) to change their colonial style divisive politics. But, they refused and dragged the country back to the 19th century. Now, we are paying the price for that.”
Delegates of the Merged Party Held Talks with the President
Another most important element of this trip was the discussion between the high-level delegates of the merged party and President Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea. According to Mesay Mekonen, the President first greeted and discussed with the high-level delegates who came from abroad, namely Mr. Abebe Bogale, Mr. Neamin Zeleke, Dr. Mulualem Adam, and other delegates who travelled from Europe and USA for the merger conference of the two political organizations.
The meeting was held in the presence of ESAT journalists. Vice Chairman Meazaw Getu, Commander Assefa Maru, and other members of the Executive Committee of the merged organization Patriotic G7 had a very fruitful discussion with the President. From Eritrea’s government side, Ato Yemane Gebreab, Head of Political Affairs and Advisor to the President and other senior officials were present.
The President who replied to a number of questions and comments from the meeting participants appealed to both Ethiopians and Eritreans to strengthen the people to people relations. He stated that “…we have worked for a better Ethiopia than the Woyanes. We told them ethnic politics is not the way to solve Ethiopia’s problems….”. “…The past is over. We learned from it. But, let’s do things for a better future for the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea…. “Ethiopia must get its rightful place in the region. We want a stable and strong Ethiopia… No lasting peace and stability could reign in the Horn of Africa, unless Ethiopia gets its rightful place.” President Isaias Afeworki emphasized this very important point and the policy of the Eritrean government a number of times, as Fasil reported.
He also emphasized the importance of unity, and expressed his delight to see the merger of the two parties. President Isaias also stressed that the struggle has been now transformed into the next level, and you (the parties) are the key players for the success of the liberation movement.
What This Trip Means to the TPLF Junta?
ESAT’s trip to Eritrea was a source of tremendous frustration to the regime in Addis Ababa. It would have done anything to stop this historic move by ESAT. ESAT has become a material force in the political landscape of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Many fans and supporters of ESAT and friends and colleagues of the two journalists were shocked when ESAT reported the trip while the journalists were still in Eritrea. These people have genuine concern because the regime is desperate, especially after losing its crafty tactician – Meles Zenawi. The case in point is the illegal abduction and rendition of Andargachew Tsige. This criminal action by the regime in Ethiopia has backfired and cornered it politically and diplomatically.
The regime made an erroneous calculation that if it just kidnapped Andargachew Tsige, it will prove its far-reaching power, and most importantly that the political struggle would die with Andargachew’s abduction. This proved quite wrong and had the opposite effect. Boomerang effect. It rather ignited the anger, heightened the determination and empowered many young Ethiopians all over the world to condemn the outrageous criminal action and unify the opposition against the minority regime.
ESAT’s trip is a game changer in this regard. It proved, once again, that the TPLF regime can no longer set the agenda of Ethiopian politics on the media and information arena. The freedom and peace loving people have now the power to set the agenda and the narrative of the struggle. Ethiopia will change only when the struggle for freedom comes to its logical conclusion- when TPLF is removed from power- and its divisive ethnocentric and repressive dictatorial policies are replaced with a democratic political order where justice, equality of all ethnic groups, respect for human rights and the rule of law are held supreme.
The results from this trip, especially the interview with President Afeworki, fosters win-win partnership between Ethiopians and Eritreans, and would surely contribute in ending the corrupt and iron fisted dictatorial TPLF regime. The interview encourages both the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea to engage in dialogue and strengthen their historical, cultural and social ties. It would also allow them to join hands to live in peace and shaping their common destiny in unison.
Thanks to ESAT’s journalism, the corner stone has been laid to move forward for a constructive and positive engagement of the two peoples on both sides of the border and all the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities throughout the Diaspora. Indeed, it is the desire of the new generation in Ethiopia and Eritrea today to work towards such an outcome.
ESAT’s extraordinary journalistic commitment has provided us with the facts from very far and remote places in Eritrea. ESAT enabled us to see the other side and saved us from being victims of baseless and divisive disinformation disseminated by TPLF operatives and the regime’s supporters in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora. For this heroic journalistic performance, ESAT’s supporters and fans should be proud because their continued financial and moral support has yielded such extraordinary results, which are critical to the struggle toward freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.
ESAT’s supporters around the world should redouble and triple their much needed financial support. ESAT should keep serving its unique role of being the “voice to the voiceless” and “the ears and eyes of Ethiopians” in the struggle for liberty, justice, democracy, and the rule of law to triumph in Ethiopia.
Other media outlets in the U.S. as well as in Europe should take the challenge to present the reality of the struggle for freedom by the Ethiopian forces based in Eritrea today. They should also have the courage to visit Eritrea in order to present a realistic and balanced perspective about the various features of the young nation. They should see for themselves the impressive culture of forthrightness, modesty, generosity, and simplicity of the Eritrean people despite the bloodshed, the loss of tens of thousands of both Ethiopians and Eritreans lives in that land, the hardship, suffering, and destruction the people of Eritrea had to endure due to decades of war and conflict.
It is now high time to nurture and strengthen the special and historical bond that exists between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Activists and community leaders within the respective communities worldwide should join hands in organizing festivals, conferences, and various platforms for inter community dialogue among Ethiopians and Eritreans in the major cities around the world.
Nurturing and strengthening the all-around ties that exist between the two sisterly peoples should aim and lead towards a special, comprehensive and all around durable strategic architecture for bilateral relationship. Such a framework of future relationship can include, but not limited to, -economic development projects, trade and commerce, joint security and defence arrangements, joint development and use of infrastructures , sea ports, joint agricultural and mining projects etc.— . All aspects on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect in post –TPLF Apartheid regime in Ethiopia.
As President Isaias himself has said in an interview he gave few years back the “the sky is the limit” and “borders are like clouds”. Such a lofty vision of great possibilities are worthy of the two great peoples. Such vision remains to be one of the paramount challenges to accomplish and translate to concrete policies and actions for these generations of Ethiopians and Eritreans in both countries and worldwide. “…Governments are transient, we come and go. … we should keep in focus the welfare and wellbeing of the new generation and posterity, for whose sake we all should work hard and strive to bring a better tomorrow for both Eritreans and Ethiopians.” The President of Eritrea was quoted saying by ESAT journalists.
Ethiopians and Eritreans need to be forward looking. They need to work shoulder to shoulder for a new and brighter era. They also need to soberly take lessons from the bad, the good, the ugly, all the blunders and mistakes of successive regimes and parties on both sides to the war and conflict of the past half a century. Such a new path would surely pave the way and usher the dawn of a new time for peace, stability, sustainable development, and social justice to reign for the peoples of both Ethiopia and Eritrea. No doubt it would also have huge impact and contribution towards stability, sustainable peace, and prosperity in the otherwise volatile, war, ethnic conflict, and religious extremism prone sub-region – the Horn of Africa.
A Luta Continua!
Links to ESAT Reportage and Interviews from Eritrea