Thank You Our African Brothers and Sisters
The Open Letter our African brothers and sisters wrote to Eritrea’s Head of State, Isaias Afwerki, is a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of African politics and diplomacy. It came on the 55th Anniversary of the establishment of the OAU (the predecessor of the African Union), which falls one day after Eritrea’s Independence Day, and it thus carries a poignant symbolic significance. It signifies a Pan-Africanist spirit as well as reflecting a spirit of liberation that had given birth to a new African nation, following a long and arduous struggle. It is a simple message, simply expressing a wish to visit Eritrea and requesting the President to allow such a visit, which includes visits to meet with government Ministers as well as prisoners, including journalists, who had been locked up without any legal process for over seventeen years, just for daring to exercise their civil and constitutional rights.
Speaking for myself, having been privileged to have known some of the people who wrote the letter, including Professor Wole Soyinka, whom I consider a good friend, I was not surprised when news of the letter hit the headlines; but I was thrilled and most grateful that Africa had come to the rescue, that the Pan-Africanist spirit was invoked in defense of our people’s rights. I was also pleased that the letter was couched in polite, diplomatic language, avoiding preaching and any hint of high-mindedness. The letter even made reference to problems some of their own nations were facing, but that Eritrea’s predicament of total denial of elementary human rights, and deadly isolation, is beyond the pale. Hence the timely and welcome intervention of our African brothers and sisters whose conscience has been pricked and who had waited long to see changes that did not come. And, after years of hope for change, they decided to intervene in a desperate effort to induce change of behavior from Eritrea’s leader.
The dominant sentiment of the letter is a deep-rooted concern for the plight of the Eritrean people, and a Pan-Africanist spirit of solidarity with a people that the writers of the letter considered (and called) heroic. The writers expressed their ardent desire to see them and their country emerge form isolation and join the family of fellow African peoples.
Will Mr. Isaias Afwerki respond positively to the requests of the writers of the letter? Judging by the desoerate comments of the propaganda machine that appeared in the government website, which reflects a knee-jerk reaction by the regime’s Department of Information, it would be unwise to expect anything better. Having been a member of the G-13, and knowing him as I do, I have no illusion that Isaias will respond positively. The G-13, a group of Eritrean scholars and other professionals, had pleaded with him to make peace with his colleagues in the government and erstwhile comrades-in-arms (during the armed struggle) and agree to implement the ratified constitution that he had suppressed. He refused and when they persisted by calling for the convening the Congress of the governing party, he proceeded to arrest and detain them. They have been in detention and incommunicado ever since, and many have either died or suffered bodily and mental harm.
The important point is that all of Africa, has turned its gaze on Eritrea, through the eloquent pens of its men of letters, and democracy and human right s activists. In other words, Africa’s needed awareness of Eritrea’s tragic plight has been expressed by its voices of conscience. We cannot have wished for more.
So, we say:
THANK YOU OUR AFRICAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS FOR GIVING VOICE TO THE VOICELESS! AND GOD BLESS YOU AUNDANTLY!!
Bereket Habte Selassie
Emeritus Distinguished Professor of African Studies and Professor of Law
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Fellow, African Academy of Sciences