It is disappointing to find Dr. Tanja Müller, a relatively respected researcher on Horn of Africa affairs, comfortably regurgitating tired diatribes stitched together with unverifiable conversations that took place in Mekele, Ethiopia, around coffee shops and in taxis, to frame a piteous article published earlier this week on the World Politics Review website.
The essay, titled Will Peace With Ethiopia Usher In a Political Opening in Eritrea? is coupled with a picture of men kneeling with their hands crossed above their heads reminiscent of the anti- TPLF demonstrations that brought about the end of two decades long political and economic machinations that caused immense suffering to the people of the whole region.
The caption says the picture was taken during a supposedly Eritrean protest in Belgium. The reader is supposed to accept that as a fact, and together with the clickbait sensationalist title, is effectively spoon-fed farcical statements about President Isaias Afwerki’s “unknown whereabouts”, dense Eritreans trying to load an oversized fridge on the back of a visibly small car, a taxi driver unhappy about long queues at a gas station and blaming neighbours across the northern border for the occurrence, and countless other such fantastically cheap shots that we have come to expect from other dishonourable sources, but not from Dr. Müller.
Dr. Müller’s Eritrea-related research and writing has thus far been relatively balanced (with all benefit of doubt and patience offered from the Eritrean side). She has enjoyed candid conversations with everyone on this end. In fact, even when her published arguments and research papers were deemed reaching, and sometimes even weak and leaning towards unfair narratives, her Eritrean counterparts have made all efforts to engage her meaningfully and to provide her valuable information and contacts required to conduct further research.
In this recent piece, however, Dr. Müller seems to have suddenly grown impatient for some obscure professional reasons and as a result has decided to throw out all basic rules of social science research in the hopes of catching something big, which she obviously misses by a mile.
Dr. Müller’s deliberately trivial theses in this article – something about Eritreans not wanting peace to buy more products and another thing about Eritreans not being told about the reasons why the peace was accepted – is really not worth arguing with here.
We must, however, make one thing clear: Eritreans have never taken kindly to folks, however well-meaning, connected, and far up the food chain, in faraway lands, assuming the position of authors or guardians of a complex and multi-layered national development plan – economic, political, social development plan. This plan – and this is something everyone genuine enough to research the nuances of Eritrean history knows – is owned by and is the sole-responsibility of the people of Eritrea. This includes every Eritrean, whether at home or in the Diaspora, that has sacrificed dearly for this land that they freed from occupiers in 1991 and who stood triumphantly once again in 2018 overcoming the most vicious 20-years-long bullying and demonizing since 1998.
The long overdue peace with Ethiopia, as was declared many times before, is the fruit of Eritreans’ patience, steadfastness, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to truth and legality. Similarly, everything else that follows this peace will be the fruit of their hard work, patience, steadfastness, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to social justice that will manifest itself through a sustainable development plan that they have authored through blood and sweat.
Obviously, those invested in crisis management and conflict resolution will work diligently to derail this process that was ushered in 2018 and that is currently well underway. In fact, many are shamelessly already busy crafting nefarious ways of trying to achieve this objective. One would think, however, that someone like Dr. Müller would not be part of this wretched camp. In fact, one would place her squarely in the more judicious camp that understands the need for context and nuance beyond superficial regurgitation of he-said-she-said type reporting.
It is worth repeating here, just as was published in this newspaper a few months ago, if anyone in the West, especially at this time, was serious about Eritreans’ rights and well-being, the starting questions would be: Where are they now? How did they get here? Where do they want to go? What are the gaps between where they are and where they want to go? What plans does their government have to fill in those gaps? How can we help them – partnership based on respect and context – deliver on those plans?
It is also worth repeating here that this new era of peace and this growing pan-African pride and solidarity – something that Eritreans have stood for since the first bullet fired in September 1, 1961 – calls for new, genuine, and humble attitudes. Haughty viewpoints, such as the one in Dr. Müller’s recent article, that regurgitate tired ‘‘analysis’’ of what this peace means to the people of this region and root their premise in Eurocentric understandings and prescriptions of development and nation building are extremely counterproductive and reek of a sinister motive – one of which is the idea that no African ‘‘crisis’’ to analyze means no funding. Partners, including academics, need to move away from these types of condescending preaching that strip Africans of their power to articulate their future, and humble themselves enough to write dispassionate, fact and context-based proposals, that take full stock of Africans’ agency and respects their right to accept or reject that which is proposed.
As far as Eritrea is concerned, the majority of Eritreans – and, in the grand scheme of things, that and nothing else is what really matters – see peace with Ethiopia as a phenomenal accomplishment, which they have held their breath for since the signing of the Algiers Agreement. They also know that this peace was a key requisite, and will very soon prove to be the only requisite, to move up the development ladder – economic, political and social development ladder.