Every December people plan and prepare to welcome a New Year. We look forward to the future and backward to the past to look for answers to the issues and problems we encountered in our life.
Looking to history is essential and unavoidable because by all measures we are the sum of all the events that have happened in the past. For instance, as Eritreans, the only way we can understand who we are and how we have reached where we now are is by understanding the past. Likewise, the only way we can understand who other people are is by studying their history. Failure to understand neighbors can lead to disaster during diplomatic encounters. So knowing ourselves and our neighbors is a key to success during peace and war time encounters.
We are advised to “remember the past to understand the present and to predict the future.” Some would agree with the idea that remembering the past is really helpful and others would object and say remembering the past is a burden to the present and the future. Anyway it is very difficult for Homo sapiens to avoid memorizing and retaining past events for good or bad. As Penelope J. Corfield once wrote: “History is inescapable” and we are condemned to show interest in the past. So, if remembering is inescapable “what should we remember?” is an important question we should ask. If the past has a share in crafting the future, then it is important to carefully identify the issues that we choose to remember which will help us to shape the future.
We both remember and forget when dealing with our present situations and predict future plans. Human beings forget past events for two reasons. First, they are not able to retain all the information for long duration. Secondly, they deliberately forget to satisfy their need to start afresh. Remembering and forgetting events define what, when and why countries remember and forget. Remembering and forgetting are the great forces that shape the national character and national identity of countries. Remembering and forgetting are the two beams of light that brighten the dark, uncertain and unknown future. For example, when Eritrea gained independence in 1991, after 50 years of struggle, the government and the people did not hesitate to forgive to all the Ethiopian brutality in the hope of developing a common and better future between the sisterly countries.
Forgiveness, the very social occurrence of the Eritrean society, also reflects the political practice of the country. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting. It simply means making a conscious decision to stop hating because hating cannot heal wounds. In 1991 and in 2018, when our blood had not dried and the pain of deliberate hurt existed, we, Eritreans, forgave and showed sympathy to our adversaries. Throughout the world we see many cases of prolonged bitterness among countries. In such cases national hatred poisons the environment and makes reconciliation unattainable.
The courageous decision, not holding grudges, taken by Eritrea helped the country at its initial moves to rise from the ashes. A forward looking Eritrea miraculously healed the wounds inflicted by successive colonizers of Ethiopia in the first seven years following independence until it was scratched and injured further by the TPLF war of aggression.
As we purposely forget to visit some corner of our history, we also purposely visit and remember our history. We, Eritreans, remember the past, however, to use George Santayana’s famous remark, because “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The past is not dead and gone without recurrence forever. After twenty years of resistance, with the signing of Asmara peace and friendship treaty, Eritrea began to stride in a new road of peace and cooperation. To transform the hard-won peace into sustainable peace we should curiously pinpoint the things to remember and forget. Howard Zinn wrote: “History is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it”. In order to have a fuller understanding of the current tide of events we must contrast the news with history. Knowledge about the past and knowledge about how the past is interpreted, transmitted and used is important for the sustenance of the peace and in winning our development objectives. The more and the better we understand the history of the past twenty years and the years before the better we shall channel the course of events to our benefit.
Historical awareness helps us both in our engagement with the outsiders and domestic affairs. Remembering the past doesn’t necessarily mean remembering and retaining all past events. We should go beyond retrieval of past events. Understanding and taking lessons out of it are valued above mere retrieval. Remembering the past should enable citizens to imagine possible future events. The important function of memorizing is to stimulate and prepare for future events. Responsible men and women of the Horn of Africa must ask themselves how past events affect the present and future and which possible alternative course should have been taken. Had our region learned from the past, there would have been no interstate or intrastate conflict.
For the conscious transformation of the present and in order to secure a meaningful future, the Horn of Africa’s community must study the history of how and why change in the past happened. This would enrich our collective experience and help us develop collective wisdom to generate ideas that contribute toward cooperation among member state, imparting a sense of common destiny.
For Eritrea, the year 2018-2019 was a year of peace. We tasted and added one year of peace in the history of our existence and independence. This peace is a hard found peace realized only after twenty years of resistance against multiple enemies. There is a saying: ‘victory made winners less prudent.’ In order to harvest the fruits of the hard found peace, we should prudently watch the events that happened around. We should identify who is working to advance the peace and who is working to avert and frustrate the change. As president Isaias Afwerki pointed out it will require again time and effort to remove the toxic and malignant legacy of the defeated forces and to bring about a congenial climate. We have to keep our friends close and our enemies closer to go further, better and safer. With penetrating observation of the current situation and careful evaluation of history we can make our future better and safer.