People will not invest even one cent if they do not believe there is a chance of success. On the other hand people risk all if they believe what they are doing is going to make a difference.
In this regard, history is not on our side. Looking back at how Eritrean opposition organizations have performed the past decades, the cost simply isn’t worth the product for many Eritreans.
With the above in mind, many who involve in activism against the regime join out of desperation, “let’s all just oppose the regime!” they shout, “our brothers and sisters are dying! What are we doing!?” Many don’t seem to have sober long term plan. Many don’t seem to have come to terms that the regime has a couple of decades left—the way things are going.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmond Bruke, 1729-1797).
Nowhere else has this statement been as true as in the case of recent Eritrea.
It matters less what evil people are doing compared to what the good people are NOT doing. It is very important we focus on getting the good men and women of Eritrea to do some-thing. And focus less on trying to convince the evil people to do less bad (YPFDJ included).
Good news: Eritrea has many good women and men. The reservation of most to actively or passively involve in organized opposition or activism is frustrating. The main reason in my opinion is that people lack faith in the ability of already existing organizations (political or civic) to make a difference.
The credit for recent increase of Eritrean diaspora involvement in opposition goes mostly to Eritrean government for creating conditions for outrage so great that it had to be let out despite the discouraging organizational mess that exists within the opposition.
Below I present a list I made about two years ago—less than a year after I left Eritrea. It is on some practical ideas I think diaspora organizations should find interesting to involve more good women/ good men:
“Don’t tell me what you stand for. Tell me what you do!” (Dan Connell to the Eritrean Opposition)
It is much easier for people to join in on an on-going project. Especially if:
- they can see where exactly they can contribute
- they can readily join – little hassle (paperwork, meetings, etc)
- project has clear and time-bound goals(example: producing an event poster, or arranging a meeting place)
- last but not least people must believe what they are doing is useful
Attending a seminar by Dan Connell last September in Oakland, CA, a statement caught my attention. He was describing his visit to Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia and later meeting the thirty something opposition organizations there. He wasn’t shy to show his low opinion of most organizations. He said he asked the opposition organizations this: “Don’t tell me what you stand for. Tell me what you do!”
Help them make the decision
Most Eritrean diaspora are victims of years oppression under the guise nationalism and patriotic duty. Trying to pressure them into opposition is never a good idea. Help them make the decision.
Small steps at a time
Everyone goes through stages to becoming involved. I suggest involving new members in small activities first. Especially things they can do anonymously.
Anonymity can be our friend
Even at a later stage of involvement in opposition, everybody in an organization does not need to be ‘visible’ to contribute significantly. Concerns about family back home is a legitimate fear for any Eritrean. Until people feel the risks are worth what they are doing, don’t push people who don’t feel comfortable to come out publicly. Plus, the government spends unbelievable energy trying to figure out the opposition structure and influential members, why give it the information away for free.
No sales talk
It is always tempting to ‘emphasize’ ones success a little too much, especially in the face of government supporters trying to trash every effort. But sales pitch comes at the expense of trust. Trust is more important. Statements like “Successful meeting” seem to be thrown around routinely among the opposition. Tendency to avoid giving number of protestors or size of an event when those numbers are not to the organizations favor is also damaging.
Strike where it matters
Nothing deflates the enthusiasm and moral than involving people in something of little effect. Don’t just do things to involve people (even in protests, arguments on internet, even holding seminars) Everything costs time, money and morale. Ask if is it really worth it?
This is another way of seeing the above point (strike where it matters). Eritreans are depressed by the atrocities committed by the government and frustrated with the opposition. Anything an opposition group does is long overdue. Nothing short of removing the government is going to impress Eritreans. Keep that in mind and don’t be disappointed and distracted by people who will be unfairly hostile, especially when you fail.