The role of the intellectual in African life has been repeatedly debated throughout the history. Starting from the dark centuries of European colonization to neo colonization, the role of African intellectuals in the struggles for empowering African personality and dignity was hotly discussed. Africa had seen many intellectuals and leaders who become an arrowhead in the struggle for liberty and dignity. With mounting resistance and calls for independence, imperialists have proved that they will no longer conquer Africans by force of arms. They replaced the colonization with neo colonization on the assumption that they will continue exploiting Africans through the indigenous elite who were milking the colonial bottle. After independence almost all of Africa was running the risk of being trapped by the irresponsible political leaders and wordsmith intellectuals. Being wrongly managed and educated, in the first 50 years of independence, Africa lost its moral, intellectual and physical luster.
In 2015 as African countries commemorate the 50th anniversary of the OAU, H.E president Issaias Afewerki had stated his belief that “the tribulations of our past and the enormity of the multi-faceted challenges that we face at the present should not, in any way, eclipse Africa’s immense potential and higher prospects for vigorous, sustained, and all-rounded progress in the next fifty years.” He also acknowledged the changing effect of African diaspora to reverse the direction and challenge the assumptions of the dominant discourse about Africa.
During the long and bitter struggle for identity and dignity, Eritrean intellectuals have fought on the side of the oppressed people of Eritrea. They endure an unfamiliar weight of burden that proved their intellectual strength. During the dark period of Ethiopian colonization, Eritrean intellectuals from prestigious eastern and western universities joined the struggle and paid the ultimate sacrifice for justice and independence. Almost all of the present higher officials of the government of Eritrea, who had previously spent decades in Sahel, were of high educational caliber. They also produced a rich wealth of knowledge to Eritrean society. They live, fight and die togather with all sections of Eritrean society.
With very few exceptions, Eritrean intellectuals were and still are revolutionaries in their orientation. During the struggle for independence the revolutionary intellectuals in Eritrea play a vanguard role and serve as a link between the leading organization and the people. The literati of Eritrea are heroic figures who have provided inspiration and direction to confront the real condition of Eritrea. In fact there are few intellectual, to use Beyene Haile’s phrase ‘qelem qemes’ who have done nothing good for Eritrean society. They were dissociated from the Eritrean public and they tend to look down simply because they have a certain amount of knowledge. Their arrogance and contempt pushed them too far to the extreme edge of betrayal. A scholar who is subjective, individualistic, impractical in the thinking and irresolute in action can benefit no one.
Noam Chomsky has said that “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” Accordingly intellectuals are obliged to see and say critically and rationally. And what an African intellectual sees and says doesn’t need to agree with the conventional and dominant narrative. As Africans they must conduct a critical appraisal of all the dominant ideas. Parroting and echoing the dominant narrative can’t be a true African voice that serves for African interest. The ordinary people of Africa tired of hearing alien notions, needs African idea that tests and smells ‘African.’ And calls of condemnation against the intellectuals agreed to sell their dignity for popularity has been rising in the continent.
This month, a cluster of African writers and journalists wrote an open letter to President Isaias Afewerki expressing their worries on the conditions of Eritrea. The writers stated that they write the letter “in the spirit of Pan-African solidarity, to seek common solutions to our shared problems.” To see the work of the wordsmith intellectuals from the point of view of literature is fantastic. But there are ample reasons that forfeited the letter in face of sincerity. Why now? Is it truly African idea? What is the motive – to help or to stumble? And more importantly where were you during the 30 years of Ethiopian colonization? Where were you during the TPLF invasion? Where were you when thousands of Eritreans were deported in pajamas by TPLF? And if you were true Africans where were you when Eritrea a member of African family was sanctioned falsely? What keeps you silent during our distressful hours when Eritrea an African nation calls an African help?
In 2015, Eritreans read with astonishment that crimes against humanity have been perpetrated by the government since “1991.” According to the COIE, the human rights of Eritrean people were preserved by the colonizers and for the first time in history violated after independence. In fact Eritreans are the victims of some of the modern world’s worst atrocities under Ethiopian colonization. Despite this fact the “the patriarchs of human rights” have demarcated “1991” as a starting point of indignity and crime for Eritrean people. Running after the rail of COIE, the “African journalists and writers” who choose to remain silent during the 1998-2000 war of aggression, the deportation, imprisonment and killing of Eritreans by TPLF, the demanding years of “no peace no war” and the illegal and unjust sanction, they now showed diligence to write on Eritrea. After twenty years of resistance Eritrea is now on a better condition. Then what is the motive to write on Eritrea when the existential threat from Ethiopia was removed, the unjust sanction lifted and when Eritrea is diplomatically engaged.
Eritrean people never had received support of any kind when colonized, invaded, deported, sanctioned and isolated. Except few courageous and principled once, African leaders and intellectuals betrayed Eritrea through out history. During our struggle for independence, Africa was praised the bloodsucking emperor and then Derg when they killed more than a quarter million of Eritreans in day light. Africa also cheered Meles Zenawi when he ordered the deportation of more than 80 thousand Eritreans in Pajamas by mere “color of eyes” and conquered Eritrean territory in violation of agreed principles. Africa was carelessly sacrificed Eritrea as a Passover lamp to be sanctioned by the Security Council. If the signatories are writing in the spirit of Pan-African solidarity don’t they know that Eritrea is African nation and Eritreans are Africans before this time?
Another point that deprived the letter a minimum level of credibility and sincerity is that the identity of the signatories. An integral part of intellectual practice is to insure active participation in the affairs of one's society. Many of the signatories are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic republic Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Central republic Africa, Mali, Libya and other countries stormed by conflict. As intellectuals they must first produce and disseminate usable knowledge to their own society based on the analysis of concrete conditions. Being inconsequential and insensitive in the affairs of your society is a clear sign of ineptness.
Many of the signatories whom I know didn’t speak the language of their countries. They never spell in the language of their own. Before contributing to the wellbeing of Africa, they must first integrate into and reconcile with the society to which they belong. In order to become an instrument of African renaissance, they must first embrace their cultures and languages. As intellectuals and citizens of Africa they must commit themselves to African interests. They must formulate an Afrocentric ideology. They must stretch their intellectual muscle to oppose the existing order that placed Africa at the bottom. To use the words of Jean-Paul Sartre "the duty of the intellectual is to denounce injustice wherever it occurs."
No one says Eritrea is free from problems. As a developing nation we have no shame to declare our problems. We are directly and courageously confronting our problems. Nevertheless, despite all the challenges, in the past twenty years of independence Eritrea has scored modest achievements. Eritrea is now determined to replicate the success of the MDGs in the Sustainable Development Goals. Eritrea has a Government, People and Army to look after her affairs. If the signatories have the intellectual capacity to understand, analyze and to formulate ways to improve conditions they should try to help their countries. They are many helpless countries in Africa that needs assistance to come out of their deplorable conditions.
Africa wishes to have the political, economic and intellectual strength among many to prevent other powers using her for their own ends. The “patriarchs” who are trying to preach the gospel of freedom and democracy have to replace the slogans with hard thought and sincere negotiations. Otherwise throwing baseless accusation on Eritrea is like putting salt into the wounds inflicted upon us by the vultures. As Eritrean and African I call up on them to go beyond what has been said and to join those social forces struggling for radical change.
Instead of parroting what has been said by the special interest groups, African intellectuals should strive to become a fountain of original knowledge and forge a new narrative. Therefore instead of singling out and attacking member states, the intelligentsia must engage constructively with the priority questions and concerns confronting the continent. They should bear their professional ethics. The purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and to make informed decisions. African voice is strengthened only when journalists have demonstrated that they serve the public interest by speaking the truth.
Therefore every African writer should speak and write to denounce injustice, domination and to fight for truth. Digging the fact from the ditches of falsehood is the job of an intellectual. Instead of running after the wind and whirlwind of falsehood they should stand firm against it. Since none of them have ever been in Eritrea, I appreciate the complaisant and positive response of the government to “Come and See”.