Habte Hagos: Virtual Conference Closing Remarks – 4 July 2020
[Not read at the end of conference due to time constraint]
As this conference draws to a close it is my pleasure to make a few final remarks.
Let me begin by thanking everyone for their contributions; whether you are here today, or you were here earlier in the week. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that this has been a considerable success, where we all too often feared it would be a failure.
As you may know, we had prepared for a conventional conference in partnership with the University of London Institute of Commonwealth Studies, with a wonderful venue kindly donated by them. Sadly, COVID struck and it was not to be. All those face-to-face meetings and informal discussions were, unfortunately, lost.
However, the task of working on a transitional blueprint for a democratic Eritrea was urgent, and we had to act. So, we took advantage of this new technology, and here we are. People attended from various parts of the United States, Australia, Israel, Southern Africa and beyond.
I want to thank everyone who participated, giving so much of their time and energy to helping us take this work forward. Much of the credit must go to the experts who spent over a year preparing the papers that underlay the ideas that we have been discussing. The spirit of lively, but courteous, debate that characterised this week is a credit to us all. Even when the most hotly-contested issues were before us, we treated each other with respect – something we cannot say always characterises Eritrean discussions!
Special thanks must go to those who worked hard behind the scenes: Helen Kidane, Yvonne Orengo, Paulos Michael and Kiflom Teklehaimanot in particular. We are also immensely grateful to our sponsors – the National Endowment for Democracy. Their generosity has made this conference possible. I will be formally writing them to convey our thanks for their donation.
As I said at the start of this conference, we will now take the comments and feed them into the discussions we will continue to have to formulate a blueprint. Once this has been thoroughly prepared and reviewed, we will be ready to go public with our work. We hope to hold a further conference towards the end of the year/early next at which we can formally present our blueprint to the participants and then make it public for the Eritrean people. Our aim will be – as ever – to make a contribution to a democratic, free country. Our work, along with that of others, should help a future government to find a way forward in those first, vital months following a transition.
What this conference has shown is the immense goodwill that permeates our community. Eritreans from very different backgrounds came together to share their experiences. It was humbling to listen to men and women who have spent the best part of their lives attempting to build the kind of Eritrea that we all want. We heard from Professor George Ayittey (from Ghana) on the lessons from other African nations which was insightful. We listened brother Festum Abraham’s comments about how vital a neutral administration is in overseeing a transition process.
For me, this conference had three key lessons.
Firstly, there is a deep desire in our Eritrean community to unite, work together and to transform that desire into a movement that can lead us to a new democratic Eritrea that is at peace with itself and its neighbours. Eritrea Focus is not that movement, but we would be willing to assist and do all we can to encourage our diverse communities to come together;
Secondly, we have an immense pool of goodwill from our allies across the world. Whether you look at the work of the Hotline for Refugees in Israel, or the America Team for Displaced Eritreans, we know who our friends are. We will build on their contributions and find others who can support our work. We already have links with democratic institutions across the world. We will strengthen these and seek even more supporters who share our vision, whenever we can and wherever they maybe; and
Thirdly, our work – collectively – is well understood and appreciated by our people. We can say with some confidence that even in the villages of Eritrea and the refugee camps of Sudan, Ethiopia and Libya there is an increasing awareness of what we, in the diaspora are doing. The regime may seem strong and stable; the reality is quite the opposite. The more credible and viable we are, the more confident our Eritrean people will be that the bright future ahead belongs to them and no one, but no one, can take it away from them again.
Finally, and as we bring the conference to a close, I would like to pose two question that, we as Eritreans, need to take away with us and ponder upon:
- Was the sacrifice of our martyrs to liberate our country from Ethiopian oppression only for our people to be humiliated, abused, enslaved and exiled in their tens of thousands by an internal enemy?
- What are we going to do about it individually and/or collective to ensure justice is served and the long nightmare of our people comes to an end?
I often wondered who or what is the worst enemy of the Eritrean people; Isaias or our disunity? I was, therefore, absolutely delighted to hear from brother Hailemariam Tesfai that the Eritrean opposition groups have decided to unite. I commend them hugely for that. At long last, the suffering and nightmare of the Eritrean people may be coming to an end.
With that, I bring this conference to a close – I wish you all well and stay safe.
Chair, Eritrea Focus
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Some of the hundreds of speakers and participants