Conversation with Ahmed Youssouf Mohamed

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Question: Please tell me briefly about yourself (where do you live, with which organisation do you work, etc.)?

Answer: My name is Ahmed Youssouf Mohamed; I was born in a village called Harsile, on the outskirt of Assab in Dankalia. If I can point out to a single event that shaped who I’m as a justice seeker, or who I am as a person today, it was probably the targeted mass killing of 15 of my close relatives, including my brother in April of 1999, as well as other Afar traditional leaders, elected members of the local parliament, businessmen and innocent civilians; all from the village of Harsile, were rounded up on suspicion of sympathizing with the enemy, Ethiopia. Later on, those atrocities grew into widespread human rights violations, waves of incommunicado dentations and assassinations of key Afar leadership, rapes, communal displacement and other forms of ethnic-based persecution of my people, the indigenous Afar. The systematic destruction of the Afar people’s way of living, as well as their cultural and economic identity made me even more committed to being involved in the fight for Afar rights in Eritrea, and shaped my conscience as Afar person, a father and a political leader. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these crimes, including high-ranking navy and military generals responsible for ethnic persecution and crimes against humanity remain at large. I now live in Ottawa, Canada, and serve as President of the Eritrean Afar National Congress (EANC), a political organization dedicated to establish Afar self-determination and autonomous Afar self-rule in Dankalia, within a democratically unified, federal and sovereign State of Eritrea.

Question: Few years back, your organisation made a change of name? Why did it change its name?

Answer: On July 1st 2018, after months of negotiations with various groups and on the advice of Afar traditional elders, activists, refugee groups from Afar nation to unite our forces, we agreed to form a new united organization. We were previously operating as Eritrean Afar State in Exile (EASE) and Eritrean Afar Democratic Movement (EADM) and also some former members of the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO). Together, we established the Eritrean Afar National Congress (EANC). We have declared to Eritreans and to the world, the Uppsala Declaration, a document that encapsulates the Afar vision, a framework for united and democratic Eritrea. EANC is currently part of the Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC), which is a coalition of over 20 political and civic organisations.

Question: Your organisation is known for its staunch opposition of the 1997 Constitution, not accepting it at all as a legitimate pact or a form of social contract? If there were a possibility to accept the Constitution (even on a temporary basis), to what extent would your organisation go in terms of reaching a consensus on this issue?

Answer: Yes, we continue to oppose the implementation of the 1997 Constitution. Leaving the question of its legitimacy aside, our position on the constitution is more relevant today given the condition of our people in Eritrea today. It is a tool of disempowerment; disenfranchisement and marginalization; if implemented, it would serve the interest of excessive centralized power in Asmara, regardless of whether the tyrannical dictatorship is in power or not. For example, on the topic of land rights, the 1997 Constitution agrees with the current regime in Eritrea in declaring that: “All land and all natural resources below and above the surface of the territory of Eritrea belong to the State” (Article 23). This gives the current or future Government of Eritrea a carte blanche to expropriate traditional Afar lands, territories and its natural resources under the law; the Government of Eritrea has made use of this principle by violently displacing the indigenous Afar from their strategic coastal properties and natural resources. Because of these laws, the Eritrean regime and its international partners in crimes have gunned down innocent Afar fishermen on broad daylight carrying about their livelihood of fishing on the Red Sea coast as they have done for centuries. Because of these texts in the Constitution, the Government of Eritrea feels they are supported by law to sell massive Afar land, traditional salt mining properties to the likes of UAE and signing off illegally obtained potash rich Afar traditional lands and territories by signing joint venture deals involving the Australian mining corporation, Danakali Ltd.

International human rights organizations have documented institutionalized discrimination, ethnic persecution, illegal land grabs and the disempowerment and economic marginalization of Eritrean Afar nation, all of which is causing irreparable damage to Afar society and its future socioeconomic, cultural and political aspirations as Eritreans.

We can safely conclude from all the facts mentioned above, the unitary model of governance of the 1997 Constitution is deeply problematic for our future, creating a unified democratic framework and reconciliation for inclusive nation-building agenda or for power-sharing vision between Eritrea’s nationalities, minority groups and others who want to participate and pick themselves up from 29 years of tyranny and lack of representation.

Question: In your view, what are the key missing elements that would make it possible for exiled Eritrea political forces to form a cohesive, inclusive and efficient united democratic front that shall do the task of uprooting the tyranny of PFDJ?

Answer: In my opinion, the fact that the constitution remains unimplemented is an opportunity for the democratic opposition groups, civic organizations, human rights activists, constitutional experts, religious groups, Yiakel groups, and all of the stakeholders to work together in a unified way to resolve their differences. Granted, the 1997 Constitution offers some basic universal values and freedoms, like rule of law, democracy and human rights, but these principles do not sufficiently address Eritrea’s current nightmare and future divisions and conflicts. Let’s learn from our mistakes and get back to the drawing board. Let’s look at what is available out there for a country like Eritrea, with a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious diverse population; we can learn from one of the most successful democracies such as Canada or Switzerland for example.

Question: Anything else you would like to add?

Answer: Key Afar demands in a democratic Eritrea are: a power-sharing constitution, internal self-determination, ethnic self-rule and autonomy, land and resources ownership, restoration of Dankalia’s borders to 1991.