A lot has been said and written about the unity we have in Eritrea. In my opinion it’s not enough and can never be enough. We as Eritrean ca never be too confident to stop our ambition for improvement. Taking a look back at the history of Eritrea and the journey it has gone through, doing what was considered impossible by defeating a country that was supported by big powers. Its unity played a crucial role in achieving this and in constructing a strong foundation for our nation to grow.
After the ending of the celebration of the religious holidays i.e. Fasiga (Geez Easter) and Eid Al-Fitir (Ending of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan), I started to reflect on the beauty of Eritrea in the way the religious holidays were celebrated. There were no sham public displays of unity such as religious leaders attending official ceremonies of the opposite faith, rather, the people themselves were intermingling harmoniously congratulating and visiting each other.
Tolerance as a word gets thrown around a lot and may seem simple in meaning. However, though simple, in reality has a profound effect on the peace and harmony of societies and states. Looking back on how these events were celebrated, it not only made me proud to belong to Eritrea but also extremely grateful. I felt proud to belong to a country that truly “Walked its Talk”.
All over the world, we witness countries preaching tolerance or claiming to have unity within their diversity. They portray images of exchanges, respect, openness and acceptance between their different faiths and ethnic groups. The reality however, is different. What is portrayed in their media is not a reflection of the realities in their societies. Rather it’s a facade or image of the utopia they wish to project to the world. And as proof, we witness the crumbling of their façade through ethnic and religiously driven conflicts.
In Eritrea, what is depicted in our media is a direct reflection and a living reality of the unity and respect that exists. Believers of opposite faiths congratulate each other on important occasions, partake and share in the festivities and respect each other’s values and differences. Our history is a true testament to the wisdom and tolerance of our forefathers. When our enemies i.e. colonizers, tried to divide the people though religious motives, our forefathers (considered by the colonizers ignorant to notice their divisive plot) showed the true nature of their character through their integrity, wisdom and solidarity. They quickly observed the destructiveness of the divide the colonizers were trying to impose in the country and made their efforts fail. Eritreans displayed their integrity and solidarity by putting their lives on the line, giving refuge to their fellow citizens of the opposite faith and standing by their side when being attacked. They showed their wisdom, when they strived to tackle the divide created by the colonizers, through convincing those that could not see or understand that the colonizers were using the divide amongst them to their benefit at their expense.
This concept of tolerance and respect was not only inherited but further imprinted into the Eritrean people during the armed struggle for independence. The enlightenment efforts made by the EPLF regarding tolerance and respect within difference, arose a culture from the fighters and further cemented the importance of tolerance, respect and unity. It did not matter what their ethnic, religious, educational, economic, social…etc. background was. Regardless of who they were or where they came from, what united them was their mother land. They fought, entrusted their lives and died alongside each other. This broke down the barriers of division created by the colonizers, thus turning comradery into true brotherhood.
This culture continued after independence with the establishment of Sawa and the national service program. Youth born after independence have been able to mix with their fellow citizens from all corners of the country, breaking down any walls or stereo types they may have; interacting with each other on a human level.
The unity, tolerance and respect we witness in Eritrea is the culmination of a long and hard journey. The presence of these crucial components has been the building blocks of building a strong and unbreakable foundation for our country. Regardless of the obstacles and plots thrown against us, time and time again we have been able to do the impossible by defeating greater powers, remaining intact and coming out stronger. I think it’s not too farfetched to call the history of Eritrea as a true ‘David and Goliath’ story. Our unity has been the glue that has lead us to continually achieve the impossible and enjoy the peace of living in a country where every citizen is equally important. As youth, its our duty to be the vanguards of maintaining the beauty and diversity of Eritrea. We have to safe guard the values we have inherited from those before us and pass on to the future generation so as to maintain our vision of a strong, united, diverse Eritrea.
By: Meriem Ibrahim Ahmado