Sunday, May 5, 2013
Eritrea is Iraq | Thomas Friedman Op/Ed Generator
Yesterday's news from Eritrea is unique, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.
When thinking about the ongoing problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Computer programs never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Eritrea has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If authoritarianism is Eritrea's glass ceiling, then capitalism is certainly its tabletop.
When I was in Eritrea last week, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Eritrea have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Eritrea are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Eritrea? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so poorly marked that Eritrea will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Asmara needs to feel like it is part of the process.
Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the small Catholic community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shukrah-al-abiz, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A cat may look at a Queen."
I don't know what Eritrea will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.