By Yohannes Kifle,
Given the local weather condition, to the vast majority of Eritreans and Ethiopians residing in the Washington, D.C metropolitan area, Sunday, October 18th might have been a gloomy day. However, for those of us who chose to attend the panel discussion that was organized by ESAT and Vision Ethiopia to discuss future Eritrean-Ethiopian relations, gloomy is certainly not the word to express the feeling that the participants had experienced.
Some of us were skeptical about attending the forum not knowing exactly what to anticipate. Needless to say our skepticism immediately ended once the panel discussion was in motion. The main topic was future relationship of Eritrean-Ethiopian and most of us couldn’t help but surrender to the subject matter trusting it will live up to our expectations.
Sure enough, the members of the panel and the moderators didn’t disappoint the audience and the audience returned the favor by remaining fully engaged. The panel discussion group comprises an Eritrean scholar, several Ethiopian intellectuals and distinguished American diplomats. Every single member of the panel lived up to the audience’s expectation by delivering invaluable information relevant to the theme.
What made it more interesting to the audience, particularly to the Eritrean was the humility that was expressed by the Ethiopian intellectuals who were members of the panel and those who severed as moderators. The Ethiopian intellectuals made it known from the outset that positive Eritrean-Ethiopian relationships will not be possible without recognizing Eritrea as an independent country and most certainly without respecting Eritrea’s territorial integrity. Evidently, that line of thinking was also adopted by the members of the panel, moderators and the audience.
As the discussion continued, other sensitive subjects pertinent to the two nations were discussed and brought up by the audience in the form of questions. It is imperative to mention the two Ethiopian members of the panel who set the tone with their wisdom and personal testimony to clear any doubt that this might be a self-serving agenda to a particular side. .
One of the distinguished members of the panel, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, who spoke with such commanding voice and deep intellect of the subject matter made it clear that interest groups from the West are one of the main reasons for the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The professor also didn’t shy away from mentioning one of the countries was merely serving the west’s interest. Apparently, the friendly relationship between the Obama’s administration and the current minority government in Ethiopia was what he was referring to.
Moreover, Dr. Kassa Kebede also has equally and effectively explained assuring the audience that Eritrea and its government wishes that Ethiopia remain united. According to Dr. Kebede, he heard it from the President Isaias Afeworki’s mouth and he had no reason to believe the president of Eritrea has any ill will against Ethiopia. The testimony that came from the prominent politician gave the audience a sense of confidence to remain engaged and to hear what other members of the panel had to say. Dr. Kassa laid out historical facts and shared, as he put it, so many secrets he wouldn’t share otherwise if it wasn’t for this forum. Some were not happy why he kept it this long. However, with such tasteful humor and wisdom, he explained the audience why he didn’t share them before.
The two diplomats who participated in the panel are most distinguished diplomats who are well known by both communities, former Ambassador, Dr. David Shinn and former Assistant Secretary for African affairs, Herman Cohen are no strangers to the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In fact, both had played their own parts during the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia as their jobs asked for it. Both diplomats answered questions raised from the audience. Their answers were well received by the audience.
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This is the beginning of many forums that will embrace several thousand Eritreans and Ethiopians in the foreseeable future. We, the ordinary citizens of both nations, have a significant role to play for the well-being of our nations. We all hope the next meeting will include a large number of both citizens.
Members of the panel, moderators and the audience should be commended for participating in this forum. Most of the people who participated in the forum believe this is the beginning of something special!