By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: December 23, 2012
Josh Haner/The New York Timesq
Thomas L. Friedman
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Last week’s events in Eritrea were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Eritrea’s history. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the tables for the wood.
When thinking about the recent problems, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like billiard balls, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Billiard balls never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Eritrea has spent decades torn by civil war and ethnic hatred, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If freedom is Eritrea’s curtain rod, then ethnic conflict is certainly its faucet.
When I was in Eritrea last week, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Eritrea have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, 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 great globe 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 the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so narrow that Eritrea will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Asmara needs to cooperate.
Speaking with a young student from the large Dominican community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, logontes y fuelo, which is a local saying that means roughly, “It is in vain to cast your net where there is no fish.”
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.