The young defendant was barely 20 years old. He is accused of killing a fellow friend and a neighborhood buddy for a mere five dollars. Five dollars? It might seem an outright cruelty and even barbarity, to take the life of a person for such trivial matter. But wait, there is a lot for the story and stay tight before you give your full verdict on the matter.
Human beings all over the world, aspire to live a life of honor, respect, principles and above all dignity. People, from the prisoner on death row, to the simple fruit seller lady in the villages want to live and die with their reputations and dignity intact, not only for themselves, but for their children and their children’s, children. The long and quite complicated story of mankind is full of fights, immense sacrifices, unbelievable amount of courage and dedications in the face of colossal adversaries and danger to life, just to maintain pride, self respect and above all dignity. The word dignity has a special meaning and value in many languages and cultures. The closest word in Tigrinya, Kibri, used to have a powerful meaning and resonance, not quite a long ago. Tens of thousands of Eritreans of all ethnic groups and background were ready to pay anything, including their dear life, not for the sake of it or because they were violent people or were addicted to mayhem, but for their long denied rights, honor, stateliness and above all national dignity( Hagerawi Kibri). A nation, people and even a person without dignity, is not that much better than a goat in the field or cows in the slaughterhouse. The exact opposite of dignity, dishonor wurdet in Tigrinya, used to be a much more hated word quite a while ago. Not anymore. More on that later on.
One of my favorite journalist and a good friend in the short and brutally quashed free press era in Eritrea was Mister Seyoum Tsehaye (Seaalay–photographer). A veteran EPLF fighter and a seasoned photographer and media personality in Eritrea, Seyoum was, one of the much loved and respected journalists in Eritrea. I don’t want to go into detail about the struggles and achievements of brother Seyoum Tsehaye at this time. Many writers including this one, have written a lot about Seyoum’s life and sacrifice in many occasions and different websites and venues. I brought up Seyoum, because it reminds me of one of his favorite saying and maxims. Seyoum wedi Asmara, used to say that he and many others joined the liberation struggle not because they have nowhere else to go or because they were destitute or in some kind of desperation. On the contrary, Seyoum Teshaye was from a rich affluent and well known families in Asmara. He was well to do financially even in the early seventies. Even now, you will find very few French speaking and French educated Eritreans. Seyoum was a French language teacher in the seventies! But he left it all and went to the field and unknown journey of suffering, sacrifice and even death. Why? According to Seyoum “Nkhbrinan kibri hagernan ilna imber zseanayo ko yelen”. Roughly translated- We did all these for the sake of ours and our nation’s dignity. Other than that, there was nothing we lacked. Seyoum used to say also, that the EPLF cadres and the EPLF core principle was to fight till death for your rights that was taken by force and conspiratorially by different colonizers. In the same token, that is what we are doing now, that is, fighting for rights and dignity ,taken away by the morphed PFDJ, the new colonizers or Tigrinya speaking conquistadores. Seyoum Tsehaye, was one of the few surviving dignified, honorable men of principles Eritreans I happen to know.
Many of us watch the unforgettable events unfolding in the North African nation of Tunisia. Millions of people rose up against a tyrannical regime in a sudden outburst of anger, seething rage, desperation and living without dignity. As one of the reporters told the BBC news service, “We are fed up of being fed up all the time……” These young Tunisians rose up, not because their nation and government was one of the worst or living conditions were awful. Tunisia is way rich and living standard is much better than many African or third world countries. Honestly, the former regime of President Zin abedine Ben Ali, was not a tyrant in the same category as the Mugabes and the Issias Afewerkis of the world. By all standards and measures, it was a mild and not so vicious kind of dictatorship. For people like myself and millions of my fellow Eritreans, to say the regime of Ben Ali was tyrannical is laughable to say the least. As the Tigrinya proverb put it correctly, nitemen zeyreaayes bilihtsi tedahle….. But tyranny is tyranny, whether you call it soft, mild or benevolent, when compared with others, of course. It has to be remembered also that only Eritreans are capable of tolerating the enormous abuse and gigantic violations of rights that takes place in Eritrea at this time. It is a sad but true irony of our situation. No other race, tribe, people, ethnic or religious groups will endure such disgusting abuse for so long like the Eritreans of this very 21st century. From the simple Bedouin in the desert, to the urban intelligentsias of the third world, in accepting fascism meekly and even loving it, we are a unique people indeed. The slogan Fluy hizbi is not far from the reality.
The urbane and relatively speaking well to do Tunisians, were not ready to take more suffering and dishonor from the seemingly “gentle” dictatorship of their regime. There are people, who can’t tolerate even the simplest form of violations or infractions of rights. Tunisians, it seems, are one of those kind of people. As I tried to state or explain it plainly, what takes place in Tunisia all these years and what they call a dictatorship, is inconsequential when compared with what is going on in my land and many other different unfortunate peoples and societies all over the world. The maligned and the hated former Tunisian leader, Ben Ali, is a monk in contrast to my country’s tormenter and many other bestial wicked leaders all over the globe. But the proud Tunisians were not ready to take more years of injustice or pain, in whatever form or amount. If you relate people to minerals, I will say Tunisians are like water. They boiled at 100 Degree centigrade of heat and pressure. Eritreans it seems are like Iron ore. They need tens of thousands of degree centigrade heat to boil. But that doesn’t express it well even. At around 50 thousand degree centigrade of heat and raging fire of repression, Eritreans are not even warmed up yet. So my comparison with Iron ore is not working. Maybe we are made up of some yet to be found mineral in the far away planets. Because with the heat of extremely high temperature and harsh pressure that takes place in our land, any society would have boiled up beyond recognition long time ago!
By all accounts, Mohammed Bouazizi was an assuming quiet young man. He lived all his life in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid with his family. Jobs are scare in Sidi Bouzid and all over Tunisia for that matter. Young men like Bouazizi have few prospects of decent job and livelihood in their land. Most emigrate to Europe. Some stay and struggle just to feed and provide for their family. Young Mohammed Bouazizi was one of the millions of young Tunisians living a dull and boring existence in that fateful morning of Dec 17 2010. Three municipal workers including a woman inspector tried to confiscate his fruit and vegetable selling stall. Mohammed refused to leave his stall, the only source of livelihood. A fight and a scuffle ensued. Then, one unthinkable thing happened. The woman inspector, an unmarried 45 years old cadre named Faida Hamidy, slapped Mohammed Bouazizi on the face in front of everyone. You see, in the Arab and Muslim world, it is better to kill a person than slap him on the face. A slap on the face for an Arab man is a slap on his dignity, his pride and his very manliness. A person who is slapped on the face will not die from his injuries. Usually it results in red or swollen face and that is it. But the injury and pain it inflicted on the soul is worse than any kind of disease. The shame, guilt, anguish and tumult in one’s soul and dignity will never be the same after one is slapped on the face–and by a woman of all people. Despite all the hoopla and huba huba of feminism and men and women are equal and the same nonsense, a man is still a man and way different in many ways than a woman. The almighty created us in different ways. I am not saying one is good or better, as we all are God’s creation. But we are different. Call me old school, conservative, right wing, macho or whatever name, but that is what I believe and I know my roots and what I am saying. I don’t really like the so-called political correctness craze of our time, another name for a sweet lie. I prefer calling a spade a spade and telling it as it is.
Our man Bouazizi, was not the same person after the slapping on the face and the beating by the municipal police the following days. He went to the police station to try to get back his fruit scale and some other merchandize. He was trampled and insulted again. He tried in vain to appeal to the governor. He was left with only two stark choices. Live a life of a dog and life long ridicule and shame or die like man and erase the humiliation and dishonor from your family and history. In short die with your dignity and pride intact or exist and die like a rat. Bouazizi the fruit vendor, preferred the former. According his sister, Samia Bouazizi, her brother couldn’t take it no more. The fact is he was slapped in broad day light while everyone was watching, was too much to bear and endure and he stopped living literally, from that day on according to his sister, some family members and his friends in the town. In a normal society and under ordinary conditions, you can only push a man so far. He became a totally changed man from then on, beyond recognition, even for his mother. Mohammed Bouazizi’s mother, Mannoubia Bouazizi (Umm Sidi), told reporters, that the usually cheerful and mild tempered Bouazizi, changed into an angry man engulfed with seething rage and hatred for the system. He decided to take action, cleanse his name and reputation and the rest is as they say, history. There are millions of people who prefer to live like a dog, with their pride taken, their manliness mangled, their very essence trashed and their souls knifed almost every day relentlessly. Are you going to call such people men? How can you use the same word, man, to equally denote such cowards and heroes like Bouazizi? I don’t have enough answers.
The suffering and unbelievably mammoth amount of humiliation and degradation that takes place in Eritrea and to Eritreans has few parallels in history. You have to be the smartest man on the planet to explain the rational behind Eritrean’s continuous and un-abating existence of such dishonor and disgrace for quite so long. You have to be a psychologist, psychiatrist, sociologist, therapist, historian and a witch, all at once, to explain what is going in the land of the Eritreans. We all don’t have answers or clue on why we let such a disgusting despotism and sheer barbarity to kill us and our nation, albeit slowly and painfully.
In my job as journalist and a curious citizen, I have talked and interviewed countless freedom fighters (tegadeliti), seasoned EPLF fighters, officials in different capacities, military commanders and simple rank and file. I am always impressed by their gallantry and heroism in fighting and the sacrifice they paid in the arduous and long liberation struggle. But the same guys, who were selfless and courageous enough in standing and fighting in the face of a hugely armed enemy and imminent mortal danger, were changed into a meek sheep and docile takers of abuse, misuse and violence, in some ways much worse than the previous ones. An entire nation and a whole generation of Eritreans is being turned into zombies and mummies, indifferent, apathetic and unresponsive even uncaring to almost anything in their land. A new generation or breed of selfish, dull, terrified and traumatized Eritreans is coming of age in the otherwise land of numerous patriots and countless acts of selfless bravery and supreme gallantry. The Eritrean landscape that produced the likes of Ibrahim Afa and wedi Flansa, is becoming barren (devoid) of heroes and heroines, that we are witnessing a new kind of people who are trembling with fear even to use their own name and speak what they feel while living in full fledged democracies and thousands of miles away from hell!!
The EPLF fighters whose deeds and valor was being compared with the struggles of the people of Palestine, Vietnam, Algeria or Namibia by many well respected and reputed historians and writers, are now only the shadow of their former selves. The great Russian poet Yevginy Yevtushenko, once asked himself, “How can lions be turned into rabbits?” He didn’t have the answer, neither do I. Why do we allow ourselves to be in this predicament? Why did people with guns and bullets tolerate being abused and even slapped by a mere man and a gun toting tegadalay like themselves? How can you stand up like a man and live or face your peers, after some one slapped your face and spit on you? How is it that such kind of abuse is being tolerated for quite so long by people who professed to fight for the liberation of their land? How can you profess to fight for emancipation or independence without being free yourself? What amount of cruelty will be sufficient to make you say enough is enough?
I am a simple journalist from a humble beginning with a little education and life experience. So, I don’t have the answer. But I keep on asking myself and really tormenting my soul with such questions, endlessly. I struggled to this day, to find an answer and to quench my thirst and to know the secret, the mystery and the enigma of the Eritrean tragedy, unfolding in front of our eyes. Are Eritreans destined to a life of abuse and ill treatment? Do Eritreans really feel the pain of tyranny and the pang of fascism? Are some Eritrean men and women addicted to being ill-treated and oppressed ceaselessly? Who are we as a people? Are we, in fact Arabs, Africans, Asians, black, white, Mestizo, Latino or what? With whom do we actually identify and classify? To say the truth, (bzeyqelalem nmbzrab) the Habesha is a really confusing and perplexing kind of race of people in this God’s green earth.
As I tried to state, there are all kinds of people in this world when it comes to honor, pride, moral principles and dignity. I like the word dignity more than anything else. It expresses fully what I am trying to say and what I candidly feel deep inside me. Anyone can have his dignity. Even a career criminal or a prostitute can have their dignity unbroken. There are dignified prostitutes and villains with full pride and dignity and poise. There are also coward university teachers and highly educated people who are more than willing to lick the boots of tyranny and utter totalitarianism, not only for free but in the case of some Eritreans, they even pay for it. Yes some (or not some), Eritreans paid to be mistreated, misused and abused time and time over by a deranged, unstable and heartless atheist blood-sucker and a nation (generation) killer. They pay in Dollars, Euros, Kronors, Swiss Francs, Riyals and Dinars to sell their souls, God given dignity and human demeanor to a universally condemned and a leading torturer and murderer of their own brothers and sisters. This looks like a chapter out of a horror or a heartbreaking storybook. But it is a fact and it happens every day. What a shameful existence!
In the real life story of my introductions, I brought up the young chap who was accused of murdering another young man for a mere five dollars. It seems an outright brutality and nastiness to take a life for five dollars. But the defendant, Donte Washington, a 20 year old native of Raleigh, North Carolina, has a reason, a good one according to him, for the seemingly senseless killing. He told the court and the crowd at the courthouse, that the deceased, after taking or borrowing five dollars from him, not only refused to pay it back, he started cursing and threatening the defendant on several occasions. According to Donte, the dead young man, started spreading rumors that Donte was a sissy, not man enough, and a cry baby for just five dollars. Some people even begun to call Donte Mister 5 dollar. The prosecutor asked the defendant Donte, “….. is this all? Is that why you kill him?” To this, Donte replied: “I cant take it no more, I am from the hoods and in my hoods (neighborhoods) once you are ridiculed and messed up with, you either have to stand up like a man and take actions or leave the area all together.” To this, the prosecutor asked Donte, “Why don’t you leave then?” The young defendant Donte Washington replied, “I can’t your honor, I can’t leave my place and runaway just like that, my father taught me to stand up for my rights. It is about dignity and the principles sir,……hell no, I wont run……”
Esteemed readers, I brought this not to justify a murder or killing of a human being in such a vain and sad way. No, I am not condoning murder and the taking of life in such a fashion and absurd and ridiculous manner. But I brought up this story, to show even criminals, murderers, assassins, what ever you call them, give a special value and place to their honor and dignity. There are people who prefer to spend a lifetime in jail than live like an alley cat in the outside. Donte Washington was one of them. The other day, One of the Tunisian hero Mohammed Bouazizi’s friends was taking to a journalist from Aljezeera TV. To the question from the journalist, “Do you think Bouazizi did the right thing in immolating himself…and taking his life in such a way?” The young Tunisian friend of Mohammed Bouazizi, named Sidiq Ben Maaroufi, replied the following: “It is better to die one thousand times over than to live without dignity……” I have nothing more to say.