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Casualty and Effect

Living in Eritrea, far from the Sea, I only knew canned Sardines. Then I went to Massawa and tried grilled chunks of fish—I thought Massawans were pulling a joke on me, giving me beef, and claiming it was fish!

Years later I lived in Jeddah and AlKhober but never cared for fish. Then I moved to Bahrain– it seemed the Bahrainis eat fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why is most of Eritrea not used to eating fish? I would have liked to ask Alamin Mohammed Saeed about that.

Sardines are not the only fish variety 

The first time I went to the Bahraini fish market, I discovered there are dozens of other fish verities beside Sardines. I laughed when they showed me two almost similar fish and told me one is Haamour, a popular tasty fish. I asked what the names of the second fish was. They told me “mere’t Hamour, seyti Hamour”, Hamour’s wife! Here are names of a few I fish verities: about BeyaH, Bassi, Saffi, kenAad, SebeiTi, sheEri, Haqool Kerqafan, Andeq, Rabbib, Shekhel, Kdd, Anfour, JenAad…

My ignorance surprised my friends… ‘Isn’t Eritrea on the Red Sea, how come you don’t know about fish?’ That embarrassed me, but I shrugged it off, ‘leave me alone, it’s all fish, Aasa, Semek. However, gradually we got used to it; twice a week we had fish meals.

I wish the PFDJ lets the coastline Eritreans handle the fishing industry; they would do a million times better than the PFDJ conglomerates. They will not waste their time counting ships that pass like Alamin apparently does, they will introduce fish to all Eritreans and teach them how to deal with the nasty bones. Today, a few people who live close to the sea know about fish, but still our cuisine is so poor when we have so much fish resources.

In ancient times Eritrea didn’t have roads to distribute fish all over Eritrea. It didn’t have enough power for refrigeration. But now, thirty-one years after independence, why is Eritrea where it was in 1991? And the supposedly leaders of the country like Alamin boast that Eritrea owns hundreds of miles of shores of the Red Sea with hundreds of islands. However, by now, a large portion of the peoples’ diet should have been fish. It’s not. Why should Eritreans run short on food when seafood is abundant?

Every other Eritrean singer and poet mention the Red Sea—including the late Yemane Gebremichael who left us a timeless song, “I miss the port of my country.” In only the Danakil of Eritrea were left alone, maybe supported a little, they could feed ERITREA . If only the businesspeople were left alone, they would have developed the fishing industry—including marketing.

I once watched an ERiTV program about a fish festival in Massawa? But do Massawans need a promotion to be introduced to fish? It would be like promoting injera in the Highlands! Why not focus on promoting fish in the regions that doesn’t know it?

My question is to Alamin, the supposed leader who loudly boasts about Eritrean marine resources but spends his time counting ships that pass thorough the red sea. Even during the Ethiopian occupation era, Massawa used to be a vibrant port where tens of ships berthed for supply. During Haj season, they threw anchors and waited there to transport the Hajjis back to their countries. People from West Africa trekked to Massawa to sail to Jeddah for Haj. The Danadai company had ships transporting bananas, pepperoni, bananas, and citrus fruit all over the region. Massawa used to be a favorite place for sailors who busied the narrow streets of the port city. But in the beginning of the 1970s, all that business stopped due to the war–what did the PFDJ regime do to rehabilitate the port business in the last 30 years except boasting? And my question to Alamin: why is fish not a popular Eritrean diet until now? Where is the infrastructure to help food security and provide healthy fish diet to Eritreans? I don’t think he nas an answer, he has been on the ‘Feel good propaganda drive’ for decades. However, in his latest interview he boasted “Eritrea is wealthy in ecology”, whatever that means!

SFO Safer, The Twin of Exxon Valdez

In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez, spilled over a million barrels of crude oil in a few days when it run aground in Alaska. It was a big ecological and commercial disaster that affected 2000 kms of shores and made the incident a yardstick for such disasters. Decades later, contamination of the ecology still exists in the area. And in case Alamin doesn’t know it, there is another crisis looming on the horizon and it could affect Eritrea.

The SFO Safer is a ship build in Japan and launched in 1976. In 1987 it was redesigned and bought by Yemen to be a stationary oil storage for the export of crude from the Maareb oil field, to which the tanker was connected by an 8 kms offshore pipes. SFO Safer is eleven hundred feet long and two hundred feet wide and can carry more than three million barrels of oil. The ship arrived in Yemen 1988.

Before the Houthi Yemeni war in 2014, Yemen spent about twenty million dollars a year to maintain the tanker and tens of people worked in it. But since 2017 it has been crippled there with a million barrels of crude oil and it’s rusting, technically, almost dead. The ship generators do not work, and the remaining skeleton crew use generators to produce power for essential use.
Any spark, a serious leakage or a hull damage might ignite fire on the ship and put the million barrels of oil on fire. The ship could also sink and spill the oil in the sea; that would spread and reach Eritrean shorelines between Assab and Massawa, and north, to the shores of Saudi Arabia engulfing Gizan and the Saudi Farassan and Eritrean Dahlak islands. The ship is a time-bomb floating around 250 kms across from Eritrea. And it’s even worse…

It is believed the Houthis have put mines around the tanker and the officer who knows the location of the mines was killed. The tanker could explode anytime as the New Yorker says, “Last year, the skeleton crew had to make emergency repairs to a cracked pipe leaking seawater into the engine room; a sinking was narrowly averted.” A question to Mr. Alamin and his colleagues: what is the Eritrean contingency plan? The spill threatens the ecosystems of the Red Sea and would hamper the busy shipping lane. Insurance would skyrocket and the spill from the Safer could take months to clear costing an estimated twenty billion dollars. “A fire or an explosion on the Safer could pollute the air for millions of Yemenis and others Red Sea fishing industry will be damaged.”

Note: When Saudi Arabia entered the Yemeni conflict, it predicted fighting would last six weeks; instead, it has endured for more than six years. It’s like Abiy’s illusion—he though he will finish the war in Tigray in two weeks! We know how things are going on both fronts.

No agreement has been reached on how to deal with the SFO Safer because the parties want a share of the profits that might be generated in the process, and the Houthis expect a good portion of it.

Casualty and Effect: Hopsctoch Activism

And finally, Newton’s third law says, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Why are Eritreans drowning in high seas? Why are they being imprisoned indefinitely, why are they leaving their country, their families and risking their lives in the process? Why are they being encamped in Libya? Why were they exposed to human trafficking, their body parts extracted savagely and sold to the highest bidder? Why? Why has demonstrations became the major Eritrean way of expressing anger, anguish, and the main component of activism? Do things happen in a vacuum?

Recently activists were busy campaigning for Eritrean refugees in Egypt who were at risk of being deported to Eritrea. In the middle of the campaign, a more serious problem appeared in Libya (not for the first time though) and activists redirected the focus to Libya. I don’t know what happened on the Egyptian case… This time, I bet if another incident happens, the Libya case will be forgotten. That has been the nature of the trotting activism; sadly, the results are not comparable with the efforts, and invested resources and emotions.

If you have a hole on the roof, you can either put a can to collect the drops and live with the noise and mud or climb up the roof and seal the hole. If there is a hole on the wall and it is bringing in freezing air, do you close the hole and solve the problem, or you would rather cover yourself with all the blankets in the house. What do you do?

All the major Eritreans problems are caused by bad governance, ineptitude and incompetence of the regime. The PFDJ is the hole on the roof that’s leaking with rainwater. Eritreans need to focus on the cause and remove it. And you can’t remove it by acting like firemen sitting and watching Television or sipping coffee until you receive a fire emergency call, then jump on the truck start the sirens, put the fire off or we fail, and return to the station to wait for another emergency call. Eritrean activism has become like firefighting.

It’s natural to deal with immediate problems with the best we can; but resist being overwhelmed by current events and wait until the next disaster happens (we know it will) for people to react.

Eritrea must have a government it deserves; making that happen should be the major occupation of Eritrean activism. The attentions must remain focused until Eritrea becomes a peaceful, just, and stable country. In the absence of that, it will continue subjected to the like of Alamin’s (and his boss) cadre-talk, that gets Eritreans nowhere.

May Eritrea be just and peaceful, and it will be. Amen

The New Yorker: The Ship That Became A Bomb.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • haileTG

    Selam SGJ,

    Thank you for such measured and valuable advice. Our opposition political leaderships are unwilling to give an inch for the sake of the nation and the suffering of its people. I hope somehow they find the place in their hardened hearts to say enough to all the divisions and squabbles. Because, however far one runs away from truth, at some point they will hit a brick wall and can run no more. Here is a latest video (<3min) that may speak to their hearts and minds.

    • Saleh Johar

      Our collective conscience is very sick and needs serious attention.

      The conscience of the PFDJ is already dead and the stench needs to be buried immediately.

      And we are an independent nation!

      • iSem

        Hi Haile TG and SalehTG:
        PFDJ’s conscience is NOT dead. It has never existed. If was dead, there would be hope one of the Pente pastors would raise it.
        Our collective conscience is dead and we hope to revive it

  • woldu hadgu

    Mr. Johar

    As always, Thank you for this mind opening article.

    The other question besides eating fish is how many Eritreans alive or dead ever saw their Bahri?

    I myself, except looking it in geography map I never visited any part of the red sea.

  • Brhan

    Thank you, Ustaz Saleh.

    I have not heard the episode but read the above one.

    You made a good point with the Libyan refugee incident and how we have become passive: react to every new incident.

    However, the incident is sad but is not new. The refugees have suffered in Libya and Ethiopia. Some of the peaceful demonstrations participants focused on the Libyan government and the West. They forgot the root cause of the plight of the refugees is DIA. It is like you go to the funeral, and you are only asked for grief and not ask why and how the person died. They said it is a time of sadness and do not ask about the root cause or politicize the matter. They discouraged people not to blame the Eritrean regime, and it was clear that the government was behind them, and they were pro-PF (DJ).

    In parallel, the regime conducted its mafia-style events in Europe ( you only know after they are completed), where Yemane Moneky and Osman Saleh toured.

    Even Shabite covered the events and said the gov’t officials discussed but failed to say what and mentioned that participants asked questions but hardly mentioned what the questions were.

    I am sure Yemane or Osman did not mention the plight of the refugees in their speeches. “Let the Diaspora deal with it,” said Yemane and Osman. “Our task is how we can help DIA preserve his power in Eritrea, the power that is shaken by the daily weaknesses of Abiy Ahmed Ali and by the international pressure.

    • Saleh Johar

      They used to mention Libya during the reign of brother leader Gaddafi. Now it’s a no-no topic. They are dead conscience.