We are in big trouble! At first shot, this may look like stating the obvious. But, I am referring to something probably much more serious than you think. It hits directly at the centre. It raises questions about the very existence of Eritrea as a nation and the survival of its people. I believe that we still have a chance to reverse the present serious downward spiral to disaster and lamentation, but time is running out.
First, I am sure that some of you are asking who is this Dawit? Where has he been hiding all this time? Why is he making so much noise now? What are his motives (as some have done in their recent comments)? My dear friend, I am an ordinary Eritrean just like yourself who has been trying to lead a quiet and peaceful life of his own – far away from politics. Yes, it is true that I did try to take part in Eritrean party politics for sometime thinking that I would do good. However, I could easily see (a) the disarray in the politics of the Eritrean opposition – which in its present form is nowhere fit for purpose, (b) that things were not moving anywhere, and (c) my contribution was rather limited due to unwieldy party rules and regulations (Keidi). Therefore, I had to exit before not too long. But, after closely following especially the harrowing details from the Sinai of young Eritreans who could be my own children in the hands of the bandit Bedouins and their Eritrean collaborators, I was absolutely incensed and could not brush it aside and carry on with my normal life. It was too much for me, and I decided to do what I could to help (As they say, Sew balew yiselefal!!). Therefore, my primary motive is really moral and ethical rather than political.
I have read and carefully studied all the comments made in response to the last three articles published at www.awate.com. I wish to thank all of you for your time and your willingness to undergo the pain of thinking (as Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam puts it). I have also noted with gratitude Saleh AA Younus’s advice. Therefore, this time, I will not be throwing ideas left and right as before: in short, I will self edit.
Ok, they say that wars are first fought in the mind, then the actual thing follows. All the buildings you see in physical shape, the way society is organized, the technology used, the political structure, the way power is distributed in society, the way people behave towards each other, the charity and the cruelty as well – all spring from the way people perceive things, think and feel. It emanates from the mind. Please be patient with me. Those who have done epistemology may be asking many questions now. (I am not advocating solipsism, or the Cogito ergo sum thing of Descartes.) I believe in the existence of reality outside the mind, and that people get their information of the outside world through sense perception and then there is the development of ideas through abstraction, generalization and logical thinking, imagination and creative thinking. In order to successfully meet the demands of existence, human beings have to then make plans on how best they can change their environment to meet their needs through effective action. The more complete information they have about reality is, and the more the ideas are coherent, logical and pragmatic to deliver the desired results, the more we can say we have the truth. I am simplifying it, but in short, I am talking about the three criteria of truth in philosophy: the correspondence theory, the coherence theory and the pragmatic theory of truth. Believe me, I am not laboring in vain. This is an inescapable step in the argument I am making. I am trying to establish the primary pathology we have been suffering from as a people and then suggest what I consider to be an effective remedy. In short, we need the purification of the intellect to purge the Eritrean mind of dangerous errors and fallacies, superstitions, bigotry, delusions, clannish mentality, religious intolerance, greed and corruption, stupidity, criminality, cruelty, oppression, etc. I will suggest later how this can be done best. Let us first build the groundwork.
When you closely examine the Eritrean case, what jumps at you immediately is that it is a tragic situation which emanates from a collective mind set which has been mediated and deliberately and cruelly largely disabled from working properly as the situation demands. It amounts to almost leading a semi-blind person to walk over a cliff. In short, the way we think falls far short of the three criteria of truth I mentioned above. That is the main source of our trouble, and this has been done deliberately by forces who do not wish as well – to take advantage of our situation and our misery. Don’t worry, I am not going to re-visit my three previous articles. But, please dear reader, do not think that this is a mere conspiracy theory, it is not.
Eritreans are very capable people. But, they have not been lucky enough to be in an enabling environment to make full use of what they have. I will give a brief example. In his Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-194, Alberto Sbacchi (Red Sea Press, 1997)) explains early Italian experience with the local natives in Eritrea. At first, the Italians thought that they were dealing with savages who had no knowledge and no brains. They just wanted to use then as their labourers. To their alarm, the Italians soon discovered that the natives could pick the language very quickly and use expressions they thought were impossible to utter by savages. Not only that, although initially the local labourers were employed as messengers and hand help to pass tools to the Italians when they were constructing, maintaining cars, etc., the locals quickly picked the skills – which was a shock to their Italian masters. I believe that this is the reason why the Italians limited education for the natives in Eritrea only up to grade four to just be able to read and write and do simple arithmetic and some translation.
They knew that providing them with higher education would spell disaster to the colonizers. To demoralize the natives, they also prevented them from wearing shoes like the Italians or drink with glass or live close to then in the same neighbourhood. They used every trick in the book to drive the message to the natives that they were not on the same level as human beings. To mystify their power, one time they brought a big helium balloon and let it float in a village for several days in which people gathered from near and far to see and say “Etsub dinki!!” The Italians also told the Eritreans falsely (as they did to the Somalis) that they were far superior to the Ethiopians so that they may use then as cannon fodder in the invasion and occupation of Ethiopia. (Although further diminishing, some faint signs of this scar still persist among some misguided Eritreans.) Anyway, there are many other anecdotal stories that show that (to be modest) Eritreans have natural intelligence equal to any. However, their mode of thinking has been distorted and their self perception has been seriously affected on the positive and negative sides.
Eritreans have self pride of course, but there is also another side to it. The typical Eritrean has a wounded self as well. Lately, Eritreans have been accused of cowardice, opportunism, of being runaways and of even being a nation that have never risen against their oppressors. I now take such comments with lamentation rather than anger as I did some days ago. As a part of the purification of the intellect thing, I will now start with the last point because I have been challenged to “face the facts”.
Please consider the following facts before you rush into a judgment. (a) Eritrea (or Midri Bahri) is sandwiched between Ethiopia (or traditionally Abyssinia, the old name refers particularly to northern and central Ethiopia), the Sudan and the Arabian peninsula. (b) The population of Eritrea is comparatively much smaller than these three blocks taken together or separately. (c) The population has a heterogeneous nature and there were divisions (now largely fading) within Eritrea itself such as the Kebesa and Metahit and even within the Kebesa itself (cf. Hazega and Tseazega) and the Metahit as well (cf. the serfs and the master class). (d) The conflicts of interests between and among these three blocks and others such as the Egyptians, the Turks and later the Italians have been played out in Eritrea, using it as their battlefield. These factors have considerably depleted the local population and weakened any political leadership there might have been in Eritrea. The local leaders were also manipulated by such powers to take their side at different times, sometimes against each other. This is clearly demonstrated by the sad story of the endless killings and power rivalry between Hazega and Tseazega (mentioned above) which had partly to do (not entirely) with manipulation by Ethiopian rulers (Please do not shout, that is true!!)
We are talking about a small population weakened by endless wars, manipulation, instability, killing, looting, kidnapping (cf. the reason why the self defense association of “Asmera” was formed about 500 yrs ago.), migration, displacement, occupations, etc. Therefore, the local people were in no position to rise up against such mighty occupiers and oppressors. Or whenever they tried to rise up, they were mercilessly crushed. Look at the history of the Logos and the Chewas in Tsilma. Because of local uprising by the Logos (due to unfair taxation and bad administration) against Emperor Zera Yacob (1434-1468) of Ethiopia, he brought in hundreds of thousands of troops and set up military settlements around Dibaruwa and the surrounding areas. For a long time, there was fighting and killing between the settler military garrisons and the Logos. After several generations, things calmed down. If you go to Tsilima now (or Logo-Chiwa (the later being the descendants of the invading army), you will see that people can still identify the villages which are mainly inhabited by the descendants of the Chewa. This is perfectly Ok. The Chewa are a part and parcel of Eritrean society, and they are part and parcel of Eritrean history too – and this is the beauty of Eritrea. (I am saying this because I do not want some people to grab just the end of the stick and come up in arms to attack. (I have already told you my family history.)
The history of Bahta Segeneiti is another. He rebelled because of a moral outrage for what happened to his own people. He was finally killed by the Italians. When Eritreans rebelled against the Italians, not only the rebels but also their families were severely punished. This is the sad history we have to live with. An Eritrean will not simply take up arms to fight against his/her oppressors (like Belay Zeleke, as someone mentioned) not because of fear, but because of tactical considerations: the arithmetic is simply not there. Please read Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist (cir. 500 B.c.) who is one of the two most important war strategists taught in military academies. Can’t you see the point? What do you do when you have a small family and limited means to fight the chief who has many followers armed to the teeth and with full state backing? Please kindly answer the question? How viable is it to fight the chief? Would you do it yourself? This is the dilemma that Eritreans have been in throughout their history. I would not call it cowardice by any means.
Eritreans have known throughout their history that the statistics and the political environment do not favour them to rebel and fight powerful enemies on their own. It is not a question of wishful thinking or foolish courage. It has to do with cool strategy. Therefore, you will see that when Eritreans felt that their Ethiopians rulers were being too harsh and that they could not take it any longer, they sought help from the Egyptians or the Turks and fought the Ethiopians. Or sometimes the other way round. Quite often, their rebellion took the form of supporting one powerful side against the other. Take the example of Bahre Negus Yis-haq (d. 1578) whose capital was Debaruwa. He was from Shire Inda Sellasie when it was a part of the Midri Bahri (present day Eritrea, I must add). He was not happy with his Ethiopian overlords. Therefore, he rebelled to create an independent state comprising Western Tigray and most parts of present day Eritrea. To help him in the effort, he formed an alliance with the then rulers of Massawa and its vicinity, i.e, the Turks. He was subsequently killed in battle alongside the commander of the Turkish forces who sided with Yis-haq. Another example is, Raisi Woldenkiel Solomon. He got help from the Turks and fought against Ethiopian forces and won a number of important battles. Later on, he was mainly weakened by the arithmetic at play (the balance of forces). We know how he tried to reconcile with the Ethiopian governor in Eritrea (Ras Alula) and his subsequent imprisonment through betrayal and trickery. Later on, he fought against the Italians at the Battle of Adowa because he did not like colonial rule anyway. He probably saw the Ethiopians as the lesser evil.
We also remember many Eritreans opposed to Italian rule who escaped to Ethiopia. One of these was the translator Blata Gebreigziabher, the first Habesha journalist in Ethiopia (at Menelik’s palace), who died of liver cirrhosis as a result of over drinking because he was isolated and unhappy with the accusation that he preached the earth was round and that he was a Tsere Maryam (Cf. Prof, Bahru Zewdie). Many of those who fled the Italian colony of Eritrea and came to Ethiopia later fought on the side of Ethiopian resistance. Two of these brave Eritreans were Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom, who threw a bomb to Kill Marshall Graziani at the Sidist Kilo palace, Addis Ababa in a public gathering. The sad side to the heroic story was that when these two young Eritreans tried to join the Ethiopian resistance forces (of Ras Abebe Aregay), they were seen with suspicion as Italian agents and were not accepted. Subsequently, they tried to escape to the Sudan. However, they were caught by the Italians on the way and executed. It looks as if, as an Eritrean, you can’t win – whatever you do!! In fact, a number of Eritrean regiments (Italian ascaris) later defected and fought against the Italians alongside the arbegnoch. (cf. Tekeste Negash) Do you know that most of Emperor Haile Sellassie’s bodyguards when he returned to Gojam and Addis Ababa in 1041 were Eritreans (Ibid)?
Was Zerai Deres an Eritrean or an Ethiopian? I believe that he saw himself as an Eritrean, or more properly as a Habesha, which includes all Abyssinians. He had never set foot on Ethiopia. I believe that he knew only little about Ethiopia He probably saw the statue of the Lion of Judah in Rome only as a symbol of the Habesha race, including his good self. He was bitter of being paraded as an animal surrounded by strange white people in a strange land, and he was outraged beyond control when he saw the Habesha symbol dishonoured as a mark of domination of the White man against the Black. It is like many people from Jamaica (Rastas and non-Rastas) taking the Ethiopian flag as a symbol of black people. Just trample the tricolor in their face and you will find out how they will react. That is what I believe happened to Zerai. For me anyway, whether Zerai Deres killed an Italian marshal of the army (as one Ethiopian singer puts it) or none, is not important at all. It is enough for all to see that this young Eritrean dared the fascist Empire (the second Roman Empire) in its own turf – just alone, on his own. To some of us, this is what it means to be an Eritrean.
To cut a long history short, I will now come to the present situation, especially why Eritreans are being perceived by some as cowards, opportunists and runaways. In my first article (www.awate.com 26/06.12), I tried to explain how Isaias Afeworki has largely discreetly managed to dismantle the Eritrean state and society. The Eritrean culture of mutual respect, support and love is almost gone and is being buried with the older generation. What is now prevalent especially among the young is desperation, demoralization and opportunism of the worst kind rarely seen in any society. A German sociologist has written an excellent article explaining the phenomenon of selfishness and opportunism among the young in Eritrea, especially those who passed through the HIGDEF prison factory of mental engineering, dehumanization, torture and death, otherwise known as HAGERAWI AGELGILOT. The sociological term she applied is known as ANOMY (Please Google.)
Why young Eritreans have become runaways has also got its own explanation. You all know what happens when a crowded theatre is on fire. Once people find out that there is serious danger to their lives, they will first make a frantic effort to extinguish the fire. If they think that it is not working or that it will not work, they will immediately try to run to the door and there will be a stampede. That is what is happening in Eritrea now. Do you blame the people who are trying to escape from the fire or the inadequacy of the fire exit or the person who caused the fire inadvertently or even deliberately? My argument using the analogy is that in Eritrea, the country has been set alight by no other person but Isaias Afwerki himself for motives which are probably based not only for practical considerations to prolong his rule. It seems to go beyond that. Stealing money from the people and running away or even manipulating the political forces in the country to stay in office is one think. But, what Isaias has done goes far beyond that – both in kind and size. To find a reasonable explanation for this, we cannot exclude some hideous psychological processes at work, including sadism.
Ok, over to you now, commentators: in all fairness, do you really blame the people who are desperately trying to escape the fire as cowards, opportunists and runaways because they have been pushing each other to escape? Why do you then blame the victims when it comes to young Eritreans? Have you ever tried to research how Isaias has turned the entire country into a torture chamber subjecting our young people to disinformation and disorientation, hunger, intimidation, humiliation, torture, execution and other forms to break their will and their resolve? You remember what happened to the invalid veterans on their way to Asmara to protest. What do you want a very much weakened, war weary and disorientated populace to do in the face of a vicious regime armed with machine guns, tanks, rocket launchers and war planes. The regime has no shame to disrespect, beat up, imprison and torture or kill elderly men and women! Are you surprised that the people said nothing after the massacre of Adi Abeyto? How on earth could you blame the victims without lifting a finger even to write a single word against the dictator who has reduced us to this?
One of the commentators was saying that the situation in Eritrea is not as bad as that of Nazi Germany, and that there is no Eritrean Holocaust, no Eritrean Joseph Goebbels and no Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. Of course, there isn’t, except the Eritrean Holocaust – which is true. But, there are many similarities between the way the Hitler’s regime operated and that of Isaias Afwerki’s regime. I know that many people will raise their eyebrows when I say this. But, I have studied the two, and I am stuck by the similarities rather than the differences. For a start, the authority of the Nazi Party and of Hitler himself was based on three pillars: propaganda masterminded by Dr J. Goebbels, the Gestapo (state security) and the Waffen-SS (armed wing of the party providing protection to the state and officials) led by Himmler and the Reich Wehrmacht (German Army) commanded directly by Hitler. Inside Germany, the Wehrmacht did not have much role. It was mainly used along with the Navy and the Air Force (the Luftwaffe) for foreign invasions. You can say that the Nazi Party controlled Germany and anything going on there using just propaganda and the state security with the help of the armed wing of the party both weeding out opposition and conducting witch-hunts, disappearances and merciless executions. The Nazis spent a lot of money on their Propaganda Ministry, which was used as the most important instrument of population control through disinformation, indoctrination, disorientation and moral booster for the war effort. The Nazis fully understood the importance of the mass media and they used radio to full effect and also cinema, art, music and painting, architecture and various symbols of power, etc. to brainwash the people and turn them into ardent supporters of the Nazi cause, even to die for it. Does that ring a bell in close quarters?
Similarly, those who are interested in understanding the instruments of public control in Eritrea should focus on the state security system and state propaganda. Both are closely linked – but, the propaganda arm has a much wider and more insidious reach. The Eritrean propaganda machine is basic and rather crude when compared to that of the Naziz. But, all the same, it does the job to a large extent. Just like the Nazis, the Eritrean regime seems to have recognized how important media influence (more than EPRDF in Ethiopia) and it is pumping huge amounts of money into it not merely as an instrument of influence, but also control inside and even outside the country. The Eritrean regime has widely used propaganda not only to invigorate its beneficiaries, supporters and sympathizers but more importantly even to confuse and subdue its victims mentally. Look at the attitude of young refuges who have arrived in the West and London itself via Sudan, the Sahara, Libya, the Mediterranean Sea . After all what they went through, many of them still support the Isaias regime. They even went to Geneva to protest the sanctions. It was also bizarre to see the members of the Eritrean football team that absconded from the PFDJ saying in Australia that they have no political problem with the regime. Surely, something is seriously wrong here.
How could this happen? It has to do with the carefully and deliberately planned joint work of the Eritrean security system (the torture, the fear, the humiliation and the crashing of the will and the ego) and the Goebbels-like PFDJ propaganda. The EPRDF know the low level of education of the Eritrean public mainly due to the wars and displacement and partly deviously encouraged by themselves (cf. closure of the university and other measures). Therefore, they use song and dance as marketing bates to drive their message to their captive audience and tranquilize the people from pain. The excessive use of song and dance on ERiTV makes it look as if little else matters in the country except these two. When the regime comes under pressure and is worried, it resorts to a deceptive display of concocted nationalism by excessive flag waving, loud patriotic songs, big demonstrations of support staged under duress and repetitive show of old films of tegadelti in battle. Actually, 80% of the old fighters have already been discarded, many of them either dead, incapacitated, exiled, out of touch and disorientated in the street as beggars and heavy areki abusers. How are the mighty fallen!! Anyway, the tricks of PFDJ seem to have worked to a large extent. That is why we see the victims adulating their tormentor.
There are people I know in London who spend a large part of the day watching ERiTV, and then endlessly recycling the propaganda in various places. This applies even to many of those who came there via the Sahara Desert, Libya and the Mediterranean and who have been given here asylum on bogus claims. I say bogus because they still support the regime.
Anyway, Isaias and his regime do much better than the Nazi propaganda machinery just in one thing: the deployment of the Bado Seleste (03) i.e, the use of grapevine or rumour, if you like, to dis-inform, blackmail, create doubt, division and fear, to prop up the image of the leader or conduct a character assassination, etc. This could be from a friend to another friend, in a wedding party, in a Christening party, or in a gathering to mourn the dead, etc. They are very skillful at that. Failing that, if you express disagreement or serious doubt or opposition about what you are being told, you may be put on a black list and watched by the branch of the Eritrean Gestapo anywhere in the world, and your name may be passed to the embassy and then sent to Asmara. If you have seen, there is an alarming long list at the airport with the immigration officers, and once you arrive there, you may not see daylight again. Your name may be passed to the Waffen-SS (Eritrean style) for execution. That is the role of the head of security at the “President’s Office”. You have no chance, really.
By the way, the Nazis were in many ways good to the German people. One cannot in anyway blame them for not caring for the welfare of their own people. They did care. They wanted to put their people on top of the world – as the master race. But, they got it wrong: they were too ambitions and too delusional – and merciless to other nations and to their German opponents as well. Dear reader, I am not condoning Nazism at all. Please do not get me wrong. I am also not implying that the Nazis were right in their ambitions to dominate the world, or finish the Jews. How could I? I have read a lot about what happened in the concentration camps and also other places not only to the Jews and others whom they considered alien, but also to their German opponents and those they labeled as undesirables.
Can we say that Isaias really cares for the Eritrean people as much or more than Hitler did to his own people? I do not think so! It is better if I do not say more! At least, the Nazis did not close any university (as far as I know). They certainly encouraged research and they believed in education, science, the arts, music, advanced technology, etc. Has the Isaias regime done anything to justify its existence? So, where did this adulation and “Wedi Afom” thing come from not only in Eritrea but almost anywhere Eritreans may be found? My friend, it has to do with the way the regime has been carefully controlling its deceptive image through the control of information flow: the state monopolized media, grapevine (03), intimidation, trickery and also degrading the intellectual capacity of the people by discouraging informed, logical and independent thinking. We have been deceived and brainwashed – and most of us do not yet even know the extent of it or what has hit us. That is the worst side of it.
What I find absolutely inexcusable is, however, some people who claim to be intellectuals (and some of them pompously declaring themselves to be Ph.D. holders) functioning as the propaganda arm of Isaias and his regime. I can give several examples of this. Please, if you have a Ph.D., leave it in your closet when you decide to appear in a public forum. Let us see whether you can speak sense. Do not try to bamboozle us with your credentials and use it as a marketing ploy to seek undue influence. That is disingenuous and unethical. It only helps to confuse matters further. So long as Eritrean intellectuals are not only confused themselves but are spreading confusion left and right, what hope is there?
I will now tell you a story from Gojam (Ethiopia) to hammer home this point. It was a St. Mary’s day, and there was a big celebration. At the end of it, the high priests and the church elite (likawunt) were walking along to the banquet hall. The priests and church elites were wearing their traditions turbans (matemtemia) the size of which depended on their rank. It is said that one lowly deacon decided to get the best out of the feast (the best food and tej) by sitting among the top church officials. For this purpose, he wore the biggest and highest turban and quietly joined the group near the front line. When they got inside the banquet hall, the church administrator (or mechenie) assumed that the cheating deacon was a highly learned guest from another place and treated him with great respect and sat him near the top of the table with the elites. Unfortunately, when the conversation started, the deacon was out of place, and it because obvious that he did not know what he was talking about. The mechenie was overhearing, and found out that he was badly mislead to put the lowly deacon with the high priests. He was furious, and shouted at the cheating deacon saying: “Weym inde timtimwo yinageru, weym inde anegagerwo yalemtimu!!” He then grabbed him, and took him away to sit him according to his proper rank. Please remember the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu’s concept of rectification of names referred to in my first article. Those of you who claim to be intellectuals with high qualifications who wish to take the public forum, please take heed – especially those who support this murderous regime.
As I said at the begging, all wars are first fought in the mind. Then the actual thing follows. That is true to all human behavior. To insure a successful course of action, we need sufficient information, clarity of thinking and correct strategies and specific plans. From the preliminary discussions we have been having in the last few days about the Eritrean Holocaust, and taking into account the various perspectives presented or implied, I get the impression that we still have to go some distance to work out some coherent thinking and a clear plan of action and exit points. Frankly, some of the comments, I would say were irresponsible or they trivialized the seriousness of the matter by taking up secondary and tertiary level pet issues while completely forgetting the central point of the debate. The other thing I observed (which is symptomatic of the disarray in the wider Eritrean opposition) is we were not listening to each other. Quite often, messages were misinterpreted even by some whom I believe are serious people. There were also those who seemed to be interested exclusively in their pet subjects or just the sensationalism of some of the topics raised – not the seriousness of the subject matter behind those topics. Some of the commentators seem not to have even had enough time to read what they had in front of them, yet they rushed to make sweeping comments on a subject they had very little clue about. At least, they should have read what was available. This is ominous because, the discussion was mainly among people who classify ourselves among the “liberal opposition”. What would it look like if we were to open a wider discussions with other Eritreans who have other views? That makes me feel that we are really in big trouble – perhaps much more serious than we think. I am now not surprised that there is so much division and confusion among the opposition, and they have not been able to come up with a coherent and viable strategy that has wide acceptance. I would have expected Eritrean intellectuals to take a leading role in rectifying the situation. Unfortunately, they seem to be as confused as everybody else. Worse still, they take advantage of their position to spread their own confusion even further than an ordinary Eritrean.
One of such intellectuals who has won wide acclamation is Yosief Ghebrehiwet, a prolific internet writer for some years now. (Sorry, I am in trouble again, but it is fine!) Anyway, I had read his article a few years ago. When one of the commentators challenged me last week to show that I was right and Yosief was wrong about the cause of the Eritrean crisis, I took the challenge. I had to look back at the archives. The article I found was “Eritrean independence: Is it worth all the sacrifice? Part II” written by Yosief himself. Actually I wish to discuss this article to demonstrate in general the danger we are in: i.e. in the middle of a thinking crisis which is the mother of all our troubles. No doubt, Yosief is a wonderful writer. I also honestly liked his style of argumentation as an exercise in rhetoric and logic. What I have difficulty with is the implications of this type of thinking to practical action. My background is in applied science. I, therefore, always think about the end result. I will now raise the points I have difficulty with Yosief. I will not use the adjectives he is fond of using to castigate and put down his opponents.
1. He likes to polarize the strands in an argument in such a way that the edifice falls within what they call in logic “the two horns of the dilemma”: you can’t say this while saying this. There will be a contradiction. You can’t have it both ways. You have to either abandon this position and remain with the other one or the other way round. But, actually, if you concede to ether positions, your whole argument will collapse. It is like having a house held up by two pillars. If you remove anyone of the pillars, the whole edifice will collapse. But, you can’t have the two pillars in the first place. Here is what he says: “ If Isaias is to be blamed for all the ills of the nation, does it mean that PFDJ is blameless? But that would be absurd; for without the huge apparatus of the PFDJ, that has tentacles spread all over Eritrea and beyond, Isaias wouldn’t survive even a day” To simplify it, the argument is based on either/or logic. But, is there a way out? Yes, there is, and it is semantic. What does “all” mean in the context people use it when they say “Isaias is responsible for all the crimes committed in Eritrea”? Are they suggesting that it is only Isaias who committed all the crimes in Eritrea without many collaborators? Of course not: it would be absurd otherwise. A lot of other people have also been involved. In the context the word “all” is used here, it means that in ALL state crimes committed in Eritrea, Isaias is implicated, even in all the crimes committed by his subordinates as individuals or groups in the name of the state. But, this does not mean that these individuals and groups who act on behalf of Isaias and themselves are free from blame. They actually are. However, Isaias is also implicated in all the crimes of these people because he is the chief architect and conductor of the process and he is the one who gives them the authority to act the way they do – sometimes without a word uttered, no doubt, but with a nod and a wink. It seems that Yosief enjoys logical argumentation much more than the contextual implications of his conclusions. Remember Zeno’s Paradox in logic: a very interesting intellectual puzzle, but if you take it seriously, you will freeze in one position because it makes motion a problematic proposition. In short, the pursuit of logic has its own limitation in the context of the practicalities of life. Please remember my three criteria of truth. I am afraid, Yosief’s position here may satisfy only one of them, but even that is debatable.
2. He says: “The masses were fascinated by ghedli’s running skill, only to find out in the end that all along it had been running empty handed (as in a fool’s errand) and that in its ‘victory’ it had nothing to offer them.” A key question that arises from this is: was the obvious failure of the Eritrean revolution after independence really inevitable; that Isaias would imprison the G15, abolish free press, rule as a dictator with no constitution, no parliament, no independent judiciary, that he would start the Badme war, that so many young people would either die or be in virtual prison and would flee the country, that there would be so much misery, etc? Is it not true that Isaias’s colleagues (eg. G15) and most of those in the ghedli were surprised by the unexpected turn of events and that many died opposing the new order? Was this really caused by the ghedli or by Isaias himself with his collabotators whom he was in full control of? Don’t forget that Isaias finally did away with the ghebli itself. Who was then in total control? Isaias, of course!! The result of the revolution would have been completely different if Isaias had been removed earlier somehow, (There are reports that several attempts were made on his life even before independence, see Redi Mehari , Alena). Is it reasonable to think that Eritrea would have still turned out to be a disaster as it is now with Isaias or without Isaias? I do not think so. Those who could have done a lot of good (several of them much more clever and better human beings than Isaias) were finished by the monster before they had any chance. Some of those were members of the Menka.
What Isaias did was similar to that of Mengistu Hailemarian. The difference is that the former makes the latter look like an angel. There were more able leaders in the Derg who could have done wonders for their country, but Mengistu finished then all in full view without anybody expecting. Actually, some powerful Derg members had managed to whittle away Mengistu’s power, and they were on the verge of removing him from key positions (but not kill him) using legitimate rules of the Derg. He knew what was coming, and he unexpectedly pounced on them with brutal and inhumane means using a handful of armed loyalists. It was a coup. Isaias has done similar things not only once but several times – mostly in a clandestine way. He has even overthrown the ghedli itself, and he now runs a one man state and government with his collaborators without a constitution and a parliament. Mengistu never did that. The evidence suggests that the Eritrean Revolution would have taken a different direction without Isaias. In short, the ghedli itself was a victim of Isaias’ chicanery. It would not have allowed the present circumstances. That is why he rushed to demobilize the ghedli, weaken it and scatter its members everywhere. He then formed a new party, his very own PFDJ. Is it not now obvious what Isaias’s strategy was: to do away with ghedli and rule on his own. At any rate, Yosief cannot use post-fact events to judge the process. Sometimes, results are precipitated by freak events which have little to do with the pre-fact developments. The evidence I have suggests that the Dictator Isaias Afeworki is a freak. Therefore, the ghedli is not by any means largely responsible for what has happened after independence. I am surprised that Yosief does not mention even one merit of the ghedli although many of the criticisms he fields are correct and deserve to be raised. He refers to it as “50 years of ghedli insanity”. Was that a fair and correct assessment of the really? Why did he deliberately exclude the merits of the ghedli? I do not wish to speculate.
3. He then raises questions about whether the Eritrean war of liberation was justifiable – even to start with. He casts doubt about the wisdom of the founding fathers of the Eritrean independence movement. One of his main arguments is that how Eritrea has turned out to be after independence shows that they were badly mistaken. But, is it Isaias who has turned the table against the Eritrean people. The crimes of Isaias, the spoiler, should not rub on the founding fathers because things could have turned out completely differently as the founders hoped for. It should not also be forgotten that despite the fact that a large section (I am not saying the majority) of the Eritrean population was in favour of closer ties with Ethiopia, there was still much underlying traditional grievance of the way Eritreans were treated in the past by marauding Ethiopian forces who came to rule and to loot. Haggai Erlick has, for instance, written extensively about Ras Alula Aba Nega and his forces making periodic expeditions to the western lowlands (the Metahit) just to loot (the razia). Actually some of the important grievances expressed by Ali Salim are legitimate, but not all. The deeds of the Doguau (fighters) from Tigray in Eritrea, including looting and rape is also well known (cf. Bahta Segeneiti). To that should be added the colonial experience of Eritrea under the Italians. Please read Dr Jordan Ghebremedhin’s book on Peasants and Nationalism in Eritrea ( 1989) to understand the underlying causes of the Eritrean revolution. It came out as the result of bitter experience, not wishful thinking as Yosief seems to imply. One of the major points he raises about the folly of the concept of Eritrean independence is the present shambolic state of the Eritrean economy and the resurgent and much better performance of Ethiopia. In fact, Eritrea had a much better chance to prosper and do very well in all the social indicators with proper leadership. Therefore, all fingers should point at the dictator. There is a serious fallacy in Yosief’s argument. In short, the present situation in Eritrea was avoidable: it was not pre-ordained. By the way, there has been an important debate about leaders as the agents of history. In the past, when people were drunk with notions of historical determinism (cf, modernism, Marxism, etc), individual leaders were seen as the necessary hands of history. We are now in post-modernism, and there are doubts about the above. Historical agents, certainly idiosyncratic (freak) leaders like Isaias and all the dictators that Yosief parades in front of us are freaks who can divert the normal process of history. Why is it then that after the death of Joseph Stalin, the course of Russian history took a different shape when Khrushchev came to power, or in China the death of Mao and the coming of Deng Xiaoping, the later taking China in a completely new direction. I personally believe that the federation might have worked if it had been fully respected by the Ethiopians. But, it was not – and the Ethiopians abused their power. Therefore, the Ethiopians are to blame for the collapse of the federation, not the Eritreans.
4. Yosief then says, “One does not fight to create a national identity, one fights to keep an identity one already has. The whole Eritrean tragedy comes as a result of reversing this natural order.” Is this a natural order? I do not know where he got the idea from? Many African states (eg. Ghana) and America itself defy Yosief’s notion of “natural order”. Therefore, the concept is not tenable. It is definitely possible to forge a national out of many. Look at Jamaica and South Africa as well. That is how nations are created. There is always a transitional period, and clans, tribes and communities come together under the same legal jurisdiction and gradually a unified nation emerges. The ghedli tried to create a nation out of many nationalities and communities, and in my opinion, it largely succeed – and the country could have done much better if there were good governance after independence. This is certainly not against the natural order of things.
5. Yosief adds to that by saying: “The romanticizing ones who believe that ghedli (the revolution) was built on justifiable cause or that the nation of ours is being built on solid ground are actually the ones who are preparing the nation for an eventual collapse.” But, using his own method, Yosief can’t have it both ways. On the one hand he is talking about “the nation of ours”, but he is at the same time saying that Eritrea does not exist as a nation – and in fact, you can’t create it either. Therefore, what are we to do? I will only say that the implication of this is far reaching and dangerous. Therefore, it is better if I do not even broach the subject.
6. He then says, “I ask a simple question: Is the cause [Eritrean independence] worth the sacrifice?” Yes, it is true that Eritrea at the moment is in shambles because of bad leadership rarely seen in human history. But, Yosief seems to forget that this is not the end of the story. We shall struggle and remove Isaias and his evil regime. We shall create a new society which is worthy of the sacrifice of our heroic tegadelti. Then, they will not have died in vain. That is why the struggle against the Isaias regime must not fail. Or, is Yosief suggesting that we throw the towel and forget Eritrea as an independent nation?
7. One other important issue Yosief raises is the religious divide in Eritrea between the Muslims and the Christians. Actually, I believe that the way he handled this issue is rather irresponsible. Who said that in Eritrea there is an irreconcilable religious divide? I believe that followers of the two religions can live perfectly harmoniously with each other with the involvement of more enlightened leaders on both sides (as in India, for instance). There is a good prospect for this because in Eritrea and also Ethiopia and elsewhere in the region, Sufi Islam (focused on religious meditation, rather than radicalism) is practiced. To be fair to Yosief, however, when he wrote the article Salafism/Wahabism and Alkaida influence was on the ascent and people were really frightened. After the revolution in North Africa, things seems to be changing. If you take the ascent to power of modernist Islamist political parties in Egypt and particularly in Tunisia, Christians have very little to fear. We also need to remember that Muslims and Christians live more or less harmoniously in Lebanon. The world seems to have changed, and we seem to be getting into a post Al Kaeda-Taliban-Al Shabab era.
In short, I would say that Yosief’s article is a nice intellectual exercise, but I would not take its substance so seriously.
That I hope restores the issue of Isaias Afeworki as the Chief Architect and chief culprit of the Eritrean Holocaust – and the main cause of our misery which we need to get rid of. It also restores the viability of the evolving nation of Eritrea and it finds justification for the existence of the ghedli with all its shortcomings.
We have come a long way to this. I believe that confusion in thinking is the main reason why we have not being able to solve our national crisis. There are powerful groups (Isaias himself and his regime, those who are benefitting from the system, some websites and radio stations, willing supporters of the regime, etc. and some powers outside Eritrea) who have a vested interest in maintaining and spreading the confusion that has paralyzed the Eritrean people from uniting and removing the dictatorship. At the moment, we seem to be largely confused and pulled in different directions; we make various errors in thinking; many of our opinions are either based on just rumour, or partial information or wishful thinking, etc. We are not listening to each other to understand where each person and group is coming from. We do not seem to appreciate each other’s grievances. We lack seriousness in gathering the required information and subjecting ourselves to the pain of proper thinking and judgment. We just throw half baked opinions at each other – and we endlessly repeat our mistakes. Meles Zenawi once said that the reason why EPRDF succeeded whereas many other similar parties failed is because his party rarely repeats mistakes. Isaias himself has brought us to this because he has been repeating mistakes without end, and yet he is not still prepared to learn from his mistakes – if indeed they are genuine mistakes which I happen to very much doubt they are. To this should also be added his own deliberate mischief making as a result of a grudge fueled by mental psychopathy bordering on sadism and possibly some environmental influences as well.
In these circumstances, what is the way forward? I believe that we need a major effort to purify and rectify the way we think. Otherwise, we shall keep going in circles like fools. We need to rectify the way we feel towards each other and communicate. We need to also study the various strands of thinking we have, point out their weaknesses and strengths and forge them into a viable strategy for action. There is also the need to banish bigotry, ignorance, superstition, chauvinism, empty sophistry, dishonest argumentation, bad thinking, discrimination, prejudice, sexism, etc. This effort might be best helped if an ERITREAN THINK TANK is established with a clear brief primarily to fight ignorance, bad thinking and prejudice in Eritrea and to scrutinize, improve and mould together divergent ideas from different sectors of the society into a coherent whole. It should have experts attached to it in many fields (mostly Eritreans, but non-Eritrean consultants as well) from all over the world. It would have a good library and archives. It should be recognized all over the world as the reference centre for information and thinking on Eritrea. When the Eritrean Think Tank speaks, it should be able to have a formidable influence far and wide by the power of its knowledge, caliber of thinking, objectivity and clear commitment to the good of the Eritrean people without fear or favour. Finance should not be a problem.
Unless this is done, I fear that our present hopeless mind set and divisions will persist, and we shall remain caught in the whirlwind of confusion – going nowhere, maybe for another generation or even two. This has happened in our history before. That makes the very existence of Eritrea as we have known it questionable. It is already disintegrating in front of our eyes. Have we not learned enough? Should we not stop repeating our mistakes endlessly right away?