In an unprecedented spirit of fraternity, a group of Eritreans from the Tri-state area, Pennsylvania and Delaware met to honor one of their own—the Eritrean-Swedish Member of Parliament, Mr. Arhe Hamednaca. They came together to celebrate his story; their story, for it reaffirms the potent power that lies in all of them. Arhe Hamednaca is them, but more importantly, he is the forerunner of what is to come of their children. Shaking hands with the Swedish MP was to shake hands with the exhilarating promise of the future. Arhe Hamednaca is the ambassador of the Eritrean Diaspora who speaks to its potential, promise and hope.
The multi-cultured Arhe is the embodiment of Eritrea’s long tradition of a melting pot; the old Bogos is the microcosm of Eritrea. No wonder, Arhe’s story is the story of a successful integration of an individual who has made the most of the opportunities Sweden has afforded him. Arhe’s success is a tribute to the long-standing legacy of cultural diffusion and integration of his native SenHit, his personal strife for excellence, and most of all, the goodness of the Swedish people and country that have opened their hearts and doors to refugees from all over the world. Arhe is Swedish as much as he is Eritrean.
In fact, Arhe is in New York to attend a UN session as part of six-member Swedish delegation made of Members of Parliament, but as an Eritrean, he had to make the time, out of a really busy schedule, to meet with Eritrean kin and kith. Arhe is a member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, who was elected in 2010 from the Stockholm Municipally, and has been serving in parliament as a board member, member of the Committee on Justice, and Deputy Director of Labor Market Committee.
Arhe Hamednaca’s success and rise to fame is indeed an Eritrean story, but it is much more than that; it is a human story that transcends our petty differences. It is the story of a young man who, at a tender age of fifteen, had to leave home to fight for freedom; a noble idea its blessings he was, in a twist of fate, to experience far away from home, in his adopted country of Sweden. Arhe is Jemal, the protagonist, of Of Kings and Bandits, the historical novel by Saleh Gadi Johar.
Like most young idealists, Arhe was disappointed by the revolution he dedicated his life to; and in 1977 he fled Eritrea and sought refuge in neighboring countries. This, as Arhe would say, was neither an abdication of responsibility nor a negation of Eritrea’s just cause. He has not stopped fighting and caring for Eritrea, and today he champions the fight for a meaningful and positive change. He believes that regime change is not enough if it is not rooted in reconciliation, democracy and respect for human rights.
Arhe’s journey from an asylee to a Member of Parliament was neither quick nor easy. When Arhe joined the Eritrean Liberation Front the only education he had, in his place of birth Ella Berid, was of primary level. His pristine, unadulterated and rural upbringing, however, is evident in his honest, unpretentious, simple and dignified approach. His good looks and tall posture lend him an authority that befits his stature. He speaks in a disarming and charming way putting his audience at ease, but the power behind his ideas could be very transformative. He attributes his early intellectual development to his days as a young freedom fighter in the mountains of SenHit, Hamasien and the plains of Barka.
His passion for his ideas is only matched by the beauty of his humanity; he is a decent and likeable gentleman who has not forgotten his Eritrean and Ella Berid roots. I’ve not had the honor of visiting Sweden, but based on what I have read and heard, I am sure Sweden has had a great impact on his character, disposition and outlook. The freedom and justice oriented Swedish culture has allowed Arhe to beautifully and seamlessly navigate between his two cherished cultures at times and to fully integrate them at others.
The ability to integrate the best of both worlds’ is what brought the spotlight on him. He was the voice against honor killing among the immigrant communities in Sweden, and the architect of a policy that proved so effective that few European countries have come to emulate it. Arhe understood that it takes a generation or two to eradicate a deeply rooted cultural practice; and any policy that fails to garner a patient and long-term commitment is bound to be ineffective. There are no short-cuts and quick fixes; and no amount of legislation can change what is in peoples’ hearts. A slow, pain-staking and patient process of education is the only remedy. This cultural insight catapulted Arhe to Swedish national discourse. Maybe his sojourn in exile and his early years in Ella Berid gave him some inbuilt sensitivity to deal with diverse cultures. No wonder the Christian Arhe champions the so-called Eritrean Muslims’ issues of language, land and refugee repatriation. I think he is being true to his moral campus.
Arhe was living in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s as an active member of ELF’s civilian organization, but the divisive politics that characterized post ELF fragmentation, put the leftist leaning members at risk of expulsion. It was during this politically-polluted environment that he sought asylum to Sweden. He arrived in Sweden in 1986 and joined the ELF Swedish branch, but the never-ending bickering among his compatriots compelled him to seek a meaningful participation in the social, cultural and political life of his new home. It was in 1988 that he became a member of the Social Democratic Party.
Arhe had spent a long time in the trenches.
For over a decade, he was mainly active in civic organizations, but in 2001 when a Kurdish acquaintance became a victim of honor killing, he spoke out with outrage and reasoned with wisdom to seek a solution that will adequately address the problem. Arhe’s cultural insight, that seems rare among the so-called experts, came naturally to him; the son of Ella Berid, where cultural diversity and integration was and is still the norm.
Eritrea has a model to follow, it is the model of Keren, it is the model of Bogos, it is the model of SenHit, and it is the model of Arhe Hamednaca. No wonder the favorite son of Ella Ber’ed preaches the gospel of reconciliation. He deserves our applause; we need to tell him, “Preach on brother!”
Arhe Hamednaca, whose name represents diverse Eritrean languages, is an Eritrean-Swedish Member of Parliament and an apostle of reconciliation. Arhe has led the way and his country men and women are proud.
Almost all ideas are the result of individual thinking and the Eritrean who came up with the idea of honoring Arhe Hamednaca deserves equal accolade.