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Jailers and Jailed

Freedom of Expression Forum in Oslo

About a decade ago I attended the exquisite Freedom of Expression Forum in Oslo, Norway, where many dignitaries and activists from around the world flocked. As a skeptic, I observed the activities of the event critically—blame it on my experience with political NGOs operating in the Third World. But I prayed the Oslo Forum would not turn out to be a disappointment. It was not as bad as I feared, but it was not very dissimilar either.

I have limitless respect and admiration for the non-political NGO’s, the charitable entities whose members get their hands dirty, live in dangerous places to help the poor and the destitute while exposing themselves to great risks, selflessly driven by their conscience and care for humanity. If they were selfish, they wouldn’t have left their comfortable homes to live among the destitute people, teaching, feeding, providing healthcare, and digging wells… they are the heroes.

That’s why I despise the preaching of Prosperity Gospel, where tricksters convince their audience, ‘God told me I must have a private jet and a mansion; go ahead and donate the needed money, I got to have my jet and mansion.’ Now little pastors are doing the same in Ethiopia; I watched such a trickster who makes imaginary karate moves and some people fall to the ground with the imaginary kick of his leg—supposedly blessed. They must have been trained by the political NGOs.

It’s common to see political NGO workers who supposedly go to poor countries to help the poor but first they establish for themselves a 5-star hotel lifestyle, probably better than the life they left behind, which could be less than a 2-star lifestyle. I resent those who have created a class of their own and live aloof, on a different level as masters of those they came to serve, like wealthy tourists. And this is evident for anyone who visited Addis Ababa or lived there—in 1990s, most of the cars parked at the Hilton Hotel carried charity registration plates; only wealthy tourists, diplomats, and charity workers afforded to dine and wine at places like the Hilton Hotel.

I admit my views could be harsh, but it’s influenced by my young adult experience, in secondary school, I had young carefree peace corps teachers.

The Oslo event kicked off with a rudimentary stereotypical show of an African group of four or five people with African drums. They appeared from behind the hall and walked to the stage in a solemn procession as if they were accompanying a coffin to a graveyard. The songs they hummed, the costumes, and the stereotypical beat shocked me; I would have appreciated a Norwegian group because the event wouldn’t have looked as if it was tailor-made for Africans. Condescending?

Usually, such events are heavily loaded with entertainment and promotional activities, and then the excited attendants clap and cheer. That is what happened when the entertaining group finished its gig.

I was Introduced to Burtukan Mideksa

The Norwegian foreign minister delivered an opening speech in the function that anyone worth his salt in the activism industry attended. Then we listened to many speeches and emotional stories of imprisoned activists in dictatorial countries… I would have appreciated some of the narrations if they didn’t sound so comical. Someone gave a speech and emotionally told us Burtukan was “jailed in a rat-infested prison cell.” Many people went, “Uhhhhh!”

I am not sure if it was a surprise m-shock or faking of one. I sneered. But then I was curious: it was the first time I heard the name of Burtukan Mideksa, the Ethiopian politician who was languishing in jail.

Who in Ethiopia doesn’t have rats in their houses? More than half the world hosts rats in their houses—even New York is known for its over-fed rats. Is that the reason for the sympathy with Burtukan’s predicament?

I have visited the Arat Kilo Palace twice and I am sure an army of rats lived there, starting from the gates that looked like a makeshift roadblock built by lazy, tasteless soldiers. But then I discovered it was inherited from the Derg, a military government whose building codes are like the codes needed to build ugly, rudimentary trenches.

Since I first heard her name, whenever Burtukan Mideksa is mentioned, the image of rats appears in my mind. Now, luckily, she is the Chairperson of the National Election Board of Ethiopia, and I bet there are rats in her house even if they don’t live there, just visiting every now and then. The same goes for every house in Addis Ababa though you would never hear people complaining, “ebaakih betaachn enchewa gebchbet eko!” and the response would be, “Uooooy, mn telaaleh ebaakih? Enchwa!”

The Vicious Cycle

There is a rule in our region: a government jails people, then it’s deposed, then the new government frees the prisoners and rewards them with important government jobs, then they shine, they take revenge on those they think were the reason they were jailed. Then, until the government is overthrown again that’s, those who are perceived to be sympathetic with the previous government will end up in jail… and the vicious cycle goes on. And that is the risk of not having a stable system of government, the absence of rule-of-law, and a culture that claims to respect justice but despises it. Life is about partisan squabbles and endless ethnic, sectarian, regional, and racial feuds, and rivalries. That’s why I think no one cares about the rats, the pests, or the human serpents—that’s the reason for the existence of embarrassing governments. Now I am thinking about Burtukan Mideksa’s domain, the election. Why did Abiy delegitimize the Tigray regional elections?

In hindsight, is Abiy’s draconian decision a prudent step (forget good or bad decision)? What does Burtukan think about it? Is she fine playing along in partisan politics when she is a well-educated and a one-time judge who served justice? Or, she has excuses and justifications based on the views of her employer?

Since she had resigned once in the past for rejecting to work in a certain “circumstance”, and she was jailed for it, does she consider resigning now? What does she think about the jailing of the hundreds of citizens for opposing Abiy’s government? Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Hamza Adane, Dejene Tafa and many others are in jail without trail–are they sleeping in prison-cells infests with rats? Maybe Burtukan Mideksa has another excuse, and she could say, “I work for the elections board, not for the justice department!”

It’s Kheria Ibrahim’s Turn

Remember Kheria Ibrahim, the much admired and promoted speaker of the house until she has a fall out with Abiy? She is now in jail, in undisclosed place. He used her as a poster woman to convince the world he is committed to gender equality when he appointed so many women in his cabinet—surprisingly, now all the women grew beards, and he is left with a mob of gun tooting violent men.

Last week Kheria was dragged to the court to testify against her bosses, including Sebhat Negga. She refused to do so and instead, in the court, she exposed the criminality of Abiy’s government and the atrocities he unleashed on her people. She was taken back to the undisclosed prison though she appealed in court to be taken to the Kaliti prison. I am sure she doesn’t have an idea there are rats there! Now, if a meeting is held in Oslo or elsewhere, she needs someone to tell the world “Kheria Ibrahim is jailed in a rat-infested prison cell.” Would Burtukan do that for Kheria?

Personally, I am “fractionally” happy Lidetu Ayalew is free at last—he is one among the few Ethiopians I really consider my spiritual colleagues in the struggle for justice. But I personally feel an obligation towards Jawar since we have known each other though not in person. I admired the man because of his unwavering position since I first talked to him. I liked what he stood for and now he has been in jail with his colleagues for a year and the Ethiopian justice system has not helped him. That’s why it is clear to me the man and his colleagues are victims of the vendetta conveyer-belt; rats or no rats, I wish they do not have to languish in jail until Abiy’s government is overthrown. And remember, the same Jawar was the effective instrument that brought Abiy to the fore.

And the Prosperity Gospel, coughs out gold coins.

Currently, it all depends on Abiy Ahmed’s conscience—Isaias should be proud of his star student whom he trained and graduated with flying colors. Even Abiy’s senior cadres are acting as cloned toys of Isaias’ cadres—including Shimelis Abdissa, the secretary of the Oromo region who displays undiplomatic, belligerent attitude.

I don’t know how soundly Abiy sleeps knowing he has betrayed his close allies! Worse, he has betrayed justice and fairness. He plunged Ethiopia and Eritrea into turmoil and caused the suffering of millions of Ethiopians, particularly in Tigray where people were killed and are being killed as you read this. Is there a way to stop the madness? If there’s, TIME is of the essence. If not, the damages already seem irreversible.

Addendum

1. COVID 19 Vaccination: Last week I took the second vaccination and I encourage all to stop acting like spoiled brats and be vaccinated—it’s effortless!

When I took the first one four weeks ago, it made me sleep—one time I slept straight for 19 hours and I wished the second one would have the same effect, I needed to rest. No, it was different and unlike the first one, it tortured me for days. But don’t be alarmed, different people react differently. And if you pray for the demise of Isaias and Abiy while talking the vaccination, it helps. The Prosperity Gospel/Party (no difference between the two) is blessed, it even coughs gold coins. So, go and get over with the vaccination and claim your social freedom and stop looking like a fake Zorro with a mask over your nose and mouth.

2. Abune Aregawi: A friend reminded me of Abune Aregawi whose brief story I should have added in my previous episode of Negarit 130; it’s here:

Abune Aregawi is a revered saint in the Tewahdo Christian tradition. However, many people think he hails from Rome when in fact he hails from Syria. However, since he was born in Byzantium, Eastern Roman Empire, he is considered a Roman citizen at the time.

Abune Aregawi is named after his hometown, Al Rikka, thus Al-Rekkawi which in our region is pronounced Al Riggawi but finally became Aregawi. Rikka is a town in north-central Syria and was the stronghold and capital city of ISIS (Daesh).

After the crisis following the conferences of Ephesus and Chalcedon, many persecuted Christians fled to places where their faith was tolerated; the nine famous monks from the region immigrated to Abyssinia and founded their own monasteries. Abuna Aregawi founded the mountaintop Debre-Damo monastery in Tigray. Folktales claim a python (the saints icon depicts a green Anaconda coiled around him)  carried him over the steep slopes to the top of the Dammo Mountain. Folktales also claim he sowed seeds in the morning and by midday he harvested, winnowed, and collected the grain. And when he died, at 93, his body disappeared and he is expected to come back on doomsday.

Such are the folktales, it’s faith and no one is supposed to prove a belief unless they try to convince others who consider the story irrational. However, there are many such traditional tales in the literature of many faiths, including some Muslims who believe the story of Yaafour the speaking donkey. And that is why a secular system of governance is in dire need as the region, with lots of superstitions, has veiled (sometimes not so veiled) theocratic governments.

 

NB: this is extracted from Negarit 131, at Negarit, my YouTube channel

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 awate.com. 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 Awate.com 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 awate.com 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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Negarit 129: Wise leaders Build, Machos Destroy

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  • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ

    ሰላማት

    ጥራጥ ከየምሉቕ ተጠንቂቐ
    ከይዕቅቦ ግን ተነፊሐ
    ከይፍንዎ ከይሓፍር
    ፈሪሐ
    ኩሉ ወዮ ኴኑ
    ኣይንላዕሊ ኣይንታሕቲ ተሰንጢቐ

    ‘ዛ ጥራጠይ ኣዘኪራትኒ
    ናብራ ዓደይ
    ኣይ ብኣፈይ ኣይ ብኢደይ
    ገበነኛ ‘ኻ ተባሂለ
    ዋላ ተበልኩዎም ከመይ ጌረ
    ሰማዒ ስኢነ
    ተኾርሚኻ ምሟት ኣሳፊሕካ ምሟት
    ስለዝኾነኒ ናብ ስደት ምቁማት
    መሪጸ

    ሕጅስ ‘መስገኖ
    ተደልየ ይዝርጋሕ
    ተደልየ ይፍንዎ
    ንኸይንፋሕ

    ዝገርም ‘ዩ
    ዓዲ ስደት ካብ ዓደይ ንላዕሊ
    ማዕረ ወዲ ዓዲ
    ሕጊ ‘ብጻሓኒ
    ከመይ ‘ሉ?
    ተሓዋዊሱኒ

    ፉዞ ‘ምበር ተሰሪሐ

  • Saleh Johar

    Selam HaileS, and all,

    As you know, an audio-visual presentation requires many skills. The average television program requires a set of skills and expertise: script writers, set managers, lighting and audio engineers, digital artists and photographers, directors, producers. In post production, movie editors of many skills are needed. I once watched an interview with a weekly one-hour program presenter. The interviewer asked him if it is true that his crew is composed of forty people. He was surprised at the exaggerated number. He corrected her, “no, my crew is only 37 people”.

    I weigh your feedback and. critique very highly. However, I wish you considered all the variables and realize it is a one-man show–I do cover all the skills I mentioned above. That is why I go to great length to add quality to what I present in Negarit: script (remember translation), audio-visual effects, editing and mundane tasks as tags, titles, promotions and what have you. I don’t think you ever weighed that!

    What I wish for is your thoughts and advise on that. How I can off-load some of the burden on volunteers and improve the quality of Negarit. That is because I envision and continually strive to improve the program. So, when you offer a feedback or a comment, I wish you would consider all of the above. Believe me, if I was just to switch on my phone and speak to the camera, regardless of (and not worrying about ) the production value, I know I can talk for hours and would present you a daily dose of 30 minutes with a fraction of the time that I waste on my quasi-weekly program. Then it will be more of the same social media blubber. However, if I get the indication (with certainty) that is what my audience wants, I will stop the program because mundane work is not my “fnjal of buun”. But thank you for the continuous comment and feedback, I benefit from them a lot, it’s just I am stingy and want more 🙂

    • Haile S.

      Selam Saleh,

      I hope you didn’t take my comment on the image of Negarit 71 as a critical message to you. If you somehow looked at it negatively, I apologize. Someone, (I think, it was Kokhob) said he checked for the meaning of ዓርገን on google. I did the same and that video came front page, thus became my stepping stone to what I said after. The message I was trying to pass was commenting on an image is not necessarily a distraction, to those who understood it like that and if it is perceived that way, I will refrain.

      If I say I enjoy your presentations, it might now look a flattery. I really like it and appreciate well what it takes to do that. I can’t imagine doing it. But I comment on any corner of this Rosetta Stone called Negarit, usually the images. There is always some angle that talks to each person. The images talk to me. I am attracted by compelling images. It also happens I comment on contents in the way that interests me.

      I understand that a large chunck of communication is the perception we give. If there is something to do in this aspect, I will. Please believe in my sincerity, I have no other objectives or interests here other than talking to my compatriotes and exchanging ideas.

      • Saleh Johar

        HaileS,
        The best thing you can do for me, please, is, to never apologize, specially when there is no reason to do so. By now you should know me, I am not the touchy-feely type . You have done this a few times and sometimes I refrain replying fearing you would explain stuff you do not need to. Be candid as you are and I will continue to be the same, life is too short. If I say something, it is not necessarily a reaction but an opportunity to say what I need to say–tout est bon 🙂

      • kokhob selamone2

        Dear Brother Haile S,

        As you said it before, we are all learning to each other and as we are doing it we should take easy and be open minded. And really you are doing fine and you are among the most admired participants as far as me concern me and we all doing our best. Your really reply was based in Negarti 71 and it is all fine.

        -I have no other objectives or interests here other than talking to my compatriotes and exchanging ideas.- The same is for me too.

        KS,,

    • Aman Y.

      Selam Haw Saleh,
      “So, go and get over with the vaccination and claim your social freedom and stop looking like a fake Zorro with a mask over your nose and mouth.” What a great punch line. Did you consider reaching out Dr. Anthony Fauci?

      The election looks like more than Birtukan can handle. She has been ordered to register Balderas election candidates, the like of Eskinder, in prison. Are you positive (አንጭዋ=አይጥ) is everywhere? I have never been to a prison. In my opinion, Dr. Daniel Bekele at Ethiopian commission is doing more than I expected in building an autonomous institution.

      NGO employees salaries are accounted in the organizations proposal. Every country has its own formula to permit the organization. For example if an organization submits a proposal of $2,000,000.00 which $900,000.00 is over head cost and the countries rule is the over head should be less 50%, the proposal is denied. I do not know what Eritrea’s formula was, the above proposal was submitted for sanitation improvement of returnees in Golge.

      The overhead included: cars, office and residential leases… That means the overhead cost would be high only for the first year.

      Salary: in the early nineties the dollar exchange was around $1.00 for 7.00 Birr in both countries. Of course, they were using the same currency. An expatriate paid $3,000.00 which is not much in the US would be 30,000.00 Birr in Ethiopia plus allowances. A five years old Japanese car was b/n 40 to 50 thousand.

      Accordingly, local employees also get much more than locals.

      And the Hilton club sandwich with draft was I do not know may be 10 to 15 Birr . How would go to Hilton often, while I can go to Five Doors which were very close to the Hilton. Five Door were very famous Bars in Kazanchis, by the six police station. They got the name Five Door because they were in a business block where there were only bars and the bars were five. Now, everything around there is demolished.

      My hide out was Milk House. Uhhh . Sorry, I got carried away.

      Finally, your video quality is amazing. I am not a technical person, but I have supervised a very small team and saw what it takes. The sound is amazing. You must have a sound proof studio with a good mike and mixer, but how do you control all these. Besides, the Camera was zooming in and out by itself. Are you using Mevo or similar camera?

      Regards,

      P.S. How was your Shebelle experience? I just imagined you have visited one of the disco nights?

      • Saleh Johar

        Aman Y,
        Thanks for the info on the charity groups’ budget items–I didn’t know the host governments had a say on it, though I feel the corruption makes it easy to cook the books. Thank you.

        Wabesebelle owes me some stars, it didn’t have the stars it claimed 🙂 But is was clean and suitable for a cam chat. But since I frequently travelled to Addis, you know all of today’s shmagelle’s who came there had a few must-visit destinations, you would find me there socializing–particularly Btsat’s Azmari Bet, and another one that was on the side of Asmera menged.

        Do you believe any person would be able to eradicate the rats? Certainly, institutionalizing the prisons will never eradicate the rats, they are BALABATs in every corner. Maybe they can try decreasing their population by legislating that every rat family cannot have more than two babies policy 🙂

        • Abi

          Selam Ato Saleh
          The Azmari bet on Asmara menged close to ኡራኤል is ራሄል ዮሃንስ ቤት:: How come we didn’t meet? My favorite place!!
          https://youtu.be/ATI0RQud2qY

          • Saleh Johar

            Abi,
            How could you socialize with others in the tiny, noisy, smoke filled room? You can’t even speak over the noise but just look at each other—meaning the people you came with. But it’s strange how a million people fitted in the small space I don’t think I would survive ten mnts ion these places now but then it was the main entertainment place. I had a friend who thought that was the only place in town and every time we are out he dragged us there. I liked karamara because of the large space outside the hut. I sat there and enjoyed the music from a distance. Once I saw a guy fight another over a bitter sarcasm. and it was bloody— I am sure you are not one of them:-)

          • Abi

            Selam Ato Saleh
            Karamara is too close to the house I was born and grew up. Besides, it was too quiet and decent for a young and absolutely እርኩስ person like me.
            I was dragged to Karamara later in life by the First Lady:)
            You got a great taste.

  • Brhan

    Hello Saleh,
    I listened to the episode on YouTube 3 days ago before its post on awate.com. But reading made it sweeter. If I am not mistaken, Negarit is the only Eritrean YouTube channel with a print version. Saleh, I encourage you to continue making Negarit both audio/video and print.
    On the vicious cycle, I want to add that justice is the only way to end it. On November 23, 1974, the Derg massacred 60 Ethiopian officials. Then it Killed General M. Andom, Atnafu Abate, Teferi Benti. The Derg killed a lot, but this episode is about the fate of officials.

    When TPLF/EPRDF came to power, some saw that vengeance would happen against the Derg, but on the contrary, it decided to present the officials to the Ethiopian justice system. No bloodshed like that of the Derg did to King Halie S. and his men.

    A.Ahmed Ali did worse than Derg. First, Ethiopian federal forces and their allies, Amhara Militia & Eritrea soldiers, killed TPLF officials, such as Mr. Asmelash Woldeselassie, a blind man! Secondly, how this so-called religious priest prime minister handled WZO Kheiria Ibrahim’s issue showed that he is uglier than Mengistu, who hardly feared God. But now, due to her steadfastness and, of course, due to the US pressure on A. Ahmed Ali, it seems she won’t find hard times. S. RES. 97 asks A. Ahmed Ali to ensure the rights to which those detained are entitled under Ethiopian and international law are fully respected.

    I want to end my humble comment by Abune Aregawi. In Taba, I met a Muslim woman giving financial assistance to his church at Mai Temany, Asmara. At the same time, her Christian neighbor did the same in Masjid Abdulkadir Al-Gelani, in Taba, Asmara. Both women believed in the miracles of the two saints, respectively. Asmarinos are cool!

  • Dongolo

    Salam Saleh Johar. Humanitarian tourism at the Hilton in the 1990s? Actually, it had been that way since 1985 up until the late 1990s when the Sheraton appeared on the scene. For some 30 years the Hilton was the top hotel in Addis. During the TPLF reign, many of those UN and NGO tagged (without organization stickers) vehicles in the Hilton parking lot were actually operated by Government security guys under guise; those guys were all over the country and even sometimes went into Somalia. In Asmara during the mid-1980s famine period, the Ambasoira was the place where humanitarian tourists would gather, with Nyala and Keren hotels in lesser use. Once mobile phones came out in Addis in 1999, humanitarian tourists had many options to disperse and no longer congregated only at the 5 star hotels.

    • Saleh Johar

      Yes. Dingolo, I remember only the nineties because I visited Ethiopia for the first time in my life in June 1991. There were other places they flicked to beside the 5-star hotels, the crowded house with colored lights:-) remember those?

      • Dongolo

        Selam Saleh Johar. I remember many crowded houses with colored lights in Addis back then:): Little 4 and 5 doors behind the Hilton, Four Corners, Seven Sisters, Bambis, Meskel Flower Hotel, Tej Houses near Meskel Square, dance bets near 6 kilo, normal and secreto bars in Piazza…The Chechnya scene came a bit later. Sometimes I would see those humanitarian tourists amongst the colored lights….sometimes completely wasted and oftentimes in compromised situations. I came into Asmara on the morning of May 24th from Massawa and would not have a chance to see Addis until a couple of weeks later. My fist dance with Addis was in the 80s…but most of my time then was spent in a small room with no windows or colored lights.

  • kokhob selamone2

    Dear Brother Saleh,

    Fantastic and excellent. I learned a lot from your talk and cleared the negative knowledge I own about our struggle. Really, you are very big teacher. I admire the wisdom you got.
    I mean, it looks to me every you come with new talks, you let me come fresh -regard with respect or warm approval. I am used to see, in your ,YouTube page and wait for you to post it in this site,

    Thank you and God bless you.

    KS,,

    • Saleh Johar

      Selam kokob2,
      I am glad you find it useful. It’s for that reason that I toil to produce it. As long as there are people
      like you, and I can produce something heavy that I try to make lighter, I will do just that. Thank you