For a few months now, I have been unconsciously humming an old children’s rhyme: shuf’el kedis gllet adebu; shereb leben wemesah shenebu… It is a story of a cat that slurps milk meant for a baby and then licks its whiskers clean as if nothing happened, while the hungry baby cries. The Eritrean political arena is full of milk mustached men, women have always proven to be relatively saner. 2009 has been interesting. Very interesting. “May you live in interesting times” say the Chinese, and it is not a blessing the way they say it.
Our interesting year included the Furious Summer (thanks to Ali Salim), the Stagnant Opposition (and I will address them), and the Gual Neger issues they brought with them (pen names, posting policies and the Brussels drama) here as my year end summary; a good way to bury the first unfavorable year of Obama, a year when the achievements were not as eloquent as the speeches—sorry, Obamistas.
The State of the Stateless Opposition
Nothing of significance happened until the beginning of summer except the usual b’awet tezazimu series of meetings that were so successful they were equated to the victory of attaining the independence of Eritrea—Against All Odds, as Dan Connell put it. Why not? Don’t ever think that is delusional. The meetings would now bring you the liberation of Eritreans because the Rubicon was crossed. The crossing, hearing it from the proponents advertising it, was similar to the breaking of the Afabet front and the march to Asmara. Only this time, it will not be the Roman Rubicon but the Eritrean Anseba River, with no bloodshed, no broken bones, just imagine the loads of airplanes flying in with groupies so eager to assume power over a country that hopefully would survive the PFDJ onslaught.
If you read Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, you must remember Captain Yossarian, the American bombardier who wondered why the Italian soldiers wanted to kill him as he mercilessly bombed their positions during WWII. I am not Yossarian, and awate.com is not a bomber plane; but yet, since the mid nineties, I had to deal with many milk mustached men who thought they were in some sort of competition to prove who amongst them can act the role of a bigot and a racist—Hasha’e, I am not saying they are, but just acting. As the veterans among you would remember, it was tough fighting the PFDJ groupies, until they were defeated; I had no idea they had cloned themselves before they disappeared.
But the issue and fury was not in defense of national unity, it was about defending a cute kiosk. As long as that kiosk is all right, Eritrea can burn to ashes. If defending the kiosk takes displaying your meanness and unfairness, so be it. Keeping that in mind, I understand the unfairly fierce actions, Mariam temharrom.
Unfortunately, not even a hair in my nostrils moves when opposition entities unite or fragment anymore; I wish to see tangible results, then every hair in my body would stand. No one is willing to be a megaphone for more B’awet tezazimu episodes, we have done that enough, when we were children playing with toys. Now every kiosk has its own outlet and its own extensions in experienced propagandists who excel at that, propagandists who have yet to learn the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist, between a journalist and a propagandists, between integrity and ……fill the blank.
My Name Is Mengistu Hailemariam
No. That can never be my name, I was just imagining Mengistu as a student in his first English class. What would you do if Mengistu Hailemariam wanted to write on awate.com using a pen name? A friend posed that question to understand our posting policies. I think we would ask Mengistu to first apologize to the people and when he does, we violate our promise and tell him, “we were joking, you do not belong here.” But I am sure if he were to write the wizards would expose him in no time, and if they can’t, they would blame it on Saleh Gadi, why not?
As you might remember, I didn’t respond as I should have to the wild claims associating me with this pen name or that. First, I didn’t want to dignify the game of wild goose chase. Second, it was so absurd; what is offensive to me is not being accused wrongly, but being accused of using a pen name when I have no reason to. I didn’t do it when it mattered, when I was cornered by both the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments, remember when I defeated them both and didn’t become homeless and stateless as they wished? I was punished by the PFDJ for writing and I am being attacked by the kiosk guards for the same reason, even when the writer they are targeting is someone else.
But for the benefit of the honest readers, here is the policy of awate.com on pen names: people can use pen names provided they have good reasons. However, although they can remain ghosts and maintain their anonymity with the readers, they can’t be to the editors of awate.com. They have to disclose their name and address. Considering the nature of the oppressive regime, we believe pen names should be used to shield the writer—but not to mislead the reader. Therefore, writers cannot use a misleading name, a Christian cannot use a Muslim name and vice-versa. A male cannot use a female name and vice-versa.
Damn! Why are they not saying Semere Tesfai is Saleh Gadi?
Gura Mura Standards
I would have preferred not to bore you by mentioning Ali Salim, blame it on the Milk Moustached cats. I had to read and reread Ali Salim’s articles and Semere Tesfai’s long article to prove that the objection of the furious souls has nothing to do with national unity, but, as I mentioned above, protecting a kiosk.
There is no difference in the issues the two writers raised and advocated for, meaning the way they expressed the fears and grievances of their respective constituencies. Ali Salim angered some partisans who claimed their hearts bled because of so much worrying about the unity of Eritrea. They lost sleep, skipped meals and donned a black gown, a symbol of sadness and mourning. They agitated, circulated e-mails and campaigned (sometimes joined by their top echelon) against Ali Salim’s very divisive articles and began to hurl bombs at him (actually more of it ended at my lap and awate.com.) The energy they spent would have eradicated the PFDJ, Taliban and the Lord’s Army three times over. At one time, I began to question myself, ‘maybe they are genuinely concerned about Eritrean unity!’ I was having thoughts, worried, walking back and forth in the street with my hands crossed behind my back, my beards grew and my eyes sunk, Tsemalya mesile!
That was until Semere Tesfai graced the pages of awate.com with clarity equal to that of Ali Salim. I breathed a sigh of relief but felt sorry for him; now they will attack him for endangering our national unity. Good, he deserves it just like Ali Salim because they both put our national unity at risk and disrupted the harmony of the opposition which we never had. Nope. They didn’t do it. They disappointed me one more time. The first time was when they didn’t attack someone who insulted Muslim Eritreans as Sehabti Gemel.
Worse, I expected to get an e-mail accusing me of being Semere Tesfai using a pen name. My noble friends, the guardians of national unity didn’t do that as well. Seriously though (we have people who do not have any sense of humor), I am not Semere Tesfai—sga a‘boy, sga hagerawi Hadenetna ‘ile.
Now, there is some stuff… more pressing than our national unity, lets leave that to the defenders of unity and move on. Before we do, I would like to thank Semere Tesfai for responding to Ali Salim in a coherent manner.
Semere started his treatise with a quote from an article I wrote. Indeed, those who do not have what it takes to respond intelligently were wailing for months, since the Ali Salim phenomena began, and proved they are, “faqid Ash-sh’e la YaATihu.” I am glad Semere had what it takes.
This is the type of elevated debate that we at awate.com, and our colleagues, have been yearning for, and in spite of the distraction, it is now established—the fear-mongers are sidelined and the bigotry of the usual empty suits, who just shout without saying anything, is exposed to the bone. With a single article, Semere said what the wailers could not say in five-months. But their campaign of vilification has not stopped, they know only to salivate like a hound to attack anything to cover their inaction.
If today the PFDJ regime would collapse and they would come to power (Ya Hasra, don’t chuckle, they can!), their mouthpieces would replace Haddas Ertra and awate.com and its editors and writers would end up in Ella-Eiro (please don’t forget to send me blankets and books). This has been a fight to discourage people from contemplating establishing a runner up for Haddas Ertra and a fight to end Ella-Eiro. Nothing much, I guess.
Until then, we have to deal with it with humor. My friend Saleh Younis and I joke about this all the time whenever writers who use the same writing style as ours appear at awate.com. Daniel G Mikael writes like Saleh Younis: lucky for him, if people were to challenge Saleh for writing under the pen-name of “Daniel G Mikael”, all he has to do is pass the message to Daniel and Daniel will say: here I am, let’s talk. But that doesn’t seem to work for me because the issue is not Ali Salim. The larger point, that it is the ideas that matter more than the ideologist, is really lost on many—particularly those whose entire value system—what they believe, what they don’t—is based not on the ideology espoused, but on loyalty to the person pushing the ideology. This, dear readers, is not limited to the followers of “His Excellency Isaias Afwerki,” but to many of the followers of Kiosk politics.
Let’s leave our nonsense in 2009
The first three years after the launch of awate.com, we went through seasons of attacks and vilification from PFDJ groupies who were bent on closing down awate.com and marginalizing its editors—they tried the religion card and every conceivable propaganda ploy against us. By 2005, they were defeated in the opinion field because they couldn’t meet the intellectual challenge put forth to them by many able persons. Their arguments—border, national unity, etc—proved to be empty and mediocre. It is amazing that the recent vilification comes in a similar tone and content: national unity, religious vilification, etc.
The truth is, the PFDJ groupies were careful in hiding their bigotry, but the baton-takers are in fact so foolish they are proud of wielding it shamelessly. Otherwise, why would their reaction be selective? What is the difference between what Ali Salim wrote and what Semere Tesfai wrote? Why didn’t the usual screamers react when a writer called Eritrean Muslims, ‘Sehabti Gemel?’ See! Selective outrage saved Semere from the outrage of the pole-dancers who kept stripping their garments one piece after another. Now they are stark naked. But tolerant Eritreans have no problem with either Ali Salim or Semere Tesfai, or even the guy who uses the above mentioned commandos language. But by God, if anyone has a well articulated, a well written opinion worth sharing, awate.com is here to host it—regardless of how those who want to gag people would react.
If we lock Ali Salim and Semere in one room, and give them an ultimatum to come up with a negotiated coexistence formula in one-week, I am dead certain they would—without the need for hundreds of B’awet Tezazimu exercises. They would: provided we surround their meeting place with a barbed-wire fence to ward off the agents of bigotry. I trust Ali Salim and Semere Tesfai more than I trust the four-man groupies who made it feel like the world would end in Tahsas of 2009—it actually ended. And as Adhanom Gebremariam put it, I hope the chlorine in Adhanom’s salt would bleach the bigots clean. I hope this would usher an era of honesty, free of bigotry.
Now that the marathon merger process is consummated, I feel relieved. I was worried something would happen and the usual suspects would unleash their fury on me—they scare me so much that I shiver thinking of their meanness. We do not have to hear the name of the kiosk they fiercely defended anymore. Good riddance.
How I wish the Hembleel crowd would stop dancing to old songs and understand that the rules of the game have changed. They should now give peace when an intelligent debate is going on, and should realize that when a poet recites Awlo, you do not dance, you sit down and listen.
Awate.com is here to stay
Ever since Awate.com was founded, its detractors have been trying to marginalize it as the hub for Weyane lovers, Islamists, regionalists and all the “ist” they can think of. And every year, they get disappointed as awate.com goes from strength to strength. Here’s its secret, and it is found only in the waters of Keren: an entity is not fully Eritrean unless it reflects the entire Eritrean rainbow. It is not bragging, but merely stating the fact that awate.com hosts the most diverse Eritrean writers—by religion, by ethnicity—than any other Eritrean medium, including those of the PFDJ. This is a matter of pride for those who call awate.com their home, those who genuinely promote national unity, and to its enemies, ayiwaHaTellomn: they just can’t take it. If google and yahoo were to go out of business, there are many Eritrean websites that would have nothing to show on their pages. But not awate.com: it belongs to a strong crew of Eritrean writers and readers who call it home—the light would always be on.
A special thanks to Amanuel Hidrat for his lesson on architecture: a simple bridge stands on two pillars, and that with only one pillar, it crumbles. Those who contemplate a one pillar bridge should understand their bridge is unstable, limping and doesn’t look straight.
This was the whole issue of the “Brussels Conference” or the “London Conference.” It is not that awate.com was not invited, as some tried to explain foolishly: we were, in fact ahead of many in the “Task Force” who thought they had privileged information. We were invited. But the question was never “why wasn’t I invited?” but “why aren’t Eritreans who don’t speak like you invited?” I will not allow the politics of tokenism, which was perfected by PFDJ, to go on unchallenged by those waiting for the baton to be handed to them. We will expose the politics of tokenism whether it comes from the PFDJ or those who consider themselves Guardians of Eritrean Unity simply because they are able to muster words of outrage and utter empty slogans.
Our aim is still unchanged: inform, embolden, inspire, reconcile. But how can one talk about “reconciliation” while hosting the likes of Ali Salim and Semere Tesfai? Exactly! How can one talk of reconciliation WITHOUT providing a forum to Ali Salim and Semere Tesfai? The prerequisite to reconciliation is TRUTH. Not the QalAlem—the politically correct talk—of the kiosks, but the from-the-heart. This is why I am hurting. This is why I am angry at the talk of the Truth Tellers.
Let me say a little about one more 2009-jab at awate.com that I read on the last day of 2009. It is a tiny misrepresentation by Dr. Van Reisen, the lady behind the Brussels Conference who gave an interview to Meron, who discussed awate.com’s interview with her on the subject of the Brussels Conference. The good doctor says, “To tell you the truth, I was not told the questions were asked to be published and so, in terms of journalist ethic, it was not a very professional conduct in the strict sense of understanding of journalism.”
All of us make mistakes and Dr. Mirjam Van Reisen is not an exception; but I would like to refresh her memory.
I didn’t ask the questions for my private diary, they were asked for Gedab News and the following is a quote from an e-mail I sent her:
“Good day madam, My name is Saleh Johar; I am one of the editors of www.awate.com. I am sending you this message to clarify a few things for a news report that we are working on. Your response is much appreciated; kindly respond in the coming few days before we publish our report…”
The following is another quote from an e-mail that I sent to Dr. Van Reisen:
“there are several questions I would like to ask you if you are willing to kindly clarify for the benefit of the broad readership.”
As you can see, Dr. Van Reisen’s claim, though not a big deal, is an unfortunate mistake. That would be enough for today but if need be, and if I get the time, I might address the whole Brussels drama in a different Negarit edition. I have no intention to spoil my festive mood, or your mood, on the first day of 2010. Happy New Year Dr. Mirjam Van Reisen. Happy New Year To All!