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Eritrea Is Not An Eggshell

“It is time to take a break from impersonating someone else; if you find my writing a bit rusty, you have to wait until I immerse myself in the character of Ali Salim!”

Lucky me, the Ayni Brur always allege I am behind many pen names, including Mensour Kerrar and Menhot Weldemariam of the past. Now I am Ali Salim, Mohammed Ahmed and Hamid Salman bundled together. A few years earlier, some individuals told me I was Gerelasse Welenkiel though mine was not even close to his impeccable Tigrinya writing. In time, Tesfalidet Bahlebi came out and disclosed that he was Gerelasse; and as you may have guessed, those who made the outrageous allegations never apologized—blame it on the short supply of principles.

There was also a (am I allowed to say deranged?) person who saw an announcement banner on awate.com and, somehow, he imagined the moving letters morphing into a sword! He accused (who else?) Saleh Gadi for the imagined artistic rendering, as a threat—in his mind, a sword can only belong to someone with a name like Saleh.

Ayni Brur

When I was growing up, there was an insane man in my neighborhood. He would make daily rounds knocking at the doors, and shouting at the women, short bursts addressing them, what they are, and what their crimes are: “Gual Hajji, thief. 1000 pound sterling!” He would then go to the next house and shout, “Gual Abdu, thief. 3000 American Dollars.” Then he admonishes another, “Gual Idris, thief. 2000 Maria Theresa, silver coins. Ayni Brur!” Done with allocating crimes to the women, he would distribute one-cent coins to the cheering children and walk away as a proud philanthropist. So you know, the neighborhood gave him a nick, Ayni Brur.

There is a back story, of course: years earlier, he used to trade contraband goods between the Red Sea and the Western region of Eritrea. Some shifta had robbed Ayni Brur of his goods that were loaded on a twenty-camel strong caravan. He lost everything.

The Internet is full of Ayni Brur look-alikes, individuals who spend their time attempting to solve unsolvable puzzles. Ironically, they invent the bad puzzles themselves. In their spare time, they bring the puzzle out and attempt to solve it: they fail. Instead of admitting the bad design of the puzzle, they declare B’Awet Tezazimu! In case you didn’t get it, you are supposed to celebrate—the freedom of Eritrea is a few weeks away. Kbur Hzbi Ertra, eta HnqlHnqllitey tefetiHa!

The Ayni Brur are incapable of gauging how stale their jokes have become; they keep repeating it and expect you to laugh. I wouldn’t mind some originality every now and then, but the same jokes? The same sloppy analysis and the meek investigation that has become an acute Hmam Dehar? Ali Salim. Thief. 1,000,000 Nakfa! No proof is needed. No argument is needed. Just an emotional outburst.

There is someone who walks with a dagger, he had already stabbed me twice in the back and I am very forgiving. The last time I saw him, he came to me smiling and asked, “who is Ali Salim?” His question reminded me of an old Egyptian play, where some character is inquiring about the identity of  “Shefi’e”; his respondent doesn’t know (or doesn’t want to disclose the identity) and responds: “Shefi’e Ya Rajil!” So I told my dagger-friend, “Ali Salim Ya Rajil!” It was my way of saying: I can’t violate the confidence of writers I publish: I will maintain their anonymity. He left with a smirk. Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from him, he concluded:

By now the whole world knows the characters of Ali Sulman [sic], Hamid Salman, and Mohamed Ahmed are [Saleh Johar]. I thought you would vent for a short and play positive role but this is getting worse by day. Why all this tirade?  If this is what you believe why not unmask yourself and debate.?”

The moment I finished reading the outburst, I began humming Sheqa Wassin’s funeral tune. And the campaign by my dagger-wielding friend continued. You might have seen its public outcome, on a shabby childish article somewhere in the Internet, but I am sure many missed the flood of e-mails  which had preceded promoting the above allegation, a theory someone called it. Thanks to my non Ayni Brur friends who sent me copies of the e-mail exhibits.

You now understand why I need a favour from anyone who hopefully reads this in Keren—I hope Sheqa Wassin is still alive. Old timers will remember Sheqa Wassin; he is the Wata who accompanied the funeral processions to the Qatsetai graveyard while playing a sad tune that invoked the tears of many in the sombre processions—that tune won’t leave my mind; I am still humming it as I write this. I kindly appeal to anyone in Keren to please ask Sheqa Wassin to play that tune in the middle of Gira Fiori, a sort of political Kalaay qebri, an eulogy for the politically dead elements, on my behalf.

Ali Salim: L’enfant Terrible

There is paranoia and there is PARANOIA! I can’t imagine why I would use a pen name to say what I have been saying for the last decade and half! But if you are Ayni Brur, you would be very sure of yourself and wouldn’t even put a disclaimer. Traditionally, our people are used to saying, “gega ykhlaaley ‘ember!” But not the Ayni Brur who are always certain, certainty that borders on arrogance. I feel sorry for the decent individuals who have to deal with the Ayni Brur who jump to protect entities and individuals when their protection is not needed. At any rate, let’s join them in solving the bad puzzle: let’s gossip about Ali Salim, the man who came up with a brilliant phrase, New Born Eritreans.

It has been a few weeks into the Ali Salim season. He has raised a few eyebrows, and some meek rebuttals. If not for writers and thinkers including Selam, Amanuel, Semere and others, the debate would have degenerated so low. The few serious debaters have raised the bar and I hope we are all up to it. Incidentally, the bar keeps raising up: as I was wrapping up this article, my friend Mengs TM came with a spoiler, at least for me. He reviewed most of the articles and I had to delete a big portion from this article to avoid redundancy. Thanks to all New Born Eritreans.

No one would be expected to agree with Ali Salim or any other writer on everything they write: content, style, delivery, etc. But critics should do justice to the important issues raised by going beyond the rhetoric and focusing on the gist of the message. In Ali Salim’s case, the grievances.

For the most part, those who are shocked by what Ali has written are most probably uninformed; a few who reacted are just partisan cadres. The serious debaters and readers are not included in the two groups. If some people think that Ali’s thought are minority thoughts, they are dead wrong. Many more share his views. The difference is that Ali doesn’t mince words and has chosen to say his bit without sugar coating. Readers who have been following the Internet know that everything Ali raised was being said for years: cultural domination, exclusion, nepotism, social engineering and ignorance. The difference is that Ali made his arguments bluntly; he seems to have chosen the shock component to deliver his message—no doubt it worked, people who would otherwise not pay attention are on the defensive, others are genuinely engaged. Ali rocked the boat. He forced many out of their comfort zone.

G. Ande accepts the right of an unelected oppressive regime to the entire land of Eritrea and considers it a development project. Following that logic, G. Ande has to also accept the regime’s many draconian proclamations and practices: shoot to kill, to dispose justice; incarceration without charge, to keep the state secure;levying taxes and penalties, to finance “development” projects; stifle freedom of expression, to safeguard the nation’s unity; and violate human rights, to prevent Western values from corrupting the warrior society. Why not? All the above is legislated by the PFDJ regime, they are laws; and we have to honour and abide by those laws. Right? Such thoughts are what many lowlanders are objecting to.

The land grabbing issues is not ambiguous. It is a criminal act and anyone who claims to uphold the ideals of justice should not fail to condemn it unambiguously. Incidentally, a sample of what is frustrating Ali and other lowlanders is exhibited by the writing of G. Ande’s The Perils of Politics of Hate.

“To pave a way for its development efforts the incumbent government has declared that all land in Eritrea be owned publicly by the state. It follows from this, that whatever the government does to the land that it owns by law, becomes its own responsibility.”

The difference is in the perspective: while Ali (myself and many others included) doesn’t recognize any right for the oppressive regime, G. Ande (who ironically calls Semere an apologist) explains that the regime is paving the way for development and as such, its confiscation of people’s land is legitimate. He is telling Ali not to whine because the government owns the land legally! I will add that Ethiopia incorporated Eritrea legally, based on its occupier’s laws.

When right and wrong cease to be moral values and are reduced to legislation, we lose our humanity. No one is expected to abide by unjust laws, by imposed oppressive laws. You fight injustice, you don’t recognize it. Any person who accepts the implementation of the regime’s dictatorial policies is a collaborator, even if unknowingly. This hardly needs any debate.

G. Ande further states, “If it is the hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees in the Sudan that need to resettle, all Eritreans should do what they could to expedite their homecoming.” Contradictory as it is, I have no idea how that would be possible when he is blessing the government’s actions because they are legitimate. For those who might not know, the government, in collaboration with the Eastern Sudan local government, has embarked on keeping Eritrean refugees out of Eritrea for good while it is distributing their lands. It has embarked on a project to dissolve Eritrean refugees within the Sudanese tribes. But before calling on Eritreans to “do what they could to expedite [the refugees] homecoming” one needs to be informed about pertinent issues. Maybe a little research in to the matter would help. Maybe talking to the effected people would teach one something.

In the regime’s mind, the refugees are exiled, they are immigrants whose return should be prevented in any conceivable manner. Justice requires that we see the land issue from the perspective of its owners, those who are languishing in Sudanese and Ethiopian refugee camps. Emotional reactions do not qualify for a debate or even an argument let alone a solution. The time for abstract theoretical sermons is over; the debate has to be promoted to a higher level.

Is Eritrean National Unity An Eggshell?

Anyone who thinks that Eritrean national unity would be undone because of a citizen pleaded for justice, as Ali Salim lamented, is a person who abhors the ideals of justice. I beg the few writers to stop sounding the alarm every time a serious discussion is initiated. There is nothing more annoying than the abused hollow cry of national unity. To me, the projects that are pursued by the regime are the only real threat to Eritrea’s “national unity”; talking about the oppressive policies and actions is not. I wish people would stop pretence opposition to injustice and advocate for causes bigger than themselves, real issues. Also, I wish people would have some respect for Eritrea which is not an eggshell that would break because of a few articles written on the Internet or because someone debated a social issue. Only those who hold Eritrea in low esteem would think so. New Born Eritreans are not afraid to discuss any issue under the sun. The impediments to healthy debate are the mediocre interjections of partisan cadres and (the irony) ignorant intellectuals.

The partisan cadres add nothing to the debate; they just translate English articles into English. A complete waste of time, a redundancy. They explain to the reader what the reader already read and understood. They seem to be saying, ‘you are too retarded to understand what you read; here, let me explain it to you.’ The others, the you-hurt-my-feeling type, never cross over to debate the real issues but remain stuck on the rhetoric.

Opposition in the abstract has brought us this far: ask yourselves, what were the issues, (the monologues rather) that the “opposition” has been talking about so far? Just remember the seven years spent on discussing whether going to Ethiopia was Halal or Haram. Then, after years of meaningless discussion, the jury passed a fatwa, it was all right. Insignificant issues that occupied the minds of many for years were thus concluded. Why would people waste their time on such topics, while important topics, how to get rid of the oppressive regime, hardly occupied any space?

That “opposition” adopted a strange posture: the regime will fall on its own, so let’s get ready for the post-Isaias era. There is frantic preparation to inherit the reigns of power once the regime falls. But no sense of time: it will happen when it happens. Not anymore; someone is saying: here are the issues, my issues, and I do not care about trivial issues that you spent a decade discussing with no end in sight.

On the highland domination of social, political, economic and military life in Eritrea, only the severely misinformed (and the dishonest) would deny that. It is there, read Haddas Eritrea, or Al Haditha, watch PFDJ’s TV and it’s there. Linguistically, there is a Tigrinya domination, the type promoted by the regime. Hold your horses, I am part of that linguistic domination by extension, and it sickens me. Yet, I know I have nothing to do with it, but I do not get defensive when those who are at the receiving end complain. I acknowledge their predicament and I lend my understanding and plead to struggle with them to fight that domination.

The Support Base of The Regime

Should all Highlanders be held responsible for what the PFDJ does? Not at all, they shouldn’t. The clique holds the reign of power in Eritrea, and its members happen to be from the highlands. It could have been from the lowlands. But just like we didn’t hold all Amhara responsible during the Ethiopian occupation, though all Eritreans identified the occupation as Gz’aat Amhara, the highlanders should not be held responsible simply because the core of the ruling regime happens to hail from that region.

It’s common knowledge that the Isaias clique is not floating in space without straps that holds it to the ground. Any political science student would tell you that power centres have components and bases. The clique enjoys a social foundation and an economic and political leverage. Isaias has been hiding behind the Kebessa/Christian veil for a long time, I hope no one denies that. But the fact that he chose that strategy doesn’t follow that all Highlanders are accomplices though it is fair to consider those who fail to disown the regime as its base.

Focusing on the oppressive regime requires that we zoom-in very close. That in turn requires that we study its make up, its key figures, with Isaias at the helm. The description of the regime’s support base is hardly a matter of dispute: it is from the highlands. I don’t think anyone would dispute that as well.

As we zoom in closer, (talking about the general not the exception) we would discover that it is incorrect to consider Akele Guzai, though a highland region, a support base of the regime, for example. It is not. It is untrue to claim that the entire Seraye is a support base of the regime when only a small stripe of Seraye elite is in alliance with the clique. It is not even correct to claim that Hamassien is the support base of the regime, it is not. Still focusing, one can easily identify the support base of the regime within a narrow patch of geographical area, a radius not exceeding 15 kilometres from the epicentre in Asmara and small enclaves in Seraye. Of course there are some who would not like such analysis though they would not mind talking about Saddam’s regime being from Tikrit.

Identifying the support base helps the opposition to identify that power base in order to work on it and try to shut the lifeline of the regime. Those who aid and abet the regime should be encouraged to desist from empowering it. The regime should be alienated from its defined constituency. It must be estranged from the entire Eritrea—though no one can claim the regime has any constituency outside the above-defined narrow region (again, general, not the exceptions). The PFDJ has even squandered the little support it had from the people of Semhar, the real founders of the EPLF before they were betrayed and relegated to the sidelines. Such debates gets us to the solution faster and help the struggle be more focused and effective. It is a matter of divine providence that Isaias and his influential top officers are predominantly from around Asmara and small enclaves in Seraye. Let’s recognize that.

The opposition should not overly indulge in theoretical and abstract issues. Those who are fond of fighting windmills will soon realize that they have become inconsequential. In the end, all bigots and hypocrites, wherever they hail from, will be defeated; and Eritreans, their highlands, lowlands, middle lands, shorelines, mountains, deserts and plains will be victorious. That victory is delayed due to the indecisiveness of some and the abstract formulation of ideas and strategies of others. In short, there is too much theorizing.

Now that Ali has done his shock therapy, which was very successful by any measure, I wish he would be a little thrifty when he faces an urge to generalize, a trend he has adopted in his last article. For the rest, let me tell you my personal experience:

For the last decade or so, hardly a week passed by without someone sending me an e-mail that insults my origin, ancestry, tribe, etc. I do not rise furiously to avenge my group or region. I look into the messages that I get and try to find an angle, a lesson—something that would tell me why the message is written in that way. Then it’s the end of the story. I don’t represent my group and the communicator doesn’t represent any. It is personal reaction and I leave it at that.

My disappointment is with some of the defensive articles that I read concerning the topic at hand—what are a few sharp-elbow articles when one is losing his land? What would a little tolerance cost us when one has his family banished from Eritrea for over half a century? I am grateful to Ali because he is showing us how half our compatriots feel. I thank him for making us understand the severity of the continuation of the PFDJ. That is the risk and we all better stay focused.

I know a few lowlanders with worse views than the members of the Isaias clique; and I have a few close friends from the highlands to whom I would entrust my children. I know many allies in the struggle for justice from the Highlands who are as committed as the lowlanders, and vice-versa. This is the middle group that is willing to tread the treacherous path and introduce ideas and mature debate. Those who prefer to sweep the issue under the rug are incapable of healing the nation’s wounds. If they prevail, the wounds would foment and hurt more. Every region has its share of disappointing individuals—there are even some who hide behind the cultural uniqueness of their regions and consider themselves absolved.

Finally, for those who would rather have serious debaters censored (as stated in their arguments), observe that people are taking note of what kind of Eritrea you envision. Readers are observing how you would treat the press if you had the reign of power. Also observe that this website spends hours cleaning, editing, correcting typos and publishing articles that insult it and its editors. Take note of that, and learn.

negarit@awate.com

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

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