Life is precious. We all have but one life to live. And when anyone’s life ends abruptly and before it is due, we feel beaten. So many deferred dreams left undone, so much love left unexpressed and this time, there are no tomorrows. You would think with so much suffering, death and dying, by now, we Eritreans would get used to this phenomenon and accept life’s terminal end. But no, no matter what the circumstances, it’s always heart-wrenching. We struggle to live and then we live to struggle and before we know it, game over—death, the ultimate equalizer, scores yet one more point. For a brief moment, we are all reminded that even our adversaries are mere mortals and they leave behind loved ones stricken with grief.
Every culture has its beautiful and ugly attributes and ours is of course no different; but I think the way we bid farewell to our dead compatriots and console their families is something we can definitely proud of. From the formal rituals, to the informal expressions of sympathies, the practices are all so natural, honest and decent. That is what our cultural heritage demands –a culture profoundly shaped by deep religious faith several centuries in the making. At the core of all this is the teachings of the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, which stress each individual, will be equally judged in the after life by their Creator.
But not so, in the arena of what have become essentially Eritrea third major religious institution: the PFDJ. In this bizarre and artificial world of religio-politics, even matters of death, mourning and funeral are sanctioned (or banned) by the state. Granted, the PFDJ did not invent state funerals and the politicization of such, but the selective manner in which it chooses to conduct one are simply hypocritical and lame. It uses one (and only one) litmus test to declare whether the deceased deserves the honor or not. That is: Did the individual in question obey, agree with, not question, accept and bow to Eritrea’s self-declared and unelected president? If the answer is in the affirmative, we are all told to release our tears for a magnanimous citizen who gave up his life so we can live better. As there are no institutions such as a legislative body, independent judiciary, free press, political parties and citizen watchdogs to shape what the voice of the nation should be, we are left with that of our all-knowing Isaias Afeworki who has essentially declared “L’tat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”).
It is against this backdrop that we are in the midst of witnessing all the accolades bestowed upon the late Minister of Marine Resources, Saleh Said Meki by supporters of the regime. Of course, his untimely death is a great loss for a nation that could have benefited even longer from his experience and ability. More importantly, he was a husband, a father and a grandfather. My condolences to his bereaved family. We are all individuals first and everything else second and I hope what is discussed here does not unduly add to their sorrow. But, as he was a public figure, it would be a missed opportunity if we did not discuss what has become to the sense of morality of our once hopeful Eritrea. The issues are bigger than Mr. Meki and the tears of sorrow even larger.
When will Eritrea’s hyper-nationalism masquerading as patriotism end? When will this eternal postponement of normalcy stop? When will collective glory yield to individual identity? When do we start making the distinction between suffering death by stroke during time of peace and getting killed in a battlefield for your beliefs (which being a Martyr once stood for in the not so distant past)?
If you feel antsy every time we are told a certain VIP got “martyred”, instead of coming to grips with the person passing away of natural causes, you are not alone. Of course, we can all read between the lines and get the message that what is being officially disseminated is that the deceased was “one of the loyal good ones”, thereby cheapening the true meaning of the word, “Martyr”. PFDJ’s desperate need of maintaining a war footing and an environment of Ghedli like theme is intoxicatingly clear. Therefore, it is quite comical to observe PFDJ and its tentacles of enablers in the Diaspora shedding empty tears and holding vigils devoid of honest hearts.
The truth of the matter is, the same people who are now shedding crocodile tears are the ones who vehemently defend Isaias Afeworki infamous decision to silence true heroes of the Eritrean war for independence by cowardly languishing them in secret prisons. Heroes, I might add who have given so much, much more.
So, let those whose actions is remotely controlled by the dictatorship in Asmara dance to its tunes and mourn on cue. It is just a further confirmation of their moral bankruptcy and inconsistency. As for the rest of us, we are quite capable weeping for our beloved country and staying true to the causes of liberty, justice and democracy.
Mr. Saleh Meki is described as a dedicated public servant who managed to accomplish a lot. Without denying the late Minister his dues, I bet it pales in comparison to that of Petros Solomon’s, who commanded the EPLF army that liberated Asmara in 1991. Or that of Mahmoud Sherifo, Haile Weldense (Drue), Ogbe Abraha and countless others whose service and unique talents is well documented. But if the yardstick is how loyal one is/was to Isaias Afeworki, then this argument is a moot point.
But the undeniable fact remains. Had Mr. Meki, while he had the chance, decided to side with the Eritrean people’s quest for democracy, justice and the end of dictatorship, the wrath of the PFDJ apparatus would have been unleashed on him. They would have immediately minimized his contribution in the health care sector, pointed out that he only moved to Eritrea after the war was over and conveniently accuse him of being a CIA spy. With friends like these, who needs enemies!
Alas, now that the sands of time have run out for the poor soul; the lasting image he left behind is, him propagandizing for the PFDJ in its quest to pass on its vile virtues to the next generation via the YPFDJ scheme. In the heart of Washington, DC; where memorials of democracy’s greatest such as that of Thomas Jefferson are visited by millions of visitors from around the globe; Mr. Meki preached for the continuation of a one-man dictatorship in Eritrea. What a way to go for a U.S. citizen who spent decades benefiting from an open, free and democratic America. Perhaps there is a lesson here for others to look inwards and redeem themselves. Today is tomorrow, as there are no more tomorrows.
Cry, the Beloved Country
One thing is for certain, members of the generation of leaders who greatly contributed to Eritrea’s independence are dying. Most of them are in their 60s and with a lifetime spent in unimaginably harsh conditions, they are and will succumb to effects of stress and poor healthy habits. We are probably just at the cusp of a quick wave generational shift. I would hate to sound like the prince of doom, but life (and death for that matter) does not care where you stand on the issues. The greatest tragedy for a small and close-knit country such as ours is the fact that they are passing without proper reconciliation. Soon most will be gone and at the height of the country’s sorry situation. Those who remain at the employ of or in good terms with the PFDJ will get their funeral adorned with flags and gun salutes; and those who oppose the regime will be denied dignity -subjective mourning in the age of “until-death-do-us-apart” politics.
I just hope we bury the hatchets of mean-spiritedness, cruelly, hyper-nationalism, militarization, injustice, hard-headedness and stupidity with each and every one of them.