Originally Debre Zeit was called Bshftu after the name of a lake in the town. The last time I was there, I was having lunch at the balcony of the Ras Hotel when I saw an indigenous religious rituals on the other side of Lake Bshftu, and accidentally I got involved in a chat with a Rastaman who tried to convince me and an English tourist that, “Jah be god, he no dead, he living, Jah alweyz living.”
Later on the English tourist asked me about the religious ceremony that was going on under a big tree on the other side of the lake, I jokingly told him the people are drinking from the lake, and that the lake is the proverbial fountain of youth; of course, if the Rastaman can claim Jah is god, I can claim anything. Unfortunately I didn’t bother to drink from the lake; and ironically, it took me almost twenty years to discover what I said was not a joke; it is real. Only last week did I discover Bshftu fountain has returned the youth of a few individuals who were in their fifties and sixties; they are now men’eseyat.
A few years ago, I lost a few friends due to my position regarding the so-called Brussels meeting because I felt a European Signora should not be so callous as to determine the mode of struggle that Eritreans should follow (I have e-mails to confirm this) simply because she was holding a money bag. Sometime after that I lost a few friends because I smelled the fish that was frying in London and Brighton, a business venture that was being promoted as one related to current Eritrean predicament. This time I might lose a few friends because I believe the Debre Zeit fiesta is not any different from the events I mentioned above (I am not blaming the many innocent participants there, apologies). But at the end of the day, my misgivings are solely directed at those who are pursuing foolish politics: A Dellala is a Dellala whether the client is European, PFDJ or Ethiopian. Have some pride and stop creating rifts within the resistance to satisfy your egos.
A month ago, EYSC held a congress that was fully owned by Eritreans, no one twisted their arms and I am fine with it, all power to such meetings, provided it is followed by significant accomplishments. So, let me reiterate, my dear compatriots:
1. Please understand we are supposed to own our destiny and our issues; being underfunded shouldn’t force us to lose our dignity, it is not an excuse to lose it all.
2. Stop repeating the tired, weak argument of “we cannot blame the Ethiopians for our failures.” Of course we can, we are allies and an alliance is the responsibility of all parties concerned, just like they tell us about our shortcomings we have to do the same.
3. Hiding what you feel is not right, repeat whatever you say in private in their face, only that way you can solve problems. But speaking differently in public and in private is not helping the alliance. Speak up and I am sure the wise among the Ethiopian leaders will appreciate the honesty; I feel the Prime Minister would.
4. Those with the habit of gloating and bluffing, please stop irritating people: do not boast about your relations with Ethiopian officials on every occasion and without any reason. It is good to have even half of the relations you claim to have, but do not deafen people with it.
5. When you talk to our Ethiopian partners, please avoid gossip and backbiting members of the resistance. Do not try to use your relations to present yourselves as Dellalas but as dignified allies who believe in a dignified alliance.
6. Finally, resist the temptation to use your real or claimed relations to become the Kentiba of the rest of us, you will simply be humiliated and exposed, and you will not win. If you are ambitious enough to seek power, build it with an Eritrean constituency, the right way, toil for it; not through a short cut as if there are goons waiting for you to grace them with your leadership. Remember, we elect our leaders and if they are not elected, like Isaias, we reject them. Heed that advice.
Reminder: stop saying, “I was just on the phone with so and so…” and drop some big Ethiopian name.
I usually try very hard to make my readers relax reading what I write and therefore, I usually use a long winded road to explain my point. I also try to avoid offending people, I am influenced by the Eritrean wisdom ‘Nlebbalm Amm’tellu Naasha Dereguhallu, hint for the wise but be blunt with the foolish. Today I will be rather blunt (not because I consider my readers foolish, I will never commit the sin of thinking so) but because I see some foolishness in the politicking that is going on. My issue is the Ethiopian link. But first a little explanation.
I delve into this topic knowing well that no one, I repeat no one, can patronize me about the type of relations we should have and all the good sounding (but empty) rhetoric regarding that relation simply because I consider myself among the pioneers of normalizing relations between the Diaspora and Ethiopia. Well before the Badme war ignited, I had freed myself of the Ethiophobia (copyright Saleh Johar) and fought against it diligently. When many people were supporting the war hoping to see the demise of either the PFDJ or the EPRDF, I stood my ground and condemned that war helplessly hoping to stop the loss of lives. That position cost me a lot: both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments declared war on me, an individual. I prevailed over them; I defeated both governments and declared victory. That was over a decade ago and it is stale and I will not explain it here. Since then, I have done more than my share in breaking the taboo caused by Ethiophobia. So much energy I have spent defending the strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the Eritrean opposition forces because I believed that Eritreans are not on a perpetual war against Ethiopians, even at the personal level as many still think.
My views regarding the general Ethio-Eritrean relations and what I promoted in that regard are all in the public domain–records of public venues and forums, including at awate.com, particularly on my individual column, Negarit. But you must understand that I certainly do not appreciate neither the self-flagellation of a few amongst us nor the foolish politics that some Eritreans have embarked on empowered by some Ethiopians.
Some friends told me that as of recent they have sensed apprehension from my side towards our Ethiopian allies. That is true, I admit it. But I felt insulted when a few of those whom I can claim I cured from the Ethiophobia disease lectured me on the merits of the Ethiopian link. Really! They tried to patronize me on my own turf, shame on them, they should remember their foolish positions not long ago and stop the despicable condescension and; I have credentials in that department.
I would like to reiterate that the alliance between the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean opposition is vital and of strategic importance; I have no qualms about that and I hope it is enhanced and nurtured. But something should be taken care of…
On Blaming Thyself And Dreaming Hens
Over the last 12 years, we have been blaming ourselves for everything that went wrong with the opposition to the extent that it provoked Dawit H. Gabriel to write Eritrea: Where The Victims Are Villains. No rational person would dare consider Eritreans as villains, even one with a short span of memory would not call them cowards or lazy; they are just doing what they do best, struggle, and like always they will prevail.
True, not many can claim that the Eritrean opposition has been effective in spite of the struggle that the real resistance members are waging against the PFDJ and paying in sweat and blood; and in spite of the sacrifices by many who have been carrying the torch of freedom for so long, with steadfastness and dedication though obstacles stand on their way. Unfortunately we have been blinded by partisan politics and we allowed every cartoonish character to belittle and demoralize us to the extent that we lost our self-confidence, and damaged that of our brethren in the resistance forces. We have our share of letdowns but that doesn’t warrant the vicious self-flagellation. Enough. The Eritrean character must be protected from the unfair assaults.
Do hens dream? I am not sure but a Tigrinya saying claims they do: helmi derho, a hen’s dream. The Arabs call it Hwar A’Turshan, a cyclical discourse. I remembered that talking to a friend who argued people should be free to drive their cars. Naturally I agreed. But then he argued that drivers should not be told when to stop and when not to make a u-turn and where not to park. Well, I thought everything has a redline that could either be ethical, legal or conventional. Imagine a busy street intersection without a red light, sure, the next thing you will imagine is disaster. But my friend won the argument and that is why the resistance vehicle is full of dents, so battered, so abused that it lost its shine. And there are calls and maneuvers to kill it, to torch it so that a few overly ambitious people, who cannot match their feet and shoe sizes can lord over us–and that is similar to our problem with Isaias. If Eritreans want half-baked solutions, the road is very open but the genuine resistance will never travel it.
Once upon a time there were Eritreans who felt so proud that they walked with their head up. Once there walked a type of Eritreans who stood high with self-confidence. Then there appeared those who mistook arrogance for pride and damaged the name of Eritrea and Eritreans. The damage continued unabated, timidity was confused with modesty, mischief with honesty.
The struggle to weed out arrogance from the Eritrean character is not easy, thanks to the PFDJ, the alien culture is destroying us. We spent years struggling to get rid of the thorns among us. So far, only modest success, but a long way to go. Our failure to defeat the arrogant among us (PFDJ and the like) was a lethal blow to the faint-hearted, it was deadly and forced some to lose their posture. And it resulted in an opposite extreme: timidity in place of arrogance, mischief in place of honesty, self-depreciation in place of self-confidence. We damaged our image and self-worth. We need to reverse that. We have to reclaim what we have beneath the veneer, we have it in our blood and we should resist and not let our self worth, our Eritrean pride, be undone all together. We will fight Isaias and his clique, but we will never take Eritrea for their private ranch, it is ours and we will stand for it and reclaim it, we should never desecrate its name.
All of the above is a result of our recklessness with redlines, and if we do not recognize the redlines, everything is at risk of being discarded, including our pride. A friend may invite you to dinner and a few drinks; but what if his generosity is followed by a request to severe your finger? Are you going to be so obedient about it? I hope you will object, probably object nicely because he paid for the dinner, and because diplomacy requires it. But diplomacy doesn’t mean total submission; and that will not gain you respect. Remember? You have trampled the redline! Maintain it so that no one crosses it. And if your friend gets angry and tells you he will not buy you dinner again, well, you check the level of your pride. Do not throw baby-Eritrea with the bath water.
And I have misgivings to drop at the lap of the Ethiopian government officials.
I asked a friend to give me a guesstimate of what portion of our failure we should blame on the Ethiopians, and to comfort him I suggested that anywhere over 80% blame be apportioned to our resistance forces. Nope, he was not satisfied, the Ethiopians cannot be blamed for anything, “they are 100% blameless, our opposition bears 100% of the blame.” And he was adamant about it. All right. Though that appropriation of blame, 0%-100%, is statistically impossible and not a tenable argument, I had to stop right there and nod my head disappointed, a strange assertion.
Misgiving #1: It is customary for some Ethiopian officials to badmouth and speak condescendingly about the opposition ‘klah, zeyrebhu! Oh, kulu gzie kba’asu, genzeb tray khatu… and many other demeaning remarks. Ask those who meet with the Ethiopian officials and you will see that such remarks have become all too common not to notice. Worse, our Eritrean interlocutors echo that kind of belittling and think it is all right. No redline where they should begin to object! Such remarks should not be made by people who went through bitter days of struggle themselves, those who used to line up to get help from the Eritrean organizations when times were not as good for them as they are now. It is unbecoming to belittle a struggler when you have been in that same shoe a few years ago. It is so painful and it requires going through so much more pain to take it out publicly, and I apologize for not being able to hold it any longer. I would kindly ask those officials to stop such demeaning remarks about the resistance members who are supposed to be their partners.
Misgiving #2: Eritreans should naturally appreciate the Ethiopian support, and I am personally grateful for what they are doing for Eritreans on the charitable and humanitarian aspects: hosting refugees who escape from the supposedly independent Eritrea; offering educational opportunities to Eritreans from a country that prefers building boot camps and prison cells to schools; and embracing those who are kicked out by third countries. I also appreciate the help that Ethiopia offers to the resistance forces to stay alive. Despite all of that, I do not think it is fun to live while being repeatedly reminded that you are under the mercy of your hosts… either in deeds or hints: klte million atfi’enalom, 100 shh kefilnayom type of unnecessary boasting is just too demeaning, and such remarks should not come out from the mouth of anyone who understands what strategic alliance means, projects cost money! Nothing new here. Also, not everyone who communicates with the Ethiopians is necessarily asking for their money to be met with blunt demeaning offers that are very insulting; there may be some weaklings whose saliva runs when money is mentioned or they see opportunity for getting some, but for the most part (I tend to believe) there is something called pride in the Eritrean psyche. Eritreans are in need due to the dire situation they find themselves in, but that does not make all Eritreans cheap.
Misgivings#3: Though this is something many Eritreans turned a blind eye on and avoided talking about for the last decade or so, the interference, whatever the reasoning, whatever the excuse, should be merciful. Heavy handedness as we have been witnessing it since the creation of the Eritrean Commission is not a right strategy to pursue. But first let me clear the mistake of Eritrean partners before I delve into that of the Ethiopian partners. All of you who scream democracy and qolqual and Jinni Efrit, a process of selection has nothing to do with the democracy that you deafen us with. If you are true to the democratic ideals as you claim, then you should shun anything that involves selection. I do not care why the Ethiopians do it, but you are supposed to be the owners of the case, it is an Eritrean case. Before you lecture others on the merits of whatever it is that you do, either swear not to use the word democracy at all, strike it out of your vocabulary, or reject anything that contradicts it, selection being on the top of the list.
Now for my Ethiopian friends with lots of apologies and love: I do not know why you commit the type of blunders that you do; but I am sure you are not novices and you should know better. You know the Eritrean society, its culture and politics better than any other country in the world, for God’s sake, your blood is mixed with that of many Eritreans genealogically and during the struggle (the good and the bad). Yet, I sometimes wonder if you really know Eritreans and what works for them. For one, statements that I heard repeatedly from many officials including the PM, the hands off policy, doesn’t seem to be adhered to. Second, I remember having said to some of you (I am sure many others have said that also) to please exert pressure to unite the armed wings and to please be engaged positively to help resolve sticking points of difference, I didn’t have in mind you taking over the driver’s seat–I apologize if I was not clear. Again, you have funded most of the resistance events and thank you, it is well appreciated and I hope Eritreans would some day repay your favors; but it is up to Eritreans to take ownership of the institutions they build; being treated like lab mice in experiments of political adventure is not something many of us feel comfortable about.
Misging#4: At this time, the ENCDC (the “Bayto”) is the ultimate test, and I feel this institution is sadly being undermined by the new selected and empowered Heleqatat, and it will not fly. There are so many of us who are for the ENCDC because so far it is the only political supra-structure that the majority of those who are in the resistance created (not withstanding the weaknesses of our forces and leaders in making it work, they share the blame). If the resistance forces themselves decided to replace it in an open forum like that which happened in Hawassa in a natural way (not through a coup d’etat or deceit), we have no choice but to support the decision.
Now let me wrap up this section with a simple message: please do not circumvent the ENCDC. And with that, hopefully I am done expressing my misgivings on the Ethiopians.
The Aspiring Haleqatat
Now let me address my Eritrean compatriots specifically.
Unfortunately some of you who were elected to the ENCDC together with non-elected individuals have been trying to circumvent it from the outset, and from the way some of you have been casually dropping names of Ethiopian officials, maybe you feel you are empowered to do so. Please stop it. If you are not satisfied with your elected position, resign with dignity and leave the others to focus on what matters. If you feel the position you hold is so important, then protect it by protecting the ENCDC institution, you cannot demolish an institution and create another on your image so that you can preserve the hallow chair. Those who are outside the ENDC and would like to be the new Haleqatat of the opposition, get a proper delegation, build your organization and fight the PFDJ and its boss properly, and surely Eritreans will follow you. Avoid short cuts and mischievous political maneuvering… and remember Eritreans are not a barren of mules waiting for you to ride them.
I am not concerned about what the honorable EPRDF rep said or didn’t say at the conference, but I am concerned that with your timidity you are inviting our Ethiopian allies to commit mistakes. Please have some dignity and do not make us look like a lousy Aitanti in our own business. And my objections are mainly two points: 1) I object to circumventing our institutions by the sour grapes and 2) I abhor cherry-picking to discuss Eritrean issues.
Finally, if there is anyone itching to demolish my views, please remember that:
- The so-called “intellectual conference” had nothing intellectual about it, it was just fifty or so selected common Eritreans; and my statement does not constitute undermining it or disrespecting anyone… and I know how that description evolved.
- That meeting produced nothing, and it was not a conference of intellectuals; if I am wrong, I am here to be educated on why it is so and who christened it in that name.
- All such secretive meetings stand on quick sand and they sink without anyone “undermining” them; trying to retrieve them is akin to exhuming a corpse from a grave.
- I do not like the hammering of “Our youth” as if talking about a militia force, or worse, a classroom of children. I believe those who are being referred to as youth are mostly grown up men and women, some of them in their forties and fifties. They should not be treated like incapable children. Respecting them starts by treating them as equals not as a soft clay that can be molded to the liking of those who are in need of supporters and followers through mischievous short-cuts. Stop repeating Youth this and Youth that, it is becoming stale, and it is very clear that some of you are trying to garner a base, a constituency, which is fine if only done the right way not the three-card Monte way.
- On My beloved True Youth: I have a few of my relatives attending the Bshftu conference, and they are youth in the real sense, in their early twenties if you can imagine! If they want to meet and do whatever they need to do, many are willing to help them if need be though they can handle their affairs on their own, and with excellence. (I apologize for introducing you, the true youth, to the dirty reality of our politics, I trust you are mature and qualified enough to handle it).
- I wish the few cliquish ENCDC members would either cleanse themselves and work for the ENDC to hold the driver seat, or resign if not willing to do so, and not create a group within a group and collaborate against the ENCDC from within. I wish they would stop trying to sell us their adventurous machinations and political maneuvers as an innocent “demokrasiyawi qalsi”.
- Finally, please remember that Eritreans elected (not selected) the ENCDC. So, reject anything that involves selection; we have enough civil and political organizations that can represent all of us, we are not desperate orphans to be picked whimsically
- The few fifty and sixty year olds luckily got a huge discount on their age thanks to a sip from the Bshftu fountain of youth. Abracadabra, they are no more in their fifties and sixties, but goblels of twenty five seasons. Now they should leave the youth alone and go re-orient themselves with what 25 year olds do.