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The Professor

I am not trying to introduce Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie to any one for he needs no introduction,  but I want to give you an account of a man who was humble enough to take time to see me as an ordinary Eritrean and as an admirer. So please allow me through my interaction with him to elevate our academic treasures like the professor, who are being vilified in this new blind medieval like culture where “soldiers” are elevated and educators are downgraded. I believe we need a new awakening in Eritrea, where knowledge sets the path to the future.

I first met Professor Bereket in East Lansing Michigan while I was a student at Michigan State University in 1990. He was headlining Eritrean scholars that included the elite minds of our independence struggle in a major North East Africa Conference which then was being held yearly. Eritrea was at a brink of independence after the decisive victory at Massawa. The Professor’s presentation was confidant and brush. He defended Eritrea’s right to self determination with rigor to the Ethiopian academics and their allies who were still arguing the archaic notion of one Ethiopia. As a very young Eritrean, I was in awe of the man. I was intimidated by his mastery of argument and his grasp of knowledge. I believe now that his character was honed by all those years of defending our cause not only as scholar but as E.P.L.F’s representative to the United Nations. The professor later told me that he drove every Wednesday to New York for years from Washington D.C. to lobby the powers to be. He was then a professor at Howard University. He had to debate the nay Sayers who believed in the hegemony of Ethiopia, so he learned not to compromise or give in.

The next time I saw him was again in the same place, but this time conditions were different. In 1992 we were no longer asking for the world to hear us but we were equal with the rest of them since our seat on the table of nations was secured; we were free. This time Dr. Bereket’s tone was no longer fierce but diplomatic. He wanted peace and reconciliation among our neighbors. He wanted a peaceful future for the Horn of Africa as a whole. He was scholarly and patient to the opposing still archaic ideology of one Ethiopia. Adorn with independence, along with him our scholars saw it unnecessary to waste time with the already settled paradigm. They moved on to the future; how do we build a viable Eritrea and a stable neighborhood. I will leave it to history to judge their contribution and scholarly work of blue printing our future that is being ignored to this day. They are now being quieted but their work is archived for those who want to see it now or in the future. To get back to my story, I have not had a chance of spending time with the professor since then, until this December. I have kept up with his accolades and read his books, but until I met him and had lunch with him I did not fully understand how much of a treasure this man really is.

Now is December 2014, twenty three years since independence and since a “Shakespearean” level tragedy befall Eritrea and her President: I sat with the distinguished professor face to face over a flounder plate ala Dixie for informal chatting. By the way the Doctor used the term Shakespearean not me thus in quotation. We mainly chatted of life but inevitably when two Eritreans talk the subject of our beloved land always comes up. Pro or con we all have opinions. The professor was very consoling and somber at the present state of affairs. He was sad about the disintegration of our unity and our dreams. Eritrea was not supposed to be known for misery he lamented. Even his past admiration of the heroic leader that he knew who was gifted with organization and self sacrifice is now turned to a sorrowful sense of betrayal of our holy cause thus the term Shakespearian tragedy. I immediately thought of King Lear who went mad after thinking that he was betrayed by his daughters. The Doctor was quite after I offered the analogy in an Eritrean style of self lamentation so I try to lighten his mood by referring to the nostalgia of the past, but I could see the pain still lingered in his face. In my head I recited King Lear’s words pretending to be The PIA while the Doc sipped his coffee “O! Let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven, keep me in temper; I would not be mad”.

O! The Professor is not without hope because he has seen us triumph before, but now that his age is advanced he can only advice us and not take the front as he did before. He wants us to unite and not let our diversity be a hindrance. Our unity should be through “mutual recognition” as he wrote in an essay being published this year. (While Waiting or Working For Change…… things to do and penalties to avoid in Eritrea, the Red Sea Press) In his writing, he advices us, “let a hundred school of thought contend; let there be a multiplicity of parties”. It is not my attempt to elevate this man because history will definitely raise him to the apex of Eritrean Collage of Thoughts like that of Plato of the Greeks, but to make an argument for the return of scholarship in Eritrea. We are walking blind, if we think arms will save us. We should follow the example of the Greeks as both soldiers and scholars did learn from the teachers and the elders as Aristotle and Alexander did at the foot of Plato.

King Lear like our demigod president lost his way and I imagine he is asking those who close to him, “who is it that can tell me who I am”. Soon he will be facing death crying, “…but I am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like molten lead”, then where do we go? It behooves us to listen to our elders and scholars like Dr. Bereket, if we are to avoid a second tragedy.

About Berhan Sebhat

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  • Kokhob Selam

    This era is wonderful era in history. we are understanding what life is all about. it is time of reconsilation, time of understanding each other.Knowing that we have all one common interest “love” which was hidden from us all.

    since the good professor is alive (wish him healthy long life), please let’s make more interviews. in fact we have still such type of men still and we need to find them.

  • Kokhob Selam

    Abinet, I had the same stand in 1990’s against this man. wait, just keep reading what people are saying.

    you see, there are people who were born to work and serve moment to moment living in now. there are always people who serve the day and their one the day saves a lot of life. If someone says Haileslase’s work was all bad and negative he must be damn ignorant. on that king era you will also find positive things and that is the work of good people like this professor. if you go to bad days of Mengstu, you will also find some good things happened. During PFDJ era there was a day when constitution was in draft that is one interesting time, and he (professor) was there to do something good. so now this man is alive book with complete experience of three governments. he is at his old edge and we need to hear from him what he learn in all his life. get from me one advice, cultivate the seed of of love in your heart and you will enjoy life.

  • T. Mehari

    Well well Well
    Not knowing thyself is the our biggest problem in Eritrea sometimes.
    So many courageous Tegadelties and intellectuals have served us
    more than intellectuals can do for their people and country.
    But honestly asking Do we Eritreans listen and give them our ears ?
    We Eritreans always expect for angels ! to come to serve us !
    How soon did we forgot what Eritrean Tegadelties against all the odds
    have done for us ? And all those intellectualls in Ghedli, Hafash wudibat
    and or at home under the enemy administrations.
    How dare we get the courage to blame them ? And Dr. Bereket H/sellase
    for all what has been done for us but we didn’t understood or know it due
    to our political condition and the hardships.
    Now as often we like to point the finger away from us and look for someone
    to put the blame of our weakenesses caused by our political reality and condition.
    In my opinion Eritrean intellectualls have done and paid more than their shares
    before and after victory and have contributed immensely despite our erratic politics
    and reality to keep as afloat and give us the leverage to continue our march foreward.
    So I find it so unfair to put the blame on Dr. B. H/Sellasse or other intellectuals for all our
    problems that are brought up and exacerbated by our wudib leaders and their incessant
    infighting putting the people and his demands always in the back seat.
    That is to mean that would the opposing wudibs, leaders and their followers listen or were
    ready to listen to him if he said what he know and what he was trying to mean ? I do not
    think so ! they were pre-occupied with their short cut strategies and calculations to the
    seat in the power chair and didn’t have the time to pay attention to him or what is said !
    By the way would he say anything different from what the people has been saying before
    they woke up when reached just the dead end sign or right over the cliff (as now) ?
    All the accusations against true and hard working citizens who work free or at less for
    the sake of their love of the people and the country; for own mistakes and shortcomings
    just doesn’t make sence at all.
    We are just pretending as if we listen and give our ears to wisdom and those who tell us
    the right things to do and wisdom ?
    Sadly we are not the ones ! Not in Eritrea ! We are the kind of adventerous people of
    who do not fear to try any adventure !! and always getting our advice from ” Mekera ” !!!
    ***
    Sorry for my hard words like Degu’a Ermias and many other embittered prophets of the
    old and ancient Land of Israel.

  • tes

    Hi Abinet,

    I am not even in surprise if you say, “Eritrea betrayed Ethiopia” when it s the inverse. Old man, can you leave me alone please?

    tes

    • Abinet

      Tes
      I never, never took you seriously at all . The only reason I read your comment is just to laugh. I leave you alone since you are not worth my time. Keep “floating while standing firmly “. That was one of your funny lines.

      • tes

        Old man, learn even in your old ages

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v11b84Okcm8

        tes

      • tes

        Abinet,

        It is good that at least you laugh when ever you read my comments. In your late ages, laughter is the only medicine. You should thank me for that. Poor old man.

        tes

        • Abinet

          Tebarek lije, edme keEnjera yisTih, kifu aynkah. Yezemed awra yargih . Kesew belay yawlih. Miriqat bicha new keshimagle yemigegn.
          Shimagle mezeraTeT deg aydelem . Wa biyalehu !

          • tes

            Poor old man, thank you though hard to understand it. For the eye-glass, sorry I din’t have time to buy and send it for you. Poor old man.

          • guest

            Gashie Abinet…i dont know how much of a shimagle you are; BUT that mirigat you bestowed upon tes was soo beautiful. The wordings of the miriqat touched my heart and my soul though they were addressed to another person. Melkam lisan ke melkam girmawi sew yimenetchal. MeTfo lisan ke meTfonna kibre albo sew/ siet yiweTal. I didn’t want to overlook those nice words without commenting

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam Berhan,

    No question, that Dr. Bereket is one of the intellectual assets of our nation. No one will dispute this fact. But only accounting to one side of the ledger book (meaning to his positive contributions) without the other side of the ledger (his shorts) couldn’t reflect the balance sheet of history of the good doctor. Since you accounted the positive contribution of the good doctor, allow me to speak of the other side of the ledger – his shorts. The good doctor, as revered intellectual as he is, his contribution in bringing the Eritrean people together is almost none existent during the armed struggle and after the independence. Far more than the generation after him, he was and is more privy as to the social contradiction of our society and cognizant even to the lowest atomic-fabric of the society and the bond that hold us. When history was bending only to the glory of one side as a victor and the other side as vanquished, he didn’t stand up to rectify the wrongs. The Eritrea of today is drifted to all kind of conflicts and mistrust eating our social fabric beneath the surface. Though nationalism is one of the common bonds that hold us together, where you reflected his contribution correctly, that doesn’t ask a lot of effort in itself, for nationalism was almost in the psychic of Eritrean consciousness. His contribution would have been historic to bring the Eritrean people together who are in disarray all through out our history and still two Eritrea and two history fighting at opposite end. Actually my qualms is to all Eritrean erudite who failed to bring our nation together.

  • selam

    Why is awate.com giving this man too much time, if i am not mistaken there was an interview with him in 2013 , around june. it would be more productive to talk about ideas than about people ?
    Ideas matter

  • selam

    Prof. Bereket, the way he and many others describe his CV he must see himself as the quintessential man of all seasons. He served, among others, a feudal emperor, a demented colonel, dubious international institution, a ruthless dictator, and, a couple of struggling US colleges with the same single-mindedness and dedication. Dulcis in fundo, He is today a leader of a party that is positioning itself to take over power in Eritrea after the fall of the present dictator.

    In his pursuit of power he is ruthless and brazenly ungrateful for his assume whatever good is done to him is due, and no need to show gratitude to those who proffered it, for that would mean a sign of weakness in his character setup. He is not a technocrat at the service of the highest bidder. HE is a man of power. And like all those who wield power He is tough as nails. An ‘insignificant’ reminder to such attitude is the incident in which his life was at stake in the mid seventies, when the ELF siphoned him out of Asmara to safety. He remembered how he repaid the ELF? In one of his earlier apologetic books towards the EPLF, he dismissed the ELF as irrelevant in the struggle for independence. Dear Prof., that single instance is enough to define what he is made of.

    Lets see his work on all available angle, so that we can learn.

    • Kokhob Selam

      Good Selam,

      I am ELFista Selam and but I will continue to see the positive side to the maximum. I will give more credit to the good things done by individual and I will grade down the negative once (or delete them), because that is what takes way to love takes. give more credit to positive actions done by individuals other wise you will live becoming victim and busy in revenge. I will take this from you “Lets see his work on all available angle, so that we can learn”

      • selam

        I am not mad at his current work , i was only replying to people who thinks, this man is like an angel. He has betrayed ELF . ELF helped him safe his life .This man only love power and have no mercy on his loyal servants like ELF that is a character that we should add in his biography .

        Think about this also , why will any country draft a multiparty system with out having none. How do you feel a constitution drafted by one group of people. There were so many intellectuals who said ,first EPLF should give back all the power to people .He is also the one who advised IA with this so called (GIZIYAWI MENGSTI) with out limited time. So many people even from EPLF elite groups said there must be time limit to this GIZAWI MENGSTI .

        • Kokhob Selam

          every thing you said here is correct. I am only adding on it that, we should count the positive once. and sister, you have said it “he is not an angle.” nor you and me are. by the way there are a lot of people who betrayed ELF, his case might be only once but I can count for you thousands. Deru’e is on of them. and see who is fighting for him, not those who dance in his time but those who were suffering are more bold to talk about his case.

          We have elders who were injured badly (physically and mentally )but still alive who forgiver us all for forgetting them. That is greatness isn’t it?

  • Semere Andom

    Hi Berhan:
    In a normal country the government would have coaxed the intellectuals like Dr. Bereket to lend their talents to solve the problems in with their skils and Eritrea would have done better. Dr. Bereket to his credit he criticized the dictator for taking the country to the cliff and he also admitted his faults of the past.
    I have said it before and I repeat that the intellectuals of that era were so charmed by DIA to the point of losing their humanity, their credibility and developed dual-personalities—one for the poor Eritreans and one for the ivory and academic halls. IA used their “technical” skills to look good and shine on the expense of the people. Dr. Bereket like any human beings cannot be judged by few deeds here and there, but by the overall contributions, which most of them were to EPLF and PFDJ. Many of his peers and mentees as well.
    IA, PFDJ and our current situation is because of the “Reagans” and “Gonerrils”, who flattered their father to be in his good side. Our Cordilias, those who love of the country and people words could not covey were cashiered. And unlike Lear IA will never admit his treatment of the “Cordillias” and the flattery he got from the intellectuals and the Reagans and Gorneriils will never be rewarded with any inheritance no matter how profusely they expressed their love to him and no matter how dedicatedly served him. T
    I think your piece is well written, but it is only glamour and falls short of emphasizing how Dr.Berket’s past alliances contributed to our current predicament. This is not to beat the dead horse but to be critical of how the intellectuals group(the Reagans and Gonerrils) were the designers of PFDJ

    • guest

      Marhaba Semere hawwey..bear with me please, as i am relatively a new student in this Awate school. I am learning lots from you and the other brothers and sisters from eritrea as well as ethiopia side commentators andcolumnists.may God bless you all…to the point…you mentioned that dr.Bereket admitted his fault of the past…my question is a) what were his faults of the past that he admitted…..b) when did he admit?
      Another question, not necessarily adressing to you, but you or any other bro/sis can answer. And that is i read at least twice here in awate.com during the fast few weeks to the effect that dr. Bereket’s wish before he dies is to see eritrea and ethiopia reunited; which he later corrected it in an interview with VOA saying that it was a slip of a tongue. We all have of ” kab egree melhass yi’inqef ” moments in our lives. MY QUESTION IS: did our good doctor really made that bloopers and admit it on VOA?
      Thanks you brother/ son.

      • Saleh Johar

        Guest,
        the unity before I die stuff is quoted out of context to make a point, it is a PFDJ campaign. He said something to the effect, that all of Africa would be integrated, even with Ethiopia, I wish to see that in my lifetime…… something along those lines, but I am almost sure Saleh Younis has written about it in detail. Maybe he can give us a link if he can.

        In short, feel free to criticize Dr. Bereket on anything else, but on that one, he is totally blameless. It is not as how they made it appear with their orchestrated campaign of vilification.

        • guest

          Jazallah al ustath for the clarification.
          i hope semere too clarifies what the faults were that our good doctor admitted.and most importantly, when.
          There are no atheists when the boat is sinking.

  • tes

    Dear Berhan Sebhat,

    My aspirations are uplifted. You made me to walk against gravity towards the life journey of professor Bereket. You reminded me what I need to do at this very time and then for the coming generation. I am floating yet standing firmly in the cause our scholars fought for the rights of Eritrea and Eritreans. I thank from deep of my heart the beyond to measure contribution of professor Bereket Habtessilase.

    He was there when we needed him most

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-Qj7WLRqyQ

    The striking line that resonated deep within my contemplation from this piece of yours reads as: “O! The Professor is not without hope because he has seen us triumph before, but now that his age is advanced he can only advice us and not take the front as he did before.”.

    PFDJ betrayed the professor to such a degree that he can’t wake-up again, the effect, let the pain he has be interpreted as a physical damage just like that of the video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX9FSZJu448

    And my message to him is still he can.

    Within this line, I want to send a message to our distinguished professor, the leading Academia of all ages among the Eritreans, “Be Strong again and continue to write and educate us because we need you more than anytime”.

    His message, “He wants us to unite and not let our diversity be a hindrance” is what it is called the WISDOM OF CROWDS” is now what is needed most. Professor Bereket can help us in establishing this kind of thinking and no other person is experienced more today in this area than him.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIOPgK2SxAI

    Thank you again Berhan and forward my deep greetings to Professor Bereket.

    tes

    ++ When people reject the 1997 constitution, what Professor Bereket should contemplate in his mind is that it is not because of his works but the environment under which it was worked-out. Neverthless no matter what happened with that document his noble contribution will be remembered for ever.

    • selam

      Dr. Selassie subsequently held numerous high-profile positions within Ethiopia, serving as Attorney General, Associate Justice of Ethiopia’s Supreme Court, Vice Minister of Interior, and Mayor of Hara.

      I mean he has served all the dictators lets put all the facts

      • tes

        Don’t expect me to say all. If you have things to say, say it by your own. I don’t want to be remembered by people like you with PFDJ big-mouth. Hypocrite!

        tes

        • selam

          I just told you the back story of this man I did not say i will remember you, , i have too much to count in my life but you are not in my list.

          • tes

            Thanks to his openness, all he did is either written by himself, archived in audio or written form. He is always available. He never does things behind the walls. He is a courageous man to be infornt of the public. He always comes with his technocratic skills. He gives without reservation to who ever he demands. He is a library and his library is an open library to anybody who visited it. Thanks goes to him and for those who relentlessly open his library to know the library deeply. Within the library, it is upto us to take what is right for us.

            I thank you for telling me what is within that library though it is your own fabricated and plagiarized book shelved wrongly under his name within his library. The good thing is, I know what that library consist of in their original versions.

            tes

          • Kokhob Selam

            Good job tes, thank you. this is the way on how to build harmony. your style is great, saying the truth but solving things through kindness, kindness creates understanding and excels love.

          • Gherhi

            I am getting more and more convinced that you may well be Sophia Tesfamariam. Your knowledge, twisted or otherwise, is not consistent with some innocent young woman in Asmara.

          • Amanuel Hidrat

            Gherhi,

            The English of Sofia Tesfamariam isn’t there. If you read them side by side, not even close.

          • Gherhi

            Aman, the last post from Selam comes close to Sophia’s English. The ideas are very consistent though. But sophi is not dumb, of course she would be disguised.

          • Amanuel Hidrat

            You are right Gherhi. Actually that is one of their tactics. For instance, If you check the English composition written under “Nitric” nickname, you could notice different level of English (at time you will see – well composed grammatical correct sentences, and at another time not even a junior high school English). So when I went back to re-read Selam’s last comment, it isn’t even close to her English we are used to….. Way, way far my friend. Good catch, thumbs up for scrutinizing her English.

          • Gherhi

            Aman, I hate to get you entangled in this but I have a very good reason for my assertion. Selam used to come her off and on and drop a bomb. I called her out on a couple occasions and she didn’t deny my claims of her identity. But she is now a little more persistent. I guess Sophie has been assigned this mission now. Neither do I need to remind you that she had choice words for elite and educated Eritreans on an article on tesfanews recently. Much the same accusation as in her last lengthy post.

          • Abinet

            Does it mean awate is making a dent? I believe this is good news. If pfdj assign a permanent diplomat at awate, it shows how this website is powerful.
            Ato Saleh
            One packet Marlboro/Dunhil on me. Not yet for a Cuban cigar

          • Kokhob Selam

            you know what Abinet, the other day I had small seminar about “team work” . Although I had knowledge on the subject for example on industries and small companies I found more detailed information this time covers even in leading the countries and challenging all odds. that awate team was in mind in all the way in hearing the explanation done by the chair man.

            Team, how did awate team chose this name, how does it work for them in reconciling process. etc. was the equations I answer. those guys are not ordinary once.

          • Abinet

            Kokobe
            Are you saying ” simin meleak yaweTawal?” Not that I’m comparing Ato Saleh to an angel, it is a good name to attract eritreans. When it comes to ethiopians , the name ” awate ” is something you run away from .
            The other eritrean website, Meskerem, which I heard a lot but never visited, has a beautiful name like the month it self. I heard it is not that good to spend time on it .
            ” melkeTifun besim yidegifu ”
            The following is a modified song for you and awate at the same time.
            Bekokob fideloch beTefir birana
            Belibe mezgeb wusT mewdedih sitsena
            Bedekeme gulbet bale belele aqim
            Awaten salaneb wuye adre alawqim

          • Kokhob Selam

            ኣንተ ! ስትችልበት !!

            But I was talking the word team. that sounds synergy, isn’t it ?

          • Abinet

            Sorry I messed up. Blame it on old age for the delight of Tes.
            I was thinking of the name awate. Not the team.
            Tes
            Can you send me new glasses? Better yet , can you drive for me ? After you learned the difference between right turn, left turn and a u-turn. Driving position available. Apply in person. Bring your own GPS.

          • ‘Gheteb

            Abinet,
            That is what I meant I truly like your fresh take on things and I enjoy your sense of humor.
            Thank you!

          • Abinet

            Gheteb
            Thank you for the kind words . I’m not known for a sense of humor around here. I’m known as the annoyance in- chief.

          • Kokhob Selam

            ኣረ ካንተ ሁሉም ኣልታጣም :

          • selam

            Hi Ema

            Good job. I am so nice . I can say pretty much nice about every one in this forum.
            The thing is ,i am not sure if you can take some home.

          • Nitricc

            Aman, since you hero is Hayat; I can understand why you say what you said. I have said it many times. Most of my posts are written on the go and between tasks. Many readers have brought it to my attention. I do understand and I acknowledged it many times. When I get the time to sit and write, I can write readable; when I write on the go; I write at times embarrassing. Now, what I want to know is; what could it be my intended goal to use a tactic of bad writings? Does it make sense to you what you are talking about? I think you are possessed by Dedebitawian and you are acting like them.

          • Kokhob Selam

            I think she is one innocent but intelligent women or girl somewhere trapped with different Ideas and is going out of here cage searching the truth. Being energetic, she is managing it and it seems to me she will go up to the top.

          • selam

            Come on Gherhi , do not make me sick of my hand. How come ? , She will never have time to post here, she is serving her master. Again , can i have my right to say what ever i want. Think about this , i did not accuse this man . I only told the story.

            What surprised me most is that , you accuse people when ever they say things you do not like.

    • Abraham Hanibal

      Mr. tes;
      People never rejected the 1997 Const. If they were against it, they wouldn’t have participated in large numbers and with great enthusiasm for its drafting. The only fact is, Isayas and Co. have rejected the Const. because it doesn’t serve their evil desire of holding to power at the expense of the people and because it contradicts their wish of enslaving and destroying the Eritrean people.