The Unionist movement, which was mostly restricted to a highlander/Christian movement, was the creation of Haileselassie. Abune Markos was instrumental in coercing ordained and lay priests to create mass bases for the Unionist movement; Tedla Bairu ushered in the Federal era while Asfeha Woldemikael, with Qeshi Dimetros, engineered Annexation. At various stages of our history these individuals with many others who collaborated with them acted as the Emperor’s instruments in dismantling Eritrean autonomous existence and budding sense of nationalism in order to pave the way for Ethiopian takeover.
It took our ghedli 30 years to deconstruct what the above mentioned individuals and their collaborators constructed in the 40s and 50s.
1. Collaborationism and its Stains;
2. In Honor of those who fell in Operation Fenql;
3. A Few Thoughts;
In these times of adversity those in the collaborationist camp seem to be confused about many things, one of which is in our dealings with our own history. And I think that is, to a degree, to be expected as revisionist and negationist attitudes have always been there with us. However, at this stage, acknowledging the essential components of our national identity which are shaped by our successful struggle for independence is important because that is our best distinguishing feature. Any attempt by members of the collaborationist camp to take our distinguishing feature away from us will provide: 1) an opportunity to the ruling government to strengthen its stranglehold on Eritrea; 2) our people with a reason to reject the opposition and side up more with the government; 3) the opposition camp with more motives to splinter further into inconsequential factions. Eritreans, whether they are PFDJ supporters or their opponents, believe in this most distinguishing feature of our identity – our victorious campaign in driving Ethiopians out of our country which led to our sovereignty; and to muck this sacred belief up is a recipe for disaster.
Devoid of grandeur and imagination, content that portrays mediocrity wallowing in the most boring sort of revisionist history, narratives of disloyalty, reflection of fear and insecurity leads to a stunted growth. Collaborationist stances, with the stains they emboss on our social fabric, lead us to shift our focus on guarding our sovereignty above everything else.
It is widely believed that the study of history is at the center of human enquiry. A deeper knowledge of history will enable us to put present-day thoughts and actions into contexts. And contextualized knowledge of the past is what makes us understand who we are and where we are going. We can also say that history does not only provide us with a frame of reference that enables us to recognize dangers to our society, both from the inner and outer margins, but also becomes a guidance as to how to deal with those dangers when they arise.
Some Eritreans, rather disgracefully, have become practitioners of negationism. Some writers, driven by loss of nerve and self-doubt, and others prompted by inducements, attempt to alter our history to reflect the Ethiopian line of analysis that distorts established historical facts of Eritrea. These Ethiopia apologists can’t keep up the masquerade anymore – their Unionist sentiments and ‘ajewjew’ism’ are defined by faulting the ghedli, our struggle for independence, in every way they can imagine. What a futile attempt, moral bankruptcy!
Based on the above-mentioned principle, the need to explore the recent history of Eritrea is self-evident. To know the way the Eritrean society came to be formed, to have some understanding of the conflicting forces within it, not only it is an advantage in the conduct and understanding of its national affairs but also indispensable. Eritrean history, since the colonial era, is very interesting because it covers three important eras – Federation (1952-1962), the struggle for liberation (1961-1991) and of course, post-independence eras. During those eras, led by the mavericks of the federation era, championed by the heroes of our armed struggle and of course, spoiled by PFDJ, Eritrea went through the process of self-actualization, self-determination and unfortunately, self-constricting paths that have arrested its development. Simply stated, one can think about the post-independence era as the outcome of the struggles that were waged during the federation and liberation eras. But one cannot say the post-independence era is the total-sum of the preceding eras because Eritreans are still, rather ineptly, struggling to implement their dreams of yesterday.
What is in a name?
As an Eritrean it is important to know what Operation Fenql was all about – a Ghedli operation which once and forever forced out the Ethiopian occupation forces from Massawa. That should remain vivid in the minds of all Eritreans. The battle took place in 1990 in and around the coastal city of Massawa. The operation, uprooted the vital lifeline of Ethiopian forces while at the same time heralded the inevitable demise of enemy forces.
Through name association, one needs to remember who Nguse wedi Fenql (BeraKi Nguse) was – one of the most renowned freedom fighters Eritrea had ever witnessed. I have serious doubts that the ET-apologists have any knowledge of neither wedi Fenql nor Operation Fenql – names one should include in his/her historical vocabulary.
I am in no doubt that we Eritreans know about and are taken with, to a great extent, stories like Operation Fenql – heroic activities of our combatants that changed the direction not only of our ghedli struggle but also our lives. At least we know Operation Fenql is a piece of history that was generated by the price the selfless members of EPLF’s 18th brigade had to pay to achieve the ultimate price – our pride and Eritrea’s sovereignty. The sum of the blood and sweat of our Tegadelti that was invested in that operation, buttressed by the partaking of the masses who bore a great big brunt of Ethiopian cruelty, finally paid off when Eritrea breathtakingly moved from that particular operation towards winning its independence. That is the kind of name our Ghedli created for us. And how do the likes of YG describe the Ghedli situation of the time? He writes: “The reality is that, often camouflaged in revolutionary rhetoric, the Ghedli generation set out to finish the colonial task that the Italians had left incomplete.” What in the world is that? I think Melles Zenawi had better respect for our Ghedli than the likes of YG. Is this ‘who outpopes the Pope’ contest? For the record, in YG’s and Ethiopia’s face … the many Operation Fenqls we have witnessed as a country are the very events that heralded the inevitable liberation of Eritrea and the return of the country to its owners.
Now, as we thought that aspect of our history has safely been put aside, we find ourselves in a different era all together – an era that harbors members of the Ethiopia-led ‘Ministry of Truth’ who attempt to erode that magical history of ours. Regrettably, the unforeseen ominous post-independence era that has dawned on Eritrea has so unsettled many of us it is fast making us forget how our prized success was achieved. The main source or culprit of this shifting mind-set is the unruly and officious Government of Eritrea. We are also seeing that some individuals who are angered by the developments that have gone pear-shaped in the country are beginning to challenge and at times refute certain facts of our history. Clearly, such analysis is either influenced by past abrasions or present day frustrations. The sad part of the story is the fact that Ethiopia, through those morally corrupt individuals it coached in adopting unionist tendencies, is trying to taint our history in accordance to its interests. Alas, they fail to recall Operation Fenql, and what is in our name.
Here are some facts that I would like us to remember before jumping to shady conclusions about Eritrean struggle for independence:
• Our fighters were selfless and they literally sacrificed their young lives to free Eritrea.
• The campaign to free Eritrea was effective. Mass mobilization, literacy campaigns and political education were successfully conducted during the campaign leading to high level of discipline, political consciousness with strong ideological principles.
• Camaraderie between fighters from all over the country was solid. Our Tegadelti fought side by side irrespective of their gender, background, locality, religious beliefs and social standings. On the whole, their camaraderie crossed cultural, religious and other social divides.
• The enthusiasm of the time! Our Tegadelti defeated and forced Ethiopian forces out of Eritrea.
The casualties of that history and the historical incidents that took place during that era of intense and death-defying operations should be addressed aptly; however, we need to be careful not to amplify the blemishes above and beyond the realities that were on the ground then. Putting it differently, and perhaps sentimentally, in our moments of bleakness we tend to look back to that era in order to jog our memory of all our age groups who faced martyrdom heroically while some of us pursued and supported the struggle from afar.
People change, and so do groups, organizations and institutions when conditions under which they operate change. It was quite a life our Tegadelti lived during the campaign to free Eritrea. They were never frugal with their lives, were they? However, when victory dawned, the leaders, quite mistakenly, began to shape Eritrea’s future in the image of the former world they were familiar with – a system that was highly regimented. The post-independence administration was rigged with superiority complex and monopolistic attitudes that were crammed with unapproachability. The leaders were dismissive of everything they could not identify with – our elder’s wisdom, diasporic potential and evolutionary changes that are required of a newly established State. Instead of embracing the changes that were influenced by Eritrea’s new statehood, they simply fought against them. They went ahead to form PFDJ – an exclusive political party unfit to lead Eritrea. Gradually, through PFDJ, the course changed direction and journeyed towards self-preservation – a journey more important to the leaders than preserving the country’s wellbeing. And so they began to dismantle the Eritrean dream and dragged the ghedli reputation through mud.
I have said this in the past and allow me to say it once again. I take the view that the current thinking, the prevalent predilection towards Ethiopia among those who are opposing the Eritrean regime, is severely limited by the attachment to a model based on ‘neighborliness’ . Many may find such treatment is somewhat palliative, but certainly it is not curative. We should base our new models not on causations but consequences. Understandably, many are frustrated by the lethargic pace of the struggle. I may also be able to understand other sources such frustrations that are giving way to dangerous impairments; but one should not sympathize with lopsided and mean-spirited logic. If we ascribe such approaches to our faculties, we will need to keep a stack of apologies handy when we face the wrath of our people.
A Few Thoughts
• My fellow Eritreans, we need to rethink our engagement practices that foster more collaborative approaches from the general public that is opposing the current regime back home. At the same time it is our responsibility to prevent our activities from descending into back room deals – I am thinking of the worthless ENDCD approach.
• We need to understand that we, as Eritro-diasporic people, have the political rights to influence our host-country officials by voicing our concerns to them regarding the waywardness of Eritrean officials. However, this right is only legitimate if balanced by the obligation to act responsibly.
• The Ethiopians have time in their hands now. They will taunt us, use some of our opposition groups to their advantage, deploy false messiahs … all designed to loosen our grip on our sovereignty. We should remain steadfast and rebuff Ethiopia’s intrusion in our affairs.
• What is the situation of the opposition who are living in Addis Ababa? Sitting in corners of Addis bars, being ignored, not only by the powers that be but also by the waiters? Some are licking their wounds and others continue to live outside the Eritrean reality. How embarrassing! Can they separate reality from illusion? When will they ever take that voyage to self-discovery?
• Let’s not be fooled by the pack approach we see around us. They feign magnitude, substance and of course patriotism. Just like fear and its reactions – it has a large shadow, but it itself is small.
The end / for now