Yes, Eritrea is in perilous condition. Its economy is stagnant…. Inflation is soaring and people are suffering. The youth, the military, and the population are all fed up, and rightfully so. The so-called leaders failed and failed miserably. Our political order is non-existent and we blame no one but ourselves. This is our mistake, our own doing, and we look to no one but ourselves to get out of this mess…and yes, in twenty one years we have managed to do all that by ourselves. Those of you who witnessed the slow demise can bear witness to the mess Eritrea is in, and I wouldn’t wish what Eritrean people are going through on anybody. Losing hope is not in Eritreans’ blood, there seems to be some room for optimism in the horizon; the recent news of the Information Minister’s possible defection might be a signal that a tipping point could be in the offing. What’s not in the offing, however, is the relentless attack on Eritrea and Eritreans by a select few who made it their crusade to fight with their own identity, with their past, instead of the present regime and the path forward. This article will attempt to address the flaws in the arguments of Yosief Gebrehiwot (YG): it will show that his analysis is based on selective information; that he conflates sense of identity with sense of belonging; cause with correlation and, most ironic of all, that he is the one guilty of romanticizing (albeit the subject of his romance is different from those of his antagonists) because he constantly denies what happened (history) in favor of what might have happened (theory.)
As Eritreans we know that we have to seek and, basically, to find….and indeed we have. Socrates at the beginning of the Symposium, for example, remarks, we can only seek that which we know must be sought. He was pointing out that there is a close connection between what has made us, what is making us and what we are trying to do and experience. But Yosief Ghebrehiwet (YG) considers this a blind circular journey to nowhere. To Y.G.’s chagrin–because of his phobia of all that is Arab–I am going to paraphrase a world renowned thinker who is an Arab (Professor Tariq Ramadan) who has this to say about humanity when dealing with its core essences: our past sometimes helps us and sometimes hinders us. We always have to revisit the past, understand it, disentangle it and forget it, but we can never really flee from it. We have to live and come to terms with it. When we turn to the future, it is our present: we are always looking for the places, the loves and the meanings to which we belong (The Quest for Meaning).
Obviously, as individual readers we select to engage those we find challenging. Most certainly, Yosief Ghebrehiwet (Y.G.) tops that challenge list, albeit for the wrong reasons. Be that as it may, we also choose to engage those very people who challenge us even as they make colossal mistakes in the way they shortchange themselves in the department of logic, where self-referential replaces cross-referential, and anecdotal examples replace historical facts. Y.G thinks he is above the fray to engage other thinkers who might have something of value to say about issues that are dear to him – instead he talks to himself, quotes himself, takes an anecdote for a fact; comes up with these narrowly defined scenarios and metaphors that have no applicability beyond the world he inhabits. We are witnessing here, a man appropriating a world of his own and want us to be a part of such poorly constructed phantom existence. Nobody writes just for writing sakes. The man has an agenda, an agenda I vehemently and passionately disagree with.
The Mother of All Philosophical Enklil:
In “(I) The Circular Journey in Search of Eritrea: Journey Identity,” Y.G. attempts to survey the 50 years of Eritrean history through the lens of identity–according to whom an identity that never was. Instead he wants his readers to believe that Eritrean struggle (ghedli) was a case of “sense of belonging” mistaken for “search to alien identity.” But one must take the author at his own words. And his own words are that “[t]his article is a modest attempt to nudge the present generation towards that realization, for future Eritrea could be built only from what the starting point entails.” And in the entire article all what one sees is Y.G. circling in vicious cycle that ends up getting trapped in this bizarre journey out of which there seems to be no way out. He stumbles and falls but never relents he must reach the end for he is in this definite journey of uncovering Eritrean ghedli that he so obviously believes was trapped in a circular journey to nowhere.
But such a circle he has trapped himself in–a philosophical Enklil–is specially designed because he chose to eliminate key information. It is, to paraphrase him, history by subtraction. His only tool is a compass, which can only draw arcs and circles. He is getting a circle because he insists on using a tool that can only draw circles. The problem that Y.G. faces is that he excludes historical facts, the very facts that all of us know all too well. He presents a daring assertion that Eritreans not only fought over nothing, but all of the fifty years, where one group spent it chasing to inculcate a foreign (Arab identity which will be addressed towards the end of this article) and the other half running away from its authentic Habesha identity were caused by….. Nothing! According to Y.G., the way the arguments to this claim are advanced emanate from two key mistaken sources: “the sense of belonging” and the “search of alien identities.” Here one senses a psychological phenomenon at work, because the search of identity is in collusion course with sense of belonging – more on this later when Ethiopian Felasha identity is addressed. But, Y.G.’s basic message is that poor Eritreans spent their untold years in the jungles of Eritrea fighting in search of sense of belonging. Psychological prescription to a political problem is a certain way to arrive at erroneous conclusion.
Once set on this erroneously concocted journey of time bereft of space, it is interesting Y.G.’s world seems all of a sudden on a straight and narrow path with no sense of location, no grounding; it is a moving target he is trying to capture and at every turn it seems to elude the author. Consider one such scenario
At a point in time, when there was no time, Eritreans began a circular journey that finished at the same starting point. In attempting to shed-off their Habesha identity and in search of an alien/new one, Eritreans began an expedition without giving any thought to Progress, Peace Democracy, and Justice, etc…They jumped into a moving train, not because they had a destination in mind…. No, but simply because the train was going. They were themselves, before they were running away from themselves, only in the end to find themselves…
The above is a classic passage in Y.G.’s parlance, where one hears and senses of a moving target with no certain destination; meaning Eritreans escaping the world of “progress, peace, democracy, and justice” that was waiting to happen in the wings vis-à-vis Ethiopia’s monarchy – one can only suppose here. But what’s sorely missing in action is why these Eritreans chose to get on that fateful train to independence and why they chose one that was going to give them their dignity, their flag, their language, their culture back; obviously, not one that was going to be swallowed by the forced Amharic national language and the king to whom they never wished to bow to. Whether by Europeans or Africans, colonialism of any stripe, color, shape, or form is still colonialism at heart – no amount of window dressing could change that. Prudence compels us to strive, which in turn demands of us to understand and extract (not conjure up) meaning, and identify its finalities in this circular journey through space and time. In Y.G.’s world there is only this one sad dimension of time bereft of space. The mind that is nurtured by logic must be able to observe signs, conditions, reality and the “why” of things; while reason would reveal their order, structure and meaning as to the “how” of things. Short of that, the natural order of reasoning breaks down and ultimately logic itself loses its significance.
The Missing Link
Y.G. shields and says very little of Ethiopia, a main player and instigator of all evil that visited upon Eritreans after the Second World War. He speaks of ghedli as if it took place in a vacuum or portrays it as one that fought against itself. Ethiopia was and remains an integral part of the Eritrean equation – part of the equation does not mean integration, however. Every negative thing Ethiopia did with respect to Eritrea, Eritreans reacted. In fact, Ethiopia and Eritrea address and echo each other. They must imperatively be received, read, interpreted and understood in their inherent complementarily – i.e. language, culture, and religion to each other and crimes committed against one another. At the very minimum one should consider “cause” and “effect” when examining historical accounts. Simply put, bashing ghedli in itself does not exonerate Ethiopia and its action.
Herein follows a catalog of crimes Ethiopia committed against Eritrea just for historical context:
In his quest to prove his wishful thinking, which is the unity with Ethiopia, the “why” of things, he must discredit Ghedli, the “how” of things. Had it not been for Ethiopia’s attempt to annex Eritrea brutally and illegally, we would not have this conversation we are having today. Furthermore; the fact that brutality and reign of Ethiopia’s terror didn’t reach to the habitat of the highland, particularly to Tigrigna speakers until mid-seventies, does not meant it didn’t occur elsewhere in Eritrea or be labeled as insignificant. Unfortunately this is typical kabesa mentality at its worst: if you don’t speak Tigrinya, w’a atta essikha da’mmo Eritrawi zeikonka mindset seems to be at play here. Worst yet, Y.G. adds a new wrinkle: if you cannot trace your lineage to Ethiopia Ertrawi ktbbahal asheggari eyyu.
Of course, none of these seem to matter to Y.G. because he is on this obsessive and imaginary linear journey that helps him to cling to Ethiopia – talk about taking the “wanting to belong” as a quest for identity. Time and again he invents realities out of the thin air and presents them as facts and wants his readers to take them as such. In Y.G.’s Machiavellian world gone awry, all is well so long the ruled and the subjugated are hammered mercilessly and the rulers (in this case Ethiopia) remains in power by coercive methods. Our Eritrean Machiavellian does a good job in managing to beat Eritreans to the ground without having anything negative to say about Ethiopia’s successive leadership failures on its people, and by extension on Eritreans. No attempt at duality here: sheer linear journey to nowhere. But one must give the Eritrean Machiavellian credit here; because he says it loudly and repeatedly, now he begins to believe his diatribe so much so that he quotes himself as a reference – reaching the heights of hubris through self-referential. To talk to yourself is okay say Psychologists, but when you begin to answer to yourself problems of delusions take precedence over the realities and historical facts. What is missing here is Reality Testing: The ego’s capacity to distinguish what is occurring in one’s own mind from what is occurring in the external world. It is perhaps the single most important ego function because it is necessary for negotiating with the outside world.
But history or facts have no bearing when ego and single mind determination to debunk anything factual are at play; reductive measures become the way to accomplish such agonizing feats. So, the linear journey continues unabated. Let’s sample some of these feats as provided by Y.G., in which he conflates correlation and causality. He states, “[i]f these qualities of perseverance, steely resolve, courage, sacrifice and self-reliance seem to have uncanny resemblance with the ghedli virtues that ghedli romantics keep touting, it wouldn’t be simple coincidence.” Here the conflation is purposeful. Y.G. uses a hypothetical scenario of a traveler or a runner on “a journey without destination” and because the traveler had no destination in mind when he began the journey, obviously the “how” of the journey predominates not the “why” – fair enough. The problem though is with treating the hypothetical as the real and the real ghedli that took place as fantasy or to borrow his term as “romantics,” is a classic reversal of roles. A romanticist creates a hypothesis based on a fantasy and gives it attributes of reality; a romantic also dismisses real world experience and labels them as fantasy. Talk about a fantastic way of creating a lopsided logic. Romanticizing by inclination is attributed to those who are enamored with nature and who write fantastic prose based, not necessarily on their experience, mind you, but on their capabilities of imagination. But the truth–the reality of the recent past–is known and experience by thousands of Eritreans. But don’t tell that to YG because he has his fantastic imagination to tell us otherwise. Y.G. unwittingly seems to be on a path to the world of comedy, in which Groucho Marx hilariously asks, “Are you going to believe me, or what you see with your own eyes?” So, are we to believe our own experience and what we saw or that of scenarios, anecdotal examples, and tragic fairy tales as conceived by Y.G.? Perhaps, coming from someone who probably never picked a neighborhood fight let alone a real ghedli experience, one that demands the ultimate sacrifice, to borrow his phraseology, is “quixotic” at best.
Who Is Calling Whom “Quixotic”?
Here is one quixotic world of Y.G. in which he laments over anecdotal example and turns it on its head, thankfully, no self-referential material here, nonetheless, still drawing a sweeping conclusion. Under a subtopic “The switching case” we learn of Eritrean students of the seventies who joined the fronts; these gullible students didn’t quite believe in their idealism prone world sufficiently to bring the two fronts together. Of course, he must lambast their naiveté, for these idealist students accepted the concept of ‘“Eritrea” as a given.”’ And that “it never occurred to them that when they joined the revolution they were embarking in this life-time journey in search of “Eritrea” that they already had in their possession.” Now let’s consider this: Eritrean students were not the only idealists. There were Ethiopian idealists to who went on a search of a new Ethiopia. Some of them even went in search of a new Tigray. So where does a journey become real and what does it become quixotic? If, in the 1970s, the Eritrean Liberation Front and Aman Andom had reached a truce, would all the journey from 1961 to mid 1970s have been real or quixotic? Was the TPLF journey to end rule of monarchy in Tigray and later in Ethiopia real or quixotic? To me, the only time that the journey would had been quixotic, circular, meaningless is if, in 1991, Eritreans had voted in a referendum to stay with Ethiopia.
It takes quite a leap of faith to dismiss as something of a mirage what the idealist students who participated to bring Eritrea’s territorial integrity that the whole world acknowledged. This brings me to my next topic that deals with the true search of alien identity.
Arab Bashing: Didn’t Work For The King: Why Would It Work for His Subject?
Where have we heard this drum beat of an alien, Arab talk before? Arab, Arabization, Drunkards with Petro-dollar (ኤሪትራ ለኣረብ አትሸጥም ኣትለወጥም) — These were terms used by successive Ethiopian regimes in their propaganda machineries to convince their citizens to justify their reasons for waging war of scorching earth in Eritrea. When Ethiopia was using these terms, it was trying to illicit the racist under-toning of its survival instinct as a Christian Island nation surrounded by Muslims. Therefore it had to bring out to the fore that Arabs are Muslims, and Muslims are bad and Muslims are not us…and the Arabs are buying or taking over Eritrea. Why are we hearing these echoes of the 60’s, 70’s and 80s repeated today by Y.G.? If it didn’t work when his Majesty said it, why does he think it will work when His Subject says it? By referring to the Eritrean Muslims, who founded the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), and for that matter the entire struggle as selling out their [h]Habesha identity and in search for an alien, that of an Arab or Arabization… I believe he is trying to create a direct link to that of his master His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings (Emperor) of Ethiopia, Elect of God. (ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር) thus the author continues, Eritrea should have persisted and solved all its ailments by remaining part of Ethiopia.
Sometimes history has a strange way of telling us a story about ourselves, when we are not in tune with reality. Constructivists believe truth and reality are constructed by the individuals and all observations therefore are consequently subjective; whereas others may believe that truth and reality exist independent of individuals and consequently may be objectively observed. But, when someone begins to operate outside the realms of objectively verifiable to the world of anecdotally concocted reality, then, one will inevitably teeter to that slippery slope where reality and fantasy become so blurred to a point of “sense of belonging” and sense of “identity” become separable when in reality they are corollary to one another. Unless one feels a sense of belonging into a group, how could he/she even begin to identify with a given group? Consider the Felashas.
The Felashas (a.k.a. Beta Israel) are an indigenous people who lived in north and northwestern Ethiopia in more than 500 villages spread from the Amhara region of Gonder to Tigray. Most of them were concentrated around Lake Tana area. In Tigray they were among the Wolqayit, Shire, and Tselemti, and in the Amahra Region of Gonder they were among the Semien Dembia, Segelt, Quara, and Belesa.
The Felashas’ are believed to be the lost tribe of Dan of the Israelite. They have lived in Ethiopia for more than 2,500 (two thousand and five hundred) years. They once spoke languages such as Qwar, Kayala and Agow, they now speak Amharic, and Tigrigna. They lived in the midst of Christians and Muslims. They practiced ancient tradition of Judaism and they dwelled as farmers’ craftsmen etc…and they were Ethiopians and authentic [H]habesha in all sense of the word.
But here is where the story takes a fatal turn…and that Y.G. would dare not touch… (One more example of consistently omitting historical facts) these Ethiopians who had lived for more than two thousand and five hundred years in Ethiopia suddenly exist no more. They all left Ethiopia looking for an “alien identity” and settled in Israel. Between 1977 and around the fall of Col. Mengustu Haile Mariam 1991 the entire population of Bait Israel found a new country and new identity they now claim theirs. The truly sad part of this whole episode of migration in search of alien identity was facilitated by the Ethiopian government in exchange for weapons:
“… So Israel entered in to a period of selling arms to the (Mengistu Haile) Mariam government in hopes that Ethiopia would allow Jews to leave for Israel. In 1977, (Israeli Prime Minister Menachem) Begin asked President Mengistu to allow 200 Ethiopian Jews to leave for Israel aboard an Israeli military jet that had emptied its military cargo and was returning to Israel. Mariam agreed, and that may have been the precursor to the mass exodus of Operation Moses began…and to be followed by Operations Joshua and Solomon.” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ejhist.html)
Was this a case of “sense of belonging” or a case of “in search of alien identity?” One is left to wonder what Y.G. would say about this. Could you even imagine if this was done by Eritrea…how many volumes would have been written by the likes of him? (Unless, of course, it was to be done to the Eritrean Rashaida, in which case, I suspect it would be cheered loudly in some quarters.) YG’s silence about Ethiopia is deafening…because the wholesale eviction of the entire population was done shamelessly by Ethiopia, and he knows it too. Yet, Y.G.’s prescription for Eritrea was to remain with Ethiopia, and in Ethiopia we can find our true identity (ኤሪትራ ለኣረብ አትሸጥም ኣትለወጥም) unless and until the next higher bidder comes along? What a shame!