A Time to Change

Oppression of the mind began following a simple dispensation of laws by the conquering party; laws that deep inside helped the conqueror to stay in power and even pass that power over to his sons.


More laws, which were mostly arbitrary, were added because the conqueror who has turned tyrant by now wanted more power to silence rivals and pretenders. It was therefore necessary for him who established tyranny and arranged laws for it, to presuppose that all men were evil and that they were always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they had free scope.


More and more of those arbitrary laws meant less and less freedom for the masses, until finally running out of laws, the tyrant became the law himself!


The shackling of the human mind was thus accomplished with the coming of the tyrant. With the sun of justice setting for good, the air smelled of fear, the leaves yellowed, and the mind shriveled. It was total darkness with the blind leading the blind. 


But “there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven…..a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak…”. That was King Solomon. He penned these verses probably after contemplating his contemporary world.


Nothing is static. Everything is in flux, as the Greek sages used to say.  Our mind is no different. We live in an ever-changing world. People change, ideas change, governments come and go. Rulers play God simply to end up their lives ignominiously. Even independence can change into servility, freedom into slavery within a short time.


There are governments who, like the dinosaurs of old, seem to refuse to adapt themselves to their environments and continue to exist when they should have perished a long time ago. They fool themselves into believing that it is the environment and not themselves that must change. And they know how to make others buy their warped beliefs without much effort. They have the mass media to do that, staffed by cowed and helpless employee working day and night to keep the masses fooled all the time.


I worked with such a group for a long time. We were, so to speak, all ‘hypnotized’ to serve the ‘truth’. Although some of us did finally get a sudden awakening and managed to cross the border, most were not lucky.


What could it be that fundamentally changed my mind to come to Europe and speak out? The answer is simple. I grew weary of living in an opaque environment. I wanted to live in a relatively transparent one where I can, at least, call a spade a spade before I lose sight of reality.


Some years back I had the opportunity to meet Haile Woldetnsae in Tira Volo, Asmara, before he was arrested. I met him near his residence one day late in the morning. He was wearing a pajama. I think he was ready for those who would knock on his door early in the morning to take him away. He seemed to have been waiting for them.


“They will come and take us,” he said. “Probably we may not make it. We may die in prison. But my hope is that the social and political inertia that is holding back the people may not hinder them for much too long from seeing the truth. As for our fate, it seems to have already been sealed…..”


The government accused Duru’ and his colleagues of trying to sell the country to the enemy. The truth was however that they tried not to sell it but to hand it over to the masses after it had been freed but confiscated by the PFDJ. Duru’ and his colleagues knew that the masses and all those who offered their lives for the cause got less than they bargained for. They were betrayed.


The first time I met Duru’ was in Addis Abeba in the 1960s. A rather tempestuous young man, he scoffed at death and wouldn’t be detracted by success or failure. He had a heart of a lion. He liked to laugh at things that would otherwise make most people despondent or pensive.


When I heard that they finally threw him in, I felt very sad and disoriented. Imagine someone who had already offered his life for his country scorning every calamity and hardship to suddenly be labeled as a traitor and a sell-out!


I remember the time when the EPLF entered Asmara. A few days later I went to his office near Cinema Capitol (the ex-Italian Consulate) just to say hello. He was as exuberant as when I met him back in Addis Abeba in the 1960s.


When I worked in the Ministry of Information, Beraki Gebreselassie was the minister. A soft-spoken man, he was simply open and kind hearted. I remember him telling me that he hated injustice and cruelty and, above all, the shedding of blood, and that if he had to kill during the armed struggle, it was simply because that was the only way to stop the enemy. 


He accepted my suggestions regarding the holding of panel-discussions on TV and was open to any TV-program that allowed for free and open discussions and all kinds of artistic or structural innovation, ideas that would fill the mind of a simple PFDJ member with horror and consternation. And then they took him away, business as usual.  He knew too much, said too little in their favor and stayed too long as a freethinking man.  


When I was in Asmara, the Setit newspaper had an office just across a narrow alley from where I lived. I remember Joshua and Dawit as if it were yesterday, as they busied themselves with their computers and files. A few weeks and they too were gone! Sium Tsehaye, a close friend of mine (we taught French in the same schools), who produced graphic scenes of the armed struggle with his video-camera in the thick of bloody battles, was also gone! The only sin they committed was that they spoke when everybody deemed it proper and wise to keep quiet. The words proper and wise are simply euphemisms for fear and trepidation.


I forgot. What was the reason for killing handicapped fighters on wheelchairs who came forward with legitimate demands? Again most people took the incident lightly. Isn’t the Party above and beyond everything? That’s fascism pure and simple.


Wasn’t that enough to make me stop and think and question the sincerity of those who wielded power as guardians of the people?


In 2002 I got the opportunity to travel to Germany to participate in the yearly Eritrean Festival. While there I met some old friends and acquaintances. I liked the spirit and the enthusiasm of most Eritreans and enjoyed the show to the end. But from time to time, during casual conversations and discussions, I noticed that the majority of Eritreans in the Diaspora were misinformed. The moment I tried to correct or suggest, they would make a double take. What? Can you say that again?  But what do you expect from people who take the Eri-Tv as a sole source of information and the Eritrean Consulate as a shrine?! Well, look what is happening to the government at present in the absence of genuine and constructive criticism? Praising someone to the skies makes his fall simply all the more dangerous!


This doesn’t mean, however, that all faults lie with the government in power. I have a lot to say about some of the opposition forces that are buffeting against the power monolith which fortunately seems to be cracking these days. Just because your adversary is wrong doesn’t make you right. Both contenders can be wrong at times.


With insatiable hunger for power and fame eroding noble and time-honored virtues, objectivity is becoming a rare commodity in the present world. And it takes a lot of detached and clinical observation and sincere evaluation to reach at the truth. 


And only then does the real change come.

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