An Office Full Of Mice

Today I feel like throwing a thousand proverbs. Why not, we have an ample supply of anecdotes and other sayings that embody folk wisdom. They lend their use to the most boring writers and speakers. And whenever ideas betray me, I use them; they are handy fillers for a marathon speech and long treatise, or articles as we commonly refer to them. Challenge me if you can is what my friend Amanuel Hidrat said. He has reached the zenith of his patience with the useless dime a dozen intellectuals. Those who prefer to live in shacks they think are ivory towers. And we are surrounded by them, dime a dozen, and if you persist and negotiate, you can ‘buy a dozen and get a dozen free’.  And I was in the middle of an office full of mice.

The room looked gloomy, everyone has dropping jaws. Blank faces, standing on their toes on top of every cranky furniture in the room. A man enters with an ear to ear smile and then laughs like a child in a playground. I am standing on top of a chair, shaking, on one corner. The man looks at me. For some reason I recognize him. I know him very well. He moves around inspecting the swarm of mice. I asked him, “why do you let all the mice into the room?” He looked me in the eye in a way that made me think he felt sorry for me. He roared: “You wanted to save that old clay mogogo, that easily replaceable clay oven, now deal with the mice that have owned the floor and the mogogo.”

Yes. That is the reason. Every time a mouse sneaks in, we have the urge to whack it flat to the ground but are afraid our pretty mogogo would be destroyed, not easy to hit a fast mouse with a crude stick. The mice of the neighborhood discovered our weakness, our love for our mogogo. News spread quickly and all the mice planned a camping season in the offices. They overwhelmed us. Now our offices are known as the mice sanctuary that has a mogogo we cannot use.

That has been our problem with challenging our leaders, and that continues to be our problem with challenging the leaders of the brand new, 2012 model national council.

Now. If what follows makes you mad, want to break something you are holding, please go ahead, vent your frustration. I have given you some easy stuff as a bribe to forgive me for what is to follow.

The First Test

The basic lesson in politics is to define a crisis before your opponents, detractors, define it for you. If you allow them to do that, in a culture of wild accusation without any evidence, they create a wrong perception. And since we are using proverbs, for now, leave your “betri haqi tqetn ember aytsbbern” wisdom in the drawers. Defining a crisis is the first step in solving it. And the leadership of the Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC) is facing its first testing crisis which it created. The whys would follow.

Two months after its election in a congress that was convened in Hawassa, Ethiopia, between November 22 and December 2, 2011, the ENCDC has a crisis. At the center of the crisis are several administrative and legitimacy issues. Two months after its election, zonal members do not know how they are supposed to operate. Two months after its election, some zones are eager to create a different structure, a parallel executive body. True, most zones are following the structure set in the congress except two zones: North America and Europe. Members in these zones are still debating two views: to form their own local, sort of executive, committee or leave the task to be determined by the elected executive body. And for those who are blessed with at least a 12-month old memory, this is exactly what happened to Daniel Tewelde, the local “leadership” would not have him around at all though he was an executive committee member.

The council leadership needs to give clear instructions so that Daniel’s predicament is not repeated. But I hear that instructions has been loaded and sent on a camel caravan from London and Addis Ababa and are expected to arrive by next season. Understandable: courier service is expensive, and e-mails, well, blame it on the on-and-off Internet connection, and what the heck, the power grid. That is the standard, even if you are in Europe—you have to remain loyal to the third world Internet connection and power supply—pretend Europe is a third world. There. But the fact is that our elected people in North America need their autonomy from the leadership they themselves elected. That was article 1 of section 1 of the ENCDC crisis list.

Article 2, section 2.

On January 8, 2012, the chairman of the ENCDC issued the first proclamation appointing an unelected member to the council. In a letter he sent to the appointed “political heavy-weight”, Teklai Abraha, chairman Tzeggai Yohannes wrote: “after evidence from two relevant council members, Yohannes Asmelash and Kahsay Gufla, your case has been successful.” He further states, “I have been cleared to inform you that your name will be added to the list of council members.” He added, “Yusuf Berhanu [chiarman of the executive body] is supportive of your case.”

That would be one of the mice in the office; if people do nothing but watch the mice get in without control, no one should blame others when the office is overwhelmed.

Of course, Teklai claims he is a member of the council; he can wave the council chairman’s letter at your face. This issue has been going on since the loud clapping and cheering at the congress hall in Hawassa. Being fair-minded people, we at sent repeated messages to the chairman of the council and the chairman of the executive committee: on the 11th, again on the 13th, and once more on the 14th, 17th, 19th and finally on the 26th of January. The messages carried a simple question that needed simple answers: 1) Has the list of elected members that was read at the congress changed in any way or form. 2) If it did, what are the legal avenues followed to effect the change in the congress list? And what are the changes? 3) If again there is change, was it officially communicated to all the 127 members? 4) Finally, is the number of members still 127 or it has increased, decreased or been changed in anyway?

Apart from beating around the bush, the questions were not answered at all. The intention here was, since the crisis was fomenting, a prompt reply would help frame and define the crisis properly, and inform the public accordingly. Being an ally in the fight for a democratic change, I thought myself and have a vested interest in resolving such crisis. But the leadership might have a different opinion on that.

As predicted, and as my messages implicitly warned, you cannot throw your trash everywhere and hope that stray animals do not sniff it before the crisis dies a natural death. No. Crisis have to be strangulated and not watched until they die naturally; experience teaches us, that doesn’t happen. Alas, that lesson is lost on some people.

Two days ago, someone sniffed the crisis and halleluiah, the gist of the comments on the suspect website clearly implied there is an Ethiopian hand in the appointment of Teklai. I can imagine some people calling for a wild party to celebrate, but this is not a mouse the 600 people who gathered in search of genuine democratic change and their constituencies, would give a free pass. It has to be wacked regardless of the mogogo and regardless of how many gwaylas the predictable crowd hold. Consistency is vital. Again, a Tigrinya proverb comes handy: you cannot stay awake for fear of a bad dream.

Representatives of the North American constituency have whined enough to increase their representation to the congress. They fought for more seats (proper and legitimate political move, and it was successful). They managed to snatch three more seats, actually goodwill (alms) from the constituency in Sudan who gave up 2 of their seats and the constituency of Ethiopia who gave up 1 seat. That increased the North American quota by three more seats to 16. Now the inter-neus zoba semen amarika swinging started. Teklai, the hardliner representative of what he calls “civic society” fought for two seats. His calculated allocation was 1 point-something rounded to what would be termed in the Tigrayit language as Hatte Kursi Letta. He insisted on two. The wrangling went on for a long time. Then, he did the bravest thing to do while in Ethiopia: walkout. He even declared, “I know how to struggle on my own, I want to be able to say what I please!” Some took this as a disrespect and a veiled threat. Others attempted to convince him to return—at  first they were half-successful and then they embraced total failure.

Of course the 70-something North American delegation immediately carried out its elections (most had no intention to overstay their invitation to Hawassa,) and Teklai lost a chance to compete for the seat (which I believe he would have won.)  But wrong, I mean bad, decision stood on his way.

What is amazing is that the delegation of Sudan (where a minimum of half a million Eritreans live) gave up two seats from their allocation and the Ethiopian delegation (where not less that 100,000 people live) also gave up one seat in favor of North America (where not more than 40,000 Eritreans live.) Teklai was not satisfied by all that and insisted on securing an additional second seat—maybe because he represents Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS), the most formidable organization in North America and whose influence on Eritreans is compared to the influence of the PFDJ on its crowd. This is not an outside observation, I was the impregnator and the midwife of the EGS, my hijacked, ransomed and now dead baby. It is my brainchild that I formed in 2006 together with the Eritrean Public Forum, Dallas-Fort Worth, to which was invited later. It was in those days that I began a working relationship with Teklai, who coordinated two projects brilliantly and Dr. Yonas, who did more than his share in making the EGS projects of 2006 a phenomenal success. But that is history, though there has been a heavy propaganda onslaught that portrayed EGS as a giant a thousand times its not exaggerated actual weight (unfortunately it seems some Ethiopians were gullible enough to buy into that). EGS has become a phantom association, a PR outfit for the self-promoting “board members,” a club for the not more than seven persons. In due time one might delve deeper into that sad history just to show what ails the tens of so-called ndemocrasn n’sebawi meselatn associations. In due time.

Was there an Ethiopian intervention as some elements close to Teklai have been insinuating? Honestly, nothing  will be clear on this issue unless those who are supposed to clear things up come out and explain the allegation. I have been around enough to know where this is leading, thus my decision to face it head on. And I would be mad because I defended the opposition against this allegation repeatedly.

After most of the congress attendants departed Hawassa, Hailemariam Tesfai had gathered most of those who were elected from North America and asked them if anyone would volunteer to leave his elected council-seat for Teklai. Hailemariam insinuated that Teklai has the support of Ethiopian authorities, naming two authorities, hinting that leaving a spot for Teklai would be advisable, or else! Bringing up names of Ethiopian authorities was an obvious psychological pressure. But the reaction of those who were asked to leave a spot for Teklai, of EGS, was bewilderment. Hailemariam was told to leave his own seat for Teklai if he so wishes instead of asking elected members to leave theirs. This didn’t stop there. It went on for six-weeks more until January 8th 2012 when Teklai finally received a letter from chairman Tzzegai.

Sometime in that period, SE.DE.GE.E, an opposition group to which Hailemariam is allied to, apparently decided to kick one of its elected members out and gift-wrap his seat and give it to Teklai. I have talked to tens of people: several executive and council members, as well as to people who attended the congress and all of them are angry, they have no idea how the gift offering happened; thus my describing the issue as one concluded by the issuing of a proclamation. And still, the insinuated Ethiopian connection has not been cleared—Ethiopians can advice as allies but they cannot appoint council members.

After a comment appeared three days ago on the usual suspect website, I asked the council chairman to confirm or deny the comment. He simply said it was nonsense and that “There is something which I didn’t say included and some tampered and others distorted.”

Getting an answer, let alone a straight answer, has become worse than dealing with the mice.

My Application To Buy Lake Tana

How about our Ethiopian allies, would they comment? I would rather not try that avenue again, I had a bad experience—make it plural if you wish, experiences. Of course, one cannot always deal with the PM whose answers are detailed and clear, and he leaves you contented, regardless. That is exactly what happened when I sat with him for an interview last year. Right after we were finished with the interview, I asked him for a favor: I want to buy Lake Tana. “Sure” he said. “I will inform a gentleman who will help you with the process.” A few days later I spoke with the said gentleman for hours and he probably said ten or twenty words. But he promised to communicate to me the details of how the sale would be concluded. He was cordial and expressed his willingness to help expedite things. Almost a year later, I still do not own Lake Tana! Worse, when I shared my frustration with a friend, he was unsympathetic, “you think the Ethiopians will let you have Lake Tana just like that?”

I replied, why not?

He went sarcastic on me, “you should have asked to buy Gonder instead, that would have been easier.”

Gonder, the city?

“It is less important than Lake Tana,” he said.

It was my turn to laugh. I didn’t ask to buy Lake Tana, the source of the Nile; I intended to buy “Lake Tana Wefcho Bet.” And right there I realized why the gentleman was not enthusiastic, maybe he thought I was trying  to buy the entire Ethiopian and Egyptian water source. Maybe I was dumb enough not to explain my request properly.

See! There is something wrong in the way we communicate with the Ethiopian authorities. We are shy and bashful and maybe, just maybe, we do not explain ourselves clearly. True, communication is supposed to be a two-way street; no one wants to be engaged in a monologue. But most of the authorities I met are known to express themselves in barely-enough words. They speak in the old telegram style, where messages are charged by the number of words. Understandably one has to be thrifty, words could be very expensive. You can sit and talk with them for two hours and when it is their turn to talk, they almost say nothing and leave you guessing what is in their mind. You say 100 words, they say ten, it is fair game.

On many occasions we have criticized the mismatched communication between Ethiopian authorities and the Eritrean opposition, a few times when Hebour Gebrekidan handled the so-called Sana’a Forum’s office. That is now history and we have new issues to address.

Understandably, our Ethiopian allies do not have to see the opposition as equals, they cannot be equal as, say, the PFDJ would. They are just a miserable lot, rolling stones, weak, poor, unorganized forces that should be left to wander around depending on how they fit in the large scheme of any strategy. And situations would not change unless they become formidable enough. But HOW they could become formidable is another catch 22, or the classic argument of the chicken and the egg. For example, I cannot go and buy a grain mill in Kassala since AlBashir has sold the entire Eastern Sudan to Isaias. For me, going to Kassala will be akin to going to Asmara when Melaake Mot is roaming the streets there. The Ethiopians wouldn’t sell me anything for that reason, even Lake Tana Wefcho Bet. But luckily enough, I got myself out of the ambitious project of buying anything in Addis Ababa; I discovered the Ethiopians have better, and more important, things to do than deal with my petty questions or deal with the logistics of my pettier projects.

Now for the final stuff. Let’s break the mogogo and drive the mice out with the following wishes:

  • It would be prudent and wise for the chairman to retract his appointment letter.
  • If that is not possible, it would be noble of Teklai to pull himself out, call it resignation if he wants, and continue to do what he sees fit just like anybody else.
  • It would be nice if zoba amarika and europa would immediately get their instructions on how they should operate—of course, speed is needed. The council leadership is already two-months old, and counting.
  • It would be marvelous if the Ethiopian connection to this case is cleared, I publicly offer my help here.

That was the final stuff, now I have to do my ‘finally’:

Finally, whatever happens, the overwhelming majority of Eritreans have pinned their hope on the ENCDC and they are determined to make it work. We all have enormous vested interest in its success: emotional and political. If some would be discouraged by such mishaps, the struggle is not for the fainthearted, stand firm and continue to watch closely, criticize and straighten up the performance of the ENCDC or simply get out of the way and do your thing. The ENCDC is a public domain and the public should not allow it to be either hijacked or crippled. It is our achievement and the best tool for the struggle, and we should protect it from within (inefficiency and foolishness) and from without (declared detractors under the moral guidance of the PFDJ). Don’t quiver because your institution, the ENCDC, is criticized. It is an attempted contribution towards its perfection. Welcome to Democracy.

Related information: ENCDC: Names Of Assembly Members And Executive Office Heads


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