Civil and Military (Negarit 223)
The most serious social problem in many countries, including the Horn of Africa, is that the nations are so militarized. That has led to the morphing of the military life in the civilian space. And since the regimes depend on brute forces as an alternative to a legitimate governing mandate, military behavior and attitude take over all aspects of life.
Military cultures are mostly looking for enemies. If they cannot find one, they create it, even if part of the society becomes the enemy. It’s always WE and THEM; the WE is constant, the loyal citizen (more like a subject, but the THEM is a shifting target, as needed. The them becomes a gang, a groupie, while the WE are the noble, the dedicated and the patriots. And when the need arises for mobilization, which is always, catchy populist phrases are crafted to attract new loyalists or keep the old.
Crowds and crowds
Most animals have mating seasons, except male dogs who are always ready—the females need conducive environment, a romantic setting like a dark alley, or under a bridge. At least that is how I remember it. Then someone sees the dogs doing the unthinkable in the open, never mind it’s a secluded place if not for the preying eyes of a child. The child shouts and invites more onlookers; someone pelts the dogs with stones in disgust, but they are helplessly connected. The crowd grows, some kick the dogs with sticks; the dogs keep pulling each other aimlessly—it’s like a tram that can travel to the opposite directions—now imagine two drivers insists on driving the tram to different directions. I don’t know if that act of pelting dogs is yet to be criminalized in Eritrea.
When actions are taken by crowds, it shows unity of destiny, even if it’s pelting dogs with stones. The mannerism is certainly not in the DNA, but the animal instinct of hunting in groups.
When I was in Grade four, we went to the boys’ section and across from our classes were the girls’ section. The buidling as a bit elevated, with wide windows, and it looked as if the girls were sitting on a bus. The famous movie Mother India was popular and had influenced the youth. One student fell in love with a conservative girl who sat on the buss, by the window. He would lead us to the lawn under the windows and will roll on the grass imitating the singing actors in Mother. He sung to the girl in India: Meri Mahabbet ….
The girls brother went to that school and watched helplessly while his sister as being harassed. Then his well-built uncles came to town and the little brother complained to him. One morning they both came to the school and the boy showed him the Indian Singing boys—the uncle didn’t tell the headmaster of the teachers; he just took matters in his hand and beat up the harassing boys until they cried uncle. They stopped harassing the girl and she was relieved.
We had an Ethiopian teacher with exceptionally long neck, which became his nick. He taught us Amharic. The cover of the books and exercise books all carried Haile Selassie’s picture, his queen, his heir apparent and… it looked like his family album. One student, Ali, who died a few years again in Melbourne, Australia, used his sharp pencil to poke eyes in the pictures of the royal family. The long-necked teacher saw that and was so angry, he run to the headmaster to complain. Then he threatened to call the Ethiopian army garrison which was nearby. I don’t know how, but they dissuaded him not to. He calmed down. But Ali sneaked out of the headmaster’s office which had become an interrogation room and disappeared. He never returned to school.
And the way we speak, our tone and cadence mean more that the spoken words. The regime loyalists are good at it—like the block who thought he was insulting me—you subscribers beggar! That doesn’t stop me from asking my audience to subscribe and the remainder is working . But my generosity with vulgar commentators has thinned up. If people do not learn how to comment with decency and respect, they shouldn’t be allowed to comment. I don’t even think they should have any Internet gadget. So, I have resolved it; vulgar, disrespectful, insults will go straight to the trash bin where they belong. At least my respected audience should not be exposed to the dirty comments.
I laughed for days when I first learned what I knew to be undershirts are actually called wife-beaters. WE have wife beaters who would do that even when they are not wearing the thingy.
Imagine your abusive father comes home intoxicated and always beats your mother. If you are a small child, you go to the corner terrified and watch the scene while sobbing. You are helpless you can do anything to stop your drunk father.
If you are a young teen, feeling you are growing up though not yet there, you either try to convince your father to stop or show your displeasure. Still, you pray that you grow up quickly so that you can challenge and scare your father to stop. Otherwise, he might take a break from y0our mother and starts beating you up. The worst is that just learn the bad habits from him and soon you become a clone of your abusive father.
If you are an adult and a regime supporter, you scream at your mother, “he is drunk, can’t you see, why do you cry and make it worse, just be patient and don’t challenge my father”. And you will never contemplate protecting your mother, like the brave uncle did to stop the wannabe Indian singers from harassing his niece. That is what is expected from a son by his mother, and from a citizen from his compatriots.
If you have been to Rome, you must have visited the beautiful tourist attraction Villa Borghese. Borghese is the origin of the term Bourgeoise, which Marxism-Leninism popularized. But originally it meant the Middle Class. It’s like the Egyptian/Turkish word “Effendi”. The middle class is at least expected to be well dressed, better educated, and has civil characteristics. In Eritrea, we translated the word Borghese as Berges, which mean civil, that is why Civil Associations are called Berges. Similarly, security forces, spies and the like take off their uniforms and don civilian clothes (Berges clothes).
So, our problem in Eritrea is that a big chunk of the society forgot they are Berges and act as soldiers. And what do activist want from them? Just to be civilians. In a confrontation between citizens and the government, civilians should stand and support citizens, not the oppressing government. And if you express your opposition to arbitrary, arrests, imprisonment with trail, not visitation rights for prisoners and no known sentencing, they are agitated. They don’t think civilians should second guess the government and if you don’t stop talking about such stuff, you will become a legitimate target of vilification, defamation, insulting and disrespect—and worse things may happen to you.
A nation that doesn’t look after the interest of its citizens, is doomed. A citizen who doesn’t sympathize with a wronged citizen weaken the nation, pulls it down and cripples it. And such a nation has serious structural and moral faults; unless such issues are rectified, there won’t be neither peace, stability, nor prosperity.
NB: One item from the video is omitted, I decided to expand on it in another episode
This is a rough transcription of my video Negarit 223: Civil And Military