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Eritrea and the Ethiopian Civil war

[9 mnts. reading]

Writers or speakers who discuss everything under the sun should not shy away from raising critical topics for fear of annoying a few. Discussing sensitive issues is what I intend to do in the coming few episodes.  

In today’s Negarit 149, which is an introductory episode, allow me present to all of you, who care about the freedom and equality of all citizens, and struggle to establish a just society, a airdry clay head bust of Ibrahim Sultan, the great Eritrean Emancipator who played a leading role in the eradication of class inequality among Eritrean citizens. Please note I am an amateur, though I have a passion for sculpting.

Lies and Crooked Narration

For too long, the PFDJ has been spreading lies, brainwashing the young, and confusing the Eritrean society with no challenge. It has been indoctrinating Eritreans with their one-sided narrations. Such challenges are the task of a free, non-partisan scholars, academicians, associations, and competing political parties.

Serious dialogue and correction of narrations cannot be done in the absence of freedom of expression. Therefore, it’s upon the conscious to expose the partisan history and strive to make it an all-encompassing national narration that all can embrace.

That is a national task that needs to be attended because the seemingly small issues have damaged The Eritrea social cohesion and national psyche. It must be challenged and resolved. Otherwise, they will always haunt us. We do not have to remain for Liqqi Chfliqqi, dented as an old lullaby which goes as follows:

Lemma Kiflema
Kifle Kifle Liqqi,
Liqqi Chfliggqi
W’tsa wedi Haqi…..

Material Development

Material and physical development are impressive, but they are not the only or the main measure of development, which is also not measured by military might, or by ugly structures covered in glass, nor edifices that benefit 1 or 2% of the population.

A genuine development of a nation can only be driven by an enlightened and developed mind. If the mind is cluttered with superstitions, boasting, arrogance, and primordial beliefs, the nation will lag in all aspects of life. And that starts with critiquing the culture.

Two Decades of Sloganeering

A nation that spends two decades sloganeering and screaming Weyane, will not move forward. We have been caught in that rhetoric of war for too long and forgot there is life beyond war, which must have political ends that usher peace and stability, not remain chained misery and wastage.

For the last year, the region has been consumed by the war, counting body while suffering from untold hardships. Still it’s going through mayhem. Ask any Eritrean or Ethiopian, they can detail the battles: who was defeated and who was vanquished in the series of battles. Very few look behind the wars to see the other aspects of life: social, human, economic, and political damages. We have become addicted to news about wars; sadly, the drama that kept us busy for two decades is repeating itself again.

My interest in this war is simple: the end of the nightmare called Abiy and his superstitious legacy. I believe then, the rest of the issues will be easier to resolve because its’ Abiy who took the already complicated struggle to the worst level. I hope with the demise of the PP, half the job will be done. As for the war, the longer it continues, the deeper and worse it gets.

Don’t you think there are other issues that should preoccupy the people? Like, what happens after the war wraps up? Can there be peace without stopping the centuries-old cycle of wars guided by the medieval Solomonic doctrine?  The region has been hibernating for too long.


Bears hibernate during the cold season and consume the fats they gained during the non-snowy season, and they repeat the same thing when the season is over. However, if they do not hunt enough to replenish their lost energy, they consume all the fats they accumulated over the ages. It’s like self-cannibalization.

The people of the warring region are getting weaker and weaker; they neither find physical nor mental nourishment. All consumed by wars.

In 1998 when the Badimme war was ignited, I stood against it and paid dearly. The regime made everyone believe supporting the war is the most patriotic thing to do. I refused to cheer while my country was marching towards the abyss and people were dropping by the thousands. Time proved me right and it’s no more a matter of debate. People have become victims of human trafficking, poverty, exile, lack of justice and peace, and always seeking a safe refuge. The miseries keep compounding.

Twenty years later Eritrea is involved in a war that is none of its concern. Even if it was, war and destruction is not the only way to protect your peoples’ and country’s interest. But “if you are hammer, you think everything is a nail” and you are tempted to hit it; any problem in the minds of the PFDJ regime, can only be resolved in a war. And it has already been a year and continuing. Still, Eritreans are living in appalling conditions: lack of rights and justice, eating their own stored fat and getting feeble by the day.

It saddens me to see a new wave of people who think they invented the art of cheering such a war whose fires will never reach them. I wish they remember that many cheered the Badimme war and today they are still alive in safe places, while the tens of thousands killed in that war are no more. They’re almost forgotten except by their loved ones.

The war will consume so many but finally it’ll come to an end. The agitators are only repeating the same agitation that we saw during the Badimme war, and soon they will blend in with the rest like they had no part in the destruction. I hope they have some conscience left and it will keep hurting them and that helps them to be good people.

In one of Jubran Khaleel Jubran stories, a mother who lost a child said, ‘why can’t the war br holy when my son has died in it?’. To those who lost loved ones, the wars are holy. It is at the human level. But for a country to wage an unjust war, it’s morally wrong. An army is a tool in the hands of politicians and if they see seem as dispensable, they use them. And soldiers are ordered to carry guns and fight, if they don’t, they get killed. Of course, some armies are disciplined, and others are not. But it is the nature of wars to be cruel because the bad elements take things in their hands and wreak havoc. But despite that, the nature of armies is similar.

The suffering from the endless wars is not yet resolved, and the nation is condemned to scream Weyane day in and day out. In Ethiopia, a childish megalomaniac named Aby sparked the current round of war and he is at it–he will not stop on his own unless he is stopped.

Such are the problems that requires an honest appraisal of all backward cultures that are still stuck in the medieval ages.

Critiquing the Culture

The above is my reason for deciding to address what I think is the structural faults in our psyche, caused by culture. However, for that to bear fruit, Eritreans need to have a commonly accepted national narration; I will present mine like I have been doing for many years hoping this time it leads to an honest reflection, awareness, and to a fruitful debate.

Usually, people do not pay attention to what matters; there is a lack a cohesive vision, a lack of a common, and a lack of a clear narration, and vision. If equipped with different narrations, the concerned are driven to walk aimlessly with no clear destination. And I have consistently repeated this detrimental matter and paid dearly for it.

The Habesha culture and the regional attitudes need an overhaul. War and bloodshed that has been normalized over the years should be the last resort and not the mode of life and politics. Sadly, people, including those who should know better like to live in mythologies, superstitions, and misconceived narrations.

Many need to be awakened from their slumber—the culture stinks. Yet they lack humility and do not have the courage to face reality. How many times have you seen a serious critique of the history and culture? Very little. In its place, there are a lot of prideful boasting that present the culture as if it’s the most wise, intelligent, and enlightened culture.

This is a challenge that requires knowledge, courage of citizens equipped with morale bravery, honesty, and boldness. The culture is crying to adopt enlightened values. A cultural revolution is a must to eradicate medieval, back warded thinking. The crippling superstitions and mythologies must be eradicated from the national discourses. Superstitions like the 3000-year folktale of Minelik and Mai Bela should be relegated to the venue of folktales. No enlightened person can consider defending or rationalizing it, let alone be guided by it.

An honest and clear national narration is badly needed, and that is why I will present my views on it. I will start with the history of Ibrahim Sultan and the Flag…then follow it up with demolishing other myths that the PFDJ has built over the years. And remember, the good book says, the Truth Shall Set You Free.

Eritrea will prevail. Soon, the sun will shine brightly, and justice, genuine freedom, and citizens’ dignity will be resurrected. Despite the annoying noises, never doubt that.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Berhe Y

    Dear Ismail,

    Thank you for shedding light to the report and what it entails. My contention in this whole saga from Eritrean people point of view is, specially from Eritrean opposition individuals such as many in this form and some organizations such as yiakle and others who publicly repeated the allegations that was made by TPLF and going even further by endorsing it by writing letter publicly to the president of the United States.

    My disappointment is not because they exposed or released the “crimes” but what long term consequences such as revenge it would follow towards innocent people, with giving any due care.

    I do believe similar revenge crimes were committed against innocent Eritrean refugees in Tigray, and God knows what would happen in TPLF succeed in going to Eritrea.

    Note: TPLF soldiers have committed atrocities against innocent Eritreans in Eritrea in the war of 98-00.

  • Brhan

    Selam Ustaz Ismail,
    The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have criticized Amnesty International (AI) negatively. Not only that, but also they had depicted significant world news agencies that provide like the above news, such as AJ, CNN, BBC, Reuters, as fake news providers when they reported atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers against the civilians in Tigray.

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Selam Brhan & Ismailo,

      The report of “AI” is by a remote control interview from Washington DC, by phones. Let us wait for direct on ground interviews, where the AI or other independent investigators could conduct their unfettered investigations. I am sure there are all kind of crimes in this senseless war. But we are also aware that there is no access to the crime scenes to do the necessary investigations.


  • Brhan

    Hello awatistas,
    Tigray rebels raped women in Ethiopia’s Amhara region: Amnesty
    Amnesty International found evidence of brutal acts committed by TPLF fighters during an offensive in August.
    AJ 10 NOV 2021

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam SGJ,

    This is good piece to fight the culture that clogged our political discourse. Good endeavor to tackle it. My take home statement from your piece is:

    “If the mind is cluttered with superstitions, boasting, arrogance, and primordial beliefs, the nation will lag in all aspects of life.”

    Indeed, the mind of Eritreans is cluttered with “boasting, arrogance, and primordial beliefs” that becomes the fertile ground for brainwashing the mind of our society.


    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Emma,
      The Brainwashing is malignant because many do not even realize it’s happening.

      • iSem

        Hi Saleh:
        I have a question for you. Who came first brainwashing or PFDJ/EPLF?

        • Saleh Johar

          Of course brainwashing came first–the PFDJ’s complexity is induced by some sort of brainwashing 🙂

  • iSem

    The self-loathing Tigrayans are conspiring with PFDJ and our compatriots are in love with them
    Among these self-loathing Tigrayans is Hermela Aregawi, who in her illogical analysis said that the USA and main stream media is helping TPLF. This is unhinged. If you believe the popular wisdom the west wants/favors a united Ethiopia, then its interests can only be aligned with Ethiopia not TPLF. Criticizing TDF/TPLF is one thing but making illogical statement like this another thing. It kills brain cells to boot.
    Hermela continued, since they (TPLF) were in power for 30 years and they were good friends with the west, now the west is helping them.
    It was the west who delayed TPLF’s march to AA in 1991 when they were stuck in Tigray since 1989. Granted, they were navigating and negotiating the creation of EPRDF but the west also told them to slow down until they architect the new reality.
    And TPLF transferred power peacefully, unheard of in the history of Ethiopia and journalist and American Hermela is still underwhelmed by that.By the way USA did not have peaceful transfer of power in jan 2021. She also plays the woman card, “I can think, I am a woman.” If that is her issue then I think women fared better in TPLF during the armed struggle than in her Ethiopia, where girls are kidnapped to bed wed (zirreffa)
    Those who are admiring Hermela like my friend Beyan, I wonder if her collaboration with YPFD and PFDJ stooges like Simon Tesfarmairm disturbs them. I am not sure why Beyan is attacked to such people, for example he shared with the forum an outlet that was supported to be the antidote to the western media bias and in the link certain Eugen was interviewed and the interviewer asked leading questions and Simon Tesfamariam was quoted by interviewer and interviewee and Eugen told us that Eritrea got the bad wrap because it is independent thinker, and it defies the west. Hello? Coalition of the willing, use our land to launch attack against Afghanistan because Eritrean terrain resembles the Afghanistan’s. It may. But Taliban resembles PFDJ.

  • Haile S.

    Selam Saleh

    Admirable real talent, nice sculpting! Indeed it reminds of Ibrahim Sultan. There is only one thing missing, his shadow. I mean WelWel. Had you sculpted the later, I would had said the same of the former. In the minds of Eritreans these giants are like Siamese twins. No worries, I am sure WeWel is somewhere around in-thought with you guys.

    Saleh, saying the above, I am not trying to drag you to the current 50:50 controversy of some opposition 4 to 4 standings. The foundation of Eritrean and its history is indeed 50:50. I don’t think there is way around it. Moreover, even far beyond the houses of worship, at every conjuncture, in love and war, we tend to align in 50:50, including on the current Ethiopian civil war. ኣጉዶ ኣጉዶ or Newton’s third law applies in Eritrean politics and at individual level equally as in nature. ውግእ ሓድሕድ is in your own house, Saleh! I mean Awate.

    As you aptly repeated, instead of looking forward, we watch sideways to the reaction of the action. Our action and reaction are part of the ongoing Ethiopian civil war. The actual blood spilling Ethiopian civil war didn’t start at the southern tip of the border of Tigray. The simmering lava between Ethiopian and Eritrean leaderships since 1998 gave rise to the current civil war in Ethiopia. Looking at them separately or presenting Eritrea as intervening in Ethiopian civil war is prolonging the ongoing Eritrean civil war, if at all the Ethiopian one subsides. BTW, when did Ethiopia stopped intervening in the Eritrean civil war? Therefore, I see the title of your episode as entitled as “Eritrean civil war and Ethiopian civil war” or ውግእ ሓድሕድ ኤርትራንን ውግእ ሓድሕድ ኢትዮጵያን!

    At the end, you said “… Soon, the sun will shine …”. It reminds me of Jim Reeves song “Across the Bridge…”. Before you run to conclusions, I am thinking of the earthy bridge. Heavenly people know of the heavenly one 😁

    • Ismail AA

      Selam Haile S,

      You never shift focus of where to begin reading anything posted in the front page. That is a wonderful habit. In the good old days, some of our teachers used to include in their exam questions the titles of books we had to read. Many used to lose a point or two for not paying attention to the tile of the book. I was told once when I was in college that when Emperor Hailesellassie visit the library he used to stand, randomly, above a student on the readers’ table and asked the student who the author of the book was. That is important because reading is like food. You have to take a little and taste it before devouring it.

      Now, you might have noticed why I digressed a bit from the point I wanted to state. You have aptly characterized Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan and Wel Wel “like Siamese twins.” This relationship had always intrigued me when Wel Wel returned from exile to liberated Eritrea without his Siamese twin brother. They were inseparable duo as far as Eritrea and its fate went. I wondered why he did not put up the case of Sheikh Ibrahim as condition for his return of his Siamese brother. Later on, I could feel his pain in his tribute when Sheikh Ibrahim died and buried in exile. I am sure you remember his famous “ይዝከረካዶ” lamentation. I think I asked or commented his biographer, Dawit Mesfin, if he knew anything why We Wel missed that opportunity of having Ibrahim Sultan back in his country and getting buried there. Dawit did not have anything on that.

      • Haile S.

        Selam Ismail,

        Your always complemeting comment is heart warming and knowledge arming to those who come in peace and desarming to those that come brandishing a spear!

        Believe me Ismail, I asked myself the same question, and I saw this coming, when I said Siamese twins. Why didn’t Welwel insist bringing his twin home. A strong opposition from the authorities was the possibility, but for what reason? The other possibility I would like to present in a form of question is: Is there any rule in Islam that prevents body from exhumation and relocation?

        • Ismail AA

          Selam Haile S.,

          A question that never crossed my mind, and worth consulting experts in Fiqh or jurisprudence. Sheikh Saleh may have a clue; you know he is an endowed inquisitive boy that he was, and still is as an adult. I suspect this might have not escape his inquisitive mind. Anyway, I have never heard about relocation of remains thus far. You have stated an important question we will have to get an answer for it because leaders and fighters are being buried in the land of their exile. The late Osman Saleh Sabbe died in Cairo, but I heard he willed to be buried near the borders of his country, and the nearest was Kassala, Sudan.

          • Haile S.

            Selam Ismail,

            Thank you for the detailed response. Although a direct answer is the solution, this is a strong possibility. People tend to take or paste a shortcut interpretation to religious recommendations and it is conceivable some don’t even consider such an act by saying Islam is strict on this and that, full-stop!

    • Saleh Johar

      Indeed Haile, Siamese twins they are. But I did Ibrahim Sultan first for a reason, you just have to trust me on that until you find out. But I am just starting…

      Thank you for the input, always to the point. I found a few who do not see the entire message, but admonished me because “sculpting is Haram.” As if I will pray five times a day facing the bust of Ibrahim Sultan that I sculpted 🙂 Patience my friend, there are many things that need addressing on the way we think.

  • Ismail AA

    Selam Saleh,

    You are striving to take up alone a mammoth endeavor a nation in state should have done. God help you. Exorcizing a nation of primeval myths meshed in customs and traditions that transcend the faiths which stultify the psyches and attitudes of individuals in a society like ours need an army of social and cultural enlightenment prophets with some kind of revealed truth.

    Mind you what you are saying that you are set to challenge will be confronted by the very people you want to provoke, namely, the enlightened and the learned among us. But, you are aware that at the center of our failure to even start and develop a national narrative at the seams that connect the components of the society lies the fact that instead of producing forward looking class enlighteners, we have been producing a class that could not dare to think and operate outside the clusters from which they originate. They just go back, loyally, to where they start: culture, tradition and religion starting from the village level.

    Of course, there is thing wrong with being proud of the things I mentioned. But, the challenge is how to craft visions with roots in good of those things, and developing a attitudes and culture that sustain and develop a narrative at the level of the superstructure, which we call a national state.

    Looking forward to learn more of the series you intend to work.

    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Ismael,
      Am I alone in this 🙂 Never believed such an undertaking can be accomplished by a lone soldier, but I know there are many who are not saying what bothers them. And that is a “mammoth” crowd that I appealing to, wishing they become vocal.

      But I feel your message has a vital input and I will like to hear more on how it can be handled. Thanks