Eritrea: Tell the Truth and Sleep on the Railroad

There is a timeless Eritrean saying, “Haqqi Tezaribka ab megedi Babur deqqs”, (say the truth and sleep on the railway). It’s an exaggerated statement that encourages people to speak the truth and if they did, even the train will not run over them. I did try it a few days ago, I slept on the railroad—the train just passed ov er me and I am still alive. Watch the evidence at the 8:32 mark of the video above.

What’s truth?

What does Truth, as a noun, mean? Why are we obsessed with truth though many tell concealed lies? But what is a lie? Is truth and lies two opposites and if a statement is not true, it must be a lie? Within the cultural context, we tolerate veiled lies for the sake of social decorum, abiding by the tradition of “qal Alem”, a sort of a white lie”. Any other considerations for telling a lie veiled as truth? Does culture and language have a role in that? What if someone hiding the truth for a valid reason, to save his life or the lives of others, is it still a lie?

Almost everybody who visits a new mother would look at the baby and pretend to be taken by its beauty. Babies are beautiful but what if you don’t think that specific baby is not so? It’s a social obligation to speak nice to others and not hurt their feeling or be rude. And Social decorum requires that you say good words to the mother “Oh… what a beautiful baby” even if you do not think so, would that be lying?

If you are describing your father to others, would you tell them he was a drunkard who beat up your mother regularly? You wouldn’t do so if you are loyal to your family and safe them the embarrassment. But would you still be lying?

If soldiers are searching for you in a gffa (for involuntary conscription), and your mother insisted she  doesn’t know when you are though she showed you where to hide when they search the place. Would she be lying? But we know that a mother’s compassion and love trigger a reflex action to protect her child. Nevertheless, isn’t that a lie? Of course, we know in the case of Eritrea, the government will not only consider her a Lier, but an accomplice to the crime of draft dodging.

Some of the questions might seem straight forwards, and the answers obviously are clear. Is it so? Try to think about it on your own and philosophize. Such questions are the basic raw materials of philosophy.

Most religious societies get their idea about truth and lies from scriptures. Generally, they tell us not to lie. Children learn that from childhood, starting with the Ten Commandments of Moses. The ninth is “Thou shall not bear false witness.” In short,  don’t lie. The bible says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). In the Koran, the common prayer after burying someone is to ask, “Oh Allah, allow the deceased a place among the martyrs and the truthful.” As children, if you uttered a bad word, or a lie, the elders sternly ordered us or to spit it out, literally, and bite our tongue. It’s symbolic training to demonstrate how awful lying is.

Truth and Lies in Politics

I once read a story about two twin brothers, Mr. Haqi (truth), a humble person and Mr. Hasot (Lie) a cheat. Lie challenged Truth to a swimming race across the river and back to where they started from, arrogantly declaring he will win the race. The provoked Truth agreed; they both removed their clothes. Lie started to count, 1, 2, 3, Jump! Truth jumped and started to swim frantically. Lie had another plan, he put on Truth’s nice clothes and walked to town impersonating Truth who returned to the shore only to find Lie’s tattered clothes. He wouldn’t put on Lie’s clothes and walked to town naked. People laughed at him; in vain, he tried to explain that Lie has deceived him and that he was Truth. They wouldn’t believe him but continued to mock him.

Lie was an impersonator, having Truth’s clothes on, and they have no reason to disbelieve him. The town’s people would rather believe the well-dressed Lie than the naked Truth.

Just like the town’s people, many would rather believe a veiled Lie and shun the naked Truth.

Serving The Truth

The PFDJ’s (Eritrea’s ruling party) media slogan is Serving the Truth. They believe they are the voice of truth which makes everybody else the voice of lies! And that is the naked truth that many would not dare question.

Truth is just a word unless we think about the situation or other things that the word is describing; the word alone doesn’t say much. If a child is told from infancy that Blood is blue and the sky is red, the child will have that worldview. If he cuts his fingers and blood oozes, he will see the blood as blue and the sky as red. The same with truth; we learn the meaning of truth and lies from infancy. But some relearn the meaning of truth and lies in adulthood and find it uncomfortable to change. Reasoning out with such people is so difficult.

The notion of truth describes many noble values, mostly conventional understanding of Truth as opposed to lies. But does something become true simply because power, or you claimed it is?

Watch Isaias Afwerki’s claims in the clip above and Judge for yourself.

Are we (Eritrea) number one as he claims? In what race, or competition or comparison?

It’s just a feel-good propaganda statement. The world has seen many such statements made by rulers who are fond of creating their own reality.

But what is Truth?

Truth also means, right, (mesel). If a worker complains to someone that his employer refused to pay him, ‘Come’ on, give him right’, (give him his Haqu, his rights, his mesel).

Haqi also means correct, qnouE.

“Berhane beat up Tesfai”
“Because he muddied his clothes”
Haqu, Tsebuq gebero…. Meaning he was right in doing so, Tesfai deserves it.

The ninth commandment is against lying but we can surmise it shuns gossip, spreading lies. And I have an example.

There is a guy on who I spent hours of my time mentoring and helping him. I had hopes on him. But then I concluded he was badly damaged; he had attended the PFDJ indoctrination school in Eritrea. We talked on the phone regularly; I helped him polish his writing and gave him all the advice I could.  He was as Green as a vegetable when I first spoke to him. And I thought he was eager to learn but then he started to send me his private communication with his PFDJ friends. But when it comes to editing his articles that he sent for publication on, it was terrible to read. I spent hours editing his work, but he never liked being corrected. I was the editor, by I had my articles edited by my colleagues! That annoyed him so much and our relations deteriorated.

It has been about more than five years since he started a campaign to attack and defame me for no reason. If I was in talking terms with him, I would have explained to him more about the Mirqaniya sect and what Muslim brotherhood means. But he thought he was an expert on the subject with rudimentary knowledge; it’s not only wrong, but also embarrassing. Once he asked me if we at are adopted or sponsored by the “Illuminati” and I was shocked. Still, he doubled down, “I know you wouldn’t admit it, but I know a few knowledgeable people who explained to me how the media works, it’s the work of the Illuminati.” By then, he had only been in Europe for about a year, and he thought he knew everything.

That is how impressionable persons behave; they adopt the position and explanation of the last person they met. And without thinking it over, they keep blurting what they heard, and consider themselves experts. Unfortunately, there are similarly impressionable people who consume their hyperbole.

And I remembered a quote by the Irish Novelist George Bernard Shaw: “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise, they’ll kill you”

I understand how the PFDJ, and its satellites operate, the despicable propagandists are not afraid of truth per se, but they are terrified of being mocked, hated, and isolated by their narrow circles. That is what drove him to the camp of the fascists and bigots.

As we know, social media inundated with lies, gossip, and defamation? They are mostly lies wrapped in a true misleading veneer of truth. Why do people tend to believe lies without ascertaining if they are correct?

It’s like the story of Mr. lie, the guy who wears Mr. Truth’s clothes and became believable. Our gossipers do not believe the likes of Mr. Truth. And I am beginning to think of the other of ‘Les Misérables’, the French writer and politician Victor Hugo, “It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie.”

I need your advice. I do not like to go the gutter by responding to the many who are abusing my name and making wild allegations against me. I have avoided giving them weight though a few times I couldn’t resist their lies and destructive campaigns against Eritreans and had to reply to them. What do you think: shall I keep ignoring them though there is a risk my silence becomes a lie as Victor Hugo Said? Shat I serve them threefold the size of the plate they are forcing on me? You are my friends, allies, fans and young students and I am soliciting your advice. Please tell me how to treat the rascals?

Finally, imagine how serene Eritrea would be without such foul-mouthed urchins whose main mission is to spread lies, gossip, vulgarity, and worse, cheer for chaos and bloodshed! That is the kind of Eritrea I dream of, without the street boys. And I am hopeful one day it will be a reality. Imagine a society that respects itself and others. A nation that protects the rights and dignity of its citizens and others. A nation that will be so peaceful and successful it will gain a special status among nation.

I know a lady in the Netherlands who Tells me, “nmen illuwo Saleh wedey,” (My son Saleh, God wouldn’t deny us that!). That expression is stuck in my memory, Nmen Iluwo.


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