The last week, since September 1, 2018, has been very difficult for me. It was a roller coaster trip of painful memories that I suppressed to avoid disrupting anything I was doing. Since the first day, I thought of setting up a website with lofty goals. Initially, I thought Eritreans deserved an alternative voice. The PFDJ voice was drowning any voice that doesn’t comply with its vision, and with the goals of its leader whose deceptive plans are being exposed with every passing day. Now I feel vindicated, though the feeling has been building up to its gradual culmination by yesterday morning.
In 1999 when I was deciding on the branding of the website, I had to identify what were the problems at the time as I saw them. Deciding on how to position was difficult and needed a conscious gambling. And I concluded that our problems increased because we abandoned the reasons for which the Eritrean struggle was launched. My findings convinced me to settle for the Awate brand name and I tried to position it on the ideals for which the great man stood: a positioning strategy built on the idea of reconciliation. Thereafter, it was natural for the band to derive its strength from the name Awate as an icon, an appealing logo that represented our long struggle for freedom. Undoubtedly, the man was revered by all Eritreans worth their salt; the rest was just fed with negative propaganda that made them resist the Awate brand.
One thing that needs mentioning is that my background is marketing. And before I abandoned the profession for reasons that had a lot to do with the 1998-2000 border war, and the cruel punishment I received at the hands of both the Eritrean and Ethiopian government, the vilification and defamation I had to endure, my familiarity with branding, positioning, and advertising came handy—I used my experience in establishing and running awate.com. Also, being wronged not by one, but by two governments, added to my zeal, and I sensed that I was standing on the right and firm spot.
Thereafter, I was determined to endure more abuses by the PFDJ and its satellites. Undoubtedly, I was sure that at the end, Hamid Idris Awate will be vindicated because his ideas were the core of Eritreanism. In addition, I was sure Awate was neither provincial nor sectarian and certainly not a highway bandit—sad descriptions that were attached to his name and sustained over the years by relentless propaganda campaigns. At the core of the subtle propaganda and vilification of Hamid Idris Awate Isaias and his obsession to be considered the father of Eritrea, the only person who mattered in the making of modern Eritrea, sidelining his teachers, his mentors, and his recruiters who made him join the struggle in the first place. And he was aware he had an uphill battle ahead of him; destroying the name of Awate was not an easy feat, but he has been trying his best (with some success) for many years,
Introduction to the risk within the struggle
When I joined the struggle at a very young age, I came across a barrage of anti-Isaias information that I had difficulty accepting. Naively, I suspected those who narrated stories about him were jealous people who were driven by personal hate and grudges—I never imagined he could be this bad. In fact, I argued vehemently against the negative stories I heard about Isaias. Yet, I maintained an ignorant, misinformed and a bit dismissive attitude. Now, it has been a while since I recognized my naivete and wrong understanding of the situation. It was a crooked understanding that made it difficult for me to accept that one person, even if an opportunity availed itself, could wreak havoc in the fate of a country and push it to the edges of an abyss.
Today, I believe, it is the right time to publicly apologize to all those I disbelieved and mocked, to all those with whom I argued about issues they knew and that I had no clue about. I apologize to all the elder veterans of the struggle who tried their best to warn my generation about the man destroying Eritrea today. For many of us it was too late when we found out the truth about the cruel man who has turned Eritrea in the sorry state it finds itself in.
During the first few years after its launch on September 1, 2000, the attacks on awate.com, and on me personally, were so relentless that close friends suggested I consider rebranding the website, abolish the name of Awate from its pages, and forget the flag he carried. It was painful, but I resisted and kept the Awate banner alive. In 2012, when the name of Awate was publicly besmirched from within the opposition, I was furious because I was sure what the end goal of that exercise was: annul the ideals of Awate (by besmirching his name) and the foundation on which modern Eritrea stands will be fractured to be left standing there in a helpless state.
The above-mentioned canning exercise was aimed at denying Eritreans their history, their sacrifices and to undermine their aspiration for freedom and dignity. Most people in the opposition understood the target was not Awate the man alone, but the whole Eritrean entity. That was the time when it became fashionable to deface the history of Hamid Idris Awate, and vengefully denigrate our history and our sacrifices. Paltalk rooms, Internet pages, speeches, and many aggressive anti-awate and anti-Eritrea campaigns were launched in a concerted manner. Luckily, many activists realized that what was at stake was not the name of Hamid Idris Awate alone, but the entire Eritrean arduous journey, and the collective national narration that we have been recording since 1961.
It was natural that I reacted in an equally aggressive manner to defend the integrity of Hamid Idris Awate, creating many enemies in the process. But regardless, I renewed my pledge to continue defending the great Awate, the symbol of modern Eritreanism.
Usually, every September 1st, awate.com used to highlight the struggle and history of Hamid Idris Awate. But we were always at a disadvantage because we lacked a scholarly history of Awate, the “sharp, courageous, decisive and strong” man. We depended on folktales, memories, and stories passed from veterans of the struggle. Sadly, as rich and as colorful as the narrations were, they could not stand a serious scholarly scrutiny—we were suffering from crippling deficiencies of authenticated narration. Luckily, there came a man whom I never heard before, but immediately felt he was Godsent. I am talking about my brother in Eritreanism, Hailesellassie, whose decades of hard work came in a book that he recently launched in Asmara.
The news was very emotional to me. Awate, the name, the image, and logo that many of the PFDJ satellites (and others) faulted us for using as a brand on our website, is now on a cover of a book printed in Asmara!. That was the same picture awate.com carries, and the same flag we associated with Awate simply because it’s impossible to associate Awate with any other flag. The book cover and the awate logo are the same—and that is what I consider vindication.
The flag from Tora-Bora!
Over the years, PFDJ functionaries described the blue Eritrean flag as “the one hoisted in Tora Bora” when Tora Bora was a household name during the war against AlQaeda, Bin-Laden, and Taliban in Afghanistan. The implication is very clear, it was a reckless campaign to paint Hamid Idris Awate, and by extension, Awate.com, as a sectarian entity. We know those who were behind that campaign, though now they have assumed the role of an ostrich and have their heads buried in the sand. It all came to pass.
Haileselassie Woldu, the vindicator
Yesterday morning I watched the author being interviewed by *Alemseghed Tesfai, another giant scholar I greatly admire. Alemseghed’s works are unparalleled, every page in the books he wrote oozes with an aroma of a genuine fragrance of Eritreanism. I have read and enjoyed all of Alemseghed’s books, and I have a special place in my heart for him. However, since today, since I am talking about Hailesselassie, I am feeling that I have a telepathic connection with him because I am feeling he wrote his book just to vindicate me. In fact, I might have become very-self-centered, I didn’t care about the rest, I simply felt the book was written to vindicate Saleh Johar after two-decades of vilification for believing and advancing the ideals that Hamid Idris Awate stood for.
Haileselassie Woldu just launched his 504 page Tigrinya book, “Hamid Idris Awate -1915-1962”—and it’s on sale on Amazon, priced at $25.You can order it by following this link. I strongly recommend it to everyone who reads Tigrinya—I have just placed my order. I even recommend it to the doubters for they could learn something—it may help them avoid foolishly parroting reckless partisan propaganda.
To Haileselassie Woldu, my spiritual brother, my Eritrean brother, I would like to say Thank You. Indeed, I waited for him for many years without knowing he existed. However, I knew there had to be someone out there doing this job. It was a visceral feeling. I knew he existed. Hopefully, he will accept my heartfelt admiration for the great job he accomplished, for the task that required a toil of a lifetime, and for “putting the dots on the alphabets” as the Arabic saying goes. Moreover, I thank him for coming to my rescue, for vindicating me and my colleagues. I still believe that nothing defeats truth and Haileselassie came with the truth to defeat all the reckless, destructive lies and propaganda that crippled our society for too long and severely tarnished our struggle and muddied our politics. I wish him a long and prosperous life, a life of giving more because certainly, he has it in him.
Recognizing those who waged the tough struggle
On this occasion, I would like to recognize all those who relentlessly and resolutely struggled to rehabilitate and safeguard the damaged name of Hamid Idris Awate. They include activists, poets, singers, painters, and writers. Also, on this occasion, I would like to recognize the talented painter Suleiman Bekhit who gave Eritreans the beautiful painting, a reproduction of the iconic picture of Hamid Idris Awate on a horseback.
Finally, I would like to remind all my colleagues, friends, and others reading this, that the main goal for which I launched awate.com was the difficult task of reconciliation. I still strongly believe in the noble cause. However, my vision of reconciliation is not one of capitulation, it is not a reconciliation where citizens bow their heads down in humility, but one where they meet with heads up to restore their dignity and cement their genuine Eritrean unity. I ask my compatriots to help bolster our determination to serve our people, and our commitment to realize a good life for our people. I say that with full confidence that Eritrea owns all the goodwill of its citizens. We should all strive to realize the Eritrea of our dreams, the Eritrea of a proud, dignified citizen–a stable Eritrea at peace with itself and its neighbors. And of course, it is the Eritrea where many of us have burned their lives for, and the Eritrea where we witnessed the lives of our compatriots, our peers, and sadly even our children, being paid for it as a dowry. It was an expensive undertaking and the outcome must match the sacrifices, nothing less.
An appeal from the heart
Dear Eritreans, in the name of those who paid the ultimate price, I urge you all to face the new challenges that our country is facing, in unison. We deserve a better country and our people deserve a better life. A life of dignity, free of fear. Let’s tighten our belts for the sake of the living and as a recognition of the sacrifices of those who are not with us anymore.
* The interviewer, I discovered, is not Alemseghed Tesfai but the poet Efrem Habtestion (akaWedi Ghede). It is nice to be introduced to the poet Efrem, but my words about Alemseghed stay the same. I apologize for the error.