First Europe, Then Addis Congress

I am accustomed to always report to my readers whenever I return from my travels. Here is my report covering a four-week tour to Europe that started  towards the end of September. I delivered speeches in Birmingham, London (UK) followed by Frankfurt (Germany), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), and finally two speeches in Stockholm (Sweden).

My speeches were under the theme of ‘Language and Religion In the Eritrean Politics’ and I developed a sub-title for each of the five speeches that slightly differed but mainly focused on Religious Coexistence. I had a great audience in all places and in some I faced intelligent, serious but respectful challenges to my views. I learned a lot from the challenges and there are points that I noted for further sharpening and scrutiny—it was a great learning journey for me.

I also had the opportunity to be interviewed by AlHiwar TV (Part 1, and Part 2), and another one with two colleagues at AlMusteqila (I do not have a copy or link to that interview) and finally an interview with TV Adal which will soon be on youtube (part 1 and 2 for each of the Arabic interview, with Mohammed Nur Kerrani and the Tigrinya interview with Negash Osman). Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to do a planned one with TV Zete; my friend Mehari’s schedule and mine clashed—I really wished to spend more time with Mehari, but hopefully soon.

A few days ago I read a comment on A gentleman accused me of promoting my Beni Amer tribe!  Indeed, one should not talk about others unless they are his tribal kins. No my friend, I am not a Beni Amer, but it is an Eritrean tribe and therefore, I am concerned about their welfare. I was not a Pente or Jehova witness when I contributed to publicizing their plight. I was not Kunama or Afar when I promote their plight. For those who care, the plight of the Beni Amer is two-pronged: both Isaias and Al Bashir are conspiring to keep them marginalized. They forget that the camel, as patient as it is, can run out of patience and rage furiously.

Incidentally, an Eritrean who grew up in the Sudan, and whose knowledge about Eritrean social fabric is a little better than the knowledge of the British queen told me that all the Beni Amer in Sudan has become Sudanese, and I should give up on them. Well, if people live and become English their patriotism is not questioned, but if an Eritrean lives and carries a Sudanese passport, his patriotism is questioned! Call it chauvinism, or empty arrogance, I consider it boundless stupidity. Most of the first dozen of Hamid Awate’s colleagues, the seed of the Eritrean armed struggle, came from Sudan and died fighting Haile Sellasie’s forces. More Eritreans from Sudan followed and built the liberation army that finally achieved the independence that Isaias and his clique bastardized. But that is history, and history is stubborn and doesn’t get erased easily. Back to the main issue…

I have never been to either the UK or Sweden and you can imagine the shock when I discovered the narrow lanes of the streets there. I think they initially divided the lanes for bicycles but then decided to run cars on them. The buses of England could have been motor homes for California hippies before they painted them red and converted them into buses. Clever indeed. Britain still has a few indigenous British residents whom I spotted in the streets and this confirmed to me my earlier view that in the UK we have created, like in other countries, a real ne’ous zoba for the Eritrean empire. I didn’t see the Big Ben, or the parliament building, or the Thames River…or even Hyde Park; but I didn’t feel I missed much since I had seen enough of them on the National Geography channel.

A friend in the USA has heard so much about Costa, the English equivalent of Starbacks, that he asked me to bring him a picture of the place. I forgot to do that—I sent him a cheat picture of the place copied from Google images. All right, it is more the equivalent of Jalya or Bet Sehfet of the old. If you sit there and wait long enough, you will find anyone you need to meet. And I envy them, they are not dying of boredom and loneliness like many of us in the USA who had to drive two hours to meet people and have many inspiring conversation—and certainly some negative energy. In short, London is a more of a ne’ous zoba than I expected. It is an Eritrea away from Eritrea, lively, competitive (on partisan grounds) and it is home to Hyde Park, the speakers’ corner. It is a beacon of speech (free or otherwise) and politics, and it was the capital of an empire where the sun never set—never mind the sun hardly shines over London now.

Eritreans in the UK are so calm that I wondered why they are different in the Internet, unlike their coolness in reality. I was even reprimanded with disciplining looks by a friend when I complained to a waiter for waiting almost an hour for an order to be served. I smiled and said to the waiter, “would your Excellency bring us the order please!” There. Forty days in the UK and you would begin to act saintly even when you are far from being one.

But I met two gentlemen who surprised me and I have to mention it here: Kiros and Mansour. They are both members of the EPDP and having talked to those two soft-spoken gentlemen, I officially forgive the chaff of the party who are fond of picking fights. I encouraged them to convert themselves into viruses and contaminate their few restless colleagues in America. Thank you Kiros and Mensour for being real gentlemen. So much for the UK, I might infuriate some people if I say more…my fond memories of the conversation I had are now my own. And yes, before I forget, I also sold a few copies of my book, ‘Of Kings And Bandits,’ now the usual Hasadat who were still boiling with spite and envy can burn their hearts some more; in such a situation, the texting crowd would say, lol.

The Swedes do not know how to greet at all—I think it is punishable by law. I innocently greeted some people and they gave me a funny look, I immediately stopped doing that. But Eritreans are all right, they return greetings—they haven’t been influenced by their environment in that aspect.

Sweden was a bit disappointing because many of the people I wanted to meet were out of town—including Herui Bairu, Hayoti, Zen, Ishaq and others. But there were enough friends and colleagues to compensate for the absence of the few people. I thank Kebire Foundation, the cosponsor of the event.

The highlight of my visit to Stockholm was t trip to the parliament, arranged by his Excellency MP Arhe Hamednaca and coordinated by Idrisay. Touring the parliament building, the halls and the history, is very emotional for a citizen of a country that aspires to have some rule of law. Never mind that Sweden is too socialist for my taste but hey, I am not in a position to choose when Eritreans are suffering under a brute who know no bounds for cruelty…and stupidity. We walked in the parliament building for an hour and thirty minutes, fast paced walk to match Arhe’s long strides, yet, I do not think we covered all of it. My feet are still aching from that visit—but all is fine when an MP gives away his time to show you the beauty of law and democracy. Thank you Arhe.

Back in the streets of downtown Stockholm, I was shocked to find out that the Swedish girls do not look like the ABBA girls at all —that is what I imagined. I saw girls who walk and stare, and their muscular legs are as big as that of a farmer. I didn’t see Abba-like shapes in Sweden, just the blond hair. And they do not return greetings—if you thought the English are cold, you haven’t seen the Swedes.

I am familiar with Germany and this time my trip involved a ferry crossing to Calais, France, then driving for 12 hour across Belgium and Holland, and finally we arrived at Frankfurt at 2 am, slept for a few hours, ate a big lunch thanks to our host Abdulaziz Anwar, and headed to the meeting place. Later on we had Turkish dinner with our hosts Abdulaziz Saleh and Mehreteab of Snit Selam, and immediately started our eight hour journey (including GPS misreading) back to Holland where we arrived at 3 am in the morning. Similar to the previous night, we slept for a few hours with our host Ahmed and then headed to Rotterdam for the meeting. Thanks to the warm welcome and engaging audience, and thanks to the National Salvation Front’s branch that cosponsored of the event.

After the grueling travels and activities, I had to start my three-day private travel to see my brother and his family whom I didn’t see for two-decades (I am avoiding saying 21 years). Early morning, I took the train on a twelve-hour trip to Munich, Germany. Three days off from everything, just relaxing and making up for the lost years of separation with my brother that was caused by Isaias and his predecessors. Now I ask every reader to think: why are we disbursed all over the world? Why are we not meeting with our family members or relatives and friends in Eritrea? Why are some of us not able to visit their dying parents? Why are many dying outside their country after they left it decades ago to regain the freedom that later Isaias disfigured? Why are we meeting outside Eritrea to talk about Eritrea? Once you get the answer, focus on the pack of stray dogs ruling Eritrea.

Though Eritrea is not the same Eritrea, Germany is still Germany, and Holland is still Holland just like I left them the last time I was there. I didn’t stay long enough to comment on Holland. But the meeting in Holland was graced by veterans like Omer Mohammed and other energetic patriots. I should have met my friend Habtom Yohannes, but unfortunately I couldn’t—there is always next time Habtom, and I hope God wishes that we meet in Eritrea soon. Hey, I am certain God will help, we just have to work harder and and be principled; and you have a magnificent license in that territory.

I also wish I was at Giesen with the demonstrators, but the bogus news about the Isaias trip to Germany confused my meeting schedule in both Frankfurt and Rotterdam.

It was one early morning in London that I heard about the postponement of the congress by one month. My informant was so angry because of the postponement. I told him that coming to London I had missed my plane and had to catch the next flight—I didn’t blame the Republican Party for delaying the plane just to annoy me! But my interlocutor being a typical graduate of the Jebha cadre school, wanted to start a debate: “you should know why your flight was delayed, why?”

A challenging question indeed. I responded: “Well the pilot forgot to bring the engine key and had to go back to his home to fetch it.”

“Do planes have engine key?”

“I am not sure, I am just guessing. The important thing is my flight was delayed and now I am here and I almost forgot about it. So do the same; forget the postponement and go beyond that.”

The circular sarcastic conversation went on for a moment until I excused myself to go to the bathroom, it felt more sane and quieter there.

One more thing I heard when I was in London: Hurray—we now have 36 political parties registered with the commission to attend the congress. Bzhu Wetabazhu. But I would think an apology is due: for decades, some people used to flog the opposition for being too many, too fragmented and too disunited. Ironically, those same people broke the record of disunity and fragmentation by hatching twenty-something political parties and twice as many so-called “civil-societies” in just a few weeks (or, is it a few months of incubation?)

Never mind the unproportionally large number of “political parties” for the small Eritrean population, it is all right, I am just worried all the leaders of those Lenji groups might claim they deserve a Ras or a Dejazmatch title at the congress. If they do not do that, we can have a sane congress. But if things go bad, we can always resort to the Somali formula of the nineties: a shaky warlord controlled agreement created a government with dozens of ministerial portfolios so that each and every clan and tribe can have a minister from their own. But soon they run out of portfolios therefore they began to multiply the ministries: minister of girls education and minister of boys education. What next? Maybe minister of elementary boys education and minister of elementary girls education. Then two ministries for secondary schools education and two for higher education. That way, one can divide the ministry of education into eight mini-ministries. Ya Satir. But if they just attended the congress leaving their egos at home, there is no fear. That fear of having seventy ministries came to me while I was in London. But nah, it is my imagination going wild. There are enough sane people to steer the congress to the right path.

But there are issues that are erupting here and there, small local issues, and the commission has been handling it with admirable tact. This should not mean that there are no important issues, but having 553 seats at the congress gives the commission enough wiggle room to solve the serious political complaints. For example the issue of the People’s Liberation Front Party which I strongly believe should be given more weight (and more representation) given its strategic weight. This is the closest link to the Semhar constituency; it is importance is very strategic. Fortunately, I am convinced that the few complaints (that some quarters are trying hard to elevate to a level of crisis) are just procedural hiccups. And the undertaking to prepare such an unprecedented event as the upcoming congress, cannot escape small hiccups. But it is not a crisis, not even a cousin of crisis. If anyone could not foresee logistical, political and organizational problems, then they shouldn’t have seen the need for a congress in the first place. We need a congress to iron out our differences and reorganize the resistance camp. Not all tiny problem are crisis…and what we have are just a procedural cases that need to be attended—hopefully (and I am confident) with calm minds.

I can’t end the report without thanking the organizers of my tour: Eritrean Cultural Network, Birmingham, and the co-sponsors, Eritrean People’s Front Party, National Salvation Front, Snit Selam and Kebire Foundation. My special thanks to Mussa Beshir, Nuri Mohammed Abdella and Ibrahim Kaboushi, Ali Hindi, Ahmed Saiq and Sayed Ali who accompanied me to all the venues of the meetings. Special thanks to Idris and Fesseha and Abdulkarim. The reception of my hosts was very professional and extremely warm. I also would like to thank all my hosts in all the cities, some I knew others I had the privilege to know now and who spoiled me with their generosity—I lost count of how many chicken with 12 eggs I was served—maybe they were trying to remind me of my ‘Amma Belaati Enqaqho’ background. Great thanks to those who spend their time arranging my lodging, frequent meals, bus, air and train tickets, driving me around to TV studios and meeting places, or just being with me sipping tea to give me company. They are so many to mention here but they all know themselves  and this is my humble way of extending my gratitude and saying to them, thank you.

Never had I laughed as much as I did in Stockholm, thanks to Osman who rained on me original and hilarious jokes (Ali Hindi of London comes close second). In brief, the thousands of miles I traveled by air, train, car, ferry, by bus and on foot has left me extremely exhausted but thanks to the company I had, it seemed like a picnic. Thank you all again.



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