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Eritrea: “A Foolish Undertaking”

Over the years I have come across many views; some I learned from, others I were a waste of time, still others were dazzling and made me scratch my head.

My topic for today is one the most annoying view That’s based on a twisted logic, devoid of any rational thinking—the following is a sample:

When we talk about Eritrea, it’s the Italians who built Eritrea. Created the very nation of Eritrea. The map of Eritrea. And with it comes the map of Eritrea. Now think about this: you are an elite, hunh! And you want to create an identity of Eritreannes, hunh! An Eritreannes based on that map! It is a foolish undertaking, hunh! Nevertheless, it did happen. So, all their orders come to them from that map. There is a history of Eritrea that has to be told, for example, then that history of Eritrea must not overflow, overflow the borders of that map. What happens is for example, let’s say, the history of Eritrea we could say, the history of the Tigrignas, in Eritrea, hunh? cannot separate it from the histories of Tigrignas in Tigray. For that matter we cannot separate it from the history of Habeshas in Ethiopia. It’s all intertwined. The history of the Danakil of Eritrea, the Afar of Eritrea, you cannot separate it from the history of Afar in Ethiopia. Because they dealt more with, Ammh? Ammh?  them than with the Kebessa people in Eritrea. The history of Muslim, mostly Muslim tribes in the western parts of Eritrea is more associated with the same   of people across the borders with Sudan. Now, what the map did was, it brought these three populations together. Now the elite are saying, okay, how do we create an Eritrean identity of all these different histories? The foolishness of it was, nothing should overflow, the border, the borders of Eritrea. Now, how do you do that? How do you do that? By simply eliminating the entire history that goes around that border. You eliminate it.

A yokel can leave a village, but village will never leave yokel.” That’s a Polish saying now adopted by many cultures with little twists. But Eritreans, when we are in a fascistic mood, we boast that we are better than adopting the saying of others, we have living examples that illustrate the idea better.

Countries, at least those I know, are not curved by some divine hands. People who live in a certain area grow in number, form a family, grow into many families with a common ancestry (or a perceived common ancestry), develop a common language and culture. Then they become clans, and finally tribes and nations. Usually, they build a common territory and exist side by side with other tribes of nations.

Each tribe depends on its own toil and resources, and in time it starts to trade with neighboring tribes or nations. Sometimes competition arises among the tribes and nations as they grow, clashes may erupt, alliances may be created between neighbors—sometimes they create unsolvable feuds over boundaries with or without specific geographical limits or landmarks.

Gradually their territories might develop into a common country, hopefully defined by citizenship; and that is the natural preferred way a country is formed. Other countries are formed or born whimsically in so many ways. For instance, nations from remote regions, with more sophisticated arms, bigger numbers, and resources plan to exploit the resources of other territories. Then following the Roman dictum, it’s “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” (I came. I saw. I conquered.) They curve territories, give it a name, and administer it with its people who become their subjects.

That was a brief explanation of the start of building states, the progression of the nation building. And that is how colonizers occupied indigenous territories and formed Eritrea, just like they formed many countries in Africa and other continents.

In the 17th century, Europeans (focusing on Switzerland) fought against each other for 30 years–mainly the Catholic-Protestant war which came to an end in 1648. Thereafter, European monarchs signed a treaty known as The Peace of Westphalia, in which they identified the meaning of a nation, state, religion, etc. The template for a modern sovereign state was drawn.

Napoleon Bonaparte played an important role in the development of the nation-state. The French Revolution eliminated the medieval feudal system and replaced it with modern systems and armies. And that accelerated the creation of nation-states to the extent that many states came together to fight against Napoleon. But since my topic is to relate the diversity of Eritrea, I will only mention the diverse Switzerland.

Modern Switzerland was under the Romans until the 4th century AD. It went through invasions by other European tribes, notably the German tribes until it fell under the control of Holy Roman Empire that divided it into small regions of several criteria.

On August 1, 1291, the fragmented Swiss regions signed a peace charter and agreed to keep the autonomous administrative and judicial rule. That day, August 1, is celebrated as Switzerland’s National Day.

In 1499, Switzerland finally gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire. But civil strife and division between Protestant German and French, and Catholics for two centuries.

And in 1797-98, Napoleon invaded and annexed much of the country and made it a centrally governed unitary state–the territories defended the Swiss Confederation from falling apart.

In 1815, The Congress of Vienna re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland’s status of a permanent armed neutrality in international law. While the Swiss Constitution established a range of civil liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority—they didn’t take advantage of the weakness of the Catholics as some Eritrean fascists contemplate doing to those who perceive as weak and vanquished.

To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.

Though Switzerland has been a neutral, stable country for centuries, even during WW2, many might not realize that Switzerland became a member of the United Nations only in 2002. It has always maintained its cantonal autonomy and remained a pluralistic, diverse state.

If we leave aside the economic, social and technical aspects and focus on political aspects, Eritrea is no different that Switzerland. Its people developed to where they are now after centuries of interaction—intermarriage, assimilation, conversion, immigration, displacements, local settlements, invasions—until the advent of the Italian colonizers who curved it in its present form and shape.

But it has existed as Turkish Welayet (province), Egyptian territory, partly Abyssinian territory, Fung dynasty, Beja and Agaw rule, etc. The argument that Eritrea is not a nation simply because it was formed by colonialists, is lame.

The Italian colonial boundary was not pulled from thin air, it was the reality and the communities and their social history. Also, there no states with a clean-cut boundary without similar social groups straddling different borders, even the coercive feudal subjugation, forceful assimilation and tyrannies didn’t create such a clean-cut boundary.

So, the ancestors of present-day Eritreans settled in that territory long ago. And in modern times, their children paid dearly to assert their national rights, they invested for their freedom in sweat and blood.

Some extremists and fanatics fancy going back in time and settling at their favorite timeline to rewrite the Eritrean history. But why stop at specific date, for instance, 1890? Why don’t they go further back to the 17th century, 16th century, even 12th, 6th century and start from any other specific year? They wouldn’t because their legends inform them to pick certain dates that serve their lopsided legendary narration.

In short, it is a foolish idea driven by the perpetually sprouting historical bigotry and hypocrisy! The never quenched thirst for conflict, chaos, and bloodshed.

Today there are dozens of countries with ethnic groups, tribes and populations that straddle boundaries of two, three, or more countries. That is the making of history, and Eritrea is just like any other country, a product of its history that brought it to where it’s now.

The PFDJ failing to manage Eritrea properly doesn’t warrant savagely dismantling its social foundations with twisted logic and chauvinism; that is a rational that only the naïve and the arrogant bigots entertain.

Now, let’s me repeat the irrational argument above heard by substituting Switzerland for Eritrea.

When we talk about Switzerland, it’s the Catholics and protestants who built Switzerland. Who created the very nation of Switzerland, the map of Switzerland. And with it comes the map of Switzerland. Now think about this: you are an elite, eh, and you want to create an identity of Swisness, eh. A Swisness based on that map! It is a foolish undertaking, eh. Nevertheless, it did happen. So, all their orders come to them from that map. There is a history of Switzerland that has to be told, for example, then that history of Switzerland must not overflow… overflow the borders of that map. What happens is, for example, let’s say, the history of Switzerland we could say, the history of the Germans, in Switzerland, eh, cannot separate it from the histories of Germans in Germany. For that matter we cannot separate it from the history of Italians in Italy. It’s all intertwined. The history of the French of France, the French in France, you cannot separate it from the history of the French in France. Because they dealt more with, uh…uh, them than with the Romanish people in Switzerland. The history of Protestants, mostly Protestant cantons in the northern parts of Switzerland is more associated with the same kind of people across the borders with Austria. Now, what the map did was, it brought these four populations together. Now the elite are saying, okay, how do we create a Swiss identity of all these different histories? The foolishness of it was, nothing should overflow, the border, the borders of Switzerland. Now, how do you do that? How do you do that? By simply eliminating the entire history that goes around that border. You eliminate it.

Okay, based on that argument, let’s push the Somali Ethiopians to Somalia, Afar Ethiopians to Djibouti and Eritrea, Benishangul to Ethiopia, Gambelia to Sudan, Somali-Oromos back to Ethiopia, then we shuffle the Mursi, Turkana and other tribes between Ethiopia and Kenya because the tribes straddle the Kenyan-Ethiopian border which they shouldn’t—so says the twisted logic!

Happy Logic Day to you

NB: This is the transcript of Negarit 140, on my YouTube channel  NEGARIT.

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 awate.com. 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 Awate.com 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 awate.com 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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  • hader

    I don’t think Switzerland was created just to land lock another big nation and divide a family into two. Healthy nation building should start from a whole family and with good intentions. Eritrea is a result of the evil ‘divide and conquer approach’ of the colonialists. Plus there is only ‘The swiss, The Dutch, the british as there could only be ‘Afaretot, Kunama, Amharu, Tegaru?? You were that close BTW

  • Metshaf Jigninet

    Selam Memhir Johar & all,

    Negarit 140 is in English, for those who don’t understand Tigringa. Better yet, it is for all who believe in Eritrea no matter ones political views, or affiliations. In essence, it is for the opposition as well as PFDJ.

    Last, but not least. It is also for non-Eritreans who don’t believe in Eritrea, because of being “carved” out by Italians.

    #Recommended 🇪🇷

  • Brhan

    Dear Saleh,
    Thanks for the episode. The comparative approach you used is good. Who doesn’t want to take Switzerland as a model? Only, the fools. I can add Singapore ( PFDJ’s dream for Eritrea) and India. Diverse and democratic countries with strong economy.
    Even Rwanda. Can anyone tell us why Rwanda is called the Switzerland of Africa? It is not its geography but its experience to heal the wound and become a prosperous country

    • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ

      Brhan Nebsi,
      For starters, if anyone wants to learn about Rwanda’s success, I would highly recommend to start with reading Rwanda’s Inc book.

      • Brhan

        MM Nebsi,
        What is the title of the book and who is the author? I am interested to read it.

        • Kebessa

          Brhan, You will find the title of the book on MM’s message, if you read the complete sentence:)

          • Brhan

            Hi Kebessa,
            Rules in writing:
            Title of a book in Italics.

  • leGacY

    Hello Ato SGJ,

    “But it has existed as Turkish Welayet (province), Egyptian territory, partly Abyssinian territory, Fung dynasty, Beja and Agaw rule, etc. The argument that Eritrea is not a nation simply because it was formed by colonialists, is lame.

    With all due respect, your highness , I have a slightly different take than yours on this issue and the emphasis will be on the lines I highlighted.

    I fully support the independence of Eritrea- not because I am convinced that there are any historical, cultural, linguistic or geographical grounds to justify it but because so much blood has been shed to advance the cause.

    I have lazily plucked, from good old internet, a definition of a nationhood which is suffice for this medium.

    Guibernau (1996, p. 47) has defined the nation as: ‘a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself’. So awareness, territory, history and culture, language and religion all matter. However, it is rare in the real world to find a case of a nation with a clear-cut and homogenous character in terms of this list of possibilities. Each nation is unique in the (alleged) makeup of its special character and worth. One crucial question is whether – and to what extent – a group must be aware of its alleged distinctiveness from other groups, in order to be classed as a nation. One could argue that a nation can objectively be defined as a group of people which possesses a shared and distinct, historically persistent cultural identity, and which makes up a majority within a given territorial area. If that is the case, then one could argue that even if such a ‘nation’ is not pushing for a right to self-determination (in any form), it nevertheless is a nation.

    If you look at some of the criteria listed above there are probably fewer countries less deserving a nationhood status than Eritrea. Zanzibar is a 1000 times deserving of a nationhood. The Kurds are probably 5000 times more deserving nationhood status but a confluence of socio-political events have allowed Eritrea to achieve a nationhood status.

    And this brings me as to why Eritrea is at a constant state of turmoil since its inception. I am borrowing this from the Tigraway mhur, Mehari Yohannes. According to him there are numerous reasons why Eritrea is plagued with this curse including, economies of scale, volatile region and a maniac leader but the biggest factor is the absence of distinct identity as a nation state. And there is no more threat than the people next door with identical identity towards achieving this goal.

    Take away the Italian factor Eritrea is probably 98% identical to Tigray which is part of Ethiopia. The same food. Same language. Same religion. Same topography. Simply put there is no justification to create a new nation. It is duplicitous.

    But as I said, so much has been shed for it we can’t look back.

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Selam Legacy,

      But, don’t forget that there are two kind of states – nation states” and “multi-national states”. So Eritrea is a multi-national state created from the partition of African continent by the colonizers. Multi-national states are not curved only by colonizers. Even some of the European countries that were formed after the Westphalia Peace agreement are multi-national states, like Switzerland. So countries are not only formed from “nation-state” only. Check the formation of “multi-national-states” and see the Eritrean issue from that prospect and it’s history, and not from the definition of “nation-states” to recognize our sovereignty.


  • iSem

    Hi All and Saleh:
    This how you fight ideas not by calling them TPLF and they are from Tigray or worse “arjmuhu” . So good job SGJ, not shocking that you did good job, but am just saying, probably you are tired of it, and murmuring, “I know good job, what is new” 🙂
    But seriously I will add to that this: also the crimes, the hijacking/kidnapping of the Eritrean ghedli during ghedli by PFDJ/IA (foreign agents, anti Eritreans group) does not warranty shredding the country we have, whether it came with huge sacrifice or with min. And what you did here was the job a government of Eritrea, oh wait we do not have government in Eritrea, an entity that thinks it is government but in reality a mafia group, determined to shred Eritrea. EPLF evolved to PFDJ, my own theory is PFDJ evolved to EPLF and who knows what will be the next monster
    Now, we debated this topic here before and your ironic suggestion of giving Gambella to Sudan, Afar to Eritrea etc makes the foolish undertaking even more foolish, because doing so will be messy and violent. But how about if that can be done cleanly, hypothetically, it will be good idea and it would dampen many of the ethnic problems in these countries. Countries will will still go to war for different reasons, but will have less ethnic violence. But we will still have clan violence like in Somalia. But the notion of cleanness of this endeavor is not practical. We missed the nation state because of collimation it would be foolish to create the nation state while the nation state is dying. We are always behind.
    We have what we have and let us fix it, but also he people like YG and others who are purporting such idea should not be stoned to death, which I believe they will be even if IA/PFDJ is gone and we have “democratic” government from the current opposition.
    The idea that our current opposition will guarantee our liberties, among them to hold contrary views that do not sit well with the popular wisdom of the majority, ideas that hurt some ones feelings are delusional. I was deluded myself too. And that should worry us equally with the removal of PFDJ. Saleh just gave you a tool to fight these ideas, but we have no tools to remove PFDJ. I think the opposition will work on the bread and remove some of the laws by PFDJ but they will not usher in the century old yearning of the Eritrea people as can be discerned from the comments and the opposition and its rhetoric.

  • Saleh Johar

    Dear all,
    Here is the gist of the message of Negarit 140

    The PFDJ failing to manage Eritrea properly doesn’t warrant savagely dismantling its social foundations with twisted logic and chauvinism; that is a rational that only the naïve and the arrogant bigots entertain.

    • Abi

      Selam Ato Saleh
      Glad you summarized the gist of the massage in a short paragraph. It was very helpful.
      I’m convinced that this is the best website for breeding and nurturing Agazian movement in the name of defending Tplf and the people of Tigray. Agazian activists are hiding in the open here. I believe you, SGJ, have unwittingly contributed to the Agazian causes greatly. You can refute this all day long. I’ve already made up my mind years ago. Don’t bother convincing me otherwise.
      It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
      Thanks for the summary.

      • Saleh Johar

        Haha Abi,
        I am mad you let the secret out. Yes, I am a member of their central committee. Why would I deny that, you know everything about them and the Qey Bahrachin groupies.

        Now it’s my turn to tell you a little secret, shoooosh, don’t tell anyone.

        Dear Ras, your stealth feud against me started with me trashing Haile Selassie and you defending the murderous king and the bloody Derg, followed by your amateurish little colonel and his mentor ISSUye. What is wrong with you, always defending the Draculas of our region? Good, continue your campaign against me and awate in ways you think are smart and undetectable. But I suggest you give it up Abiy. Give it up, powers bigger than you have failed. Just give it up and keep posting your one-liner wisdom and I will keep doing what I believe I should do while you keep cheering the curse of our region.

        NB: a few weeks ago an acquaintance complained why I keep appeasing people like you (he mentioned name and race) and accused me for being a (race and region) supporter. A few days ago, someone publicly accused me of being a PFDJ supporter. It’s fun to be all of that in one-lifetime. Get in line if you have more 🙂

        • iSem

          You are hard on Abi today, for the first time. But on the wrong day. Have a little mercy on Abi, not Abiy. During hard times we all need comfort and aid and today, you did not deliver. There is a reason we have” hazen” and “furash”or “lqso” This, too, shall pass.
          All right Inform, Inspire, Emblden and Reconcile. But Aid and Comfort too, especially today, Zarem LOL
          How are my one liners

        • Abi

          Selam Ato Saleh
          Unfortunately, I have got no more.
          ቢኖረኝ ከመናገር አልታቀብም::
          የተሰማኝን ተናግሬያለሁ::

          • iSem

            Hi Abi:
            For the first time, maybe the second time, I did not get what you said in your first comment to Saleh

          • Abi

            They say “Third time is a charm” or something like that.
            Wait for the third time.
            I told him that his website is a fertile ground for breeding and nurturing Agazian movement in the name of fighting PIA and defending Tplf and the people of Tigray. I also said he unwittingly contributed for Agazian causes.
            I thought it was clear.

          • iSem

            Thanks Abi:
            You are out of your element. I am not as sharp as you are but I can read what you repeated to me here. I was asking you how so, did not make sense. How is he nurturing Agaazian
            I have never seen a person here who is anti -Eritreanism except the couple who are hard core PFDJ and by extension they are anti Eritreanism.
            And why are you supporting PFDJ? what is in it for you? Not for you Abi personally, but for your national and ethnic interests?
            From those who write openly here: there are PFDJ supporters and those who are anti-PFDJ, or affectionately called JS. But you are accusing the JS as ant Eritreanism. You have everything upside down.
            Because JS do not put up with the affection to PFDJ that lurks inside you (for reasons unknown) does not make them Agaiazian
            Even PFDJ supporters are not anti Eritrea, they are anti Eritreanisnm. There is big difference between Eritrea and Eritreanism. If you do not ask and you are welcome, it is my duty to enlighten 🙂

          • Abi

            Greatly appreciated the enlightenment sessions.
            Rousseau should be proud of you.

  • Bayan Negash (Abu Al-Shabain)

    Ahlan Saleh,

    Let me be the first to comment on this critically important subject you decided to undertake. We live in such a convoluted world where people rather believe what they see on FB than their own doctors. We see it in the vaccine controversy. But I digressed.

    Let me just hastily comment that your quick response to YG’s project, which has become the ultimate PROJECT to dismantle Eritrea as we have known it. He is now coming out swinging in three languages so far, Tigrinya, Amharic, the last one in English. Hopefully, those are his limits.

    You homed in on why YG chooses to focus on Italy’s colonial map, that’s because where narratives begin matter. Consider two different approaches to two different narratives. This is how it goes:

    Barghuthi and Murid (2003) aptly capture this notion when they provide a scenario when wanting to tell a story on Native Americans whereupon a storyteller who chooses to begin “…with the arrows… and not with the arrival of the British” (chapter 7, e-book), will have a certain perspective to it.

    Similarly, the authors add another scenario when wanting to tell a story on African continent whereupon a story teller chooses to begin “…with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, [one will] have an entirely different story” (chapter 7, e-book).

    Consider Clifford’s (1988) assertion in such cultural “predicament” in which he states that humanity finds itself in perpetual “off centeredness in a world of distinct meaning systems, a state of being in culture while looking at culture,” (p. 9) making objectivity next to impossible to render, because subjectivity is the defaulted position and the hallmark of such a study. Clifford adds that, “a form of personal and collective self-fashioning [where] “modern “ethnography” of conjunctures, constantly moving between cultures” (p. 9) falls short as it attempts “to survey the full range of human diversity or development…[as] it …perpetually displace[s], both regionally focused and broadly comparative, a form both of dwelling and of travel in a world where the two experiences are less and less distinct” (p. 9).

    That was the story of the first half of the 20th century world that Clifford (1988) captured and Barghuthi and Murid (2003) gave an incisive example in how it makes a world of difference how stories are framed. The former shares further that in the first half of twentieth century, the colonial masters were choosing to dislocate and interrogate the world, which they felt was duly theirs to do what they wish with it and create a colonial master narrative that went unchallenged for decades, if not centuries.

    So, Ustaz Saleh, thank you for promptly offering a wider perspective on the subject than this narrowly focused worldview that YG attempt to offer; it may serve whatever objective he is aiming to accomplish, but when it comes to Eritrea, it will always fall short of its intended target. I hope you will consider bringing experts into your Negarit channel and have the subject be tackled from all conceivable angles. This is a wonderful rejoinder that you have started. Thank you for doing it capably. The ending was awesome when you replaced Switzerland for Eritrea.