In The Foxhole Where He Belongs

After the humiliating defeat of the Axis powers in the Second World War, Mussolini, Italy’s prime minister and the leader of Fascism, was captured attempting a flee to Switzerland. Of course, he was later summarily executed and his dead body brought to Milan. As the Mussolini’s corpse was displayed in public, an old woman emerged from among the mobs, pulled out a revolver and shot five bullets on the corpse which was dangling from a pole, upside down, in a petrol station. The woman exclaimed, “Those are for my five sons!’’ while firing, a mere revenge. This had nothing to do with her five sons, the real motive force for this old woman could be traced only in her corrupted sense of right and wrong. This subtle episode exhibits a dark nature of human beings’ brutality,  


When the US Marines entered Baghdad in 2003, Images of Saddam Hussein were torn to pieces and had been burnt in the very Baghdad that once worshipped Saddam Hussein. Dilettantes might have felt sorry when the mobs danced over the horrible statue of Saddam Hussein, and quite certainly the loyal Ba’athists, but no Iraqi Kurd or Shiaa could have been surprised when Saddam was found in his famous dug-out and brought to justice to be hanged and later on.    


The above examples have some similarities. Dictators are ruthless creatures and oppress their subjects mercilessly while they pretend to be valiant warriors. They compete with the nation’s martyrs in terms of loyalty by chanting a set-of-slogans, but when the clocks strikes, they escape through any available channel leaving their supporters puzzled, with mouths widely open. Mostly, dictators are sneaky, they even make rabbits envious of the methods they use to dodge captivity and make fool of themselves.  


Post-fascists Italy did not witness civil war, while post-Baath Iraq did. The atrocities that the fascists committed over the Italian people were equally spread and the pain was felt in every corner of the nation; however, the status of the dictatorial rule in Iraq was backed by a certain segment within the Iraqi people, namely the Sunni minority. All that while Iraqi Kurds and Shiites experienced untold calamities under Saddam’s rule. They went through sufferings ranging from deprivation of educational opportunities to mustard gas attacks; the Iraqi-Sunni intellectuals resorted to denial and would argue that Sultan Hashim (Minister of Defense) belonged to Shiite family and that Saddam was a national hero with no special interests. But when the day of reckoning arrived, the crowds turned deaf ears to those allegations, street boys took the law into their hands and applied justice the way it was applied to their brethrens under the Ba’athist rule of Saddam. As a result, the once “Great Nation of Iraq” was stripped of its misleading covers and sprawled undressed for the whole world to see.        


Hostility among Eritreans was in its lowest degree at the eve of independence in 1991; the EPLF was given the benefit of the doubt, in spite of all the wicked deeds it pursued, every one was heavily counting on the “free and independent Eritrea.” Equality and justice were unquestionably taken for granted, whatever ache one had the usual answer was, “wait for dawn to come,” we will take you to the dentist. Eritreans of all stripes fought side-by-side in an exemplary selfless and heroic manner. Lo! After independence, promises turned out to be lies and the nation marched towards unexpected frontiers—twenty years of the nation’s age has proven fruitless, citizens are imprisoned, killed and singled-out based on their backgrounds be it religious or ethnic; incalculable atrocities had been committed already. Thus, our sense of nationhood is damaged beyond words, the national unity is fading away in front of our eyes, every fraction is forced to act half-heartedly towards anything national. Case in point, our Kunama and Afar brethren have distinguished their priorities and are struggling single-handedly for the rights of their respective constituencies. Had the nation maintained equal citizenship founded on inclusive and just system, we wouldn’t have been fallen prey to these sectarian brutalities.  


In my last piece on, I mentioned that “a minor mistake would change the political landscape beyond recognition; it would be hard, if ever possible, to fetch the nine or ten beans once the cord is slashed, then it would be Oromai Eritrya.” A reader commenting on that has drawn my attention that I might be conveying indirect message that Isaias Afwerki is the only power holding the nation together. And I must explain.  


I have lived in Eritrea until 2005; I used to interact with many people including Eritrean army soldiers; inequalities are abundant and well perceived by those who are at the receiving end. Many soldiers confided to me, and this is no secret, that Tigrigna and non-Tigrignas are equally treated only at the door of death, the trenches in time of war. In addition to that, present Eritrea is a nation walking over skeletons; the bitterness is wide and deep, piles over piles of hard-to-answer questions are waiting ahead. It will not be an easy task to calm down people’s fears unless there is transparency and openness, and that requires action. 


The fragile conditions of the Eritrean opposition is the main reason that is preventing any effective action. When the only way out is unity, but the concept of unity is vague and ill-defined and perceived differently by differently people, some of us could not grasp the tendency of big sharks swallowing dwarfs and mistaking the act for unity. For example, when Ismail Nada’s Gash-Setit organization unified with EPP, a usual observer would expect some changes in (at least) the appearance of the unified body; but EPP has been strutting up and down unscratched while The Gash-Setit entity melted to nothingness. As for as the unification of the three political organizations (EPP-EDP-EPM) is concerned, the endeavor for unity in itself is a step forward. However, even if it was a historical turning point for Eritrea, the unified organization would remain dancing in an isolated raven unless it stretches its hand to reach out to the opposite bank of the ethno-cultural gulf where the other 50% of the nation is gathered. Whether they like it or not, the oneness of EPP-EDP-EPM could not be draped around the whole body of the nation. The Eritrean Tadamun, though not solely representing the Muslims and lowlanders, it holds a significant chunk of the Eritrean population and it also must stretch its hand to reach out to the others, including the EPP-EDP-EPM’s unified body. The two blocks EPP-EDP-EPM on one side and the Tadamun on the other have been stoning one another for quite sometime now—instead of fighting the monster back at home. The two blocks should stop trashing and ridiculing each other for the sake of preventing further escalation. 


As per my humble view, mutual acceptance, mutual respect and the spirit of coexistence and openness are vital principles and a pre condition for democracy. And we know that democracy could be easily defeated if blended with enmity and mistrust; the same democracy could prove to be disastrous because it could usher violence. It is high time that wise Eritreans came up with long-lasting solutions to bridge the “Big Ugly Crack.” That is still possible. 


If ever the EDA and the organizations under its umbrella reach a genuine accord and swear to overthrow the ruling sectarian regime, we would joyfully see our little Saddam bolting away as fast as his legs could carry him. Then we would find him in the foxhole where he belongs.




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