Major Dawit Woldegiorgis: More Of Red Tears

The following article was published in July 2, 2009, as a response for Shaleqa Dawit Woldegiorgis’ article “The way forward for Ethiopia and Eritrea” which appeared four days earlier on Ethiomedia on June 29, 2009. I decided to publish it because Dawit’s article has been brought again in the Internet for discussion.

I would like to note that I have heard good things about Shaleqa Dawit Wolde Giorgis1; many people characterize him as intelligent and human. I read Dawit’s two books, ‘Red Tears’ and ‘Kihidet Bedem Meret.’ I spoke to him on the phone twice, briefly, and I can confirm that I sensed humility and intelligence in his tone. Of Dawit’s tenure in Eritrea in the eighties, it is said that he saved many lives, that he installed a few pressure valves to control his regime’s brutality. I am sure all those whose lives he saved are grateful to him, and he deserves credit for being a rare embodiment of compassion within the ranks of the otherwise monstrous Derg regime.

Shaleqa Dawit’s “task was to pacify the rebellion and stop people from supporting the EPLF,” and his niceties were aimed to serve that goal; they were not independent from it. Still, charity is noble and his benevolent acts cannot be denied. But what also cannot be denied is the fact that Dawit represented one of the most repressive regimes in Africa—he was simply a benevolent dictator by extension.

His goal was realized when, “young people stopped joining the rebels and many started deserting from the EPLF.” For that, Eritreans would not consider him a friend, but a smart enemy, and his recent article, The way forward for Ethiopia and Eritrea, proves it in spades.

I hope that Dawit, the enlightened person that he is, will take this article as an intellectual provocation or challenge—it is not meant to be accusatory though it may sound as such, since that is the only way it can be presented. It is an attempt to shake some sense and persuade typical Abyssinian politicians and intellectuals to see beyond their narrow social, ethnic and geographical enclaves. It is a protest not against Dawit per se, but the elite culture and attitude that produced him. It is a protest against the elite attitude that considers Ethiopia a Christian nation in eternal war with Islam; a protest against the attitude that Eritrea is made of a Christian highland with a Muslim lowland appendage; a protest against the habit of constantly re-writing and revising the history of Eritrea and Ethiopia to fit this narrative; a protest against the attitude that prescribes Ethiopian elite interest-driven alliances, always at the expense of others, and thus sowing the seeds for the next war.

A Sample of an Exclusionary Attitude 

Shaleqa Dawit asserts that when it comes to Eritrea and Ethiopia, “[our] genes, our culture, language and history are identical.” Then he goes on to tell Eritrean and Ethiopians to meet and talk in “…the streets, the restaurants, the clubs, churches and various forums inEthiopia, Eritrea, America, USA and Africa.”

The above quotes may appear faultless to the uninitiated, but for those who were on the receiving end, for centuries, since the 14 century, they are a typical manifestation of the Abyssinian elite’s psyche—I don’t expect Dawit to entertain the idea of talking to people in mosques—they should not be included in any type of dialogue: the Abyssinian elite would do it for them as they have done for centuries. And if Dawit would violate the mental restraint that he has, breaking free of the Abyssinian chauvinism, he would see the light, or the pitch darkness that has been the cause of all miseries in the region.

To a non-Christian (an Ethiopian or Eritrean Muslim), as well as to a progressive Ethiopian and Eritrean Christian, nothing can be as offending as the Abyssinian elite’s self-centered analysis of the social, historical and political issues of our region. Dawit’s thinking is representative of the typical Ethiopian member of the elite (and nobility in the old days); he states that “the history of Ethiopia has been about winners and leaders,” and contradicts it by adding, “Internal conflicts in Ethiopia have always been about power and not ethnicity.”But a confused person, non-elite, would ask: Which one is it, winners and leaders or power and ethnicity?

Until Dawit makes up his mind, I am claiming that to the marginalized people of the region, the history of Ethiopia has been a continuous saga about oppression, savagery, aggression, violence and subjugation—and bigotry. When Ethiopian kings invaded Muslim lands, it is always “the king asserted his control over the Muslims.” Muslims are never referred to as Ethiopian Muslims, they are just Muslims. The situation of the Oromo was even worse, people who were considered and treated as slaves by the Abyssinian elite for centuries. For details of such historical fallacies, look at most of the Ethiopian history textbooks, especially the history of the Eastern parts of Ethiopia, with Harrer at the center. I think 1400 years is long enough for the elite to decide, whether to consider Ethiopian Muslims equal citizens or illegal aliens.

I was once talking to an elderly and respectable Amhara neighbor. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned a friend and tried to describe him to my neighbor. I told him that my friend grew up in Addis Ababa and that he is Amhara, and that his name is Omer. My neighbor wrinkled his forehead and snapped his head up in surprise: someone with a name like Omer cannot be an Amhara; he is a Muslim!

I don’t want to bore you with that surprise lesson I learned from my neighbor.

It was easy to remember Haile Sellassie (and his predecessor’s) policy of building a nation state: an Ethiopia centered on the Amhara nationality and the Orthodox religion. The rest, if they were not willing to assimilate and shed off their identities, would practically be relegated to second-class citizens, if not worse.

Following the contemporary mantra, (though this scare tactic has always been the central theme of Haile Sellasie and Derg), Dawit warns“Arab Chauvinism (expansionism) and Islamic Fundamentalism have always been real threats to Ethiopia, and Eritrea can possibly turn out to be the main conduit.” He stops short of suggesting a final solution: eradicate any Muslim from the region. Maybe that could be the solution the chauvinists could not accomplish over the centuries.

Under this pretext, Muslims have been victimized for centuries, since the 14th century when power was usurped by the reemergence of the violent claimants to the Solomonic empire that disrupted the traditional religious harmony among Abyssinian Muslims and Christians. That empire planted bigotry everywhere, including present day Eritrea, and destroyed the enlightened and progressive legacy of the great Axumite Empire. The Atzies never learned to develop their country, but became crusaders and tools of Portuguese extremists. Driven by the fable of Prestor John, they went out of their way to victimize their Muslim compatriots—it is they who first invented the draconian anti-Muslim policies that victimized so many people, their modern versions are just copycats.

After creating the Muslim bogeyman, the Abyssinians climbed back to their mountains and the world left them behind and advanced while they immersed themselves back in their favorite pastime, Zemecha, inter-fighting, invading and looting innocent villagers. One has to be brave enough to admit those facts and not represent them as a golden era; Ethiopia has nothing to show for the centuries of rule under its elect-of-god kings. If they do, there is nothing indigenous or authentic in it. The country is still living off a rich legacy, leftovers from the glorious and enlightened Axumite Kingdom of the past—even the fables and the culturally paralyzing fables are a creation of the usurpers who claimed decent from the Axumite rulers, not the original Axumites.

I always wished that the Ethiopian elite would stop addressing their compatriot’s raw nerves to arouse Ethiopian nationalism; history testifies that expansionist wars are fed by the arousal of raw nerves. One would think that enough blood was spilled, everyone’s blood to satisfy the elites’ demons, and contemplating on that, the elite should have been more inclusive, less expansionist and less self-centered.

There is always an excluded Eritrea (and an excluded Ethiopia) in the elite’s message that doesn’t recognize anyone but its own social group; and when they talk about Eritrea, they are locked in what they consider their Orthodox Christian extension while crying Red Sea, Assab. That has been their problem and still is. And I don’t think I need to reiterate that democracy is NOT a key to all those ailments. That has been the core of the issue, which no one seems to want to tackle.

As long as the elite keeps defining Ethiopianism as a church based, exclusive club of Abyssinians, they are bound to lose their own Ethiopian Muslims and others who are relegated to the peripheries. They need to worry about that first before thinking of getting Eritreans to the fold of a nation that has always oppressed them and considered them second-class citizens in their own country.

Who Represents Eritrea

In what seems a call for part two of Red Tears, Dawit advises his compatriots “not relating with the Eritrean government is a misguided position.”

That is certainly not a call for befriending the Eritrean people; Dawit has countersigned the right to decide on behalf of Eritreans to the Isaias regime. There could not be more disrespectful affront to Eritreans, who are suffering under the yoke of the Isaias regime, than that. The wise would better be aware that nothing brought about by Isaias would hold for long, it would be a game played with fire. Dawit knows that Isaias and his regime do not represent Eritreans—he leads a minority regime.

History By Omission

Describing the mood on the day Haile Sellasie showed his disregard for agreements and protocols and his lawlessness when he violated the Federal Arrangement with Eritrea, Dawit admits he was “on security mission watching the Eritrean Assembly when they were voting. It was unanimous vote.” He also explains that “The Eritrean elites were the first to express their joy.”

Here, Dawit’s presence in the assembly while it was in a critical voting session is not significant; what is worth noting is the reason for his presence, and in what capacity. It is obvious he was not a parliamentarian. He was not distributing roses or releasing butterflies either; he and his troops were there to intimidate and coerce those who would dare vote against the will and imposition of Haile Sellassie. The fact that there was, “a competition within the Eritrean elites to send telegrams and messages to Emperor Haile Sellassie expressing their joy and congratulating him” doesn’t say anything—people might recant their faith, accuse others wrongly, or admit to crimes they never committed when a gun is pointed at them.

True, there were those who wanted to land in Haile Sellassie’s lap since decades earlier; and they were empowered (while others were threatened) by the presence of M14 clad troops under the command of officer Dawit; troops who were there on a mission. Dawit was there; and I was there like Dawit; but only through the person of the much- respected parliamentarian of the time, the late Gengazmatch Hussein Kaffil whom I once heard recalling that congratulations among the Unionists was well underway days before the voting started, well before Dawit’s troops cocked their guns and marched to the assembly building.

Dawit also claims to know the motives of the independentists; he explains how the voting drama in the Eritrean assembly ended:

“Some disgruntled elements that felt excluded from the new dispensation and therefore expressed dissatisfaction for personal reasons — the loss of power and influence. I was there celebrating with the Eritreans the long awaited unity of Eritrea with the mother land. It was an unforgettable moment.”

Indeed it must have been designed to be unforgettable; and it is unforgettable—I was born in it, grew up in it and I am still suffering from its repercussions. I was there and so were many of my generation that was consumed and driven to carry the burden of sacrifice because of that sad day in our history. That sad day of betrayal, conspiracy and lawlessness. That day when the seed of our modest democracy was crushed and replaced by an archaic, bigoted and repressive feudal regime of Haile Sellasie—isn’t that the day that the Ethiopian elite in collaboration with the Eritrean elite killed democracy? Doesn’t Dawit see the irony in screaming democracy fifty years after witnessing the massacre of democracy in Asmara? Isn’t it ironic that he considers us so naïve that he condescendingly tries to sell us democracy after the almost cultish indulgence of sacrificing democracy, for the benefit of the elect-of-god, over which he and his troops stood guard? What did the poor Ethiopian or Eritrean get out of that but decades of misery? Who is responsible?

My generation grew up believing that the Amhara are the cause of all our miseries; and I grew up in a town called Keren hearing and witnessing Amharic speaking Tor Serawit abusing the people. It was unlike what Dawit detailed in his article while placing himself in a position of an observer though he was in the middle (and the wrong side) of it. He was a Tor Serawit officer in the Eritrea of the late fifties and early sixties. Remember I said I was there? I was on the opposite side of Dawit, a victim of his troops, a child who grew up being pushed and harassed by Dawit’s troops throughout the sixties and early seventies. I am even scared imagining saying what I am writing now in front of a Tor Serawit officer in Keren! Me, my family and the whole neighborhood would have disappeared. Thanks to God that didn’t happen.

A few years after Dawit stood with his “troops at the door step of the police headquarters,” I was clinging to my father’s legs when soldiers from the “2nd infantry division” who were probably trained by Dawit, came and gun-butted my father and drove him to jail: he was an ELF supporter. I was there when the Ethiopian soldiers forcefully exposed me to corpses: they used to hang mutilated and bloated bodies of killed Eritrean combatants in the marketplace. I witnessed that countless times. I was there during the massacre of Ona when hundreds of villagers were killed and the village burned by Ethiopian soldiers. I was there, overlooking the town of Agordat from the top of a distant high ground beyond the Barka River, when Ethiopian soldiers mowed hundreds of innocent civilians, indiscriminately, in broad daylight. My generation has stories that would fill volumes of what it witnessed: we were there as well. I can “forgive, but never forget.” It is also important to note that a story recounted by a victim of Auschwitz would never agree with the version told by Gobbles, for example.

Yes, I grew up. I matured. And grew up more; only then could I discover that an Amhara peasant in the outskirts of Gonder or an Amhara shepherd in Menze never oppressed me; it was the elite who used the Amhara nationality (of the poor souls as a vehicle) that were the culprits. The elite wreaked havoc throughout the country. The elite that never seems to learn how to break the walls of denial that it built around itself.

Dawit fails in his history writing, but calls for more biased revisions: “Our genuine historians had to dig a lot to bring the truth out and popularize it.” The genuine historians have been turning out the usual “truths” since the Kebre Negest was authored; and it is open knowledge what type of truth are included therein: chauvinistic, deceiving and self-serving bundles of lies and myths.

One can write volumes about the narrow, feudal Abyssinia centered history; Eritreans have been subjected to that for too long. But now, the zeal for standing up to injustices is alive, the oppressed are struggling for their rights. The spirit is different. No one will take it with folded hands.

Who Is Marginalized By Whom?

As long as the members of the Abyssinian elite do not divorce their chauvinism and change their attitude, as long as they insist on keeping the peripheral people subservient to their egos, as long as they do not recognize that the marginalized are citizens with equal rights, they are doomed—and the country that they claim to love so much, is doomed. They should realize that the numerical fact of the marginalized alone does not justify their exclusion. And Dawit accuses the “Weyane” as the “elite people from Adwa, Axum and Shire.”

Commenting on strictly Ethiopian affairs is something I try to avoid; but Dawit leaves me no choice and I deserve to be excused. Since Dawit traveled the “width and breadth of Eritrea,” he would have served the reader honestly if he described the origins of Isaias and his clique as well. He should have completed the tapestry instead of leaving it a half done image. He didn’t, though he knows. He chose to feed his readers select political, agitating messages. Going all the way, it would have been nice of him if he described the ethnic and religious composition of the Ethiopian opposition, those whom he is pushing to bond with Isaias. He didn’t.

The issue has become similar to a neglected picture frame that has been hanging on a wall for too long. It is so present, so part of the wall that after a time one forgets its existence. In other words, it is taken for granted and you don’t check if it is there every time you return to your house, as frequently as you would check your valuables. But the picture frame that you do not notice is clearly visible to the rest of the people—Dawit has not freed himself from the ancient Abyssinian goal of hegemony and forging dubious destructive alliances. Why would someone call for an association with the Isaias regime? Another cycle of destructive war?

The same elite have already committed enough destruction for centuries. But the next time around, the elite should remember that there are other social forces around; if they keep ignoring that fact, I foresee a terribly rude awakening.

I would dare say that under the current government, the lots of the Oromos, Tigray, Somalis and Afars (and generally Muslims) and other marginalized people have improved many folds relative to their historic situation under successive feudal Ethiopian regimes—some were being enslaved until recent history. As for Eritreans, to me, the fact that the EPRDF recognized the self-determination of Eritrea places them in a favorable historical position. Some Ethiopian elite could hate the EPRDF, but it is clear that they have achieved so much towards empowering the marginalized people; they deserve credit on this regard. And they have done it softly, awakening the elite by singing lullabies and the smell of roasting coffee. If the marginalized did the awakening themselves, it would have been very different.

Dawit mentions that “The Nile, the Red Sea (Eritrea) and Somalia (the Ogaden)” are paramount strategic importance for the well being ofEthiopia. Leaving aside the elite’s obsession of portraying the Red Sea as some cave where Cyclopes and Pirates hide to jump at Ethiopiaanytime it blinks, I am baffled by the fact that the rights of Eritreans, Ogadenis and Afars are always subservient to the proponents of Greater Ethiopia. They think that all those people in the peripheries of power are there to serve the Abyssinian elite that never questions its legitimacy to perpetually control others! They take that as given, as a god-given right!

For an Ethiopian, whose history and guiding principles is based on mythologies and fables to state that “Eritreans have been exposed to many kinds of propaganda and external interests,” is incomprehensible. But the land of the Gold & Wax has this:

y’ras simmwala now k’lela whdetu
kentu mettaket now abbrie maletu::

Unlike Dawit’s description that “Eritrea is Mehal Ager” and “the place where Ethiopiawinet began” I have many relatives whose ancestors fled to Eritrea escaping from Ethiopiawiniet. But Dawit, and the rest of the elite, need to zoom out of their comfort zone and see beyond their ethnicity, religion and region. This will be elaborated in my upcoming book, God willing, soon—I am following Dawit’s advice: “Our genuine historians had to dig a lot to bring the truth out and popularize it.” I don’t need to be a genuine historian, I try to be a genuine storyteller.

The Phobias

The elite should know that people will some day spring out of their slumber and fight for what is theirs. No one should be taken for granted, all sane people know that no one would take oppression and sidelining with no reaction indefinitely. Any reasonable person would recognize that geopolitical situations have changed and the statuesque is no more guaranteed. Technological advancements have come a long way, and thankfully, they are accessible, not monopolized by the elite. One can either embrace democracy in its genuine, and honest form, or choose to live in endless seasons of pillaging and violence—and for a country that knew nothing but “elect-of-god” kings and imitation Stalins, Ethiopia is not doing bad.

If I were an Ethiopian, I would take it easy and be thankful I have reached this far. I would stop the tactics of the ancient regime and try to improve the playing ground by using indigenous tools, education, work for justice and equality and engage directly in the country. I have so much respect for those who make their points and pursue ideal democracy and mobilize their people towards peaceful struggle inside the country; I have zero respect for those who totally depend on political NGOs from world capitals.  I would not allow my country to be run by whoever has the deepest pocket.

History by Commission

An often-repeated obsession with belittling the origins of the Eritrean struggle comes straight from the Eritrean ruling regime’s discrediting manuals:

“I was there as troop commander when the first conflict started between the government troops and the rebel forces (then they were just bandits) because they did not have any political agenda.”

This is typical of an elite that is so arrogant it thinks that it owns all the tools of knowledge; others are dummies. No one else is able to plan as they plan; no one else is as smart as they are. Dawit’s club of elite (including Isaias) lacks basic humility in acknowledging what is done by their opponents and keep making such outrageous declarations. Bandits? That doesn’t even warrant a response but the more serious claim does.

Though they would have been considered brilliant and progressive if they waved a communist manifesto—which is the only thing Dawit’s Derg regime had (and imported, at that), Awate and his brave colleagues had an agenda, a concise political agenda at that. It can be summed up in one sentence: it was to get Dawit and his troops out of Eritrea. Dawit himself has confirmed, “many [Eritreans] joined the rebels …because they …were denied their right to live without fear of being persecuted, arrested and tortured and executed.” What agenda is needed when the reason is clearly identified? Why join Ethiopia when all that comes from it is more death and oppression, a long history of persecution, aggression and pillaging starting from the time of the likes of Degiat Wube? Eritreans joined the rebels because they wanted nothing to have to do with Ethiopia. They wanted to have a fence they can close when they go to bed at night. They wanted any dealing with Ethiopia to be in broad daylight, when everyone is wide-awake, when each neighbor opens his door willingly without coercion.

But leaving tit-for-tar aside, for those who wish to be educated, though it is coming over half a century later, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was started by parliamentarians, lawyers, university students and labor unionists. They knew they did not fit in the tight club of the Ethiopian elite of the time, they were its anti-thesis. They were so progressive that they rejected an archaic feudal regime and had the courage to pave the way for its eradication. Ethiopians should be grateful to those people; they hastened the political transformation ofEthiopia. If not for that, today, there would have been another feudal Janhoi ruling over the millions of landless peasants. Yes, the power structure of ancient Ethiopia was destroyed. Yes, there are many who are fond of that era and remember it with nostalgia. But if that was good or bad depends on your perspective—of course, those who suffered, “the loss of power and influence” didn’t like it, just like Dawit.

I was Also There, Shaleqa Dawit

What is amazing is that Dawit was everywhere, even in places he imagined he was. He claims, “I was there when [Awate] was captured and killed.” All right, I was there in Meqdela when Tedros swallowed a bullet from his pistol. I shook General Napier’s hands. Too ancient a history? I have lived that age, in my imagination—why not, if Dawit can imagine witnessing Awate’s capture and death, I was in Meqdela. Prove me wrong! But Dawit’s claim that Awate was captured and killed (didn’t say if he was summarily executed!) is a novel claim—there is no single document, or even a claim, that Awate was killed or captured. I have never seen or heard such a claim even from official Ethiopian sources. I challenge Dawit to prove this, substantial proof, not the ‘I was there’ type. Awate died of a sudden illness and was buried by his friends, the band of courageous men Dawit calls bandits.

Dawit is a career soldier, a politician and a leader. To make it worse, he has a fourth component, he is an intellectual. Those four in one container are a deadly combination.

Eritrean liberation fighters had all the incentive to keep the death of Awate a secret so as not to demoralize the combatants; conversely, Ethiopia then had every incentive to publicize his death, for the same reason: to demoralize the enemy. If Dawit’s troops laid their hands on Awate’s body as he claims, they would have displayed it in the marketplace just like they did with the other bodies: for God’s sake, as a child, like everyone else in town, I was forcefully herded by Ethiopian soldiers to watch the gruesome sights of mutilated corpses the Tor Serawit hanged in the marketplace. They wanted to show their trophies whenever they had a good day and laid their hands on killed ELF combatants—this is from a nation that went through the Italian fascist rule that did the same after the attempt on Graziani’s life in Addis Ababa and its surrounding; a nation of a corrupt king who solicited foreign powers to bombard Ethiopian villages in Tigray, with chemical bombs. If I were Dawit, or anyone who thinks like him, I would reread my country’s history again, this time, critically and honestly.

Dawit further claims: “I was also there when in September 1956 (Eth. Cal.) our troops suffered their first causality at a place called Haikota, close to Agordat. The ELF took out peaceful soldiers on leave from a public bus and executed them.” I am hardly pressed to disbelieve this claim, if Dawit was there, he must have been the only Tor Serawit in Haikota. At that time, Haikota was manned by Eritrean police—Tor Serawit had not been stationed there yet though they passed through there a year earlier to pursue Awate who gave them a battle at Togoruba where the man with the ragtag group of “Bandits” came out victorious.

The date corresponds to 1964 European calendar and the people who executed that operation could still be alive. The Haikota operation is considered one of the first ever-daring operations the nascent ELF executed. The claim that the ELF killed peaceful soldiers from a public bus and executed them is either a dishonest recounting or an intended clever under the belt hit, I am not sure which. It didn’t happen.

That story is recounted by all veterans with so much pride and passion.  Here is what really happened: The bus was stopped on its way to Haikota, the combatants in civilian clothes ordered the passengers to disembark. Then they boarded the bus and entered Haikota singing and clapping (traditionally, people on a trip to bring a bride from a different place traveled that way). They surprised the policemen in the Haikota station. They were not prepared for such a surprise; it could be because their trainers told them Awate and his group are a bunch of simple BANDITS. But the “bandits” stripped the station of all its arms and stores.

In any event, EVEN if what Dawit recounts is true (and it is not), where do these two acts fall on the morality scale: executing “peaceful soldiers” who were vacationing from their one task to kill you (the alleged victims in Dawit’s mournful tale) OR burning alive women, the elderly and children (which happened in Ona and is recorded by history)?

A Peace Intended to Serve War

What Dawit is calling for is the rebirth of the Unionist Party and a new coalition of, again, of Abyssinians, to fight another targeted Abyssinians, Weyane. Haven’t we had enough of this reckless politics? Wouldn’t this be Red Tears, Part 2?

The sad thing is that Dawit is calling for another cycle of confrontation though he remembers that his friends (and many he doesn’t know),“died with a smile on their face: because the cause was the flag and the unity of Ethiopia.” And sadly enough, from another perspective, many Eritrean fighters died with a smile on their face: because they wanted to rid Eritrea of the Ethiopian troops and flag that was imposed on them. Now let’s go to war not for a noble cause, but to beat up the Weyane!

For most of history, Ethiopian ruling power has been under the control of the three-headed hydra: Amhara, Eritrean Highlands, and Tigrai. The body of the hydra represented Abyssinia. The competition among the three heads has been a typical alpha male confrontation: two heads have to suffer for the third to walk away and mount the only female. You will discover that this selfish and meaningless competition has burned centuries of the country’s history. Centuries were wasted on infighting, destroying and never building. All the violence and destruction is hatched, led and executed by one of the three heads of the hydra; other people in the area had to suffer the consequences of calamities not of their making. Dawit’s audience are not being encouraged to befriend Isaias in order to promote peaceful transition or fair competition; Isaias knows only the language of the gun and they seem to have embraced that. Oh Abyssinian elite, have mercy!

I would like to volunteer an observation: one who resorts to Isaias for a solution has nothing to do with democracy! The dream of peaceful coexistence cannot be achieved with Isaias holding the compass; he can only devise diabolical plans to take the two nations into a Somaliasituation, then we would envy Somalis and wish we were in their state. Dawit has called on Ethiopians “to work very closely with our Eritrean brothers and sisters to get rid of Woyanne.” He is betted on Isaias and his minority regime and we all know that this is another bloody adventure being hatched. For me, the day you side with Isaias, you lose my respect.

Dawit confirms, “Assab is negotiable. Badme is negotiable.” If I was negotiating on Badme, I would suggest we give it to the Delai Lama and legislate that every Abyssinian spends three months there to be deprogrammed, cut the nerves that attract the smell of blood to his nose. Then cut the wires that ignite fire and force everyone to meditate until the devil that encourages them to wage wars is ejected. Everyone would go hungry until they forget war cries that go, Geday, Geday. It is just not ‘cool’ as the young would say. One cannot rap with pride screaming that he is a killer like a downtown gangster. As far as Assab is concerned, I would station Isaias in one of those one-meter square Gurage shops to learn how to do honest and smart business. One cannot open a grocery shop in Arat Kilo and boycott the residents of the neighborhood. Assab has been idle for ten years thanks to Isaias—boycotting 80 million people is not smart at all, in fact, it is the dumbest thing one can do.

New, More Accommodating Bridges

In conclusion, less I be misunderstood as someone who is anti-cooperation, I would like to state that I have no phobia of any kind. What I wrote above should be considered my attempt to offer a jolt, send people to an uncomfortable zone that they avoid, to make the elite understand how they are perceived and how arrogant and insensitive and irresponsible their political designs are. The region has suffered enough and people with abilities should build practical modern bridges instead of reviving bridges that we crossed and found to be weak and useless. We should call for the building of two, three, four and more bridges that would carry us all, not only the elite who have been the cause of our miseries for centuries. Dawit is a decent person, no doubt, but his message just scratches raw nerves. I wish he would revise his posture and stop igniting fires that he is sure would not burn him. Geopolitics has changed and the situation is more volatile than we care to admit. We should not pretend to promote democracy and at the same time practice what is contrary to democracy. We should not call on others to be closer to us yet we are not ready to shed our chauvinistic and paternalist posture.

Respect is the way to any future cooperation between the region’s countries. To an Eritrean (all Eritrea and not the elite’s Eritrea) cooperation is sought equally with all the countries of the region. It is good that Dawit has come to terms with Eritrea’s independence; but belittling the Eritrean struggle and repeating the old Ethiopian rhetoric, agitation and actions of the forties is a call to repeat the violent cycle that resulted the first time around.

Finally, I beg (it is only asking a favor) the Ethiopian elite to stop saying that the TPLF, “gave away [Eritrean] independence in a silver platter.” Not denying the positive role the TPLF played, but it is an insult to ignore the sacrifices and the courage with which Eritreans fought to gain liberation; the fact that it is not complete does not change that.

1 Major Dawit, a graduate of the Harar Military Academy during the Haile Sellassie era. He carries a Law degree from Addis Ababa University and Columbia University in the United States. Major Dawit was a military trainer and operations officer in Eritrea. In the eighties, he was the supreme representative of the Derg and Workers Party of Ethiopia (ye etipia serategnotch mahber (ESEPA). He was also a Deputy Foreign Minister and the Commissioner of Relief and Rehabilitation of Ethiopia. 


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