Ngdet London, Kahsa Weyane
Let’s begin with a traditional scene. Two spouses quarrel and friends intervene. The husband is pressured to ask for forgiveness. He brings home a fat chicken, the wife cooks it for lunch and they resolve their issues over a zigni derho meal. The husband brought some gifts as well: a bottle of perfume and a new dress as a compensation for the wife, for a reconciliation and repentance. That compensation is called Kahsa. Of course, if they quarreled because the husband cheated on his wife, the gift would be known as Suq Arbaa. I haven’t heard what the wife would offer her husband if she had cheated. But then, she would be dead, killed by the husband!
As you can tell from the above, the cheater’s friends, or his neighbors, or his work associates, or people he knows on Paltalk, or people he met at a corner coffee shop, have nothing to do with the husband-wife quarrel, or the decision to reconcile. And here is my question: Why would one consider others equal culprits in his cheating? It could be in such a situation that the Bedouin said, “la lena naqa wela jemel.” Meaning, ‘we do not have a she-camel or a he-camel in the issue.’
Imagine: You receive an invitation letter from one of the spouses and it reads as follows: ‘I have quarreled with my spouse. I regret it. Though you have nothing to do with our quarrel, I want you to bear equal responsibility and reconcile with my spouse at a sq Arbaa luncheon that I am throwing. I will pay for your ticket, your meals, your accommodation, and maybe some sightseeing.’
Wouldn’t you be flabbergasted?
Adem Das and Karra Wray
To spice it up, I will explain some more traditional terms. In the lowlands, someone who pops up in any gathering, even uninvited, is known as Adem Das; in the highlands, such a person is known as Karra Wray, a good kitchen knife that is frequently burrowed and moves everywhere to prepare party food. If you’re Karra Wray, God forbid, you would accept the invitation and fly to London even if London was a city in Waqwaq (they haven’t put it on the map yet.) If you are Adem Das, you would find a reason to attend: ‘I have a vacation anyway, and I need to visit my relatives in London; I will go.’ Sadly, an invitee actually told me that.
Thanks to my old friend ‘tegadalay’ Paulos Baatai, who is cooking zigni Derho, maybe as Kahsa for the “Weyane”, compensating them for his attitudes towards them in the past, many Adem Dases and the Karra Wrays would be there—thanks to the deep-pocketed NGO that is funding the Jamboree, there would be enough attendees; some naive others genuinely concerned. The concerned definitely carry compasses with no magnetic pointers. When they are supposed to be somewhere else, they would end up in London. But there is an exception: I encourage those who are languishing in refugee lands and who are dying to secure an entry-visa to resettle in Europe, to contact the organizers. Just shoot them an e-mail and state your willingness to attend the Ngdet. Remember to have the right name so that they would send you an air-ticket and a recommendation letter to Her Majesty’s Embassy for a visa, even if they do not know you. They are good people.
When people call me to solicit my views on whether they should attend the London conference or not, I ask them a few questions: Do you object to having peace with Ethiopia or the region? They tell me they don’t.
Do you, as an individuals, have enmity with the Ethiopian people that you need to reconcile in London? They say they don’t.
Then why are you considering attending in the first place?
If anyone is aching to build peace with the Ethiopian people, they might as well have it between Eritreans and the people of Waqwaq. The attendants of the London Ngdet would not make any change or influence anything, at all. Simply put, Paulos doesn’t have any moral authority to broker peace between Eritreans and Ethiopians. He has not made a genuine change of heart towards the diverse Eritrean people; his peace charters and declarations are mere pontifications.
Apparently, Paulos’ old rigid position regarding Ethiopia has softened. Good. People change their views. But people also explain the reason for the change. Since 2002, the pursuit of the old position was enhanced with vicious attacks and blackmailing of the opposition and resistance forces. It has inflicted irreparable damages to the Eritrean forces that faced the PFDJ. But as Paulos’ (and his friends’) changed their attitude 180 degrees, one cannot help but realize that all the bravado was partisan posturing. The outrage, ‘ezom zedmeyuna! Ezom Weyane,’ suddenly stopped. However, those who were victimized for years and deserve a gracious apology didn’t get one. Instead, we have to find the explanation in a bizarre article. Paulos volunteered an explanation.
It seems personal interest had kicked in when Paulos was employed by IDEA, (an NGO that funds his political activities) and was stationed in South Africa. On September 10, 2007 Paulos authored a pompous article which he aptly titled, ”Ten Years After: Addis Without Eritreans” which is available here thanks to google. The link to the apologetic article on selfi-democracy.com goes to a dead end.
Paulos stated that “One cannot work at a senior level for an inter-governmental/international organization, as I do, that has major programmes with the African continental body, and not visit Addis Ababa.” He might as well have told us his itinerary, a travelogue, on how he ended up in Addis Ababa. Of course he has to travel to Ethiopia, and he definitely landed at Bole Airport (I don’t believe it was a road travel through Moyale, Metemma or Badme). Immediately he issued a fatwa, an edict: Oh Ye, oh Ye, from today on, it is Halal to travel to Ethiopia and meet the “Weyane.” Many responded to the call positively and busied the streets of Addis Ababa. All of a sudden, traveling to Ethiopia and having a cozy relations with its leaders became Halal, Kosher to dine and wine with the officials who were until recently mentioned with a contempt. But Ethiopia was not a strange country for Paulos; he went to school and worked there years ago. It is also a place that welcomed him as a PFDJ member until the Badme crisis spoiled it all; the cozy relations resumed and the anti-Weyane vitriol stopped in no time when he met the Weyane leaders. Two years down the road, Paulos anointed himself the guru of Peace With Ethiopia. MashaAllah!
By authoring a condescending article, Paulos might have thought that he had effectively preempted those who would question his sudden change of heart towards the Weyane. His reasoning was lame and insulting, one doesn’t have to work for an international NGO to freely decide where to travel or reside; there should be more to it. His group’s rigid blackmailing “policy” regarding relations with Ethiopia has resulted in many splits—splits that left Paulos’ party semi-paralyzed. One would innocently ask: is it Paulos who became a sell-out or the sell-outs turned to patriots?
The NGO Steroids
Last December, I was invited to the mini-passagio that was organized in London. Unfortunately, I had to decline at the risk of disappointing a few friends—“you hurt my feeling” is not valid in such cases.
As some of you would remember, I had an experience co-organizing (on behalf of awate) a similar passagio with Paulos Baatai after he approached us for the task in 2002. As naïve as we were, inexperienced in the workings of the career NGO’s, I accepted. But we knew the basic decency and we agreed with a pre-condition: diverse attendants and inclusive meeting. I had no idea then why every move we made was being coordinated with one of the leaders of Paulos’ party. I didn’t mind the involvement of that party—since its members were the new kids on the block, I counted on them to deliver something—remember, I admitted I was naive! Months of preparation, a trip to Holland, and three-days of excursion to the village of Amersfoort in the Netherlands produced a high sounding working statements. Subsequently, we embarked on compiling an inclusive list of around 150 names of potential people who were supposed to attend the promised follow-up conference. In fact, my friend Semere Habtemariam worked very hard and compiled an impressive list that included names of elders, dignitaries, intellectuals, activists and a proposal on how the diverse political organizations would attend. Unfortunately, all that work was based on a word from Paulos who confirmed that he has the means to fund the planned conference. At the end, he retracted—the Amersfoort meeting became a one-line boost to Paulos’ Resume, another one-shot event like the many that he organized—including the Berlin meeting, the New York meeting, and others.
Over the years I have realized that Paulos, thanks to the NGO steroids (mainly the Scandinavian kind), is more powerful than his appearance suggests. He has managed to install himself as the main sub-contractor for many NGO’s that depend on his views when formulating policies on Eritrea and its opposition forces. Of course, over the last decade or two, many Western countries have “privatized” their foreign affairs ministries and almost ceased to deal directly with poor countries; NGOs have become the contractors that carry the task on behalf of their respective countries. That is why their diplomacy is mostly entrusted to twenty-something kids with hippie looks who became lounge-lizards in big hotels in the capitals of many poor countries. They are unlike the traditional NGOs, the ones you see on TV screens holding skeletal babies, feeding the sick, tending to the weak, risking their lives in conflict zones and living in squalid condition with refugees. Such is the mixed picture of NGO operatives in poor countries: on one hand, compassionate do-gooders who command respect and admiration, on the other, career centered individuals who look down on people and act and behave as a British viceroy in the days of the Mahrajas. To some NGO’s, Paulos’ voice has become the only song that they hear over and over again, seemingly without getting bored. A diplomacy that is conducted in such a way is demeaning to say the least: anyone who can secure a couple of hundred thousand dollars attempts to dictate how others should conduct their internal affairs. NGOs that legitimize Finnish funds, for example, and criminalize Ethiopian funds. Foreign policy (and pimping) should not be sub-contracted to partisans; I trust the West, specially the Europeans, are smarter than that. They should not keep listening to one old tired song for decades.
The London Ngdet
One of the often repeated working-slogan (actually the excuse) of the London Negdet is the tired, “we have to move beyond the Badme crisis and build peace with the Ethiopians.” My grandfather would have said, “Aaw bel zwedey!”
You see, though very old, my grandfather had his hearing faculty all in tact until he died in peace. He would pretend his hearing was impaired when he didn’t like what was being said and would ask you to say it louder and louder, again and again, until you gave up on your own. I am not my grandfather and I will not pretend deafness.
For a while I thought Paulos’s anti Weyane tirade was genuine. It turned out he was only against any grouping he doesn’t control—his problem was not Ethiopia, but who was steering and controlling the relations with it. He didn’t approve of the Eritrean Democratic Aalliance (EDA) behind the driver’s seat. Together with a few others, he has tried everything at his disposal to short-circuit anything the EDA did or planned to do. A simple due diligence would show that there is more to his conference than meets the eye—and time will tell, soon. Not many people would know Paulos’ partisan politicking because he has cleverly managed to veil it from the public and steer things from behind the scene. Indeed, he is empowered and he can do that. It seems his enablers consider him the most non-partisan person (it would be a disaster if they know his partisan nature and still continue to enable him.) But what has been happening for the last decade is disheartening to many Eritreans who follow Eritrean politics and who have invested their lives, their money and their health in the struggle against the tyranny of the PFDJ. They would not watch silently when they see hegemonic politics at play.
The stalling Tactic
It has been twenty years since Eritrea became independent; it has been ten-year since the balance tipped against the PFDJ. We all went through an emotional rollercoaster in the nineties. The mass arrest of half the PFDJ leaders and the closure of the nascent press was all it took for the balance to tip. Then, suddenly the slumber was interrupted; the intoxicated and the euphoric were jolted to reality. It has been many-many years since Eritreans formed an umbrella organization that included opposition and resistance groups. Unfortunately, as soon as we reached “the tipping point,” we couldn’t take meaningful advantages of the developments because just then, the Diaspora lost clarity. To make matters worse, the enabled individuals launched their dubious actions and added to the confusion.
Someone told me that stalling is an effective tactic used by intelligence agencies—if you can’t beat them, join, and stall them. This tactic has been at play for far too long no to be noticed. Stalling the struggle came in many forms and hindered the process towards serious and meaningful action to end the Eritrean nightmare. It is about time that all the games stopped.
Come to think of it, for example, Paulos is a product of the Ethiopian educational system and one would think that he should be indebted to Enat Ager. Contrary to that, there are many, myself included, who know nothing from Ethiopia but miseries—miseries that continued for centuries. Yet, we are not blinded by partisan politics to feed fuel to the primordial grievances. We have come to terms with our history and we are willing to move on. For example, Paulos doesn’t have a small fraction of my grievances with Ethiopia. His grievances are most probably related to power play centered around the Badme crisis; while mine are centuries-old, not forgetting that I personally experienced it. However, I do not think I need to pen “peace charters” to reconcile with the Ethiopians, I am naturally reconciled—whatever happened in the past belongs to the intellectual realm and to history books, the common people are not responsible. But then, what is the problem? some say it is politics; I say it is partisan politics and not just politics.
I remember Herui Bairu for a brilliant quote: “Many people claim that politics is dirty. They are wrong, it’s neutral. It becomes dirty when handled by dirty hands.”
One might need more than a grain of salt to accept Herui’s quote, but it rings so true. The excuse that politics is dirty doesn’t allow for much explanation; it becomes a license to dodge issues, to conspire and to stall developments. Of course, if we accept that politics is dirty, we do not have to complain; instead, we would silently accept everything that hurts the struggle. I do not think it is wise to accept such excuses and watch from the sidelines when relentless partisan politics is waged on the name of noble sounding ideals: peace for example!
Finally, I would like to disclose that I was tempted to challenge Paulos when he wrote his apologetic article justifying his travel to Addis. I chose not to because I expected him to at least apologize to those he victimized, in due time. I expected him to explain his actions and campaigns over the years. He didn’t. He could have had a red carpet reception (it might have been brown) when he dined with Weyane top officials. I was happy because he finally ‘rediscovered the road to Addis Ababa.’ In a way, it was positive: soon after he legitimized the travel to Ethiopia, his friends followed his foot-steps one after the other. I was just happy and thought he would stop pontifications and be humbled a little. He didn’t. Instead, he started to rub old wounds with cheap salt—giving sermons about peace between Eritreans and Ethiopians.
Disclaimer: I understand that there are a few people I know who are involved in the London Ngdet, but since their role is peripheral and they have nothing to do with the chain of disappointments that the opposition went through, I wish they would not get entangled in this matter. I am not implicating them in anyway except, maybe, for their naiveté. But I would like to kindly suggest appropriate steps to the real sponsors: make peace with yourselves. You only need to declare your change of heart (and repentance if you are generous) to a mirror. You need to apologize (if you are more generous) to the people you victimized and blackmailed for years—for nothing, but because they went to Ethiopia. It is so obvious that it’s you who need to “move beyond Badme” and not the people you are luring to the meaningless Ngdet. You need to make peace with yourselves and admit your mistakes during the last decade. You need to admit you are entangled in partisan politics. Then, you have to scrap the whole misleading notion of “peace with Ethiopia” because there is no enmity between Eritreans and Ethiopians, at all. Proof? Eritreans and Ethiopians in the border areas are still intermarrying, burying their dead together and praying in the same churches… and you do not speak their simple language. Why are you trying to resolve an enmity that doesn’t exist but in your minds? Please learn to deal with matters that count, that break the bondage of Eritreans. Learn to address real issues that affect the entire Eritrean people instead of wallowing in trivial issues every now and then. Clean your houses first before sniffing for a non-existent problem with your neighbors. Please don’t squander the energies of the few activists. If you must, please garner a new support base, help inject new blood to the struggle—you have the money and the means, and the NGOs!