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Eritrea: A Picture and 1001 Words

Hopefully the person who sent me the above picture in 2001, would come out and be recognized; unfortunately I don’t remember who it was!

I received the picture 14 years ago when awate.com was one-year old, and I believe it first appeared in the Internet accompanying the article below that I wrote on June 2, 2001. Since then, it has become one of the widely circulated iconic images in Eritrean mediums.  Awate.com tried to enhance the black and white picture locally with no success; a few days ago I had it professionally enhanced and colorized, but still, I was not content with the finished quality and gave it more touches. Yet, I am not satisfied with the quality though I think it can do for the moment.

If you are superstitious, the fact that the members of the EPLF Politburo in the picture are thirteen is bad luck to begin with. But regardless, it is a sad photo because it reminds us of the fate of the leaders and describes the cruelty of Isaias Afwerki, the 13th person in the picture. As of today, the status of the thirteen Politburo members of the EPLF (1978-1987) is as follows:

Still orbiting around Isaias Afwerki: 1) Ramadan Mohamed Nur, 2) Alamin Mohamed Saeed, and, 3) Sebhat Efrem.

In jail (fate unknown since 2001): 1) Ogbe Abraha, 2) Haile Woldetensae, 3) Petros Solomon, 4) Mahmoud Sheriffo, and, 5) Berhane Gerezgiher.

In Exile: 1) Mesfin Hagos.

Not alive: 1) Ibrahim Aafa (martyred 1985), 2) Ali Sayed Abdella (2005), and 3) Mohamed Saeed Barih, (2008).

Below is the first article as it appeared in 2001, with minor changes, but I kept the by-line as I was using that name before I reclaimed Johar as a permanent name.

One Thousand Words And A Picture
By Saleh Gadi, June 2, 2001

“Time is like a Sword, if you don’t cut, it cuts you.”  Arabic proverb

Time always comes uninvited. It always comes with a luggage of sorts. Wrinkles, memory loss, grey hair, and weak senses. But it also comes with maturity. Time is everything, it’s nostalgic; as nostalgic as today’s picture. Did they know what destiny had in store for them? Did they know if they were going to part each other?

The wheel of time rolls. It rolled and rolled. We are in the year 2001. The picture was taken in 1977. Twenty-four years ago. Twenty-four is the age when most Eritreans are either long dead before they reach it, or reached it and are telling stories about death. Twenty-four years of age means an Eritrean has already consumed 50% of his life. A life expectancy of below fifty is the only blessing we have. Thanks to “dagme hntsa,” the reconstruction that made our life expectancy increase dramatically, to forty-something years! Eritreans are destined to die before they become grandparents…in fact many die before they become parents. It’s an Eritrean dilemma: be born, grow up, carry a gun, and go shooting. And before you die, leave someone who will carry the gun to shoot. A shooting offspring, and the cycle goes on. Why should Eritreans live for the gun, and by the gun? Why should we pay non-stop? Isn’t it about time that the rivers of blood dried out?  That must change. We need peace. Our situation must change. We need to reform ourselves. We need to eradicate the causes of violence. We need to weed out [i] the cause of violence. We need to change. We need change. We need reform and reformers. Power to the reformers.

Our country is a shining example of endurance. Our people are a proud example of patience. Yet, the whole struggle was for the betterment of the life of the people, but nothing improved. The struggle was to rid them of violence, but violence is abundant. It was to rid them of poverty; they are the poorest of the world. It was to improve healthcare; we are still dying on our forties—if we make it alive through the never-ending cycle of violence. It was to free the Eritrean person; people are languishing in jails. It was to fight injustice; we have perpetuated injustice. What has changed to the common Eritrean? Very little. These are the real issues and not boring statistics of how many clinics were built or how many schools were built. There are globally accepted indexes to measure educational and medical improvements, not crude figures meant for propaganda purposes.

That was the dream; it is not realized yet. Free the people. Let our people explode their subdued energy. Let them embark on an unprecedented development of the self. Take off your hands of issues that are the domain of the people. Help them preserve their freedom; they are the masters of their destiny. No one should be allowed to act like a modern day pharaoh to belittle and humiliate Eritreans. Fairness, justice, shunning violence, and being honest to the tenets of the entire, erstwhile Eritrean dream is what we need. We need change, we should support change. Power to change, power to reform.

The above picture is symbolic. It is symbolic to all Eritreans. It is symbolic to all the organizations that participated in the struggle for liberation of Eritrea. It is symbolic to all who want to contemplate. It is symbolic to our martyrs because one of the people is a Martyr. It is symbolic to those who chose to be silent, because there are some in the picture who are silent. It is symbolic to all reform minded Eritreans, because it has many from the Reform-group. It is symbolic to those who want to maintain the statuesque, because it has those who are the anti-change and anti-reform. It is symbolic. Did you guess who the people in the picture are?

A picture is equal to one thousand words. I have to write one thousand and one words to beat that perception. Few lines to go. Bear with me. I am still at six-hundred ninety-seven words.

The picture was taken in the field. Of course, no one of the group knew what was in store for the Eritrea that they fought for. Yet, they had seeds developing. Seeds of developing characters. One was a leader, he died a leader–the Martyr Ibrahim Afa. Another was a leader; after liberation, he resigned and retired gracefully[ii]–Ramadan Mohammed Nur. Another was a leader, and still is; he wants to remain a leader indefinitely–President Isaias Afwerki. The rest are all still politically active in varying degrees.

Importantly, the picture includes 13 people. If we exclude Ibrahim Aafa, Ramadan Mohammed Nur, and Isaias Afwerki, we remain with ten people. Six of those are among the signatories of the “…Open Letter to All PFDJ Members.” Two are apparently supporting the statuesque and another two do not have a clear stand; in fact Mohammed Said Barih has almost disappeared from the political arena.

Here are the names of 1977-1987 EPLF Politburo members:

Standing, left to right: Ogbe Abraha, Ali Sayed Abdella[iii], Sebhat Efrem, Haile Woldetensae, Petros Solomon, Mohamed Saeed Barih[iv], Mesfin, Hagos, and, Alamin Mohamed Saeed.

Seated, left to right: Berhane Gerezgiher, Ibrahim Aafa (martyred, 1985), Ramadan Mohamed Nur, Isaias Afwerki, and Mahmoud Sheriffo.

A martyr, an exiled veteran, a president, a defence minister, a foreign minister, and the PFDJ Secretary, and another six persons who are equally prominent but chose a different path. Some calibres of people, to quote Ngusse Tesfai, “do not normally have careers. They have destiny.” Power to change; POWER TO REFORM[v].


[i] I held the view of weeding out PFDJ long before the current debate among Eritreans over semantics.
[ii] Addendum: later information indicated he was forced to reign, purged, didn’t exit gracefully.
[iii] Ali Said Abdella was the Foreign Minister of Eritrea when he died in 2005.
[iv] Mohammed Said Barih, died 2008, he was the first foreign minister of Eritrea and governor of Anseba region.
[v] I supported the reform movement but changed my mind convinced it will not work.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

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  • Ayneta

    Dear Mr. Johar:
    I applaud your foresight about the need for instigating change in Eritrea since that time. You have been consistent on this issue and kudos to you for that.

    Looking at the picture, it is a sad reminder of the fact that a single individual no only made the rest of the fighters in the picture disappear into the thing air but also completely dictated the course of action for the country unabated. He single handedly controlled the course and temo Eritrea has been taking since its inception. Worse, this sad legacy is still continuing unabated with no end in sight.

    While my heart wishes and prays that normalcy will prevail sooner than later, my mind thinks otherwise. Increasingly, from what I see, I doubt if Eritrea will remain in control of its own future legacy. Looking at how tirelessly the Ethiopian government is trying to effect change in Eritrea as it sees fit, coupled with Eritrean government reckless and short sighted policies, I can’t help but wonder if Eritrea will continue as a nation in control of its history and future developments. Sometimes, I feel it is a done deal. The Ethiopians, particularly the ruling party , egged on by the West, have cooked up a plan on how to realize their dream of controlling Eritrea. Worse, Eritrean government is blindly stepping into the trap, not knowing that it is doing more harm than protecting the country. Eritrean government has lost its only and formidable resource: its own people, that it could have used to its advantage. This is my genuine concern and that is why I strongly oppose any opposition that uses Ethiopia as its ally in effecting change in Eritrea. It is like the Amharic adage: bere karaju yihedal!

  • PTS

    Dear Hayat,
    You said you were going to reconsider your participation. So what’s the verdict? As you can see, SAAY now has all the toys he took prisoners from you and is roaming around non-stop…haha.. No one can stop his reign other than you…lol…

    • Nitricc

      Wow. You are the real meaning of Asheqebach. Why do you have to bring SAAY in to this?

  • haileTG

    Hello SGJ,

    Thanks for this one! Here is also a video that says 1002 words:-)


  • Tewelde G/mariam

    Hi Saleh Johar,

    Do you know what isaias afewerki did to control the 1997 ratified Eritrean Constitution followed by the choas he has plunged the country and people into are mirror images of the act king haile selase did to the Eritrean Ethiopian Federal Constitution and Eritrea?

    Yes, king haile selase and his agents, under the guise of preempting deadlock and fostered a smooth legislative processes of the Eritrean assembly who were roughly divided 50-50 between the Muslims and Christian , convinced Mr. Maziento, the author of the Eritrean Ethiopian Federal Constitution, to incorporate in the constitution that the Assembliy’s Chief Executive be assigned by the Crown representative in Eritrea. However, what haile selase and his agents had in mind, as it unraveled on the ground, was radically different from the rational they presented because the Chief Assembly Executive routinely hindered the legislation processes rather than facilitated it. The consequence was that the Assemblia soon became redundant in the eyes of the Eritrean people , creating convinient situation for haile selase to take a bold step on ending the federation by force.

    Similarly, isaias afewerki insisted that the Constitution incorporated that the president of the country be the head of the parliament. In 1998, just about about year after the Constution was ratified, he launched illegal and unnecessary war on ethiopia.And after the war was over, 2001, members of the assembly asked him to convene the assembly to discuss , among others, the implementation of the Constituion, he launched another illegal war; he shut down the Assembly, the Constitution, private press and incarcerated a senior members of the Assembly and members of the private press. Since that time, he has been systematically decimating Eritrean social fabric and economic infrastructurs. Isaias afewerki is indeed an enemy implant in our midst.

    • Saleh Johar

      Selam Tewelde,
      The comparison is on the spot. That’s what Assfeha Weldemichel did, stall progress until the people hated the government. Isaias did that to position himself as the savior in the time she. His foot soldiers were spreading myths like he is working Alone, no one is helping him, etc

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Dear Tewlde,

      Let me quote you: ” isaias afewerki insisted that the Constitution incorporated that the president of the country be the head of the parliament.” This is a very interesting statement for me. I asked Dr. Bereket three times at different time if they had faced any kind of pressure from Issayas and his party “PFDJ.” The good doctor said “No”. The reason why I asked him, I was buffled as to why do they drafted a “hybrid constitution”- a mixed of parliamentary and presidential structure where the president will be elected from the assembly. My guess from the exchange I made with the good doctor was, that their intent was a single party to run the country with centralized excessive power of the executive. Therefore, whether the constitution was implemented or not, the current reality of the will not be that different. If it would have been implemented, it will only legitimize the action of the centralized power of the executive. Other than that not much.

      Amanuel Hidrat

    • Selam

      Selam Tewelde:
      I have followed you and your Conspiracy Theories here @awate.com and @ TN and we exchanges few words!
      The CORE issue here is not and, should not be,about PIA did this and that !
      The CORE issue is :
      -Why did we allow one individual to do all these dirty and destructive things to the extent of decimating ERITREANS and the Erotrean Social Fabric and Economy and the Resources in front of our eyes and worst,with the help of the same ERITREANS!
      We should blame ourselves and we should dome something ASAP before it is too late!

      • Tewelde G/mariam

        Hi selam,
        If we read history, ancient as well as modern, we can readily observe the impact of individuals. Moses, Prophet Muhammed, Hitler etc. can be cited as examples. Such people have the ability to figure out the dream of the people and to exploit it efficiently either for evil end good end. And since they are the commanders, depending on the outcome, it is they who are either blamed or praised, while the people are either the benefcieries or victims.

        The praised, as Moses and Prophet Muhammed, continue to be loved and immulated for ever, while people, such as Hitler, isaias afewerki, are hated as monsters.

        And for you to attempt to exonerate the monster and impostor isaias afewerki by blaming his victims is preposterous.

  • Amanuel

    Hi Saleh
    Now it is well known fact that Ramadan Mohammed Nur didn’t resign and retired gracefully as explained above. According Adhanom Gebremariam he was purged from the leadership by IA. Haile (DuruA) stage managed his resignation process to avoid embarrassment to the front.

    • Saleh Johar

      Hi Amanuel,
      You are right, but we all believed so at the time. I forgot to include a correction, thanks to you I have included an endnote explaining that.

      • Amanuel

        Hi Saleh
        Yes we did believe that he has resigned. It must have been a tight guarded secrete among few. The irony is that he has worked all his life to bring about independence but once he did he was disposed like worthless item and there was no one defend him like for Mesfun Hagos.

        • PTS

          Ramadan is too nice and too soft to lead. He lacks the necessary ‘gut’ a leader needs. And if you are not a tough person, no one follows you and no one will defend you. Our people tend to be what do you call in english…not sure but ‘dendani’ is the word I am looking for.
          So all Ramadan has is a seniority of service.

          • G. Gebru

            PTS, plus! Wegenegna.

          • Amanuel

            Hi PTS
            Being nice and soft are a good qualities to have in a leader. Most leaders are in-trusted with power and if they are not nice and soft what is there to stop them from unleashing it; as the one we have now. So please do not assume that being nice is a weakness. It is the norm in human behaviour. But what is exceptional and not normal is excessive ruthlessness which I think should be a criteria to stop someone from assuming power.