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Reconciliation That Leads to a Closure

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Some of you must have seen or attended a community or village councils: the accusers and the defendants will have their say, and then they must remain silent unless allowed to speak. violating that council tradition of silence results in a fine. Therefore, when one of them would have the urge to say something, they can’t. Unable to resist the urge, they make noises mmmm, mmmm. This is Negarit 93,

Tezkar, Khatimna, that is how you close a mourning period.

There was a large old tree by the stadium in Keren, but in the nineties,  they cut it down. They killed it. If I was to try the person who ordered its cutting, I would not be so lenient on him. I say “him” because I am sure it couldn’t have been a woman!

That tree saw so many councils, many people met under its shades. They discussed community issues, resolved feuds and quarrels, reconciled blood enmity and decided on reparations and compensations. They made no noise, because meeting there required a strict discipline. The elders listened quietly, never interrupting anyone unless they finished what they want to say. The accusers and the accused had their time, they made their case while the elders listened. When they finished, the elders whispered among themselves. Meanwhile, as children we watched the council from a distance. It was like a ritual.

The council resolved many conflicts, over blood or social feuds, by inter-marriage in which the families of the killer and the deceased would come with a bride and a bridegroom. As a result of the wedding, the blood enmity is “cooled.” Reconciled, they would hold a party to bless the agreement. Then, each party names guarantors to the agreements and they all walk away. A word given in public is so dear to the tribes; their pride and dignity depends on how honorably they adhere to their public declaration.

As a child I went there to listen to the deliberations, trying to guess what I did not hear. It was a valuable lesson my generation grew up learning.

Children fight over toys and small things and often they give each other a bloody nose. Oftentimes, an elder interferes and asks the children to reconcile. But pride gets in the way and they keep shrugging. However, if they reconcile, they must hug each other and it’s over. And soon the children forget the quarrel and go to play together. But if they refuse to reconcile, a threat or a slap or two forces them to hug each other. Yet, whether willingly or forced to do so, unlike adults, children forget quickly.


When someone dies sorrow engulfs family and friends, and they cry, wail and weep. Some do not eat or sleep for a long time, even take a shower or change clothes. They stay in mourning for a while. But then they must have a closure. On the day of closure, they slaughter animals and feed the poor and the people who come to pay their respects. Intense prayer for the deceased follows and then everybody leaves. A closure.

In most highland Christian traditions, the dead is not interned quickly to give time to relatives and friends to attend the funeral. If someone dies in a place far from his or her ancestral home, the body could stay in a morgue or a temporary grave but finally it must come home to be buried properly. But until that happens, there is no closure, the relatives go through tough mourning period until the final funeral—kalaay qebri.

In the Muslim culture, burying the dead is like a race against time. If a person dies in the afternoon, and if there is enough daylight time left, the body is buried at once. But if it is dark, it stays until the next morning. And then the usual mourning starts which might go for a week or so.

Cycle of violence

Eritrea has gone through many cycles of bloodshed, especially in the last two centuries. Meanwhile, grievances have been piling up and disrupting the unity of the people. That is also true with Ethiopian-Eritrean conflicts. These experiences have left us with so much bitterness, so much hate, and so much suspicion. Yet, the region was not blessed with enough wisdom to call for a proper closure–a closure where historical, social, and political enmities and suspicions are resolved and buried once and for all. Only then will people focus on the future with a positive attitude.

But if there is no closure, the grievances are skin deep. They reappear with the slightest provocation, with the slightest weakness of the economy, or social problems. It flares up and summons the jinni. And every time it does, new layers of grievances are added. Naturally, manufacturing accusations, recalling mythology, and presenting polished old hate messages as issues of today. Usually, the weak and the opportunists will want to avenge the real or perceived grievances that befell their perceived ancestors centuries ago. Imagine millions of people with such stories kept alive due to frustration, due to the need to blame others in order to feel liberated! Yet, everyone has the ability to fabricate grievances.

I have called for reconciliation for a long time, but unfortunately, even those who should know still think reconciliation is like two children fighting over toys and that like children, adults can be convinced or coerced to kiss up and forget the issues. Some underestimate serious social issues. They think one leader hugging another is as good as the entire societies reconciling. That is why we see the naïve consider the hugging of Abiy and Isaias as a reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But sadly, that naivety is not the trait of our people only, even the most advanced countries fall for it, including the Nobel prize institution that is convinced Eritrea and Ethiopia have reconciled. As pitiful as it is, they expect people awash with violence and chaos will listen and believe them. If that is the case, they can tell Eritreans and Ethiopians “you are enjoying all your rights, there is no oppression, your countries are flooded with justice” and it will be so! How I wish the illusion was real and that easy, like rubbing Aladdin’s lamp.

Closure. We are badly in need of closure.

When I called for reconciliation all these years, what I have in mind was always a closure. And achieving that kind of closure requires a process like the one that South Africa implemented: “Truth and Reconciliation.” A fresh look at the festering wounds is a must; the wound must be acknowledged and treated properly and not left as they have been for many decades. A proper closure is a must, not a handshake among leaders who do not have neither the mandate nor the legitimacy. How could one imagine that when the stakeholders are not part of it! Entities like the Nobel Institution should know that unelected leaders do not monopolize the feeling of the people, and there is no known human experience of proxy reconciliation where a representative is the oppressor. How is that different from wars waged on the name of the oppressed? Are oppressed people responsible for the proxy decisions, when they bleed in wars not of their making?

All conscious people with a little sense of morality should call for a closure. But such an endeavor must be led by noble patriots, respected veterans who went through the thick and thin; children, parents, spouses and siblings of martyrs who live with the memories of their loved ones;  religious leaders who are not part-time politicians; and conscious Eritreans and people of our region who want to achieve a long-lasting peace in our unfortunate region.

Finally, my dear compatriots, don’t be hard on yourself, all the disunity and disarray you are going through is not unique to you. It inflicts any country that lacks leadership, that lacks normal life, that’s threatened, pushed out, marginalized, persecuted and endlessly wronged. Don’t complain too much about the lack of unity. Stop sloganeering about unity, instead, work hard to achieve it. Challenge the forces that have become a hindrance to peace in our region. Challenge those who preach addition but practice subtraction. Challenge those who consider the people lab-mice on whom they test their opportunistic theories. You are the wronged, and rectify it with your own hands, minds and deeds. Practice what you preach. Shun all those who preach instability and chaos. Shun the dishonest who lack character and integrity. Then you will be masters of your destiny and you can chart a peaceful future for yourselves insulated from bloodshed,  poverty, wars and fear. The rooster will crow. It must. It will crow. What else can it do?

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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  • mad mullah

    Hello Saleh,
    It is good article and I believe wounds like ELF vs EPLF need closure and Truth and Reconciliation type of resolution. Fortunately in the Eritrea case the former combatants are passing away with their grievances and new generation will not be hamper by it.
    However, I have issue with some of your comments on the Eritrea/Ethiopia peace agreement. It is great milestone.
    In 1977, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat flew to Israel and talked to Knesset. About two years later in 1979- both countries signed a lasting peace agreement.
    Peace making at nation-state level is different than Baito example you are providing. The Baito approach works well in small village but it is not the best at the international level.
    There are modern tools and framework for conflict resolution that fortunately Dr. Abiy is familiar and is leveraging in the Horn of Africa.
    If you look Dr. Abiy from Baito world-view you might see him as childish or naive or all talk. However, he is using a framework work or approach that you can read about in basic Conflict Resolution books or one of my favorites Fisher and Ury textbook “Getting to Yes”.

    Without generalizing we Eritrean read and talk about politics like sporting event and sometimes we see politics via the lenses of reality show…for example jersey shores…
    Some Eritrean also are an example of the old adage “they don’t know that they don’t know” We exhibit an African form of hillybillyism. Or I prefer to call Denqorocracy.

    Your comment “They think one leader hugging another is as good as the entire societies reconciling.” There is no entire society. I am sure their was segment of Egyptian and Israeli society against any form of peace between the countries. In matter of fact, the brotherhood killed Sadat for doing that…
    Leaders have to take bold first initiative. If Israel and Egypt took the Baito approach or worldview… there is a good chance the Sinai would still be occupied by Israel just like the Golan Heights.

    I know you dislike IA so much anything that brings him to limelight you are against it.
    Dr. Abiy took a bold initiative to fly to Asmara and accept the ruling of border agreement. This is the first step. The borders were open and flight which didn’t occur for 20 years were happening…
    The next step is official demarcation and withdraw… this step can’t happen without the first step.
    Let’s recognize the boldness and great initiative that Dr. Abiy took.. the next step will follow and closure will take time. It doesn’t happen over night. The most important is that do you have the right participants and is there a good framework.
    Dr. Abiy is a trans-formative figure for Horn… he is what the Horn has been waiting for…
    There is an old Indian adage- when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

  • Sultan

    Selam SGJ:
    A brilliant one as usual!
    A past due call?
    Nah..I know you have been trying your BEST but you have been received with DEAF ears and blind eyes!
    Unless I missed it, which I will read you and listen to you again,this is being my fav topic, I was interested on finding solutions as to why we have failed to achieve this past due and of utmost importance business!
    Senni wedeka leta ikoni seles senni Habkoka , the ShimghirwA of the shingrwas

  • Ismail AA

    Ahlen Saleh,

    Two things.

    First, the socio-cultural tradition of conflict (dispute) resolution with which you introduced this Negarit edition reminded me of what I read a couple of days back about the suggestion of one of Eritrea’s historians about out sourcing crucial segment of legal (adjudication) system. I imagine how our elders back home would react to that view.

    And second, the Nobel Prize has become a so called Nobel Prize when it had been emptied of its purpose and intent due to over-politicisation it had undergone in the hand of the powerful. Have we forgotten when it was given to Mr. Obama and the lady in Myenmar without having done anything to earn it? I would argue that Mr. Nobel has long been withdrawn (figuratively) his name and intent from the issue. Having said that, moreover, reconciliation doen not mean, to me at least , a face value goal. I think there should be minimum requirements that should render it practical.

  • Brhan

    Seni Wedeka Saleh,

    It was smooth episode and I have two points to comment.
    1. On the issue of our beloved hero Hamed Idris Awate
    This is an old new issue. And I remember when it was a hot issue in Awasa, Ethiopia and all over the world, it was solved by the majority consensus: he is our respected hero and K. Osman might understood the majority rule properly, thus the Baito continued its meetings.

    I am not going to generalize but the issue has become an international phenomenon. I am not comparing H.I. Awate to G. Washington, whose legacy is now under question mark from any time before. In one way he is father of the USA but he was not only owning slaves but said bad words about them. Canada, UK, Belgium and Ethiopia also, are facing the same situation. But I leave that to theirs as it is their internal issues. There is no single solution to all.
    K. Osman comes from the Kunama people where H.I. Awate’s people had an issue in acquiring a natural wealth, in this case cattle and this was common aspect there. Was this high crime, may be and maybe not? The only difference is that Awate at a later time ignited the struggle of our independence and became our hero. Someone has started the revolution but that someone can come with past experience which can be seen by Q. Osman as negative. For the rest of Eritreans, many can see the big picture : Awate’s role in starting the struggle of independence. I believe our literature , including the most recent one by sees that.

    You in this episode wanted to see issues end like a movie : FINE so my take on this is , like the Baito experience’s and our literature, the majority rules. He is our hero. Attacking him or any other Eritrean hero, symbol, flag/s must be dealt by a law or even a chapter in future constitution.

    2. Getachew Reda

    For sure he was doing propaganda, but he gave valuable info like the Arabic proverb say
    الخبر اليوم بفلوس وبكرة ببلاش. ዜና ሎሚ ብኣቕራሽ ጽባሕ ብብላሽ

  • Kokhob Selam

    Dear Brother Saleh,

    This a must and reconciliation is very base of all our society problems. And we should come to prepare as committee to think about all those problems..Sure that will be materialized and we all should work for that.