Many of my correspondents ask why I am focusing on the writings of Yosief Ghebrehiwot when we are both in what is loosely defined as the opposition camp. Well, there are three major reasons. Firstly, it is because I am a huge fan of Yosief particularly of his ability to synthesize ideas, which is a rare gift. How rare? Most of our writers, opposition and government, know nothing of synthesizing ideas and are obsessed with analyzing. What is worse: they are not even good at analyzing. The second reason is because I am trying to present the Young & the Disillusioned an alternative reality to the one presented by Yosief. The third reason is because I truly believe that, going forward, the best traits of the Revolution are our only salvation in our pursuit of freedom and honor.
Speaking of people incapable of analyzing, much less synthesizing, I refer you to those who run little Penname Diagnostic Shops. They are not just bad; but embarrassingly bad because their premise is flawed: they believe that there are only 2 or 3 Eritrean Muslims who can write in English. These diagnostic shops have been around forever. I joined Dehai in 1995 and Saleh Gadi joined in 1996 and a person who I thought was close to me told me then that we were both one person. So, then as now, with the recent obsession with pen names (Who is Ali Salim? Who is Mohammed Ahmed) and the always convenient answer which was presented dating back in 2002 when people were asking the same questions about different people (Who is Burhan Ali? Who is Mensour Kerar?) and then “Oh, of course, it is Saleh Johar Gadi!” It is based on the same embarrassingly bad premise that Internet ertra klte selste aslam Tray iyu zXewir. It certainly is not based on any analysis of the writing styles of Saleh and the pen name writers (they are not even close) or an attempt to answer an obvious question like: “if Saleh Gadi Johar was not afraid of the Eritrean government and its ability to make him stateless when he was a refugee relying on its kindness back in 1998 and he used his real name when criticizing it and its war policies, resulting in truly being stateless, what would he be afraid now that he is a US citizen? TesriH from the opposition groups? ” Or, another question: “If, as they claim, there is no difference in content between what Saleh Gadi Johar writes and what the people behind the pen names write, what is the criteria he uses to go private or public?” Days of the week? Phase of the moon? But, then, what do you expect from a website that has re-defined opposition thusly:
Opposition (n): the state of praising those in power by re-arranging and re-publishing and, when necessary, enhancing their propaganda pieces. To assume a subservient role and meekly present petitions to an illegitimate government that you claim to be opposed to, while boldly criticizing and demanding immediate change from the Opposition.
This just in: I better be careful. Because, since there are only 2-3 Eritrean Muslims that can write in English, and since I am arguing that the people behind the pen names are not Saleh “Gadi” Johar, they must be Saleh Younis, because, you know… But enough about zemehret.com, its unsigned editorials and articles and its short memories. Those who can’t, diss. Those who have turned in their opposition card and assumed an obedient role are always embarrassed by those who haven’t.
Back to Yosief Ghebrehiwot, a more worthy challenger. Like I was saying, as he demonstrated in a few of his articles, Yosief has a great ability to synthesize. Romanticizing Ghedli: (1) The Excuses (the first of the series) was impactful because he was able to present a Unified Theory explaining PFDJ’s Systematic Cruelty. There was a certain thrill from crossing over to taboo land and removing the heavy makeup of the Revolution. It was a kick in the butt to the most romantic proponents who like to propagate that Eritrea defeated the Soviet Union and The United States and that every Eritrean martyr’s last words were “Victory to the masses!” Moreover, whereas even powerful dictators like Isaias Afwerki had to pretend to bow to the collective wisdom of The People and began all their salutations with “kbur hzbi Ertra…” here was Yosief Gebrehiwot telling us The People, that we are just as guilty as our tyrant. So he is capable of boldness, originality and synthesis and it is puzzling why he has now mistaken insults for boldness; retrograde ideas for originality and more tired analysis for synthesis.
Secondly, the targeted audience. I referred to them as the Young & the Disillusioned (Y&D) in the last article. This was a sloppy definition and whatever criticism came my way about that is justified because I wasn’t clear—something I intend to rectify here. To be young in Eritrea is to be disillusioned–it would be unnatural not be disillusioned after you were promised nirvana and you were given nothing but forced labor and the whip. I have nothing but sympathy for the group. By Y & D, I am referring to a sub-group: those who are so disillusioned by what they experienced that they are not just bitter about the PFDJ but Eritrea itself: its people and its history. This is a problem because the Y & D have many strengths, but knowledge of Eritrean history is not one of them. This is certainly not their fault; but the educational system of the PFDJ, which hardly venerates rigorous scholarship. How do you tell the difference between the group (the so-called Warsay generation) and the subgroup that I am referring to as Y & D? It is fairly easy: have a conversation for any period of time and the Y & D will make two statements: (1) Ertra kubo derbiyela iye (“I have turned my back on Eritrea.”) and (2) Ethiopia doh intay gieratna iya (“what did Ethiopia ever do to us?”.) I consider both statements made in anger, and out of ignorance, and I believe that Yosief, knowingly or unknowingly, has been validating their view with his pseudo history and selective narration.
And so, when I write these rebuttals, my intent is not to joust with Yosief or to persuade him of my viewpoint. If that was my intention, I think we could do that over a cup of coffee somewhere in smog-infested, I mean beautiful, Los Angeles. Rather, my intention is to provide the Y & D an alternate reality and, in my view, a more correct and fuller interpretation of history—one that has context and perspective. One that they can be proud to claim as their own. One that they can use as an inspiration in their moments of darkness. I have no intention of negating or arguing against whatever bitterness the Y & D may feel against the PFDJ (since I accept it and believe it to be true); my intention is ask them to more directly focus their anger on the legitimate target and to know enough history.
THE POISON TREE
Ever since Yosief showed his preference for drawing dots over making a point, his writings have presented an easy target for anybody who wants to rebut them. His previous wild or unsubstantiated assertions include the following: (1) that both Eritrean Muslims and Eritrean Christians were opposed to Eritrean partition in the 1940s because they each secretly wanted to dominate each other [wrong in detail, wrong in the motive ascribed]; (2) that the Eritrean founding fathers were not nationalists but motivated by religious grievances [flatly wrong]; (3) that the Eritrean revolution is responsible for more innocent Eritrean deaths than the Ethiopian occupation [wrong, and preposterous]; (4) that the Eritrean revolution did not have sufficient justification to be waged [wrong]; (5) that the jury is still out whether the Eritrean revolution met its objective because it didn’t know what its objective was [breathtakingly wrong]; (6) that the jury is still out whether the sacrifices that have been made so far are “worth” the outcome. [wrong, and insulting]; Now he has expounded on those and, for good measure, added more arguments.
The examples above are just the low hanging fruits in the Poison Tree. Spend a little more time, and you will just find a basketful of just wild assertions like that.
If you are wondering where else you have heard these statements before, I will draw it for you:
Think a crowded place; there are icon paintings of saints and angels with large eyes; the fixtures were acquired from other foreclosed upon places, and Stevie Wonder had volunteered to be the interior designer. There is a nice pic of Haile Selassie I, and he is looking down at you: “I and I will see you through…” as Bob Marley said. The men at the crowded place are skinny, have beer bellies, chain smoke and are loud. It is surprising how that tenor comes from such a small frame, but not as surprising as how much Johnnie Walker that small frame is able to consume.
Come on, I have practically said it: you are in an Ethiopian restaurant in any city, USA.
Yosief is no longer removing the fake makeup from the Ghedli: he is beheading it by chipping away at the foundation of the Eritrean State—its ideals, its founding fathers, its history, its sacrifices, its very character—while he excuses or praises Ethiopian tyrants. For Yosief, it appears that the high that came from the taboo-busting he pioneered required more doses of concentration and he (apologies for mixing metaphors) kept upping the ante to the point now that nobody would be surprised if he says, “I hereby renounce my Eritrean citizenship.”
It is not that Yosief is wrong, it is that he seems to have adopted some strategy that says that when you are short on facts, you can compensate for it with volume. When volume won’t do, just use statements that sound profound, because few will scratch beyond the form to see the content. Consider his statement:
“One doesn’t fight to create a national identity; one fights to keep an identity one already has.”
This will come as quite a shock to world historians particularly those who study revolutions, for example, those who chronicle the American Revolution (a war to create an American identity out of the ashes of British citizenry.) There are a dozen books just on this subject if anyone has any curiosity about how revolutions create national identities.
Yosief’s statement is especially mind-boggling seen within the context of Africa: colonialism is all about divide and rule; and liberation movements are all about nation-building. They were fought, almost invariably, to create a national identity, not to keep their identity (as colonies and subjects of European powers.) This is why almost every African nation had a name change. Even if we are to accept Yosief’s premise, it just would not apply to Eritrea: by the time Eritreans were fighting for their identity in 1961, “Eritrea” as a political map—with defined borders–had already existed for as long (since 1890) as Menelik’s Ethiopia had.
When Yosief is not writing bumper-sticker-quality philosophies which can be refuted easily, he is asking Socratic questions. Is the sacrifice worth it? Was the Eritrean revolution justified? He doesn’t draw solid lines, just dots that people are supposed to connect all leading towards an article that he has been itching to write, and one that will, no doubt, be even less supported by facts, references or footnotes—but it will sound sure and authoritative nonetheless: that Eritrean Muslims and Christians have such divergent needs, they are incapable of living together and thus maintaining the viability of Eritrea.
So, if I could say one thing to my Y&D compatriots, it is to invite them to consider that the arguments which Yosief is making, which may sound fresh and insightful, are rehashes of arguments made by others—for their self-serving purposes. That they lack perspective, context and nuance. They revise history; and they are unappreciative of the higher values of life: sacrifice, volunteerism, honor. An example of each is listed below:
In passing, while referring to the mortal wound suffered by the ELF, Yosief says that it was due to “internal contradictions.” I have no intent to discuss the why and hows of the Eritrean civil war—I would like to leave that to dispassionate historians. What interests me here is the phrase “internal contradictions”—where and how it originated which I think is relevant to one side of my criticism: that Yosief has, knowingly or unknowingly, internalized Ethiopian arguments about Eritrea.
The originator of the phrase was Meles Znawi—the original Eritrean Ghedli de-romanticizer. The time was the mid 1980s, and the phrase first appeared in his red book “Qalsi hzbi Ertra: kabey nabey”: “The Struggle of The Eritrean People: Whence To Where.” The book was written in the 1980s, long after the demise of the ELF, and during a period of time when the EPLF and TPLF were not in speaking terms. In the book, Meles Zenawi wanted to make a couple of very important points:
(a) the TPLF had nothing to do with the demise of the ELF.
(b) the EPLF was a joke when it came to warfare, because it was so enamored with World War I type trench warfare, unlike the highly mobile TPLF.
So, if the ELF’s collapse was not a result of a joint EPLF-TPLF attack and if it wasn’t due to the superior fighting skills of the EPLF, what accounts for it?
This is why Meles introduced the concept of “internal contradiction.” ELF, as an organization, had so many power centers and such a quarrelsome leadership that it came apart at the seams. It imploded. Don’t blame my front, TPLF, and don’t give credit to my former partner, EPLF.
There is another name for organizations that are quarrelsome, where power is not concentrated, and where decisions are made after different constituencies haggle things out: democracy. The “internal contradiction” argument was made by the TPLF and later by the EPLF to make the point that the ELF did not practice “democratic centralism”, which is euphemism for dictatorship. It is funny to hear Yosief, a critic of the autocracy of the fronts, use their language for criticizing democracy.
Yosief has also talked about his theory that Eritrea is not viable–not for economic reasons but because the fault lines between its two halves are too deep. (Guess who else made the exact same argument?) Again, please know that I despise guilt by association and fake causality—the “if X preceded Y, then X must have caused Y” postulation which is common in the Eritrean political arena. It is not only possible but a certainty that Yosief and others came to the same conclusions interpedently. But I say this to explain to him why people may be recoiling without being able to articulate why they recoil at his explanations.
Yosief explains that “the two population groups have come to embrace two diametrically opposed visions of where the nation should be heading to that it is very hard (if not impossible) to reconcile. As the one looks to Islam and the Arab world for guidance, inspiration, association and identity, the other looks to the West and Habesha world.”
Wow. I really am all for dialogue and busting taboos. God knows it is a welcome reprieve from the propaganda pieces of Shabait and the opposition (“akieba b’Awet tezasimu.”) But, while a voice of certainty is a great motivational tool (rah, rah, let’s go), it is not a substitute for being right.
I am a Muslim and some of my best friends are Muslims. That a Muslim looks to Islam, and a Christian would look to Christianity for “guidance, inspiration, association and identity” is definitional and hardly controversial. It applies to anyone who claims to follow a religious faith. This is true whether it is Hindu looking to Hinduism, a Buddhist looking to Buddhism, or an environmentalist looking to Al Gore. As for the “Arab world”, I know a large group of Eritrean Muslims whose age ranges between 30 and 70. I don’t know anyone who looks to the Arab world for guidance or inspiration.
CONTEXT & PERSPECTIVE
But what does this have to do with viability? This is always what is missing from Yosief’s articles: context and perspective. It is his decision to measure the Eritrean Ghedli in the abstract, as opposed to the proper context (in relationship to the times, and the Ghedlis of the rest of the world) that necessitated my responses. So now: is whatever affinity that Eritrean Muslims may have for Islam or even the Arab world more deeply felt than those by the Muslims of Chad, Sierra Leone, Senegal? And here is where we run into Yosief’s many contradictions: Are the Muslims of Eritrea more devout than those in Ethiopia? Or simply more assertive? And if all this laying of the groundwork is to argue for the return of Eritrea to Ethiopia, is he calling on Eritrean Muslims to be as compliant as the Ethiopian Muslims?
The Eritrean Muslims that I know do not aspire for dominance or even for their “turn” to govern the country. They are for power devolution and decentralization so that each locality can administer itself in accordance with its values and priorities. They are Federalists in the true meaning of the word. Meanwhile, the PFDJ argues that Eritrea is small, and at varying development stage and that if it is to develop quickly it has to have a macro economic policy that is uniformly applied throughout the country (land policy, education policy, national conscription, etc.) Both are defensible ideological viewpoints that have nothing to do with looking to Axum and looking to Mecca. (Incidentally, every single one of the opposition groups calls for decentralization of power which would make this so-called “irreconcilable difference” poof, disappear.)
The great secret about Eritrea is that it is probably one of the easiest states to govern (again, relatively speaking) because the people do not want much from the State except for the opportunity to be left the hell alone. Those who exaggerate the differences and speak about them in End of Times language are really prophets and power brokers who seek a permanent role for themselves as the permanent middle men or, if they are PFDJ supporters, they are defenders excusing the presence of a Strong Man because without him, the whole nation will just collapse.
The same context and perspective is required with regards to the issue of conscription. You are told that the batting average of a baseball player is .300 (30%.) He hits one of out three balls. Is he a great or a mediocre player? Well, to make a judgment, you have to know baseball. You need context and perspective and that, after all, is what those of us who have a hobby of opinionating are supposed to do: to provide insight, to place things in context and to be careful with the facts, and not chisel them and mold them to fit some point we want to refine. So, for example, if you are going to talk about the fact that the Eritrean revolution had a conscripted force, then (a) don’t downplay the period of time (1961-1977) that saw an all-volunteer force, to the extent that that the two fronts were turning down volunteers for being unfit (“kuntal srnay beliEka mitSae”) and (b) study which other revolutions have used conscription. The American Revolution? The Union? The Confederates? Both sides? Does having an involuntary (drafted) army necessarily indicate that there is no support for the cause that the armed force is advocating?
The more important (and I would argue more honest) question to ask is: was the average Eritrean rooting for (a) the success, (b) the failure of the Eritrean Revolution? Or (c) was the average Eritrean entirely indifferent? An Eritrean who gives any answer other than (a) is just misinformed, disconnected from the people. One can argue that the poor people were misguided, or wrong, but one really can’t say that most Eritreans did not pray for the success of the Armed Struggle.
There is no nuance in Yosief’s arguments. There is cause and there is effect. Black or white. Something is either bad, or good—it can’t be both, or neither or “it depends on the situation.” For example, Yosief defines the Eritrean character as acquiescence. (Dawit Mesfin, cited by Michella Wrong in “I didn’t do it for you” describes it as quietude.) Both are describing stoicism shaped by determinism: that our fates are pre-determined, and that what will be will be. Now, one can criticize this view as being pre-modern and not conducive to democracy which requires a boisterous citizenry. But is stoicism good or bad? Can’t one argue that it was the stoic nature of Eritreans that enabled them to put up with the huge demands of the revolution—demands for endurance, and for keeping secrets? And isn’t it this stoic nature that helps them from going stark mad when their very own government, their own children, declare war on them.
Yosief explains it as a given that the autocratic rule that was accepted during the Revolution could only have led to an autocratic governance. The straight line cause and effect that Yosief looks for is illusive: life is more complex. This is why he finds it totally unbelievable that there could ever be a good Isaias and a bad Isaias. Why not? There was a Yosief/Saleh (according to our readers) that made sense and one that doesn’t. People change. History is never as uncomplicated and blunt as Yosief would like us to believe. To expect a linear relationship between cause and effect is, to borrow his word, to romanticize life. In Ghana, Lt. Rawlings staged a coup, but then became a proponent of democracy. Qaddaffi is a loon, but the quality of life of Libyans is better than other Arabs in other oil rich countries. Some dictators cheat and cling to power; some dictators submit to popular will and go quietly. Only true believers and ideologues look for the Great Unifying Theory that explains life. Heck: I can’t even explain something as simple as a statement from an airline when it says, “we are now getting ready to board our pre-boarding class.”
Yosief has had a lot of fun with my One Man Theory: that everything that ails Eritrea can be traced to one man, Isaias Afwerki. He finds the idea of various versions of Isaias as preposterous. In this regard, he shares a view with the PFDJ supporters, that Isaias is a Constant, Unchanging Man. It is just Yosief will say Isaias was always bad, and Isaias supporters will say he was always good.
By my One Man Theory can be easily validated by answering this question: “If Isaias Afwerki decided at midnight that he is tired of battling the US and Ethiopia, he no longer thinks self-reliance is a workable policy, that Sawa has run its course and the nation no longer needs more military, that the economy should be liberalized and state holdings privatized, that constitutionalism should be introduced, term limits imposed and membership in the AU and IGAD renewed, would’s that be Eritrea’s policy at a minute past midnight? Would there be anybody or anything to oppose him?”
Of course it would be. And then, if a week later, again on midnight, he decided to reverse what he did a week earlier, that too would be Eritrea’s new policy. Does anyone deny this? It is one to thing to say that people may benefit or be disadvantaged by what he does—and they may work harder or slowly to register their approval or disapproval. But is there any question that, when it comes to power in Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki is the alpha and the omega? I don’t think so.
Isaias is the PFDJ, which is the State. The fiction of divided government ( a weird one, advanced by his supporters–that power is diffused among his subordinates) is always contradicted by Isaias’ need, nay urge, to let everybody know that he is the smartest kid in class. Recently, it was blown to smithereens when Isaias Afwerki, in yet another rambling interview, said that he knows, personally, that Eritreans who are forbidden from transporting grain, have tried to find a loophole to the law by making dough out of the grain and then trying to transport it. Now, is it conceivable that anything is hidden from the man who knows (and approves of) his government’s BiHuq (dough) Policy?
People, there is no PFDJ, that thing is as hollow as a fallen log.
There is Isaias, and then there is the vehicle that he drives: was EPLF, now has a label called PFDJ. Isaias has changed, because every living thing changes. Yosief should look no further than himself to validate this statement: does he believe now what he used to believe 3 years ago? 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
Yosief conflates two issues: the arguments Eritreans made for not joining Ethiopia, and the arguments Eritreans made for being independent. They are not necessarily the same thing. The arguments Eritreans made for being independent are straightforward: We, like Libyans and the Somalis were Italian colonies before World War II. Italy lost and its former colonies have become independent. We, too, want to be independent. The arguments Eritreans made for not joining Ethiopia are more sophisticated than the caricature that Yosief is drawing. They argued international law, they argued morality, they argued economics. It is unfair of Yosief to reduce it to “Eritreans wanted independence because, ha, ha, what a laugh, because they felt they were more educated.” At one point, Ibrahim Sultan did try to dramatize the point that Eritreans were more educated than Ethiopians by emphasizing how many Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were part of the Ethiopian foreign ministry. His argument was: Ethiopia will get something from the deal; but Eritrea won’t. This was never rebutted by Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s argument was Eritrea should be part of Ethiopia because it always was: it was the mother-daughter argument.
He continues to assert that the initiators of the Eritrean revolutionaries were motivated by religious grievance. “On the Muslim side, it was primarily a religious grievance (buttressed by pan-Arabism) that motivated the independence movement. The names of the movements themselves say it all: the Muslim League and Rabita Al Islamia.” First of all, to refer to the Muslim League and Rabita Al Islamia as if they are two entities is like saying the “People’s Front” and Shaebia are two organizations, just by referring to the Arabic and English name of one organization. Secondly, Ibrahim Sultan was not a religious activist. I know for some people, I am not saying that Yosief is one of them, it is impossible to visualize any Muslim who is anything but an Islamist or a Koran waving agitator (which is why the ELF was forever identified as a Muslim organization, which begs the question, what the heck were the Eritrean Islamist protesting then, but that assumes that people know that Eritrean Islamists were protesting the secularism of the ELF…) In any event, if Ibrahim Sultan has been an American, he would have been called a community organizer. An emancipator. Prior to his movement, a Shmagle (aristocrat of the Tigre people) could abuse a Tigre commoner, including in ways not fit for a family forum like this. Those who conducted interviews with Ibrahim Sultan in his residence in Egypt say that he chose the name “Muslim League” because he was motivated by Pakistan’s story: how the Pakistan Muslim League (hardly an Islamist group) successfully engineered Pakistan’s divorce from India (1947), the same day that India was divorced from Great Britain (1947), which was such a watershed that it inspired the Israeli’s to claim irreconcilable differences with the Arabs and seek statehood (1948.)
Ibrahim Sultan sought the name Muslim League because he saw it as a way to organize a constituency that was unified in its lack of enthusiasm for Ethiopia, but was too fractured to do anything about it.
Nobody has ever denied that the Eritrean revolution was autocratic; nobody has ever claimed that the Revolution was a Jeffersonian democracy. Some explained away the excess the way every socialist/communist organization in Planet Earth did: it is a dictatorship, but “a dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Yes, that makes no sense; but communism made no sense anywhere in the world, not just in Eritrea.) Some kept quiet for the same reasons that a private, a grunt in the US Army would: because he or she is a simple solider following orders and that information was given on a needed to know basis. Many lived with the “mienti mogogo tiHlef anshiwa” self-discipline: the cause, Eritrean independence, is much greater than my needs. The point is that the common tegadalai knew, and could explain, with a phrase, a grunt, or sad eyes what Yosief is now itemizing in pages of beautiful paragraphs and poetic prose.
In life sacrifices are made for a higher aim. A woman endures an imperfect marriage, or an abusive husband for the sake of her children. Yosief is the marriage counselor who tells the lady that she was wrong and ignorant to do so; look at what a mess the children turned out to be! She would have been better off had she aborted the children and ditched the husband. And he has a calculator and statistics to prove his case.
Sacrifice has deeply religious connotations. In Christianity, to sacrifice is to be divine, to be God-like because the God of Christianity sacrifices Himself for the benefit of the people. In Islam, sacrifice (for the sake of land, and religion) is automatic ticket to heaven. It is to the credit of the ELF and EPLF that they were able to inspire the combatants (almost all conscripted, according to Yosief) to die for a cause that would bring them neither heaven nor divinity. It is downright a miracle, I would say.
THOSE WHO CAN’T, DISRESPECT:
One thing I have learned in life is that those who haven’t tried something are quick to dismiss it. Those who can’t, diss. Try to explain the athleticism of Lebron James or the heart of Kobe Bryant to somebody who is not a fan of basketball and they will just shrug. Express your amazement at the speed of Zeresenay and they will just roll their eyes, totally bored. If a soldier is telling a story about he evaded being taken prisoner, how his small group, totally outnumbered, defeated a bigger group, they will barely contain their disgust. And so it is with everything that tests human endurance, bravery, will power, stamina, discipline, faithfulness and, horror of horror, sacrifice—if you haven’t tried it, you have no appreciation for it. Those who have never stood up to anything are always confounded by those who have. Those who give up are annoyed and hate those who persist.
Of all the statements that are most off-putting in Yosief Ghebrehiwot’s articles are his dismissals of the great qualities of the Eritrean Revolution (Ghedli.) When he mentions words like “the heroism, the selflessness, the victories, martyrdom, the women warriors, self-reliance, the patriotic songs, biddho, tsin’at, tewefayinet, bitsifrna, temokro mieda, etc”, it is like he is reciting his grocery list: milk, candy bar, vegetables, etc. You can just imagine him rolling his eyes and flicking his fingers when he utters them. But these qualities are worthy of admiration, not indifference or mockery. They define a character and for the revolution to develop them and sustain them for decades speaks highly not just of the revolution, but of the Eritrean people. This is why I think that Yosief Ghebrehiwot is no longer just de-romanticizing Ghedli (a long overdue project), but defacing it.
Depending on whether you like your art highbrow or lowbrow, there are two great responses to Yosief Ghebrehiwot’s mockery. Unfortunately, neither one is by an Eritrean—because Eritrea has yet to produce its Chinuwa Achebe, much less the Great Eritrean Novel probably because most of its gifted writers are too busy writing lengthy articles, organizing mekhetes, or analyzing pennames. The lowbrow answer was given by a fictitious Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men:
“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use then as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline.”
But for the real meat of it, the highbrow, one has to read one of the greatest speeches ever given by one of the world’s greatest military minds. General Douglas MacArthur delivered it to West Point cadets on May 12, 1962. Please excuse the long extract, I honestly don’t know what to cut out:
“Duty,” “Honor,” “Country” – those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn….
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
That was our Tegadalay. In Eritrea’s moment of darkness, as we try to answer and then end the question of “how do we overcome the regime’s tyranny?” we should use the Tegadalai, the Eritrean Munadel, as an inspiration of how to overcome, and not as the cause or the hapless conduit for our darkness. We need to be “brave enough to face ourselves” including the self that we are not proud of, but without the “heroism, selflessness, sacrifices, martyrdom” that Yosief is dismissing, how will we?