Saving Icons For Pride

On an unrelated sidenote or headnote: With all due respect to Brother Woldeyesus Ammar for his beautifully written emotional “Draft Obituary-cum-Eulogy” (the one where he rephrases “Haile Deru’e’s biggest worry after liberation was how to contain “Tigrigna chauvinism in the EPLF” to mean “it is not the fault of any membership”), I would like to take this opportunity to call upon all of us for some ethics in handling bad news. The point that I think calls for some ethics is to remember that the prisoners who are in jail or were disappeared in most cases probably have loved ones and children who, I have no doubt, spend most of their time surfing Eritrean websites hunting for miracle news about their parents and loved ones. I believe that, unless any website has concrete evidence to prove to the concerned family that the prisoner mentioned has died or is in bad health, a strict ban on speculations should be adopted. The most insensitive and reckless of our websites in this department are Harnet (the cheerleader), Asmarino and Assena. Please, allow me to say to these esteemed websites: Stop It!    

On today’s topic, you may consider the following a continuation of the last one (Back to Square One) as it shares the context dealing with taking care of our historical elders and protecting them from abuse and exploitation. The intention is, on the one hand, to remind the elders that figure in our collective memories as heroes and pioneers, especially those who might make it to our history books, that their personal biographies are not their private property that may or may not be tarnished or sold out at their discretion. These biographies or iconographies belong to the Eritrean people and to future generations to build upon them in the process of accumulating a history of proud people.

Some may be tempted, especially those driven by greed and motivated by the need to make a living, to auction what they might think they own: the piece of our history that is attached to their names. These people, especially the elders and the mayom-ziseteyu kind among them, fail to realize that there is an implicit moral legislation that regulates Iconographic Property Rights in ways that ensure the making of history and continuity. In Eritrea’s book of icons, heroes do not melt. In fact, just like wine, the liveliest among the celebrities of icons are those that, from the point of view of mortals, never made it to the second day of the armed struggle. There is one and only one way to exit the book of icons and that is by committing a symbolic suicide through the sale or pandering of the piece of history attached to your name. 

Consider these sad cases, for instance (mengiste-semayat yewarsom!). If the honorable President Isaias Afewerki, for instance, had respected this ethical legislation and maintained at least the picture that many people had of him in May 1991 instead of turning into a thug, a tramp and the tail end of the stinky legacy of African leaders, we would at least have had a statue of a mini Washington that some of our kids would have looked up to. If the Bright Honoraries, Their Excellencies Woldesus Ammar, Mesfin Hagos, MohammedNur Ahmed and the many other followers had maintained their integrity as pioneers of the cause of freedom and equality, instead of turning into cheerleaders of blunder and mischief, some of our kids would have looked up to them as well. If the leaders of Islamic and ethnic organizations had at least maintained some self-respect to stand up to the challenge, instead of featuring as “cover girls” on for denying their own actual and potential constituents the right to decide their destiny for themselves, many of the helpless people that are being deprived of hope, evicted from their homelands or are rotting in refugee camps would have had cause to dream. If all of them had kissed us good-bye and shown us some dust on the heels in 1991, we would all have had a proud history to call ours and a respectful nation to call home. The reason this would have been possible is because if it weren’t for violators, we would have had all our icons.

On the other hand, the intention of this article is to nicely ask the predators and parasites who provide the incentives for these great men to exit the Book of Icons and those who might be tempted to take advantage of their helplessness to muddle their legacy in dirty politics to have mercy on them or to back off. That of course is just a wish in most cases and like any legislation this one too has its loopholes. Even those elders, who did step aside in recognition of the need for their children to claim a name that would never shame and haunt them, are rarely left alone. Providing examples in this case might be a little too sensitive where the victims are no more here to say what happened and why they had allowed that to happen. However, since you agree that the intention as mentioned above is clean and simple, I am sure you would forgive me for mentioning one.

On September 16, 2010, Shabait broke the bad news with its “Veteran Fighter Mohammed Seid Nawd was martyred today, September 16th 2010. The funeral service for the late veteran fighter would be held tomorrow at the Patriots Cemetery here in the capital at 10 am.”  On September 17, 2010, I checked Shabait again and clicked on the Profile, Hadas Ertra and (same) Al Haditha expecting to see pictures of a tall thug leading a long procession of bodyguards, sell-outs, hypocrites and people who never cared when the body in the coffin was walking and talking. Although I have no doubt that the guys have done their best to “honour” a fallen hero, the pictures I expected were not there. There was a copy of Sabait’s 25-word-2-sentence news, to remember the icon that must have written a billion words to honour his duty to the nation and to book an entitlement for this day; probably to prove that Nawd was gone for good. The reason for the missing pictures was, of course and I had no doubt, because mourning processions in Eritrea take place after the printing and publication times of the papers. No hard feelings at all and I waited for the next issues and then the next. Not even a word about “Nawd”, or other “Meqabr Harbegnatat” dramas and crocodile tears for victims of “the bereaved” in the issues that followed. On September 18, 2010, on the 9th anniversary of a sad day, Eritrea Al Haditha had a decorated picture Naud with a short piece confirming the procession described above. The publication of Naud’s piece was deferred to page #3 of the paper, because the front page had to be reserved for the “Grammy Awards” for a ‘typing course’ for documentation clerks, and the second had been booked for the absolutely strategically detrimental news of the US and Jordanian governments confirming the depth of their bilateral relations. 

Several eloquent eulogies in the opposition websites, most notably that of our own Gadi, featured the undisputed visionary who pictured free Eritrea three decades before any of us entertained it in 1991; a courageous guy who with the help of hundreds like him mobilized the nation into a ghostly movement; and a resilient fighter who would never give up. They wrote about “the veteran fighter who was martyred on September 16, 2010” – who probably lied in a coffin refrigerated and resting in peace: may God bless his soul.

Not many people seemed to have paid attention that Naud, the symbol, had died a long time ago and he did not die of natural cause. He died a long and painful death in a little hole at the President’s Office in Asmara where he was couched, bullied, insulted and humiliated by cheap thugs, pimps and common riffraff who would not fit the sole of his shoes. That is according to people who are familiar with what was happening to the poor old man in the Office of Horrors. Nothing that he wrote in the last few years that he spent in what he thought was home, is said to have ever made it to the print in one piece without being edited and twisted beyond recognition. What we may not want to admit is that, Naud was destroyed and emptied by those who were bound to destroy his legacy, rewrite history, and fabricate an ugly replacement of a nation for the beautiful one that he must have had in mind.

On October 23, 2009, for instance, Shabait’s list of articles included “‘The Eritrean Revolution’ Friday, 10:34 Written by Shabait Admin” and a click produces an article allegedly written “by Mohammedseid Naud” on the anniversary of the start of the armed struggle. The only thing that looked like Naud’s touch in the article was the title: “September was a revolution and the revolution continues” and the repetition of the rhyme in the body of the article. After a nice introduction of the part of September that he knew and probably wrote about, whoever “finished” the article added the following spices (translated excerpts):

If the agenda of yesterday was the expulsion of colonialism and the achievement of freedom and independence then it has been achieved. Today’s agenda is also crystal clear … to overcome underdevelopment and the subversion of … destruction left by Ethiopian colonial rule … the ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation is the culmination of those objectives … revolution also means that national unity and cementing it represents an effective weapon in the battle today and tomorrow: in preserving the integrity and sovereignty of the nation … in addressing the new agenda of an old hostile clique … in rushing, without looking backwards, to speed up the reconstruction projects and the campaign of national development, which now include all parts of Eritrea and all walks of life … in continuing to build … the modern Eritrean State … to enhance self-reliance … not to wait for venomous relief aid from beyond the border … Today, the Eritrean people are engaged in a revolution that is an extension of the great September Revolution … which in the end will benefit the whole Eritrean people without discrimination … therefore, everyone is required to make it a success … Forward until victory!”

Of course, you may need to go and check the original on Shabait for yourself and wonder how the grade-6 language in style, wording and shallowness was attributed to such an accomplished and eloquent writer. Ezgher wan’uu!

In August 2009, about the same time, Andy Gregg described the situation that the alleged Nawd was referring to as a “continuation of yesterday’s revolution” in the quotation above and said:

As a long-time supporter of Eritrean independence during their long liberation struggle, I have been horrified and ashamed by the brutal regime that is now terrorizing … [and] the worst human rights situation in the world … The denials of [Ghirmay Santim – ‘50-Cent’] the Eritrean ambassador to the UK are breathtaking. He fought alongside the 11 government ministers who were arrested in September 2001 and who have disappeared without a trace. He knows that returned refugees … have disappeared into the regime’s torture chambers.”

Could Naud, the one that once stood up to Haileselassie’s terror, have known about the 11 that Mr. Gregg thought the Ambassador knew of or was he persuaded that they were on vacation as a “continuation” of the revolution?

On September 15, 2010, ER Profile carried a brilliant insight from Tesfahans Isaak about the educational achievements of students in Eritrea. He introduced his commentary with: “parents offer their children a sight of their wondrous love and of the love that makes them stand by the children’s sides, to lead them on the right track.” Contrary to Tesfahans’ assumptions, however, in August 2009, probably a few weeks before Naud’s handler wrote the “today continuation of yesterday” article, “the right track” for many parents in Eritrea was the one that led their kids through the Libyan desert and into the darkness of the Mediterranean Sea. According to at least one Eritrean official in the regime’s embassy in Tripoli, some of the bodies of the kids who had been shown “the right track” were flown back to Asmara. In some cases, if you may trust my memory, the wrong bodies were sent; because the right ones were too bloated and rotten for recognition; and mistakes do happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I could even be wrong in relying on shaky information and in alleging that Naud had handlers and he could even have been proud of those parents who decided “the right track” for their kids was to the foxholes in the trenches where courageous men and women are defending the nation from invaders. Why not? Naud, after all, came from a generation that believed the responsibility of any person that had a bit of courage was to defend the nation against enemies and to take care of it. His generation were Spartan warriors who believed that a person who failed to take care of the nation was not worthy of respect and that eviction was what such wimps deserved. The generation of the kids that are flooding borders, deserts and seas on “the right track” out of the nation, obviously have a different idea. They believe that it is the other way round and that the responsibility of the nation is to take care of the person and that a nation that fails to take care of them was not worthy of respect and migration and one-way-exit was what such dumps deserve.

But even if that was indeed the case, wouldn’t you expect that some of those kids could have found their way in the “continued revolution” of a hero that designed the road to freedom in the 1950s if the writer were indeed the one icon that we have in mind? What we, as a nation, should feel for losing the great Mohammed-Saied Naud the way we did is not sorrow but shame for letting that to happen to such a descent person.

Sorrow is what we should feel about those attention-deficit narcissists who are heading his way by allowing themselves to be “handled” in exchange for air tickets and photo-shows. I would like to challenge each of these elders who are being paraded to “Public Meetings” in opposition capitals in the West, in what looks like a last minute rush to be remembered or probably for fear that they would be forgotten and lost in history. I would like to kindly ask them to complete a three step challenge:

Print, collect and read every obituary and memorial that has been written on Naud in the last few weeks;

Measure their standing in Eritrean history to the yardstick that fit the great Naud, and guess the percentage of obituaries they would probably feature in relative to Naud’s;

Then decide if they think that is what the legacy that they have achieved through “Public Meetings” as “contribution to the nation” is worth, and if they are OK with it.

 My point here is that no elder who pioneered a revolution and fought to turn a people’s dream into a reality should ever worry about being forgotten. Old age should not turn into a time when we make sure to remind others that we are worthy of memory after we die, but a moment of reflection to remind ourselves that in the process of making history, we might have forgotten to a story for ourselves, our families and communities. In the case of our fighter-elder heroes, while the whole nation has listened to them for the last fifty years, those closest to them have neither heard their voices nor felt their presence. May be it is time that they turn towards those who are more likely to appreciate their attention.


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