The Eritrean Year of So Many Alis
[This edition of Negarit was first published on Nov. 29, 2010. I wanted to write about the Ali-Salim-is-Saleh-Gadi Hmbleel. But since my victimizers of four years are flooding me with messages of apologies (the kind of Tegagyom agagyomna–I think it will take me a week to read all their telegrams), I decided to publish this piece as an appetizer before I delve into reconciling all the accounts of the last four years. I have hired an investigator to help me sift through all the dongolatat and pebbles of defamation that are amassed in my house.]
When the helicopter first appeared in the Eritrean lowlands, the people mispronounced its name. It became Ali Copter. But that presented a problem to women who were married to men named Ali since tradition dictated that they not utter their husband¹s name under any condition. They had to improvise and they did: Gabsha is a nick for Ali; therefore, the helicopter, which had been renamed Ali Copter, now became Gabsha Copter.
Eritrean Burhan Ali, Albanian Mohammed Ali
Maybe tradition doesn¹t allow Egyptian ambassadors from uttering the name Burhan Ali: the outgoing Egyptian ambassador to Ethiopia was unhappy about what our own Burhan Ali wrote regarding the Egyptians’ attitude towards the River Nile, but in an interview protesting Burhan Ali’s article at awate.com, ‘Nile Politics: Egypt’s Kiss Of Death’, the ambassador never mentions his name. He didn’t even call him Burhan Gabsha.
A little background.
Since the Albanian Mohammed Ali Pasha founded modern Egypt, Egyptians consider Egypt Mother To The World (UmmeDunya), consider the Nile their mother whose tits they have to suckle mercilessly. The Egyptians want to maintain a 1929 agreement on the use of the Nile, an agreement which, as Burhan explains, was negotiated between the island of Great Britain and, well, the colonizer Great Britain. But most Nile riparian countries want the agreement revised. Only Sudan is an the exception, it needs Egypt now more than any time before. Egypt’s support is vital to Sudan in facing all its problems: in the Darfur region and the South. But so is Ethiopia¹s support. Sudan has to balance its relations with both countries; and that requires diplomatic skills and tact. I fear the unfortunate Sudanese government’s foreign relation policy with Eritrea would be duplicated with other regional powers, and Sudan would dig a deep hole for itself—itself meaning the National Salvation Front’s government. But no one should worry. Isaias has a solution.
The Eritrean tyrant has threatened to dig a canal in the Gash region and pump the 8% of the Settit River waters that some say belongs to Eritrea, and divert it to Rahya Abay. He will import Israeli technology to plant orchards in the Barka deserts. By doing that, he hopes to decrease Ethiopia¹s share of the Nile water from 85% to 77%. The Atbara River will dry out in Hamdayet and then the Eastern Sudanese, forced by water shortage, can migrate to Barka, if they so wish. Anything that diminishes Ethiopia¹s role is Isaias’ political tool; and Eritrea has been engaged in a cold war with Ethiopia. I don¹t know about the Ethiopians, but Eritreans do not need this kind of foreign policy, one that is solely based on giving Meles a bloody nose. That is Isaias’ foreign policy, to hell with the welfare of Eritreans.
Burhan Ali addressed Egyptian selfishness, its contempt for Africa’s needs, and how Isaias Afwerki, as always, is so focused on what benefits him personally and is willing to fan the flames of conflict.
When Ambassador Assem Ibrahim returned to Egypt after serving in Ethiopia, Roz AlYousif, an Egyptian magazine, conducted an interview with him. He was asked about the River Nile, and the ambassador took umbrage at what Burhan Ali said to an extent that he posted a rebuttal to Burhan’s “violent” article in an Ethiopian website and this is what he said to Roz Al Yousif Magazine:
“I had to respond [to a] seriously violent article that appeared in the Journal of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry and a website, [written] by an Eritrean author, the gist of which was that Egypt’s policy toward the [Nile] basin states is good for Egypt [and…] evil for the Nile Basin countries and vice versa and that Egypt wants these countries to stay in backwardness and in conflict so that they do not focus in development schemes of power generation, farming land and the exploitation of resources, etc., because that affects the economies of Egypt negatively.”
The ambassador thinks that Egypt is naturally (and always will be) the house of science and technology while other Africans have to wait for natural resources to appear so that they will travel to Egypt for education and “touristic-medicine”, an exclusive term coined by the great Egyptians. Now you get the idea why they own every drop of water from the Nile.
The Ethiopians are no match for the sleek Egyptians. If I were an Ethiopian decision maker, I would run and claim the pyramids and the Sphinx to offset the Egyptian claim to the Nile. The Pharaoh Tutankhamun is actually from Adigrat, and his actual name, which the Egyptians corrupted, is Gereharyat. The famous Aida that is immortalized by Verde’s opera is originally from Gonder. Proof? Compare the number of Ethiopian and Egyptian girls named Aida. Ethiopia beat Egypt 5 – 1. If that doesn¹t work, ‘go Isaias’ on the Egyptians: move Lake Tana to Ogaden, and divert whatever excess water there is to Kenya and Somalia through the rift valley. Dredge Wabi Shebelle and give it a U-turn and take it to Wello. What will Egypt do? For one thing, they would call Isaias and give him the marching orders. They want to keep the Eritrean political orphan busy. They know he has so many tricks up his sleeve. If that happens, my dear Ethiopians, you are all alone, I can’t help you face the superman. Just pray. Pray a lot. Invoke the names of all the saints that you know to avert the wrath of Isaias; Egypt is easy.
American Mohammed Ali
According to the other Mohammed Ali (formerly known as Cassius Clay), the greatest boxer that ever lived was ‘Mohammed Ali.’ He was not very subtle, “I am the greatest of all time!” he used to say. Mohammed Ali also said of Mohammed Ali that he “floats like a butterfly, and stings like a bee.” Would you say this guy is a clown, or would you say he really is the greatest boxer that ever lived?
It depends on THE RESULTS, doesn’t it? In the boxing world, Mohammed Ali is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, because of his RESULTS, not because he was running his mouth.
Let’s now go to Eritrean politics. For 8 years now, we have had our Ayni Brur who have been telling us they are the greatest. If politics was a boxing match, the Ayni Brur would step into the ring and talk for hours and hours about the art of boxing. They would lecture on how to box. They would be criticizing other boxers. They would be complaining about the neutrality of the referee. They would give instructions on the proper way to cheer and to boo. But they would never box. And when people start walking away from the arena, the boxers who don’t box would be blaming somebody or something—maybe the lights, the parking lot, the seats, or some imaginary enemy who rallied the people to leave. But it would never occur to them that it is their own damn fault.
According to them, nobody is a nationalist, they are. Everybody else is a tribalist and a jihadist. Nobody cares about the fate of Eritrea, they do. Everybody else is a regionalist and provincial. Nobody is allowed to go to Addis Abeba, because it is the capital of our enemy state. But they can. And when they go, Addis Ababa is the capital of a brotherly state. What about Article 3 and Article 4? What about the Constitution? Should we have armed or peaceful struggle? Should we go to Ethiopia or not? Shouldn’t we take a stand about the border ruling? For eight years, they embroiled us in a meaningless confusion. For many of them, it was all a long interview they were having with some NGOs, and many of them have now landed their gigs. Hello! Any other job openings at the good-for-nothing NGOs for the good-for-nothing boxers so they could just leave us the hell alone?
Really, and now I am addressing the pair that Ali Salim once called the Tom and Jerry of the Eritrean Internet: people will allow you to think that you are special, that you are the greatest, that you actually float like the butterfly, that your stink smells like sandalwood if only you will deliver results. But you haven’t been. All you have done is give lectures on the importance of growing, while you have been in front of our very own eyes, shrinking and now you are just a skeletal figure. Worse, you seem to have been assigned the representatives of your groupies. You can’t deliver, and you really aren’t Mohammed Ali, are you? You are just another distraction.
You have wasted eight years of our political lives, staring at the mirror and imagining a giant when there is only a reflection of a dwarf. You are being abandoned left and right, and you are being rejected, not because of conspiracies, but because of your poor decisions and arrogant attitude. You have pushed many overboard and you created an island of quick sand for yourselves. You are like the proverbial donkey loaded with sacks of salt and jumps to the river to lighten its weight. For almost two years you have been targeting one man, never bothering about the PFDJ, as if attacking awate.com is your sole goal in the struggle. If people want to be called backward, regionalists, reactionaries, Jihadists, they can get it from PFDJ, they don’t need you—you are not even original. You have dirtied the ground and the rest of us are left to clean after your droppings. Now this paragraph is too generous to address you. That is all I can offer. From now on, until you regain your senses, you do not exist as far as I am concerned.
And speaking of the PFDJ, which is never short of people who claim they are the greatest, we have had the calmest summer in a long time. The festivals were muted: I didn’t hear any Mklkhal Hager meetings save for the few clandestine meetings of the PFDJ cubs. The money launderers and the peddlers are all quiet, while the Y-PFDJ is being groomed. It seems like the international economic crisis was coupled by political bankruptcy. All the festivals, the excuses for binge drinking and people walking in zigzag smelling of dung and talking in slurred speech, are all muted. So long wild Dankera! At least until the Y-PFDJ reaches drinking age. But wait: I heard there were some drug related arrests at the last meeting in Virginia.
Tom & Jerry’s Ali Salim
Another Gabsha, this one goes by the name Ali Salim. He came in 2009, like a cowboy with a double barreled shotgun. Hooray said those who had found in him their voice. Damn, said those who think Eritrea is glasshouse ready to shatter at the slightest high decibel noise. Awate.com just said water rises to its level, and ideas will sink or swim based on their acceptance. Writers come, and writers go. But that was awate.com, which is an entity. The one who took all the abuse for the Ali Salim phenomenon was yours truly. And spearheading the campaign (which almost became a party program) were Tom and Jerry with the blessings of the Deacons. But commitment to freedom of speech cannot be selective: I can’t keep repeating, “Damn! I am not Ali Salim!!!” To those who want to believe, no evidence is necessary; to those who don’t want to believe, no evidence is sufficient. I left it to time and time appears to be saying that Ali Salim could have fired all his bullets and is done, or replenishing. I have no idea. If Ali Salim has something to say he will come again, and if someone has an opposing viewpoint, they are welcome as well. But the water will rise to its level.
Now it is up to yours truly and my fellow compatriots to pick up the droppings. Left for me to try to repair the damage done to my friends and fellow fighters. Is that unfair? Yes! But no more unfair than all the droppings we have to pick up from all the wanna be Mohammed Alis.
They sting like a bee, but they do not float like a butterfly. They just suck your blood and at some point, you have to squash the annoying ants.
Ali Gebremariam, Sorry, Adhanom Gebremariam
Got carried away…too many Alis today. But anyway, last time I told you Adhanom was sick and in hospital. Now all the plumbing in his body is repaired, the protruding tubes from his belly are removed and he has taken a Sano certificate from the Presbyterian Hospital of Columbia University in New York. Five months and three operations and many ICU weeks later, he is doing fine. I asked him for an interview and he promised to do that at a later stage, “I need sometime to recover and update myself on many development,” he said. Until then, his friends and colleagues can call him and have their own one-on-one interview. Keep it a secrete, Jerry might get mad!
Prof. Ali Mazrui
On November 13, 2010, I was in Berkley in a party organized by Eritreans in the San Francisco Bay Area. I do not have words to express my gratitude but I can say and I do say: Thank you all!
On November 21, 2010, I had a short but enjoyable discussion with a few gentlemen in San Francisco. I attended Dr. Bereket’s insightful and excellent speech (it was a classroom lecture and they should have assigned credit units to it).
That day, the rain that fell on my back as I walked four blocks from the parking lot to the hotel to listen to the speech was not in vain. I entered all wet and shook the drops off my body like a wet fury animal and sat down. I really enjoyed Dr. Bereket’s educational speech.
The soaking was worth it; I had the chance to meet Prof. Ali Mazrui, one of Africa’s greatest treasures.
Ask me who Ali Mezrui is and what he means to me, and I don’t even know where to begin. You know what? You check him here on wikipedia. He is an extremely nice person and I am elated for meeting him in person.
I drove to San Francisco again the next day, Sunday morning, and the people I came to meet chose to take me to a restaurant for breakfast. I only eat breakfast when I visit DC or Dallas where they serve an imitation of Keren foul mdemmes. Dr. Tekle, His wife Dr. Victoria, Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie and my friend Kassahun Checkole (whose publishing company, Red Sea Press, is also distributing ‘Of Kings And Bandits.’) seemed comfortable with eating breakfast and I didn¹t know anything on the menu but omelet. I ate one that came in a tray the size of a car tire; I didn’t eat for five days.
And there you have it, 2010 in a nutshell for me. So many Ali’s on the way. All the Gabshas, the greatest, the failed boxers and the nuisances, all sharing a life with me. It is a great life!