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Tug Of War

When a country faces a risk of war and invasion, the best precaution is to strengthen is national unity. But what kind of unity? And exclusive unity or a comprehensive one?

When ruling parties fight, it’s mostly like a tug of war; forces pulling each other to the fall line. The force that gives in will be defeated, the other will be victorious, for a time. Soon, the other could gain momentum and the tug of war goes on and on. Sadly, common people suffer more than the armed forces—every time one force is pulled over the line, piles of bodies flattened under the boots, strewn and pile everywhere. Currently, many parts of Ethiopia is covered with such gruesome scenes.

In 1998, Eritreans were rounded in Ethiopia and deported as a reaction to a border war over a village. It was a revenge, though many called it a security precaution, the Ethiopians victimized many Eritreans. Many of the deportees died of sorrow and anguish soon after they arrived in Eritrea.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, it took a long time for life to return to normalcy. The hawks got their kick of the human sufferings; the few doves lived with a feeling of guilt.

The injustice was based on ethnic profiling though many of the deportees were born and raised in Ethiopia. They were second and third-generation Ethiopians, most of whom spoke only Amharic, the language of the traditional ruling class of Ethiopia. Bussed from all parts of Ethiopia, they were dropped at the Eritrea border. From there on, they had to adjust to life in Eritrea the country they don’t know except that it was the birthplace of their ancestors.

Eritreans who escaped the deportation faked ID cards to legitimize their stay in a country they considered theirs. Most pretended they were Tigrayans; others faked Amhara, Gurage, Afari, and other ethnic affiliations. A big portion of them blended in with the Tigrayans due to the linguistic and other cultural similarities. These are people that most Tigrayans claim are their kin who share similar cousin with them, drink Suwa like them, and worship at the same Orthodox churches. They were most of the victimized deportees whose life was disrupted.

Now the region is living through part-two of the misery of the Badmme war of 1998-2000—the same actors, the same people are perpetuating the cruelty. Yet, they are sniffing for more bloodshed. Unfortunately, Abyssinia has a ritual of shedding blood. Every generation or so, they must satiate the thirst of their gods for more blood. And Eritrea is in disarray….

I have never seen Eritreans as divided as they are today. Until recently, there were two vertical polarizations: a segment blindly supporting the PFDJ, and another, considered an opposition to the PFDJ regime, aspiring for justice and dignity of the Eritrean citizen. That was bad enough, but not many expected it to get worse. It has gotten worse. Now Eritreans are divided into, mainly, three groups: 1) those still supporting the regime, regardless of other considerations, and 2) those totally rejecting it, and 3) those who think they found a good excuse to make up and align with the PFDJ. What really happened? Jingoist slogans are the tools of the first group: “we stand behind our country”! Does standing behind your country entail blinding your eyes and becoming irrational?

Here are my basic views on the four political groupings:

  1. People can make excuses to support the government, but they do not have to ignore the plight of their people. They should not turn a blind eye to the injustice and bad governance perpetuated by the PFDJ.
  2. These days I don’t see a difference between those shouting their support for the TPLF while being indifferent to the plight of Eritreans. Some of them insist they don’t support the PFDJ.
  3. Those who never owned any honorable position for ages. Their kind of politics was the reason for the maladies Eritrea is suffering from until now. They were loyal to power, and they are still loyal to power today. In the past, their idol was Haile Selassie; now it’s Abiy Ahmed. These group were emboldened the moment Isaias declared, ‘anyone who thinks of Ethiopia and Eritrea as two countries, must be living in outer space.’ Now they want to ADD themselves to Abiy’s Ethiopia, “Tedemerenal”. This is the most despicable position by the historically opportunistic and servile crowd.
  4. The last group knows it can afford to stay away from all three and groups and side with justice and freedom. It’s convinced partisan politics, primordial loyalties, and opportunistic posturing doesn’t serve justice—it can’t ignore the plight of the political prisoners, lack of freedom of expression and other basic human and citizen rights in PFDJ’s Eritrea

I refuse to be part of any of the first three groups. Some are crude, chauvinistic, servile and jingoist.

Tug of War

The centuries old habit of extolling the force that is perceived as producing more dead bodies is a well-established habit in the region. From my perspective, the political elite of the region believes in a never-ending Tug of War. Most of the Dispora, particularly thoise in the West, are in cahoots with the warmongers. They keep religiously agitating for more blood and wars because they are sure the flames will not reach them. They live in safe places but do not mind having the children of the downtrodden die for their satisfaction., They treat wars as a football game.

I fully realize that I am repeating myself; and the current war is a repeat of the Baddme war years. This was my view in the 1998-2000 war and I have been repeating the same message since then. If nothing changes, I can’t change my message. As a writer and speaker, repeating the same message until it penetrates the thick skulls, is my job description. And nothing has changed since then. Only the main players became older, though they have buttressed their positions with new blood—leaders as arrogant as Abiy Ahmed and supporters as crude as they were in 1998-2000 war. And Abiy didn’t drop from the sky, he was trained and conditioned by the old guards. However, being an optimistic person, I always wished, with age, the PFDJ leaders would gain some wisdom. It appears, with age, they lost the little wisdom they had. But I will still whisper to them.


Describing disarray, Eritreans have a saying: the Guinea Fowl’s chicks.

Eritreans have been under the PFDJ rule for the last 31-years and the rulers do not have much to show for it though they boast a lot for doing what high school students could do. Last night I watched a program on Eritrean television where they were explaining the benefit of vegetables and fruits for a healthy diet. They were lecturing the benefit of fruits and vegetables to farmers who grow oranges and bananas! Governance is more than that. What have the PFDJ done regarding national unity or reconciliation?

People are coerced and many just pretend they are supportive of the regime to stay safe. Otherwise, they will disappear before they see the next day’s sunrise.

Would the PFDJ even think of ending their era with something positive? Would they embark on a worthy cause of reconciliation? If not, would they voluntarily go away and leave the people alone?

Jingoism is the PFDJ’s trademark, including defamation, exclusion… and they are control freaks. And they would not stop following the smell of gunpowder like a scavenger sniff for food. It’s sad to see many naïve people defending the involvement of Eritrea in the Ethiopian affairs. They claim is a strategy to defend Eritrea! Well, Eritrea could be better defended by a unity of purpose among its citizens. It can be stronger if it embraces its scattered children, the Guinea Fowl’s chicks. But sadly, the PDFJ is obsessed with military adventures.

Already, three years of Eritrea’s life has been snatched by the foolish policies, since the PFDJ provoked Eritrea by unilaterally stating Eritrea is Ethiopia. Don’t Eritreans have enough problems of their own to deal with? Why make it more complicated? But maybe, that gives the PFDJ bosses more time. Maybe it does, but for how long?

Suggestions, For what it’s worth

A few days ago, I heard Eritrea has agreed to allow the transportation of food aid to Ethiopia through its ports. It gave me hope. But then I couldn’t confirm that because I didn’t see a clear official statement. Nevertheless, I suggest that the PFDJ does the following:

  1. Allow access to humanitarian aid to reach the beleaguered people in Ethiopia—be it Tigrai, Amhara, Afar, all of them—particularly the minorities like the Agew who are being crushed by the large ethnic groups.
  2. Pull out all Eritrean forces and locate them along the Eritrean border based on the international court ruling after the Badmme war.
  3. Stop promoting the meaningless Tedemernal rhetoric, we are one, etc. Half true. Reasonable Eritreans are one with any other human being, all over the world. But politically we are not one—for God’s sake, even all Eritreans are not one but diverse. We are not a single brain cell thinking for all of us.
  4. The major three warring parties should leash their attack dogs. Agitation for ethnic or other hate speech, racism, is not free speech. It’s a crime. Also, you never believed in free speech; don’t use it as an excuse. Your attach dogs are megaphones echoing the official lines; and the world knows what a cult means. You are all cults, provoking each other and tickling the most sensitive nerve to stir raw emotions.

See! I could give more suggestions, but what’s the point? I know even the four suggestions above will not have any weight. I just wish anyone who reads me or listens to me is convinced to at least think about them. That is what I have been doing and that is what I do.

May Eritrea be blessed by the struggle the righteous among its children. People can kneel and pray for blessing for a year, but if they finish praying and then go to preach hate and confusion, the prayers are useless. Those who do good on their own, and act as responsible human beings on their own, have a better chance of summoning a blessing to their country. People can make the blessing a reality if they act judiciously and strive to achieve justice, freedom, and peace, with honestly. Any people that do that will be fine.

However, as Eritreans say, nmen illuwo (God would not deny us that), Eritrea will be fine despite the foolish judgements, and the insane decisions that the rulers and other make. At the end, the good part of Eritrea is larger than the bad part. No doubt Eritrea will be rewarded for the struggle of its good people. Never despair but strive to bring peace with your own efforts.

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 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 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 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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  • Brhan

    Hello Awatistas

    Tigray rebels retake Ethiopia’s UN World Heritage town: Residents
    TPLF rebels are patrolling Lalibela, witnesses say, less than two weeks after gov’t forces claimed to have retaken it.

    Published On 12 Dec 2021
    12 Dec 2021

  • Brhan

    Hello awate forumers,
    “Ethiopia’s war… the federal army consolidates its field gains and tightens the noose on the Tigray front” ِِAJ Arabic 11/12/2021
    The news continues to say heavy fighting took place in Weldiya front which is under the control of TDF and the two sides are now brining 150,000 soldiers in an area which is 200 kilometers far from Tigray and Amara regions.
    AJ correspondent opinion indicates that the battle now is to cut the road that leads to Mekele.
    The news includes what the Ethiopian side says but not TDF’s. AJ reported what the former side is saying but not verifying. For example the Ethiopian side is saying it controlled the Weldiya Mekele road but AJ can not send its correpondent there to verify it. Also today there was a lot talk abot Gashena but AJ did not mention a single word about it.
    I believe AJ is facing difficulties in covering news about the war there. It is the only news channle which the Ethiopian gov’t allowed to go northern Amhara region but it seems the Ethiopian gov’t is not giving it full access to report.
    And before there were some forumers who used to depict AlJazeera, a neutral news channel, as fake news provider channel. I wonder if they will call the above news fake?

  • Brhan

    Hello Awatistas
    The UNHCR is continuing in helping Eritrean refugees move to safer place. The following is good news but more has to be done.
    ስደት፡102 ኤርትራውያን ዝርከብዎም 176 ስደተኛታት ካብ ሊብያ ናብ ርዋንዳ ተሰጋጊሮም

  • Haile S.

    ሓደርኩም ሰብ ዓወተ

    ሕልሚ ሓሊመልኩም ሎሚ ለይቲ
    ኣብ ዝመጽእ ሓዲሽ ዓመት ዕረፍቲ
    ሓደ ሚልዮን ኤርትራዊ ናብ ኤርትራ ክኣቲ


    — ካይተረፍና ሰብ ዓወተ ተዋሳእቲ
    — ጸሓፍቲ ዝብሃል ጫሕገርቲ
    ዝተዓመቱ ኮነ ሰብ ኣዒንቲ
    ዓይነ ስኒ የብለይ ተቓወምቲ
    ሓደስቲ ኮነ ሰብ ቀደመ-ጥንቲ
    — ቴስታ ሕልኮ ቡኛ ተኸራፈስቲ
    — ጭው ዘሉ ህግደፈ – ደገፍቲ
    — ተኾሓልቲ ኩሓልቲ መቀናጀውቲ
    ኣሜን ኢሎም ዝኣመኑ፡ ደቂ ሰረቕቲ ማንካ ወ ድስቲ
    ንሕና ሰብ ኣይኮንናን፡ ሰብ ጎረቤትና’ዮም፡ መጉራዕቲ
    ነፍሰ-ሥጋ ሃረምቲ ቆርበት መለጥቲ፡ ብሓጺሩ ዛርቲ
    — መንጨውቲ ኮነ መቓልሕ ኣቐበልቲ
    — እናተደርዑ ስቕ ትም በሃልቲ
    — ‘ኮታ ኩሉ ዝብሃል silent majority

    ናብታ ሽሕ ጊዜ ነልዕላ ማርያም ኣሥመረይቲ
    ከተማ፡ ገጠር፡ ሃገር ከምዘይብላ ደቂ ዓበይቲ

    ካብ ኤሜሪካ ኤሮጳ ኤሽያ ኤሚረቲ
    ካብ ስዑዲ ቐረር፡ ካይተረፈ ካብ ጅቡቲ
    ካብ ስዊድን ኖርወይ፡ ዝርካቡ ካብ ሃይቲ
    ኦስትራልያ ካብ ኦሻንያ ካብ ኪሪባቲ
    ካብ ኩሉ፡ ኤርትራዊ ዝኣተዋ ብዓቲ

    እምቢ ወይ ሕራይ ምባሉ ካይተፈልጠ መንግስቲ
    ኦሮብናለ ምስቃል ኮነ
    ዝኸፈለን ዘይከፈለን ክልተ ካብ ሚእቲ

    ሰማይ ኣስመራ ተኸድነት ብበብዓይነተን ነፈርቲ
    ህዝቢ በለ መጻ ናይ ኣማሪካ ደብደብቲ
    ኣኺላ በለ፡ ‘ዛ መከረይና ምዕልቲ
    እኽሊ ንምዕዳል ዝስርሓሉ እኽሊ ለመንቲ
    ገሊኡ ዝቕተለላ ገሊኡ ዝዕንገለላ ናይ ቀደም ናይ ጥንቲ
    ስልጣኔ ተሰልጢኑ ዘይሰልጠነት እንኮ ሓንቲ

    ግና ህዝቢ ምስ ፈለጠ ምዃንና ደቁ ናይ ወጻኢ ተዓጠቕቲ
    ምጽኣት ኣኺሉ! ጉያ ኮነ ናብ መስጊድ ናብ ገዛ መላእኽቲ
    ቤተ-ጸሎት መልኣ፡ ብዝግዮ መሃረና ኣላህ፡ ተማህለልቲ

    ብር እንተበልኩስ ናይ ቀጥረይ ሃተፍተፍ ብለይቲ

    • Hashela

      Selam Haile S.

      ትሕዝቶ ሕልምኻ ዝወጾ ነይብሉ
      ሰባ-ስልጣን ኣሻቂሉ
      ንሶም በብሓደ እቶዉ እዮም ድብሉ
      ሓይሊ ብዙሓት ክብልሉ

      Be it a day dream
      Or a night dream
      Everything starts with a dream
      We have a dream!

      • Haile S.

        Selam Hashela,

        Beautiful! Merci

        I have a day dream
        Like an ever flowing stream
        Covered with Chantilly Cream
        Where I finger-paint Munch’s Scream

  • iSem

    Hi Saleh:
    A few things:
    I think Eritreans have been divided since PFDJ came to the Eritrean scene and I do not mean 1994, but 1970. Why do you think that Eritreans were killing each other. Although the fighting was been the armed boys, civilians also were killing each other.
    Example: two first cousins in kassala, they were also roommates but one believed in EPLF and the other in ELF. One day they argued about what else but about politics and then they fought and one died in the fight. There are many stories like these
    About the need to talk about the suffering of both Eritreans and other Ethiopians. On the surface this is noble, but here is the issue with it.
    1. Many of us prominent among them yourself talked about the suffering of the Eritrea people under PFDJ.
    And this war also has taken its toll on people and there are victims on both sided, but Tigrayans are the target, whether we call it genocide or not, the target are Tegaru. Granted Eritrean refugees have been attacked and I expect that they will be attacked but now this war by IA and ENDF and EDF,TPLF is the target and through it the Tigray people.
    So while you condemn the roots of this war in keeping with your signature and political/value DNA, but the suffering is not equal, the target is not the same
    Also the “Tedemnera”l thing is half true assertion is not correct. Unless you are talking about its benign and literal meaning. But “medemere” entered the lexicon with Abiy and was popularized by him and it is not half true, its metaphorical meaning as used by Abiy and those who peddle it is not its literal meaning. And
    we will not be added and we should not be added and especially by IA’s design