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“The World Is Against Us,” Eritrea’s St Alamin

A few people were mad because I criticized Saint Alamin, the Secretary of the PFDJ. They insisted that I apologize for a misconstrued statement clipped out of context taken out from Negarit 4 of May 2018. Arsonist who either do the PFDJ bidding or are blinded by ethnic motives had a field day with it on social media. Like always, no vile barking will deter me from showing the PFDJ’s nakedness until Eritrea gets a government it deserves, as long as I breath. It’s a promise.

But since they are my compatriots, I will present them a gift, a drawing of St. Alamin to calm them down. You can see it on the video above. Let me start with a divine quote: وإذا خاطبهم الجاهلون قالوا سلاما (And when the ignorant address them, they say peace.)

My First impression of Alamin

I met Alamin for the first time in 1991 at the Asmara University. I had come through Cairo where I met the late Baryay who I knew briefly in Bahrain three years earlier. I went to the community center where he had his office as a sort of an informal Ambassador of Eritrea. There I saw many Egyptians—wives, children and brothers who had come to ask about the whereabouts of their relatives, fishermen who were arrested with their boats by security on the Eritrean part of the Red Sea for violating sovereign Eritrean territory. However, no formal case was filed against them, and their relatives were not informed. Though the arrest of the fishermen and their boats created a friction with the Egyptian government, the EPLF was in a euphoric mood, and I thought it was natural for starters to overlook legal and diplomatic norm, but regardless, the undiplomatic nature and obsession with escalations that I observed worried me.

Baryay told me he doesn’t know how to deal with the Egyptians who were asking about the prisoners. He didn’t get any instruction or information from Eritrea and asked me, “please meet all the leaders in Asmara and explain to them my problem. I need to have answers.”

I had told my friend, the late Shekheddin Yassin, about Barary’s problems. He pointed to Alamin who was chatting with some people, “there, it’s Alamin… tell him your message.” I approached Alamin, introduced myself and passed Baryay’s message. Alamin looked up and uttered a vulgar word meaning, ignore them. I was shocked by the vulgar response and wondered why he treats such an important legal matter so lightly!

That was the first impression of Alamin that stayed in my memory for this long.

It was there that I saw Isaias; Shekheddin held my hand and introduced me to him. It was the first time I met Isaias and shook hands with him.

Saint Alamin’s PFDJ Mentality

Here is some of the remaining portion of my rebuttal to Alamin’s marathon interview with EreTV on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Eritrean Armed Struggle. Note that I am taking a risk because my doctor, just like he advices me not to consume excessive amount of sugar and salt, he advised me not to consume too much Alamin—it seems he is right; I am already feeling sick. So, here follows my brief rebuttal, otherwise, if I do it in detail, I could go on for ten hours …and some of you don’t even have the patience to watch 20 mints.

Alamin1: Thirty years of armed struggle, thirty years of defensive struggle, and from 1941 to 1961, a political struggle, therefore, we were oppressed for eighty-years, till now…

Alamin forgets the whole world was oppressed, it shouldn’t sound as if Eritreans were the only oppressed people. Since the beginning of colonization, in addition to local exploitation, everyone lived under oppression, Eritreans are not special.

Alamin2: The parts [of the Red Sea] that [Eritrea] owns, we have islands…

On this topic, there is a 1999 MS thesis by Simon Grezghier Yohannes (I will link it below*). The thesis is a study he made about Eritreans ports and shipping. Now I challenge everyone that Alamin didn’t read that paper and doesn’t know its content, and I doubt if he knows it exists. His knowledge on how shipping and ports work, and about sea transport is rudimentary. I advise those who boast about Eritrea’s mineral resources, ports, and the like, to read Simon’s paper before they run their mouth. At least they can have basic knowledge about how ports work—without having that kind of basic knowledge, one should not talk about it.

Here, maybe you want to ask me what I know about the topic. The first paid work I ever did was working in a shipping company and ports where I worked for close to three years as a boarding officer. One of my coworkers was Idris who had an extensive knowledge and experience about shipping and port activities because he had worked for many years in the port of Massawa. I gave him headaches with my daily questions in trying to learn as much as I could to the extent he said to me, “Saleh, you seem you are going to buy a ship!” Every now and then he would joke, “have you bought a ship yet.” I learned a lot from Am Idris and others, but he was my main teacher. So, I know enough about ports, ships, and related businesses.

Alamin3: [Eritreans] are a people who do not demand what is theirs…

It’s wrong to say that about the Eritrean people, however, he might be true because they have not forcefully demanded from the PFDJ to loosen their grip. But that could be explained in two ways: either it’s an innocent mistake, or a Freudian slip of tongue. Most likely it’s a conviction that unintentionally forced itself out. Yest, since Eritreans did not demand what is rightly theirs in a forceful manner, didn’t demand freedom what they earned, it’s natural that Alamin and his colleagues would think that way.

Alamin4: We are not a failed state, what wealth is there that is not in Eritrea! There is everything, be it minerals, be it oil-wealth, be it the wealth of natural gas….natural wealth, wealth of ecology, Eritrea is not negligible …

But what did the people benefit from all that wealth? What change did that bring to the lives of the people who are going hungry? How is it that… if you boast, we have this and that, we have wealth! If you do not exploit the wealth, if you do not extract and benefit from it, if you cannot exploit it for the benefit of the people and the country, what’s it good for?

Alamin5: The sea itself, daily, millions of tons of ships carrying …be it oil, or other products, pass through of sea across from our shores…

This is one of the many follies. So many millions of tons pass through! Yearly, about 21,000 ships pass through the Bab El-Mendeb, across from Eritrea. Eritrea cannot possibly get all the ship-business, but it has two ports, and there are not many ports around. If Eritrea had competed effectively, it could have secured at least 10% of the ship-handling business. What do you benefit by just watching the ships pass by while you cheer and salute them like children? What did Eritrea get from that potential business? Ships need maintenance, bunkering, ship chandelling, and other merchandize requirements for the ship and its crew—some ships are like a village with 50m or 60 crew, and they stay on the sea for long periods. Ships get their supplies from ports; what is the size of the Eritrean business that caters to the needs of ships?

Alamin6: [Eritrea went through] occupation by Whites, European occupation, even mentioning Italians…why did Italy come, to do what? To take land, to exploit the wealth of this country, for its interest, to spread its fascistic rule…

When one talks about history, objectivity and honesty is needed. What Alamin said is just wrong. First, the Italians didn’t come to exploit resources, they are late comers to the race to colonize other lands. Let’s see the main motive for their colonizing Eritrea without branching out. The main reason that brought the Italians to Eritrea is because they were losing their people to America due to immigration. Many parts of Italy were suffering from poverty and unemployment, and the people were migrating to the America. The king was worried his subjects will leave to American and become Americans and will not pay taxes to the crown anymore. Their solution was establishing a colony to settle their people there and they will remain Italian subjects and continue to pay taxes to the Italian coffers. This was the main motive that brought them to Eritrea, the rest is natural progression. Italy saw Eritrea as a settlement colony where they can distribute land to the poor sector of their population. That was why most of the first settlers were impoverished peasants from Sicilia and Calabria who settled in Eritrea and began to build the infrastructure for larger settlements and free more Italians from poverty by moving theme to Eritrea.

IMPORTANT: As the Suez Canal was opened, in 1969 the Italian Rubattino Shipping Company bought a piece of land from a Dankali prince on the Red Sea to make it a coaling station for its steamships. In 1882, the Italian government took over the Rubattino property. Three years later they occupied Massawa and from there it expanded to curve out Eritrea as a settlement colony. I am not sure if Alamin knows fascism was established in Italy about forty years after the creation of Eritrea—Italy could not have occupied Eritrea to spread fascism before it was created in 1922 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini.

Alamin7: We faced America, we faced England, we face Ethiopia, not forgetting even Israel that we faced. Therefore, their goal was, how to make this country [Eritrea] kneel down…

It seems the whole world does not have other goal but to make Eritrea kneel down! This kind of thinking! Before Eritreans free themselves from this kind of siege and victim mentality it’s impossible to be self-confident. All the [PFDJ] boasting about self-confidence is all lies. A self-confident government does not live perpetually complaining—we broke off this or that, we defeated this or that is not helpful…

Alamin8: When the English came to Eritrea during the federation [era], there were political parties in Eritrea, but there were none in other regions. There were around nine or ten political parties [in Eritrea]. The prevalent political view of the political parties at the time was how to barter (negotiate), how to have flexible [positions].

What we understand from the above is that the English introduced multiparty system and democracy. They also introduced good governance. Therefore, we were better than the rest. That seems to be Alamin’s assertion. But then he says…

Alamin9: On the name of democracy that the English introduced, they made this country [Eritrea] cripple.

So, now he has turned to the opposite position and is stating the English crippled [Eritrea]. On one side he was feeling proud of what they did and said, ‘we had it all before anybody else…we had democracy etc.’, and minutes later he said they crippled the country. Objectivity and honesty are needed here. Benefits and losses need to be compared objectively. For example, Eritrea had no towns before Europeans came, except for Massawa—whatever was accomplished during colonization required the sweat and participation of Eritreans. How many people died building the roads that are still in Eritrea? How many people toiled in it? How many people served in it? Therefore, whether what was accomplished was initiated and administered by the Italians, it is Eritrean labor. And the parties and associations, though introduced and administered by the English, it’s Eritrean as well. They played important roles in it. It’s our heritage, it’s our history. If you deny that, it means you are denying Eritreans contributions in it.

Alamin10: For the first time, after chasing away occupation, we [established] a self-supporting national assembly, made by the people, elected by the people, not elected by the English, or elected by the UN…

The PFDJ leaders boast about the sham council they established thirty years ago, the buried council that does not exist and never met since two about two decades. It’s as if it has achieved anything, except to rubber stamp Isaias’ decision to jail half the government officials, still jailed without trial—no one knows their whereabouts, even their spouses and children.

Alamin11: Even the Eritrean Flag, who, which flag is it? Is it Eritreans who chose it? It was chosen by the UN. Anzo Matienzo [The UN commissioner for Eritrea, 1949-1951] conspired with others, with the English, and with whomever and whomever, and [chose] a flag that was simply patched up, which had not basis, and had no description, a flag that dulled the Eritrean identity … it’s [such] parties that established it…

It sounds like he is saying, firstly, the parties of the time had no right to do anything. And secondly, he is saying it’s patched up flag, and so on…

Alamin joined the Eritrean struggle in the 1960s. And at the time he joined, the banner of the struggle was the original blue flag. If he didn’t believe in it, and thinks it was a patched-up flag, why did he join the struggle to fight under it? Who inspired him? They are known, leaders like Osman Sabbe, Idris Mohammed Adem, Ibrahim Sultan, Weldeab Weldemariam, etc (they all believed in the original blue flag). Many remember and know the songs about the flag and how Eritrean adore the original flag, Khedra, AwlieE… It was that flag that represented the aspiration of the youth of the time who joined the struggle. So, what was Alamin’s symbol until then?

The feelings and emotion of Eritreans when they waved the original flag after the independence of Eritrea was too loud and evident to ignore. There is ample examples of how the people respected and were loyal to the original flag. Alamin is saying all of that did not happen, it was brought by the English or Italians… but such revisions of history were introduced to Eritrea with the coming to power of the likes of Alamin. Until then, people never mocked the flag or ignored it, undervalued it, or disowned it.

So, does his logic mean we shouldn’t travel on our roads because it was built by the Italians? Alamin can say anything, but Eritreans know the history of the flag very well: who voted for it, where it was envisioned, and based on what criteria it was agreed upon. Sadly, the PFDJ owns the national narration and they have fomented so much division and disunity among Eritreans.

Alamin12: Someone speaks, be it in Rome or England [and says] the country that doesn’t have an assembly, that has no newspaper, that has only one newspaper, and has one television—the motive was to belittle Eritrea and it is not a minor thing…

Maybe some could say that for its belittling effect; those who do not wish Eritrea well might say that to belittle Eritrea. But there are others who say that because it pains them. Now the issue is not who said it and who didn’t, it’s rather to find out whether the statement is true or false—a country without an assembly, without press, and a country with one television channel. We all say that. Is that true or false?

Now, Alamin is complaining about those who say so. Therefore, those of you who claim that you are wrong. Eritrea is a f democracy and respects freedom of expression. But there are 20 or 30 Eritrean reporters and journalist who are jailed with no explanation, not even a sham trial and sentencing—Alamin doesn’t believe they exist because the accusations are lies. Alamin accuses foreigners of blaming his regime. Why would foreigners wrongly accuse the regime of that? What do they gain by saying there are no assembly in Eritrea, and it has no newspapers? What do they benefit? Sadly, the Alamin types are the people leading Eritrea.

Alamin13: All that is happening [to Eritrea], its being pushed by Western monopolizes.

Repeating of “Western Monopolists” accusation, they always give Eritreans severe heartaches! Are there worse monopolists than the PFDJ? It is a party that doesn’t allow poor women to sell tomatoes, potatoes, or onions in the streets! Don’t they compete against the poor in such petty business?

In the early days, the PFDJ started to round-up and clear beggars from the streets. A joke circulated about it:

Question: why are they rounding up beggars?
Answer: They will replace them with their own beggars.

It’s funny when a monopolist complains about monopolists.

Alamin14: When we say, first, second, third, fourth and fifth zones, how were they formed? It was for the benefit of certain tribes, and the benefit of certain regions.

Many would not understand this, but he is talking about the military division of the zones that were introduced sixty years ago, during the armed struggle era. It was one of the reasons Alamin and others split from the ELF. It’s fine to talk about it calmly as history, but do you see his tone? He says it as if it is current event! He has yet to get over his ancient grudges.
After independence when people were hoping Eritrea will be over the old grudges and conflicts, Alamin wrote a book entirely about such issues, not as a vision or in a conciliatory tone, but in an agitational tone to revive old conflicts. A book devoid of any leadership quality of its author, a partisan book that has inflicted untold damage on the Eritrean psyche. He is still on it.

Alamin15: For years, those who caused the civil war and we killed each other are many…

And surprisingly, Alamin is one of them. But I have a challenge here for anyone who repeats such exaggerated stories, starting with the PFDJ leaders. If you ask anyone how many people died in the civil war, they will just guess and say many, hundreds, a lot were killed! They just repeat the PFDJ instilled perceptions. But how many people were factually killed in it? And how many such battles were waged? Of course, even a single life is so precious and shouldn’t have been ended by a fraternal bullet.
However, we must expand the perspective and compare: how many people were killed or disappeared by the PFDJ regime since 1991? Tens of times the number of those assumed killed in the civil war. If we leave emotions and partisan agitation aside, what would Alamin say if he was asked how many people perished under the hands of his party? They should be able to present a comparative list of the killed persons. This is my challenge for anybody who could bring a complete and genuine list of names of the civil war victims. Since Alamin always takes the liberty to speak about the forties as he pleases, it shouldn’t be too sensitive or a secret to talk about events of the seventies.

It’s funny how the PFDJ sympathizers chastise writers who raise such issues because they believe it’s sensitive. But when it comes to the PFDJ, people like Alamin, they have the license because they own the national narration. Importantly, when most Eritreans write about such issues, it is to uncover the hidden matters and to create an awareness of history, not to promote hate or to advance a partisan interest.

Alamin16: It was only six or seven years during which we rested peacefully, 1991-1997-8, [with Ethiopia.]

During these years, Alamin and his party were on an exclusive honeymoon with the EPRDF, at party level, where they were engaged in an economic exploitation drive. Both were building their parties with no limits but the rest of the people gained nothing from that so-called period of peace.

The PFDJ business tentacles in Ethiopia was so wide and many people were coerced to jointly do business with the PFDJ. But one question would suffice: there was a bank called Horn Bank that was opened in Ethiopia only to be closed by the Ethiopian government in a short period of time. The questions for Alamin: Why was the bank opened, why was it closed, and who owned it? The answer to such questions will shed light of what type of peaceful years they were.

Alamin17: The policy of all, Americans monopolists can be mentioned, starting from Clinton, Obama, and the one who came recently [Biden] and others called Democrat, and others, Republicans who are fanatics….It’s all about how to crush Eritrea.

The one who recently came is Biden, he knows his name but maybe he forgot it—Biden is a monopolist.
No one has other work but to worry about how to crush Eritrea. Here, I am not claiming there are no ill-wishers for Eritrea, but is that the only way Eritreans should live, always wailing like a widow?

Alamin18: It was about 6% [Tigrayans] imposing their own administration, police, troops, their own security, their own economic plans, over 90-something% of Ethiopians.

True. That is how it was. In the aftermath of what the region went through, the victorious group or party, got the lion’s share of everything. How about in Eritrea? Why don’t the PFDJ use the same measuring tools to compare themselves with what happened in Ethiopia when they indulge themselves analyzing Ethiopian issues. Why don’t they super-impose the same findings on their performance to see if they are any different? For instance, Alamin complains that 6% Tigrayans controlled Ethiopia. What about the PFDJ’s Eritrea? How many percent of Eritreans does the PFDJ make? Aren’t less than 100 people monopolizing Eritrea? They don’t exceed 100 persons.

Alamin19: If we see the troops of Ethiopia during the time of Weyane, around 80%, all, the whole of them, all the places, all of it entirely, was held by Weyane. It was held by Tigrayans—followers of Weyane—not all Tigrayans, followers of Weyane. If you ask where did they want to reach…

What is the difference with what the PFDJ has been doing? Isn’t the PFDJ benefiting only Its supporters? Certainly not all Eritreans are benefitting. It’s not all Eritreans who are getting preferential treatments. Hasn’t the PFDJ divided the people supporters and non-supporters? Who are the beneficiaries of nepotism? They are the close allies, relatives, etc. Who are they? How are things run in Eritrea? Does anyone who is not a PFDJ follower get to work and live good in Eritrea freely? Eritreans know all of that and they should not be silent when the PFDJ spreads such lies.

Alamin20: Why can’t a system, a combined political system that benefit Ethiopian, all of it, cannot be established? Why was a system that represent only the Weyane view be established?

This is easy, they established a system that they favor just like the PFDJ built a system that they like. The EPRDF installed a system they like, and Alamin is opposing it [retroactively], good. But the PFD also installed a system they favor, a system that benefits a small clique. They didn’t establish a peoples’ system? …where is the difference between what the EPRDF did and what the PFDJ is did and is doing?

Alamin21: When we say Amhara, it’s Ethiopia, One Ethiopia, self-sustaining, one that can work with Eritrea, according to what we want, one that, together with Eritrea, benefit….err work together…

Here he threw his bombshell. He said they want to work with the Amhara, an Amhara Ethiopia. … that can jointly benefit (another Freudian slip?) it’s from the horse’s mouth. all Ethiopia combined.

The presenter closed the interview with the following statement, with which I fully agree:

Since we started the armed struggle, from 1961, to this day, we haven’t secured peace yet… we haven’t established peace.

  • National Shipping Companies in Eritrea, by Simon Gebregziabher Yohannes: shorturl.at/iAB39

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  • Brhan

    Salam Alikum Ustaz Saleh,

    Thank you for you humorous episode.

    The episode: coincided with the Economist recent article that haileTG shared :
    Abiy against the world
    Ethiopia is losing friends and influence. The Economist 2021-10-09

    Birds of the same feather fly together!

    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Brhan,
      Indeed it is a surprising coincidence. I should have entitled it St. Alamin Against the World. The sheer arrogance and ignorance is beyond… well, ignorance.

      • Ismail AA

        Hayak Allah Saleh,

        May the source of your power of patience and uncredible stamina kept on the grace. Frankly, I could not have the patience to finish the stuff. The guy is endowed with almost everything one would have liked him not to be. Thank you for doing what I couldn’t have been able to do had I been obliged to do.