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Yohannes Tikabo and the King’s Men

This is the story of Yohannes Tikabo and Yosief Ghebrehiwet.  More accurately, about their beliefs. Two Eritreans, with varying degrees of enthusiasm for their particular identity.

First things first:  I am and have been a fan of Yohannes Tikabo ever since Zemen.Actually, before Zemen: I go back to the days “Tarik alewo iti Gobo.”To the days of “semiru dahaya.” Here are, to quote our mad president, my “evidences”: Here and here.

Huge fan.  How huge? At a habesha coffe-drinking ceremony in 2008, an aunt challenged me to do the customary bread-breaking prayers and I recited “Qelaximkum Erfi ychebta…“lyrics from “Ab mntayu Hailu ms beluni” (his best song–by far.)

Yohannes Tikabo is the best lyricist Eritrea has produced.  Ever.  He is a poet extraordinaire and that alone, from an artistic standpoint, is worthy of admiration.”He took this song from this other guy and that guy…” well, that is part of Eritrea’s flawed musical tradition: Osman Abdurehim claims Alamin Abduletif took his song (ny Akal vitamin) which Alamin denies; Osman Abdurehim says (well he just told me that on Facebook this month) that all he got from Sami Berhane for borrowing his “Sigir bietna zela fiqri” was 600 Nakfa; and Haile Ghebru (Zerai Deres Band) says that Osman Abdulrehim took his song “Dekise nere teberabire”  and he hasn’t paid him a penny for it.  That is our Eritrea at a time when artists are not as appreciated as they should be.

Just when Wedi Tikabo was pigeonholed as a nationalist singer whose love affair was only with Eritrea, he came up with “Fewsi lbi” an album of love songs.Now, he doesn’t have a love story (an alleged love story) that inspired his dad’s song “kem kokhob ab semay teseqila”  (dad, allegedly, fell in love with an Ethiopian Airlines flight attendant…semay, sky, get it?)  But “Fewsi lbi”, his first album (the previous were all just singles) proved that the man can write love songs—but still grounded on tradition (Go’E Leminey)This inspired a campy Amharic version which got all the “can’t we just get along?” team all excited.  Mind you, they don’t care how we get along:  a few months ago, the possibility of Isaias  reconciling with Prime Minister Desalegn got’em all excited: “we used to hate Isaias but Ethiopia has to pursue its nationalist interest, but do come and visit often.”

Wedi Tikabo, to me, is an Eritrean avatar: proud of the Eritrean Ghedli, proud of his contribution to it, grateful to the combatants, appreciative of its highest values—( I am going to list them alphabetically for the benefit of the Ghedli defamers)courage, creativity, defiance, determination, faith, honor, purposefulness, sacrifice, steadfastness, strength, and volunteerism.This is what Wedi Tikabo has been celebrating when he was, people forget, an employee of the Department of Defense, and this is what he will sing about now that he has demobilized himself: this, in fact, is what he has just sang about since he, in the parlance of DoD: Khoblilu.

The new song, Haddenetna, is classic Wedi Tikabo: powerful lyrics, but average melody. Ironically, with his visit to the US and better studios, the melody got just below average because somebody got too clever suggesting to him that he can use his own voice to create a chorus (like Abrar Osman did (he spent months on it) with bzyekazi)  and a producer who believes that every toy in the studio must be used suggested he use reverb and a harmonizer (He doesn’t need it: harmonizers are for people whose voice is iffy. Reverb is for nobody: it is one of those things Eritreans can’t seem to escape from.)

But Wedi Tikabo’s strength has been in the lyrics:  the world is an ocean: shall we swim like the fish or be eaten by the fish.In ab mntayu Hailu, he celebrated the fish for its unblinking eye (focus); now he celebrates the fish for its ability to adapt to the ocean’s waves (flexibility.)It is a new voice: focusing on what we in the opposition focus about: wasted years of the youth, absence of justice and reconciliation.He articulated the average Eritrean demand: peace (he means peace with honor: refer to the Ghedli values he cherishes) and justice. He has embraced his inner rebel: his core Eritreanism.

In his interview with assenna, Yohannes Tikabo said that  he has no interest in being a tool for the opposition anymore than he wanted to be a tool for the regime.He equated himself to a ball in the middle of the court.Yohannes Tikabo: you are not the ball; you are the player who is an aqebaqab, arrebeshto expert: free style, solo acrobatic football.  

Those of you who are disappointed that he left the PFDJ’s sinking ship: just do what we did when he was with the regime: learn to admire his skills while cancelling out in your head words you don’t agree with.Those of you who are disappointed that he didn’t denounce the regime forcefully…well, I always find wisdom in the common man.An Eritrean is listening to his fellow Eritreans ranting about how a former EPLF member has not forcefully renounced the EPLF.He tells them, “listen, I was a member of the ELF for 5 years, thirty years ago.It is still in my system.How do you expect somebody who was with the EPLF for decades to give up on it a week, a year, five years after he leaves it?” Amen, brother.

Wedi Tikabo is an artist, a rebel at heart, and it is a good bet that he has yet to produce his best work. I am not even going to wish him good luck because he is already blessed by the Almighty. I will just wait for the Eritrean National Anthem, our chant, which will be produced by him. Now, let him get his American menqesaqesi or is it mewesawesi?

King’s Men

Several weeks ago, Gedab News reported that the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM or De.M.H.T. in its Tigrinya acronym) was involved in rounding up Eritreans in Asmara.This has outraged Yosief Ghebrehiwet.No, no, not that foreigners are rounding up Eritreans but the fact that foreigners are being identified as foreigners and it is, gasp, actually being reported. The awatistas say the darnedest things!So far  he has registered his outrage in several facebook postings, and two articles Kebessa Eritreans Suicide Mission From Sahel to Lampedusa  and a satire entitled Eritrea: The Mustach That Fell of the President’s Face. And given his fetish with serialization and self-quotations, it is likely we haven’t heard the end of it. Yay.

More on the satire later but, let’s focus on YG’s critique on the first article which is summarized in the heading: Kebessa Eritreans have been on a suicide mission since the launch of the armed struggle.As I have dealt with this argument many times before, it will be merely redundant to point out the obvious flaws in the argument (example: most of the battles of Ghedli were fought in the lowlands and lowlanders have been exiled for three generations and their return to their homeland repeatedly blocked by Isaias Afwerki); instead, I will focus on the only thing that is new in the article:

But it was the awate team that, with the deepening of the above-mentioned wedge in mind, has put the distinction cleverly this way:

“… In previous dispatches only TPDF members with passable Eritrean Tigrinya accent were recruited to conduct the roundup. In this particular mission, there appears to have been a breakdown and TPDM members with noticeable Tigrayan accents were roaming the Merkato neighborhood of Asmara and asking for “metawekia” and “mewesawesi” – Ethiopian words for moving permit – whose Eritrean version are “tessera” and “menkesakesi” respectively.”

These anesthesiologists are shrewd enough to realize that the Kebessa fools would always be driven to frenzy if the issue is identity, and they do that subtly by invoking the difference in dialect that exists between the Tigrignas. They seem to say to the Kebessa elite: “Haven’t you fought for decades to keep all those who say “menkesakesi” on this side of Mereb, and all those who say “mewesawesi” on the other side of Mereb? Nothing less than your Eritrean identity is at stake, as “mewasawesi” is being heard in the center of your Asmara; and, for that, at Merkato!” Of course, they only have to hint it for the fools to latch on to it, and forget their existential predicament.

And what was the “above mentioned wedge”?  Here it is:

BEGIN QUOTE: “The pan-Arabists have always believed that if their colonizing mission is ever to have a chance to be enacted in Eritrea, the wedge between the habeshas across the Mereb River, in general, and between the Tigrignas, in particular, must be kept alive. So anything that drives this wedge deeper is always welcome to them. They know that many of the Kebessa elite will be driven to frenzy if they are told “The Ethiopians are coming!” END QUOTE

The surreal thing about extremists is that because they are surrounded by extremists they actually think the normal people are the extremist ones. All you have to do is to read the postings of the most devoted YG fans to understand how some are just one appointment away from a visit to the psychiatrist: their problem is not with Arabists or Arabs or Islamists but Islam itself. I don’t have bunker busters, let’s see how far I go with plain, ordinary factual statements:

1. De.M.H.T. has been all the rage in Paltalks all year. This is the first time has mentioned the organization in its public pages;

2. De.M.H.T may very well have a legitimate grievance and legitimate case to wage an armed struggle.After all, as I have pointed out many times, Tigray has a larger population than Eritrea, but 22 years after the overthrow of the Derg, the TPLF controls 100% of the government in Tigray and sends 100% of the representatives to the Federal parliament. That is 22 years of one-party statehood with no political space for any opponent. We have Eritrean opposition groups in Ethiopiasome armedwho are doing that just because they lack political space at home; so we can’t pretend that we don’t understand why De.M.H.T (the armed group, not the cultural troupe) is in Eritrea.

3. The only reason De.M.H.T. was relevant (prior to the gffa incident) is that the Eritrean regime is expressly forbidden from hosting Ethiopian opposition groups and it is the job of the Somalia Eritrean Monitoring Group (SEMG) to report on it when it does.After years of showcasing Ethiopian opposition in Eri-TV, the Eritrean regime has stopped (after two SEMG reports) but they still exist in Eritrea and the gfffa story was a great expose of that. When your number one target is Isaias Afwerki, and you are given a torpedo to use it, you fire away;

4. Even the Eritrean regime understood the disaster in its hands and has been on damage control since the story broke out.Those of us in the opposition cannot afford to be squeamish when the regime is on the run, we must press on, as long as we are reporting the truth and as long as we are doing it responsibly. For somebody who has been on a self-congratulation mission that he and only he understands the urgency of change in Eritrea, his fixation with how De.M.H.T. was wronged is a puzzle.

5. There was nothing mischievous about the menqesaqesi/mewesawesi distinction: it is called reporting.As part of our due diligence, we asked: how do you know they are from De.M.H.T.? Were they wearing different uniforms from those used by EDF? No.So how do you know? By their accents and the confessions of an injured De.M.H.T. member.

6. We do not buy into the “Isaias is a Tigrayan” conspiracy.That’s not his motivation here: we believe that there is a low-key civil disobedience within the agelglot and Isaias, like all tyrants, looks for the people who will not be conflicted when executing an order. Recall that in 2001 when Isaias wanted to beat the mothers of the protesting University of Asmara students, he dispatched Eritreans from the lowlands—visible by appearance and language. 

7.  The “gffa” was the injury—an injury that has been going on for years, and something has reported on for years—something that every Eritrean opposition website has reported on so the sanctimony about, “look, I am the only one who is protesting the very idea of gffa notwithstanding who the agent is!” is self-serving and disingenuous. The novelty here was the agents of enforcement. The foreign agents were the insult.It was an insult on top of an injuryand the insult happens to catch the attention of SEMG.Total insensitivity to this insult means only two things (a) one does not see them as foreigners (never mind that minor detail about 1991 and 1993) and has actually gone on record (at Debrezeit) giving a speech asking Eritreans to “pressure” Ethiopia to do more with respect to regime change or (b) one has no understanding of the long list of virtues celebrated by Eritreans, on top of which would be honor and dignity.To such a person, these words are useless, empty words like a beggar choosing.

8. This has nothing to do with them being from Tigray or their accents; it has to do with the fact that they are foreigners.Not Eritreans.Isaias Afwerki takes particular joy in humiliating Eritreans: refer to Dafla’s interview on the General Manager of Eritrean Airlines was told that, henceforth, two of his commissioned travel agents from Pakistan would be in charge and he can either report to them or be a titular head. He was rightfully outraged: does that make him a hater of Pakistanis? Trying to place a wedge between Eritrea and Pakistan? Refer also to Isaias Afwerki telling students in South Africa that, for all he cares, they don’t have to return to Eritrea, they are disposable and he can get their replacement from India and the Philippines. The Eritrean students were outraged and insulted, rightfully so. When we reported that, were we trying to place a wedge between Eritrea, Philippines and Pakistan?

9. If the ones doing the roundup were from Sudan and they were using Arabic words to give orders, hell, yes, we would report it (as one more example of Isaias’s contempt for the people of Eritrea) and hell, yes, Yosief Gebrehiwet would have written a long article in opposition (Suggested title: Arabists in Eritrea: The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost, Part 1 of 10) and his rabid fans would have written scathing attacks on Arabs and Muslims.

10. The Kebesa/MetaHit thread is a dead-end.And here’s why.Almost all of the victims of Lampedusa were from Kebesa.True.Now, once you have embarked on that road, there is no coming back: somebody will dig deeper: almost all of the victims were from Akele Guzay.Dig more.Almost all were from Adi Keyh.Then what?Does the title of the article change to the suicide of Akele Guzay?The Homicide of Akele Guzay? Painting awate as a Jebha/Islamist is a dead-end. Here’s why: it is the most diverse Eritrean website. Period.

There is something going here; it is the same old something. I have never heard Tigrayans insulting Eritreans because they dared to be an independent State. Tigrayans, under the leadership of the TPLF, were the first Ethiopians to support Eritrea’s cause for independence and they made more compelling reasons for why it is a just cause that even some Eritreans made.They held to that principle min al bidaya li’nehaya.  They never wavered.

All the critics of Eritrea are those who lost the argument in 1991.They are the King’s Men. Like the King’s Men (loyalists) during America’s Revolutionary War (which, gasp, used conscripts and double gasp, used “revolutionary justice” on the loyalists) they were loyal to a foreign king: Haile Selasse I, whose rule they equate with Eritrea’s golden years (never mind those nuisances in Ona, etc BECAUSE SIMILAR CRIMES HAPPENED IN ETHIOPIA TOO.) America’s King’s Men thought their countrymen were rash, impulsive and disloyal. So did our king’s men: just a bunch of clueless bandits shooting their guns aimlessly. The American King’s Men were shocked that their countrymen were turning their back on Mother England and getting help from an assortment of misfits like the French, Dutch, Spanish and others who don’t even have the decency to speak English. Our King’s Men just can’t get over the fact that we turned our backs on them. Just like the American King’s Men, our King’s Men lost the argument. Well, America’s King’s Men fought for their cause when it mattered; ours just want to fantasize about an imaginary time machine. Now, when the country is down, they think they have gotten second wind.But they have not.It is only because of their echo chamber that they think they have.

The second piece of Yoseif Ghebrehiwet, the satire, was quite good.I give it a B+.The things that work is that it follows the formula of a good satire: take a point to its extreme logical end; pierce people you consider are pompous or sanctimonious;create convenient caricatures ( = ELF, Arabists, Islamist, Habesha-haters).Why it is not an A: title (unless it is a reference to a literal piece I don’t know); its length (in the time it takes one to read a YG article, knnqesaqes wela knwesawes teHarimna) and, the biggest one: a satire must be focused on a big issue everybody is talking about.The mewesawesi menqesaqesi was a one-day story; it didn’t even make it to the follow-up Gedab News: it is huge only in the minds of those who think that the use of those words is more insulting to Habesha unity than the fact that foreigners are enforcers of Eritrean homicide.

Now, as a sign of goodwill, here’s my present to Yosief Gebrehiwet and all the King’s Men from Wedi Tikabo. It is a long one…but then YG is used to that. See, that’s one thing they both have in common: they are long story tellers.




About Salyounis

Saleh Younis (SAAY) has been writing about Eritrea since 1994 when he published "Eritrean Exponent", a quarterly print journal. His writing has been published in several media outlets including Dehai, Eritrean Studies Review, Visafric, Asmarino and, of course, Awate where his column has appeared since the launch of the website in 2000. Focusing on political, economic, educational policies, he approaches his writing from the perspective of the individual citizens' civil liberties and how collectivist governments and overbearing organizations trample all over it in pursuit of their interests. SAAY is the president and CEO of a college with a focus in sound arts and video games and his writing often veers to music critique. He has an MBA from Golden Gate University and a BA from St Mary's College.

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  • zhaile

    Admin, Please post the last staff that I wrote. delete the first one. Thanks

  • zhaile

    Hi Seray
    You wrote
    “Pan-arabism, well, the muslims who formed ELF and started the armed struggle never wanted to part be of ethiopia to begin with…”
    This statement as is, is true. But the problem is what it leaves implied. Those same muslims that formed ELF were members of the Eritrean parliament. They accepted the result of the referendum (arbitration).
    They insisted and wrote to Hailesselassie and his minions during the 10 years (or so) of federation with Ethiopia that the Eritrean constitution was trumpled upon.
    They resorted to armed struggle after Hailesselassie abrogate the Eritrean Constitution and disbanded the Parliament.
    None of this matters to YG because he wants to show the ugliness of Eritrean struggle and santity of Hailesselssie. I hope you will find more facts on this (on the years between 1952 and ’60) and see it for yourself, Serray
    “ – a proud christian country ruled by a king who is ALSO head of its orthodox church….”
    This is your thought, imagination. What the Eritrean ethinic groups mainly Lowlanders have in mind are the Raids, death, killing, cattle rastling, by big amhara and Tigrean armies that come to kill them and get feed of their livestock. Do you think Ras Alula 10 000 strong army that was stationed in Asmera for 4 years was tilling the land to earn their daily bread?
    “Can you blame them? “ If your statement is true of course. If my answer is true of course not

    “ They are not habesha, they don’t share the religion or the culture of the king.”

    This is partly true. But culture is not a problem. The problem is when it is imposed on you by displacing your culture. But most important when it is done by the barrel of the gun. There is quite a difference from your statement.

    “After accepting grudgingly the outcome of the federation, haileslasie broke a sacred promise, that was too much for them and even to many of our fathers..”

    They accepted what the arbitrators proposed as a middle point. They knew they did not get what they wanted but realize also that their other half wanted different outcome. They accepted the federation and they tried to make it work. Unlike the unionists and Hailesselassie who did everything to make it unworkable.

    “But we must also admit, there was always an arab agenda; “

    How convenient.., there was but to say it was the driving force is denial. The driving force was the Ethiopian army who behaved the same way as Alula and Wubbie were behaving. Killing, burning, pillaging. By the way the Ethiopian army ate (for a snack) 35 goats, 16 cows and 6 oxen. These was my property. The person who was guarding them managed to hide and eventually run away. I was no near the animals at that moment. I was happy they did not kill my cousin. But many villagers were not that lucky.
    “egypt’s lifeline comes from ethiopia and instead of sharing abbay gratefully, these pricks have contempt for black africans and using one african against another appeals to them.”
    This is true. But to your surprise beside the people who started the armed struggle were in Cairo at that time I never heard of any Egyptian shipment of ammunition or training or anything else to ELF. If you have any information on that I like to see it.

    • Gech

      Dear Guys,

      Save your own nation and stay away from US.

  • Ruta

    I am getting confuse what has to Do wediTkabo with Yosef G

    • Ghergis


      To put the whole article in two sentences, wediT’kabo celebrates the Eritrean struggle (ghedli) and wants to hold the Eritrean government accountable to the objective of the struggle, to bring justice and freedom to the Eritrean people which at this point don’t have it.

      Yosief G rejects the struggle (ghedli) altogether and believes it was not worth it, the cost was to heavy and the outcome has become disaster.

      Which point of view do you support?

  • Azen

    The two points of view and analysis presented by the two men are opposite. Sadly, both of them can not be right. One of them – Saleh Yonous can not overcome the Ghedli past who repeatedly explain it like a child with nostalgia, thereby lacks convincing reasoning. He tries hard to sell Ghedli but the current fruits of Ghedli, the present Eritrea and the quagmire within the opposition camp fails him. He always looks back how bad Ethiopia was but rarely talks about the short comings of his own old camp – the ELF, Ghedli or on why Eritrea is now where it is, the worst on every index invented by man.
    On the other hand, Yosief Ghebrehiwet weaves his arguments freely using the past and the present to show with clear reasoning and ample evidence that Eritreans lost more and they will lose even more sooner or later with Ghedli. yg had made clear argument and the future will prove him right. Here is how yg puts it:

    “Eritrea too is being built on unstable ground. If we do not come up with an engineering mechanism appropriate to the unstable ground upon which it is being built, it won’t stand for long. If one uses solid-ground engineering to build the house mentioned above, we know what the disastrous result would be the first time earthquake strikes. So is it with Eritrea. The romanticizing ones who believe that ghedli (the revolution) was built on justifiable cause or that this nation of ours is being built on solid ground are actually the ones who are preparing the nation for an eventual collapse. What we need now is to lay bare the unstable foundation upon which Eritrea is being built (deconstruct it, if you will) – that is, if we are ever to come up with an appropriate mechanism commensurate to the ever-shifting ground upon which it stands.”

    • Senai

      If the arugement is that because Ghedli and the men and women participating in Ghedli had short comings, therefore with should completely neglect anything positive that stems for it; then I think you have to throw out history as a whole, including religion. Why is it that these absolute truths have to be met when it comes to the Eritrean Ghedli experience, but never when speaking about anything else? Are we really going to judge question of Eritrean independence after only 22 years? Really? Granted, I myself did not see the current situation taking hold over the country at such a dire state, but I wasn’t under the illusion that everything would be perfect.
      If anyone takes a good look at history (including the United States) you will find that there horror stories of nations going to growing pains, but none of them decided to turn their backs on their decision (even Haiti).
      I think that we will find that once we get rid of this evil man, we have more than enough stablability to build a nation

  • Ghergis

    Saay and YG are two intelligent writers, with different point of view.

    Here is the reason I support Saay’s point of view:
    – Eritrean liberation struggle is a legitimate struggle with a huge sacrifice paid by its dear son’s and daughters, all the dirty reality and unfortunate events that unfolded in the process show human nature, human weakness, and human short comings. YG uses these short comings and weaknesses of the struggle to denounce the struggle altogether and comes with a conclusion that it should never have happened in the first place.

    Let me use this analogy to explain myself. A man saw his sister getting raped and because of the love for his sister confronted the rapist who was armed and was much heavier and got severely damaged. A bystander comments that’s a stupid decision he could have called the police and have him arrested without any damage to himself. But his sister will always remember him as a true courageous brother who risked everything to save her life. Those Eritrean heroes who died in the front lines, gave everything that they had, so that these to gentle men (Saay & YG) could dialogue as Eritreans, and they did it, they didn’t die in vain.

    • 7up

      bravo bro with all the short coming of the current Gov we will one day have a democratic Eritrea and once again our heroes will be celebrated.