Eritrea real clear politics's Weblog

June 25, 2009

De-Romanticizing Ghedli: Serving A Toxic Brew To The Young & The Disillusioned

Filed under: Politics — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 10:57 am
Awate – Al-Nahda
By Saleh AA Younis (SAAY) – Jun 24, 2009   
 
About 4 years ago, after “debating” issues on the Internet for 10 years, I came to the realization that Internet debate is a lot like playing a game without a referee, a clock, or a scoreboard.  The audience comes and goes and occasionally sends you the “tseba ste!” and “anta Hulkus!” email. In other words, I concluded that it was an entirely futile exercise. And so I stopped.  But I have to make an exception now to respond to the article by Yosief Ghebrehiwet (Eritrean Independence: Is It Worth All The Sacrifice?, asmarino.com, June 16) because I think the subject, Ghedli (the Eritrean Revolution) is important and because the author has an undeniable ability to persuade (negatively in my view) readers, mostly the Young And The Disillusioned (Y & D.)  And because I have to reference what I said, and what he said, I don’t know if I can do it in fewer than 14 pages—so my apologies in advance.

 

Thanks to the scarcity of books about the Ghedli, the Y & D may not know much about Ghedli but they sure know a lot about the tegadelti (Revolutionaries) who were a clear and present danger to their life and liberty in post-independence Eritrea.  And it is this disillusion that Yosief feeds with what appears to be perfectly logical arguments: sadistic revolutionary; ergo, corrupt revolution.  But look closer and you will find that Yosief’s arguments are built on a house of cards—a foundation of wrong assumptions, sleight of hand, a few “so what?” dismissals; the unfortunate tendency of Eritreans to always want to create a “guilt parity” between two sides for the sake of appearing fair; and the occasional “say what?” mind-benders that are just the exact opposite of what history books say. 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself.

 

There should be no confusion: it is not Yosief Ghebrehiwet, but the PFDJ, which is responsible for the state of mind of the Young & The Disillusioned.  The state of mind of the Y & D is a universal presence in all post-colonial, underachieving African states who shuttered the promise of the struggle for independence.  Which is to say: the PFDJ has, once again, created yet another African disease within Eritrea—that of youth who associate the sadism of their rulers with the revolution that produced them.  The most extreme case of this Buyers Remorse occurred in Algeria which produced a whole generation of under-educated, unemployed, under-employed youth who spent all their day leaning against a wall (Heita, in Arabic.)  The youth, who were called Heitists in the smart-alec language of the IMF-World Bank, were so sick of the ruling party’s nepotism and corruption while it endlessly talked and sloganeered about the Algerian Revolution, and “the land of a million martyrs,” that they took to doing the unthinkable: literally vandalizing and destroying the martyrs cemetery.  

 

While Yosief is not responsible for the Y & D, he does manage the equivalent of the intellectual canteen where the Y&D hang out to drown their sorrows.  In their state, they are ready to believe the worst of the Revolution (because they have seen the worst of the revolutionaries) and Yosief is ready to serve up the elixir.  Some think that just because something tastes nasty it must be good medicine; similarly, some think that just because the words are bitter, they must be true. 

 

But much of it is not.  It is not even original. No disrespect to Yosief, but some of the arguments he makes, like the argument about the merits of staying with Mama Ethiopia were straight from the Mahber Andnet talking points of the 1940s and 1950s. Only less compelling than those made by their most eloquent apologists, like the writer Zekios.

 

Intermission: My dad is a great story teller (and yes what you’ve heard about my father is true.) I have one of the worst recalls when it comes to stories.  But this one I remember: when Haile Selasse prevailed in annexing Eritrea, he flew in all his Andnet loyalist to Addis Abeba and they were given an audience with the Crown Prince.  Everyone got his reward: a slice of land here, a title there.  When it was the turn of the brilliant but very young-looking Zekios, the Crown Prince offered him a scholarship to a prestigious university in Europe.  The disappointed, but Amharic-challenged, Zekios wanted to protest and say that he has a wife and two children, but this is what came out of his lips: “Getaye! And mistna hulet quola alegn Eko!”

 

It is a bit surreal to go over issues that one thinks have been exhaustively debated and settled.  But, as George Will once wrote quoting some even pointier egghead, it turns out that life is not one long damn thing (linear), but one damn thing after another (cyclical). 

 

Where Is My Stick?

There is, I am sorry to say again, a great deal of ZehmiQo Aleni Betrey Habuni (there is somebody I can beat up, hand me my stick) attitude in the writings of Yosief Ghebrhiwet and those who support his point of view.   It is unthinkable to them that one man of extraordinary skills (talent, if you are an admirer) like Isaias Afwerki can wreak so much havoc and destruction in a country of five million.  Thus, it is concluded, it can’t be him; so it must be somebody else—his colleagues, the revolution that produced him, the society that raised him.   Ironically, this “there is more to it than Isaias” is the flip side of the argument espoused by Isaias’s supporters to explain away all shortcomings: mesarHti indiyu si’enu… (he just doesn’t have quality support…)

 

But this is just our mind refusing to grasp the possible (and, probably, the most probable explanation): the Power of One applies not just to people who do great things, but also wicked things. 

 

A Brief Recap

 

It just occurred to me that people may have no idea what we are talking about.  The last AlNahda had argued that the Eritrean Revolution is, in comparison to Third World revolutions, particularly African Revolutions, praiseworthy and I listed seven examples (self-evident and uncontroversial, I thought) where we excelled in comparison to others. 

 

  • it was purpose-driven;
  • it had genuine popular participation;
  • it had organic leadership;
  • it was swimming against the tides of history;
  • it was not a proxy for any other power;
  • it was fought using conventions of war; and
  • it prevailed. 

 

Yosief did not like these answers and he explains why in Eritrean Independence: Is It Worth All The Sacrifice.  Some of them he didn’t like twice as much as the others, so he listed them twice.  (I will have to combine them when I am giving my rebuttal; otherwise, he may dislike them even more and give us four answers.)   He argues that not only are my claims questionable, but that they would be entirely irrelevant to the real issue which is: was Eritrea’s independence worth all the sacrifice?  He doesn’t directly answer the question, but he asks questions which are framed in a way to solicit one answer: NO! 

 

In the process of rebutting my points, he lists his own questions:

 

  • What was the goal of the Revolution?
  • Was Ethiopia a colonial power?
  • What was the true cost of the Revolution?
  • Was the revolution waged for nationalistic or other reasons?
  • Can Eritrea be a viable state or have globalization and post-modernism rendered nationalism obsolete?
  • If democracy was our goal, could we not have gotten it within Ethiopia?

 

Debating Style Points

 

Like all good debaters and politicians, Yosief has his favorite debate tools.  His are metaphors (excellent!), straw men, rhetorical flourishes and a few presto, magic, abracadabra moves.  The proponents of the straw man argument like to take their opponent’s argument to its ridiculous extreme, then to attack the argument for being too ridiculous and too extreme.  For example, a person who is trying to make a bizarre point that people should eat 15 meals a day may say, “There are those who say we should eat 1 meal a week, but I say…” completely making up a straw man so he can present his position as less objectionable.

 

Most of the time, the straw man is imaginary (“there are those who say”); sometimes, when the politician and his advisors are Machiavelian, the straw man is real.  William Safire, one of the speechwriters/advisors of Richard Nixon gives this confession:

 

Handing over my draft, I carefully advised the president in these words: “Take the easy way.” … For years afterward, Nixon could [say]: “Some of my advisers say I should ‘take the easy way’ — but I have rejected that course. . . .”

 

There are also some statements that Yosief makes that I will just have to dismiss as rhetorical flourishes because a literal reading of them would lead us to a very uncomfortable conclusion: that Yosief is full of himself and thinks that he, and he alone, has answers to some questions:

 

I thought it would only be appropriate to…assess the worth of independence in terms of the sacrifices that have been paid so far – something that neither of these two camps [the opposition and the PFDJ] wants to do. The only connection that they want to emphasize is that Independence Day is the day the martyrs’ dream has come true, without having any clue as to what that dream is all about. Regarding the nature of that dream they are all in deep denial and utter confusion. [Emphasis mine.]

 

Not “some”, not “many”, not “most” but ALL.   Ego, much? 

 

As for the abracadabra, presto, magic, there are quite a few.  My favorite is when he uses the Ghedli era as an elastic period.  When he wants to show that too much sacrifice was paid for a price as puny as independence, he refers to Ghedli as an all-consuming 50-year-long odyssey.  But when he wants to show that except for a five year period the Eritrean revolution was supported by a conscript force (something that goes to the heart of the victimized Y & D), he reduces the length of the Ghedli to a 17-year fight, by dismissing the pre “early 1970s” ghedli as practically inconsequential.

 

Finally, Yosief is also a natural Third Way advocate.  Third Way advocates affix equal blame on two sides (what I am calling “parity of guilt”) and offer themselves up as the Right Way.  Who was more to blame: The Pro-Independence or Pro-Ethiopia bloc of the 1940s? Both.  ELF or EPLF? Both.  Isaias Afwerki or Abdella Idris? Both. Isaias or the EPLF? Both. PFDJ or the Opposition? Both.  Isaias or the Eritrean people? Both.  This tendency to affix equal blame on all antagonists sometimes lead him to display a profound, ah, what’s the word, lack of knowledge of a fundamental part of Eritrean history—something that most students of Eritrean history consider one of its defining features.  He makes the statement that I have to believe is said out of ignorance, because the alternative is worse: that he is doing it out of a desire to misinform or manipulate.

 

Enough introductions, lets get to it.

The Seven Habits of A Hotly-Debated Revolution

 

The Revolution was purpose driven. I say The Revolution was purpose-driven.   “So what?” answers Yosief.  

 

A criminal too could be purpose-driven, but that doesn’t make the purpose right. What one needs to show first is whether the purpose is worthy of the sacrifice it demands.

 

This has little to do with my point.  My point was that unlike other Revolutions which were led by one individual who espoused a narrow grievance that has to do with his clique (“raises for the military!better pension!”) which keeps evolving (“elections! free press!”), Eritreans knew from the start what they were fighting for.

 

As to the question of price vs prize, no nation that ever waged a fight to liberate itself from an occupying power ever put a limit by saying, “this much, but no further.”  Every country in the world actually takes pride in what price it had to pay to be independent and why, then, future generations should be diligent to make sure they know the price of independence. This is part of the national character and it is incorporated in the national anthem and hymns.  Example: America The Beautiful: “O beautiful for heroes proved, In liberating strife; Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!”

 

It is a matter of public record that the Revolution had fighters who said (and believed) that they would never live to see an Independent Eritrea, but perhaps the next generation or the generation after that would.

 

The Revolution had organic leadership

 

That probably is the most absurd one. The Isaiases and Abdella Idrisis are indeed as organic as could be, but I would rather have an Italian company (let alone an Eritrean from Diaspora) run the nation [emphasis mine] than these two monsters. I would even go further than that: I would rather have Haile Selassie (dead or alive) rule Eritrea than our home-grown toxic criminals.

 

Again, with the slight of hand.  Apple, meet an orange, but please stay on your side of grocery.  Remember, we are talking about the leadership of the Ghedli-era (1961-1991) as opposed to who should “run the nation” after independence (1991- present.)  Would we have preferred to have Haile Selasse or an Italian company run the Eritrean Revolution?    If so, that would have been the shortest Ghedli ever: Haile Selasse would have declared victory (Egna Atse Haile Selasse Ke Rasachn An’wagam) and the Italian company would have sold the revolution to whoever was buying.

 

But seriously, need I really spend any energy making the point that a field-based leadership is preferable to a Diaspora-based leadership when it comes to running a guerrilla movement?

 

The Revolution Was Not A Proxy War For Other Powers

 

Again, if a war is proxy or not doesn’t say anything about its justness or viability. One can have a proxy war that happens to be just or a war that is not proxy and yet remains unjust.

 

Saleh wants us to believe that Arab help was minimal…

 

What might have confused Saleh is the fact that the Eritrean fighters considered themselves to be so independent that they might have never thought that at times they were involved in proxy wars. But for a war to be identified as proxy, such identification doesn’t necessarily have to come from those who are fighting it. It is the facts themselves that determine the nature of the war that one is involved in.

 

Who is this Saleh and why does he want us to believe that Arab help was minimal?  Oh, that is Yosief’s favorite friend, the Straw Man. Take your opponent’s point to absurd limits, then attack them for being absurd.  Nowhere in my writing will you find that Arab help was minimal. 

 

Yosief’s definition of “proxy war” is fanciful and interesting, but does not comport with annoying little things like the very definition of “proxy war”, now showing at a nearby Wikipedia.  A proxy war is when two antagonists use third parties to fight each other.  We Eritreans were not fighting somebody else’s war: we were fighting for our cause (thus the clarity of purpose); we were led by our people (thus the emphasis on organic leadership); and we relied on ourselves (thus the popular participation). 

 

In contrast, what the EPLF and TPLF did is classic case of joint defense agreements (not “proxy war.”)  I don’t disagree with Yosief that had it not been for TPLF’s help during critical stage, the EPLF would have had a hard time sustaining itself.  But I find it interesting that he didn’t state the corollary to that: had it not been for the EPLF, the TPLF would probably have never made it to Lekatit 1976 (Year 2 in TPLF calendar.)

 

The Revolution had popular participation

 

After dismissing the value of popular participation (“A whole people can share a cause and that cause could be dead wrong”), Yosief goes on to state that the popular participation of the Eritrean revolution is a myth anyway:

 

People don’t realize that the popular participation that they often talk about lasted for only about 5 years!

 

It is said that by the mid-80s, not even 10 precent of Shaebia’s army was voluntary [in comparison, the TPLF’s army was almost made up of voluntary army from the beginning to the end].

 

A good example would be to see how Jebha teghadelti acted when they were pushed into Sudan. Given their high disappointment with the state of ghedli, most of them preferred to disband rather than return to mieda.

 

All of these are persuasive-sounding statements to people who would look at the Eritrean revolution through a PFDJ prism.  I can imagine how a Young and Disillusioned Eritrean who was conscripted for ten of his twenty eight years on this planet would have an aha moment.  But they are just not supported by facts.  Whereever facts are available to us, it is easy to disprove Yosief’s points.

 

For example, when Yosief says that “the popular participation that they often talk about lasted for only about 5 years” he is employing his favorite trick of abra cadabra, which is to start counting midway.  Using a very elastic definition to the simple question of “when did the revolution start and when did it end?” he erases from the dreaded Ghedli era more than a third of its existence, from  1961 until the “early 1970s” (12+ whole years), then says that there was popular participation from (presumably, if the math is to work) 1974 until the retreat of 1978 (“about 5 years”), then it was non-stop compulsory recruitment until independence,  presumably from 1979 to 1991 (12 years.)

 

So to support a thesis that the Eritrean struggle was supported by conscripted forces, he erases 12+ years, he accepts 5 years, then he completely overstates 14 years (where there was a mix of voluntary and involuntary recruitment.)  Uno angolo Twiy, Duo angolo digim, and you end up, Dirgim, in the evidence-free zone, where fine phrases like “it is said that” precede astonishing statements like “only 10% of Eritrea’s fighting forces were voluntary in the 1980s.”  I say astonishing but I should say miraculous:  because up until now, the Eritrean revolution’s ability to overcome a more heavily-armed, better-fed, enemy that outnumbered it anywhere from 3 to 1 to 10 to 1 during successive offensives was explained by a simple case of motivation: the Eritreans believed in their cause, and the Ethiopians didn’t.  But now they are equally unmotivated, and both in the battlefield against their will, but still, the less equipped, and less fed, and vastly outnumbered force comes out on top! Talk about Against ALL Odds.

 

About the Jebha tegadelti and their decision of what to do after they were pushed out to Sudan, he leaves out one critical factor in their decision-making process: the unprecedented generosity of the West and their willingness to accept to exile any Eritrean who happened to be in Sudan at that time.  How do you think the most disciplined army in Africa would act if that option was available to him or her in Anywhere, Africa? 

 

Finally, the claim that the:

 

ghedli was most popular with those who least paid for it, mainly the urban population (and now among Diaspora Eritreans), and remained least popular among those who paid the most, mainly the peasants.

 

sounds contradictory from my observation of the Eritrean struggle, and in fact, even now with the Isaias regime (you gotta give the devil his due.)  Those who support something, pay the most for it whether it is their life, limb, money or time.  As a matter of fact, the reason it has been so difficult for the opposition to separate some Eritreans from Isaias Afwerki is not because they are stupid or blind but because they have invested so much time and money in his system that they would consider their lives investment a complete waste if they withdraw support now. 

 

The Eritrean revolution was waged using the conventions of war

 

I had argued that the Eritrean Revolution, unlike those in, for example, Sierra Leone, or Congo, or Rwanda or any number of other African revolutions was fought using the conventions of war.  I thought this was self-explanatory, but let me explain what I meant by that: Ethnic cleansing was not used as a tool of war.  Rape was not used as a tool of war.  Terrorism (deliberately targeting innocent civilians to get the other side to submit) was not used as a tool of war.

 

Yosief conflates this with something completely different: “revolutionary justice.”  This is where the fronts had their “courts” dispense “justice” after they declared somebody guilty.  I agree with Yosief that this practice is worthy of criticism and, as I conceded in my article, a terrible practice that should be investigated.  (I don’t think anybody would volunteer information, so I recommend a system of reconciliation where amnesty is a key component.)  You can criticize this (and my prescription) as much as you want, and we can disagree.  But this has nothing to do with my assessment that the war was fought conventionally.

 

Even the example that Yosief gives to illustrate how horrendous the fronts were (the alleged case of Ethiopian prisoners of war who were mowed down by the ELF, or how the fronts dealt with the “militia sernay” of Qohain) does not shock my conscience because it could be argued that these were not innocent civilians but enemy combatants. I know there was more to it than the open-and-shut case that Yosief presents.  In 1995, when the history of the revolution was still fresh, I remember a lady (I believe her name was Haregu Selamsa) who, as a good daughter should, penned a tribute to her father Selamsa of Quohain.  She was greeted by howls of protests from those who remembered her father as less than the heroic figure that she was praising.

 

At some point, an Eritrean is going to write a book about our Revolution.  I am optimistic that it will be as credible as two books written by Alemseghed Tesfai about two previous eras: the pre-referendum (1940s-1952) and the referendum (1952-1962) era.  Until then, I suppose we will have to be subjected to excerpts from third and fourth-hand sources. 

 

The Eritrean revolution prevailed

 

Yosief counters this argument using his patented, dual approach: so what if it did? Are you sure it did?

 

“success” is no substitute for a just cause. Many a just cause in history has failed, and many dubious causes have triumphed.

 

It seems to me it is too early for Eritrea to claim a victory in its independence, as Saleh is obviously doing. Eritrea’s days of peaceful independence lasted just seven years.

 

Once again, let’s get our timelines, purpose, and deliverables right.  I go to a doctor complaining of a brain tumor, and an able doctor removes it, and I am the embodiment of good health.  Two years later, my appendix bursts and I am re-admitted to the hospital. If I start saying “Goddamn, brain doctor! He ruined everything!”, I hope they will refer me to another doctor, a psychiatrist, because my thinking process is not right.

 

Facts are facts, and opinions are opinions.  The purpose of the Eritrean Revolution (Ghedli) was to rid Eritrea of Ethiopian occupation with all that entailed: self-determination, a sovereign nation.  That was achieved in 1991.  Case closed.  Brain tumor gone.  To re-define the goal or to move the goal post after the fact is to cheat.  I know that the Isaias administration does this all the time (“until our borders are demarcated, until we have food security, until we have a high literacy rate, until…”) to deny the people what they have already earned, but I didn’t know we in the opposition had to do that, too.  

 

To me the measure of success of the Eritrean revolution is whether its people are capable of creating a viable state within that land that they couldn’t have built within larger Ethiopia. So not only should they convince us that whatever they set out to do couldn’t have been done within Ethiopia proper, but also that it can be achieved within Eritrea.

 

I can see how this standard would apply if I were a Pakistani who insisted on separating from India.  Somebody looking at the relative prosperity and stability of India and the relative poverty and chaos in Pakistan can make this argument.  But, when an Eritrean looks at Ethiopia, what is there to make him say, “if only I had stayed with Mother Ethiopia”?

 

At the risk of boring the reader by stating the obvious: Eritrea, like a bride forcefully married, has no reason to justify why it wanted separation.  Particularly after the groom abused her.   If the groom then had a great, and wonderful life and the bride had a life of misery, then somebody can approach the bride and ask, “any remorse”?  But when the groom is a mess, why is the question even being asked? 

 

The whole reason I even mentioned the fact that the Revolution prevailed is because many don’t.  Literally days after I wrote the last article, the Tamil Tigers growled and clawed for the last time: they essentially wrote their surrender letter after their leader was cornered and killed.  If you are going to blame a Revolution for doing all sorts of terrible things to sustain itself, you have to give it credit for withstanding assaults—not just any assault, but from the strongest, most heavily armed country in black Africa.

 

Yosief gives a metaphor of a running man and how, without knowing why he is running and where he is running to, it is impossible to make a judgment on whether the actual running is a good or bad thing.  True enough.  But is there anyone who doesn’t know, including a tiny Eritrean with a running nose, why we were running (to rid Eritrea of Ethiopia’s occupation) and our destination (a place and time that has no Ethiopian in a political power)?     That being the case, isn’t it a simple empirical, objective fact that this was achieved as of 1991?The only way to dispute whether The Eritrean Revolution Succeeded is to redefine the words “the”, “Eritrean”, “revolution” and “succeeded.” 

Yosief’s Questions

 

What exactly was the goal of the revolution?

 

Some paragraphs I had to re-read because I was sure that I was misreading them.  To use a favorite illustration tool of Yosief: a metaphor. Suppose I dutifully saved 10% of my income for 30 years so I could have a comfortable life when I retire. I worked hard, held two jobs, and sometimes saved more than 20% and never less than 10%. 30 years later, when I was ready to retire, I found that my fund manager had stolen all my money and I was destitute.  What lessons should I and my children learn from my experience?

 

The lesson, according to Yosief, is: You had no idea what retirement means and no clue what to do with your retirement.

 

Say what?  I don’t know which Eritreans Yosief is talking to but all Eritreans I know knew exactly what the goal was: to rid Eritrea of Ethiopian occupation. Why did they want it? Since when did they want it? What percentage of them wanted it? What were they willing to do to get it? What have they done with it now that they have gotten it?  These are all different questions with different answers. But the first question is: what was the goal?  And the goal was to get rid of Ethiopia from Eritrean land.  There is no denial, or confusion about this at all.

 

Ridding Eritrea of Ethiopian rule was, in and of itself, not the only goal, but the main goal, nonetheless. Ethiopian rule was seen as a hindrance to what Eritreans wanted: the right to freely decide what they wanted to do.  Why?  This takes us back to history.  Without going to the once-upon-a-time version of history, the short answer is provided if you answer this question: why did the girl who had a prenuptial agreement seek a divorce when her husband broke all the terms of the prenuptial agreement and started abusing her?  Duh! Exactly.  To even ask this question is to pre-suppose that Eritrea was, once upon a time, part of Ethiopia.   The federal arrangement between Eritrea and Ethiopia was itemized in a constitution which defined the rights of Eritrea and the Ethiopian crown.  The Ethiopian Crown violated every one of them: it lowered the Eritrean flag, it banned its official language, it prohibited the rights to organize.

 

The fact that right now we don’t have any of these rights does not change the fact that (1) we were right to fight to restore them and (2) people knew at the time what they were fighting for.

 

In fact, I am stunned that Yosief thinks there is any confusion about what the goal of Eritrea’s struggle was: every Eritrean pamphlet from 1961 to the present (ELF, EPLF and every other E that has appeared in the scene) has a preamble that explained why Eritreans decided to raise arms against Ethiopia and what they hope to achieve.

 

Was Ethiopia a colonial power?

 

Was Ethiopia a colonial power?  Most Eritreans of my generation will have a dejavu moment of “didn’t I have this discussion with the representatives of the EPRP and EDU in the 1970s?” when they read this question. The colonial powers of our region were Italy, France and Great Britain.  Ethiopia negotiated with each one of them to define its borders (or, if you are less charitable, as it conducted its own version of scramble for Africa.)  And like them, it was doing its expansion for the purposes of revenues (sea) and power (territory.)

 

The questioning of Ethiopia’s status as a colonial power is an academic and long-expired exercise. Contrary to Yosief’s assertion that the Eritrean revolution was waged hap-hazardly, by folks with divergent if not contrary aspirations, the Eritrean revolution was waged first by intellectuals (law students and lawyers, not coincidentally) then by warriors then by the whole strata of the Eritrean population.  It was waged to reverse a legal transgression (annexation of a country) by brave men and women who were undeterred by the indifference of the world. 

 

The Revolution was started to restore lost rights (identity, language) by people who had thought that the federation with Ethopia was not an ideal, but an acceptable compromise, and at least preferable to outright unity with Ethiopia.  When Ethiopia, over a ten-year period, started eliminating all the rights conferred on Eritreans, those who suspected that the distinction of Eritrea as a federated state would give way to being just the “13th province,” reverted back to their original position: full independence for Eritrea.   You are green, I am blue, we settle on cyan.  You slowly revert back to green, I too will revert back to my colors, so don’t ask me, “why are you blue?”

 

Ethiopia had many opportunities to win Eritreans back to the fold by adjusting its approach.  One clever way that would have worked was proposed by its Prime Minister, Aklilu Habtewold, who told his king: if your interest is to make sure that Eritrea is treated no differently than the rest of your kingdom, don’t convert it to a province; instead, convert the rest of your provinces into federal states.  (Haile Selasse stubbornly refused, but Meles Zenawai must have been taking notes.)

 

Eritreans were so ready to be wooed back that when General Aman Andom came waving his carrots, they were charmed.  But that was not the approach Ethiopia ultimately chose.  In IDENTITY JILTED OR RE IMAGINING IDENTITY, the author, Alemseged Abbay (an Ethiopian), argues that it was only the cruel nature of the Ethiopian governments that sustained the Eritrean and Ethiopian (Tigrayan) revolutions.  In contrast, Yosief asks if Ethiopia’s brutality was so bad that it required so much sacrifice:

 

 “Was the oppression on the Ethiopian side so brutal that it justified the kind of horrendous sacrifice that has been paid in the last five decades? Indeed, with all honesty, can we say it was it a case of colonialism? And if not, what are the real non-nationalist aspirations on the two camps – the Moslems and Christians – that motivated this revolution?”

 

The Eritrean revolution started long before successive Ethiopian regimes began their Drain The Sea campaigns (in the lowlands in the mid 1960s.) As stated above, the reason was entirely legal and armed struggle was waged only after peaceful resistance was met with force.  I find it curious that Yosief, who chronicles the excesses of the Eritrean revolution with surgical precision glosses over what the Ethiopian regimes did.  After all, Mengistu Hailemariam did not make it on the list of the world’s most blood-thirsty brutes out of some sense of affirmative action.

 

What was the true cost of the revolution?

 

The price-to-prize consideration is not a clear case of calculation, as Yosief himself explains when he introduces what he calls “counting the absent” or what the economists call “opportunity cost”: what else was lost in the intervening period.  You can take this to absurd proportions, of course: in the time it takes Yosief to write his wonderfully long essays, he could have written a New York Times Best Seller, won the California Lotto a few dozen times, and saved a drowning child.  Theoretically.  Similarly, the opportunity costs he is talking about would be not laughable if, in the same time period, countries that are in our class (sub-Saharan Africa) had progressed one inch forward.  They didn’t; they regressed. So, I could make the opposite argument: had Eritrea stayed with Ethiopia and chosen not to fight, it would have had its share of famine, malnutrition, dislocation, wars and AIDS.

 

Yosief argues that “half a century of ghedli has been the greatest interruption of all.”  Again, notice the slight of hand: the Ghedli  (as he has defined it as the bugaboo of Eritrea) lasted 30 years, not half a century.  But the question is: interruption from what?  From Ethiopian occupation?  From Italian rule (if, as Yosief’s choice is realized, they come back to rule again)?   The only way you would describe the Ghedli as an interruption is if there was something else there…but what else was there except Italian rule, British rule and Ethiopian rule?

 

To answer the question of whether the prize was worth the price, I would say that he needs to go back to a May 24, 1991 state of mind.  Yosief may say that we were all euphoric then, we weren’t thinking straight.  And I would respond: to use the current date as a measure, when we are all so disillusioned is also not a good state of mind to be in, either.

 

Can Eritrea be a viable state or have globalization and post-modernism rendered nationalism obsolete?

 

Ah, viability.  Every Eritro-pessimist eventually goes there. Since the 1940s when the UN was deciding the fate of Eritrea, the country has had two kinds of skeptics: those who never thought its independence from Ethiopia would become a reality, and those who believed that, once it became independent, it would never be a “viable state.”   The solution, almost always, and most conveniently, is that it should be made part of Ethiopia.  Ever wonder why the solution is never Sudan or Djibouti, but always Ethiopia?

 

What is it about Eritrea that makes it less viable than (and I swear now I am going to place a pin randomly at a map of sub-Saharan Africa) Zambia?   Spin. Tanzania?  Spin again.  Chad?  Its chances of survival as a nation are no better or worse than any other sub-Saharan African country—in fact, those who make a living predicting these things would say that Eritrea’s viability is far better than many African countries—including the one country that all the Eritrea-skeptics want to unite us with: Ethiopia.

 

One of the things that makes a country more viable is that it has a shared mythology, purpose and history.   But that precisely is what our De-romanticizers, like Yosief, are going after. Our myths are all false; our histories exaggerated; our heroes are all villains; and our villains are just misunderstood saints.  We should never strive to be exceptional, we are just another African country; our history is subject to revision at whim.

 

Yosief talks about “Red Indians” (To paraphrase Walter Sobchack, dude, the preferred nomenclature is “native Americans.”)  Do Americans, for the most part, acknowledge the sins of their forefathers, including the ones they inflicted on native Americans? Yes.  Does that change the pride they feel for being Americans? No.

 

In fact, this is why most Americans don’t like Michael Moore and don’t listen to DemocracyNow!  Who wants to listen to a constant drumbeat of negativity about his own country? Nationalism, even in the most globalized, most modern country, is a potent force that will be alive and well because it taps into all of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy: it feeds the human need to belong and to feel special.

 

Let’s play word association: I say Eritrea and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.  Your family? The place where you were born? A flag? A people waiting in line? Mothers mourning the death of their children?  I have always wondered what those who are Ghedli De-Romantics visualize when they think of “Eritrea”?  Is it just a land populated by victims?  What is it about Eritrea inspires them? Who are their heroes? Does an image of a Tegadalai in uniform convey pride, guilt, disgust?

 

Just curious.  And if nationalism is obsolete, how come it never impacts the “nationalism” the skeptics feel to our motherland, Ethiopia?

 

If democracy was our goal, could we not have gotten it within Ethiopia?

 

Others tell us that the dream of martyrs was a free democratic nation. Even if we are to believe such implausible claim, that too doesn’t say much, for one can argue if that is all they wanted they could have struggled for a free democratic Ethiopia.

 

We can’t know what the “dream of martyrs” was, but we can state with certainty what the goal was (independent state free of Ethiopian occupation) and we know what the political literature, AND political class that the fighters took said would happen after Eritrea became an independent state (a nation of laws, democracy, where the rights of the citizens were protected.)  That was the promise. Just because the promise was betrayed does not mean there was no common understanding of what the promise was.

 

Why didn’t Eritreans choose to struggle for a “free democratic Ethiopia” instead of independence?  What could they have gotten on their own that they couldn’t have gotten within Ethiopia?

 

First of all, half of Eritrea, the part that supported Andnet, actually bought that argument.  In fact, they didn’t even think they had to “struggle” because, in their mind, Ethiopia was already free and ruled by a benevolent and divinely-guided king.  The other half (Ibrhaim Sultan/Adulkadir Kebire at the UN and Woldeab Woldemariam in his writings) argued that  Ethiopia was more feudal, more primitive, less industrialized, less developed, and less democratic than Eritrea and it would slow down Eritrea’s progress.

 

Was the revolution waged for nationalistic or other reasons?

 

Well, let’s see. In 1961, East Africa witnessed two antagonists.  One side was headed by a bearded man who headed a theocracy.  The other side was made up of university students, socialists and Afro-nationalists.

 

The bearded man was Haile Selasse I, in charge of a country where Christianity was the official religion and a country where “some Muslims also lived.”   On the other side were the Eritrean Muslims who laid out a vision of a secular democracy.  Mohammed Said Nawud did not form the Islamic Liberation Movement but the Eritrean Liberation Movement (aka “Haraka” or “Mahber Showate”.)  The Cairo and Italian university students did not form the Islamic Liberation Front but the Eritrean Liberation Front.  And Hamid Idris Awate and all the Jebha leaders who followed him did not wave a banner with the inscription of Lailah Illa Allah but the national flag of Eritrea.

 

This is history. 

 

So the revolution was waged, launched, sparked by nationalists for nationalistic goals.  All the propaganda of Haile Selasse that the movement was a proxy for Arabs, and all the propaganda of the then-24-year old Isaias Afwerki (“niHnan elamanan”) that the ELF was a movement led by Islamists and Jihadists was just a means to mobilize their supporters using a powerful tool available to all politicians: fear.

 

Emergence of Religious Blocs

 

Since Yosief has promised that this will be his next essay, I should just  take a wait-and-see attitude.  But I fear that he will approach this issue with the carelessness and arrogance he has shown so far:

 

Neither camp is aware [emphasis mine]that they are repeating the same cycle that started 60 years ago when the political topography of Eritrea was neatly divided into two opposing camps between Muslims and Christians. 

 

If you go with the supposition that nobody except you is aware of anything, you are likely to come up with the wrong diagnosis and prescription.  But as a matter of fact, most of what one of the “camps” is doing is debated extensively in Arabic-language Erirean websites, and it is a bit presumptuous to claim something is not happening just because you are not aware it is happening. 

 

And I am not one to ask for sources and documents when people are merely expressing an opinion.  But don’t you get weary when opinion is presented as an authoritative piece of history when, in fact, it is the exact opposite of what history records:

 

As pointed above, they [Eritreans] have always claimed it is outsiders that divide us, while the reality has always been that they have never figured out how or if they could live together. The British who saw through them more than they saw through themselves, thought they will never make it together and decided that the Pakistani/Indian solution would be better. Both groups would have none of it because each group thought it would eventually prevail against the other. [emphasis mine]

 

I don’t know what Yosief is referring to here: if he is talking about the Bevin-Sforza partition plan, his claim that “both groups would have none of it because each group thought it would eventually prevail…”  will come as news to the authors of, oh, about 20 books on this subject.   This is driven probably by Yosief’s “The Third Way” imperative: to present your ideas as the best, you must always find two sides who have a guilt parity.

 

The Bevin-Sforza partion plan (negotiated by the foreign ministers of Great Britain, Bevin, and Italy, Sforza, and endorsed by the United States) envisioned portioning Eritrea as follows: Western Eritrea to be incorporated to Sudan; the highlands and the Red Sea  Coast to be incorporated to Ethiopia; the Italians who reside in the territories to have special rights and for Asmara and Massawa (where they mostly resided) to have charter status and to be administered by the Brits.

 

The fact is that the Indpendence Bloc were against the Bevin Sforza plan and Unionist were for the Bevin Sforza plan because to the unionist (and to Ethiopia) Eritrea meant the highlands and the Red Sea and this deal would have given them all of the highlands and the Sea.  This was one of the most transparent proofs that when Ethiopia was talking about its “daughter” Eritrea, it had only specific body parts of the daughter in mind.  Historians later said that Ethiopia accepted the proposal reluctantly.  Sure it did.  In the end, Bevin-Sforza was rejected because of a historic anomaly: the Haitian delegate voted no, and only to protest Italy’s return to Somalia.

 

Regardless of the interpretation you accept, where does this place Yosief’s claim that both rejected it because they had plans to dominate each other? Once again, we are in evidence-free zone.

 

Conclusion

 

There is very little that is new in the arguments made by Yosief Ghebrehiwet—some of it was, in fact, espoused by the Andnet Party of the 1940s.  Yosief has the unfortunate tendency to conflate facts, to come up with straw man arguments, to find parity of guilt between two antagonists just so he can present his ideas as the right ones, and to make statements that cannot be supported by facts and, sometimes, run completely contrary to the facts.  In the process of de-romanticizing Ghedli, he has now taken to romanticizing Ethiopia, including the worst aspects of its history.

 

Yosief’s arguments appeal to people who are either un-informed about our history or are so disillusioned with post-independence Eritrea, that they have come to question not only the architects of independence, but independence itself.  This is not uncommon in Africa; as a matter of fact, in Algeria, there was a large unemployed youth known as “Heitists” who were vandalizing Algeria’s Martyr’s Cemetery. 

 

In the 60’s, there was a song called “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.”  Eritrea’s Wall Leaners have adopted this to, “if you can’t beat Isaias, beat everybody else.” There is also an element of trust-fund-kid syndrome that is evident within those who downplay the importance of independence and the sacrifice that made it happen.  The trust fund is just not as deep as they had thought it would be.   They are not grateful to just have independence; they want all the things that independence promised.   Somebody else brought independence, can’t somebody else also bring us a short cut to democracy?   They forget the main lesson of the revolution: nothing is easy, you have to fight for everything, and everything takes a lot longer than it should.

 

And serving up the disillusion elixir at the Disillusion Canteen is Yosief Ghebrehiwet. 

* Yosief, as a person, (from what I know of him) is a low-key, sober-minded, soft-spoken person.  Something must happen when his fingers touch the keyboard.

 

saayunbound@yahoo.com This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

 

Last Updated ( Jun 25, 2009 )
Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. The real and original Mr. Salih Yuinis, who is one among the many Eritrea’s intellectuals Elite on diasporas is back to defend Eritrea’s history; Eritrea’s revolution; Eritrean Identity; Eritrean social value and national pride against all odds and all “”mushumushat tseyekti aliyet””.
    For all most 4 years that was, what I looking missing and expecting for from the Eritrea’s intellectual elites. You and Emanuel hidirat have done it. Well said and well done. I thank you for standing for the Eritrea’s history; Eritrea’s revolution; Eritrean Identity; Eritrean social value; national pride and for those thusadans of heroes who paid their life; thousands of who lost limbs; tenth of thousands who spend their time; service and scarifying their entire youth for the sake of the country and people!
    Keep up the good job!
    God bless you and bless the Eritrean people!
    Again thank very much!

    Regards,
    Merid Zeru

    Comment by eritrearealclearpolitics — June 25, 2009 @ 11:36 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: