In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 5 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in April 2002)
In this part, I will look into some hypothetical arguments about whether leaders who convinced themselves belonged to an “outsider” social position also convince themselves the only way to elevate themselves to “an accepted social position” is by taking reprehensible and extreme measures against anything that had anything to do with their heritages, also whether these internal crises within themselves make them commit heinous crimes against humanity, and to that end, whether those beliefs also governed the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia during the Badme War. Second, whether the public overlooks the fallacy of leaders with whom it identifies itself to the extent that it becomes a victim of its own bad judgment.
In addition, I will propose some remedies to the post-Issayas governments, which, I believe, might prevent the scenarios mentioned above from repeating in the future.
Leaders Haunted by Their Ethnic (family) Backgrounds.
In Germany, Hitler was haunted by the very idea that his grandmother might have been impregnated by the son of a Jewish family for whom she was working as a domestic servant. Thus, his father, born out of wedlock, might have been half-Jewish, or his grandfather might’ve been Jewish. When Hitler came to power, horrified by the rumor about his ancestry and the fact that his blood might have been “tainted,” he investigated his genealogy. Still, he was never able to clear his “shady” background. But regardless of whether his blood was “tainted” or not, the very rumor that he might be an “outcast” troubled Hitler for the rest of his life. For example, in 1935, Hitler instituted the Nuremberg Race Laws, a set of laws designed to strip German Jews of their civil rights and restrict them from employing German women as domestic servants. But not only that, Germany, where 2/3 of its population was Protestant, Hitler, a non-practicing Catholic, strived hard to separate himself from the Catholics. This became clear later when he made the Catholics among his victims of an extermination campaign. Moreover, Hitler took center stage and portrayed himself as a better German than the “real” Germans. This behavior of Hitler thus shows that he was doing everything to fit into the crowd (into the majority), including by distancing or separating himself from his natural heritage or by abusing those who might be linked to his background in any way.
The War, caused and perpetuated by the reckless behavior of Hitler, also cost the Germans about seven million civilians and soldiers’ lives. Thus, Hitler’s indifference to human lives, including that of the Germans, might also be attributed to his suspicion of the crowd he was attempting to fit into.
And similarly, there is no doubt that Melles and Issayas were hard at work to fit into the crowd during the war, including by distancing themselves from their heritages. Therefore, they might have blown the minor issue of Badme out of proportion by the fact that Issayas is a Tigrean-Eritrean and Melles has some Eritrean blood; hence their belligerence against each other might be traced back to this truth. Of course, both were hard at work, trying to save their power, and all the talks of territorial integrity and national sovereignty were only pretexts for their political rallying and shenanigans. But still, their rallying tactics were awash with their need to become accepted by the people of their respective nations.
For example, right after the war broke out, Melles was under fire from his Tigrean staff, who were portraying themselves as better Ethiopians than he was, and by the Ethiopian opposition parties, which were accusing him of selling out their country and their territory to his family, Eritrea. In this case, had Melles not had Eritrean blood, Ethiopians would not have accused him of selling out their country. Moreover, had Melles not had Eritrean blood, he might not have gone overboard to prove his allegiance to his nation, to look at Eritreans with scorn, and expel innocent civilians from Ethiopia. But most of all, he might have acted calmly and handled the whole situation differently.
Similarly, during the war, Issayas and his Tigrean-Eritrean clique seemed to be working hard to separate themselves from their Tigrean background. They are still going overboard in trying to appear better and more patriotic Eritreans than all Eritreans. Again had Issayas Afeworki been a real Eritrean, he might not have been haunted by the supposition of “What will Eritreans say if I let the Tigreans off the hook.” There might not have been a compelling reason for him to talk or get tough against his Tigrayan relatives, the Woyanes, and he might not have taken the threat from the Woyanes personally. Maybe.
But most of all, I also believe no real Eritrean, whether Christian or Moslem, would have put his ego before the poor Eritrean mothers who had been eating their hearts out with grief from the 30-year war, to go out of his way to start a new war, to refuse to exit from the war gracefully when he had the opportunity to do so. In addition, I am not convinced that any real Eritrean, no matter how evil he is, can have the heart to expend the lives of about 30,000 children extravagantly (see part 6 of 30) in just two years, just for a small village of Badme, not to mention to cause tens of thousands of Eritreans to become disabled, widowed and orphaned. I believe a real Eritrean would not have the heart to become indifferent to the griefs of Eritrean families, no matter how much he felt that his ego was stricken. He simply would not be that cruel. Therefore, Issayas and his clique’s indifference to Eritrean lives might be the reflection of their deeply rooted suspicion of the Eritrean public and their hopelessness in their ongoing struggle to fit into the crowd.
(In a recent interview this month, when Issayas was asked repeatedly about the status of Badme, he replied, “Why Badme? As far as I know, Badme does not have more than 200 houses.” What a paradox! )
A Moslem Eritrean as the President of Eritrea
The border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, from Shelalo through Shumezana, except for the few mostly Christian Kunama Eritreans around Sheraro through Adi-awAla, and some Moslem Saho Eritreans from around Rama through Hazemo, and from Indeli through Badda, was being heavily inhabited by Christian Highlanders. The Dankalia region is sparsely populated, and almost all the towns and villages are on the Red Sea coast. My “educated” guess is that 85- 90% of the inhabitants of the border, which has now been affected by the war, were Christian Highlanders. And undoubtedly, more than 95% of the Eritreans living in other parts of Ethiopia, mainly in Addis Ababa, were Christians, and 95% of the Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia might be Christians.
However, in this war, although Issayas put the lives of the overwhelming majority of Christian Eritreans who lived on the border and in Ethiopia in danger and despite his refusal to be “blackmailed” by the Woyane when it threatened to expel all Eritreans if he did not withdraw from the village which it had been administrating, despite his vowing that he would not withdraw from Badme even if that meant the sun would never rise for Eritrea anymore, which in clear terms means, despite his preference to see all Eritreans in Ethiopia massacred, and not just expelled, to meeting Ethiopia’s demands, to this date, the overwhelming majority of these Eritreans and their children have refused to put any blame on him. On the contrary, many of his latest victims of conning, in his long list of victims of his conning, among his newest and diehard constituencies, are those whose families have been expelled from Ethiopia or directly affected by the result of his reckless behaviors.
Yes, a humble leader would not put his ego before the pain of his people, and his people should expect just that. And as Eritreans, including Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia, should have blamed their own leader first, even if they believed he did not start the war. Even if they thought that Woyane made 95% of the mistakes, they should have blamed their leader for his 5% share of the mistakes. They should have blamed him for not taking proper precautions, for not going the extra mile to save them from a massacre, for not giving a concession to Ethiopia, regardless of whether the concession would bear a favorable result or not, just for not trying, and for not creating a safe passage for his people who were in the hands of the enemy. But on the contrary, Eritrean Christians did not blame Issayas for all his reckless behaviors; they really gave him a free ride simply because he was a “Christian.” (a non-practicing Christian). Thus, one can only surmise that Christian Eritreans are the victims of their insincerity. Worth mentioning here is that some of the honest, vocal, and firm opposition against the war came from individual Moslem Eritreans, who did not have the baggage of bias as the Christians that failed to examine the circumstances objectively.
It is my firm belief, therefore, that had the Eritrean president been a Moslem during the Badme War, he would have been accused by the Christians in Eritrea and abroad, of deliberately disrupting their lives, for not taking all measures to avert the war, for intentionally destroying the wealth they had amassed in Ethiopia for so many years. And also, the leader, even if he were as stubborn as Issayas, would have quickly found a way to mend his differences with Ethiopia and get out from the war gracefully, which could have been good for the country and the people. In this case, any stick or carrot with the power to threaten or persuade the leader to get out of the war would’ve been preferred to losing tens of thousands of lives.
How Can Eritreans Stop the Same Experience from Repeating?
In the future, Eritreans might be unable to prevent an evil person from coming to power. There is a chance that an evil person might come to power even through democratic elections. But Eritreans could amend the Constitution to systematically prevent or make it harder for someone like Issayas from coming to power.
The US Constitution restricts who should be eligible to hold the highest office but does not explicitly restrict specific individuals with certain backgrounds from holding power. But we all know that the US is a nation of immigrants. Besides, the US is a mature state and has a way of excluding certain elements from attaining the highest power without explicitly expressing the terms in its Constitution.
But on the other hand, Eritrea is not a nation of immigrants, nor should it be. Real Eritreans have paid with their lives for the independence of their country. We all know that, during the Armed Struggle, with very few exceptions, many immigrants who lived and prospered in Eritrea packed up their belongings and left the country when the war for independence closed in on them. In the Lowlands, the Tekarir, Somalians, Arabs, and Italians, and in the Highlands, the Italians and Arabs deserted the nation. Also, the Tigreans either abandoned it or sided with the enemy. In reality, only real Eritreans have taken stakes and invested in the war for liberation. As such, the highest power must be reserved for Eritreans alone.
The problem with the hyphenated Eritreans is that not only might they sell out the nation or might become double agents for the nations of their ancestries, but also, we may never know if they had an old family feud or an old score to settle, and thus use Eritreans for that purpose. Given such complexities, Eritreans will undergo the same situation if the constitution is not amended. Next time, it could be Ethiopian-Eritrean, a Yemeni-Eritrean, Djiboutian-Eritrean, Sudanese-Eritrean, or Saudi-Eritrean. Each of them might come to power and repeat the legacy of Issayas, for whatever reasons, whether when trying to play tough with the nation of their ancestries or to prove to Eritreans that they are indeed a real Eritrean.
A proposal to the post-Issayas Eritrea: I do not know precisely how to put it, but the constitution needs to be amended in such a way as to systematically discourage someone like Issayas from running for the office of the presidency and from winning. The presidential office should be made to systematically exclude anyone whose both grandparents or great-grandparents were not born in Eritrea or something to that effect. In any case, in post-Issayas Eritrea, Eritreans must debate this issue and find a satisfactory answer.
I am aware that this eligibility restriction is unfair, might anger many, and might end up excluding many well-meaning individuals. But also, Eritreans as a whole, including those who feel excluded by this amendment, need to put the nation’s interest and the safety of its citizens first. This is meant to protect the country from worst-case scenarios, and they should not take it personally. Of course, all minorities must be guarded against unfair treatment, but I believe this one must be an exception for peace and human life.
PS: I do not enjoy expressing what I have said in this part. I know it is a dirty job that no Eritrean would want to do. But somebody had to do it.
>>> Part 6 of 24
In part 6, I will discuss in detail the actual human casualties of Eritrea and Ethiopia in the border war, about releasing the names of martyrs and killed soldiers, will also draw analogies between the chauvinistic group of Ethiopians and the emerging chauvinistic group of Eritreans.