During the early days, when the unruly state actors used to harass and denigrate activists at will, a confident woman, a mother of three and a professional confronted them by standing her ground. The state actors felt duty bound to defend and promote the wrongdoings of a regime unable to find the correct course forward. As far as they were concerned human rights and democracy activists had no place in Eritrean circles – they were considered as, rather paradoxically, ‘enemy of the people’. And that is why they decided to go after Selam by writing an article under the title of “Who is Selam Kidane?”
Selam recognised early on that the state actors were tasked with tracking, disrupting and persecuting dissidents or activists like her. The article was meant to cause discomfort and publicly embarrass this Addis Ababa born and raised, London based activist. What the state actors did not know was the fact that ‘public notice’ boosted her resolve to stand up to them.
Selam was willing to move beyond her comfort zone when there was absolutely no evidence she will be supported by fellow activists. She was immersing herself into uncharted territory. Her pampered upbringing did not prepare her for the unwarranted world she was about to face off. She had confidence that she could stand her ground and rely on her own abilities, but she did not know activism would seep into her quiet family life and get hold of her soul. She wrote back to her detractors by stating “I am Selam Kidane” - it was a courageous and ‘in-your-face’ article that stunned the bullies; and that she was there to stay.
Selam could have opted for the easier option, that is to swim with the current; but realising she was dealing with matters of principle, she stood like a rock. She fought like a lioness. And that is what comes to mind when we read her campaign articles or hear her name mentioned in our circles. Principled and ultimately fearless, she worked within the framework of “if not me then who?”
And the rest is history …
We are talking about a woman who believes in a world where we all belong; but one can sense she is tired of the world we come from; tired of seeing good men and women tumble one by one. When you catch her in her sombre period you can almost hear her say "we are who we are after all ... we do what we can ... when we can ... but we have come this far now ... a bit more to go."
She talks about social topics with earnest, how ‘that man’ has had our hopes undone. It is fascinating to listen to her “how that man is incapable of feeling sympathy or empathy, how he dodges taking responsibility for his actions, and how he often acts out in very dangerous and violent manners … there you have it … a typical psychopath!”
When Selam talks about the PFDJ she turns dead serious, one can see that her demeanour changes. “Our job is”, she says, “to take off our rose-tinted spectacles and realise that there are serious problems in Eritrea that need fixing.” “Our world should make sense to us; and it should also make sense to others, particularly the PFDJ lot!” she argues.
Selam cherishes the process of disagreement; it is refreshing to listen to her construct a beautiful thought out of disagreements. Most of us have not reached that level of reasoning yet. Probably being a psychologist helps her assume a variety of positions and examine things from various angles.
Selam is a prolific writer. Asmarino.com has lost count as to how many campaign articles she had written over the years. She has always been consistent with her arguments and never blinked when she came under concerted attack by the state actors for speaking out against the entrenched despotic rule in Asmara.
Her writings punctured the numbness in us. She may not know it but her articles contributed towards keeping us going all those years of campaign. She made us see that man in the streets of our world holding his hand out in desperation, and the other man (the taskmaster) who ruined the lives of so many youngsters.
Those who know Selam well can tell many memorable stories about her. One remembers of an event that took place back in 2004 when 14 Eritreans were holding a vigil regarding closure of all Christian churches that are not Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Evangelical /Lutheran in front of the Eritrean Embassy in London. Back then people were too apprehensive to demonstrate in front of the embassy for the embassy employees used to intimidate the demonstrators by video-taping the event from behind the curtains. Selam was among the demonstrators with her husband and their three children (the twins were still in their buggies). Such images remain etched on one’s mind forever.
Selam attended hundreds of meetings, conferences and demonstrations in order to voice the opinion of the voiceless. She travelled far and wide to address international institutions on the worsening conditions in Eritrea; she appeared on several TV and radio shows, visited refugee camps and more.
“Back in 2001, I was in Eritrea when university students were being carted off to Wia” she recalls; “a week later, after I got back to London, the G15 were taken in … until then I thought it was just a political aberration, that such things would go away soon” she added. On the contrary things got worse. And it was then that Selam plunged into the sea of activism.
“I never stopped to think what price I would pay for my activities; or how much my life would be affected by the campaign for justice” she reflects; “you know what, I am glad I did it!” she concludes.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that "human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." Selam has been there; still is!
Asmarino.com wishes Selam Kidane all the best.