I am a frequent reader of Awate, sometimes a contributor as well, and some of the things that pull me to this forum are the variant topics and writing styles as well as the objectivity of most of the articles especially those of my favourite writers. Some of the articles are challenging and deserve engagement, others come from angry people and can be understood – may be out of sympathy. All have opened our eyes to newer dimensions of the Eritrean question. However, something seems to be gong wrong these days. For the first time, I am feeling the fear that the web site could be used by some heavy weights of our cyber politics to wedge their own war. You know, it is not only in the physical world that we see the dons, the tycoons and the dictators setting standards for others; it can also happen in the literary world. For example, Larry King is said to be one of the most feared people in the U.S. Well, may be this is an exaggeration; may be there is no ground for drawing up an analogue. Yet, I felt a bit uneasy when I read the article ’Ngdet London, Kahsa Weyane’ by Saleh Johar. Why all the assault on one person who came with a lofty idea of fraternizing our kinsmen across the border? The above said that he was invited to the conference but abstained. I say, he missed an opportunity to challenge the organizer, or Paulos if you will, and to convince the “naïve” participants (as Gadi put it) there and then. That is, of course, if there was a genuine motive behind. That would have allowed raising all questions face to face, and saving the reader of a biased outcome.
But, let us first see what Gadi has to say about Paulos and the Conference. Apparently the two must have had an intimate relationship sometime in the past – and, like all politically geared relationships probably remembered for their joint benefits or their lost hopes and sour disappointments – but now frozen. This is indicated in his own article when Ghadi remembers with remorse and pain that “…the Amersfoort meeting became a one-line boost to Paulos’ Resume”. Later, in another article (‘Milk Moustaches and Awate.com’, Jan 01, 2010) Gadi has this to lament about the Brussels and London conferences:
“This was the whole issue of the ‘Brussels Conference’ or the ‘London Conference.’ It is not that awate.com was not invited, as some tried to explain foolishly: we were, in fact ahead of many in the ‘Task Force’ who thought they had privileged information. We were invited. But the question was never ‘why wasn’t I invited?’ but why aren’t Eritreans who don’t speak like you invited?” (underlined, for emphasis).
Alas! Since when does every Jack and Harry get a carté blanche to participate in a conference? One has to be worthy of the organizer’s regards, and that is earned not granted. Thanks Gadi, but the concern for those of us who “do not speak” is something I cannot buy. Likewise, in the ‘Disclaimer’ part of his ’Ngdet London’ article, he pleads with the participants of the London Conference not to get involved (a warning that that was a ‘cosa nostra’), that he was not “implicating them in any way” (having already labeled them “Adem Dases and Karra Wrays”), and that “they have nothing to do with the chain of disappointments that the opposition went through”. What a clever blackmail! In any case, he succeeded to silence them all. Some even, like Selam Kidane, timidly continue to participate in the Awate forum as if they have not read what Gadi said about them. They are all afraid to get involved in a matter of “disappointments” to the opposition. Who would not? After all, Gadi has been in the informatics business for long and he must have something more under his sleeves. That is when the human mind makes a ‘jumpy’ conclusion in stress. It only needs a few classes in psychology to understand and manipulate it.
But, what worries me is that his article is full of unsubstantiated accusations, sometimes becoming very personal, and very confusing as to what the whole message is about. What would you make of the followings, for example?
“… Paulos doesn’t have any moral authority to broker peace between Eritreans and Ethiopians. He has not made a genuine change of heart towards the diverse Eritrean people; his peace charters and declarations are mere pontifications.”
Who does? In fact many authors of the forum have stated that no one has a mandate to represent the Eritrean people and that organizing a conference is every person’s democratic right (read Omar Jabir and Habtom Yohannes). As to whether Paulos has not “made a genuine change of heart towards the diverse Eritrean people”, I don’t know. I just don’t want to be biased. All I know is that nobody amongst those of us living in the Eritrean Diaspora and sympathize with the opposition is committed enough for a political change in Eritrea. We are all cozy in our western lives and don’t want to lose it. I am sure that nobody will volunteer to join the armed struggle back home. Even the Kunamas and the Afars living abroad would say ‘No! Thank you’, let alone arm-chair revolutionaries like Ali Salim and his company. Yet, the worst is that people do not stick to their limitations. One may instigate an idea, but one should also be ready to practice its implementation. To quote Confucius, “When anger rises, think of the consequences”.
But Gadi continues:
- “Since 2002, the pursuit of the old position was enhanced with vicious attacks and blackmailing of the opposition and resistance forces. It has inflicted irreparable damages to the Eritrean forces that faced the PFDJ. But as Paulos (and his friends) changed their attitude 180 degrees, one cannot help but realize that all the bravado was partisan posturing. The outrage, ‘ezom zedmeyuna! Ezom Weyane,’ suddenly stopped. However, those who were victimized for years and deserve a gracious apology didn’t get one.”
2. “His group’s rigid blackmailing ‘policy’ regarding relations with Ethiopia has resulted in many splits—splits that left Paulos’ party semi-paralyzed. One would innocently ask: is it Paulos who became a sell-out or the sell-outs turned to patriots?”
- “For a while I thought Paulos’s anti Weyane tirade was genuine. It turned out he was only against any grouping he doesn’t control—his problem was not Ethiopia, but who was steering and controlling the relations with it. He didn’t approve of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA) behind the driver’s seat. Together with a few others, he has tried everything at his disposal to short-circuit anything the EDA did or planned to do.”
Wow! This Paulos man must be a very bad man. But, wait. Don’t we need some facts here before jumping into conclusions? Instead, what Gadi offers is a “time will tell” argument. He does not produce facts aside to warning us to be careful: “Not many people would know Paulos’ partisan politicking because he has cleverly managed to veil it from the public and steer things from behind the scene. Indeed, he is empowered and he can do that.” Well, why write about an ‘invisible person’ in the first place? But, I would like to assure Gadi that my mind is still open if only he could come up with facts. The same goes for his name as well, I mean if someone tries to accuse Gadi without substantiating his/her claims.
The rest is purely personal, and I will save my breath lest I inflict unintended pain on my ideal writer. Only that I do not approve of him stigmatizing Paulos for going to school in Ethiopia (Myself, I got my education in Ethiopia. Some people went to Khartoum University while others went to Al Azhar. It was all a matter of convenience, I guess.) I also think that he was unfair in his treatment of Paulos’s visit to Addis as a ‘love affair’ with the Woyane. How about him (Gadi) going all the way to Addis to interview P.M. Meles Zenawi as if that was of priority interest to Eritreans in the Diaspora. In fact, out of the 14 questions he asked the P.M. only one dealt with the real issue concerning the two countries, the border issue, and that was only poorly phrased. It goes like this:
“Something that goes back a while, a bad experience in the late nineties, quite a few Eritreans were deported from Ethiopia…now quite a few of them support the Eritrean regime not because they agree with its policies but because they feel they were wronged by your government. What would you say to them?”
I have underlined the phrase “quite a few” for emphasis. Note also Gadi’s failure to take a stand. Instead of challenging the P.M. for the crimes committed under his leadership he phrases the question in a less irritable, more amiable way. Suffice! I will not dwell on this any further, yet if he was able to show a little modesty before the Ethiopian Prime Minister then why not a little civility towards Paulos?
Let me add a few words before I close this part. There is the assertion that the conference was a conspiracy, or in Gadi’s phrases “hegemonic politics”. Dr. Mohamed Kheir (‘London’s Attractions and the Eritrean-Ethiopian Love Affair’, Awate, April 27, 2010) comes very close when he says, “If this conference is meant to mend the fences and treat the wedge among the Tigrinya of both sides, please do not insult our intelligence. State it clearly. Even if it were for that, it would not help bring a solution.” Just a little earlier he asserted that “the war has never been between the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, be it the Tigrinya or otherwise”, and continues to tell us that “the people who live in the border between both countries still intermarry and live in peace.” What a coincidence! Who is quoting whom – Gadi or Dr. Mohamed? Anyway, a small correction is in order: The border conflict and its aftermath are not about treating a “wedge among the Tigrigna of (on) both sides”; it is about the two countries. It has involved almost all the population and economic resources of both countries, and still both countries continue to accuse each other and mobilize their military power and their civilian citizens against each other. It would have been easier if it had to do only with the Tigrigna on both sides, but it is not. Despite the fact that the war was a lousy PFDJ business – for reasons I can only associate with the jailing of the G15, Isaias started it because he wanted it – all the people along the border are affected by this stupid war. The Afar, the Saho, the Kunama, the Nara and the Beni Amir are all affected and involved. So, with due respect, the dear Doctor might take this as an amendment to his article. Otherwise, someone may also ascribe the Second World War to the madness of Hitler and Stalin, but the sour truth is that the whole world paid for it. Sad enough, it is leaders who make war and peace and not people.
Again, Gadi asserts that “there is no enmity between Eritreans and Ethiopians, at all. Proof? Eritreans and Ethiopians in the border areas are still intermarrying, burying their dead together and praying in the same churches”. I wish it was all true. But that is an old song whose lyrics are forgotten. Today, there are no cross border marriages or common burials. Proof – the thousands who are blown up by mines while trying to cross the border and that, all along the border, a 25 km. depth of land has become enemy territory. You need more proof, read the following:
“Ethiopia’s ethnic Tigrians are expressing their anger on the new directive that allows Eritreans to reclaim property, who were expelled from Ethiopia after the two-year border war that broke out in 1998.” (Ethiopian Media Forum, 24 May 2009)
The border conflict is still alive and can be rekindled any moment by either government. Hence, any initiative to defuse the tension is highly recommended and should be encouraged. That is how I see the London Conference. Besides, the topics discussed at the event had nothing to do with ethnocentrism. People can become touchy as a result of their own psycho, but for me there is nothing wrong about building ‘good neighbourliness’ across borders. The Murghanis and the Hedareb can facilitate friendly relations with Sudan, while the Araf, Saho, Kunama and the Tigrigna (not forgetting the Jeberti – a minority Tigrigna sect and our recent connection to Tigray) can help us build peace with Djibouti and Ethiopia. What else do we need but peace and the installation of the rule of law? Even the adjustments that are being called for in our domestic governance will require these two prerequisites. It won’t help putting the cart before the horse.
Further, the border issue and everything that comes with it has become a monopoly of the PFDJ government. Any discussion around this issue is only possible under the auspices of the Asmara government. Not even the political groups of the opposition have tried to snatch this away from the control of the PFDJ – and, as such, it is a very important issue to the public. Now, for the first time, the London Conference is trying to make this a public domain. What is wrong with that? Shouldn’t the London Conference be credited at least for this noble effort?
Finally, the reason I decided to write all this about the London conference is not that I am attached to it – although I commend the initiative – but because, as I said before, Gadi is not playing by the same standards that he requires others to abide to. To be precise, I will reproduce below some of the rules set out as Awate Rules:
“1. Keep it clean; this is a family forum. Avoid adult language, even in its use as a metaphor.
“2. Don’t be a name caller, insult people or abuse writers you are corresponding with. There is no justification for name calling: even if you feel you are being provoked or just defending yourself, you should not engage in insult.
“3. Respect people’s identity. Avoid wholesale derogatory comments about collective identities like national origin, ethnicity, race, region or religion. In addition to being in bad taste, this behavior is not fair since the entire group targeted is not here to defend itself.
“Violations of rules will result in notices, via private messages when possible, publicly when it is warranted. Repeated violations will result in suspension and/or permanent denial of posting privileges.”
Well, the facts are speaking for themselves my friends. One may ask if Awate and Gadi are serious enough about these “Rules”, or whether these rules are being applied on preferential terms. All I can say is that we expect a little civility, a little modesty and a commitment to ones own cause.