The Elite: Normalizing the Abnormal State of Eritrea

Yosief Ghebrehiwet

The tragedy of Eritrea is to be seen in one pervasive phenomenon: the normalizing of the abnormal conditions in Eritrea. Boys and girls are taken away from their families at a tender age to be quarantined in the desert for years in a Khmer Rouge like social experimentation; yet, no sense of outrage proportionate to this monstrosity is displayed inside or outside Eritrea. The young are shot at, apprehended, imprisoned and tortured when they attempt to escape from prisons, concentration camps, training camps and border crossings and when they are fetched from their hiding places so many times that they talk about their ordeal nonchalantly as if it is a normal thing to experience. When a mother talks about three of her children martyred and two more stranded in refugee camps to remain childless in her old age, nobody takes it with all the gravity that a normal world would accord to her unenviable condition. A father is absent from his family for ten years or more in a national  service, and the few visits he makes are like in-vitro fertilization just to plant the seeds and then never to be seen again until the children grow up, and no one seems to be bothered by this strange phenomenon. One day, scores of refugees drown in the Mediterranean Sea; the next day a rickety boat full of Eritrean refugees sets sail as if nothing has happened the day before. On their way to Europe or Israel, as they cross Libya or Sinai, Eritrean women are repeatedly raped by Arabs; Eritreans all over the world shrug it off as one more event that they don’t want to dwell on, and the women still keep trekking along that same route. Hundreds of Eritreans in diaspora are getting calls from Sinai, blackmailed to pay up ransom for the safety of their beloved ones, and they quietly do what they are told; there is not the slightest bit of will to collectively fight back this never-ending menace. And the endless nightmare goes on and on …

The normalizing process of this abnormal world didn’t take place overnight. Even though horrendous atrocities were being committed during the struggle years, every one of us ignored it; all in the name of “Eritrea” that detachedly hovers above and over the fears, hopes and concerns of the masses. Even though we kept howling at the slightest atrocity committed by Ethiopia, we kept silent as thousands perished in the hands of sewra (the Fronts). We kept minimizing, rationalizing and denying all the crimes of ghedli (the revolution). It is only now, when things have gotten totally out of hand in independent Eritrea, that we have just started looking at the crimes of the past. But even now, the normalizing of the revoliution’s atrocities is still going on. There are those who want to attribute all the ills that the nation is facing to one man, thereby exculpating ghedli and teghadelti (the guerrilla fighters) from any wrongdoing. There are those who want to salvage ghedli by confining its ills to Shaebia and Isaias, even though the dysfunctional Jebha and its genocidal founder have absolutely nothing to show for it. And the search for any reason that would leave them hanging on to the shreds of ghedli is still going on … But the saddest part is that the same phenomenon is now going in regard the current regime, even by those who are supposedly opposed to it.

Lately, we have been overwhelmed by the tragic news of Eritrean refugees stranded in the Arab world – from the hostage-taking ordeal in Sinai to those trapped in Egypt prisons, to the killings of those caught up in the middle of the Libyan uprising and to the hundreds drowned in Mediterranean Sea. Under normal circumstances, a nation would go on for weeks lamenting this staggering loss. But in the abnormal world of Eritrea, where the open mourning of martyrs was prohibited, the death of the “disowned” hundreds is not even acknowledged, let alone to be mourned openly. And in diaspora, in Dehai land, where the regime supporters congregate in large numbers, not a single tear is being wasted on “those cowards who betrayed Eritrea”. Strangely, the disowning of the dead is being conducted collectively even as many of them are doing their best individually to save their beloved ones from similar tragedies. But this callousness is not confined to the regime supporters. A cursory glance over all the opposition websites will give you the degree of normalcy with which they received the latest tragic news of the hundreds drowned – the same disowning process goes on, albeit for different reasons.

All the above mentioned cases are so obvious in their denial that they would not be interesting in examining the phenomenon of the normalization of the abnormal. Theirs are clear cut cases; the normalcy with which they approach these tragedies is motivated by their respective objectives that one can easily discern from their past behavior under similar circumstances. Therefore, one needs to look at those who are both critical of the Isaias regime and are undoubtedly saddened by these ongoing tragedies and yet end up normalizing the abnormal world of today’s Eritrea created by none other than the regime itself, for these are nowadays more effective in molding public opinion among the opposition than the blunt ones that have lost credibility. Below, I will look at three such writers – Gaim Kibreab, Selam Kidane and Paulos Natnael.

“The Eritrean National Service: A Missed Opportunity”

Gaim Kibreab, in an article titled, The Eritrean National Service: A missed Opportunity [The Eritrean National Service], extensively writes about all kinds consequences that this ill-conceived policy has brought to the nation. But to me, whatever horrors the writer recounts about the national service under this title – and he does a lot of that – has already been neutralized by its title. Let me start with an example: Imagine someone saying the following about an axe-murderer, “What a missed opportunity! He could have used his axe to build cottages for the poor.” Why does this statement strike us as absurd? The alternative scenario is so farfetched that no one should ever contemplate it, not even the mother of the axe-murderer. There is such a huge, unbridgeable gap between the reality and the conceived alternative that it should have never been entertained in the first place. But if someone does so, it is only by attributing to the axe-murderer humanizing aspects that he doesn’t possess, something that could only be done if the person who uttered that statement has not entirely given up on the murderer; only if he believes his actions are still redeemable. And this is not the kind of redemptive value that a priest or psychiatrist ascribes to a criminal under his custody. This is the kind of trust that one gives to an ax-murderer while he still at it – while he is still at large.

National service is the axe that the Isaias regime has been wielding to cause all the havoc in the nation for more than a decade. It has been the cause for almost all the ills that afflict the nation: the draining of the nation’s most productive labor force, it being one of the main reasons for the lingering famine; the slaving of hundreds of thousands in make-shift labor camps; the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands more; the proliferation of hundreds of prisons, most of the inmates being from the national service itself (deserters, draft dodgers, dissenters, etc.); the rampant sexual abuse of women, with HIV, illegitimate pregnancies and mental traumas as its legacy; the main incentive for Isaias’ misadventures in the neighborhood, including the border war; the incarceration of the parents of deserters and draft dodgers; the expropriation of land, given the free slave labor afforded by the national service; a total waste of life for most – no education, no jobs, no raising family, etc; the draining of the economy, given what it takes to arm them, feed them, house them, clothe them, look after their health, etc … And to make it more poignant in the present context: it is the reason that Eritreans are held hostage in Sinai, women are raped by the Arabs, and refugees are dying in their hundreds in the Mediterranean Sea. I could go on and on. If there is one single policy that has snuffed out normality from the daily lives of Eritreans from all walks of life and single-handedly created the abnormal world in which the people find themselves in, then it would be national service.

Given the above, if someone sees this totalitarian experimentation as a missed opportunity, it is only by giving it redeeming values it has never had. We need to look at how the word “miss” is used in the context to see how the trivialization of the regime’s crime is accomplished even when the writer has the worst consequences in mind. Suppose someone throws an axe at an escaping criminal, but misses him to hit instead his own dog. The dog’s owner would be exculpated on two grounds: first, his intention was well-meaning; and, second, the killing of his dog was entirely accidental. At most, he will be accused of negligence. Similarly, by saying that the national service is a missed opportunity, the writer not only trivializes the horrendous human cost exacted by the national service (even as he mentions many of those himself), but also leaves the sense in the reader that Shaebia has had no ill intent in undertaking this experimentation, as if all the tragic consequences are entirely accidental in nature.

There could be only one reason why Gaim is doing this: he hasn’t given up on Shaebia or ghedli, a malady that afflicts much of the opposition. By unnaturally narrowing the gap between the reality and the conceived image of the regime, he is telling us that Shaebia has not strayed off the right path by that much, and all that it needs is a gentle nudge from us to find its way back to the rightful path of its past. As in the case of the example, only someone who thinks that this present regime is redeemable would ever entertain such an absurd scenario. That is to say, the writer keeps normalizing the crimes of this regime in order to salvage the ghedli-conceived “Eritrea” he has in mind.

And this article is not an exception, but rather the rule in Gaim’s case. His books tend to carry all their biases right in their jackets. To mention the latest one: Eritrea: A Dream Deferred (17 Sep, 2009).

“Eritrea: A Dream Deferred”

Odd as it may seem, one can “review” the book without reading it, for it gives away its intention in the few words of its title.  What the title does is betray the other mission: that the book is not only intending to talk about Eritrean people’s dream, but also about its own dream. When a book claims the very dream it is writing about this way, it cannot carry this self-referential ambiguity for long without showing its bias. In fact, it is from the very start – from the title itself – that we suspect that whatever horrors the writer will recount as taking place in current day Eritrea will have to be seen as only straying from that dream; hence, still retrievable. The intention is clear: putting Shaebia’s crimes within the framework of that dream will turn these horrors into normal faults of the straying type.

Let’s then ask ourselves from the very start: What dream could Gaim be possibly talking about? Hidri siwuatna? Of course, there are no better dreamers to ask than those who died and those who were willing to die for it – the teghadelti population group. The masses couldn’t have had a separate dream than the one cherished by their liberators. But in the 30 years of struggle, has anybody really articulated what that dream is all about? Now that it has become fashionable to invoke “democray” as the goal of a nation, everyone is attributing this wish to the martyrs. But nobody, neither the leaders nor the rank and file teghadelti – dead or alive – had inkling about democracy. The only dream they had was to kick Ethiopians out of Eritrea, and that dream was realized in 1991. After the realization of this dream, they had absolutely no idea what to do with the “Eritrea” they suddenly got in their hands; there was no articulated vision predating their liberating task that they could fall back to for guidance.

It is no wonder then that the liberators went back to the only experience they were familiar with for guidance: temekro mieda (the experiences of the guerrilla fighters in the filed). Every horror that the nation has been experiencing comes from the pages of ghedli experience: the indefinite nature of national service is a replication of teghadelti’s life experience in mieda (the field), where military service was not supposed to end until one died as a result of it. The self reliance philosophy that is to be credited for the life-time slavery of Warsai and for all the economic disasters it caused is the exact replica of mieda’s archaic policy of bitsifrina. The anti-intellectualism of the Isaias regime that drove it to close the only university in the country is a direct descendant of the anti-intellectualism of mieda, which had zero tolerance for intellectuals and intellectualism of all sorts. The endless self-sacrifice without a cause that is now being demanded of Warsai is a reflection of the self-sacrifice of mieda that eventually became an end in itself. One could go on and on … If so, what we are finding out is that it is this “Eritrea” that the guerrilla fighters have been dreaming of all along. Dreams are not concocted out of nothing; dreamers need a living world material from which they could weave their stuff. The only world they knew was that of mieda, and the stuff that they dreamed of came from that world. That is why, despite the horrendous toll it is taking, they couldn’t let go of the mission of imposing ghedli identity on the rest of Eritrea.

The Eritrean liberation has never been about ideals; instead, it has always been about identity. So, if there was ever a dream, it was about acquiring a brand new identity called “Eritrea”. But that happened to be simply a place holder to be filled in by anything, given that it was negatively defined by what it didn’t want to be rather than what it wanted to be. Eventually, the only dream that came to really matter was that of teghadelti, and that happened to be how to mold Eritrea in their image. If they cannot conceive of any other dream, it was because there was no coherent dream prior to that experience; whatever conflicting dreams there had been before melted away in front of the ever-dominating ghedli experience. It is then understandable why they were making up that dream – that identity – as they went through their experience in the struggle years. It says a lot about the nature of goal of liberation, when the process – temekro mieda – dethrones the goal to end up being the Eritrean cause itself.

A man undertakes a difficult journey that takes years, only to find out that there has never been any destination to that journey. When he comes back to his village, he tells his fellow villagers about all kinds of adventures he met in his journey. And when they ask him what the purpose of his journey was, he tells them, “self-reliance, self-sacrifice, perseverance, iron will, etc”, supposedly virtuous characteristics he has acquired during that journey that have now come to define his identity. Thus, he makes a “destination” out of the journey, and insists that that was what the goal was all about. When there has been no cause for all the hardships that he has gone through, there is nothing left for him but to make a cause out of those hardships. So was it with the Eritrean revolution.

Once the liberators discovered that ghedli journey was all about the journey itself (notice the damning circularity) and not about any higher goal that predates that journey, the next move was how to mold the nation in accordance to that journey – or to whatever characteristics (identity) they supposedly acquired during that journey. And, with national service, that is exactly what they have been doing: they have put the implementation of this mission on a fast track by replicating that mieda journey to its minutest details in today’s Eritrea. It is no wonder then that it is in enforcing that dream – that ghedli identity – on the rest of Eritrea that all forms normality has been snuffed out of people’s lives. So Gaim Kibreab has got it dead wrong: it is not the straying from the Eritrean dream, but rather its strict implementation on the ground, that is the root cause of the nation’s predicament. Therefore, the current tragic Eritrean condition is not the result of A Dream Deferred but of A Dream Enforced – which ought to have been the appropriate title of his book. Had he done that, he would have set his book free to say whatever it wants to say, without unnecessarily drawing attention to itself.

To see the pervasiveness and resilience of the normalization phenomenon, one needs to look at it within the present discussion of the war option for regime change purposes. We will examine two such cases below.

Selam Kidane on voices of normalcy

On her latest poem-input in asmarino, Selam writes a beautiful and powerful anti-war poem, Kill the Drums, yet one that is completely misguided. This is why: for the sounds of war drums to drown out the voices of normalcy in Eritrea, she would have to presuppose that those voices of normalcy are to be found in current Eritrea in their abundance; and it would have been impossible for her to do that without cutting Shaebia’s towering crimes into normal sizes.

If I were to re-title her poem, minus the drums, I would call it, “The voices and sounds of normalcy”. Every part of her poem is an excellent depiction of a piece of the normal world that has almost entirely disappeared from the Eritrean landscape, and none of them came to demise as a result of war as strictly defined. Rather, they came as a result of the abnormal totalitarian nature of Shaebia, best displayed in its behavior of the last decade. The problem is that she has to assume those voices do exist in today’s Eritrea to give plausibility to her anti-war stand. She is telling us that if war is to be waged now, those voices and sounds of normalcy would be its first casualties. But if the normalcy in people’s daily lives has been already snuffed out, how is it possible for it to be the casualty of a war that she wants to avoid?

Let me try to negate the alleged presence of few of the voices of normalcy she mentions so eloquently in her poem: Those “pretty little girls giggling” in the school yard are giggling no more. Instead, at their tender age, they are already seriously deliberating of how to avoid Sawa: Hide somewhere in the country? Leave the country for good, with their families left behind – perhaps to see them no more? Get married and have children at early age? Or be resigned to joining the dreaded national service?  The mischievous, rowdy boys she imagines in lively markets and school yards have grown up beyond their years, faced as they are with the ugly reality of their fate in few years to come – be it national service, the Sinai or the Mediterranean Sea. That scene of village elders deliberating in a hushed environment under the sycamore tree (Da’iro) has totally disappeared from the Eritrean scene, first assaulted by ghedli and now obliterated by the Isaias regime. It is a cruel irony of the Eritrean condition that all the deliberations of life are nowadays done by little girls and boys, and our elders are treated like children that have nothing to offer the society by the dreaded “liberators”. Here you have it then: the normal world turned upside down.

Selam also audaciously says, “Listen to the calls of prayer”, to lend plausibility to the normal world she wanted to depict, warning us that the beating of war drums will drown it out. But which prayer is she talking about? All of us know the kind of assault all religions are facing in Eritrea. And as for her dear church, it has been shut down lock, stock and barrel for years now. All the lively commotion of a market place, with all the hubbub and sweet aromas, that Selam makes tangible only as she could, is also no more. With the dreary government-owned diquan riti’ replacing the lively markets of the old, it is rather a signature of abnormality that has become a fixture: righa bani (long lines of bread). Be it in worshipping place or the market place, normality is the last thing to be found.

Selam’s talent as a poet can be seen not only in the vignettes of voices of normalcy, but also in the sounds of normalcy, that she so poignantly draws for us. True enough, the bleating of a goat or the smell of a fresh bread will remain the same be it in a free or totalitarian world; but that doesn’t necessarily endow normalcy to them in the latter case. When a hungry family looks at a goat that costs thousands of Nakfa, it doesn’t give a damn to the bleating of the goat. So is it when the only fresh bread you smell comes when you are in a long queue in the wee hours of morning to get a pair of bread; that smell will probably be associated more with the pangs of hunger it stirs among the impoverished than with any sweet smell that feeds memories to come. That is to say, even the sounds, smells and sights coming from animal and inanimate worlds cannot escape the human condition.  

Now to my question: if the voices of life Selam has so beautifully describes are not to be found in the school yard, in the market place, in worshipping places, in the village or in the streets, how is it possible for her to entertain the idea of preserving them from the ravages of war (or drums of war)? Shouldn’t they be there in the first place for her to worry about a war that might come and extinguish them? Let me make this personal to make it crystal clear and poignant: if there are no more churches for her fellow parishioners to congregate, how could a war deny her what has already been taken away from her and her fellow Christians? Or to put the point in more general terms: how is it possible for Eritreans to lose through war the normalcy in their daily lives that have been denied to them long ago? If anything, they would expect the opposite: for a war to return the voices of normalcy that they have lost in the abnormal world of Shaebia’s making. Again, to make it personal: if the Isaias regime is defeated through war, the likelihood that Selam’s church will be reinstated is 100 percent. Under such conditions, if war drums are beaten, I would dare say those are the only lively ones …

I am afraid Selam, whether she realizes it or not, is in the business of normalizing Shaebia’s abnormal crimes. To get across her message on the horrors of war, she had to downsize Shaebia’s horrors into normal ones. To think that there are voices of normalcy in Eritrea now is to give Shaebia a humanizing face it never had.

But I am not giving up on Selam. Besides her sense of outrage that is always palpable in her writings, there are indications from these writings that she is not as remiss as she seems to be in her latest poem on the abnormal nature of this regime. To take one example: another beautifully written poem My Dream Homecoming. In this poem, she reconstructs what a normal homecoming would be, thereby drawing attention to the abnormal world of today’s Eritrea. If that normality was there in reality, it would have been unnecessary for her to dream it. That was my understanding then; and the following is the comment I wrote in her blog in response to that poem:

“If there are no more friends ‘to wait on the streets till dark’, scattered as they are in the four corners of the world, and if there are no more sisters ‘to save you some dinner’ and no more brothers to open the gates for you, sequestered as they are in national service, then homecoming becomes an illusion even to those who visit Eritrea. If the people inside Eritrea are so burdened, subdued and saddened by the turn of events that they cannot look up at the sky, then there won’t be any bright stars under the Eritrean sky waiting for any ‘homecoming’. Thus, Selam’s poem is not simply nostalgia for home because she cannot go there – as some are interpreting it – but a painful reminder of the home we have all lost.

“Taken in this broader sense, homecoming is not simply going back, but also bringing back all the elements that used to make a normal home – not only your dear ones (sisters, brothers, mother, grandmother, etc) but also the elements (the sky, the stars, the burning logs, the candle, etc). Even the crickets and frogs have to cooperate with you to make a full home out of a place. And it is all this and more that Selam says with her poem.”

So why does she contradict herself with her latest poem? Let’s remember that many of the vociferous writers in the opposition tend to come to Isaias’ rescue at the nick of time, just when he needs them. When Isaias was threatened with sanctions, they either totally opposed it or proposed a toothless version of it. Even the watered down version the UN imposed on Eritrea is being objected by these patriots because it will “disarm” their dear Eritrea. If they are unabashedly counting on the Isaias regime to protect their “Eritrea”, their anti-war stand is only understandable. It is the same “nationalist” reaction that we are witnessing now. The idea of war has made them totally forget the war that the regime has been waging on the Eritrean masses relentlessly for more than a decade. This is even more obvious in the case of Paulos Natnael.

Paulos Natnael and the traumas of war

All the differences between me and Paulos can be traced to one single distinction: while he believes the Isaias regime is the run-of-the-mill dictatorship, I happen to believe it is of the abnormal totalitarian type. Whereas authoritarianism feels secure in its power by denying democracy rights only, totalitarianism has to necessarily stamp out every aspect of normality from the human habitat; it aims at nothing less than controlling every aspect of human life. All the horrors of a totalitarian state come from that extra drive to mold society in the image of a leader or party, which is absent in an authoritarian state. Every other difference that I have with Paulos follows from the wrong understanding of the nature of the Isaias regime he has, for a wrong diagnosis will be definitely followed up with a wrong prognosis. After having normalized Shaebia’s crimes into the run-of-the-mill dictatorship types, there would be no surprise if he comes up with a tempered solution that matches those manageable crimes. Let me provide one example – the case of the traumatized Eritrean society.

Among other things, Paulos accuses me of failing to see the traumatic consequences of war, especially given my harsh critique of ghedli and its similar legacy on current Eritrea[Ethio-Romantics and the Politics of Military Intervention]. For him, the relentless assault on the Eritrean masses that has been going on for more than a decade doesn’t count as war. For me, not only does it count as an all-out war on the masses, but also as an endless nightmare that has to be stopped once and for all by any means necessary. That is why I went in detail in Eritrea: Call for Patience amidst Generational Genocide to show what that ongoing war looks like: among other things, a generational genocide. Take, for instance, the case of mass exodus. So far, hundreds of thousands have left the country for good. For the nation, these are as good as dead, for none of them will ever return. In terms of loss to the nation, the figure would be more than ten times those martyred in the border war. And what is more, this war is an ongoing one, with no end insight. And the case of mass exodus happens to be just one aspect of the negative nature of the national service. But let me turn to the traumatic aspect of it.

Paulos believes that military confrontation should be avoided for its traumatic effects, if for nothing else. This could only be said if someone believes there are no such traumatic effects going on in the war that Shaebia has unleashed against the masses. Think, for a moment, the psychological and social trauma that has been going on as a result of national service: the high rate of suicide; rape and illegitimate pregnancies, the social stigmas associated with it and all its psychological impacts on the victims; the hopelessness of life without any future as displayed by many serving years in service, and the various mental problems associated with it; entire families devastated as a result of losing their breadwinners or their children one by one, and all kinds of traumas that go with it; the systematic destruction of the family, and all the dysfunctional aspects that necessarily follow it; a whole generation of kids growing up in total absence of their fathers; etc. Let me mention one aspect of this traumatic experience to make my point clear: the case of prisoners.

We know that tens of thousands of prisoners have passed through the more than 300 prisons and concentration camps scattered all over Eritrea. The traumas that they underwent vary from forced hard labor to years of isolation in dark underground dungeons to all forms of torture. This is what I wrote in Sealing off Eritrea: Domestic Terrorism :

“The prisoners are subjected to all kinds of torture. Ingenious ways of tying up the victim so as to cause maximum pain, frequent beatings, genital torture, electrical shocks, deprivation of essentials (food, water, cloth, medication, sleep, air, sunlight, space, company, etc), isolation, hard labor, etc are all used in these prisons to break down the Warsai into total submission. Torture has been so pervasive in the life of Warsai that, like the Eskimos who have developed a large vocabulary to differentiate various kinds of snow that would otherwise look similar to novice eyes, they have developed innovative ways of labeling the different types of torture that they are subjected to: ‘helicopter’, ‘otto’, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Almaz’, ‘ferro’, etc. There are cases where prisoners lost their limbs as a result of being subjected to ‘helicopter’. There are also cases where prisoners were blinded by the sunlight after being kept in total darkness in dungeons for years. Deaths due to illness, malnutrition and torture are common. Executions and massacres are also not uncommon, as the cases of Adi-Abeyto and Wi’a amply testify.”

The mental traumas that these experiences leave on those who survive it are incalculable. There are those who have gone insane. Many have come out of these prisons totally broken down. Many others have developed various psychological problems. After all, it is precisely because they have found life under the PFDJ unbearable that the youth are stampeding out en masse from Prison Eritrea.

For Paulos to worry about the consequences of war that would end this endless nightmare, he would have to believe that, well, Shaebia’s occupation doesn’t count as endless nightmare; that is, he has to necessarily normalize it. He would have to downsize Sheabia’s horrendous crimes to manageable sizes for him to compare it with another war and find the latter more unbearable.

Conclusion: “sparks” too many to count

We have seen that the root of all the problems in Eritrea is the quest to mold the nation in the image of ghedli and that that experimentation is at its most detrimental in the national service where a whole generation (the Warsai) is being molded in the image of teghadalay (the Yikealo). But what we have seen above is that three eloquent and well-meaning writers invariably downplaying the detrimental role of this experimentation simply because they felt doing otherwise would endanger the ghedli-conceived Eritrea they have in their respective minds. Again, for the sake of “Eritrea”, a whole generation has to perish.

The problem with those who advocate “self-reliant resistance” is that there is not the slightest bit of hint that their approach is working. Else than waiting for that miraculous “spark” to take place sometime in the future, all their political posturing remain causally impotent. They somehow believe that a “spark” could materialize in Eritrea independent of its enabling context – independent of public space. But could there be more of a spark than the drowning of hundreds of Eritreans in the Mediterranean Sea? Compared to that of Tunisia, where the self-immolation of a single individual triggered massive uprising, in the Eritrean case too many “sparks” to count have passed without the slightest bit of protest – too many Adi-Abeytos! Yet, against all odds, the self-reliant ones want us to wait for a “spark” to take place not because they believe in it, but because they find it to be a good excuse to protect their “Eritrea” – with all its abnormality!

Yosief Ghebrehiwet


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