The following article is written by Saleh AA Younis in June 26, 2000, criticising Alemseged Abay,a woyane, just before he crossed and joined woyane camp, soul and body.
.......................................................................... Warping History, Ethiopian Style
Saleh AA Younis
June 26, 2000
Back in 1993-1994, an Ethiopian scholar from Tigray and a graduate from UC Berkeley in California, was working on a thesis to explain why, in 1991, the EPLF opted for Eritrean secession, whereas the TPLF "preferred to grab the state machinery in Addis Ababa and stay Ethiopian." His field survey included visiting Eritrea and Ethiopia, interviewing Eritrean and Ethiopian civilians and government officials (even the usually tight-lipped EPLF officials were willing to be interviewed on the record) and pouring through Eritrean and Ethiopian archives as well as the Public Records Office (London) and the U.S. National Arhives (Maryland.) The research culminated in a book ("Identity Jilted or Re-imagining Identity?",Red Sea Press, Inc., 1998)
In the last two years, as Eritrea and Ethiopia faced one of the toughest periods of their history, Ato Alemseged was nowhere to be found. When the Ethiopian Government shut down the office and deported the employees of his publisher (Red Sea Press), because they were Eritreans, he wasn't heard from.
Fast forward to June 20, 2000. In a piece entitled "A truly tragic and fratricidal war", Alemseged Abbay gives us four reality checks and invites "Eritrean leaders to face realities." It seems that only Eritreans have something to learn from this bloody war and every Ethiopian is going to tell us what the lesson is. Alemseged's lessons are called "realities" and they go something like this:
Let's first address "Reality # 2" and "Reality # 4" because they are, in reality, the same realities. To quote Wolde-Ab Wolde-Mariam to argue the case that he was for (conditional or unconditional) unity with Ethiopia is like talking about Saul before he became Paul on the road to Demascus. It is like writing the biography of Malcolm X without talking about his pilgrimage to Mecca and how the experience totally transformed him. This would be typically ignorant if coming from the typical Walta writer but coming from a serious researcher like Alemseged Abbay, it is, to put it charitably, intellectually dishonest because the writer knows better.
- Reality # 1: Africa's stupidest war was fought among siblings. The Afars, Agaws, Kunamas and Tigrayans straddle the boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
- Reality # 2: 'Eritrea's unity with Ethiopia is necessary... Eritrea can not achieve economic growth with out unity [with Ethiopia]'. Walde-Ab Walde-Mariam, 'Ertra ne'man?' ['Eritrea for whom?'] Nay Ertrea Semunawi Gazetta, May 22, 1947, part IV, p. 4.
- Reality # 3: Italy did not give education or significant technological skills to the Eritreans.
- Reality # 4:'If we do wish the best for our children and the future generations, then let us not hate unity [with Ethiopia]. Unity is strength, unity is dignity, unity is prosperity, unity is victory.' Walde-Ab Walde-Mariam, 'Ertra ne'man?' ['Eritrea for whom?'] Nay Ertra Semunawi Gazetta, May 22, 1947, part IV, p. 4.
Wolde-ab Woldemariam's political activism spanned 50 years (1941 - 1991). In the 1940's, he began his political career as a unionist, then moved to the Liberal Progressive Party and then finally to the Independence Bloc. From the 1950's on, he was a very vocal critic of Ethiopia's attempt to destroy Eritrea's autonomous status during the Federation; he was an outspoken critic of the leadership of Tedla Bairu in facilitating Eritrea's absorption by Ethiopia. He was maligned; an election was stolen from him and he survived not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six but seven assassination attempts on his life by the Ethiopian Unionists. When he asked for a visa to be a political immigrant, the Haile Selassie Government tried to bribe him with a cushy job at the Ministry of Information; he declined. When it acquiesced to his request, it tried to suggest that he go to Europe; he declined. He took refuge in Egypt in 1953 where, thanks to Jamal Abdel-Nasser, he propagated his fight against Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea via radio broadcasts. For nearly 40 years, he lived in exile at once promoting the Eritrean cause and serving as an inspiration to a generation of Eritreans. He lived long enough to see a free Eritrea: he returned in 1991 and, true to his legend for eloquence, said: "O, my land! Forty years ago, before I left thee, I shed blood for thy sake. Today, forty years later, I return to shed tears of joy."
But then I am telling Mr. Alemseged Abbay information he knows because his books includes hundreds of reference material including from Research and Information Center of Eritrea (RICE). Why then this dishonesty? Can't people like Mr. Alemseged Abbay see nothing beyond ancestry and the theory that heritage is destiny? Why is Mr. Alemseged trying to turn an Eritrean legend into a poster boy for Ethiopianism. What is next? Ibrahim Sultan, at heart, was a unionist? Abdelkader Kebire, had he not been assassinated by the unionist, would have endorsed union with Ethiopia? When will the desecration of our heroes end?
That's exactly the point, isn't it? To many Ethiopians, the entire existence of "Eritrea" is a sacrilege; an affront to Ethiopian one-ness. And so, a student of identities and how they are jilted comes now because he knows that one way to destroy Eritrea is to destroy its icons, to steal them and to sully them. Another way is to exile them (something successive Ethio governments have done.) Still another way is to destroy its towns its assets so that people will say, "an Eritrea without ____ is not worth fighting for." It is all futile but they never give up.
Let's now address more of Alemseged's realities. Going back to reality # 1, yes, the people who straddle the Mereb River are siblings. This may be earthshaking news to Alemseged but there is nothing terribly remarkable about this. The "hadendawa" who straddle the Sudan-Eritrea border are siblings; the Somalis who straddle the Ethio-Somali border are siblings; the Bedouin who straddle the borders of all the Gulf States are siblings. So what? What made the Eritrea-Ethiopia war senseless (not stupid) is not that it was waged between siblings but that it was waged at all.
Another entirely unremarkable observation is Alemseged's reality # 3: that the Italians treated Eritreans shabbily. Oh, what a shocker that a colonial European power would abuse its African colony. When the fate of Eritrea was in the hands of the "international community" and Eritreans organized themselves politically to chart their future, those calling for return of Italy were almost non-existent; the pro-Italy party was made up largely of retired war veterans of Italy's wars. What was a shocker (to the international community) was that faced with an option of partitioning Eritrea to Sudan and Ethiopia, all the parties (except for the pro-Ethiopia unionists) formed an Independence Bloc to successfully fight the partition. What was a shocker (to Eritrea) was how cruel its African colonizer (Ethiopia) would be in destroying its autonomy and waging a war of extermination against its "siblings."
That Italy would be a cruel colonizer and that, at the same time, Eritrea would be more politically and economically advanced or value education more than Ethiopia of the first half of the 20th century are not inconsistent. In 1949s, in one of the exchanges between Ibrahim Sultan (representing the Independence Bloc) and the Ethiopian delegation to the UN, Ethiopia was trying to make the point that Eritrea could not be a viable state because it doesn't have an educated class that could run the government. Ibrahim Sultan, after acknowledging that because of Italian colonization, Eritreans had to be educated in neighboring countries including Ethiopia says the following:
"...The educated Eritreans that we have, let alone for their country Eritrea, they are doing a service for Ethiopia. If evidence is needed, without going too far, in this assembly, 99% of the Ethiopian delegation to the UN are of Eritrean ancestry...People like Alemseged can read Eritrean history without and fast forward the pages that deal with people like Ibrahim Sultan. In his thesis, Alemseged argued that the Derg's viciousness drove Eritrea away from Ethiopia. What he forgets--or perhaps is not terribly concerned about because it doesn't involve people of the "trans-Mereb"--is that Ethiopia's organized savagery against Eritrea did not begin with the Derg and, sadly, has not ended with the Derg. For every "sheEb" that the Derg pepetrated, there was an "Una" that Haile Selassie initiated. So, yes, Eritreans do in speak in broken Italian and and play Amharic songs at weddings not because we are proud of either period in our history but because it is our history.
Remember Paul Henze telling us that the Eritrean referendum was a sham because Eritreans were not given a choice? Well, now Alemseged carries that argument further by saying that the EPLF made a mistake in presenting Eritreans with an "all or nothing" choice. Well, here's another reality check that a researcher like Alemseged can find out: during Eritrea's armed struggle, the Eritrean field was crowded by quite a few idologues: the ELF, ELF-PLF, EPLF and their splinter groups and subgroups: the MenkaI, the falul, the Sagems, the Baath party (Syrian and Iraqi brands), the Hzbel Amel, etc. They disagreed in virtually everything but every single one of them had one thing in common: they wanted to bring about Eritrea's independence and they all pledged that they would die trying to bring that outcome rather than settle for anything less. That was the mandate of the Eritrean people.
Whether Eritrea can be a "viable state" because it cannot sustain itself or feed its population, if self-sustenance was a pre-requisite to statehood then Ethiopia wouldn't qualify to be a nation for a year much less "3000 years." As to the cliché of Eritrea wanting to be Singapore (ha, ha, what a riot), why does that ambition cause so much giggle in Ethiopian circles? Ethiopia is on record as pursuing an import-substitution economy. Should I experience hysteria and giggle that Ethiopia wants to be (hee, hee) South Korea? Or should I applaud and wish Ethiopia best of luck? An Eritrea using Singapore as an economic model would be a net benefit to Eritrea and Ethiopia. To argue that while it would help Ethiopia marginally it would help Eritrea significantly and therefore it must be rejected is straight from the Patrick Buchanan School of Economics. While Buchananism's "America First" economics is considered kooky and backward in the US, judging from everything I read, it is the mainstream belief of every economist in Ethiopia.
The real reality check is this: Ethiopia's economy is modeled after Patrick Buchanan; its political organization is modeled after the Roman Empire; its government is elected by margins approaching those that used to be announced by the Soviet Bloc; its health care system is a mess with one of the highest cases of HIV; its chronic drought and famine is world-renowned; its peace and security is dependent on one elite ethnic group not being too impatient to wait their turn "to grab the state machinery in Addis Ababa" And this is the nation that is inviting Eritrea to join it.
Thanks, Alemseged, but Eritrea's odds don't look that dismal, relatively speaking.