Unity in Diversity: a lesson for Eritreans

A theology professor, keen to teach his pupils on unity and love, once gave his students a simple assignment. He gave his students a blank sheet of white paper with nothing but a small black dot in one end and asked them to turn in a written description of the paper.

Eager to impress their professor the students wrote in length addressing every imaginable aspect of their assignment, some of the titles included: “shape and symmetry of the dot” another wrote, “Investigating placement of the dot and its relative location”. A student who majored college in Chemistry wrote “predicting the quality and type of ink”. Those with background in the humanities and social sciences chose to address even deeper aspects: “negative effects of the dot on paper aesthetics”, “impact of a black dot on the price of paper”. The most promising student (and the professor’s favorite) titled his essay, “Can it be removed?”.

After grading all of his students work the professor told them how, predictably, they all missed the most prominent and most important aspect.

In focusing on the peculiar problem, the dot, none of them did justice to the 99% of the page which was bleached white and flawless. Instead, they decided to focus on the problem, they addressed the page as, “the page with a black dot.” The moral of the story is that social groups and organizations (in the professor’s case, church denominations) focus on what is wrong and almost completely ignore the overwhelming aspects that unite them.

The things that divide a lot of Eritrean deleiti-fithi organizations are often few minor points—few and minor when compared to the grand causes that these organizations claim they stand for.

It is not uncommon to see Eritrean civic, humanitarian or political movements (needless to say, all in diaspora) miscommunicate, be-intolerant, engage in loud quarrels and once in a while have bitter divisions. What divides these organizations are often minor points—minor when compared to the grand and noble causes most of these organizations stand for.

Divisions are not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes divisions are un-avoidable. For example if two organizations have different priorities and/or objectives, such as aid focused organizations vs. organizations aiming to bring political change. Organizations may divide based on incompatible strategies for example non-violent resistance vs. armed insurgency. But what is a bad thing is when these organizations refuse to “agree to disagree” peacefully or they refuse to respect each other’s integrity. Instead many decide to sabotage each other’s work.

One particularly troubling attitude I notice on arguments among Eritrean activists is: many times, people allege ‘hidden’ bad intentions on the person (or group) they are disagreeing with. Why? Because, they claim, because it is impossible to have the opinion their opponent is holding unless one has bad intentions and/or is deliberately refusing to see things their way.


Who actually owns the land?—Land tenure systems of Eritrea

‘The resources of the land are neither inexhaustible nor indestructible, as many men and countries have already found to their cost’ (Dale and McLaughlin 1990)

How land is owned is of great concern in Eritrea since majority of the people depend directly on the land for their survival. In addition to economics, land ownership also has significant social and political meaning for Eritreans.

Over 60% of Eritrean land is under agricultural use and agriculture is said to employ 70 to 80% of the population. Eritrean society can be said to be an agrarian society although this “70 or 80%” is likely outdated figure—the number has not changed for the past half century and none seem to cite current and original reference.


Land use categories in Eritrea (data from Kayouli, Tesfai et al. 2006)

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ዝተመላኽዐ ዛንታ ገድሊ– (ዮሴፍ ገብሪሂወት)

እዚ ትርጉም ናይቲ ብዮሴፍ ገብሪሂወት፡ ኣብ ኣስማሪኖ ዳት ኮም ብዕለት 12 መጋቢት 2008Romanticizing Ghedli (I)”  ብዝብል ኣርእስቲ ዝተዘርግሐ ጽሑፍ እዩ።  ናብ ቛንቛ ትግርኛ ብ ኣዳለውቲ ጋዜጣ መሰለይ ተተርጉሙ: ምቅንጃው ገድሊ” ብዝብል ኣርእስቲ  ኣብ 2008ዝተዘርገሐ ጽሑፍ እዩ።


ሓደ ካብቲ ቀንዲ ንህዝብና ኣጋጢምዎ ዘሎ ጸገማት፡ እዚ ተቐናጅዩ [ካብ መጠን ንላዕሊ ተመላኺዑ] ዝቐርብ ዛንታ ገድሊ ኤርትራ እዩ፥ መብዝሕትኡ ህዝቢ ኤርትራ ነዚ ተጋኒኑን ተመላኺዑን ዝቐረበ ዛንታ ክርሕርሖ ፍቓደኛ ኣይኮነን። ምቕንጃው [ብሓሶት ዝተመላኽዐ ታሪኽ] ንሃገር ክቀትል ይኽእል’ዩ እንተ ኢልና፡ ከምዚ ናይ ኤርትራ እዩ። እዚ ሎሚ አብ ጉዳይ ሃገርና ንዕዘቦ ዘሎና ሓንቲ ሃገር ንሓደ ስነ-ሓሳብ ከተጥፍኦ እንከላ ኣይኮነን (ከምዚ እንተዝኸውን ምሓሸ ኔሩ)፥ እንታይ ደኣ ሓደ ስነ-ሓሳብ ንሓንቲ ሃገር ከጥፍኣ እንከሎ እዩ።

“ገድሊ”ን እቲ ምስኡ ተተሓሒዙ ዝኸይድ ናውትን ሓዊስካ፡ ነቲ ንነዊሕ እዋን ኣብ እንግድዑ ጾይርዎ ዝጸንሐ ህዝቢ ከቢዱዎስ፡ ኣብ ክጻወሮ ዘይክእል ደረጃ በጺሑ ይርከብ። እዚ ባዕልና ዝፈጠርናዮ እኩይ ፍጥረት፡ ሃርጋፍ ሸውሃት ስለዘማዕበለ፡ ንምርዋዩን ቀጻልነቱ ንምርግጋጽን ነባሪ ዝኾነ ናይ “ምስዋእ” ባህሊ ክፍጠር ኣለዎ። ንሓደ ዘይተነጸረ፣ ደብዛዝን ኣካራኻርን ሕልሚ ንምውሓስ፡ በዚ ጸይቀ-ግኑን ፍጥረት’ዚ ሓደ ወለዶ ድሕሪ እቲ ሓደ ክብልዑን ክሃልቑን ኣለዎም። ሎሚ ኣብዚ ናይ መወዳእታ ዕምሩ ድማ፡ ንመላእ ሃገር ንኸጽንት ኣብ ምውጥዋጥ ይርከብ። ሻዕብያ ክመውት እንተኾይኑ፡ ሃገር ድማ ምስኡ ከም እትመውት ኣቀዲሙ ወሲኑ’ዩ። ግና’ኸ፡ ዛጊት ብዙሓት ኤርትራውያን (ብፍቕሪ ሰውራ ሰኺሮም)፡ ክንዲ ነቲ ሱር ሕማሞም ኮይኑ ዘሎ “ገድሊ” ምምራር፡ ገድሊ ድኣ ኣይኩን እምበር ንዝኾነ ካልእ ነገር ምጥቃን እዮም ዝመርጹ።

እቲ ኣዝዩ ዝገርም ነገር፡ ኣብ ዝኾነ ይኹን ጉዳይ ሃገር ቅንጣብ እኳ ክሰማምዑ ዘይክእሉ፡ ኣብ ተቓራኒ ጥርዚታት ዝርከቡ ወገናት ከይተረፈ፡ ሓደ ዘሰማምዖም ነገር እንተሎ፡ እቲ ተመላኺዑ ዘሎ ዛንታ ገድሊ እዩ። ንገድሊ ጸጽቡቑ ካብ መጠን ንላዕሊ ምግናን፥ ነቲ ገግናዩ ከኣ ከምዘይነበረ ምኽሓድን ምቑንጻብን። Continue reading

Eritrea: Map of Terror

When was the last time someone beat you violently?
Do you remember yourself screaming at the top of your lung, begging for mercy?

Most Eritreans can answer these questions with an exact date. And it probably happened in one of these ‘prisons’. Click on the image to be directed to an interactive map.

Click image to be directed to the interactive map.

Click image to be directed to the interactive map.

Eritrea: Definitions you have to know

Majority of Eritrean dissidents prefer to write in English. It can be painful to follow Eritrean news and political works if you don’t know certain acronyms and popular non-English phrases. The following list should be useful to those not too familiar with Eritrean political writings.

ELF Eritrean Liberation Front (popularly called Jebha). A nationalist insurgency. The ELF started armed resistance against Ethiopian government in 1961, a year after it was founded. The ELF was the strongest nationalist group until it divided into competing groups in the 1970’s and was finally defeated and pushed out of the country in 1981 by EPLF (the strongest of its splinters).

EPLF Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (popularly called Shaebia) is a nationalist movement that started forming in the late 1960’s early 1970’s and officially formed in 1977. The EPLF defeated Ethiopian army and won Eritrean independence in 1991 . The EPLF renamed itself PFDJ in 1993.

G-15 A group of 15 prominent politicians within the PFDJ party that published an “open letter to the PFDJ” in May 2001. The open letter criticized President Isaias Afewerki. All were accused of treason and 11 members of the group were made to disappear on September 18, 2001, the remaining four were out of the country at the time and still remain abroad.

Ghedli Refers to the revolution and the armed insurgency for independence (1960’s—1991). The word is also used to refer to the era of the insurgency. Tigrinya [ገድሊ]: ‘struggle’.

Giffa The practice of raiding villages or neighborhoods (often at night) to recruit new conscripts and arrest suspected deserters. Giffa was a common practice of the Eritrean insurgencies (1960—1991), and is still a routine practice in Eritrea today. Tigrinya [ግፋ]: ‘to gather’

Halewa Sewra Shield of the Revolution. The internal security service of the EPLF. Tigrinya [ሓለዋ ሰውራ]: ‘guards of the revolution’

Hidri Suwuat Dream of the martyrs. Tigrinya [ሕድሪ ስውኣት]: ‘what our martyrs have entrusted us with’.

Isaias Afewerki President of Eritrea since 1993 and leader of the EPLF since 1975. Referring to persons with first name is proper in Eritrean culture and it is not common to refer the president by his last name.

Jebha Popular name of the ELF. Arabic [جبهة]: ‘Front’.

Menqa Dissident political grouping of mostly university students within the EPLF that started around 1973-74. The Menqa group allegedly accused the EPLF leadership of undemocratic behavior, all were made to disappear by the EPLF. Tigrinya [መንካዕ]: the animal bat.

Mieda Referring to the Ghedli revolution. Tigrinya [ሜዳ]: ‘Field’.

PFDJ People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Formerly EPLF, it is the only party in Eritrea.

Shaebia Popular name of the EPLF and PFDJ. Arabic [شعبي]: ‘Popular’.

Tegadalay A common way of referring the Ghedli era soldiers of the insurgency (Feminine Tegadalit). Tigrinya [ተጋዳላይ]:  ‘Fighter’.

TPLF Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Ethiopian insurgency that overthrew the previous administration and assumed power in 1991. TPLF was a partner of the EPLF during the insurgency and an ally of PFDJ until the 1998—2000  Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict.

Warsai A common name referring to the new generation national service conscripts. In contrast to the older generation of revolutionary fighters. Tigrinya [ዋርሳይ]: ‘One who inherits’.

Warsay-Yikealo the Warsay-Yikealo Development Campaign (WYDC) which was implemented in Eritrea two years after the end of 1998—2000 border conflict with Ethiopia. The campaign extended the 18-month compulsory National Service indefinitely. Under WYDC Campaign, conscripts are assigned work (military or civilian work) without salary except a nominal pocket money of 145 to 500 Nakfa. Conscripts who refuse to work are treated as military deserters and punished. Tigrinya phrase [ዋርሳይ ይከኣሎ] can be translated as: ‘The inheritor is all-capable’. (see Warsai and Yikealo)

Woyane A common name referring to the TPLF. Tigrinya [ወያኔ]: ‘revolution’.

Yikealo A less common name referring to the Ghedli generation of fighters (Tegadalay is more common), as opposed to the new generation of conscripts Warsai. Tigrinya [ይከኣሎ]: ‘all capable’ or ‘almighty’. (The traditional Tigrinya male name Yikealo is in reference to God, not insurgency fighters).

Eritrea’s Covert Government

In Eritrea becoming a government official is simply a ceremonial post. The entire visible government structure of Eritrea is fake and the real government structure is underground—entirely hidden.

Corrupt governments often employ ‘puppet’ officials and yes-men but the Eritrean government system is a step ahead. Eritrean government officials (Ministers and army Officers) don’t even qualify as ‘puppets’ of the authoritarian regime. A ‘puppet’ would imply that the position they occupy actually is part of the system. In your traditional corrupt governance, the ‘puppet master’ may have power over the puppets’ function, but the post (be it a Minister or an army General) does exist.

For example a ‘puppet’ army General orders his army in accordance to the whims of his master. In other words the puppet master controls the army through the puppet. Here the post of General is part of the system. In the Eritrean case, the post of General is not necessary since the army is not organized in a way that they take orders from a General. The traditional army structure where army rank may exist up to a Platoon or maybe up to a Battalion, anything higher is underground and the official army ranks above that mean very little.

The same structure exists in the ‘civilian’ posts such as the government Ministries or the Courts. The value of official posts changes from real to ceremonial as you climb up a ladder of any government Ministry.

The Eritrean governance system is covert and in this sense Eritrean regime is very “organic”. The visible administration structure is just for show. The true administrative structure is underground. It is occupied with people that represent the government. This is very convenient for the dictator and has many advantages, for example: It is easy for the government to dodge  accountability for actions, the dictator is not threatened by his subordinates which have zero public visibility let alone support, it is harder for the dictator’s enemies to challenge a power structure they cannot see, etc.

Eritrean government structure is best understood by comparing it to other non-traditional kinds of administration. Many characteristics of the Eritrean government structure resemble the urban gang structure. In a gang there is no standard structure or official positions. However every body in the gang and the neighborhood knows everything they need to know. Everyone knows who calls the shots and who calls the ‘real’ shots. There are no official channels and information is spread by rumors. Everyone know who does what in the gang, they know who is whose rival. Everybody knows what actions have what consequences and Most importantly, it works!  Very similar to the Eritrean government and society.

What of the Ethiopian Church

Ethiopian evangelical church worship

There is a peculiar lack of voice from Ethiopian Churches  about their brothers and sisters of Eritrea. The suffering of Eritrean Christians has yet to inspire gospel songs or sermons in any major conference.

So far I haven’t heard of any Ethiopian pastor or gospel singer talk about the persecution of Eritrean Churches. I am not aware of any special service done by the Ethiopians addressing issues of Eritrean Christians. This is not good. I am very fond of Ethiopian spiritual songs and sermons, they show great care and concern for their society. Why the silence on Eritrea?

P.S.: This blog is about silence of the Church in speaking publicly and NOT about silence towards God. One is not necessarily an indicator of the other.
I have written about the strange silence of Eritrean Churches on their own affairs (my articles “Mute and without opinion” and “Eritrean evangelical Christians are criminals” are some examples).

Updated July 24

“Where is your brother?” -God

Cain answered,  “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9).

A translation of the full Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea is found here.
መልእኽቲ ካቶሊካውያን ጳጳሳት ኤርትራ ንምንባብ ኣብዚ ጠውቕ
ንባብ መልእኽቲ ንምስማዕ ድማ ኣብዚ ጠውቕ

Click to access high quality image.

Click to access high quality image.

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Eritrea: Catholic Bishop’s courage gives confidence to ordinary people

Originally posted on martinplaut:

The courage of four Catholic Bishops in speaking out in Eritrea has lifted the spirits of ordinary men and women. A member of the ‘Freedom Friday’ movement, which links the Eritrean public with the international Eritrean diaspora, says that there has been a tremendous response to the Bishop’s letter, which criticised the Eritrean government.

Eritrea discussion

Men discuss current affairs outside a church in Mai Jahjah, central Asmara. Source: Freedom Friday

The 38 page letter, written in Tigrinya, has been photocopied and distributed around the capital, Asmara, and beyond. This carries a high risk, since it can only be photocopied in stationery shops, where government spies might see what is being reproduced. Despite the danger, the letter is being widely copied. “The message is going around like wild-fire,” the Freedom Friday contact explained.

The letter was signed by Bishops Mengsteab Tesfamariam of Asmara, Tomas Osman of Barentu, Kidane Yeabio of Keren…

View original 252 more words

Sofiti’s interview with Australian radio vis-à-vis common sense

SBS with Sofiti - Copy

Sofia Tesfamariam at SBS’s studio

In my recent article titled “the Authorized version of events“[1] I had given examples of  typical Eritrean government responses to events in Eritrea. In that regard, Sofia Tesfamariam (Sofiti) was not a disappointment in her recent interview with Australian SBS radio.

Sofiti introduced herself as the Director of US foundation for the Horn of Africa, a non governmental organization based in the US. But if you are curious about her political affiliation, I strongly suggest a visit to her personal blog (at stesfamariam.com) and search for “pedophile“. Read the second paragraph of the search result for an insight on the Director’s opinions about those of us not very enthusiastic about Eritrean government.

The interview focused on issues close to every Eritreans’ heart: Eritrean politics, human rights, 2% diaspora ‘tax’ and the Eritrean refugee crisis.




The Covert Government

Ms Sofia Tesfamariam is an unofficial-official representative of the Eritrean government. Asked if she came to Australia on official capacity representing the Eritrean government, she explained… It happens she’s been declining invitations by the Australian-Eritrean community year after year, this time she could make it so she’s here. The program host seemed satisfied with her response. He did not press the issue further.

Even though she’s not officially a government representative, she carries her self as such.

Such is a typical standard operating procedure of the Eritrean regime. The Eritrean regime is very “organic”. The overt administration structure is just for show (even in the army). The real structure is underground. It is filled with people that represent the government one way, that is, the government works through them and everyone knows it but the government is not accountable for their actions.

Eritrean government structure is better understood by treating it like an urban gang structure. There are no official guidelines or official posts but every body in the gang (and the neighborhood) knows everything. Everyone knows who calls the shots, who does what, who is whose rival, what actions have what consequences…–very much like Eritrean society.

Summary of the interview… 

The interview happened as Sofiti was concluding her visit to Australian-Eritrean community Eritrean independence day celebration. (The radio broadcast was posted on SBS website on 29t and 30 May in two 20 minute parts).

In the coming blog, I plan to present her interview summary [changed my plan on this].

If you take out the nonsense fillers that Sofia uses, the interview is surprisingly short, the bottom-line reasoning she brings for each question asked are one single sentence at best.

[1] Samuel N. (23 April 2014) Eritrea: the Authorized Version of Events . http://www.asmarino.com/articles/2068-eritreathe-authorized-version-of-events