They did not change, and that’s the problem.

{This is revised version of my article at Asmarino.com}

An EPLF Fighter-actor performing in a propaganda show in Europe in 1980’s

An EPLF Fighter-actor performing in a propaganda show (Europe, 1980’s)

“Did we choose to be rebel fighters because we like it?” a soldier of the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) asks his fellow soldiers during a performance of 80′s,

“NO!” the soldiers shout at the top of their lung.

“Were we born this bitter and cruel” he asks again, and again he is met with the same cry, “NO!”

The performer then recites a poem detailing the gruesome everyday life the rebel soldiers (Fighters) endure.

***

The Eritrean armed struggle (the Ghedli) was at best a horrific path that was taken only for lack of choice. At best it should be remembered with “Thank God it’s over! Now we can have what we fought for: our civilian life! Our true identity!”

God forbid it be remembered as something pure, or the history recited with a nostalgic tone.

Since the revolution was taken to protect Eritrea, then the Eritrea the struggle set out to protect is to be found in the civilian population.

In today’s Ghedli created Eritrea, The “destination” (removing oppression and injustice, preserving Eritrea’s culture and identity, etc.) stands dwarfed compared to the “path”—the Great Path. So much so that it is worth taking away parts of the “destination” for the sake of protecting the Glorious Path. A path, a horrible path, that was justified ONLY because it was the only way to the “destination” (at least that’s what those who paid their life on the path were led to believe).

I have lived and worked among EPLF Fighters (ex-Fighters). Often ex-Fighters will tell you that they witnessed, and often endured plenty of abusive treatments, but they accepted it then because the struggle (Ghedli) was an extraordinary time.

No one doubts there was no freedom or democracy in Ghedli. The absence of freedom was justified in the minds of many because the Ghedli was a military organization. An army commander does not ask his soldiers to vote on best strategy. Similarly a colonel is not appointed by public vote.

Therefore, for many Fighters it was not so outrageous that there was absolutely no freedom in Ghedli and that the line between dis-obedience and treason didn’t exist. The problem is that this Ghedli-machine took power in 1991 and did not change. In-fact independence was just a massive expansion of the Ghedli military organization. At independence the Ghedli military organization simply “acquired” the nation.

The problem is not that they changed after independence; the problem is that they did not change.

The Ghedli-organization’s attitude towards the newly ‘acquired’ nation started to manifest soon after independence. A clichéd statement that was the opening paragraph in almost every speech by EPLF officials was, “Kab bado ziterekebnaya hager” which translates to, “The nation was ‘zero’ when it was handed to us.” This statement was primarily in reference to the nation’s economy. However, often than not, the usage was in reference to the overall state of the nation: especially in reference to the civilian culture, work ethic, educations system, and so on; things they thought (and still think) the Ghedli culture was superior in.

So the problem is not that they changed after independence; the problem is that they did not change as many expected.

One good example that shows Ghedli organization did not change (except in name) is the issue of the so called G-15. In early 2000’s, a group of government officials (the 15 being most known) decided to question the president on few issues of accountability. They were promptly disappeared. This is exactly what the Ghedli organization did in 1973-74 when some in its leadership decided to question the lack of democracy. Those who dared to question, commonly known as the Menkae, were disappeared.

All the things we are complaining about: the inhuman cruelty, the oppression, the absence of freedom, etc. existed before independence during Ghedli era. There were underground dangerous, corrugated iron prisons, incommunicado imprisonments, disappearances, … you name it. All the “Otto” and “Helicopter” and “Jesus Christ” torture techniques were not invented after independence by the young ‘Warsai generation (maybe they were re-named by them). Execution and disappearance of dissenters (real and suspected) was just as common during Ghedli, if not more common.

It’s common to hear many ex-Fighters remark, “We never thought your generation would have to go through what we went through.” Such statements go a long way to express the surprise (and disappointment) that things did not change as they had hoped would.

I have found zero evidence that suggests the Ghedli-organization has changed. On the contrary they remain the same.

***

At this point I want to clarify myself that it is not my intention to side with one or the other of the two ideological sides among the Eritrean opposition (i.e. the Ghedli-Romantics or the Young-and-Disillusioned). For me they both agree on the illegitimacy of the current government. Both sides believe the administration is rotten and want to see it crumble down as soon as possible. As I understood it they disagree on “when” exactly the Ghedli-body (as opposed to the Ghedli-administration) was pronounced rotten. I hope this piece of writing does not get entangled in that argument.

So why am I interested to write about this? Because I believe there is a dire need for the opposition to win Eritreans on the intellectual level.

So far Shaebia¹ (now Eritrean government) have been victorious. Shaebia are excellent liars (excellence being measured by how much people one got to believe the lies). Shaebia’s propaganda capacity is no match for our society’s intellectual capacity. They would win even both hands tied.

I believe the battle is in opening peoples ‘eyes’. That’s why Shaebia, like all tyrants, are more scared of their own population discussing ideas freely than they are of any foreign government. Violence or non-violence, there is no doubt that the intellectual battle has to be won.

One of the pillars of lies that Shaebia has erected in the past decades is a lie that Ghedli identity is a typical Eritrean identity. This lie has been repeated over and over many times that it is now assumed true by many. This lie has paved the way for other bigger lies.

One good example is the term “Warsai”, a common name that Shaebia has dubbed Eritrean youth. Its meaning: “one who inherits”.

Effectively the Shaebia government measures our maturity with how close we come to becoming like Ghedli-era EPLF Fighters (“Teghadelti”). The danger of this type of attempt to change our identity becomes more catastrophic when you consider what identity (norms, values, ethics, religious conviction, culture, etc.) the youth have to give-up in order to ‘inherit’ the Ghedli-identity. Basically they have to sacrifice their indigenous civilian identity—i.e. their Eritrean identity.

Regardless of whether the Ghedli culture was justified or not back then, there is no doubt that it should have no place in today’s Eritrea.

_______________________________________

[1] “Shaebia” is the popular name of the EPLF, the organization now in power in Eritrea. If you don’t like the usage of the word “Shaebia” replace it by anything you like: EPLF, PFDJ, Tegadelti, or just remark, “eziom!” every time you see the word. It’s all just semantics after all.

2 thoughts on “They did not change, and that’s the problem.

  1. I think separating EPLF fighters from HEGDEF is prerequisite for any change in Eritrean politics – I truly believe the animal called HEGDEF was working underground from the get go and used the cover of EPLF fighters to march into Asmara – They are the cousins of TPLF and had the same goals…

    Like

    • Hi Michael,
      I agree that EPLF is different from PFDJ (Hegidef). But there is also a lot of similarity.

      For example you said PFDJ was working underground within EPLF. I agree with you they were working but they were not underground, they were “above-ground”, they were the leaders of EPLF! In this sense I don’t think the leadership of EPLF is much different from he leadership of PFDJ.

      However, I accept the fact that many, many members of EPLF (fighters) were good people who become victims of the leadership. Just like many, many Eritreans who are now victims of PFDJ.

      So when I blame EPLF, I’m blaming the organization, the leadership, those who participated in its evil deeds– not the victims.

      Like

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