By Mebrahtu Asfaha,
It is hoped that the year 2014 would be, in spite recent Ethiopian foreign ministry’s rumbling, incoherent and braggart statement, a year of enduring peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It will be the start of a new chapter to an otherwise tumultuous journey. It will usher, one hopes, a new era in human brotherhood. Let it be a year of a rainbow after clouds of a devastating storm.
The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, like all other people living within close proximity to each other, are an epitome of brotherhood. They are grounded in centuries old histories of cross-border trade, commerce and inter marriages. They are blessed with communal culture, linguistic affinity, and similar religious history. Blessed are the harmonious souls of both nations.
It is predicted that this peace among the brotherly people is inevitable. It is inevitable because one has only to scan the headlines, secret meetings, indirect talks, and numerous mediators. As the sun lights the world, so let our peace makers bright both houses of our habitation.
Furthermore, the peace process is inevitable because the irrepressible conflict is not going to last forever as two irreconcilable things could not remain permanently in the same universe, peace and war. Neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia will do the ultimate winning; both countries, will wind up the age-long animosity within short period of time with strategic move that will be remembered forever in the annals of Eritrean-Tigrayan relationship like a “peace that passes all understanding”.
Now what are the lessons learned from this tragic war? And what can we do to avoid future occurrences?
The notion of brotherhood between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea has not been always a perfect marriage as the narrative is full of long tradition of animosity, competition and jealousy.
It is important to revisit this narrative and bitter experience of the past in order to stimulate the thought process that has influenced us and led us to numerous conflicts in order to discover tools that would help us to overcome them.
Recently, for instance, Ambassador David Shinn, explained, the essence of jealousy and competition among the brotherly people of Eritrea and Tigray as
“There was and perhaps still is a negative psychological element to the relationship, at least for Ethiopia’s Tigrayans who live on the other side of the Eritrean border. Many Tigrayans believed that the more highly educated Eritreans with their experience of Italian colonialism looked down on Tigrayans. Some Ethiopians perceived that Eritreans saw them as fodder for filling low level positions in an Eritrea that would become the industrial center of the region”.
However, the preeminent author about this long tradition of animosity, competitions, and jealousy is Memhir Yishak Yosief who wrote “Embi Yale Woldu…Gomida. The History of Raesi Welde Mikael”. The book was republished in November 1999, in the midst of Eritrean-Tigrayan war. It is extremely interesting read as the subtle art of trickery, deception, and jealousy south from the Mereb River is explained vividly. It embraces the full range of what we call in Eritrea ‘Libi Tigray’.
There are numerous examples, in the book, that enable you to discern and confirm this notion that relies on vices, meanness, dishonesties, hypocrisies and trickery in the life of Tigray. However, the grandiose of all tricksters is none other than Alula Aba Nega who through his sweet tongue of peace deceived the hero of Mereb Milash – Raesi Welde Mikael, who accepted the call for peace without reservation, and was caught naked and defenceless, and paid heavily in the Emba Selma prison.
It is for this reason that the people of Tigray call Eritreans “Hasas Hamasienay” to indicate their naivety, their nature of easily trusting others and their lack of refinement in the art and science of deception and trickery.
However, Was Raesi Welde Mikael really Naïve and trusting to believe the call for brotherly peace by Alula Aba Nega of Tigray? Raesi Welde Mikael wasn’t naïve and trusting. Intuitively he felt there was something evil and deceptive about Alula Aba Nega. Thus, he accepted the call for peace only after Alula Aba Nega made solemn Oath to keep his promise.
What is the significance of solemn oath to keeping ones promise in the Eritrean tradition? In the Eritrean tradition an oath is honorable, predictable, and reliable human condition that allows the smooth functioning of society. An oath is, in an Eritrean tradition, a reflection of man’s reputation and honor, and must be fulfilled at all cost. It is a value system that literally defines a man, and molds his character. It is a virtue of character that encompasses a complete sum of all his being. Either the act of oath is fulfilled or not, an individual is, according to an Eritrean tradition, enjoys the blossom of his promise or suffers the retribution of his lack thereof.
However, contrary to this solemn and sacred tradition of oath, Alula Aba Nega of Tigray broke his promise. Hence, the term “Wedi Telam Mahla” is used by Eritreans to describe our brothers in the south of Mereb River for not fulfilling their promise. This term is similar to what Machiavelli calls “the promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present”, or when he said in the Prince that “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise”, and that is to say Alula Aba Nega made the promise knowing that he will break it when it was expedient for him. Thus, in the eyes of Eritreans, he is an ignoble, and Godless character who has failed the test of time by believing “nothing weights lighter than a promise”.
When Raesi Welde Mikael was imprisoned at Emba Selma with his three sons, he had no other recourse but curse Alula Aba Nega with sad lamentation:
“ኣነስ ማይ ሰትየ
እሞ ክንደይ ከይድሕን”
I rejoice in drinking water
And warmth campfire,
But would be condemned who breaks solemn oath. (Translation mine)
Only in light of this deceitful attitude practiced from south of the Mereb River can we understand why Eriteans do not take a mild attitude toward the notion of deceit, and trickery, and abhor them with turbulent indignation. Thus, a winding road that leads from Asmara to Keren is named Libi Tigray (heart of Tigray) to express the resentment of this abhorrent indignation. The attitude of Eritreans is a direct inheritance from this bitter past experience. Again this indignation has become profound when it was again repeated in the battle of Badme and following the aftermath of EEBC adjudication at The Hague.
Moreover, when Raesi Welde Mickael was sentenced to death by firing squad, he had no other recourse but utter his supplication by invoking his faith to the Almighty
ብኣዕጽምቲ ምርጫ ”
Corpus Mircha. (Translation mine)
Accordingly, the Hero of Mereb Milash Raesi Welde Mikael was saved by the grace of God as he was the man of faith, integrity, and promise. Whereas, Alula Aba Nega of Tigray was killed by his rival Tigrayan, as dishonest and disloyal man is always unmade by himself, in his evil character he constructs the instruments to destroy him, and cultivates animosity to descend to animalistic instinct and beyond the realm of rationality. Thus, Alula Aba Nega met his maker through a violent gunshot by his fellow and rival Tigrayan.
Are there any similarities in Eritrean-Tigrayan contemporary politics? Observe, for instance, in present day conflict, the leaders of Tigray hoped and prayed to eliminate Eritrean leaders by disseminating false propaganda of their sickness and death. When Alula Aba Nega condemned Raesi Welde Mikael to death, it was his soul that was departed to the outside world. Similarly, when the current Tigrayan leaderships condemned Eritrean leadership to death it is the soul of their leader that has been departed to the outside world. It is, in natural law tradition, a retribution for their maxima culpa. Such is the nature of Karma, and such is the thing of the world.
It is only in light of this deceitful attitude practiced from south of the Mereb River can we understand why Eritreans are apprehensive of a dialogue that does not hold to scrutiny, demanding not outward and rhetorical speeches of peace, but inward quality that is shown by tangible and concrete deeds. Therefore, most Eritreans will say we will judge our neighbours from the south of Mereb River not simply in the basis of what they say, or of what they promise, or even of what they are – but on the basis of what they do and endeavor to bring out what they say they will do. i. e. the complete withdrawal of Eritrean occupied land.
Similarly, the current pretense appeal for peace by Prime Minister Desalegn of Ethiopia is considered by most Eritreans as empty rhetoric, and a shadowy diffusion of conciliatory speech, given the long history of deceit by Ethiopia, unless it is balanced by the capacity for just deeds, and coupled by positive conviction of withdrawing from Eritrean occupied land.
Since Eritreans cannot abide insincerity, conciliatory speeches and rapprochements are considered unsatisfactory unless the people who utter them are thoroughly devoted to the cause of peace. Are the Tigrayans sincere and thoroughly devoted to the cause of peace? If the answer is yes, then, let it be said with distinctness that Eritreans do well to accept peace, but they do well also to remember that Raesi Welde Micheal was deceived because he accepted the call for peace without reservation, and suffered heavily at Emba Selma prison.
In contrast, what is the attitude of Eritrean leadership toward peace? The attitude lies deep in their character. They themselves are absolutely loyal to the cause of peace as is exemplified by the peace treaty signed with Yemen after border adjudicate at The Hague, which is similar to the Ethiopian and Eritrean case. One distinguishing mark of current Eritrean leadership is, however, they understand the notion of trickery, and let anyone try it on them they are profoundly stirred and the whole Eritrean population is also stirred with fury.
Now it is worth pausing for a moment to take notice of one consequence of this mistrust, competition, and jealousy for both brotherly people.
Hitherto, continual misunderstanding, suspicion of each other, slander and open hostility brought us nothing. The mistrust and jealousy are justified, though perhaps not quite to the extent that they should lead us to war. Therefore, what should be the attitude of each other? What can we do in personal relationship i.e. people to people to facilitate this notion of brotherhood?
What I wrote above about the bitter experience is to stimulate the thought process that has influenced us in the past and to discover tools that would help us to overcome them. In spite of what happened in the past we do not need to be harsh, bitter, and acrid in our criticism of each other. Consider that our scorn of each other will never do us any good unless we feel we have to be self-critical as we do to others, and that we appreciate their good as well as hate their evil. It is instructive to note that once an unknown author has to say about this subject:
“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it ill behooves any of us
To find fault with the rest of us”.
Condemnation is negative, and hurtful. By itself alone it accomplishes nothing. Hence, Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a poem
“ You never can tell when you send a word
Like an arrow shot from a bow
By an archer blind, be it cruel or kind,
Just where it may chance to go.
It may pierce the breast of your dearest friend,
Tipped with its poison or balm,
To a stranger’s heart in life’s great mart
It may carry its pain or its calm”.
Instead what we need is as Spence Michael Free wrote in his poem
“It is the human touch in this world that counts,
The touch of your hand and mine,
Which means far more to the fainting heart
Than shelter and bread and wine;
For shelter is gone when the night is o’er,
And bread lasts only a day,
But the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice
Sing on in the soul always”.
Then, let us, with our hearts, lips, and deeds pronounce the language of peace. Let us radically alter our condemnatory thoughts of each other, and let us applaud even the faint beginning of goodness in each other as cynicism, suspicion, and envy will confine us in self-made prison. Let us dwell day by day in thoughts of peace. Then our insight to perceive possibilities of a new and peaceful era will bring abounding peace to both our nations.
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