Eritreans versus Ethiopians: choosing sides?


Call me by my name, address or title

By Obo Arada Shawl alias Wolde Tewolde


August 13, 2009


“You have a Republic if you can handle it”

(Thomas Jefferson, President)

You can’t handle the truth”

(Jack Nickelson, comedian)


The above quotations should be born in mind when we discuss issues of Eritreans with Ethiopians. The first quotation was in response to a question “what do we get?” posed by a woman who was waiting for Thomas Jefferson to announce the type of government American should have. The second was quoted from a film titled “A few good men”, an answer for Tom Cruise’s question.


In the Eritrean case, PIA (President Issayas Afeworki) has delivered to the Eritreans what they wanted – Haar’net or Nazanet – whichever it is, I cannot figure it out.


In the Ethiopian case, the so-called politicians, remnants of the DERG regime and the apolitical individuals who seem disinterested not only in finding solutions to our people’s problem but also in distorting the true past history of the Ethiopian Revolution. Or alternatively they are against the Eway Revolution for fear of the unknown. In other words, these are the groups who cannot handle the truth that was set by DEBTERAW and his Revolutionary Party (EPRP).


It will be in the context of Independence versus Truth that I am putting myself into the current debate and discussion among the following contenders.

·       Shaleka Dawit vs. Saleh (Gadi) Johar

·       Hassan Umer Abdella vs. Elias Kifle

·       Neamin Zelleke vs. Tsegaye Kassa

·       Jember Mintesnot vs. Semere T Habtemariam

·       Zewge Fanta vs. Ayalsew


But before commenting on the pro and cons among and between these groups of individual’s opinions and value judgment, I have to re-post (I might add at the time that a couple of webmasters declined to post it) the following article that I have written almost ten years ago. I am forwarding it to be posted again hoping that will educate my readers to catch up with the current discussion and debate about Eritrea and Ethiopia.



AS IS, here is the article


By Wolde Tewolde

13 January 2001


A little bit of history

My knowledge of ancient and medieval history on Eritrea, written or oral, has been very limited, but I have witnessed an era of history between the end of Italian colonialism and the beginning of the Millennium. Here is the summary.


For 1 month (2001-?), Eritreans are pleading for reconciliation/democratization

For 2 years  (1998-00), Eritreans were fighting for Territorial Demarcation

For 7 years  (1991-98), Eritreans were muddling for Economic Reconstruction

For 17 years (1974-91), Eritreans were seeking for self-determination, Democracy and Socialism

For 12 years (1962-74), Eritreans were combating Ethiopian annexation

For 10 years (1952-62) Eritreans were opposing UN Federal arrangement

For 11 years (1941-52), Eritreans were fighting against British Administration

For 51 years (1890-1941), Eritreans were fighting against Italian colonialism


All in all Eritreans have waged battles and wars for 110 years. But the most prominent armed guerrilla war went unabated for 30 years (1961-1991) thanks to Awate’s single bullet. It was an era of mission and vision but not of value.


B-13 group has motivated me to write. Although their analysis of the Eritrean condition was fairly accurate, B-13’s characterization of the situation as ‘national crisis’ was incorrect and hence their call for national unity and reconciliation were inappropriately alarming and perhaps deceptive. Nevertheless, one has to give them credit for speaking out loud.


If we accept that Eritreans struggled against Italian Colonialism, British Administration, self-rule, Ethiopian oppression and Tigrean mass deportation for over a century, when was the real national crisis? Was it at the beginning, the middle or the end? I leave this to the reader. We cannot discount the fact that TPLF or EPRDF however you want to call them have endorsed the Referendum for Eritrean Independence. The only thing that we are unable to ascertain is whether the battle at Badme were meant to be as a jumpstart for TPLF’s hidden agenda or simply a test of the waters by the PFDJ for asserting their power on the ground. This will definitely take time to find out. However we take it Eritreans, under no circumstance, were in a national crisis at the end of 1st Millennium. B-13’s characterization as ‘national crisis’ was totally wrong and misleading. B-13 demanded for national debate, and it is a common sense that there should be no national debate during such crisis. May be this is a la Eritrean academicians and medical doctors, I do not know. I am hoping now that B-13 will continue to demand a National debate and not back off from their previous demand.


I have promised my readers to air my thoughts and opinions on each of the three issues.


Out of the eight topical issues and concerns raised by the B-13, only three deserve proper attention for public debate. These are the followings:

  1. National Unity and Reconciliation
  2. Collective Leadership and
  3. The Constitution


For this month, I am dealing with the first issue of unity and reconciliation.


NUR (National Unity and Reconciliation)

In my article of 13 December 2000, I have indicated that National Unity for Eritreans was achieved with the culmination of a National War that was fought not only at Badme but also in all Fronts. The war was perceived as a reversal from the incorrect stand by the TPLF organizational theory of Ethiopian colonialism. The TPLF has also blurred the correct stand of self-determination as proposed by the Revolutionary party of Ethiopians and Eritreans with that of their colonial theory. An additional factor, which blurred the rationale for war between the EPLF and TPLF, was that both organizations proclaimed as Marxists determined to fight Imperialism both that of the United States and the Soviet Union. The real war between Eritrea and Ethiopia under these ‘Liberators’ liberation was fought for confusion (hidden agenda). At best the TPLF with the Ad whites at the helm desperately desired to gain access to the Red Sea and make Ethiopia a “prosperous country” or at worst to bring down the Ham knights who want to keep Eritreans at a “poverty level”. Who knows may be the Ad whites thought that the Ham knights were Italians to be given lessons after 115 years? I do not know. Just the same, for the majority of Ethiopians the War was fought for their National flag (rainbow) and for their ethnic identity (ED). Access to the Red Sea was not an issue for the majority of Ethiopians.


EPLF’s wars against Yemen, Djibouti, Sudan and Ethiopia were fought not for acquisition of lands but perhaps for an assertion of national colonial independence. These small wars were the real tests for Independence of Eritrea from invaders (socialists), intruders (proponents of democracies) or from colonizers (imperialists) all mixed up in a bug. Just the same, for the majority of Eritreans, the Red Sea and the city of Asmara symbolized not only their survival but also as their national identity. As a result the identical issue of pride and security was finally sealed with the accommodation of thousands of mass deported of Eritrean origin from all over Ethiopia. National unity of a different kind unparalleled in their history was achieved.


If the unity of purpose was achieved, why then B-13 and others are asking for a unity and reconciliation? Really where is the confusion coming from? As indicated in the brief history of struggle, most Eritreans had a straightforward kind of methodology of combat with the single exception of the future that is understandable. The answer lies, I believe, between the years of 1974-1991. This was the time when Eritreans and Ethiopians were floundering for NDS (Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism). If this is so we need a re-examination of the class struggle, democracy and capitalism.


It is obvious that people can be confused with so many fundamental issues for so many years and it is also understandable for many people to blame one another and demand for an immediate Reconciliation because in their minds and hearts, reconciliation is synonymous with peace. Once the fuzzy questions of NDS (Nationalism, Democracies and Socialism) are finally cleared to the majority of Eritreans and Ethiopians, prescription will be simple. Why do we need reconciliation, will reconciliation bring peace? The answer probably is no.


What is reconciliation anyway?

The world is a better place without confrontation but whenever confrontation arises reconciliation is the solution. Most nations and individuals believe it is better to gain from stability rather than from chaos. What is reconciliation then? Reconciliation follows confrontation. As pointed earlier, Eritrean organizations were involved in recruiting their members by a) by educating b) by tricking and c) by threatening. I do not have facts and figures as to how many Eritreans were educated for what they were fighting for, how many were cheated and how many were threatened to join. Whatever has happened, the nationalists got what they wanted. That means that they are automatically reconciled with the nation of Eritrea (The authorities prefer to call it a State, do not ask me why). On the other hand, some so-called old enemies were allowed to enter Asmara freely without any reprimand. At least, I have not heard of no one who was not welcomed or put into prison because he/she visited his/her native land. But on the other, I have heard tons of stories about others who refused to follow EPLF’s line of ideology, market and religious practice, to say the least, who were harassed.


Is it the wrong say to oppose petitioning, reconciliation, fighting or democratization? What is the right way?

Awate opted for an armed struggle and it was clearly to redress the annexation by Ethiopia. This took a little over 40 years. The irony is that fortunately or unfortunately, EPLF has carried out ELF’s mission of Independence from colonization and annexation (Haa’rnet). Simultaneously, the group of C-13 of Cairo had initiated a professed dream of struggle for Eritrean peace, democracy, and Independence. Fighting and Independence go hand in hand as we saw in C-13’s vision and Awate’s mission.


What about Democracy and Justice?

PFDJ has the correct name for pursuing the issues of democracy and justice. So far, the Party or the Organization has not lived up to its true name, as it is neither involved in democratizing nor in creating social justice. The PFDJ is reportedly involved in a sort of business venture neither entrenched in private nor in social nature but in a mixed sort of economy (I do not understand what it means for today’s world). Anyhow Democracy and Justice should go hand in hand. EPLF has gun in one hand and democracy and/or justice in the other.


What about Reconciliation and Democratization?

These two concepts are interchangeable. The lack of understanding democratization process will leave us for reconciliation option only. Followings are some samples why reconciliation is essential and urgent.

  1.’s mission statement calls for “the reconciliation between the past and present”.
  2. Gebre Fesshazion: the Reconciliation theory and the Eritrean culture of debate of December 01, 2000 write, as “The Eritreans are the most unified people in the continent”. Gebre continued to argue, “Nowadays the issue of democracy is the hot spot among Eritreans in the Diaspora. No one disagree about it; but everyone can be different about the time of its implementation. Eritrea does not need reconciliation”. Again Gebre clearly confuses politics with policy issues.
  3. Men hot Woldemariam in his articles of Reconciliation and National unity, calls reconciliation a vital term in Eritrean politics.


What about petitioning and crisis management?

When the so-called national crisis emerged, B-13 presented rather E-mailed their petition and demanded for a crisis management. These two concepts let alone to be interchangeable; they do not go hand in hand. By the way, how many of those 13 in Cairo or in Berlin were Democrats, Independents or Socialists? Some on should figure it out. But after 1991, there was no discussion of about Democracy, Socialism not even about the nature of capitalism. Everyone was for grubbing material wealth at any cost.


A little bit of advice for all Eritreans

On the one hand, compassionate and informed people whether Ethiopians or foreigners of any country admire the tenancy and endurance of the Eritrean people. While on the other, mean and uninformed Ethiopians and foreigners will loathe your perseverance and desire for liberty and equality. But above all, there are real people who wonder when the EERA (Eritrean Educated, Refugee and Asylee) will come to an end. An acquaintance of mine from the Jewish Community told me to be imperfect. He said that Christ was perfect and that was why he was crucified. Human beings can only be in excellence. God may be “slow to anger and yet quick to forgive.” Thing about this wisdom.


What do we need for final solution? I can present three areas of concern for discussion

  2. MAN
  3. WRT


The above acronyms will be discussed in future articles.


Menhot named our situation as “collective insanity” I prefer to call it “collective ignorance”. I know many readers rather “hearer” will be offended, but take it easy, the world is much simpler than the previous full century.


According to the writer, quoting from a document ‘Nehanan Alamenan” – translated as “our objectives and we” might have put us in the wrong direction. Obviously, if it says we, then it doe not represent the Eritrean people (unless he is an emperor), it implies a section of the population.


I have not read the said document and I am not interested to read it. It sounds as a Machiavellian type of governance. Mr. Woldemariam pleads for reconciliation a la Mandela type. Both are not feasible. Machiavellian is buried for good by the Information Age. Mandela’s case is a case of race and discrimination. Eritren liberation is liberation from fear of retribution and a desire to share power. What are needed are ‘a la Democracia’, ‘a la Democracia’, and ‘a la Democracia’. What is Democracy? Every one of us should study and understand its history, concept and application. It is not enough to repeat the word.


As an opposition Party, ELF has a daunting task ahead for its members. First and foremost, they should regroup or reorganize and be formidable political party. I believe there are there main reasons for the ELF to become an opposition not a loyalist party.

  1. ELF was the victims of aggression
  2. It can redress what has been done by EPLF and
  3. ELF members can feel elevated that they were part of the long struggle for national independence and now they can be part of the reconstruction effort.


But before anything else, ELF should democratize itself internally. For without justice and democratization, ther is Eritrea without Eritreans.



We have to equate democracy building with reconciliation. If Eritreans don’t want democracy, then they do not need reconciliation. But I know many want reconciliation. So stop that nonsense that democracy is not for Eritrea.


Democratization and democracies is the solution for Eritreans and its neighbor. Young people can learn from mistakes. Old people like myself do not seem to be learning from past failures.

Eritreans and Ethiopians should do the following: –

  1. Avoid the culture of blaming
  2. Stop giving excuses for everything
  3. Avoid negative attitudes


To be continued …with Commentary


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