The Trouble With Eritrea

The Trouble With Eritrea (revised edition) Amanuel Sahle Some countries are very unlucky to find themselves on the wrong side of the globe. Poland had been one of these in the past with Austria and Russia mauling it

The Trouble With Eritrea

(revised edition)

Amanuel Sahle

Some countries are very unlucky to find themselves on the wrong side of the globe. Poland had been one of these in the past with Austria and Russia mauling it from time to time. The nightmare happened one day and this country, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the map without a trace.


And then there was this friend of mine from Armenia who always liked to say that the problem with his country was that it happened to be there where it shouldn’t have been in the first place. Neighboring bullies enjoyed pounding it from time to time, and when this didn’t satisfy them, they annexed it ‘for its own safety’.

With every geopolitical shift in this world, and with every madness that afflict world leaders, there are certain nations that suffer so much from their cunning and power-hungry neighbors that they lose confidence in themselves and end up by being treated as ‘special cases’ by political scholars and analysts.

Eritrea is a case in point. A limited edition of sorts. Of all the African countries, it was picked out to become the first colony of a newly created Italy and then of fascist Italian hordes who never thought it improper to change alliances when they saw it fit. They treated Eritreans as cannon fodder and took them by train and warships to fight against other downtrodden Africans like them. And when they left, they said arrivederci! And never cared to see how the country fared after them.


One day I asked an Italian officer in the Embassy why the Italians in general never seemed to bother at all about Eritrean independence all throughout the armed struggle for liberation. His answer was that post-Fascist Italy was not responsible for anything that took place during the Fascist regime which meddled with Eritrea’s affairs. The meaning is that if Eritrea needed any explanation, it had to ask Mussolini and his followers by raising them from the dead. In brief, what the officer wanted to say was: for heaven’s sake, can’t you see we are busy talking with the rich and more populous Ethiopia. Mannagia!


While Somalia and Libya (both Italian colonies) got their independence right after WWII, Eritrea was made to wait. While France and Britain maintained close relationships with their former colonies, Italy sided with Ethiopia to the end. Signor Storelli, the Italian Consul in Asmara, was the first to get arrested for his close cooperation with the Derg when the EPLF entered Asmara. Now our own leader is doing efficiently what the Italians did albeit in his own meda way.

Then came along the Brits who fought not to liberate Eritreans from Italy but to end the embarrassing War once and for all time. They didn’t fight for us, as they unashamedly admitted. English and cunning  as they were through and through, they found it only proper to leave a country divided and at war with itself. We are now witnessing the effects of their evil colonial policies in the form of skirmishes, border disputes and pitched battles all over the world.

While Sudan had  its Mahdi, Somalia its Mad Mullah and Egypt its Nasser, Eritrea failed to produce charismatic figures that could make colonialists or neocolonialists to think twice before trying to sett up their deception. Isaias was not Che Guevera nor was he Ho Chi Minh. Could it be that we had never been a nation-state to start with? Could it be that the political centrifugal forces in Eritrea were stronger than the centripetal forces partly due to the fact that we are minorities in our own land, the majority living across the borders?!

Eritrea was again unlucky to share borders with a country that claims to have 3000 years of history behind it! With a king anointed by God and a policy of aggrandizement that puzzled even the colonialists themselves, Eritrea was simply a sitting duck for the grabs. Biblical parallels were drawn to lure, entice and cheat. Eritrea was the lost daughter. The Mereb River was the River Jordan par excellence. The monarch was the mystic Father. Who knows, maybe we were, after all, the lost tribe of Israel. Wasn’t the king the Conquering Lion from the tribe of Judah? And now, history seems to be repeating itself in a new version with some spritual elemtns as extra ingredients!


Now let us have a quick glance at Eritreans. According to PFDJ, we are composed of nine ethnic groups. Wait a minute! Why not ten? Isn’t the PFDJ itself an ethnic group with its own party dialect and common political heritage which seems to have suddenly mastered the art of selling ports and borders to the highest bidder? But let’s for the moment keep it at nine. That’s a lucky number, you know!

Most of our ethnic groups have their roots across the border. Do you know that some of us are minorities? The Affars, the Tigrinyas, the Bilin, the Rashaida, are minorities in Eritrea with the majority living across the border. Even religiously, we are minorities, with the majority (Orthodox Christians and Sunni Moslems) living across the border, in Ethiopia and Sudan respectively. Don’t get nervous yet!

With such geographical and social formation, it is only too natural for a centrifugal force to be created pulling the Highland Christians and Lowland Moslems towards their ethnic brothers and coreligionists in Ethiopia and the Sudan respectively. Anyway, we fought against such forces and we won! And we have a united Eritrea, one nation under the sun!! shame on you, Medemerites!!

Then along came the Derg who chose Marxism over nationalism in order to look more progressive and to appear as part of the global class struggle. If Eritrea, the lost daughter, had been reluctant to join her father, the monarch, in the past, then maybe it was now ready to join her uncle in the Ethiopian proletariat movement led by Colonel Mengistu. No way! But just keep watching lest things sneak from the rear and pounce on us!!

We had to cope with successive colonial masters who, until the advent of the Italians, ruled only small parts of the country and left the rest to live in total confusion, and in perpetual doubt, with its various warlords creating and breaking allegiances as they saw fit. These pre-Italian masters never succeeded in building a unified Eritrea and instead sowed the seeds of mistrust in the various regional powers in the country. The mistrust continues.
And with the rise of PFDJ, it is being used for political ends.

What kind of people has such a country produced in the end? Some say that we are docile, even too docile at times and too slow to ask for our rights. Not only that, we don’t even know our rights. I am sure that all the bizarre geopolitical and social developments mentioned above did help to shape our character and mental disposition.

We are born fighters, but we do it mostly within ourselves than against a common enemy. We are freedom lovers but seem to find it difficult to distinguish between personal freedom and political freedom. We have a culture of organization and have our own written customary laws and ordinances, yet we always looked for someone to dictate us to do things that we wouldn’t do if we had just been left alone.

And finally we had to listen to a dictator instead of to common sense to get our independence. A well organized group with a Psycho leader, succeeded in the end to rout the enemy and bring the promised independence where other, less despotic, groups failed. Only the one who acted like an invader could succeed. Strange, isn’t it? But the consequence is that he keeps you as an invaded people!

I always say to myself whether successive colonial encounters had not emasculated the Eritrean people and made them what they are at the moment: immune to dictatorship or injustices as practiced only by colonial overlords in the past. And when you see Eritreans in the Diaspora milling about with placards carrying the words: ISSAIAS IS OUR HERO, (I saw this in Sweden in a demonstration held by PFDJ sympathizers), you wonder if deep inside we are not through and through masochists.

There is a proverb in our country which goes almost like this: kabti kufu zghebruka, kufu zmhruka (evil people do not only mistreat you, but teach you to do that to others as well). Now let’s look again at the successive colonizers who arrived in Eritrea. They one and all showed us how to feel superior to others who are weaker than us. They taught us timkihti (arrogance, pride, conceit, superciliousness). They left behind a pattern of timkhti for the next ‘invader’ to emulate. They left a mould or a template to be used by the next ruler in line. The last in line was the EPLF-cum-PFDJ. Now the Timkihti seems to enter its last phase!


When the Higdefite arrived, they copied the ‘invaders’ mentality and went about oppressing and terrorizing their own people. They have even surpassed the colonialists in many aspects. That’s why some Eritreans openly say that it was better in the days of the Derg! That could also be partly the reason for the exagerated and humiliating koboro performances during the recent theatrical visits and ceremonies that took place before our very eyes in our proud land by accomplshed actors!!

We cannot of course call Isaias and his accomplices real invaders. But even if they did not invade the land literally or physically, they have invaded our privacy, our personal freedom, our rights, and our self-esteem! Now they are bargaining to sell us unashamedly and in broad daylight!!

Now a bit about timkihti. When the Ethiopians were in Eritrea, they wanted everybody to speak in Amharic. Anyone who spoke the king’s language haltingly was not pure Ethiopian. Anyone who couldn’t speak it at all was a suspect. And anyone who preferred his own language to it was downright traitor!


We haven’t reached that stage yet, but from the looks of it, one is persuaded to see similar patterns in today’s Eritrea. Msana hoye zeybele kabana yifele. I hope things will get remedied soon. Watch out for patterns!

With all the odds against it, Eritrea could at least produce sons and daughters who are ready to fight for it, to give it its rightful place in the community of nations. We are now holding demonstrations and rallies all over the world  and are getting organized to face the ‘virus’ that is killing our country.


But we should remember one thing. New ailments require new healing methods. We should try to make a thorough diagnosis of the country and subscribe the most effective medicine. We should bring out all the dirty laundry and the skeletons from the closet. Some of it may prove to be shocking or embarrassing, but we had to look the problem straight in the eye just the same.

Eritrea has become a case due to its geographical position and its long encounter with atypical political and social situations and developments.

The legacy of successive colonialism and chain of injustices coupled with the ever-changing chances and fortunes of this world which alas was a bit unfair to our country, had succeeded to produce a people called Eritreans seemingly undecided and a bit confused about the future of their own country.

Whether we like it or not, the cruel drama has been played out and I hope that we have learned a lot from it. The outcome is laid bare before us to see at present. A bit of determination and an open mind can open the tortuous path that can lead to that freedom that we have never had the chance to enjoy fully.

Review overview
  • Hagherawi September 16, 2018

    “We should bring out all the dirty laundry and the skeletons from the closet. Some of it may prove to be shocking or embarrassing, but we had to look the problem straight in the eye just the same.”

    A. Sahle

    Much of the problems Eritrea is suffering from, is self inflicted.
    The day we decide to look inside our own home, before addressing any external issue, half of the cure for our ills will be in our hands..
    Let’s admit it:
    We created our own enemy. Even those who hate him are still systematically defending his system. The majority strongly defended the regime till few years ago, ferociously.
    We still act as if we are from different countries, while we are on the same boat, doomed to face the same fate.
    We wait until it happens to each of us, then complain, as if the regime is bad from that moment.
    We hate the dictator, but we blieve in his political ideology. We use his tools to deal with each other.
    We don’t tolerate differences. We tend to take those who disagree with us, as enemies.
    We think we can achieve our aims alone. It’s totally absurd that even a tiny group struggles for self preservation. We fear melting down in large groups.
    We fear “the other”, despite claims to embrace diversity in all its social forms. Mistrust is the enemy from within.

    “Ognuno à i capi che si merita”.

    The list can grow for several pages.

  • Tsehaye September 16, 2018

    Dear Amaniel,

    I used to read your old articles with earnest, but not these days. The above article has መእተዊ እምበር መውጽኢ የብላን። It zigzags endlessly like a maze. By the way, the views expressed in your article are the views of the myopic elites. The Eritrean people are a lot more than the people you see in the social media and chat rooms. Do you think that the peasants of Anseba, Qohain, Dembelas, Moraguz, Tserona, etc. share your views?

    For your information, medemer does not have a mathematical definition or sense. It is a poletical term. It is accommodation, it is peaceful living, and it abhores chaos and factionalism.

  • Sol September 16, 2018

    Our problem is not in what medemer is, our problem is the maniac dictator who is gambling on the existence of our country. In 1982, When he was in need to get rid of ELF he allied with Woyane and rewarded them by giving them Bademe and when he became upset with Woyane in 1998 he waged war on Woyane and now he is prostituting with Amhra and Oromo to get rid of his x-allies the woyane and only God knows what the price will be this time.

    • Hagherawi September 16, 2018

      Tsehaye (Teclay) is in the service of his majesty DIA the brute.
      He is here to confuse, discourage and frustrate.
      He is doing his job with dedication till his master is no more.
      Then one fine day, when all Eritreans will celebrate the demise of the monster, he will disappear from this forum. He will probably join the victors and look for another well paying job.

      • Tsehaye September 16, 2018

        Dear Hagherawi,

        FYI Tsehaye is not Teclay. ክንዲ ኣያኻ ተኽላይ ድኣ ኣበይ ክንረኽቦ😊. Please show some civility when you express your viewpoint. Is there any reason why you have decided to remain anonymous? I am curious.

        • memhir September 17, 2018


          I agree with you that you do not sound like Teclay. However, you seemed to approve this “medemer” and Hagherawi was responding to that..
          Secondly, why do you think “Hagherawi” is anonymous but “Tsehaye” is not?

          • Tsehaye September 17, 2018

            Dear Memhir,

            You are not acting honest. You know Hagherawi is not his real name. If he had used the name Tesfay or Gebretatiyos, I would not have asked him even if his real name is different. Hagherawi and Memhir are not, and that is not the way to fight the PFDJ regime. You guys are nothing but a bunch of cowards. And let me tell you a secret: if you want to know my name is real or fake, ask the PFDJ mafia for conformation.

  • Wedi Hagher September 17, 2018

    “if you want to know my name is real or fake, ask the PFDJ mafia for conformation.”

    Tsehaye (the peasant’s son).
    aka Teclay