Part II - The Conveyor Belt of Death in Eritrea

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 18:12 Yosief Ghebrehiwet



The noose untangled itself

in total abandon,

aching to be where she had been;

with its legs spread apart

in pangs of birth.



Currently, tens of thousands of prisoners are to be found in the ever-proliferating prisons and concentration camps scattered all over Eritrea. Out of these, thousands have never been heard from since the day of their imprisonment. Nobody knows for sure how many of them are still alive. But if the case of the journalists and senior government officials is any indication, many of whom have been confirmed dead, we cannot hope for anything better. In fact, given the harsh treatment these “common” prisoners receive, we should expect worse. In any case, the government never announces the death of its prisoners to their families; it simply dumps their bodies in unmarked graves. That is to say, the conveyor belt of death in Eritrea is now working efficiently under the cover of darkness.

Whenever I see the issue of imprisoned senior members of government or of imprisoned journalists highlighted by the opposition, I have this ambivalent attitude towards it. On the one hand, I feel that it is great that their plight is being brought to the attention of the world. On the other hand, I resent the fact that they have become the main face of imprisoned Eritrea while the realty is totally different. The overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands condemned to prison life are there for no political reason. They are farmers, army deserters, conscription evaders, parents of evaders and deserters, religious adherents, etc. Their “transgressions” are rarely political in nature. Disproportionately focusing on higher dignitaries, in fact, gives the wrong impression that the Eritrean case is of the regular authoritarian kind. The abnormality of the Eritrean condition, one that parallels North Korea’s, can only be grasped by emphasizing what happens to the least harmful section of the society: the peasants, the merchants, the parents, the women, the students, the priests, etc. Such an all-out assault on the whole society could only take place in a totalitarian state.

In Part I, I have described how Shaebia’s conveyor belt of death works, but confining myself to the working of the organization itself. This posting is meant to explore the roles the different sections of the population have been playing in supporting, accommodating and facilitating this conveyor belt of death – some actively, some passively, some willingly, some self-deceptively …

The contributing hands

As in a long assembly line, the contributing hands in the conveyor belt of death in Eritrea are many. But unlike those working in an assembly line in a factory, many of those who actively contribute to the conveyor belt of death may not be aware of the exact nature of the final product – that is, the full consequences of their acts. A factory hand in a company that makes spare parts of a car, even as he works only on one tiny aspect of this production, knows that the final product will be a car. No such exactitude is expected in the conveyor belt of death. For instance, a German citizen who collaborated with the Nazis in exposing the identity of a Jew might not know that the victim would end up in a gas oven, even though he would be somewhat aware of some kind of misfortune – imprisonment, hard labor or life in a ghetto – would be the victim’s lot.

The interesting cases though are of those who are aware that something terrible is going on but don’t want to further know the details that verifies their suspicion. They deliberately build a wall to deflect any specific information that may come from outside along their way that would potentially disturb their conscience. For instance, a statistician who works with numbers provided to him by the government that helps it in building more prisons, and works diligently on it, takes solace in the fact that he is merely dealing with numbers only and that he is not directly involved in the daily violence needed to keep such an institution. Or, as in the case of the Kunama massacre, a cameraman who enthusiastically does his best to come up with a convincing drama might not fully know the end result of his role.

But the worst ones are those who are well aware of the nature of their involvement but who nevertheless justify it by rationalizing the crime as serving a higher purpose. The usual excuses given are the nation’s “sovereignty”, “unity”, “territorial integrity”, etc. in the name of these ill defined goals, even the most gentle creatures are willing to tolerate or support horrendous crimes.

None of them could escape guilt: some through active collaboration, some through willful ignorance and some through self-deceptive rationalization.

In the Kunama case, many disparate groups are involved in the massacre of innocent citizens. They include: those who were first-hand directly involved in the very act of the massacre, from the planners at the top to the executioners at the bottom; the general population whose propensity to give the regime the benefit of the doubt, especially when it invokes the “sovereignty of the nation”; those who are only capable of displaying selective outrage, by reserving their concern to the plight of their own kind only; the apologists who readily provide cover to the regime whenever its crimes are exposed, thus encouraging it to do more of the same; those who always try to equalize pain in the name of “unity”, thus trivializing the tragedy that happens to a particular population group; and the mining companies which have become the main motivation for the government’s targeting entire population groups for “security” reasons.

In exploring the various collaborative tasks, I will invoke a phenomenon I have used before – “correction at the bottom” – to highlight how the regime always “corrects” its mistakes at the expense of those at the bottom and how many of us, some willingly and some inadvertently, some actively and some passively, help it in this sinister correction process.

Correction at the bottom

All totalitarian leaders have a godly aspiration: to be found right in whatever they do. Remember that the catch phrase is not “to do the right thing” but “to be found doing the right thing”. What is important to them is not to strive to do the right thing but for their subjects to find them doing right in whatever they do. This, as an observation, is obvious and banal. What is interesting is the extent to which they and their supporters go for them to be found never in the wrong. On this subject matter, in an article that I wrote in 2003 (“Correction at the Bottom”), I said:

“What is most gruesome about this convoluted correction though is WHERE it is supposed to take place: in the culture of idol-worshippers, whenever a blunder takes at the top, the correction has to be undertaken at the bottom. At no time should the dictator be told to correct his mistake; instead, the consequences of his blunder (which will negatively show up in the lives of the people) will have to be interpreted in such a way as to turn the blunder into a virtue. This doesn't simply mean a semantic correction at the ‘interpretation’ level only; it goes way beyond that. It often requires a draconian reconfiguration at the bottom, where the masses are asked to take the slack at the top in terms of horrendous sacrifices in their daily lives.”

To elucidate on the phenomenon of the Orwellian “correction at the bottom”, in the same article, I referred to a chilling story related by Mehari Yohannes [the prison guard who helped the university student leader, Semere Kesete, escape] in an interview given at (“An Interview with Mehari Yohannes”, March 05, 2003) about a hashed scandal involving a senior government official.

When the interviewer asks Mehari, “But isn't somebody ultimately responsible for the system?” [the interviewer was referring to the system responsible for the inexplicable jailing procedures in Eritrea], here is how he relates the story:

“It is the system and the system protects its own. For example, [Name deleted, senior member of the government] impregnated his maid. When she brought it to his attention, he threatened her that if she publicized what he did, she would be disappeared. The girl committed suicide. People close to her, who were in a position to know, were arrested for eight months.”

Then I went on to comment:

“What is strange about this story is that even though the senior official didn't admit his crime, he did believe that a mistake has been done, but not by himself. The mistake had to be located outside of himself, out there with the people who had witnessed it all. So a correction was called for to rectify the injustice that had been done to him by people who were so criminally negligent as to be close enough to the victim to end up being familiar with the scandal!

“The correction had this simple structural instruction in it: rearrange the whole context in which the crime had taken place in such a way that in the newly emergent context the crime would be nowhere to be found - it would simply disappear from the scene! If this miraculous disappearance required the jailing of a few innocent individuals, so be it. Thus, one crime at the top - a senior official's crime - would have to be corrected by tampering at the bottom - at the expense of innocent, disenfranchised bystanders.”

This story is symptomatic of the workings of Shaebia. This organization, in its lifespan of about four decades, had never admitted even a single mistake; Isaias just happens to be the ultimate embodiment of this culture of hubris and denial. This correction at the bottom is to be seen at work in almost at every policy the government uses. For instance, if we replace the “senior member of the government” with Isaias and the maid with the peasants, we could easily see how the correction at the bottom in the self-induced famine that is unfolding now in Eritrea. Isaias is literally preparing the peasants for “disappearance” to ensure his regime’s political survival.

According to Isaias, the problem of the recent famine in Eritrea is not with him, but with the people. He refuses to admit that his self-reliance policy, with its misguided national service, land expropriation, market monopolization and food aid (or NGO) policies, is mainly to be blamed. With most of the nation’s labor force tied up in the national service, with the most fertile lands grabbed by the government, with farmers’ markets mostly abolished, and with NGOs expelled and food aid rejected, the peasants had nowhere to go but face starvation. But the despot of Asmara doesn’t admit that his misguided self- reliance policy has come to a spectacular failure. Instead, he is seeking “correction” among the very people victimized by that policy.

That is why, lately, Isaias has been accusing the people of excessive eating, even to the point of proposing how many calories they should consume, calling them pampered. And, what is more, he has been accusing peasants of hoarding their food products. These words are the first steps in demonizing the very people he wants to hold accountable for the human cost that the famine will surely exact in the near future. Having thus set the stage for correction at the bottom, he is now taking draconian measures that hugely impact the peasants in various negative ways: (a) he has denied them access to any free market where they could sell their products; (b) he is forcing them to sell their “excess” food products at very low prices to the government; (c) and in many cases, he has turned into outright robbery, where the peasants are asked to hand over their food products at gun point. But the most horrendous price that the peasants will be made to pay will be in body counts – as it was in the case of the unfortunate maid. So the disastrous failure of his self-reliance policy has to be corrected at the bottom. The peasants have to pay dearly twice: first, as the direct victims of the misguided self-reliance policy; and, second, as the direct victims of the process taken to correct the failures of that policy.

In my artile “Correction at the Bottom”, I used a different event to explain the “correction” phenomenon: the Badme blunder. Once Isaias came to realize that he was going nowhere with his Badme misadventure, he knew that a correction was direly needed. But, characteristically, this correction was to be sought among the masses that had already paid a huge sacrifice for his blunder. This correction that started soon after the war is still going on. Almost everything that have been undertaken since then – from extended military service to the systematic destruction of higher learning – have been done with that “correction” in mind.

So is it with the case of the Kunama massacre at Mai-Dima. All that we have to do is replace the “senior member of the government” for another group – Major General Omer Tewil, Major Tekleberhan Hagos and Minister of Information Ali Abdu – and the maid with the massacred Kunama, to see how the correction at the bottom worked in this case. This is what I wrote in Part I:

“In early 2007, in EriTv, 12 Kunamas were shown confessing the crimes they committed against the nation: as part of their subversive job as ‘Woyanie agents’, that they were the ones who had been planting landmines in the Gash-Barka region. And as an incontrovertible proof to that, they led the authorities, with pin-pointed precision, to those locations where they had those mines planted. And not to leave the slightest bit of doubt in the minds of the public, the land mines planted by these ‘terrorists’ were dug up for everyone to see. What the Eritrean public didn’t know then was that this was an elaborate drama staged by the Ministry of Information for propaganda purposes: to demonize the Ethiopian Government in the eyes of the Eritrean public. As the unsuspecting public watched this drama unfold in EriTv, Shaebia officials were concurrently plotting of how to eliminate the very actors involved in the drama …”

We can see that Shaebia was not only anticipating problems with its plan, but also planning how exactly the correction should go:

“We have seen how this deceptive game didn’t simply end in the show of theatrics in EriTv, that by itself horrible as it might have been; the logic that necessitated this show also demanded, as a ‘sacrifice’ to be paid, the massacre of those 12 Kunamas involved in the theatrics. For the ‘fact’ staged in EriTv to remain a fact long after that in the people’s memories, this perverse logic demanded that the witnesses who had seen the inner workings of Shaebia’s propaganda machine at its best should never be let to see another daylight to tell about it; any evidence that would mar the image of Shaebia in the future should be wiped off meticulously, with no trace left behind. The only way Shaebia could do that was by quickly eliminating those ‘actors’ that doubled as witnesses to their very own acts. Consequently, as soon as their acting days were over, the Kunamas were mass poisoned to death and buried in holes that they were made to dig at a prison compound in Mai Dima …”

Here you have it: the victims victimized trice over for the crimes committed by their victimizers. First, the Kunama land in general was to be targeted with such intensity because of Isaias’ Badme blunder – with hundreds detained, many of whom ended up murdered. Second, they were showcased as traitors to the Eritrean masses just to score a political point against Ethiopia – still part of the correction process for the Badme blunder. This unjustified vilification of the Kunama has been going on from the days of Jebha up to now. And, third, they had to be massacred to make the showcasing leak-proof. Notice how one crime demands a further crime as its correction, with all the corrections conducted at the bottom.

But all these corrections couldn’t have taken place without active and passive collaboration from different sectors of the Eritrean public, both in the mainland and Diaspora. So let’s look at these roles.

(1) In the name of martyrs

Let me now go back to the story told by Mehari Yohannes in the interview I referred to above to highlight the phenomenon of “correction at the bottom”, with the larger role of the public in accommodating such crimes in mind. Let me quote him again:

“It is the system and the system protects its own. For example, [Name deleted, senior member of the government] impregnated his maid. When she brought it to his attention, he threatened her that if she publicized what he did, she would be disappeared. The girl committed suicide. People close to her, who were in a position to know, were arrested for eight months.” (bold emphasis mine)

If the unfortunate maid had chosen to speak up instead of committing suicide, there is no doubt that the senior official wouldn’t have hesitated to make her disappear. By killing herself, she eliminated two pieces of evidence that would have incriminated him, if not in the eyes of Shaebia’s law, at least in the eyes of the public: herself and her unborn child. Luckily for this thug, the maid eliminated herself and her child from the crime scene. Now all he had to do was deal with a minor nuisance – that of silencing the witnesses – and “justice”, as conceived by Shaebia, would be made to prevail.

You, as a reader, might say, “Big deal! Why would the crime of a single senior official be made to reflect on a whole organization, the PFDJ?” Well, think again! At the time I wrote the article (in 2003), I had no way of knowing the identity of this senior official; for, in the interview, the name of this criminal was withheld by the Awate Team that did the interviewing for reasons unknown to me. The Team self-consciously inserted in the interview in parentheses, “Name deleted, senior member of the government”. Five years later after I wrote my article though, in an incidental conversation with a fellow Eritrean, I belatedly came to discover the identity of this criminal: none other than the late Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Said Abdullah! Now, in retrospect, my article and the theme of “correction at the bottom” it tried to convey makes more sense because the contrast between the second powerful man in the nation and a poor maid is by far greater than that between an anonymous senior official and a poor maid.

What is more tragic is that this despicable character, after his death, was eulogized even by opposition websites who were beholden to his “teghadalay credentials”. Even the reserved ones were “respectful” and made sure that nothing negative would be said at the time of his death. This is a classical case where “martyrdom” tramps justice. Nobody would stand for that poor maid who was found hanging in Ali Said’s compound, nor for the poor child that died within her, nor for those who were close to her who had to face eight months of prison simply because they were in a position “to tell” the truth, nor for her poor, grieving mother. Even when her death was mentioned in the interview, it was to highlight the criminal nature of the PFDJ and not as a story deserving attention on its own. By withholding the name of this criminal from the story, her tragic story was pushed to the periphery – outside the eye of the public. In contrast, death instantly turns this criminal into a martyr. And, in our ghedli-polluted mind, who would dare say anything bad about a martyr? But that poor maid was no martyr, and her death, as in many other Eritreans’ cases, just ends up as a footnote that we are told to ignore for the sake of ghedli or for the sake of Eritrea.

Remember that, at Ali Said’s funeral, the whole of Asmara showed up, grateful for the “service” that he had done for the nation. Radio, television, newspapers and Shaebia websites went on incessantly grieving his death for days on end. How about that poor maid? The nation, drunk with virulent nationalism, had no time for small people like her. Most probably, she must have ended up in a poorly dug hole, with few villagers showing up at her funeral. And, what is worse, the Church must have denied her the proper service given to the dead because she had committed suicide. Forsaken both by those from below and from above, her death symbolizes all that has gone wrong in Eritrea. The death of this maid is a metaphor for the death of Eritrea. The nation is literally bleeding to death in its attempt to salvage the legacy of ghedli. The countless deaths that are taking place everywhere in Eritrea are being sanitized to render them acceptable by the ghedli-worshipping public: they are trivialized, denied, hidden, criminalized or rationalized away.

The parallels between the Kunama massacre and the death of the maid are striking. In both instances, when a crime is committed at the top, its correction is sought at the bottom – by committing more crimes. When the late Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Said Abdullah, impregnated his maid, his “correction” was to constantly harass her with the security who were following her wherever she went and to threaten her with “disappearance”, all to keep her mouth shut. And when she committed suicide by hanging herself in his compound, his further “correction” was to imprison all potential witnesses – those who were very close to her – for eight months. In the Kunama case, when an elaborate drama was staged to fool the public, the government was already aware that this grand staging had a structural flaw in it that could only be corrected at the bottom. The massacre at Mai-Dima was conducted to plug that flaw that could potentially unravel the whole scheme, thereby sullying the image of Shaebia.

Ali Said couldn’t have gotten away with it so easily if the system wasn’t looking after its own (as Mehari aptly put it) and, more tragically, if the public hadn’t been so readily willing to forgive and forget all ghedli-affiliated crimes. Asmara is a small city and an event like this doesn’t go unheard by the public for long. It is just that, in the eyes of the public, a crime like what has befallen to the poor maid and her relatives was rendered small by this drunkard thug’s “teghadaly service” to Eritrea. The way the two deaths – that of Ali Said’s and that of the maid’s – were mourned by the public says a lot about the state of the confused mind of a whole nation in search of an elusive identity.

(2) The Shaebia apologists

The apologists are the ones who play the role of providing cover to the regime every time its crime becomes public, which further encourages it to commit more crimes. They accomplish their tasks by minimizing, rationalizing or outright denying the crime. would be a good example of a website that enthusiastically plays such a role.

When hundreds of refugees were forcibly deported to Eritrea from Egypt, the government characteristically staged an elaborate drama, executed by its media, to fool the world. The refugees were shown as being repentant of their old, wrong ways and jubilant of once more seeing their homeland, and the government was portrayed as magnanimously forgiving, receiving its prodigal children with open hands and tears of joy. Testimonies from the returnees to this effect were provided to the public via EriTv, national radio, Shaebia websites and newspapers. Of course, this theatrics was meant to last just few days, until the short memory of the public got diverted by other ever-cropping tragic events and its diplomatic effect has done its work. Soon after, Shaebia carted off the refugees unceremoniously to the notorious concentration camp at Wia’. By then, the Potemkin reception has done its work; now, neither the Eritrean public nor the outside world seems to care where these returnees have ended up. And Egypt goes on with its deportations.

Given what happened to the first batch of refugees forcibly returned from Libya and Malta, not only should we not be surprised by the fate of these refugees, but we ought to have easily anticipated it. Some of those early returnees, who have successfully escaped from the clutches of Shaebia for the second time, have already told us of the horrors that they had been subjected to: years of prison life in a Dahlak island and other prisons, where they were subjected to all kinds of torture. So figuring out the fate of the refugees from Egypt ought to have been no-brainer at all. Yet, the Shaebia-oriented websites – Dehai, Alenaki and others – were actively collaborating in this make-believe theatrics, providing the criminal government the kind of cover it needed to conduct this horrendous crime. The most notorious of them was Meskerem (supposedly an opposition website), which went out of its way to dramatize the return by splashing its website with pictures and statements of “overjoyed refugees” and of the merciful acts of their magnanimous hosts.

This particular Potemkin show staged by the Isaias regime was primarily meant for international consumption: it was meant to provide cover for Egypt, which was at that time facing harsh criticism from humanitarian groups both of Eritrean Diaspora and international types. Under this cover, Egypt could not only feign that the refugees it was deporting had no fear of prosecution in their country, but it was also encouraged to do more of the same. That is exactly what we are witnessing now, where Egypt is at it again, detaining, harassing and deporting refugees. So the hands of those Diaspora collaborators I have mentioned above are as bloody as the tyrant’s, for they are the ones who are providing a civilized face to a barbaric regime so that it could go on committing these horrendous crimes with impunity.

The public exhibition of the deportation of refugees was also meant to be a message of warning to those who intended to flee the nation: not only that they would face grim prospects in their contemplated journey to the West, but also that the hands of Ha’lewa Sewra would reach them wherever they went.

Meskerem played the same vile role in the Kunama case. In a monstrous reversal of roles, the victim was rendered victimizer. The website accused those who came out with the news of the Kunama massacre that they are inciting the Kunamas to commit crimes against the Tigrignas! Suddenly, the concern has to be on the wellbeing of Tigrignas and not the victims of this vile assault. Of course, the website cares neither for the Kunamas nor for the Tigrignas; its main concern is how to protect the image of the Isaias regime. And if that takes such a sick logic where the victim gets demonized, so be it!

(3) Equalizing pain

There are those who want to spread the pain across Eritrea for purely “nationalistic” reasons – all in the name of “Eritrea”. Whenever a specific group is targeted by the regime, they feel very uncomfortable in admitting or in making public such an event because “it will divide us”. According to them, the Mai Dima massacre crime is one that happened to Eritreans first and Kunama second (figure that out if you can!). Thus, they downplay the crime by saying that either that whatever has happened to that particular population group is also happening to all other groups or, more perniciously, that we should never talk about what happens to a particular group since whatever is happening to them can be equally said as happening to Eritreans in general. Even in pain, they want “unity”! This is a good example of how “equality by subtraction” works. According to them, any population group that focuses on its pain can only do so by undermining Eritrean unity. They seem to ignore that however much one tries to equalize pain, no one can ever feel it the same way as those directly subjected to it.

Another good example of how this misguided “we are one people” works [they don’t realize how beholden they are to Shaebia’s “h’ade libi, h‘ade hizbi” mantra] is the way many Eritreans reacted whenever the Kunama are forced to defend themselves. The cry is always the same, “They are killing their own brothers.” Who do you think is killing them? I don’t think Isaias by himself went all the way down to Mai Dima to execute the Kunama; the army was doing his dirty work. After all, it was the army – from a general at the top to rank-and-file soldiers at the bottom – that conducted this gruesome massacre. When the army goes on a killing spree in the Kunama land, the equalizers are asking the victims to make the impossible task of discriminating between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” (both of which have come to kill them) when defending themselves! If the Kunamas, after all the horrors that have happened to them, retaliate by attacking the EDF, who among us would dare point a finger at them? My only worry is that, with the rest of Eritrea watching from the sidelines, they will remain in the eye of the storm of Shaebia’s wrath. With both the lowlanders (despite the bravado of some) and the highlanders in a state of complete resignation and apathy, it would be the Kunama who would take the burnt of such resistance. But, in the end, the choice is entirely theirs.

(4) Selective outrage

Then there are those that have become adept at “selective outrage”; one they reserve to the pain of their own kind only. These are the ones who get “outraged” not because of the deed itself but of who has done it and to whom. In the case of the ongoing Kunama massacre, what matters to them most is the fact that Shaebia did it. Since putting Shaebia into a negative light is all they care, one wonders if they are not indeed happy that such atrocities are taking place, especially if such tragedies don’t come from a people they don’t consider their own. This “selective outrage” has been one of the main sources that sustain the tyrant, allowing him to target one group at a time as the rest remain silent (waiting for their turn or watching gleefully as their misfortune spreads to others).

The unfortunate Kunama, whom neither Shaebia nor Jebha consider them as “their own kind”, or, for that matter, whom neither the lowlanders nor the highlanders consider them as their own kind, find themselves in that difficult position of proving their “Eritreanness” where the very idea of Eritrea has been anything but fair to them. After all, it was the very father of the movement, Idris Awate himself, that conducted an all out assault against the Kunamas. His feudal mind can only think of settling age-old tribal scores between the Kunamas on one side and the Beni-Amir and Baria on the other side. Shaebia is only following this proven path of death and destruction that Idris Awate and Jebha carved for it long ago.

So a good example of those who have become adept at selective outrage, and very pertinent to the Kunama case, would be those who absolutely deny that Jebha had nothing to do with the marginalization and victimization of Kunama but who are now shedding crocodile tears over their misfortune. Since such admitting cannot be done without sullying the name of their hero, Idris Awate, they are unwilling to take that first step that would reconcile them not only with the Kunama people, but also with their violent past.

The story of Awate, as the Kunama relate it, is full of horror: entire villages burned down to ground, many houses with their inhabitants inside; men, women and children indiscriminately killed; entire fertile areas abandoned (later to be settled mainly by the Tigrignas), their cattle plundered and sold in Kessela; etc. Here is how the VK/ KAM team of the website puts it (“Why are the Kunama people always being accused, marginalized, persecuted and their land exploited?”):

“To a very considerable number of Kunama, who had not only known Hamid Idris Awate personally, but they had also had to abandon their land and villages set ablaze by him and their entire cattle raided and sold in the market places of Kassala (Sudan), the news of this same Hamid Idris Awate, been chosen as the leader of a national liberation movement was not only very surprising but profoundly shocking.”

“Many Kunama have vivid memories of Hamid Idris Awate who had committed so many atrocities against them and eventually succeeded in emptying entire Kunama villages around the areas of Biakundi, Anali and Ugaro.

“These fertile Kunama areas are, today, mostly inhabited by the Tigrigna speaking highland Eritreans who are said to have, not only outnumbered and squeezed the Kunama into confined zones, but they have also the effrontery to chase out any Kunama person who travels back there to claim his or her lost ancestral land.”

What a neat division of labour: The Beni-Amir and the Baria, under the leadership of Idris Awate, clear a huge swath of land of its Kunama inhabitants in a Janjaweed-like massacre, and the Tigrignas come to settle on it and refuse to let its inhabitants return. This bizarre event alone makes a mockery of the dishonest dialog on land settlement that is going on right now.

Responding to the unabashed romanticizing of this mass murderer, the VK/ KAM team of the website responds with:

“We Kunama are addressing and reminding Mr. Saleh AA Younis that the Kunama people, particularly the Kunama inhabitants of the Kunama Tika region, have long been proving and stating that Hamid Idris Awate had committed untold and atrocious crimes against them for no reasons and indiscriminately killing Kunama men, women and children, and therefore that he was a local villain and an “ordinary shifta” ... Hamid Idris Awate, for the Kunama people and, removed from his alleged connection with the beginning of the Eritrean armed struggle, was and remains a local villain, a murderer, “an ordinary shifta”, a cattle raider and a criminal element ...” (“Does Mr. Saleh AA Younis know of Hamid Idris Awate better than the Kunama people?” May 28, 2009)

What is more, this genocide started by Awate was to be happily continued by Jebha till the late 70’s:

“… Awkwardly enough, some members of the Jebha unit which had operated in the Kunama land, in the early sixties (1960s) and late seventies (1970s), started to conduct retaliatory activities against the Kunama people, burning Kunama villages, even with their inhabitants inside their huts …” (“Why are the Kunama people always being accused, marginalized, persecuted and their land exploited?”)

And writing on the extent of Jebha’s brutality on the Kunama, it goes on to add: “The number of the innocent Kunama killed by certain members of the Jabha-Al-Tahrir group during the armed-struggle times has reached and passed the thousands.”

The atrocities that Awate and Jebha conducted are told and retold by the Kunama people with such vividness, particularity and detail that it is impossible they could have been made up. Besides, there are other accounts – British, Italian and Eritrean – that corroborate the Kunama’s side of the story. And, if we take the late atrocities of the 60’s and 70’s, there are many of those who witnessed it still alive. Given this, it is amazing the extent of denial to which the “romanticizers” are willing to go just to keep the image of their shifta hero or the organization he was leading pristine. What is more amazing is that these are the very people who have been wearing the “reconciliation” mantra as badge of honour, flaunting it at every opportunity they get. The blind spot that they have developed to their own kind is so huge that when they talk about their heroes it is only in absolute romanticizing terms. Here is what the VK/KAM team has to say regarding the irreconcilable contradiction that uncritical hero-worship and the professed reconciliation task carry:

“Mr. Saleh AA Younis has all the right to ‘romanticise with ghedli’, with its founders and leaders, but, to our view, he should also consider that, as a member of ‘'s team’, dedicated to ‘Reconciliation’ as its motto and aim, very controversial figures, like Hamid Idris Awate, no matter how heroic they may appear, are to be neither glorified nor admired more than what they do really deserve. For the Kunama people, the person and the name itself of ‘Hamid Idris Awate’ is an element of horror, about which no compromise, and therefore, no ‘Reconciliation’ can ever be contemplated.” (“Does Mr. Saleh AA Younis know of Hamid Idris Awate better than the Kunama people?”)

The first in line for Jebha followers is to admit that these gross atrocities had been committed, prior to all their grandstanding. The “reconciliation” that they often brag about doesn’t come from the perverted kind of “Truth” that they profess to have sole ownership of but from looking at oneself through the public mirror.

To add insult to injury, a monument of this villain has been built in the midst of the Kunama land (now predictably settled by other ethnic groups) – a reminder to the Kunama people that when it comes to the interest of “Eritrea”, it is the concern of the two major population groups that will come first; and they are to be found in neither.

If there are any people in Eritrea to whom the whole nation should kneel down and confess, it would be the Kunama. And in this regard I especially mean the Tigrigna, the Beni-Amir and the Baria, which have been either assaulting them or encroaching on their lands for decades, or both.

(5) Blood for gold

The mining companies that have already started working in Eritrea have become the primary motivators for the many atrocities currently being committed by Shaebia: the displacement of many villages from the area, with little farmland compensation; the cordoning off of a huge additional area for “security purposes”; a pervasive use of Warsai and prison slave labor; and now, an all-out assault against the Kunama area, with the goal of preempting any attacks that might come through that corridor.

Afraid of any military sabotage in the mining areas, the regime has decided to “pacify” a huge corridor in Gash-Barka. The Kunamas are the primary victims of such pacification, not only because their land lies close to Bisha with its rear touching Tigray, but also because they are valiantly resisting the Shaebia oppression.

There are two lessons that Isaias have learned from the experience of two neighbors – Sudan and Ethiopia: the Chinese experience.

When the Sudanese government discovered oil in South Sudan, it was mainly the Chinese who were willing to work in those areas despite two negative factors: the military activity of the SPLM around the area and the disastrous humanitarian crisis caused by the Sudanese government. But what was worse was that the Chinese presence became a further reason on its own that exacerbated the humanitarian condition: in order to protect the Chinese from SPLM attacks, the Sudanese government cleared a huge swath of land around the oil wells of its inhabitants, displacing hundreds of thousands of them. Isaias, of course, is emulating that experience.

When the Chinese where given a similar role to play in the Ogaden part of Ethiopia, the Melles government restrained from taking the radical step that the Sudanese had taken in a similar condition. And for this relaxed approach, it had to “pay”. The Ogaden movement was able to easily penetrate the camp and kill the Chinese, their Ethiopian employees and the army personnel stationed there. Given the hand Isaias played in the Somali and Ogaden cases, it is no wonder that he is now very much afraid that he would be repaid in kind. The severity with which he is handling the Kunama uprising is partly the result of that paranoia.


A young man from Diaspora (say, a member of YPFDJ) visiting Eritrea, indoctrinated by virulent Shaebianism (or its variant, Eritreanism) and impressed by what he sees in EriTv, would be unable to “see” any part of this conveyer belt of death at work. At no time during his stay in Eritrea do any of his itinerary stops come to overlap with the itinerary stops that a PFDJ’s victim (probably a Warsai of a similar age) makes on his way to a concentration camp. The young PFDJ is made to visit the palm trees studded avenues of Asmara, a pristine beach in Massawa, a few Warasai-Yikealo projects – a micro-dam here, a new road over there (but minus the brutality of the slave labor that built them), a state run farm with “modern agriculture” to show off, a sanitized version of Sawa (no venturing to the prisons over there), the ubiquitous national festivals, etc. Nowhere in this young man’s itinerary map is to be found the many prisons and concentration camps that have been cropping up all over the country at a dizzying pace. The fact that his path never comes to cross the victims’ path has been taken as proof that no such chambers of horror exist, even as he hears the whole nation whispering about them.

Shaebia is so emboldened by the willful blindness of Diaspora Eritreans that it can skillfully dissect the “neat” part from the “ugly” part and parade it for their consumption, in many cases an inch away from the very places where the horrendous crimes are being committed. One day, when all the crimes of Shaebia will come out in the open, these seasonal tourists will show “their outrage” by saying if only they had known by then … Well, well, no surprise there, for that has been the case with almost all kinds of massacres conducted before.

Yosief Ghebrehiwet

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