Unfiltered Notes: The Circular History of Abyssinia!


By Tewelde Stephanos

Italian colonialism and Menelik  II carved out today’s Eritrea and Ethiopia out of old Abyssinia. Later, Haile Selassie’s  flawed  land-over-people  policy  deepened the  divide  further.  By  dissolving  the  Ethio-Eritrean federation against the counsel of his top advisers he, unintentionally,    became    a    major    force    behind Eritrean nationalism and its eventual independence.

Inconsistent with his otherwise admirable qualities, PM Abiy is repeating that same history today. At least Haile Selassie  was  savvy  enough  to  use  a  subverted

Eritrean Assembly to provide legal cover for the illegal act. Abiy’s approach is much cruder. It does so by idolizing a despot. Isaias is an uncivilized brute who has been disturbing the peace in the region for decades. His frequent runs to Cairo as Egypt’s lackey to sabotage the strategies of upstream  Nile  countries;  and  the  devastation  from  the  wars  he  ignited  with  Yemen,  Sudan, Ethiopia,  and  Djibouti  are  well  documented.  But more is expected  of  PM  Abiy.  His  two  face approach  so  far  —  as  a  champion  of  freedom  in  Ethiopia  and  as  a  partner  of  oppression  in Eritrea – is a bad mix for the long term health of our region.

Meles  and  Isaias  were  friends  once  too,  praised  as  Africa’s  renaissance  leaders.  Although Ethiopia emerged in a much better shape comparatively, we all know how tragically that ended. Similarly,  the  opaque  and  personal  “deals”  between  Abiy  and  Isaias  are  no  substitute  for  a deeper and transparent peace we truly deserve.

Crimes in our collective names

If durable peace is the real objective, Abiy and Ethiopia cannot afford to ignore the pain of the Eritrean people, because they will have to face a betrayed and wounded population after Isaias is gone. Those wounds will heal too but why postpone progress by repeating bad history?  Why invite  a  champion  of  poverty  who  delights  in  demolishing  lives,  homes  and  businesses  in Eritrea, to a sugar factory opening ceremony in Ethiopia?  Why all this at the expense of border demarcation? Are Ethiopians willing to accept a psychopath as their new emperor prolonging the bad memories of our past? By embracing Isaias so unconditionally, Abiy can only come out dirtier – retarding our joint future in the process.

The other crime being committed in our collective names is the  massacre of Yemeni children and  civilians  from  Saudi  military  base  in  Assab.  Future  Yemeni  generations  may  forgive Eritreans  because  they  will  realize  Eritreans  were  victims  too.  But,  apparently,  Assab  is  also Ethiopian   now,  implicating  Ethiopians  in  the  mess  directly.    Today,  Ethiopians  can  express themselves  openly  and  freely.  And  with  this  freedom  comes  responsibility.  If  these  crimes continue under Abiy’s watch too, Yemenis will remember Ethiopia unkindly forever. The unholy Saudi/Abiy/Isaias   alliance   we   are   getting   sucked   into   is   too   opaque   for   comfort.   Jamal Kashoggi’s murder in Turkey is one but tiny window into a very messy world the dirty medals Abiy and Isaias were showered with will not wash away.

Why Ethiopians should care about the Eritrean people instead

Like tens of thousands of Eritreans, Col. Taddese Muluneh and Nega Tegegn  of Ethiopia were jailed in Eritrea for 8 and 20 years respectively without charges. Their release is, of course, great news.  Ethiopia’s  freer  environment,  thanks  to  Abiy,  empowers  these  two  men  and  their supporters to have Isaias arrested and tried in Ethiopia. At the very least, such a move will give hope to  Eritrean  prisoners the two  left  behind that  they  are  not  alone.  It  will  also  embolden Eritreans  to  rise  up  like  the  courageous  Eritrean  Catholic  Bishops  did  in  2014C   and  Abba Teklemichael TeweldeD  days ago. Durable peace beneficial to both countries is only possible if Eritreans like these moral leaders are allowed to multiply and to remain free. That is why PM Abiy  and  justice  loving  Ethiopians  need  to  stand  with  the  Eritrean  people  –  Ethiopia’s  true partners  for  peace  —  who  are  risking  their  lives  in  search  of  the  same  freedoms  they  see unfolding across the border.

The lack of transparency in Abiy’s personal deals opens up two scenarios for speculation. First, since Isaias has asked  Abiy to lead the way, have Eritreans become Ethiopians already? If so, Abiy  should  extend  the  reforms  he  has  unleashed  in  Ethiopia  to  Eritrea  immediately;  i.e.  as Eritrea’s new leader (not ruler), Abiy should release prisoners, allow free press and competitive politics in Eritrea as he has done in Ethiopia. Since he is not doing that, he is failing his people in Eritrea — the love he preaches absent.

The second scenario is that Eritrea still is and will remain a sovereign nation. In that case, Abiy’s otherwise  positive  image  falls  apart  because  he  is  willfully  betraying  the  Eritrean  people  by embracing their tormentor — back to our circular past.

So, Abiy gets it wrong both ways. In the meantime, the very issue the peace announced several months  ago  was  supposed  to  address  —  border  demarcation  —  is  totally  forgotten  now.  The problem  that  consumed  100,000  lives  is  still  there,  hungry  for  more.  That  ticking  time  bomb remains active, because like Abyssinian kings before, these two love-smitten individuals are not willing to see beyond themselves. What will happen when they fallout of love? Will 1998 repeat itself again?

Obsession with the sea

This  is  another  emotional  topic  that  keeps  feeding  our  backwardness.  Eritrea  is  poorer  than ever  today;  its  lot  not  improved  one  bit  in  spite  of  having  ownership  of  the  sea  since  1991. Similarly, Ethiopia’s poverty was among the worst on earth when it had full ownership for four decades  (1952  to  1991).  Before  that,  Abyssinia  under  native  leadership  had  no  sea-faring history or sea food culture to speak of.

Ironically, Ethiopia did become economically vibrant for the first time in its entire history after it lost access to the sea in 1991. So let’s not fool ourselves. There is no evidence in the history of both  countries  that  links  their  lack  of  progress  to  not  having  access  to  the  sea.  However, Ethiopia’s  own  history  after  1991,  and  land-locked  but  prosperous  Switzerland  expose  this fallacy even further.

The poverty is in our hearts and minds

In  spite  of  its 1000 km  coastline,  today’s  feudal  Eritrea  cannot  even  feed  itself.  It  survives  on remittances. Not because it is resource poor but because we have chosen to harden the heart and  starve  the  mind  (by  sacrificing  our  young  in  multiple  wars;  closing  our  only  university; devaluing  education,  expertise  and  professionalism;  killing  businesses,  moral  bankruptcy…). Let’s not forget the devastating 1984 Ethiopian famine also occurred in spite of Ethiopia having complete ownership of the sea then.   So, access to the sea or lack thereof is not what ails us. With open hearts and minds, durable agreements based on principles of inter-dependency can be crafted easily for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Additionally,  we  have  much  better  heroes  than  despots  and  kings  to  look  up  to.  Ethiopian Berhanu  Dinkie  (author  of  kesar’na  abyot)  —  principled,  honest,  fearless  and  incorruptible  – from decades ago and Eritrean Abba Teklemichael Tewelde recently are just two among many. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the values they bring forward so boldly taught in our schools and widely adopted in our cultures so we can build a better tomorrow for all?

  1. A) Assumption: Abyssinia  was  a  collection  of  shifting  kingdoms  limited  to  the  highlands  of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea. There was no Eritrea before Italian colonization in the    Menelik  created  modern  day  Ethiopia  in  the  early  1900s.  He  ceded  Eritrea  to Italy even after his victory in Adwa in 1896.
  2. B) Based on  Abiy’s  public  declaration that  he  and Isaias  are  sharing Assab  and  his refusal  to state  Assab  as  Eritrean  sovereign  territory  when  asked  during  a  recent  S.  visit.  The agreement between Abiy, Isaias and the Saudis remains opaque lending credence to rumors that the Eritrean navy is getting dismantled and Ethiopia is building a new navy in the Red Sea.
  3. C) http://snitna.com/WHERE%20IS%20YOUR%20BROTHER.pdf

D)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrs3Bcm59Vo