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                          Wrong is Dead Wrong on Horn of Africa Brothers

                                                          Ghelawdewos Araia

For a creature with some cognitive ability to grasp the nuances of an ill-engineered theme and/or a message conveying negative intentions, it would be easy to understand that Michela Wrong’s How Horn of Africa Brothers Fell Out (BBC, December 15, ’05) is well fed by a third party. The prejudice against the people of Tigray is age-old and the stereotypical manifestation of the prejudice is well known for Tigrayans, although their detractors, because of some psychological mishap, for the most part tried to undermine the historical significance Tigrayans played throughout the ages. Because the detractors suffer from inferiority complex, they wish to level Tigrayan superior culture and history to the bottom pit of their own, hence their xenophobia and hate against Tigrayans.

I am a Tigrayan and proud Ethiopian with an encompassing pan-African ideological bent, and in this brief remark I have no intention of indulging quid pro quo against Ms. Wrong, our heartless, cynical or perhaps drenched mimic literati. It is only to underscore a just remark for justice. Any person endowed with some sense of justice will not entertain a parochial ethnocentric dimension of sociological analysis. In the latter spirit, therefore, I will advocate on behalf of the people of Tigray, just as I have done for the Oromos, Somalis, Eritreans, and other Ethiopians in general. As far as I am concerned ones ethnic background is purely accidental and none of us could ever design or predetermine our ethnic destination. If that is the case, then, our motto should be the oneness of humanity, irrespective of our ethnic enclaves and cultural preferences (biases and prejudices as well).

Those individuals with ignominious intentions could careless of our commonality, let alone the oneness of humanity, and they have a special drive and appetite (not to mention their hidden agenda) for discord among people, who in one form or another, are tied by complex and historical and cultural connections. This, in short, is my understanding of the relationship between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea and other people in the Horn of Africa.

Many times in the past, I have addressed the role of the Tigrayan people in the making of Ethiopia, the heavy price they have paid in defending and preserving Ethiopia’s independence and sovereignty, and also their unique role as custodians of Ethiopian civilization of antiquity.

Humbug ignoramus people as well as those who are frightened and challenged by the magnanimity of Tigrayans (quintessential Ethiopians), not surprisingly will try to underplay or undermine the Tigrayan initiative and achievements. Although this essay is focused on Tigray phobia, I also like to use this opportunity to acknowledge several groups who exhibited respect to the people of Tigray and extended friendly gestures toward them. Some of these groups include members of Mahber Fikri Hager (Love of Country: Unity of Eritrea with Ethiopia), a pro-EPLF group otherwise known as Tihisha (after their clandestine publication) in the early 1970s, educated and sensible Eritreans who are connected by intricate social fabric with Ethiopians, current opposition groups including elements of the Eritrean Alliance (former ELF members), few Eritrean intellectuals with whom I have cemented friendship over the years, and as of recent DequeBat Ertra.

Outside the group dynamics just mentioned, a significant number of Eritreans are biased against Tigrayans and portray the latter as “Agames” and poverty-ridden population of Ethiopia. As I have indicated in my Education for Tolerance article, ignorance breeds prejudice and it is no surprise to me if some Eritreans foment hate and prejudice against the people of Tigray. They simply don’t know how proud the Tigrayans are of their heritage and how solidified their integrity is; how the Tigrayans are full of themselves; how humble and generous they are. Tigrayans exhibit tremendous resilience and determination in the daily encounter of their social life, and when it comes to the enemy they very much act like a provoked lion; unlike some of their provocateurs overwhelmed with infantile emotions, they are highly calculated and when necessary they make the move when they are sure they will win the day or are poised to overcome difficulties. This is perhaps what makes them “complicated” and hence the Libi Tigray (the heart of Tigray stereotype). The “complication” attribute of Tigrayans is actually what I like to call “sophistication” of a seasoned population. Tigrayans treasure patience as virtue and they despise elements that brag, are loud and who vent meaningless and pejorative phrases. But their patience should not be confused with weakness and submission. On the contrary, Tigrayans are tough, uncompromising, and sometimes rugged and rigid, and this aspect of their behavior is perhaps their Achilles Heel.

Ms. Wrong is entitled to her opinion and I respect her point of view, but I must emphasize that her ignorance of Ethiopian history has no match in any historiography related to the Horn of Africa that I came across thus far. As far as she is concerned Ras Alula Abba Nega is a “ruthless 19th century Tigrayan warlord and salve trader who crushed any local chieftain foolish enough to stand up to his employer, Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV.” Wrong, of course, is dead wrong on Alula, my favorite of all Ethiopian patriots to whom I dedicated an article entitled Ras Alula Abba Nega: An Ethiopian and African Hero some five years ago. Micela Wrong should read my work if she honestly wants to educate and enlighten herself, or she may refer to Haggai Erlich, the Israeli historian who happen to be a scholar on Alula Wedi Quibi. Alula, as governor of Eritrea was well liked and praised by Eritreans themselves. The people of Keren have poems and songs, as part of their folklore, in praise of Ras Alula; the people of Hamassien likewise had a famous parable that goes to say Fithi Kem Alula; Edme Kem Matusala (as justice is to Alula, longevity is to Matusala).

And with respect to menial jobs, Ms. Wrong says, “if a job was dirt and demeaning in Eritrea, it was probably done by the “Agame”, as the Tigrayans were dismissively known.”  Yes, Wrong is right this time! That was the general depiction of Tigrayans in Eritrea, but there are two misconceptions with respect to “Agame.” 1) Agame is the eastern region of Tigray where the great Royal House of Woldu-Subagadis flourished; it is not the name of a people; 2) The Agame or Tigrayans in Eritrea were engaged in all sorts of jobs ranging from shoe shine to cactus fruit selling, to handicraft, to the service industry, and in some instances to clerical and teaching positions. Although the overall picture Eritreans had (now echoed by Ms. Wrong) on Tigrayans was “the dirty cactus-selling Agames,” they were surprised to learn that the richest top merchants and entrepreneurs in Eritrea were Tigrayans. The people of Tigray have developed the work ethic as part of their culture since the heyday of the Aksumite era, and they don’t discriminate jobs so long they can earn a living and lead a better life. Ms. Wrong, who seems to have lost her way in the wilderness of prejudice must come to her senses and examine retrospectively how modern capitalist civilizations in Europe sprung. It is very similar to the Tigrayan ethos and work ethic.

By way of conclusion, I like to give some credit to Ms. Wrong for at least including (by default or by design) “brothers” in her title. The peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea are brothers indeed. I have argued along this line in many of my writings and I have no doubt in my mind that one day when reason reigns supreme, unification and peace will prevail among the brotherly peoples. Just in case Ms. Wrong does not know about the cultural and historical ties of the two peoples, however, here is a passing remark for quick reference.

There s no doubt that the Tigrigna of Eritrea trace their ancestry to Tigray; the people of Keren are the direct descendants of the Agaw in central northern Ethiopia; the Kunama, Soho, and Afar are nationalities found on either side of the Ethio-Eritrean border and it is for this apparent fact that the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia are intertwined by shared and integrated values. I have yet to find the cultural differences between Eritreans and Ethiopians, but I must admit that there is a huge gap of psychological makeup tainted with prejudice and stereotype. Ms. Wrong’s journalistic account clearly reflects the latter and not the common values that these two people share, and as indicated above, the tenor and tone of her remarks are distant echoes of misguided mentality. The latter, in turn, is the making of multiple social deprivations powerful enough to obfuscate rational identification of thought. In brief, prejudice and stereotype are irrational, and the worst thing can happen to any people is when they are deprived of rational qualities, the essential ingredients that divide human beings from other animals.

Admittedly, we all have a tinge of bias and we are prejudiced to some degree, but if our rational quality is still intact, we manage to detect our weakness and try to overcome the prejudice that afflicts us, however faint.  This mental process is perfectly rational, but if we are overridden by ideological fanaticism, we are completely blindfolded and victimize ourselves from irrationality. It is in this sense that I label the actors in Ms. Wrong’s story and herself as irrational. But I sympathize with them and I have no ax to grind against anyone. In fact, on the contrary, I realize that a fraction of humanity (these myopic irrationals) is incarcerated in antediluvian cave of darkness, and I like to appeal to the rest of humanity to liberate them.