By Johnny Tesfazion,
I am a fly and I live in Berlin. The Heinrich Boell Foundation has on the wall of many an important meeting held me. Rumor has it there recently was a critical meeting threatening to make “Berlin” more recognizable than “Badme“. That made me very happy – after all, “ich bin ein Berliner“!
Well, needless to say, when I heard the Dirty Dozen, I mean the Gang of 12, sorry I mean Eritrean Academics and Professionals, were meeting briefly before they embarked on their trip to Eritrea, I made sure I was THE fly on the wall.
A lot was said and alas my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Nevertheless, indulge me while I reconstruct, to the best of my recollection, the conversations that ensued. I could not hear everyone. The members will be referenced as G1 through G13. Don’t be surprised, the “disassociated” member was there too – hey free meal and board, you can’t blame her. Anything in parenthesis are fly-observations/comments!
G1: Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here on the eve of a great journey we are about to embark upon. Four score and twenty years ago, ooops, I mean fifty-five years ago, Dwight MacDonald published articles on the responsibility of intellectuals. As a privileged elite, we have a right and a mandate to speak our truth…..
G2: Please Btsai, Comrade, let’s move it along
G1: Professor or Doctore! Please ALWAYS refer to me as Doctor or Professor. I am a Professional and an Academic, I have worked very hard and very long and I HAVE arrived. I am entitled to my titles!
(oooh, the good Doctor touched a nerve there!)
G2: Yes, Yes, absolutely, Professor, but can we get to the meat of the meeting. My time is precious – we Doctors, “Medical” Doctors that is, we charge by the hour, you know, and thus we tend to be, very time-oriented. Yes, yes, my time is very expensive, very very expensive. Of course not as expensive as the time of the honorable G5, but I’m getting there….I am getting there.
G1: Point well taken. We are gathered here to strategize on our meeting with his Excellency the President of Eritrea, Kbur President Issaias Afeworki. For the sake of brevity and since we are ALL of important stature here, for the duration of this meeting we shall refer to one another by our assigned numbers, G1 through G13. All in favor say Aye.
(All echo back AYE in unison)
G1: Very good, let us proceed. Any suggestions?
G4: First and foremost we must adhere to professional protocol; – we must appear well groomed and organized. Corporate protocol calls for dark suits and a shaven face. G3, G6, please consider shaving off all that hair – it’s really unprofessional. Ladies, I mean the lady who will accompany us will refrain from wearing slacks. G8, it is no longer of my concern what attire you adorn in your disassociated state.
G3: Will the gentleman refrain from attacking the lady. You are inadvertently giving her grounds to sue for libel. That type of unprofessional behavior will not be tolerated. We stand for justice and equality in the face of the law. I have gone to great lengths to protect women’s rights in our Constitution and ….
G1: Enough, enough, let’s move on. Please more suggestions. Let me remind you, although we outnumber him, we are at a great disadvantage to his natural charm, good looks, and sharp intellect. We must combine our great minds and prepare, prepare, prepare. Remember, when in the presence of others, we shall always, and I stress ALWAYS, refer to one another as Professor, or Doctor. For those who may not have a Ph.D. or are not Medical Doctors, we will reserve the title “Distinguished” or “Honorable”. We need to maintain our elite status…we earned it! It can be a source of intimidation that we have to take advantage of!
G6: The Laureate from Brussels has indicated he wishes to speak. Go ahead G13.
(Please, not another nonsensical, repetitious poem)
G13: With all due respect G3 and G1, I concur with G6. Maybe it’s a European Intellectual thing that you can’t relate to, or call it poetic license if you will, but I find it poetically offensive that G8, having rudely disassociated herself from this prestigious elite group, has the audacity to sit in our meetings. I would like to introduce a motion to ask the lady to complete her disassociation and leave the room.
G1: Do I hear a second to the motion?
G12: Alas, we are bound by the rules of the foundation. They require her attendance otherwise jeopardizing our funding and good relations with the Green Party. We must, at least until all our bills are paid, maintain an appearance of intellectual strength and unity. We should be thankful that she is attending and thus securing our funds.
G5: This is a bigger venture than the deal that merged the hospital systems of Stanford and UCSF. Now that was a huge undertaking. This is taking me back to where I am most comfortable, you know amongst peers, moving mountains. Did I ever tell any of you about my childhood in Mekele?
G2: Please lets concentrate on the job at hand. My old friend, the last thing you want to do now is mention Mekele. It seems the way I see it, you do not recall much about your childhood or else you are very selective. How is that a brilliant Doctor, a genius by all accounts, cannot speak his native tongue?
G12: What are you two talking about? Are we meeting to discuss the impending meeting with President Issaias or are we going to belittle each other all night?
G5: No, please I do not want another all-nighter here. I love classical music Bach, Beethoven, ahhhh, and where else can we be to hear the best of it. Say, anyone willing to accompany me to a Berlin theater tonight?
(How about Tekle Tesfazghi’s instrumental….ever heard of him, Doc?)
G1: Please ladies and gentlemen, let’s get on with our meeting.
G3: Allow me to add that without G8’s participation in meetings, the under representation of the female gender will be starkly obvious. Remember that we are dealing with the head of a Country known for his strong belief in women’s participation. We must appear very inclusive in ethnicity, religion and gender. G8, it is your duty to represent your gender and I urge you to reconsider your actions.
G2: I concur G3. That is precisely why, I feel no remorse at having tricked the lady. I find it is her Gender Responsibility to accompany us in this historical endeavor. In my opinion, and let me remind you that I have spent many, many years in “mieda”, forging a very inclusive environment for women, and …..
G8: May I speak?
G1: Yes, yes by all means. But, please make it brief.
G8: With all due respect, my honorable colleagues it is with a deep sense of righteous conviction that I have disassociated myself from this group. But, I would like to maintain my status as a member of the elite and as such will conduct myself in a manner becoming the professional that I am. In return, I would like you to relay my concerns to the Administration at UoA about secondary and tertiary institutions. My message is as follows; – After careful analysis of the disadvantaged rural secondary and tertiary institutions, it is imperative that the government should consider merging them. But, I warn that although strategic mergers could enhance the goals of equality, quality and academic excellence, it should not mean a simple amalgamation of rural and urban institutions. Furthermore, I would like to urge the South African parliament…..oops, I mean the Eritrean General Assembly…..
G6: What in the world is she talking about? I don’t hear any message about democracy, civil society or the role of the intellectual as an instrument of change. G2, she is NOT one of us.
G8: Please, please allow me to continue. As the Deputy Executive Director of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Historically Disadvantaged Tertiary Institutions,……
G1: Wow that is some title. Very impressive, very impressive G8. Yes, yes G8, your concerns have been heard. Your message will be relayed. Thank you. Do the gentlemen from Sweden have anything to add? You are awfully quiet. Oh, taking notes, I see. Remember, dot your I’s and cross your T’s and use the dictionary as needed. We will not tolerate a single spelling or grammatical error. It is still a source of great pain to me that errors were found in our magnificent manifesto.
G10: I am consoling G11. He is lamenting over an article posted about the role of the Intellectual. He is, as they say, eating his words.
(deKi Ere, here’s what I think they are mulling over – a piece posted on Dehai about the role of the Eritrean Intellectual and the pressures mounting upon them. G11 writes that the Eritrean Intellectual differs from his Ethiopian counterpart….”Eritrea is a highly egalitarian society where the intellectual does not really stand out from the rest. This in itself creates possibilities, limitations and responsibilities different from those of his Ethiopian counterpart, who at all times seems only an ear shot away from the palace and intrigues of the palace. As a matter of fact, it is not only the Eritrean intellectual, but also the Eritrean soldier, peasant and worker that has societal role different from his Ethiopian counterpart.”…….”We could help identify these, criticize and remedy the weakness and fortify the strength. But under all circumstances, at least for the foreseeable future, the Eritrean intellectual has to continue to define his role in terms of “service to nation” and resist all temptations to rebel against this prepackaged role. Furthermore, the Eritrean intellectual has to resist internalizing the criticism of his, mostly Ethiopian, detractors, and the unflattering portrait these often paint of him.” Well, well, I guess this intellectual has succumbed to the very pressures he was warning against….hmmm, interesting indeed, G11 finds himself ironically “only an ear shot away from the palace”….a meeting with the president! How very “Ethiopian” of him!)
G11: I am still disappointed with the response we got from the Eritrean Hafash. After all very early in July, I wrote to them about the roles of the intellectual hoping to prepare them for our contributions.
(Get over it and move on….you’ve been exposed.)
G1: There is where we went wrong…..we underestimated their loyalty to their perception of what is “good” for Eritrea, and at the same time, we overestimated our ability to influence them. We did not do our homework,…..but this time we cannot fail with the President. We have to return with our identities and reputations intact, our credibility restored! If possible lets shoot for a win-win solution. By the way, let’s go through exactly what it is we are going to discuss. G5, you know about management, help us pull together a game plan.
G5: Oh no my heart is not in Administration. That is why I declined the offer to remain head of my University. At the risk of sounding like a male chauvinist, I dare say women are better administrators and managers. Maybe our distinguished colleague, G9, would oblige us with her expertise.
(G9 is shaking her head in disapproval…..I sense a verbal lashing)
G9: Allow me to interject here. Gentlemen, there are some critical mistakes we made in our written Manifesto which we have to avoid at all cost lest we jeopardize our mission. Hold back your over-inflated male-egos, especially G4 and G5, and let us not repeat the two obvious organizational blunders; One, we should avoid putting anything down on paper that could be construed as negative. Remember gentlemen, personalities, disagreements and disputes over policies or shifting allegiances, all give groups their dynamism and distinct character, but all these are best handled face to face. I have always believed that committing delicate situations to letters that go in public files is unwise. Second, since most groups today have a collegial rather than hierarchical spirit, we were GROSSLY amiss with our paternalistic, top-down letter! Had you not chauvinistically relegated myself and G8 to “token representatives”, we would have voiced our strong opinions and reservations and avoided this, most awkward situation — alienation from the very populace we are defending.
G8: I second that, sister! Furthermore, G9, as the only remaining female member, should have veto-power over any group decisions taken. This should help check the out-of-control egos.
G13: Foul! Foul! That is outrageous, we have professors, we have doctors, we have poets, we have publishers, we have techies, we have males, we have females, Moslems, Christians, Lowlanders, Highlanders, Tegadelti, Gebars, we have them all, right in this group……allllewuunaaaaaa, allllewaanaaaaaaaa! Your charge is preposterous G9….and G8, please stay out of this.
G6: Allow me to remind you, one and all, that Africa World Press possesses sole rights to publish any material forthcoming from this group, now and for the next 25 years. Yes, yes, it is in the contract you signed.
G3: G6, don’t forget our deal – I get double the percentage the others do as I am also your legal representative – and, that was a brilliant piece of legal maneuvering, if I may say so myself.
G12: I would like to review the discussion roles, if I may.
G1: By all means. Continue.
G12: As we have previously agreed, we each have our assigned backer. G2, you will always back G1, G3 will back G2 and so on. Please remember any disagreement must be with him. If you have an “intellectual” moment, please hold off for a later time to berate one another. We must be united against him. Believe me ladies and gentlemen, I live there, I have met with him more often than you and with larger groups than a mere dozen. I must admit the man is unbelievably brilliant and a great tactician. We must keep a constant barrage of propositions and resolutions coming at him. Each of our six major points will be presented in a two-pronged attack or rebuttal, as necessary. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT stray into un-tested territory, stick with the program we have prepared and all will go well. We need to set the tone of the meeting; we must control it and set the agenda. Regardless of your feelings, it is agreed that no praise will be heaped upon him and I especially urge G1 to restrain himself. With all due respect, your performance at Princeton was pathetic. Similarly, G4 must also refrain from his usual venomous berating. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us keep our comments very objective. No outbursts of emotions – it is UNPROFESSIONAL!
G5: We need to dissect each of his objections to our recommendations, compartmentalize them and then selectively poke at them with surgical precision until each single artery, I mean point, is bleeding profusely and has lost its will to live, I mean lost its punch.
(Cut the medical jargon, will ‘ya? He can’t help it – Doctore-turned-Politician…he, he)
G4: I’m feeling a little queasy. Hey Doc, got something for an upset stomach? Also, my knees have been rattling all week.
(Do I sense trepidation?)
G12: Now, now G4, we have already decided you will NOT miss this trip, sick or healthy. Be a man, wedi-seb endiKa? Collect yourself. This is a test of our principles and convictions.
G4: Yes, yes, ofcourse. Please, pray tell me you have the Kampala agreement packed? Could I ask you to re-read it to me….it will make me feel better I’m sure.
G12: You mean the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility of 1990? Yes, yes, although not a signatory, Eritrea abides by it. By all means, I will read it to you on the plane, if it will ease your mind. I resent your insinuation though….I have assured you over and over again, you are not in any danger. Furthermore, we have the foundation behind us, I have notified the Goree Institute in Senegal and Justice Africa in London. They have congratulated us and encouraged us in our endeavor.
(I can barely make out the whisper….something about the marines standing by on the Red Sea if a need for a rescue arises).
G1: G7, I presume all our laptops have been upgraded and checked….we must have connectivity and access…..EIDM is counting on up-to-the-minute-updates.
G7: Affirmative – all is in order. I have loaded the destination-tracker software so sources of all outgoing correspondence can be tracked. Also, we will have Videoconferencing capability across the Atlantic.
G1: Very good, very good. Any closing statements before we adjourn?
G3: My esteemed colleagues, materially and socially we may live in relative comfort and security but spiritually and psychologically we endure a tormenting emptiness. Hmmm, I dream of the lush green hills of Embatkala. Hafash has told you we are too ambitious. My friends, ambition is an honorable thing….it is our fundamental right to swoop-in and take advantage, no, no, I mean to participate during this vulnerable time in the life of our nation. We have an intellectual duty to fulfill …..
G1: Well said, well said…..I think. In Asmara, after our meeting, we will form a Committee to review the outcome. This Committee will also create other subcommittees to Committee the Committee……uuh, I mean…this meeting is adjourned. Bon Voyage and God Speed to us all. Let us all rise and close with our pledge.
(They recite in unison)
We pledge allegiance to the principles of elitism and intellectualism, and to the foundations for which they stand — academic excellence and professionalism. We promise to fulfill our rightful role as the democratic agents, civilizing political contestation and subverting complacent consensus. From our exalted positions, we pledge to change Eritrea to conform to our morals and philosophies. We are one people under the rule of power, fame and prestige, indivisible, with money and positions for all.
Onward and Upward!
– – – – – – – – –
(deki ere, this last part was indeed the icing on the cake….our martyrs must be rolling in their graves. I call this the “Ethiopianization” of the Eritrean Intellectual! And now, dear friends, although it is doubtful that I will make the journey across the Atlantic, I will get on the FLY-net and listen to the buzzing across the Atlantic. Having said that, I bid you So long, farewell, auf wiedersen, good-bye…..I FLY-off).
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
G1 – Araya Debessay (USA)
G2 – Assefaw Tekeste (USA)
G3 – Bereket Habte Selassie (USA)
G4 – Dawit Mesfin (UK)
G5 – Haile Debas (USA)
G6 – Kassahun Checole (USA)
G7 – Khaled A. Beshir (USA)
G8 – Lula Ghebreyesus (SOUTH AFRICA)
G9 – Miriam Kheir Omar (UK)
G10 -Mohamed Kheir Omar (SWEDEN)
G11 – Mussie Misghina (SWEDEN) (Withdraw from group immediately after)
G12 – Paulos Tesfagiorgis (SOUTH AFRICA)
G13 – Reesom Haile BRUSSELS (Deceased)
(First published on November 20, 2000)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –