Tesfay Temnewo – Eritrea’s Man of the Year-2012
By Seyoum Tesfaye
“In the inner-party politics, these methods lead, as we shall see, to this: the party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a “dictator” substitutes himself for the central committee”.
There is no history without a witness. The witness came in all forms. The blood drenched walls of a tyrant’s dungeon, the obscure shallow and deep mass graves as well as the deep recesses of surviving individual’s mind represent the encrypted memories of complicated revolutions, civil wars and uprisings. Someone or something remembers. There is no dark hole where brutality and cruelty can be swallowed in without a trace. A faded picture of a comrade, when he or she enlisted for the cause, a torn page of an unfinished diary, a line in a period song, a scratch on a side of a tree, or a pain from a lodged bullet, anywhere in the tired body, becomes the hint for unearthing a vast convoluted history. At the right time dungeons, graves and muted minds will open up and challenge a nation’s dormant conscience. Unavoidable catharsis: Pain, shame, bitterness, and anger, a search for the real truth without justification and hopefully new understanding and reconciliation will follow.
The soil, the indigenous vegetation, animals and birds, the mountains and valleys, the waters (running or standing still), the hidden minerals beneath the depleted earth where the herculean national drama took place retain the foot prints of the victims and perpetrators. They are our archives. These national treasures have indestructible memories. They do not forget or forgive they just record and retain as they have been doing for generation’s before. The tyrants will dig for gold and glory to sustain their power and cover up their treachery. Sooner or later silenced voices perk up to unravel dictators and mass murderers fictionalized history.
Each nation has great causes turned to dark history. Great causes are betrayed and sabotaged by leadership. If and when there is a national failure it is a failure of leadership. In a more precise term it is handy work of key leaders. The people, the foot soldiers and the uncritical believers are the victims. Failed revolutions, fratricidal wars and massive national dislocation are the direct result of a failed leadership. Organizational failure is also a failure of leadership. The victims of all failed revolutions are victims of the leadership. The rest is secondary or a subtext to the root cause of the national failure- betrayal and machination by a twisted leader and his cohorts.
Eritrea’s history of three generation’s worth of struggle for independence and freedom is no exception. It has been betrayed by its leader. This is the essence of our national failure. If we fail again it will be for the same reason leaders putting their interest above that of the people and the nation.
The memory flood gates are opened. Ready or not we are face to face with the selfless heroism of Eritrea’s finest sons and daughters and sadistic treason of those who, addicted to power at all cost, have murdered, maimed and terrorized thousands of Eritreans, using the struggle as cover, for their personal agenda. Fortunately, they couldn’t kill all patriots. Few genuine voices have managed to stay under the radar evading all effort to demoralize and silence them even in Diaspora. The great artificial dam holding back the dark history of EPLF leadership is now showing cracks. Some truth is sipping out not in the form of secondary reiteration but in the voices of those who witnessed and endured the trauma.
Official renditions of history, mostly, favor the “winner’s” narration and agenda. Embellished and varnished it becomes the menu offered to the people as a political and social diet through the official media, festivals and national holidays. Recasting the past and glorifying the leader takes precedence over acknowledging past mistakes and redressing legitimate grievances. The crimes committed in the duration of the armed struggle are compounded by urban terror: more prisoners, more jails, more disapperados, more killing and further national dislocation. The revolution is still devouring its children under the command and control the same tyrant who had painted rural Eritrea red for 30 years.
Even the most meticulous murdering tyrant like, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot could not destroy all evidences or murder all witnesses. Some survive the calculation and conspiracy of the brutal system’s killing machine. Isolated and lonely, they wait for their time with their pain and suffering as a constant company. Survive they do. They become our hidden treasury transplanted away from the soil that has given them life, hope and the pain that has driven them away. They remember even when it hurts. They have no choice but to remember. They have made remembering their purpose and a continuation of their commitment to their people. Now they decide to let their mind unburden their memory. They take the witness stand. They speak with the hint of deep sorrow in their voice. They speak facts, as they remember them, leaving opinion to the listeners. They start healing by unburdening the truth to listeners who have been starving for the truth.
Lucky is a nation and people who gave birth to these kinds of witnesses: primary sources who own their voice and command their own mind. It is their perseverance and commitment to the truth that we treasure and honor. The details of their memory are subjected to correction and amendment as more witnesses start remembering and adding their voice to the narrative. What cannot be diluted or rebranded is their sense of purpose, loyalty to facts above all sorts of sectarian identity and loyalty, their sense of history, duty and honor. The real wealth of a nation is measured not by kilogram of gold but by the character of these kinds of citizens. Tesfay Temnewo embodies the essence of these kinds of human beings. Eritrea and Eritreans at home and in Diaspora should be very thankful that he survived and is willing to share his experience with us at this critical time in our struggle to define our alternative agenda, leadership and organizational structure.
Listening to the 30 interviews, which he has given to Radio Wegahta, one comes face to face with a steady calming voice. He is a witness who has shepherded his mind and weighed his words for a long time. He is both a true victim and an accidental healer. He paints facts with measured words: neither hyperbolic dramatization nor nonsensical banality. Humble enough to accept correction when forwarded and confident enough to encourage others to point out mistakes in his presentation, a rarity in Eritrean political discourse. Too often we have heard that individual’s make a difference the Temnewo phenomena reaffirm this observation. Glad he is alive and willing to share his well preserved experience.
His primary contribution is in reconstructing the early history of EPLF in a timeline narrative. He is more focused on who, what, when, where and why. He has the instinct of a trained journalist. Even when he is presenting his ‘why?” he is very modest leaving the interpretation to the listeners. His underlining political message, if he has any, is not overt and doesn’t come across as agenda centered. He elucidates the genesis of the present tyranny and warns us not to repeat history again. This by itself is the greatest gift and forewarning one can offer the people of Eritrea for the coming New Year: 2013. He has become our George Santayana who stated: “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. He is the messenger spared, by chance and circumstances, from the killers jaw and forced to live in exile. From the wilderness now he has come to share with the new generation the immense sacrifice by the generation before them and the truth about the unforgivable betrayal by some of its leaders.
Tyrants are not born they are made. Compare the quote by Trotsky (the early Trotsky) to how the EPLF’s process ended up in manufacturing the criminal Isaias. The man became the organization through the process Trotsky outlines in exact order. The easiest route to tyranny is to suffocate diverse opinions, control the mantel of the leadership, purge or decimate any sense of opposition and silence potential critiques. The EPLF and PFDJ brand is depleted if not bankrupted. Isaias was EPLF way before he got to Asmara. PFDJ was still born from his mind. Former leaders and members of the failed brands, who have migrated outside of Eritrea, might have disassociated themselves politically from EPLF and PFDJ but they are still deeply attached to the bankrupt brands to make a breakthrough presentation like Mr. Tesfay Temnewo. Hopefully his precedence, narrative style and tone, will give them the template to follow in expanding and upgrading the progressive conversation he has started. Let us hope he has become the deliberate agitator who has stirred the conscience of key former actors to present their rendition of EPLF’s history.
Eritrea’s expansive and tumultuous struggle for independence and freedom is one of the least documented histories. Fear, blind loyalty to organizations, a culture of following the conformity, tendency not to take responsibility, fear of future persecution etc. could be the excuses why some key players have kept low profile. These justifications have no more currency or extended warranty. Silence and tactful evasiveness, in the face of another generation entering the struggle, to correct what is wrong with the nation is tantamount to sustaining the superficial official legacy of a tyrant waging ceaseless war on an entire nation. The humble Tesafy Temnewo is showing us presenting the true history to the people is one way of fighting tyranny. He is tearing down the legacy of Isaias and everything evil that ascended with him to power. That is a gift to all of us.
I venture to call our brother Tesfay Temnewo Eritrea’s Man of the Year for 2012. True to his humble upbringing he reminds us of what decency, integrity and cultured used to mean in our fatherland before irreverence and lumpenization ascended to the pinnacle of national power. He is not only a witness with courage but he is, in a way, a link to the richness of our past before tyrants and Marxism corrupted everything good about our culture. We are reinvigorated and reinforced to continue our defiance, rebellion, resistance and protest against the Isaias regime in the middle of some of our setbacks within the camp of the opposition because as long as there are witnesses like Tesfay Temnewo we are not vanquished. Let us give him the respect and love that he deserves so that he can be further energized.
The reception by the vast Eritrean American community in Atlanta to the narrative presented by Mr. Tesfay Temnewo has been resounding approval with admiration both on the side of former ELF, EPLF fighters and members of the new generation who have been forced out of Eritrea due the unbearable brutality by the present regime. It has been a long time since someone has unified the overall community like the interview presented by Radio Wegahta. Should he get a chance to stand face to face with his compatriot in Atlanta he will see how deep he has touched the heart and mind of the community.
Disclaimer; the opinion expressed in this article is my perspective and only my perspective.