The Day Before in Eritrea

“Everything the state says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen.”
-Thus Spake Zarathustra

Luwam, a victim and witness of the infamous National Service or Slavery as she chooses to describe it, wrote an article about the plight of her generation in the hands of the Eritrean regime, she pointed out that her generation knew that the National Service was “wrong”, but “…just didn’t know its name was slavery.” [1]Luwam, wrote about the rigors of the servitude on the youth of her generation, and subsequently asked for the revocation of the open-ended National Service, without exploring the reasons for her generation’s failure to recognize the true nature of it. The answer is in the past, state some of us who frequently write in this website. Conversely, many bitterly reprimand us for being too fixated with the past and with little proposals for immediate action or the future.

In a recent column at, Tewelde suggested that “…the younger generation from which leaders will necessarily have to emerge, must shift the conversation away from the fruitless polemics of the past and re-focus it towards a more productive and hopeful future.” [1] He decried those “who did what to who during the ghedli years” and proposed a “less than 5%” space for it (and that was with “maybe”) in the Eritrean political landscape. What explanation has Tewelde, who belongs to the generation (as this writer) that will soon pass away to people such as Luwam and her generation, whose future awaits for them? What explanation has Tewelde, for the undue emphasis of the regime on the past, its “values” and “glories”? A conflicted message will not be helpful. Having said this, a little anecdote about a draught animal and the story of a great compassion is illustrated here.

“In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzshe steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refused to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.”[2]

Almost year after the severe decline of the mental health of the German philosopher, Eritrea became a colony of the Italy, the colony in its turn became an independent country close to a hundred years later relying on the labor and life of the slave-like peasants, and city folks of Eritrea.

The regime that emerged out of it kept its old policy of treating the masses of Eritrea of like draught animals, who are kept in the worst treatment. Tens of thousands have perished under negligence, brutal torture and its firing squads. Note this particular episode shared to this author by a witness, several years ago: A particular young man belonging to the National Service was doing his unhappy duty in the inhospitable desert of Bada, Eritrea, a few years before the outbreak of the new Ethio-Eritrea war. Chopping wood for his unit, a wood splinter lodged itself in his neck, suffocating and leaving him dead; choked in his own blood. Neither an Eritrean nationalist philosopher nor a historian has wrote or wept for him and the other countless victims of the regime. Our elite, unlike Nietzshe, were not products of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe.

Its opposite, that is, darkness reigned in the ghedli times. Passion and outrage for the victim were largely absent among the crowd used to frequent cruel and abhorrent environment in the hands of their tegadelti officers. In other words, the arid ghedli political landscape was devoid of any humane values. Weapons had more values than the fighters in their possession. Officers habitually uttered this foreboding phrase: seb is’s, seb chenawi. Those of you, who wish to disagree on the veracity of the story have to do some explanation of the regime’s behavior during the mass drowning of the young in the Lampedusa affair.

The callous policy of the inhumane and cruel treatment of the Eritrean individual, family and communities in Eritrea was put in place during the long war for separation from Ethiopia for the “lofty” purpose of a state. The policy of the contemporary state of Eritrea is a continuation of the ghedli-type of Desiderata (Latin, desired ones) imposed on the masses of Eritrea, and internalized by the masses; that is, the parents of most of the recruits of the National Service/Slavery in the country.

If Luwam and her generation, the future of Eritrea, are to fight the regime, removing the political cataract in their eyes and subsequently helping them see their individuality is a noble task. Denying them the true picture of the past, in light of the history of the lies and brigandage committed by the state of Eritrea, is absolving our old generation’s responsibility. Denying them the true image of the past is tantamount to letting the state steal the recent history of the past, and leaving the defenseless youth with its own corrupt Desiderata. [4] We ought to do better, and the youth “have the right to be here.”[5]



Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
© Max Ehrmann 1927



[1] Estifanos, Luwam. “We know it was wrong…we just didn’t know its name was slavery…”,, January 20, 2014.
[2] Stephanos, Tewelde. “Unfiltered Notes: the Day After”,, January 24, 2014.
[3] The Turin Horse, a film by Bela Tarr.
[4] Ehrmann, Max. Desiderata, 1927.
[5] Ibid.

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