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Excrept from Part II - The Conveyor Belt of Death in Eritrea

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 18:12 Yosief Ghebrehiwet

(4) Selective outrage

Then there are those that have become adept at “selective outrage”; one they reserve to the pain of their own kind only. These are the ones who get “outraged” not because of the deed itself but of who has done it and to whom. In the case of the ongoing Kunama massacre, what matters to them most is the fact that Shaebia did it. Since putting Shaebia into a negative light is all they care, one wonders if they are not indeed happy that such atrocities are taking place, especially if such tragedies don’t come from a people they don’t consider their own. This “selective outrage” has been one of the main sources that sustain the tyrant, allowing him to target one group at a time as the rest remain silent (waiting for their turn or watching gleefully as their misfortune spreads to others). The unfortunate Kunama, whom neither Shaebia nor Jebha consider them as “their own kind”, or, for that matter, whom neither the lowlanders nor the highlanders consider them as their own kind, find themselves in that difficult position of proving their “Eritreanness” where the very idea of Eritrea has been anything but fair to them. After all, it was the very father of the movement, Idris Awate himself, that conducted an all out assault against the Kunamas. His feudal mind can only think of settling age-old tribal scores between the Kunamas on one side and the Beni-Amir and Baria on the other side. Shaebia is only following this proven path of death and destruction that Idris Awate and Jebha carved for it long ago. So a good example of those who have become adept at selective outrage, and very pertinent to the Kunama case, would be those who absolutely deny that Jebha had nothing to do with the marginalization and victimization of Kunama but who are now shedding crocodile tears over their misfortune. Since such admitting cannot be done without sullying the name of their hero, Idris Awate, they are unwilling to take that first step that would reconcile them not only with the Kunama people, but also with their violent past.The story of Awate, as the Kunama relate it, is full of horror: entire villages burned down to ground, many houses with their inhabitants inside; men, women and children indiscriminately killed; entire fertile areas abandoned (later to be settled mainly by the Tigrignas), their cattle plundered and sold in Kessela; etc. Here is how the VK/ KAM team of the website puts it (“Why are the Kunama people always being accused, marginalized, persecuted and their land exploited?”): “To a very considerable number of Kunama, who had not only known Hamid Idris Awate personally, but they had also had to abandon their land and villages set ablaze by him and their entire cattle raided and sold in the market places of Kassala (Sudan), the news of this same Hamid Idris Awate, been chosen as the leader of a national liberation movement was not only very surprising but profoundly shocking.” “Many Kunama have vivid memories of Hamid Idris Awate who had committed so many atrocities against them and eventually succeeded in emptying entire Kunama villages around the areas of Biakundi, Anali and Ugaro.“These fertile Kunama areas are, today, mostly inhabited by the Tigrigna speaking highland Eritreans who are said to have, not only outnumbered and squeezed the Kunama into confined zones, but they have also the effrontery to chase out any Kunama person who travels back there to claim his or her lost ancestral land.”What a neat division of labour: The Beni-Amir and the Baria, under the leadership of Idris Awate, clear a huge swath of land of its Kunama inhabitants in a Janjaweed-like massacre, and the Tigrignas come to settle on it and refuse to let its inhabitants return. This bizarre event alone makes a mockery of the dishonest dialog on land settlement that is going on right now.Responding to the unabashed romanticizing of this mass murderer, the VK/ KAM team of the website responds with:

“We Kunama are addressing and reminding Mr. Saleh AA Younis that the Kunama people, particularly the Kunama inhabitants of the Kunama Tika region, have long been proving and stating that Hamid Idris Awate had committed untold and atrocious crimes against them for no reasons and indiscriminately killing Kunama men, women and children, and therefore that he was a local villain and an “ordinary shifta” ... Hamid Idris Awate, for the Kunama people and, removed from his alleged connection with the beginning of the Eritrean armed struggle, was and remains a local villain, a murderer, “an ordinary shifta”, a cattle raider and a criminal element ...” (“Does Mr. Saleh AA Younis know of Hamid Idris Awate better than the Kunama people?” May 28, 2009)

What is more, this genocide started by Awate was to be happily continued by Jebha till the late 70’s:

“… Awkwardly enough, some members of the Jebha unit which had operated in the Kunama land, in the early sixties (1960s) and late seventies (1970s), started to conduct retaliatory activities against the Kunama people, burning Kunama villages, even with their inhabitants inside their huts …” (“Why are the Kunama people always being accused, marginalized, persecuted and their land exploited?”)

And writing on the extent of Jebha’s brutality on the Kunama, it goes on to add: “The number of the innocent Kunama killed by certain members of the Jabha-Al-Tahrir group during the armed-struggle times has reached and passed the thousands.”

The atrocities that Awate and Jebha conducted are told and retold by the Kunama people with such vividness, particularity and detail that it is impossible they could have been made up. Besides, there are other accounts – British, Italian and Eritrean – that corroborate the Kunama’s side of the story. And, if we take the late atrocities of the 60’s and 70’s, there are many of those who witnessed it still alive. Given this, it is amazing the extent of denial to which the “romanticizers” are willing to go just to keep the image of their shifta hero or the organization he was leading pristine. What is more amazing is that these are the very people who have been wearing the “reconciliation” mantra as badge of honour, flaunting it at every opportunity they get. The blind spot that they have developed to their own kind is so huge that when they talk about their heroes it is only in absolute romanticizing terms. Here is what the VK/KAM team has to say regarding the irreconcilable contradiction that uncritical hero-worship and the professed reconciliation task carry:

“Mr. Saleh AA Younis has all the right to ‘romanticise with ghedli’, with its founders and leaders, but, to our view, he should also consider that, as a member of ‘'s team’, dedicated to ‘Reconciliation’ as its motto and aim, very controversial figures, like Hamid Idris Awate, no matter how heroic they may appear, are to be neither glorified nor admired more than what they do really deserve. For the Kunama people, the person and the name itself of ‘Hamid Idris Awate’ is an element of horror, about which no compromise, and therefore, no ‘Reconciliation’ can ever be contemplated.” (“Does Mr. Saleh AA Younis know of Hamid Idris Awate better than the Kunama people?”)

The first in line for Jebha followers is to admit that these gross atrocities had been committed, prior to all their grandstanding. The “reconciliation” that they often brag about doesn’t come from the perverted kind of “Truth” that they profess to have sole ownership of but from looking at oneself through the public mirror.

To add insult to injury, a monument of this villain has been built in the midst of the Kunama land (now predictably settled by other ethnic groups) – a reminder to the Kunama people that when it comes to the interest of “Eritrea”, it is the concern of the two major population groups that will come first; and they are to be found in neither.

If there are any people in Eritrea to whom the whole nation should kneel down and confess, it would be the Kunama. And in this regard I especially mean the Tigrigna, the Beni-Amir and the Baria, which have been either assaulting them or encroaching on their lands for decades, or both.

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Relevant article to the above story


Environment, society and the
state in southwestern Eritrea by Alexander Naty

The beginning of the liberation struggle in the early 1960s in Eritrea has exacerbated
the relations between the Kunama and other ethnic groups in the Gash-Setit region. 6
The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) whose leadership was dominated by the Beni-
Amer, Tigre and to a lesser extent the Nara, mistreated the Kunama people from the
very outset by burning their villages and killing community elders in some localities.7
These activities alienated the Kunama people. For their survival, the Kunama had to
seek support from Ethiopia, which enabled them to resist the Eritrean liberation fronts
almost until the final years of the struggle period. This should not be interpreted as if
there were no individual Kunamas within the liberation fronts.

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