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Reflections of a “Netch Lebash” (Eritrean agent)

May 1, 2011

By Eskinder Nega
There was something in the air on Tuesday, April 14, 2011. Intrigued by news of Ethiopian protesters in North America against the frivolous and mechanically hyped GTP, the glee on the faces of Addis residents was transparently noticeable.
I could sense breaking news in the making. And I was determined to report it as soon as possible. This could not possibly wait up to Friday, the designated day for my weekly English articles. But first I had to finish an Amharic article about Ambassador Donald Booth, the US Ambassador to Ethiopia.

I had to struggle to finalize the Amharic commentary, the last of a two-part article. My heart was no more into it in light of developments in North America over the weekend.

By 1 PM local time I was blissfully free to gauge popular mood in Addis and to surf the Internet for news. Two hours later, I was typing the first lines of my “breaking news” to the Diaspora.

Here is what had I had written:

News of protests plagued GTP meetings in North America has stirred emotions in Addis Ababa. A curiously significant number of people are openly arguing and opinionating about the protests in public venues, where sports and the North African uprisings, rather than domestic politics, normally dominate conversations.

Estimated as only “a handful” by ETV, protesting Ethiopians in DC succeeded in compelling the University to cancel the GTP meeting on Sunday. ETV reported that a bomb threat had been made.

But in an apparent signal as to which side was prone to violence, it was a protester, Tewdros Kabtyimer, who was gratuitously beaten by EPRDF supporters. His crime: proposing a silent prayer in memory of those who had died by government violence. There were also death threats against protesters.

In sharp contrast , not a single government supporter was harmed. As noted by Professor Teodros Kiros, who attended the protest in Boston, “they (government supporters) thought (that with ample provocations) the protesters would be frustrated and enter into street fights.

Instead the protesters remained cool…. The protest against tyranny in Cambridge, attended by an adequate number, was disciplined, well organized and qualitatively impressive.” The only incidence of violence in Boston, too, involved government supporters. A devotee of the EPRDF was arrested for attacking a photographer. Presumably, she was released after being fingerprinted.

And then I had to stop. It was time to see my mother. I had neither inkling nor premonition about the tragedy that was to swiftly and unexpectedly strike several hours later. This was supposed to be a routine visit.

My cell phone rang as the mini-bus approached my mother’s home forty minutes later. It was veteran journalist Bezu Wendemagegnehu calling from Canada. Would I have a few minutes to confer online about the protests? Sure. This should take no more than fifteen minutes.

We explored what the number of people who had turned out for the meetings imply for the EPRDF. Where were the tens of thousands of supporters it claims in North America? Certainly, turn out was strikingly low.

This is noteworthy for two reasons. First, unlike 2005, when the EPRDF cunningly used the ethnic card to rally support, no particular ethnic group turned out in large numbers to the meetings. The allure of the TPLF no more appeals to the middle, only the irrelevant fringe remains. And second, the low numbers mean that even its dwindling supporters have lost hope in the future. They see a sinking ship in the EPRDF.

And then a personal descent to the abyss. The unexpected loss of my beloved mother, who had raised me as a single parent, is a shock I am not sure I will ever recover from. Our unique bond was that of a mother and her only child. I will not try to explain it here.

The EPRDF struck on the third day after my loss, a sacred day of mourning to Ethiopians.This is calculated timing to maximize pain and terror. That the timing was clearly an unprecedented breach of decency and tradition seemed not to have mattered.

“Nech lebashu (secret agent),” a friend teased me as he sat next to me in the huge tent put up for the mourning period.

I stared back in utter bewilderment. Nech lebash is a term Meles Zenawi recently used to describe “opponents of the Ethiopian government who are allied with the Eritrean government.”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t read it yet,” he said, plainly surprised.

I hadn’t. Obviously, family members were doing their best to keep it a secret until the next day.

Taking up a full page of Chanel, a pro-EPRDF weekly noted for its “lumpen journalism”, I was accused of a long list of personal shortcomings. So be it. They do not merit a response. Slander is the least of my worries. But, alas, the central theme of the article was not the personal affronts. They were merely the side show. The thrust of the message was that I am “one of the opponents of the government who is effectively in alliance with Shabiya (Eritrea’s ruling party).” And thus the rational for the title of the article: Nech lebashu gazetengna! The same charge was repeated a week later, last Saturday.

And so, as I mourned the death of my cherished mother, the EPRDF has finally settled on my branding: Nech Lebashu gazetegna! An agent of Shabiya!

Congratulations Dilwenbru Nega! Your voice has been heard.

We are simply awed and humbled by the messages of condolences we received over the past two weeks. We intend to respond to all of them in due time. They have been a source of profound comfort. We are indented to your generosities.

God bless you all.

Eskinder Nega and Serkalem Fasil.
The writer could be reached at serk27@gmail.com

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