Eritrea: Colonized Mind, False Sense of Self and Delusion

(By: Jossy Romanat)

The legacies of European colonization of Africa have different forms – economic, social, political and cultural imperialism and perhaps the cultural aspect is the most destructive. The famous Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book “Decolonizing the mind” (1986) states that the European colonization of Africa “was effected through the sword and the bullet. But the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard. The physical violence of the battle field was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle”. The colonizers employed a number of approaches to sustain their physical and psychological presence. In Eritrea, the Italians preferred to use a technique of creating a sense of false identity and distancing Eritreans from the people next door, who have been enjoying their freedom and sense of proud forever (a bad example for colonizers). In doing so, the Italians were effective; they succeeded, to a large extent, in convincing some Eritreans that colonialism is good for modernity. Some people were proud that they are better than the people next door because they can speak some Italian, because they are able to eat ‘basta’ (Pasta) obviously with ‘farketta’ (fork), because they can work for Italian campaniles as labourers, because they were not “traditional” or “backward” any more. Although these phenomena were mainly in the urban areas, the majority of Eritrean population in the rural areas have suffered a lot from the consequences. So clearly, psychological (mind) colonization was very effective in Eritrea, and of course it helps sustain the Italian colonization without any meaningful resistance. Note that Eritreans started an organized resistance in 1961 when they were destined to be “colonized” by Ethiopia (a “non-white, non-European, backward state” according to the colonized mind).

Before and after independence, while many other African countries were continuously struggling to seize back their real sense of identity and self-definition, Eritreans under their current “free state” are in delusion, denial and self-contradictions. The current PFDJ’s government is advancing two strategies: on one hand it is reviving the old sense of false identity started by the colonial Italy; on the other hand, when faced with realities they play the game of
“victimhood”. Recently, after witnessing a two decades long empty promises and failures, the PFDJ is tirelessly working to indoctrinate the youngsters that the entire international community is working day and night to undermine Eritrea and Eritreans because they are “the best people” with “the best government” prospering while the world is in crisis. Although both strategies are temporarily working to increase the life span of the PFDJ regime, in reality they are killing the people and the country softly, or “gently”- to use Ngugi’s word.

Currently, while poverty, unemployment, repression, lack of good governance and related problems are common in many African states, the situation is worst in Eritrea, especially after the war with Ethiopia. The situation in Eritrea is exacerbated by the subsequent “no-war no-peace” strategy advanced by the EPRDF government in Ethiopia. Thus, these days, Eritreans are leaving their county in any means they could, including coming to Ethiopia — a country they were told is a “sworn enemy” of Eritrea and Eritreans.

This week, the prime minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn told Aljezeera that if Eritrea is willing to come to discussions about the border and other regional issues, he is willing to travel to Eritrea and discuss the matter with Mr. Afewerki. This is the same policy his predecessor, the late PM. Meles Zenawi advocates for about 10 years. At this point, it is clear that Isayas will not be willing to do what Ethiopia has suggested. But what other Eritreans think? There are mixed feelings among Eritreans, but as to me the dominant view is “follow what Wedi Afom said”. The following is extracted from an article by Harnet Belay, published on “Dehai Eritrea” in response to Hailemariam’s remark (there are other similar articles with the same theme, denouncing Ethiopia’s call for bilateral negotiations);

“Ethiopian PM double standard talk won’t help resolve his country’s job problems. First, he is the one with 80,000 million population “Belategna Hizbi” slaving anywhere for a piece of bread. Thus, he has a bigger fish to fry than Eritrea. ……….. Mr. PM do not play super power when you are the needy? Eritrean people know who you are and how you get there. Eritrea is shooting to second world creating jobs, unless for humanity and long standing mutual respectful neighbor understanding, it does need Ethiopia’s role playing in the economy to move forward. Thus what Ethiopia delusional for the last two decades that Eritrea would not survive without Ethiopia— Proved

The irony is that the above statement is not a mere propaganda of the regime. It is a view shared by many, including those who escaped the country because of the reverse situations on the ground. To me, this is a clear manifestation of the false sense of self, the self-denial and delusion – clear legacies of psychological colonization. “False self”, according to D.W Winnicott (1960), is “a defense designed to protect the true self by hiding it”. There is also a saying in Tigrigna “Mesheharis ya enahareret tisihiq” (popcorn pops while it is burning). If Eritrea is “shooting to second world creating jobs” is that why everyone from Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Egypt and Israel is moving to Eritrea in mass? Is that why the refugee camps in Eritrea are flooded with refugees from the neighbouring countries? Is that why all football and athletics teams from other African countries seek asylum in Eritrea? Is that why Eritrea has the lowest asylum seekers per-capita in the world? Is that why ……….. ? This is just committing self-suicide gently!

So, I asked myself “What is the best way for Eritreans to get out of the mess?” and I answered “the key solution is to decolonize their mind”, though “decolonizing” one’s mind may take long time. Speaking of a colonized child, Ngugi wa states that “the image of this world and his place in it implanted in a child take years to eradicate, if they ever can be”. So, demarcating the border with Ethiopia, removing Isayas Afwerki or the PFDJ will not be enough to solve Eritrea’s problems, but they could help pave the way to redefinition of “self” and the image many Eritreans have about the real world …… a big assignment to be done by Eritreans and Eritreans only.

The author Jossy Romanat is an author on this blog. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Check the archive for previous posts by the same author.

Jossy Romanat