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Asmerom Legesse’s Babbling Stereotype against the People of Tigray

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                                      April 30, 2019


Once again, I am compelled to defend the people of Tigray from virulent and vitriolic attack; this time in response to an educated old man. The latter two words combine intellectualism and wisdom, but it looks that Asmerom Legesse betrayed himself from acquiring socially and naturally endowed gifts in his babbling stereotype attack against the people of Tigray.

Before I delve into the retort, which is the objective of this brief piece, however, I like to first begin with some positive remarks in order to maintain my integrity and also save scholarship’s investigative discourse and objective analysis from decadence. I don’t know Asmerom very well but I recall we met and talked when he came to an event in New York in the late 1980s when he was at Swarthmore College; I have read his works, and one of his scholarly contributions, GADA: Three Approaches to the Study of an African Society, without doubt, is a masterpiece of ethnographic study on the Borana Oromo traditional social system.

By the time GADA was published in 1973, Asmerom Legesse was probably in his mid-40s with physical stamina and mental alertness but he may have degenerated overtime due to his own choosing of becoming an advocate (a lackey) for the status quo. This bizarre behavior is well attested by Asmerom’s “Critique of the Human Rights Commission” in which he criticizes the human rights group report of 400 pages by emphasizing, on the contrary, Eritrea’s achievement’s in the last two and half decades.1    Old age also may have taken a toll and it is doubtful whether Asmerom’s mental faculty is in order or not. Whatever the reason behind Asmerom’s condition, I offer below a wittily incisive rebuttal to his poorly recorded video clip in which he insulted the people of Tigray, and more specifically Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia.

When Asmerom Legesse was asked by two people (male and female) of the ER Express Media, “Why are these Tigrayans saying ‘we are brothers’ to us, Eritreans” Asmerom started out to answer the question first by a sarcastic smile and laugh, and then continued, “We must learn from our history; beware of these Tegaru; they [have] inferiority complex. He further said that because Emperor Yohannes was inferior he made Amharic the official language and he did not want to speak in Tigrigna in his own palace.

With respect to the “inferiority complex of Tegaru”, I will elaborate and critically examine later; let me first deal with Asmerom’s characterization of Emperor Yohannes. It is abundantly clear to me that Asmerom is ignorant of the 19th century Ethiopian history. First and foremost, the reason why the Emperor declared Amharic as a lingua franca of Ethiopia was technical and pragmatic; Amharic was spoken in central Ethiopia and the Emperor’s domain included Jimma that was governed by Abba Jifar, and in order to effectively communicate with the Oromo and other peoples in southern Ethiopia, Amharic was an ideal bridge between Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. Secondly, Amharic, like Tigrigna evolved out of Geez and in its formative period it was spoken as a secret coded language by the elite and kings of Aksum in their respective palaces, and for this reason, Amharic was labeled as Lisane Negus (the language of the king).

On top of the historical fact I stated above in regards to Amharic as a lingua franca of Ethiopia, I don’t see any reason why speaking a language other than ones mother tongue makes one inferior; for instance, Asmerom himself was speaking in both Tigrigna and English when responding to the questions in the interview; does speaking English makes Asmerom inferior? Perhaps! If one feels “superior” because s/he speaks foreign language is even worse. That feeling of superiority is inverted inferiority, because the individual (e.g. a victim of colonial heritage) thinks that foreign language is superior to his own tongue.

Furthermore, “inferiority complex” cannot at all depict the great Emperor’s persona; this Emperor, after all, was a courageous, defiant, and no nonsense king of kings when it comes to the defense of Ethiopia; he led major battles in which he crashed the Ottoman Egyptian troops at Gundet (1875) and Gura’e (1876), and routed and defeated the Italians two times; first at Sehati in1885 and then at Dogali (led by his great General Ras Alula) in 1887. A person with the highest sense of self-sacrifice cannot suffer from inferiority complex because that person is more than confident to even confront the imminence of death, as the great Emperor Yohannes did at the Battle of Metema in 1889; he fell at the battle and died on the second day after the battle was over, and was beheaded by the Dervish enemies. If it were not for the death of Emperor Yohannes, Eritrea would have not been born as a primogeniture Italian colony in Africa and Asmerom Legesse would have remained a Tigrayan Ethiopian. It is this reality perhaps that disturbs Asmerom from within his subconscious mind.    

At the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, Ethiopians made history not only by defeating the invading Italian troops but also by preserving Ethiopian independence, which ultimately became inspirational to all Africans and the Black Diaspora. The victory of Ethiopians at the Battle of Adwa made an indelible and imperishable mark on the history of the African continent. All Ethiopians were united like one at the battle, and some leaders that played a pivotal role for a resounding victory were Tigrayan leaders such as Ras Mengesha, Ras Alula, Ras Sebhat, and Dejach Hagos Teferi; and few days before the Battle of Adwa, it was Ras Sebhat and his gallant forces that destroyed the Italian troops in Adigrat. Can these great leaders be labeled inferior? Obviously not; and of the four Italian brigades at Adwa, one brigade was composed of entirely black, native Eritrean troops fighting for the Italians vis-à-vis Ethiopians fighting on behalf of themselves and their country; the former is servility and the latter is patriotic bravery; which of the two is inferior? Asmerom and his likes should answer this elementary question before they venture into their nonsensical verbiage. Similarly, several years ago in my article entitled “Falsification of History will not Conceal Ethiopia’s Victory at Adwa,” I responded to one Eritrean “scholar” who argued that victory was of the Italians and not Ethiopians; it is very true that individuals who are in a state of denial could be completely blinded, and a person who believes in fantastic and fabricated imagery of Italian victory at Adwa is delusional and inferior.

At any rate, for educational purposes, it is imperative to define ‘inferiority complex’ following a handbook dictionary: feelings of inferiority are intensified in the individual through discouragement and failure; those who are at the risk of developing a complex include people who show signs of low self-esteem or self-worth, have a low socioeconomic status and a history of depression. None of these definitional factors are attributable to the people of Tigray, as I will substantiate later.

Before I dissect Asmerom’s “inferiority complex” prefix to Tegaru, however, I like to close this section of the essay by what I wrote on Emperor Yohannes in 2006: “After Emperor Tewodros, Emperor Yohannes IV is another great visionary whose person is characterized by unparalleled altruism, incomparable sense of justice and humanist principle at its core. By his utmost commitment to his people and his country and his indefatigable patriotism, Yohannes makes every Ethiopian a dwarf-thinking animal.”2  

The people of Tigray in general are dignified and proud people, and as argued above the attributes of inferiority complex cannot be factors for explaining Tegaru, notwithstanding individuals who are not confident in themselves. When Asmerom Legesse uttered the phrase “inferiority complex” vis-à-vis Tegaru, he was probably venting his bias that was inculcated unto his brain when he was a lad at his neighborhood Geza Kenisha or Zoba Saba (district of Saba, the Ethiopian queen), and in most places in Asmara, where Eritreans used to bully Tegaru who were engaged in menial jobs as “Agame”. What Asmerom and his likes did not know, however, is the fact that there were thousands of Tegaru in Eritrea who were managers and owners of businesses, ranging from small stores to major service industries such as hotels; wherever they go, Tegaru don’t discriminate work and that is a sign of confidence, and due to their diligence and hard work they were affluent in material gain and rich in their psychological makeup. 

Moreover, Tegaru were not just great business people; thanks to the bravery and confidence of their forebears, including Emperor Yohannes and Ras Alula Abba Nega, they are astute politicians and fearless fighters; the EPLF knows too well about the bravery commanded by TPLF fighters in Sahel; in support of this evidence, Shaleka Dawit Woldegiorgis told us in his book Red Tears, that victory of the Derg troops over the EPLF fighters was almost ascertained and realized if it were not for the TPLF forces that distracted the Ethiopian soldiers by shooting from the rear. It is these same TPLF forces that played a major role in the making of new Eritrea and that also crashed and defeated the last stronghold of the Derg at the Battle of Shire in Western Tigray. Unless someone wittingly or unwittingly condemns himself to become so irrational and erratic, what a casual observer sees in Tegaru is overconfidence. To be overconfident is not good either, but it is at least the antidote of Asmerom’s impoverished and biased view of Tigrayans.      

So that Asmerom and his likes understand the real nature of Tegaru, I invite them to read what I wrote in 2003 in an article entitled “Hail the People of Tigray, Defenders of Ethiopian Sovereignty and Custodians of its Civilization,” and here below is what I argued then:

“It all began in Tigray. Tigray is the cradle and hub of Ethiopian civilization. In Tigray, Ethiopia’s future seems to contend its past while the present testifies cyclical historical events as constant reminders of the distant and near past. In Tigray, the modern period seems to tend the requisite touch of antiquity, as if to deliberately endure uninterrupted Ethiopian state. After all, this quintessentially northern Ethiopian state is the plain field of ancient civilization and unparalleled conventional wisdom, and as custodian to that epic African ingenuity.”3 

Although the above quotation is on Tigray, actually by extension it is for all Ethiopia, and any person endowed with reason can easily grasp the essence of the essay and conclude that Tigrayans and other Ethiopians have a solid history that makes them proud and there is no way they could suffer from inferiority complex in spite of the primordial brain of Asmerom Legesse that entertains a smug and snobbish stereotype.

In a similar vein, in 2005, I had to respond to a disgruntled British journalist by the name Michela Wrong, who also insulted the people of Tigray; her piece was entitled “How Horn of Africa Brothers Fell Out” and appeared on BBC on December 15, 2005. The author’s childish insult directed against the people of Tigray included, among other things, haughty statements and terms such as “Agame” and “Libi Tigray” (the “heart of Tigray” to mean devious and deceitful). Here below is how I responded to here then:

“Humbug ignoramus people as well as those who are frightened and challenged by the magnanimity of Tigrayans (quintessential Ethiopians), not surprisingly will try to underplay or undermine the Tigrayan initiative and achievements…They simply don’t know how proud the Tigrayans are of their heritage and how solidified their integrity is; how the Tigrayans are full of themselves; how humble and generous they are. Tigrayans exhibit resilience and determination in the daily encounter of their social life, and when it comes to the enemy they very much are like a provoked lion; unlike some of their provocateurs overwhelmed with infantile emotions, they are highly calculated and when necessary they make the move when they are sure they [will] win the day or are poised to overcome difficulties.”4       

It looks that Asmerom Legesse wants to end his life by contradicting or denying his own identity as a Tigryan in its broader sense. He could argue that he is Eritrean and not Tigrayan and he is entitled to determine his fate, but he could also be lost in the wilderness of identity crisis with respect to nationality. Furthermore, if Asmerom negates or refuses to accept his ethnicity, which is Tigrayan, he himself will suffer from inferiority complex. I like to extend a piece of advice to Asmerom with respect to ethnic identity. Throughout the continent of Africa, same ethnic groups (e.g. Fulani, Mandinka, Ewe, Igbo, Somali, Bakango, etc) are now found in different nation-states; they are citizens of those respective nations, but their ethnic nationality remains the same. By the same token, the various nationalities of Eritrea bordering Ethiopia, like Saho, Afar, Tigray, and Kunama are also found in Ethiopia.

If the above explanatory note on ethnicity is not convincing, however, Asmerom should research and find out what the smart Ras Tessema Asberom said in front of the UN Commission in the 1940s. The following is what he said in part to the Commission: “During the reign of Emperor Yohannes, no foreign government that came from outside took a piece of land from Ethiopia; because the origin of the people of Eritrea and Tigray is the same [and] their culture and language are the same…they should become one and establish their own state.”5 Incidentally, the Ras also said “our Tegaru brothers”, which, I gather neither Asmerom nor the interviewers seem to know that Eritreans repeatedly associated themselves with Ethiopia in general and Tigray in particular. If Asmerom does not want to deal with these historical facts but wants to engage in sober exchange of ideas, he can consult many reasonable and intelligent Eritreans like Amanuel Sahle who understand the genuine relationship between the Tegaru (or the Tigrigna as they want to call themselves) of Eritrea and the Tegaru of Tigray. Moreover, Asmerom should ask President Isaias why he said “the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is meaningless” just after Eritrea gained its independence; and also why he said just a year ago, “If one thinks these two people [Eritreans and Ethiopians] are not the same, s/he is mistaken”. Asmerom’s diatribe contradicts Isaias’ relatively conciliatory phrases and it is up to him to find out what the Eritrean head of state thinks about Ethiopians in general and Tegaru in particular.

At this juncture, however, Asmerom should leave the Tigrayans alone, or else he will pay a price; in my opinion, the first price he should pay is that he should be stripped off the honorary doctor of letters that he was conferred by Addis Ababa University on December 19, 2018.

Notes

1.    “Professor Asmerom Gets it Wrong”, awate.com, August 11, 2015

2.    Ghelawdewos Araia, “The Martyred King of Kings: Emperor Yohannes VI of Ethiopia” www.africanidea.org/atse_yohannes.pdf  July 3, 2006

3.    Ghelawdewos Araia, “Hail the People of Tigray, Defenders of Ethiopian Sovereignty and Custodians of its Civilization,” africanidea.org; see also “Ethiopian Diaspora Politics and the People of Tigray,” in www.africanidea.org/Ethiopian_diaspora_polotics.html

4.    Ghelawdewos Araia, “Wrong is Dead Wrong on Horn of Africa Brothers,” www.africanidea.org/wrong_dead.html

5.    UN Four Powers Commission Report, 1948

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