Home / Articles / HAUNT OF A CULTURE


Ali Salim – February 27, 2019

This is the first time I am submitting an article to other than Awate (the website). I used to get exhausted writing half the article to apologize in advance and to reassure people that I do not mean what I say and write the next half trying to convince them that what I just said was actually not true. I hope the new environment in Eritrea introduces in us the spirit to listen to those who differ with us in analysis and opinion. We are all in the same basket and our motivation is to create a better future for all and to patch the holes in the sinking boat.

You may find some references to debates that happened in Awate, the website where I used to write, to link the new debate to the old. I will try my best so that the context of this article remains the same.

About a decade ago, when a few of the contributors in Awate, including myself, tried to act whistleblower telling people that a specific Eritrean ethnic group is concealing, “yeteseteroon 3ala …”, a Neo-Nazi monster and a movement of ethnic supremacists, it was mission impossible to even imply that, Eritreans, who fought so hard and died so much as one people could breed a Neo-Nazi or ethnic supremacist. Our dream was for some fanatic to come out of the closet and prove us right. We rejoiced when only one brother (Semere Tesfai, one of the best in Awate) said perfectly reasonable things that we twisted and squeezed to push as evidence that such deplorables do exist in real life. The sleeper cells kept down. It appears that even Semere Tesfai had no idea that the cancer had spread to a point of no return. Today, his tone and claims have proven kindergarten and naïve and we have been vindicated that we were not making up delusions or exaggerating falsehoods. In fact, our claims of a Neo-Nazi movement in hiding were not even close to the magnitude of the problem.


This article aims at drawing your attention to the power of cultures in making or breaking communities. The discussion will attempt to provide a framework that describes the dialogue between individuals and the collective of their communities. Some examples are mentioned to indicate a theoretical possibility of cultural impediments to progress in the Eritrean context and to describe an ethnic group stuck in a vicious cycle.

What follows is within the frame of Eritrean ethnic politics, but it is a genuine attempt to find an explanation for the reason we, as a nation, keep hopping from one catastrophe to another. We ask: why is it that every time we celebrate one victory, we make sure it is succeeded by another cycle of horrors?

Defining Culture

I use the word “culture” for lack of better words. So, let me describe a concept that I think captures the essence of the various definitions of the word. A google search of ‘culture’ will give you: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” Other definitions will include the folklore, dancing, music, language and a bunch of traditional social rituals that apparently distinguish one social group from another. These are all a pile of misleading definitions. What these definitions list have nothing to do with the substance of ‘culture’. These are vehicles that transport cultural expressions of a community or social group. None of these vehicles can distinguish one group from another because as physical objects, they are culture/value neutral. Kobero can transmit the cultural expression of an Eritrean, Nigerian and Nepalese.

Culture is a community’s average collective IQ produced by aggregating the individual IQs of its members. If we agree that all humans are equally endowed at birth and that we have no reason to believe otherwise, we would expect the average IQ of every community to converge to a single figure in any random sample. Since the word ‘culture’ refers to what makes a community unique and different from others, the culprit must be the formula that each community uses to aggregate and project the average collective IQs of its members. Think of IQ in this context as a measure of the intellectual capacity of individual members of a community to learn from their own experiences and those of others. The assumption here is that learning adds to wellbeing and that as individuals engage in learning, they find better ways of creating synergies for progress and less extreme ways of resolving or managing conflicts. With this definition in mind, we can make sense of the claim that ‘democracies do not go to war’ because the claimants presume that democracies converge to superior levels of community IQs.

Think of the formula of aggregating these individual IQs as the system of rewards and penalties that a community applies in such a way that those with advanced IQs, defined above, are rewarded and those with inferior IQs are penalized. The underlying assumption here is that this formula defines the community’s collective consciousness of its long-term goals and of the traits in the collective behaviours that advance these goals. Such a system you would expect would have a dynamic set of safeguards against falling prey to the calculations of members with inferior IQs, as defined above. Since the specific physical circumstances of each community is reasonably unique, it makes sense to assume that each community’s formula, the one we refer to as culture, is unique for each community and it is indeed a distinguishing factor.

In our definition for the purpose of this article, any two communities that score identically on the collective IQ score can be treated as identical irrespective of the cultural assets and rituals that project this score to the community and beyond. It is this formula, with the help of its rewards and penalties, that is expressed though language, music, dancing and folklore in statements of the community’s goals and aspirations. Two factors distinguish between any two identical communities. The first derives from the fact that the nature of challenges that a community faces and therefore its goals and aspirations vary from one time in history to another leading to a variation in the cultural assets that a community decides to deploy in order to communicate the timely tasks at any point in time. A community’s IQ score here determines the community’s wisdom in the choice of the cultural assets and the proposed solutions that are expressed through them. Compare the stories that communities tell through music and poetry at a time of war with those you hear during peace time. Some communities propose solutions and others dig trenches.

The second and more critical distinction derives from differences in the expressive capacity of the God-given cultural assets of the community including language, poetry and music. Pick any two patriotic songs one from Sudan in Arabic and another from Eritrea in Tigrigna. Translate the lyrics of both songs to a neutral language such as English. Compare the difference in the expressive capacity of the two communities through their respective languages. Note that while one community can communicate a 3D image of its goals and aspirations in terms of proposed actions, expected rewards and anticipated costs, the other is restricted to a descriptive 2D image that lacks depth and usually fails to incorporate anticipated costs. You probably noted that the example contradicts with the statement above that cultural artifacts such as language are neutral and that the variation comes from what they are made to carry. In that case pick a song by Helen Meles, a multicultural (3D) Tigrigna, and Wedi Tikhul, a plain (2D) Tigrigna, and you will arrive at the same conclusion. The same applies to any other form of expression including a comparison between the chanting and slogans in Sudanese and Eritrean demonstrations in any country and on identical issues.

Living Examples

In what follows, where an ethnic group is mentioned by name, it is defining that ethnic group in terms of my judgement of its formula of aggregation. This has nothing to do with racism and its likes. A racist statement that is used to describe a certain community is by definition a statement that also applies to every individual in that community. Based of the preceding introduction, a statement on the IQ of a community cannot in any way imply anything about the IQs of individual members. It says everything about the governing structure of the community.

Although it is reasonable to expect that intelligent individuals make an intelligent community, in many cases, a reactionary tyrannical elite within the community can enforce a regime of rewards and penalties that controls the impact that individuals can have on the average collective IQ of the community. In comparison, an enlightened elite can impose a regime of rewards and penalties that assigns positive multipliers on the impact of good individuals and negative multipliers on the contribution of the bad ones. A judgement on the collective of the community defined in terms of this formula, therefore, is not necessarily a judgement on the intelligence of the individuals that make up the community.

Allow me to dedicate the rest of this article to one ethnic group, the Tigrigna, in Eritrea that had a huge impact on the modern history of the country, simply because in addition to being the largest single ethnic group, its members have always been at the center of every political incident in Eritrea. I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that whatever good you read in the achievement of the Eritrean people bears the finger prints of amazing individuals hailing from this ethnic group. Similarly, whatever bad you read in Eritrean history has the hallmarks of some idiots hailing from this same ethnic group.

The point I will try to make in what follows is that the average collective IQ of the Tigrigna, defined strictly in terms of the formula described above, is Zero. I am in no way implying that other ethnic groups perform better. There is simply no data on others. We do not know whether other ethnic groups would have reacted similar to the Tigrigna had they been presented with the same opportunities and challenges. In the case of the Tigrigna, we have concrete experience from a well documented history. Based on these historical records, I sincerely believe that through no fault of their own, the Tigrigna culture is plagued with a tyrannical elite that manipulates the system of cultural rewards and penalties in such a way that intelligent Tigrignas cancel one another in a formula that guarantees zero-sum. You might have wondered why all these wonderful, brilliant Tigrigna professors with unmatched accomplishments in western universities behave like idiots when it comes to Eritrea.

I will give you a few examples and feel free to assign a score other than zero where you think the Tigrigna as a community have demonstrated any sign of learning from history and replaced themselves and the country on track to progress. I of course challenge you: (a) to come up with a convincing argument that I have in any way misrepresented the facts or twisted them to make a point; (b) to head to the libraries and dig the books to find me a single example of where cultural behaviour that resembles what I am going to tell you was documented anywhere else at any time in history. If you choose the library option, one condition is that you exclude holy books because holly books have populations who had been cursed and they may fit some of the scenarios.

Following are some examples. Obviously, you may not agree with some or all the statements of facts:

Tigrigna Step 1:

In the 1940s and 50s, the Tigrigna elite of the time, through a system of rewards and penalties, managed to unite almost the whole of the ethnic group in support of the Unionist Party (Andnet). In a struggle that cost the ethnic group greatly in terms of material losses and loss of credibility among other ethnic groups, the Tigrigna managed to achieved federation with Ethiopia in 1952. Most of them remained dedicated to the federation until they helped the king achieve the full unification with Ethiopia in 1962.

Tigrigna Step 2:

In the mid 70s, the Tigrigna elite of the time, through a similar process, managed to mobilize the majority of the Tigrigna to support the Eritrean armed struggle.  Nearly all Tigrigna remained dedicated and presented unmatched heroism and sacrifice (along with all other ethnic groups) until the achievement of the independence from Ethiopia in 1991. Complete opposite of Step 1.

Tigrigna Step 3:

Starting in the mid 1970s, although all Eritrean liberation organizations supported the Tigraian struggle, the EPLF and by implication the Tigrigna remained dedicated to supporting the TPLF until the destruction of the Derg in 1991. It is not an overstatement to say that the sacrifices of Eritreans, especially the Tigrigna, played a major role in enabling the Tigraian people to take control of Ethiopia.

Tigrigna Step 4:

In 1998, when the border war broke, the Tigrigna (in addition to other ethnic groups) completely turned their back to Tigaians. They fought them tooth and nail both during active hostilities and during the ‘cold war’. The sacrifices that the Tigrigna paid in the war and afterwards were unbelievable. They celebrated and rejoice when they succeeded in achieving to overthrow of the TPLF at the hands of a new prime minister in 2018. Complete opposite of Step 3.

Tigray Step 5:

You may say the Tigray is counterexample. Well in the 1940s and 50s, the amount of Tigraian support to the unification of Eritrea and the sacrifices that Tigraian made through the Andnet and the Tigay-Tigrigni project is a matter that is usually overlooked. The outright commitment of Tigraians to the unification of Eritrea with Ethiopia continued unparalleled until the mid 1970s.

Tigray Step 6:

In the mid 1970s, they declared an armed revolution – the Weyane. All Tigraians united with one voice, endured untold hardships, fought like there is no tomorrow and destroyed the Derg (with the help of the EPLF) in 1991. From the get-go, they insisted on Eritrea’s independence and crashed every Ethiopian opposition to the secession of Eritrea, and they stayed dedicated until Eritrea completed the referendum and achieved complete international recognition. They even gave Eritrea a few more years to establish itself as a sovereign and independent country that few Ethiopians would be tempted to reclaim again. Complete opposite of Step 5.

Tigray Step 7:

In 1998, you may say different, but I say, the TPLF invented the border war. The whole of Tigray united behind the Ethiopian war machine, tried over and over in successive offensives until they ensured the breakdown of the pride of the Eritrean army. As if that was not enough, they remained dedicated to the goal of strangulating Eritrea economically, diplomatically and politically.  Complete opposite of Step 6.

Tigray Step 8:

In 2018, when they lost to Abby Ahmed his Amhara fanatics, Tigraians suddenly and without advance warning turned into new-born evangelists of peace and love specifically with Eritrea. They went into a trans invited complete amnesia of what was being said only weeks before Abby took power. Complete opposite of Step 7.


Each of the successive steps listed above for both the Tigrigna and the Tigray represent jumps from one position to its complete opposite. These were not hoopla games in the park. They were catastrophes that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives. Each of these adventures were so grave as you know they could have wiped whole countries.

Can anyone say what kind of a genius it takes to convince a whole nation (of millions of people) to fight and die in thousands to do one thing and a few years later convince the same individuals to do the exact opposite and pay the same price again? How do the elites in these communities induce amnesia of events that had just happened to the extent that they would reproduce the identical contrary over and over? Why do their communities follow them from one hole to the other without hesitation? I am sure you are amazed at the creation of the Almighty and going “gadir Allah fi’mulkuh” (as the Sudanese would say).

But the question for you is: what score would you give such a community in the scale of average collective IQ?


The primary argument here is that ensuring cultural diversity in Eritrea’s decision-making is not an issue of social welfare. It is not even about the so-called equality rights including the right of other ethnic groups to share power and wealth. It is the missing third dimension in Eritrea. It is the dimension that governs the most serious national security threat. The threat that derives from the ability of the underlying tyrannical elite to orchestrate massive suicide missions. They have done it repeatedly and consistently and the risk this time may be imminent – now that they have defeated one enemy and have embarked on flirting with the contrary. Like it or not, we are back in the 1940s: the Tigrigna will push this to the end and there is no force in hell that will stop them.

As lowlanders, it would be dumb to repeat history and get bitten twice from the same hole. We must guarantee we don’t. It is true that the Weyane, and with them the people of Tigray, have been defeated, humiliated and chased out of the brokerages of political power in Ethiopia. It is true that the PFDJ, and with them the Tigrigna, are crawling south to fill the gaps. It is also true that this dumb alliance deserves full credit for digging their own grave by institutionalizing a structural blending of the qualifications for political power in Ethiopia. This new blend has opened new possibilities and networks of potential allies in Ethiopia that would have only been a dream for the lowlanders of the 1940s and 50s.

The idea here is simple: if they want to jump into the coffin out of their own free will, give them all the help they need. Your job is to get the nail and hammer ready so that they do not come out of it ever again.



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