Tesfaye Gebreab, a well-known author and controversial writer passed away

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Tesfaye Gebreab, a well-known author and controversial writer in the field of literature in Ethiopia for the past 30 years, passed away. Tesfaye has been receiving medical treatment in Nairobi, Kenya for the past few months and passed away on Friday, December 25, 2021 at the age of 54.

Born in Bishoftu to Eritrean parents, Tesfaye first joined the Derg army and later joined the EPRDF armed struggle.

Tesfaye, a member of the TPLF for ten years, left Ethiopia and lived in exile in Kenya, Holland and Eritrea during the Ethio-Eritrean war. Tesfaye, who was in charge of the Ethiopian Press Agency during his first years in power, was the editor-in-chief of Efoita, a magazine published by the ruling party.

Tesfaye has published eight Amharic books, most notably Burka Zimeta and the Journalist’s Notes. Tesfaye has been widely criticized for his “Burqa Zimeta” conspiracy to create divisions among Ethiopians.

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  1. There was no derg Army. The army he joined was Ethiopian Army since the time of Menelik II until it was dismissed in 1991. Governments changed from Menelik to Abeto Iyassu to Qeen Zewditu to Haile Selassie I to Fascist Italy (waging resistance battles at home or exiled in Kenya and then the Sudan to the most part) and back to Haile Selassie I and then General Aman (joined Eth Army in Sudan during fascist Italy’s occupation), General Teferi and Colonel Mengistu’s Military gov’t which was known as Derg but the Army stayed the same until 1991.

    I’ve read four of Tesfaye’s books and I wonder if the controversial YeBurQa-Zimita was actually his alone. The quality of the literature in that book was of a much lower quality and some of the chapters don’t even connect or match. My conclusion is: that book was written by a bunch of TPLF political cadres some of whom don’t even speak/write Amharic properly.

    The purpose of that book was very clear and that is why so many were angry or happy depending on whom you ask. But one review of that book written by an Ethiopian author whose grand parents were of Eritrean origin made much more sense than the rest. The reviewer went into details and analyzed many chapters in that book where gross errors were plenty and proved that YeBurQa-Zimita can not be Tesfaye’s.

    Tesfaye was very popular for his other books among the Ethiopian diaspora who didn’t read YeBurQa-Zimita. (most of his popularity was not for literature though, it was for exposing the hated gov’t at that time) And a political party that was very pissed made that book available on line for free. For that reason many people didn’t need to buy his first book that made him very popular. Tesfaye tried to downplay the effect but in private he dug in for revenge and went all the way to the other side after he had made all the rounds on Ethiopian medias. The books he wrote after the three series were not widely read. I’m not sure if he can translate them into another language for his target readers, and if he did the style for which he is admired would certainly be lost. And then he just faded away and was only present on his face book page. Only a tiny minority cared about what he had to say b/c he had made his decision to get a divorce from Ethiopia.

    The side he joined couldn’t make any use of him any more and they stopped inviting him on their medias. Here and there some politicians would cut and past a paragraph or two from his first book in exile but that was it. Those who totally loved his style of writing found it difficult to defend YeBurQa-Zimita and most of all what he was said afterwards on some media.

    I watched him drumming the table with his fist as he was talking about the most hated statue in Ethiopia on some extremist media. He was for it, and I knew that would be his end in Amharic Literature circle. Most certainly Amharic is the only language he excelled at, people who worked with him joked about his poor English so English is out the window. He didn’t go far in school and according to himself, his favorite high school teacher testified he was a very poor student. He learned some Dutch but he was in his forty’s by then.

    Those who read too many Amharic books of BeAlu, Berhanu and Dagnachew claim his is just a copy cat with no real talent. And the fact his only formal training after high school was at Harer academy in military propaganda (literally) and served only TPLF with that for 12 straight years doesn’t help much either. And of course TPLF people can not like him at all.

    Like most Ethiopians that were born in Ethiopian towns to Eritrean parents, his Tigrigna is probably poor. In his home town Bishoftu/Debere-Zeyt very few communicated in Tigrigna if at all. Of course he was in Tigray Province for two years as radio propagandist of TPLF but he was in his twenty’s already by then. For example Addis born people whose parents talk Tigrigna at home can listen but can’t talk good Tigrigna let alone read or write.

    Some parents from the same none Amharic language group don’t teach their children their language on purpose, so that they can talk secrets with each other right in their children’s presence without worries. I remember some grand parents who insisted on their grand children learning their languages. For example there were the twin footballers everybody wanted to be in their team asking the Kiosk keeper and the shoe shine boys for new words in one of their grand father’s language b/c their rich grand pa awarded them with big bucks for every new word they learned every time he came to see them. I still remember the old guy b/c he was generous toward our team and watched our matches b/c his twin grand children were our star players. I can’t be sure but I think their mother was Amhara or Addis born herself b/c their other grand father spoke Amharic without accent.

    And then there were some of them like my childhood friend M.K. who can get you in trouble on purpose for example: There was this cute little girl in school who just moved from Asmara to Addis, she spoke Amharic but thought in Tigrigna and whatever she said came out funny. She was very popular among the girls and she had a lot of energy. We were at the clumsy age of just starting to like the girls we didn’t grow up with. I asked M.K. for ‘you are very pretty’ in Tigrigna. After I repeated the words I just learned to him for phonetical approval, I went straight to the cute little girl waiting for her turn to play ping pong and told her. She slapped my face so hard and I barely ducked the second one. I couldn’t catch M.K for the rest of the week and lucky for us the cute girl didn’t report me. Later on we learned only the bad words in Oromigna, Guragigna, Haderigna and Tigrigna. Those four language groups had some members in our part of town but everybody spoke Amharic and tolerated ‘the fresh off the boat’ Amharic too. ‘the fresh off the boat’ Amharic speakers were made fun of as well b/c we were naughty children with nothing else to do during the rainy seasons after all our marbles were taken away by the kids a few blocks away that were better at it.

    A generation later, chances are only Amharic is spoken in those families. Inter ethnic marriages were so common nobody even gave them any thought. Besides girls picked their own husbands and only needed their parents’ help for their weddings. For approval the family sheik or priest is advised but chances are neither Muslims nor Christians in Addis think in ethnic terms. Both Christians and Muslims want to keep their congregations and recruit more if possible, and they use Geez and Arabic that are universally unspoken in Ethiopia but Amharic is the language of both. The famous Addis Ababa weddings are never complete without traditional wedding songs in at least four different languages. A second generation Addis Ababan is 100% sure to have at least a nephew or a niece that is a product of inter-ethnic family.

    The language became a sort of Amharic that is different from the Amharic spoken in Amhara country a few minutes away. The literal Amharic is very different from the spoken Amharic. You learn to make the difference as early as in third grade. The teacher speaks in regular Amharic in class but writes the literal even if it is just a note consisting of one sentence. The negative side is TV dramas can be annoying some times. They’ve not decides yet which Amharic they need to use. It is one thing on stage but quite another on film. The comedy drama stinks and there is nothing since Yewendoch-Guday and it is not clear where the writers are or if they hate money. The political Amharic has taken a dive since it’s peak when Haile Fida introduced Geez words into it fifty years ago. For example YEMEMAR ENA YEMASTEMARU HIDET is just one of the ugliest…..

    Wow, I got carried away and totally forgot. I don’t really care one way or the other. I mean I don’t want anybody that want us to destroy each other, intentionally or otherwise, to go unpunished.

    Long live mother land Ethiopia and her good neighboring countries, especially Eritrea.

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