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The Tortoise and the Scorpion: A Timely Reminder

The Tortoise and the Scorpion: A Timely Reminder
Ray Ja Fraser
22 September 2016

It is a day much like any other. A poisonous scorpion is making its way through the thick forest and the mazy ravine. Many of the other animals and creatures, cognizant of the scorpion’s dangerous predilection for stinging, steer clear of its path, only removing their guard once it is well out of sight. Its reputation precedes it, with many of the animals and creatures aware of numerous others that have succumbed to its venom.

Having quickly navigated the labyrinthine forest and ravine, and subsequently making its way past the dense, damp swamp and marsh, the scorpion arrives at a river crossing. The monkeys, far up in the trees, safe and content, watch interestedly, while crickets, insects, and snakes, slither and buzz, continuing along with their day. The scorpion, alone amongst the few pebbles at the river’s edge, peers up and down the banks, searching for some connection across. There isn’t one. It mutters to itself, cursing its decision to not take a different path. This was supposed to be quick - the other path was seemingly much longer - but nonetheless here it was now, stuck.

After a period of circling about on the edge of the river, the scorpion’s attention was caught by a movement in the distance. It is nothing rapid or overly significant, only a faint twitch. But it is enough to draw the scorpion nearer. It is the tortoise, ambling slothfully along. Like the scorpion, although of course moving much slower, it had been traveling all day. Like the scorpion, it made its way through the forest and the ravine, then the swamp and the marsh. Now, like the scorpion, it had come upon the fast-moving river. Unlike the scorpion, however, the river was not an insurmountable obstacle, only another leg of its journey.

Natalie Brown, Charge d' Affaires at US Embassy in Eritrea
Taking a breath to steady itself, the tortoise prepared to cross. Just before, however, the scorpion cut in front of its path. In a vernacular traditionally unique to the tortoise, and with an unnatural joviality, the scorpion greeted and implored, “My dear friend, how do you do? It has been a long day, and like you, I have travelled a far distance. Yet my journey has now been stopped due to this river. I must make it to the other side. While I have been blessed with much, things that make the entire world fear me, I am unable to cross now. My friend, may you please help? I only wish to cross and be on with my day.”

Up in the trees, the monkeys watched intently, while activities in the forest, ravine, swamp, and marsh seemed to pause. Even the hyenas, usually up to mindless mischief and skullduggery, were glued to the scene. The tortoise, as was its custom, pondered and hesitated. It glanced to the monkeys, then the hyenas, and then back to the scorpion. It pondered some more. In the wild, often savage, world of the forest and ravine, the swamp and the marsh, one did not get to be the grand old age of the tortoise simply by luck. However, the scorpion pressed on, “My friend, like you, I only wish to cross and be on with my day.”

After another moment of reflection, the tortoise agreed. The scorpion happily scurried on to the tortoise and they began to cross. As the two nearly reached the other bank, and with the scorpion having not been touched by even the faintest drip of cold water, the scorpion recoiled its tail before delivering a sharp, forceful strike. Instantly dazed, and quickly losing its strength, the tortoise let out a moan before hoarsely asking the scorpion, “Why did you do that? I thought we were friends?”

Slightly taken aback, the scorpion grinned devilishly and responded, almost disdainfully, “What did you expect? I am a scorpion. I sting!” Then, only mere inches from the bank, the tortoise collapsed. It was quickly overtaken by the powerful current, and both it and the scorpion were washed down the depths of the river.

The moral of the story above, a loose synopsis of several different fables that date back centuries, is to be aware of the inherent nature of others and that, frequently, certain natures cannot be reformed. This message is particularly relevant in light of the appointment of a new Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Eritrea, and haughty suggestions of an impending (or ongoing) shift in approach. Indeed, one can appreciate the introduction and the positive pronouncements of potential friendships. But don’t be foolish. Be clearly aware of history and that US policy toward Eritrea and the Horn of Africa (as well as the world, in general) are deeply embedded and set upon a series of particular interests and principles. While individuals can and do matter, focus should remain firmly upon the overarching structural system, not individual cogs within the established system. A clear example of this is record of the outgoing US president. Obama rode in on a wave of hyperbole and unmatched optimism, preaching the potent message of “hope and change.” However, what followed was hardly a break with the past. While Bush tortured people, Obama simply droned them. Although Trump boasts about erecting an insurmountable, imposing wall and kicking out millions, Obama actually deported people in record numbers. Where the Bush administration oversaw the Patriot Act and the restriction of civil liberties, Obama has waged a war on journalists and whistleblowers, pursuing and punishing them with uncommon severity. While Obama’s election was said to herald the US transition toward a post-racial society, Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities in the US continue to suffer mass injustices. And though his speech in Egypt early in his tenure was said to illustrate a positive shift toward the Arab and Moslem world, Obama only proceeded to continue (or expand) the bombing of the Arab and Moslem world (including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Iraq). Ultimately, while the control of government shifted from Republican to Democratic hands, from Bush to Obama, the underlying system of US power remained the same.

For the US, the ongoing crises in the Horn of Africa, marked by increasing instability and conflagration (including in Ethiopia, its longtime regional anchor), offer a genuine opportunity to reflect upon decades of misguided policy and a useful occasion to enact a fresh, more effective approach. The appointment of the new US Charge d’Affaires, with the unique introduction, may even be a part of that. However, in lieu of clear, tangible shifts in policy or action and perceptible changes on the ground, it could just be - like the scorpion and the tortoise - more of the same old, same old.
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The Tortoise and the Scorpion: A Timely Reminder Reviewed by Admin on 8:59 AM Rating: 5

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