The formation of the Eritrea Liberation Movement(ELM)/Harakat.

"The ELM was an offshoot of the civil society associations, particularly of the labor movement, but the ELF was a direct offshoot of neither the labor movement nor of the ELM" Souce :Critical Reflections on the Eritrean War of Independence by Gaim Kibreab

Researched and compiled by Resoum Kidane 31.08.18

Background information on the formation of the Eritrea Liberation Movement (Harakat)

The Eritrean people began to search for an alternative way to challenge the Ethiopian policy of coercion in the late 1950s. In light of this the member of civil organisations and labour activists joined the underground movement called Eritrean Liberation Movement (Haraket /Mahber Shew'ate) to wage struggle for Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia

Historically, the Eritrean Liberation Movement (Haraket) was founded in Sudan by five-eight young Eritreans among them Mohamed Said Nawud, Saleh Ahmed Eyay, Yasin-el Gade, Mohammed el- Hassan, and Omar Gonahta.   These young Eritreans met at Mohammed Saed Nawd’s house at Hay Al-Transit in Port Sudan and formed the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM – Mahber Shew'ate) on 2 November 1958. Its founding leader, Mohamed Said Nawud, had contacts with the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), which at that time was one of the best, organized of such groups in black Africa. (Iyob, 1995:99).  The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) was founded in 1946, it was a major force in Sudanese politics and one of the two most influential communist parties in the Arab worl (wikipedia.)

After the meeting of Haraket which was held on 2 November 1958,  Salih, Yasin and Mohammed el-Hassan returned to Eritrea  then Salih Iyay became the representative of Harakat in Karen.  Yasin was stationed in Asmara, represented Kebesa, and Mohammed el-Hassan went to Asab.

Mohamed Said Nawud

Saleh Ahmed Eyay

Yasin-el Gade

Omar Gonahta

Mohammed el- Hassan

According to Bereketeab (2000:170),  the ELM leaders attempted to overcome the religious hostility fanned by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Coptic Churches in the competition for power during the British Administration.  This generated Christian-Moslem co-operation, leading to the emergence of a modern nationalist underground political movement led by the ELM.  Iyob (1994) also states that the founders of the ELM, all Moslems were conscious of the harmful effects of the religious divisions which had pitted Christian against Moslem in the 1940s

Indeed, from the beginning, the founders of ELM showed a strong commitment to avoid the sectarian divisions that had marked Eritrean political activities in the 1940s.The ELM activists set out to recruit within the urban Christian community, stressing, in the words of the preamble to the ELM status, that “Muslims and Christians are brothers, and their unity makes Eritrea one “(Bereketeab  2000,  Iyob 1994)

One of the great successes of the ELM was in uniting Eritrea’s diverse society to wage a struggle for independence between 1958 and 1965.  Regarding this,  Alsayed (2009) states that for the first and perhaps last time in Eritrea’s delicate history, the ELM managed to appeal to Eritrea’s diverse society, united Eritrean Muslims and Christians, Highlanders and Lowlanders, infiltrated institutions including Eritrea’s police force, spread its organisation and mobilisation through ‘cells of seven’  or ‘union of seven’.

The ELM chose the cell of seven as a model for the organization that had been used by the Sudanese Communist Party.  The cells of seven members were formed by each member being  instructed to recruit six others .  The mobilisation via these cells spread amoeba-like throughout the towns and cities.

Acording to Iyob (1994) inducion into the organization included an oath to support the aims outline in the organization's preamble;  an undertaking to donate 3 % of earnings to the nationalist cause  and attendance at bi-weekly meetings.  This structure was in stark contrast to the previous decade's mode of political organization, which had depended on the goodwill of elites and narrowly circumscribed mass political activity.

Mahber Shew'ate (Union of Seven) began to coordinate the various sectors of Eritrean struggle in the urban areas of Eritrea as well as of Ethiopia. Within a short period the number of thee cells  grew rapidly and spread all over Eritrea. According Killion (1998:142) the ELM started recruiting Eritreans under the policy that Moslems and Christians are brothers in Eritrea, Ethiopa, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.   Because the ELM challenged and defeated this fear and mistrust, it managed to unite Eritrean Muslims and Christians to fight for their self-determination and independence. Arkokabay Team (2010),  adds that the ELM was a unique movement of its time.  It overcame the religious division between Eritreans; the polarisation that was instilled by the Ethiopian monarchical rule of the time.

The development of mutual understanding and collaborations between the Eritrean Christian and Muslim populations created an encouraging environment for the politicization of workers, students, teachers, civil servants, and other social organizations such as soccer teams.  For example, the Adulis team, traveled to Sudan for national matches with players recruited by the ELM. Tuku was among them who played key roles in spreading the network among the youth in Asmara, after Tuku  was recruiting by the ELM in Sudan. [Not clear

Adulis team

Regarding spreading of Mahber Shew'ate (Association of Seven) in Asmara, Mahamoud Ismael Al-Hajwho was the first clandestine of Mahber Shew’ate (Harakat) told me, the first clandestine cells of Mahber Shew'ate (Association of Seven) were established by Yasin el-Gade (a tailor from Asmara), Tuku'e Yihidego and Kahasai Balbi. The clandestine Grouped of Seven, Eritrean's first revolutionary nationalist organization was set up in late 1958   By April 1959 clandestine cells had been established almost all Eritrean towns, then the first conference of the ELM were held in Asmara in 1960.
  • The first clandestine cells of Mahber Shew'ate (Association of Seven) were established by Yasin el-Gade(a tailor from Asmara) after he returned to Asmara, Tuku'e Yihidego and Kahasai Balbi

Yasin el-Gade

Tiku Yihdego

Kahsai Bahlbi

Some members of the first clandestine cells of Mahber Shew'ate

Mahmmod Ismael Al-Haj

Saeid Moh.Saleh

Mussa Araho

Abdul Salam

Teklay Haraka

Nour Abdul Hai

Ahmed Bin Abdulqader

Welden kel. Abrha

Mehari Debessai

Abdul Salam

Mohammed Burhan Nagash

Regarding the spread of Mahber Shew'ate (Association of Seven) in Asmara, Mahamoud Ismael Al-Haj who was in the first clandestine Mahber Shew’ate (Harakat) told me, that it was established by Yasin el-Gade (a tailor from Asmara), Tuku'e Yihidego and Kahasai Balbi. By April 1959 clandestine cells had been established in almost all Eritrean towns and  the first conference of the ELM were held in Asmara in 1960.

At this conference, there were 40 participants including: Mohammed Saed Nawd, the ELM co-founder-leader, Salih Iyay, Yassin Uqda, Adem Melekin, Mohammed Burhan Hassen, Ali Berhatu, Tiku’e Yihdego, Kahsai Bahlbi, Mohammed Omar Akito, Abdulkeri.  Prior to the conference Salih Iyay had been stationed in Keren representing Senihit, Sahel, Baraka and Gash; whereas Yasin was stationed in Asmara representing Kebesa. After the conference Asmara became the centre and Yasin, Tuku'e and Mohammed Birhane led the movement ( Bereketeab, 2000:220)

The recruitment of the ELM had peaked for brief periods. During those periods the ELM played an important role in organizing and raising national consciousness . According Iyob (1994) tea-house (enda shahi) located around the bazaars, soccer stadiums, and schools became the centers for clandestine mobilization and recruitment, the evening radio broadcasts of Woldeab Woldemariam from Cairo had garnered an audience which frequented the tea houses to discuss the latest issues.

Ande Michael who was a member a Group of Seven recounted in an interview: “Wolde-Ab was broadcasting from Cairo.  You could hear the grown-ups talking about it. We did not have a radio at home, but in the tea-shops and so on, people listened to Wolde-Ab. Our main activity was distributing leaflets. Some were signed by Wolde-Ab’ (Wilson p31). Members of the ELM   with the support of some Eritrean students distributed leaflets to the local community to "raise the national consciousness’.

The ELM carried out work among Eritrean students and on the campuses to raise the national consciousness of Eritreans residing in Ethiopia.  Herui Tedla Bairu in his book ( 2016, p. 84) briefly  mentions that  during his third year(1963?), Tekie Mebrahtu, Tsige Asfaha, and Herui(the author) from the University College, Girmay Gebremeskel from the Engineering College, established a clandestine ELM cell to protest against  the Emperor's policy annexing  Eritrea. Their early meetings were held in Dr Nerayo Tesfamichael's room, who later graduated in medicine, and joined the EPLF. During the same year, they organized cells in the Building and Engineering and Agricultural colleges. In 1963, they merged the cells in the mentioned colleges into one organization,  at which point they were joined by Naizghi Kiflu and Girmay Bekhit, who functioned as contact persons with other cells in Addis Ababa. The aim of the university cell was to write leaflets and distribute them in Addis Ababa and Asmara during their vacation period.

During the short period of the ELM’s existence, first as urban revolutionaries, it succeeded to politicize civil society through the clandestine production and distribution of literature as mentioned earlier.

Eritrean artists also contributed to raising political awareness, which led to the development of a strong Eritrean national consciousness in the late 1950s and early 1960.  The first cultural association in 1957 was Mah’ber Memheyash Hagarawi Limidi (Association for the Development of National Culture M.M.H.L) was founded, 1957. However it was banned when its 45 members staged several singing and drama productions in Mendefera and at the Cinema Impero in Asmara (attended by 3,000). Amine Gebre-Kirstos a participant and worker at the Government Printing Press, along with two other M.M.H.L members were imprisoned and tortured for 3 months following the Asmara show

MATA – Asmara 1961

SOURCE www.qienit.com

In 1961, a second   cultural association called Mahber Teatre Asmara (MTA) was founded by singers, composers, poets, and university students returning from the Haile Selassie I university in Addis Ababa. Girmai Kidane (Wedi Filipo) also states that the famous Eritrean Musical group, Asmara Theatrical Group, ‘Mahber Teater Asmra' was formed in 1961 at a meeting in ‘Piazza Mikele', in the tea shop of Idris and later of Kahsay Michael.

Shigey Habuni


Intay Gher'e Iye?

Shigey Zei'tbuni?

Give me my torch

How long can you deceive me

What have I done?

That you deny me my torch?

Source Iyob, p.103

Shegai habuni by Tewolde Redda Youtube

Members of MTA made a considerable contribution to mobilizing and raising national consciousness through producing songs and poems containing hidden political messages,  eg. Shigey Habuni,  that were listened to in private homes as well as in public spaces such as cafes and weddings.  Plays, singers, and stand-up comics satirized the federal scheme and warned against the evils of "alien" cultures. Shigey Habuni, a popular song of the mid-1960s, is an example of the creative nationalism resonating within the population. Girmai Kidane (Wedi Filipo) also mentions that as he was involved with the ELM in mobilizing the members of the police and the public to participate in the Police Orchestra.

Eritrean Music Interview: Eritrea Police Orchestra

In the 1960s Mahber Teatre Asmara (MTA), a cultural association also played a significant role in mobilizing,   recruiting and fund-raising.    MTA performances also included traditional folk songs which appealed to the older generation. An excellent example was a new ballad entitled Aslamai Kistanai, which called upon Moslem and Christian Eritreans to unite. It echoed the ELM's program of unity between the two religious groups and reiterated the dangers of outside intervention.

Alsayed (2009) describes the ELM ( Haraket) as the first movement that brought together the politically, socially, culturally and regionally divided Eritreans under one movement and cause, namely,  the total liberation of Eritrea from Ethiopian occupation and the establishment of an inclusive national democratic system of governance

To conclude Haraket expanded rapidly throughout Eritrea after it was founded in Sudan in 1959.   By the early 1960s the activities of the Mahber Shew'ate (Association of Seven) reached its highest level of development.  In the history of the Eritrean people’s struggle for independence, for a  brief period, Harakat contributed greatly to narrowing the rift between Christians and Moslems, that had been generated by the Unionists in the 1940s. They  employed the slogan, “Muslims and Christian are brothers, and their unity makes Eritrea one”.

Unfortunately, the struggle led by Harked was interrupted when  Idris Mohammed Adem founded the ELF in competition with the ELM in 1960 . The ELF leaders instead on working together with Haraket to liberate the Eritrean people from the new Ethiopian colonization, but they became the main rival of the HARAKET, which will be discussed in the next section.


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