No. 001 –  Eritrea Police Force – 1951:    Extracts from a discussion between Supt. of Police L.M. Braine and shifta leader Ghebry Tesfazien [[Excrept from The Eritrean Revolution: Born of a Shifta father, produced a Shifta system]

Eritrea police Force

Ref: S/4/1/AS/RD/                                                Head quarters,

Date:22nd May,1951                                             rural district police,

Asmara & Hamassien


To:    Commissioner of Police,

Eritrea police Force


Supt. Of police,

Asmara and Hamassien


Subject:      extracts from a discussion between S/A.S.P. L.M. Brane and Shifta leader Ghebre Tesfazien, which took place on the 15th May, 1951, in the country near the village of ADI RASI.

G.T             I am very glad to see you; we have all heard so much about the work you are doing; when will you bring us the good news from the British administration that we are free?

Self             Nothing has been decided yet, but discussions are going on now. If you are given free pardon, will you come in?

G.T             Yes, of course, but I would not consider it a pardon, but my demobilization from the British army. I have always served the British because you gave us back our country.

Self             You did not serve the British when you killed a British officer at Amader recently.

G.T             I expected you to bring this up. If you had not done so, I would have done. Firstly, I must ask you to express my deepest regret to the family of this brave officer, also to commando Truppe in Asmara. Let me tell you what happened.

I, with my band of about 50 shifta, came to the village of Amader to pray. We were in the village and the priests were bringing out the cross for us to kiss.  There were four guards in the hills. Suddenly I heard firing and saw British troops moving towards us. I gave an order for my men to withdraw and not to engage unless absolutely necessary. If you need proof of this, the village of Amader will give it to you. I noticed your soldiers in their action were very young and unexperienced, much too slow in deploying. Their fieldcraft was very poor, not like the British soldiers in the Eritrean campaign.

Self             Were you in this campaign?

G.T             yes, I fought with the British right the way through. My corporal was from London, he had a flat nose like a borer. My company commander was lame from a first world war wound. I was in the battle of Metema – that was a bad spot. Before I came in with the British troops from Sudan, I was working as an agent in Eritrea for the British in Ethiopia. I was sent from Wolfakit with hundreds of small notes to distribute to the noted Eritreans telling them to fight against the Italians.

Self             How long have you been a shifta?

G.T             Fourteen years including my military service.

Self             What made you turn shift?

G.T             The Italians, in 1935, I was a cattle merchant. I drove 160 head of cattle which I had brought from Sudan up to Asmara to sell.

A certain Italian cattle merchant named Bartocchi saw my cattle were big and wanted to buy them. The price he offered I would not accept. He then said, the cattle were all sick. I asked a veterinary officer to look at them, and he said the cattle were healthy. Bartocchi was angry at this. Bartocchi had a son, who had a friend in the veterinary department. This friend of the Bartocchi’s son came to see my cattle and declared them all sick.

All my cattle, 160 head, were taken away from me and slaughtered. The meat was sold and I did not receive a penny. I was told that I could not take the case to the court because it was not possible for a black person to go in the same court with an Italian. You recall that there was fascist law in 1935 and there was little I could, except develop a great hatred for the Italians. As all my money was gone, I borrowed from various people to try and start up again. One sum I borrowed from a native, who is now dead, was 12,000 Lire. His name does not matter. My guarantor was Grazmac Fessehaie (still in Asmara). Grazmac Fessehaie then came and asked me for the money. I paid him 12,000 Lire – a witness who saw the money paid over by me {Casel???) Ghebresillasie Abraha of Deda.

I was then accused of not having paid the money. I was arrested and sent to court. The court would not allow me to call my witness. I was sentenced to 18 months in prison. I was then transferred from Asmara prison to Tessenei. I appealed against the sentence, but the appeal was never sent forward. After serving six months, I escaped from Tessenei and joined the British in Sudan. I was sent out as an agent to Ethiopia where I did the work already mentioned. On one occasion, I waited six days in ambush in western province to kill Gasperini – Gasperini did not come, but instead I shot the veterinary officer who had declared my cattle all sick. Unfortunately, I only broke his leg with a bullet from my rifle.

Self             How many Italians have you killed, Ghebre?

G.T             I have not kept account; they are not worth it.

Self             didn’t you kill an Italian woman in 1941 on the Keren road?

G.T             Yes, Italian women breed Fascists.

Self             Are still bitter towards Italians?

G.T             Now that the British has united Eritrea with the mother country, I will not kill any more, but I still want back the money the Italians stole from me. Let’s not talk any more about Italians because I am beginning to tremble.

Self             What do you want to talk about?

G.T             How is Field Marshal Montgomery?

Self             Well at the moment, I believe.

G.T             How old is he now?

Self             About 70 years, I believe.

G.T             Great tactician, Marshal Montgomery.

Self             Yes, he is.

G.T             So am I, he is a religious man, too, isn’t he?

Self             I believe he is.

G.T             So am I, I pray twice a day in village churches. I never go near women. If I am pardoned, I may become a priest or a hermit.

Self             If all shifta are pardoned, do you think they will all come in?

G.T             Yes, I think so. A few thieves may stay out, but we can deal with them. You should be much stricter with your district chiefs. They can help a lot if they want to.

Self             Do not commit any offences until you hear from the British administration.

G.T             That is easy, too easy, I will go to  Korea and fight with the British, if I am sent.