Part III - Independent Eritrea, a crumbling nation and a tragedy: 'The Architects of Destruction'

Monday, 24 June 2013 23:17 Ghirmay S. Yeibio
Write e-mail Print

Part III -  Independent Eritrea, a crumbling nation and a tragedy: 'The Architects of Destruction'

Ghirmay S. Yeibio

Scholars and historians with differing opinions and persuasions have extensively written about the Eritrean case.  Even though a significant number of the works produced are by proponents of secession and are mostly no more than propaganda material, there are also some very good and noteworthy works which are objective and balanced.  If you have the time and patience to peruse through them, there is enough material out there to help one understand the genesis of the past and current Eritrean problem.   The quagmire that Eritrea is in today is directly related to what transpired during the 40s, 50s and 60s and the ideological beliefs that the forefathers of the movement espoused.

ELF and EPLF historians have been telling us that the Eritrean Struggle for Independence was the result of 'Ethiopian colonization' of Eritrea.  Whereas, the problem was simply the creation of foreign powers particularly the British, Italians and the Arab world, executed through their local mercenaries.  The issue was also compounded by fear and hate of a historical, ethnic and religious nature.   Unfortunately, most Eritreans, without making any effort to understand the history of the land and people, particularly during the 1940s and 50s, regurgitate the "Ghedli" ELF/EPLF historians interpretation that Eritrea was colonized by Ethiopia by abrogating the UN-sponsored federation and annexing the Eritrean state.  As a result the Era of Union with Ethiopia is unfortunately described as Ethiopian colonization "Megzaeti Ethiopia" and the day that Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia is remembered as the day colonialism was abolished  "Megzaeti tehaghigu ziwetsalu" by most Eritreans.

What is most of the time conveniently forgotten or presented in a different light by "Ghedli" ELF/EPLF historians is the fact that, under the leadership of the Unionist Party, the people of Eritrea freely voted through their elected representatives in the Eritrean Legislative Assembly to dissolve the federation and form a complete union with Ethiopia on 14 November 1962.   Even before the motion to dissolve the federation was tabled in the Eritrean Assembly 55 out of the 68 members of the parliament  i.e. 75% have already signed in support of the dissolution.   It was a process that took over a month and after the Chief Executive of Eritrea read the motion it was carried unanimously.

The legislative assembly then proceeded to ask the Emperor to ratify its decision.  "Now therefore, we hereby unanimously resolve that the Federation with all its significance and implications, be definitely abolished from this very moment; and from now on we live in a complete union with our motherland Ethiopia; and we pray His Imperial Majesty our August and beloved Sovereign, to ratify this resolution." [1]

But proponents of secession would like us to believe that the Eritrean Legislative Assembly under pressure from Ethiopia was forced to abolish the federation with Ethiopia, and voted to become an Ethiopian province at the point of a gun.

Bitweded Asfaha Woldemichael Chief Executive of Eritrea from 1955 - 1962 explains that "To begin with, Ethiopians and Eritreans never asked for nor expected a federation, let alone understand it. Largely for extraneous global political reasons that outside powers and the United Nations decided on Ethiopia-Eritrea federation as a compromise among various options. Under the circumstances, the Eritrean and the Ethiopian people accepted it reluctantly. Having accepted and tried the federal arrangement, the Eritrean people found it wanting and not viable. Consequently, the Eritrean people finally rejected it constitutionally and of their own volition. They then restored the age-old Ethio-Eritrean union, which the overwhelming majority of the Eritrean people had been fighting for all along. Any final responsibility for the transformation of the federation to union rests with us Eritreans and if you wish, with me personally, for shepherding the process to its ineluctable climax. [2]

A latter turn coat, Dr Amare Tekle, Chairman of the Eritrean Referendum Commission (1993), in his doctoral dissertation (University of Denver 1964), also agrees with Bitweded Asfaha.  He first explains his position that Eritrea is part of Ethiopia by saying "Was Eritrea part of Ethiopia? Those who argued that Eritrea was never part of Ethiopia are either ignorant of the history of the region or simply want to revise it or, even worse, were simply invoking a milder version of Signor Mussolini’s Fascist thesis about the nature of the Ethiopian state" and regarding the union with Ethiopia he further adds that "Ethiopia should not be criticized for actions related to the dissolution of the federation". [3]

The Italian defeat by the British in April 1941, and the subsequent custody of Eritrea by the British Military Administration heralded a new era in the history of the nation.  Eritreans who so far had no say in their affairs since their creation as a separate entity by Italy, began to actively participate in discussions to determine their future with the permission and encouragement of the British.   The first free and spontaneous expression of the wish of Eritreans was witnessed immediately after the liberation of Eritrea by the British.  Eritreans within a month from the fall of Asmara, on the very day Emperor Haile Selassie was raising the Ethiopian flag in Addis Ababa,  on May 5, 1941 GC (Miazia 27, 1933 EC) [4], made their intention clear by demonstrating in Asmara and called for the unification of Eritrea with Ethiopia. That same day they announced the formation of the Unionist Party. [5]

(Photo: Eritrean Supporters of Union with Ethiopia demonstrating in the 1940s )

The British who had other designs of their own for the disposal of the colony, began to connive to implement their own agenda.   Unfortunately, this British intrigue had a lasting effect on Eritrea and Eritreans.  In the coming years, they began encouraging the Muslims of Eritrea to make their voice heard.  They also started recruiting Eritreans who can be instruments for their design and plan.  The first such person to be recruited was Woldeab Woldemariam.  Others like Abdelqader Kebire and Ibrahim Sultan encouraged by the British and the new found freedom of speech and association, began forming parties to advance their aim and tried to influence the outcome of the disposal of the colony.  Woldeab Woldemariam along with other few highland Christians also formed a party.  These individuals had one thing in common, they all did not want unity with Ethiopia, but differ in their vision of the new Eritrea they wanted to form.

Initially, the Eritrean independence movement comprised of two distinct groups with different motives but who all agreed in their quest for secession.  The first group is the Muslims of Eritrea who for religious reasons did not want any type of association with Ethiopia led by the Christian Emperor Haile Selassie I.  The main actors in this group, amongst many others; were Abdelqader Kebire, Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan and Idris Mohammed Adem.  The Second group represents a few elites of the highlands who appeared to harbor resentment towards the Amhara led Abyssinian Empire.   The main actor in this group was Woldeab Woldemariam.  A third group of radicalized students with communist ideologies also joined the bandwagon of secession by the mid 1960s.  It was this latter addition to the equation which carried the movement to its declared objective i.e. secession.   The main actor in this group is the current head of the Asmara regime, Isayas Afeworki.

These are some of the most important actors who succeeded in creating a nationalism which is rooted in rivalry, historical grudges, old strife, resentment and outright white lie.  They manipulated history and wrote a new false national narrative.  In the tradition of the Nazis, they created big colossal lies  and repeated it over and over again until people believed them to be true. Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what they called "the big lie." This theory states that no matter how big the lie is "or more precisely, because it's so big", people will believe it if you repeat it enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies. Because a big lie is so unlikely, people will come to accept it. [6]

Some of the colossal lies used by the forefathers of the struggle and which deserve honorable mention are :-

  • Eritrea was never a part of Ethiopia in its history and was colonized by Ethiopia;
  • Eritrea is a predominantly Muslim state and member of the Arab World;
  • Haile Selassie said that Ethiopia "wants the land and not the people of Eritrea";
  • the US, UN, the Western world are all enemies who are envious of Eritrea and hence want to destroy it;
  • The Amharas 'Adgi', (which is interchangeably used to mean Ethiopia) are the primary   enemies of Eritrea and Eritreans;
  • Eritreans are special people (Yikeallo) who are advanced and civilized capable of creating  economic and other miracles;
  • Eritrea is a developed and industrialized nation endowed with abundant natural resource.

A closer look into the bio and life of the most prominent actors in the Eritrean Secessionist movement might help us to understand the current calamity that has befallen Eritrea and its people.

Abdelqader Kebire

Abdelqader Kebire is a member of the Jeberti people from Eritrea.  He was born in early 1902 in Massawa and attended Quranic School and learned Arabic during childhood.  As a young man, he travelled to Egypt and later to Yemen as translator to the Italian Embassy in Hodeida, Yemen.

Even though, some of the Jeberti people have been in Eritrea for centuries but the majority of them immigrated to Eritrea after they were expelled from other parts of Ethiopia by Emperor Yohannes IV. The Jeberti had experienced severe religious persecution in Ethiopia. When Emperor Yohannes IV ascended to power in 1871 he gave Ethiopian Moslems an ultimatum, either to convert to Christianity or else face the consequence.  Emperor Yohannes was a deeply religious and devout Orthodox Christian. He was inflexible and very conservative when it comes to his religious views.  He embarked on an ambitious project of unifying religion in his domain and issued a decree compelling Muslims to convert to Christianity.

Many obeyed his decree and were baptized promptly.  Notable among them was Ras Mohammed Ali, the ranking Moslem leader in Wollo province, who was baptized as Ras Michael Ali (later king Michael Ali).  Those who defied the edict were massacred, others were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in safer areas such as Eritrea and the Sudan.  Those who fled to Eritrea, also known as the Jeberti, settled in Eritrean cities and rural areas mostly in Serayie and Akeleguzay provinces where they gained refuge and freedom to practice their religion.

Saleh AA Younis, member of the Jeberti himself, in an article on 2 Apr 1997 writing about the Jereberti says "When Atse Yohannes was on his "accept Christianity or Die" mission, a large number of Muslims migrated to Eritrea.  This group, led by "Sheikh Muzemil" originated from Wolkayit now part of Tigray.  This group became "Deki Arba" (40 year residents/naturalized) and were given a plot of land to farm, primarily in Serayie and Akeleguzay". [7]

Even though, the Jeberti were expelled from their habitual residence in Tigray and Wolkayit region, they found refuge in another part of Ethiopia, the Mereb Melash (current day Eritrea) which at that time was administered by none other than the founder of Asmara, Ras Alula Abanega; the viceroy of  the very Emperor who expelled them.  As such it was just an internal displacement.  Not only did they find refuge to practice their religion freely, they in fact engaged in trade and commerce and prospered.  They helped Ras Alula Abanega to conduct commerce with the Egyptians who were occupying Massawa and the Dahlak Islands at the time.

The memory of the various horrendous crimes that were perpetuated against Ethiopian Moslems by Yohannes IV was very fresh at the time of the birth of Abdelqader Kebire.  Hearing their parents recount the story of the persecution in their formative years created a consuming and deep rooted hatred and fear towards Christian Abyssinia,  which definitely shaped the future actions of Kebire and others.

During his travels to Egypt and Yemen, Abdel Kader Kebire was able to befriend many notable people from the Middle East. He was highly influenced by Egyptian and other Middle Eastern politicians.  An article on gives us an insight on Kebire and what influenced him in his early days and determined his course of action later in his life.

The article reads that "At the age of 18, Kebire left for Egypt where he witnessed the revolution of Saad Zaqlul against the British, an incident that left its mark on him and shaped his rebellious character".  The article further describes how Abdelqader Kebire became a respected socialitè around diplomatic circles in Yemen and made the acquaintances of notable politicians and intellectuals of the era, including a famous leader of Palestinian uprising; Sheikh Amin Al-Hussaini, a notable middle eastern writer Hashim Al-Atassi of Syria; and Prince Shakib Arselan of Lebanon.  Furthermore the article tells us that during his trips to Saudi Arabia, he met and befriended the Saudi Prince, later King, Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz, who used to call him Al Messewe‘e (the one from Massawa).[8] It is obvious where Abdelqader Kebire got his inspiration from.

When the fate of Eritrea was being debated in the 1940s, Kebire and his group were hostile to and disapproved the mere thought of any association with Ethiopia and the Christian Imperial Government of Haile Selassie.  They saw it as going back to hell.   They were not willing to give up their new settlement without a fight.  As recent arrivals, they had not yet taken root solidly in Eritrea, and hence had to present themselves as ultra nationalists exhibiting excessive patriotism by advocating for independence.   They wanted to create an independent Eritrea in order to protect the rights of their own religious group,  with Arabic as one of its official language.

The British Military Administration also wanted the Muslims of Eritrea to form their own organisation. Thus influenced by his travels to Egypt and Yemen, motivated by hate and fear towards Christian Abyssinia,  with substantial encouragement from the British Military Administration, Abdel Kader Kebire became a staunch opponent of Union. His opposition to Union was based on personal grudge emanating from the religious persecution that the Jeberti faced during the reign of Emperor Yohannes IV.  By allying with the Moslems of lowland Eritrea, Kebire co-founded the Al-Rabita Al-Islamiya Al-Eritrea which "rallied Muslims under the banner of Islam, making religious identity an essential component of nationalist aspirations". [9] The Moslem League (Al-Rabita Al-Islamiya Al-Eritrea) was a political party that promoted Islam as a political movement, and was formed in Keren in December of 1946.

Kebire never espoused a nationalist agenda beneficial to the Eritrean people at large but rather a narrow agenda based on past grievances.   Fear and hate was what was driving Kebire.  He embarked on the road of eroding the age old identity of the land and people and creating of a new identity for Eritrea and Eritreans; a new Eritrea that fits his narrow interest; an Arabic speaking and Muslim Eritrea (ERISTAN)[10] closely aligned with the Arab world by language and religion.

The introduction of Arabic as a medium of education was the work of the British Administration in Eritrea.  As Dominique Jacquin writes "The adoption of Arabic by the British was done in preparation for Eritrea's projected dismantling and Western Eritrea's future incorporation into Sudan. Britain's plans of annexing these regions were indeed slowly, although secretly, being articulated".  She further explains that "Except for some nomadic Rashaida tribes along the coast near Massawa, Arabic had never been much more than a market lingua franca. In response to enquiries about the number of Arabic-speaking Eritreans in 1943, Colonel S.F. Nadel, then Chief-Secretary in Asmara, highlighted the difficulty of estimating with any precision their number as "the knowledge of Arabic among Eritreans is mostly rather modest and of poor, colloquial standard." [11]

Even though Kebire was himself a member of the 'Tigrigna speaking' highland Muslim people of Jeberti, he nevertheless vigorously promoted the British agenda of adopting  Arabic as a national language in Eritrea.  He was shot by an assassin on March 27, 1949 and died in Asmara two days later.

Ibrahim Sultan

Ibrahim Sultan Ali from the Tigre tribe of Sahel in Northern Eritrea was born in 1909.  Attended Quran School as a child and later acquired technical training in Asmara.  He was employed by the Italians first at the Eritrean railway and later as translator of Arabic and Tigrigna both in Eritrea and Ethiopia.  He was also employed by the British in the Native affairs office before resigning to go into business for himself in Tessenei.  Ibrahim Sultan was the founding father of the Moslem League of Eritrea (Al Rabita Al Islamiya Al Eritrea) and served as its Secretary General.

The opposition of Ibrahim Sultan and other Eritrean Muslims of the lowlands was based on the fact that Ethiopian Muslims did not have religious freedom, and hence it would be disadvantageous for Eritrea to be united with Ethiopia, i.e. the fear of Christian domination.  Ibrahim Sultans motivation was primarily based on fear that Eritrean Muslims would lose the religious freedom which they were enjoying at the time.

E.R.J. Hussey Director of Education in Uganda and Nigeria, and Educational Adviser to the Emperor of Ethiopia, writes, "The Moslems were at first, I think, a little apprehensive of the possibility (of union), in view of the fact that the vast majority of Ethiopians, except those who are pagans, are now Christian, and they feared that in Ethiopia they might suffer some loss of status." [12]

A British document from the 1950s describes Ibrahim Sultan as "Extremely shrewd, knows what he wants and how to get it. Would not hesitate to double-cross anyone.  At present supports the Independence idea, and is playing along with the Italians.  One of the most able and dangerous men in the political field". [13]

He formed the Moslem League of Eritrea with Abdelqader Kebire after being coaxed by the British to do so.  "During the month of October 1946, Brigadier General Benoy, the military administrator, toured the country with the purpose of informing the Eritrean people that they should prepare themselves to make known their views to the Four Power Commission (FPC) of Enquiry. Since, however, both the Unionists and the Separatists were already active, the brigadier’s main task was to bring about a similar organization among Eritrean Moslems. According to the political intelligence reports, Brigadier General Benoy appeared to have made a strong impression and convinced Eritrean Moslems that, unless they are prepared to think for themselves, the Plateau Christians will do the thinking for them”.[14]

Ibrahim Sultan's vision was a Muslim/Arabic Eritrea (ERISTAN) led by his party the Moslem League.  He had also gone on record at a UN meeting in Lake Success in 1949 saying that 75% of the Eritrean people are Muslim.

"Between April 5 and May 13 UN hearings were given for some representatives of Eritrean political parties, the first time that Eritreans were allowed to express their grievances at the UN.  Ibrahim Sultan spoke on behalf of the Muslim League and stated that Eritrea was ready for independence and that in terms of religion, ethnicity, and economics, Eritrea did not have anything in common with Ethiopia. Furthermore, he argued that 75% of Eritreans were Muslim and rejected Union." [15]

His Party, the Muslim League "perceived Eritrea as a territory with a predominantly Muslim population demographically and geographically. It looked for inspiration in other movements of liberation in Asia and the Middle East which rallied people on the basis of a Muslim identity like The Moslem League in India". [16] The Moslem League of India is the predecessor to the Moslem League of Pakistan.  It was a political party which advocated the creation of a separate Muslim-majority nation (Pakistan).

The British had a design to unite the lowlands of Eritrea with the Sudan which it was administering at the time.  In a letter dated 14 August 1942 to R.C. Mayall, then Sudan Agent in London, Sir Douglas Newbold, Civil Secretary of the British Service in Sudan, wrote: "Nothing much to report about Eritrea, except that I am investigating at leisure the possibilities of Sudan taking over the areas north and west of Asmara after the war, if we are asked to do so". [17]

Ibrahim Sultan was ideally suited for the plans of the British and was encouraged to form the Muslim League "whose programme varied from independence to union with the Sudan".[18] His party's program also calls for the unification of Sudanese Bejas with Eritrea.  Ibrahim Sultan's agenda was narrow and sectarian based on religion and he never espoused a national agenda.

In 1949 he again availed himself to the service of another foreign government, this time to the Italians.  With the diplomatic and financial support of the Italians, he co-founded the independence bloc on July 25, 1949 consisting of 8 political parties and professional organisations.

"Soon after it became known that the UN had rejected the plan for the partition of Eritrea, the Italian government, set immediately into action the policy of campaigning for the complete and immediate independence of Eritrea. The representatives of the Eritrean Political Parties, namely, the Moslem League, the Liberal Progressive Party, the Pro-Italy, the Italo-Eritrean were brought together by Italian diplomats in New York where the idea of a coalition bloc was discussed". [19]

As the Moslem League and Liberal Progressive Party were the creation of the British, the independence block was the creation of the Italian government.  The British Chief Administrator for Eritrea,  Brigadier F. G. Drew, reporting to his government in London wrote  "In contrast to the Unionist Party the Independence Bloc appeared lifeless and artificial.  He believed that the Independent Bloc deputies were obviously got together by the Italians and half-castes and a noticeable thing was that Italian was the language used by the delegates." [20]

Thus the motive of Ibrahim Sultan was the fear and hatred of Christian King Haile Selassie I, whom he believed would erode the religious freedom of his people.  The conflict between the cross and the crescent provided the ideological bases for Ibrahim Sultan and his group to advocate for independence. He worked for the British and the Italians at different times, hoping to advance his anti union Agenda, and create a Muslim led Arabic speaking nation (ERISTAN) his whole life.  He never espoused a nationalist agenda beneficial to the Eritrean people in general.  He died in exile in 1987 without seeing the independence of Eritrea and was buried in Sudan.

Idris Mohammed Adem

Idris Mohammed Adem was born from the Tigre speaking Muslim Beni Amer tribe around 1920 in the town of Agordat.   He was educated in Gedaref Sudan at an Arabic Secondary School.  He returned to Eritrea in 1941 and was appointed as the official secretary of the Beni Amer.  He also wrote for the Arabic language edition of the Eritrea Weekly News. He originally supported the British design of partitioning Eritrea between Ethiopia and the Sudan.  The Tigre speaking  Beni Amer tribe of the western lowlands share kinship links across the border in the Sudan.

Thus Idris Mohammed Adem was in favour of the British design to incorporate lowland Eritrea with the Sudan and also believed that Eritrea was part of the Arab World.  He was an activist of the Muslim League led by Ibrahim Sultan, from whom he split later and supported the federal arrangement and got elected as President of the Eritrean Assembly.  He had a fall out with Bitweded Asfaha Woldemichael (Chief executive of Eritrea) and fled to the Sudan with his rival Ibrahim Sultan in 1959.

In 1960 he proceeded to Cairo and along with other exiled students he formed the ELF under his chairmanship, and personally asked Hamid Idris Awate, who belonged to the same ethnic group (on his mother's side) and was related to him, to launch the armed struggle.  He recruited fighters from the ranks of Eritreans who were soldiers of the Sudanese Army. [21] These guerillas were mostly from his ethnic group the Beni Amer, who served in the Sudanese army. The bond between them was either familial or tribal instead of ideological.   He led the ELF from 1961 - 1975 until he was replaced by Ahmed Nasser.

He is credited with developing the identity of Eritrea's Arabism and defined the Eritrean movement as part and parcel of the Pan Arab revolution. The fact that the ELF in its formative years was being supported by Egypt has contributed significantly to the Arabanization of the  Eritrean struggle.  One of his closest comrades in defining the "Eritrea is member of the Arab World" philosophy was Osman Saleh Sabbe (1932-87).

Jonathan Miran writes that  "The founding of the ELF in the Arab world’s foremost capital in the heyday of Nasser and Arab nationalism undoubtedly influenced to some extent the organization’s Arabist orientation and the ELF sought to build up support for its cause in the Arab world and drew ideological and organizational inspiration in its early years from the Algerian nationalist movement, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). The “Middle Eastern-ization” of the Eritrean struggle at that stage was epitomized by the person of Osman Saleh Sabbe (1932-87) who joined the ELF in late 1961.  Osman Saleh Sabbe was from then on the leading ideologue and activist promoting the inscription of the Eritrean struggle for liberation within a secular, pan-Arabist framework. Charged with the ELF’s external relations, Sabbe worked indefatigably throughout the decade in forming relationships and receiving logistical support from a host of Arab regimes and organizations both in the Red Sea area and beyond". [22]

John Franklin Campbell who was the US consul in Asmara in 1967-69 describing the ELF and the declared objective of the leaders says "Most visible of the ELF leadership is 'Secretary-general' Osman Saleh Sabbe, who has held press interviews in Beirut, Damascus, Amman, and Baghdad.  Sabbe and Radio Damascus stress that the 'independence' of an 'Arab Eritrea' is the Front's goal." [23]

Idris Mohammed Adem and his front the ELF was supported by the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser until 1963 by which time Nasser has mended fences with Emperor Haile Selassie at the formation of the OAU.

Egypt's policy with regards to Ethiopia was and still is associated with the Nile river.  85% of the waters of the Nile river comes from the Blue Nile which originates in the Ethiopian highlands.  Almost all of the Egyptian population lives near the banks of the Nile River.  Egypt's largest cities and towns, it's civilization and famous Pyramids are all situated on the banks of the river Nile. The Nile represents life itself to the people of both ancient and modern Egypt.

The Nile being the lifeline of the nation, Egyptians always wanted to either control or dominate Ethiopia.  The Swedish Adventurer Werner Muzinger(1832-1875) who was employed by the Egyptian government of Khedive Ismail(1863-1879) serving as governor of Keren and Massawa remarked that, "Ethiopia with a disciplined administration and army, and a friend of the European powers, is a danger for Egypt.  Egypt must either take over Ethiopia and Islamize it, or retain it in anarchy and misery." [24]

Egypt attempted to take over militarily the source of the Blue Nile during the 19th century in order to secure and control the uninterrupted flow of the life giving water of the Blue Nile.  As Professor Kindie  explains "Egypt should be strong enough either to dominate Ethiopia or to create the conditions to prevent the latter from building dams on the Blue Nile. With that end in mind, Egypt controlled the port of Massawa from 1865 to 1885, and occupied parts of present-day northwestern Eritrea from 1872-1884 with a view to using these areas as basis for military operations against the rest of Ethiopia. Egypt's military adventures were brought to a halt after its disastrous defeats at Gura and Gundet" by Emperor Yohannes IV and his gallant General Alula Aba Nega. [25]

Had it not been for the courageous forces of Emperor Yohannes IV and his brilliant General Ras Alula Aba Nega, a significant number of Eritrean highlanders would have faced the same fate of being converted to Islam like their fellow countrymen of Senhit (the Maria Tsaeda, Maria Tselam, Bet Asgede etc.,)  The names Woldemariam, Gebremariam and Letenegus would have been replaced by Jamal, Idris, Kedija etc. etc, The centuries old culture and religion of the highland region would have been changed and destroyed irretrievably for good.

Egypt has a long history of involvement in the internal affairs of Ethiopia and engaging in hostile action with the intent of destabilizing Ethiopia.  There was no shortage of mercenaries from Eritrea    to help Egypt in its mission during the 1950s and the 1960s.  Eritrean exiles and Eritrean Students of  Al-Azhar University living in Cairo were willing to avail themselves to the services of the Egyptian government.  The most important of them was Idris Mohammed Adem.  Woldeab Woldemariam was also in the payroll of Gamal Abdel Nasser and was transmitting radio broadcasts from Cairo beamed to Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Ambassador Shinn describing Egypt's actions writes  "Egypt opened near Alexandria in 1958 a small military training camp for Eritreans opposed to Ethiopian rule. Egypt also permitted Eritrean rebels to use Radio Cairo in an effort to undermine the Haile Selassie government. Egypt allowed the predominantly Muslim Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) to establish an office in Cairo. With Egyptian support, the Arab League in 1962 extended complete solidarity to the ELF.  Egypt saw this policy as useful in diverting Ethiopia's attention away from efforts to develop Nile water projects. [26]

After Egypt cut off its support to the ELF, Idris Mohammed Adem switched to Syria and Iraq and embraced the revolutionary Pan Arabism version of the Baath Party.  He directed the Eritrean armed struggle from Kassala, Damascus and Baghdad. [27]

Despite significant upheaval within the ELF and dramatic changes including the forming of the EPLF and the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie I,  he was repeatedly voted as chairman of the front.  He was the chairman of the ELF for 14 years out of the 20 years of the existence of the front (1961-1975).   After losing the chairmanship of the ELF he moved to Saudi Arabia, dropped secular pan Arabism and embraced political Islam.

He was the single most important person which set in motion the armed struggle which engulfed Eritrea for three decades.  By forming and launching the ELF he unleashed the "Ghedli" machinery of carnage and destruction that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians.

He was a dedicated adherent of Pan Arabism, who did not know the Eritrean people and had no clue whatsoever of the aspiration and identity of the Eritrean people.  His whole life he was in the pay of different Arab Nations working for foreign interests, and strived to incorporate Eritrea with the Arab world.  He died in 2004 in Mecca Saudi Arabia, without ever returning to Eritrea and without realizing his lifelong mission of creating an Arab-Eritrea (ERISTAN).

The stark similarity of the above individuals was that they all wanted to create an Arabic/Muslim Eritrea.  The other similarity is that they never succeeded in achieving their aim.   Another group of Eritreans i.e. The Christian highlanders like Woldeab Woldemariam and Isayas Afeworki had similar objective like the above individuals i.e. secession, but the type of Eritrea they wanted to create after independence was radically different.  Isayas assisted by a series of international circumstances and the general discontent in Ethiopia and the subsequent disintegration of the Ethiopian government, was finally able to establish present day Eritrea; his private serfdom.  Woldeab Woldemariam even though he was unable to realize his dream of creating a Tigray Tigrigni state, nevertheless was also able to see an independent Eritrea minus Tigray,  severed from Ethiopia.

In Part IV of Independent Eritrea, a crumbling nation and a tragedy, under the same title i.e. The Architects of Destruction, I shall try to explore the motives and objectives of  Woldeab Woldemariam, Isayas Afeworki and the Students who joined the movement in the 1960s.

Ghirmay Yeibio

Winnipeg, MB.  Canada.


[1] Speech by His Excellency the Chief Executive Bitweded Asfaha Woldemichael in the third legislature, Wednesday, 14th of November 1962.

[2] Professor Negussay Ayele - In Search of the Historical DNA of the Eritrean Problem.  Review Article on The Eritrean Affair (1941-1963) by Ambassador Zewde Retta.

[3] Op cit  (For further reading on Dr. Amare Tekle's dissertation refer  “The Creation of the Ethio-Eritrean Federation: A Case Study in Post War International Relations 1945-1950” Ph. D. dissertation, University of Denver 1964)


[4] Miazia 27 EC i.e. May 5 GC is a historic day annually celebrated in Ethiopia as the day that Emperor Haile Selassie I triumphantly returned from exile to his Capital Addis Ababa.  Eritreans were celebrating that day with their Ethiopian brothers by demonstrating and asking for the immediate reunion of Eritrea with Ethiopia.

[5] Tekeste Negash - Eritrea and Ethiopia, The Federal Experience 1997 - pp 37

[6] For the full quote read  Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf. James Murphy, translator. London, New York, Melbourne: Hurst and Blackett Ltd; April 1942; page 134.

[7] SAL AA YOUNIS  - [DEHAI] The Jeberti -  2 Apr 97

[8] Sheikh Abdul Kader Muhammad Saleh KEBIRE, The Father of Martyrs, Oct. 22, 2000  -  The Article was originally posted by, The Fertile womb.

[9] Miran, Jonathan - A Historical Overview of Islam in Eritrea  Bellingham, Wash. pp. 204

[10] I used Eristan as in Pakistan, Afghanistan, to mean Muslim dominated Eritrean nation

[11] Jacquin, Dominique - Nationalism and Secession in the Horn of Africa, A Critique of the Ethnic Interpretation, London School of Economics and Political Science ,University of London, 1999

[12] E.R.J. Hussey, C.M.G. "ERITREA SELF-GOVERNING" - African Affairs Vol. 53 – 213   Oct 1954

[13] British Archives "Leading Personalities in Eritrea" 1950.  Letter by the British administration in Eritrea to the government of the United Kingdom dated June 7, 1950 and acknowledged as received on June 10, 1950.

[14] Tekeste Negash - Eritrea and Ethiopia, The Federal Experience 1997 pp. 44

[15] Saulsberry, Nicole Denise, The life and times of Woldeab Woldemariam (1905-1995) Sept. 2001 pp. 176

[16] Miran, Jonathan - A Historical Overview of Islam in Eritrea  Bellingham, Wash. pp. 204

[17] Jacquin, Dominique - Nationalism and Secession in the Horn of Africa, A Critique of the Ethnic Interpretation, London School of Economics and Political Science ,University of London, 1999

[18] Tekeste Negash - Eritrea and Ethiopia, The Federal Experience 1997 pp. 45

[19] Op cit  pp. 52

[20] Op Cit - FO371/73788,  Drew to the Foreign Office,  telegram no. 184, Asmara, 27.10.1949).

[21] Awet Tewolde Gebremariam, The Eritrean and East Timorese Liberation Movements: Toward a Comparative Study of Their Grand Strategies 2008  PP. 150

[22] Miran, Jonathan - A Historical Overview of Islam in Eritrea, Bellingham Wash.. pp. 209 -210

[23] Campbell, John Franklin :  Background to the Eritrean conflict, Deferred result of Colonial Map-Making, Geopolitics and Religion. - Africa Report May 1977 pp.19-20

[24] Rubenson, Sven - The Survival of Ethiopian Independence, Heinemann, London, 1976, pp. 200.

[25] Kendie, Daniel Professor, Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River

[26] Shinn, David - Ambassador - July 2006 - Nile Basin Relations: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia

[27] Encyclopedia Aetopica - Otto Harrasowitz Verlag

Google Search Asmarino English Pages



News & Press Releases

Sponsoring Eritrean Refugees from the Blended VOR Project

Sponsoring Eritrean Refugees from the Blended VOR Project

... This program aims to resettle specific refugee populations to Canada. One group that will be resettled through this project is Eritrean refugees in Sudan. There are now 40 Eritrean refugees waiting to be matched with sponsors in Canada through this program. I would like to reach out to the Eritrean community so I can provide information on the project and how they can get involved. ...


Geneva Charity for Eritrean Refugee School in Sudan

Geneva Charity for Eritrean Refugee School in Sudan

The Geneva-based association for Eritrean refugee children at Wad Sherifey in East Sudan (ASEE - Association Suisse Enfance-Erythree) organized during the past weekend a successful three-day fund-raising event at the 22nd Music Festival in Geneva.

(Photo: ASEE stand/tent selling Eritrean food at the Geneva Music Festival.)


Letter to the President of the Federal States of Somalia

Letter to the President of the Federal States of Somalia

Despite Somalia's current challenges, the Eritrean people still need your support. However I am very confident that your country will continue to show strong leadership on this issue and others, and for that you have my praise and admiration along with that of Eritreans around the world. Your support for the Eritrean people, for the fundamental rights of the Persons with Albinism, and for others, will not be forgotten.


The Washington D.C. Conference

The Washington D.C. Conference

A Conference under the theme “Time for Change: Saving Eritrea’s Future” was held in Washington D.C. during the period May 24-25, 2013.

This conference, organized by Eritreans who came from all over the United States and Canada, was attended by about 2000 Eritrean-Americans, Eritrean-Canadians, and friends of Eritrea. This conference was held on the sidelines of the Washington D.C. demonstration, which has been sufficiently covered but on which we would like to dwell briefly.


UN Urges the World to Keep Eritrea Under Scrutiny

UN Urges the World to Keep Eritrea Under Scrutiny

GENEVA (5 June 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, today reiterated her call on the international community to keep monitoring the human rights situation in Eritrea and to protect and support those fleeing the country, in particular the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children.

“I urge the international community to keep Eritrea under close scrutiny until meaningful change is evident,” Ms. Keetharuth said during the presentation of her first report to the UN Human Rights Council. “It will be important to increase efforts to constructively engage with Eritrea and neighbouring countries to improve the situation of human rights in the country.”


Egyptian politicians caught in on-air Ethiopia dam gaffe

Egyptian politicians caught in on-air Ethiopia dam gaffe

Egyptian politicians are embarrassed after being caught suggesting hostile acts against Ethiopia to stop it from building a dam across the Blue Nile. ...

As the participants did not know that the meeting was being aired live by state TV, they spoke their minds unreservedly.

Their suggestions centred around military action as a decisive response to what one of them called a "declaration of war".

One of the politicians suggested sending special forces to destroy the dam; another thought of jet fighters to scare the Ethiopians; and a third called for Egypt to support rebel groups fighting the government in Addis Ababa.


Eritrean Nationals in the Greater Bay Area Celebrated 22nd Independence Day with Great Enthusiasm

Eritrean Nationals in the Greater Bay Area Celebrated 22nd Independence Day with Great Enthusiasm

Large crowd of mostly youth Eritreans gathered in Oakland, California on Sunday May 26 to Celebrate our country’s 22nd Independence Day. This gathering was exceptional in many ways. To begin with, the National Holiday was prepared by the effort and co-operation of different political organizations, civic societies and independent citizens namely, Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC), Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC), Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and  Eritreans with no political affiliation. Secondly, the hall was packed with participants of all ages with mostly young men and women.


3rd state agrees to take Israel's Eritrean migrants

3rd state agrees to take Israel's Eritrean migrants

An undisclosed country has agreed to absorb the majority of Eritrean citizens who have illegally entered Israel, representatives of the state said Sunday.

The remarks came during a High Court discussion of a petition filed by human rights groups against Israel's infiltrator's law, which allows for the detention of illegal migrants without trial.

(Photo: Eritrean migrants protest Negeve detention facility)


Persecution Greater Than Ever and 'Getting Worse' in Eritrea

 Persecution Greater Than Ever and 'Getting Worse' in Eritrea

Religious persecution in Eritrea is at its “highest level ever and getting worse,” an Eritrean Christian leader, who cannot be named for security reasons, has told the Christian charity Open Doors International.

Thirty-seven Christian students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the town of Adi Kihe, and five men from the Church of the Living God in Asmara, were arrested last week, taking the total number of Christians known to have been arrested this year to 191.

(Photo: College of Arts, Adi-Keyih)


Swedish Men Charged with Extortion Racket Linked to Eritrea Kidnappings

Swedish Men Charged with Extortion Racket Linked to Eritrea Kidnappings

A Stockholm court has charged two young Swedish nationals of Middle Eastern origin with extortion in connection with the kidnappings of Eritrean asylum seekers.

The two, aged 21 and 18, allegedly demanded money from families living in Sweden for the safe return of loved ones. The suspects, who were arrested in February, have been accused of trying to extort $33,000 (£22,000) in ransom demands.


TD Bank urged to exit Eritrea collection scheme

TD Bank urged to exit Eritrea collection scheme

A Canadian chartered bank being used in Eritrea's controversial tax collection scheme is being urged to get out of it, CBC world affairs correspondent Rick MacInnes-Rae reports today from Winnipeg.

The UN says Eritrea relies on threats and coercion to extract two per cent of the income from Eritrean citizens in Canada. In Winnipeg, the money is then funnelled to the East-African dictatorship via Toronto-Dominion Bank, documents obtained by CBC News show.