The prompting of today’s article emanates from two
disparate elements. An article written by Tricia Redeker
Hepner in Eritrean Studies Review, Special Issue , 2005, and
Selam Kidane’s article in Asmarino on remembering the martyrs
this past June 20th. The latter’s notion of choosing to
include the fallen heroes of Eritrea along with those that are
facing hardships mid seas as they try to find a refuge is
commendable one. Such a notion is calling on me to do the same
by paying a tribute to a man of principle, naemely, Mengisteab
Yisaq of Eritreans for Liberation in North America (EFLNA)
better known in tigrinya as, Ertrawyan nNatsnet ab Semien
For contextual purposes allow me to indulge on what’s
known of the author of this note worthy endeavor, who has
unearthed a wealth of information that provides, as it were,
the history of EFLNA/ENASA; a written history that had been
lacking in the Eritrean circles for the longest. I recall
vividly in dying to know about this important chapter of
Eritrean students in the United States when I was student at
UCLA in the early 90s. Few years later during mid 90s, as a
member of dehai.org, the first Eritrean website, my attempt to
entice Eritreans heeded no positive response, for no Eritrean
scholar or otherwise was willing to touch this highly
influential chapter of our history that we all can learn a
great deal from. My kudos goes out to Ms. Hepner for tackling
Ms. Hepner, by extension EFLNA/ENASA, are inseparably
intertwined. After all, her Ph.D dissertation was analyzing,
to borrow her own words, "…of trans/nationally constructed
identities among EFLNA returnees", which is titled, "Eritrea
and Exile: Trans/Nationalism in the Horn of Africa and the United
States." (Michigan State University, 2004).
The pivotal historical legacy that marred EFLNA was
also the tipping point that would define permanently not only
in how EPLF had won in the power play between it and EFLNA,
but also till recent years, EPLF turned PFDJ would be the only
dominant force in the entire United States.
Historical Background of
The forming of EFLNA/ENASA was intriguingly
unsystematic and was of sheer coincidence, devolution from an
unlikely source, which literally came to be formed as an
offshoot from Ethiopian Student Union in North America
Whether lacking political consciousness or as a venue
to tab into the right resources, the Eritrean students, by
default, it seems, joined the ESUNA.
After all, most of the Eritrean students that came to
the United States to receive higher education in the late ‘60s
up to mid ‘70s came, courtesy of the King Haile Sellassie
system of government.
Ethiopian Student Union in North American (ESUNA) was
established in 1950 and unequivocally, in no ambiguous terms,
had a resolution in its charter "condemning the Eritrean
Movement as "reactionary and sectarian" in its 17th Congress
of 1969 (Hepner, 2005: p40). Yet many notable Eritreans of
today such as Haile Menkorios were part of EUSNA in the 1970s
but later would shun it to join the EPLF.
Had the ESUNA leadership condemned the December 16,
1970 massacre in Keren and its environs in which some 2000
Eritrean villagers were summarily killed by Ethiopian army, as
many of ESUNA members of Eritrean origin wished it to do, one
could not help but wonder if there would have been an
EFLNA/ENASA in the United States at all?
Ostensibly this flashpoint would cause the formation of
EFLNA/ENASA, for EUSNA chose not to condemn the massacre for a
concern of appearing to legitimize the Eritrean Liberation
Front (ELF), albeit indirectly (Hepner, 2005: p41). This short
sighted reaction by ESUNA, a knee jerk reaction, really, would
soon create a rift between ESUNA and its Eritrean members,
thus prompting the formation of EFLNA/ENASA.
This missed opportunity on ESUNA’s part, unbeknownst to
it and unforeseen rapid socio-political space would take a
foothold in the United States. In fact, Hepner, goes on to
"…in less than
a decade EFLNA evolved into one of the most powerful Eritrean
nationalist organization in the world aside from EPLF and ELF.
EFLNA’s co-development alongside the EPLF in Eritrea helped
lay the foundation for an Eritrean trans/nationalist social
field-that is, a set of practices and relationships designed
to further nationalist goals by transitional means – which
still conjoins Eritrea and its diaspora into a single, if not
unified, entity. EFLNA therefore remains key to understanding
many patterns underpinning contemporary North American
diaspora life and the strategies of transnational integration
and dis-integration pursued by Eritrean state under the
Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ)" (Hepner, 2005: pp
Partly, ESUNA’s blunder would end up helping the
strengthening ties between EFLNA’s notable members, who would
later play crucial role in EPLF’s liberation movement and
after independence in PFDJ, the list of which is provided
below. It is worthy noting, in fact, EFLNA claims that it
simultaneously attempted to contact on numerous occasions both
EPLF and ELF because it wished to stay as independent entity,
but was, according to Hepner, rebuffed and fell to deaf ears.
If true, then, ESUNA first and ELF later missed an opportunity
that would have served them become more effective
organizations, for that’s precisely what EFLNA would help EPLF
do. About EFLNA/ENASA incessantly attempting to reach out
to ELF as it was doing the same with EPLF seems to be hearsay,
for Ms. Hepner,
produces no written documents to verify the alleged efforts of
reaching out to ELF by ENASA.
Several sources that I spoke with allege that no such
thing as reaching out to ELF took place by EFLNA/ENASA.
Amongst the individuals that joined EPLF, most were and
are in the highest socio-political post in pre and post
independent Eritrea respectively. By the time EFLNA/ENASA had
its first General Congress meeting in Washington DC, on the
18th of June, 1971, it had attracted impressive members. Here
is the list as extracted –literally- from Hepner’s article in
Eritrean Studies Review, Special Issue, 2005: p45.
Haile Menkerios: Once a leader in
ESUNA, later returned to Eritrea to join EPLF in the early
1970s where he became a member of the EPLF Politbureau, and
upon independence, the permanent representative of Eritrea to
the United Nations.
Naizghi Kiflu: Current Minister of
Information; former Ambassador to Russia.
Andeberhan Woldegiorgis: Current
ambassador of Eritrea to the European Union; former president
of of the United Nations Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia
Tsegai "Dinesh" Tesfatsion: Current
Director of Protocols, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yemane Gebreab: Head of Political
Affairs for the PFDJ and Presidential Adviser to Isayas
Hagos "kisha" Gebrehiwet: Head of
Economic Affairs for PFDJ; former representative of EPLF in
the US and first ambassador to the United States.
Gebremikael "Lilo" Mengistu: Former
Secretary ad Projects Coordinator for the Eritrean Relief
Association in Khartoum; coordinator of the Emergency
Reconstruction Program for the PFDJ.
Stefanos Seium: Former minister of
Agriculture; former head of Finance for the Ministry of
Defense; dismissed and arrested in 2001 as one of the "G-15"
dissidents within the PFJD Central Committee.
Alemseged Tesfai: Head of the PFDJ’s
Eritrean Historical Studies project at the Research and
Documentation Center, Asmara; former head of the Eritrean Land
Therefore, it is not far fetched to see that the
Eritrean liberation movement is replete with contradictions:
simultaneously revolutionary and counter revolutionary acts in
the same space and time.
The struggle for independence has engendered unsung
heroes like the late Mengesteab Yisaq, of EFLNA/ENASA
gathering from what little is written of him gives an
impressively principled snap shot of his life, which seems to
be in short supply in the Eritrean socio-political landscape
Part 2 will be on Mengesteab Yisaq. It seemed
imperatively important that today’s piece would be posted
prior to giving tribute to the man that I feel deserving
remembrance, remembrance that I hope will give positive
commemoration, albeit almost three decades late. "Halengi
Sewra Ertra" indeed was long and brutally intrusive and
Mengisteab was not spared from its corollary effect and
reverberations of which still linger with us in today’s
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