The provisions of the federal accord were either gradually and systematically
Disregarded or, simply repealed. With that disappeared all democratic rights' Once
The avenues for peaceful and democratic political expression were closed, other, less
overt, but more effective avenues had to be found for expressing political and
national aspirations. This compelled Eritrean nationalists to search for alternative
ways to challenge the Ethiopian encroachment. And because all the mechanisms
through which political grievances could be channeled were banned, all political
activities had to be clandestine. In November1 958, a group of Eritrean refugees in
the Sudan took the initiative of organising political activity. Delegates were
immediately dispatched to Eritrea to establish clandestine cells, which were formed
in groups of seven persons in order to avoid detection by the Ethiopian security
forces. As a result of this organizational method, the movement inside Eritrea took
the name of Mahber Shewate ( association of group of seven). In the Sudan, it was
known as Harakat Et Tahrir El Eritrya, Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM)' and
better known in its short form, haraka.
The activities of the ELM were predominantly urban-based, founded by young
Moslem nationalists residing in the Sudan. Its aim was to terminate Ethiopian rule
through peaceful means, although later it attempted to launch an armed guerrilla
insurrection. They were very much influenced by the nationalist movement in the
Sudan, and particularly by the Sudan Communist Party.
The strategy of the urban Clandestine movement, according to Nawid (1997),
was learned from the experienceof the Sudanese Communist Party. As soon as they
could dispatch their
representatives to Eritrea, the work of mobilization was carried out among the urban
Population. The mobilization and recruitment work received an immediately positive
response from both the Moslem and Christian communities, and in quite a short
time, by April of 1959, clandestine cells had been established in almost all Eritrean
towns. The ELM convened its first congress in Asmara in 1960. Employing the
slogan "Muslims and Christians are brothers, and their unity makes Eritrea one
", the Movement strove for the unity of Eritrean society. The Movement's
Three main objectives were unity, independence and building a democratic Eritrea.
Its initial method of struggle to achieve independence was to topple the Eritrean
marionette government through a revolutionary coup d'etat This was to be
undertaken by anti-unionist elements of the Eritrean police force and a mass patriotic
force, thereby forcing Ethiopia to withdraw from Eritrea (Nawid 1997). This was
seen, in contrast to armed guerrilla struggle, as a relatively peaceful means.
Therefore, in the early years of the 1960s it concentrated its activities in trying to
organise the coup d'etat. In fact, a plan of action was drawn up, but prematurely
aborted when it was uncovered by Ethiopian security forces. The strategy of
achieving independence through a revolutionary coup d 'etat proved to be unrealistic,
at best. In addition to its impracticality, once the scheme was exposed the Ethiopian
security forces inflicted a heavy blow on the ELM. Consequently the plan was
abandoned. Afterwards, toward the mid-1960s, the ELM attempted to undertake
armed struggle. However, by the time the movement started to establish military
units, the initiative had already been taken by another, rival organisation, the
E ritrean Liberation Front.
with the entrance of the ELM into the field, the liberation movement encountered
its flrst substantiail internal conflict. The discord pivoted around the question of
whether there should be two organizations. According to Nawid (1997), the ELM
made a proposal to the leadership of the ELF to merge the two organisations.
However, the proposal failed because of the ELF's rejection.
This led to the first armed confrontation within the liberation movement.
The ELM accused the ELF of being responsible for this armed conflict. T he
ELF, in response accused the ELM of
Endangering the liberation movement first, by indulging in the unrealistic strategy of
a revolutionary coup d'etat to liberate Eritrea, thereby trying to prevent an armed
struggle from taking place. Second, when its strategy proved fatal, it attempted to
dispatch armed units to the field and in doing so stole arms from the ELF (Ahmed
The antagonism between the two organizations reached its peak and was eventually
resolved through coercive means, ending in the complete demise of the ELM.
According to Markakis, the discordance between the two fronts can be explained in
structural terms. First, the ELF viewed the ELM as a communist influenced
organization. Second, sectionalism played a significant role. While the leaders of the
ELM were from the Keren and Sahel regions, the leaders of the ELF were from the
Barka region and this difference of origin contributed to the cleavage. Third, the
ELM's attempt to broaden its organization through recruiting Christians also played
not an insignificant role. The leaders of the ELF, and Idris Mohammed Adem in
particular, disliked this strategy because in their view, it was the Christians that
delivered Eritrea to Ethiopia in the first place (Markakis 1987: 108). According to
Mohammed Said Nawid2, however, the ELF and ELM disagreed over the ELF
leadership's belief that they had the sole mandate of representing the Eritrean people.
The leaders of the ELF believed that mandate had been bestowed upon them during
the time of political struggle in the 1940s and 1950s. They therefore believed that
newly emerging political forces had no legitimacy. Moreover, their view that the
Eritrean arena could not accommodate more than one organizational so constituted an
irreconcilable point of difference. Ahmed Mohammed Nasir, acquiescing to the
latter point admits that the chief reason for the ELF attacking the ELM was its belief
that the Field could support only one organisation.
At last, the ELF Supreme Council decided to take military action against the
Movement. The obliteration of the ELM unit by the ELF at Ela Tza'ada in 1965
Effectively terminated not only the military, but also the political existence of the
ELM. Many believe that the legacy of this military action set the precedent for the later civil wars between the Eritrean organizations.
Source: Eritrea: the making of a nation 1890-1991
By Redie Bereketeab 183-185 p.
EHREA Eritrean Human Rights Electronic
Archive © 2006