KIDANE KIFLU AND THE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: ADDENDUM
In my previous series of postings entitled " Kidane Kiflu and the Jack Kramer Papers", I mentioned that the research was on-going. The continuing research for the aforementioned led me to two interviews that were conducted by Gunther Schroder.
From the 1980's to early 1990's, Gunther Schroder interviewed, what would be considered a WHO'S WHO list of people from ELF and Harakat (ELM). (Note: He also interviewed very few people from EPLF. During that period he interviewed over 50 people).
Going through the transcripts of the above mentioned interviews, two interviews grabbed my attention. The first was Gunther's interview with Abdella Hassan Ali. If you recall, Abdella Hassan Ali was one of the fighters (the other being Aberra Mekonnen) who accompanied Jack Kramer from Kassala to the field in 1968. I'll present part of the transcript that relates to Kidane Kiflu and Jack Kramer. I'll present the second interview in its entirety.
The reason why I started writing "Kidane Kiflu and the Jack Kramer Papers" was because of Kidane's letters to Jack Kramer. The letters are located at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto. The letters reveal the political maturity of Kidane. In the letters, Kidane was reflecting his and his comrade-in-arms sentiment of the time and their vision for the future of Eritrea's struggle for independence. For the purpose of this article, his comrade-in-arms included people like Tekue Yehdego, Wolderufael Sebhatu, Mehari Debesai and others. The same people were mentioned by General Ghirmay Mehari and Naizghi Kiflu in part VII of "Kidane Kiflu and the Jack Kramer Papers".
I found some letters that Tekue Yehdego, Wolderufael Sebhatu and Mehari Debesai wrote (separately) to the Eritreans in the Diaspora. The letters were written in the early 1970's. I'll post samples of their letters in another time. Suffice it to say, despite their young age, what makes all their respective letters (including Kidane's) valuable is the similarity of their sharp analysis, the clarity of their message, their organzitional ability, their boldness, their humbleness, their politeness, their determination, their resolve and focus.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of Gunther’s interview with Abdalla Hassan
ABDALLA HASSAN ALI
On The Student Movement In Asmara And History Of ELF Kassala/13-02 1991/Arabic/English (Translator: Tesfay Weldemikiel Transcript read and corrected by Abdalla Hassan Ali summer 1991
Gunther: When you came to Kassala it was the time when the Harakat Eslah and the movement of the fighters were agitating there. What where the issues and how did you participate in those activities?
Abdalla Hassan Ali: At that time in Kassala the general atmosphere was intensifying in calling for the unity of the zones, also there was slogan about there should be one leadership and its center must be the field, that the congress should be held and also there were slogans calling for the programmatic declaration of ELF. In Kassala there were many houses which belonged to the different zones, these centers accepted the fighters who came either for rest or for treatment but all the fighters used to gather and to exchange ideas. And also there were people entering Kassala from different zones and the organized people in Sudan also had the same sentiments and views of this general at¬mosphere. So being in Kassala at this time I participated in the activities calling for the unity of ELA and the establishment of one leadership whose center would be in the field. There was no difference between the general sentiment of those fighters and people here in Kassala and the Harakat Eslah. And finally the task was done jointly. From Harakat Eslah there were Abdelqader Remadan, Abdalla Suleiman, Kidane Kiflu and others. So even this expresses the general sentiment of the situation. There was no difference, we cannot see them as different groups. We were doing meetings together. Although we can't say that this gives a form of two bodies, from those who were known as army committee were such persons as Abubaker Mehamed Jime, one martyr called Abdalla Talodi, Abdalla Mehamed, Taha Ibrahim, Mehamed Nur and also Idris "Sharif".
Gunther:How did it come about that Aberra Mekonnen and you were given the assignment to accompany Jack Kramer to the field eventhough you were active in the movement of the fighters? Was Aberra also of this movement?
Abdalla Hassan Ali:Aberra Mekonnen was with us also in these activities. When he came to the field he directly came to Kassala before even taking a military training and he participated di¬rectly in this situation. At that time, even though the Harakat Eslah and the movement of the fighters were present, this does not mean that the relations between the fighters participating in them and the Revolutionary Command did not exist. For example, Said Saber has been working in the information Department, Welday was a member of the Revolutionary Command and Kidane Kiflu and myself were under the Kiada Sewriya. When this American journalist came it was seen that the Americans still do not have a clear assessment of the situation. So it was organized that if this American goes to the field and writes of what he sees it would be for the benefit of the revolution. So I and Aberra Mekonnen were ordered to go with Jack Kramer to the field. We were not long with him, we accompanied him from Kassala to Barka, we visited some place in Barka and then, because he had to meet some units in the 2nd zone and then enter to Keren, he was given some fighters who accompanied him and they directed him to zone no. 2 and with Aberra Mekonnen I returned to Kassala with his documents and films.
Gunther: When you came to Kassala in 1968 what was then the relationshiop betwen the ELF and the Sudanese government? Was there a tendency of the government to impose restrictions on the activities of the ELF in Sudan?
Abdalla Hassan Ali:At that time, of course, I was new in Sudan and how the government of Sudan functioned and what its relation to the revolution was, I did not know. But what I had come in contact with was that the Sudanese authorities were arresting some fighters who were released after paying some fees. The members of the Kiada Sewriya were mainly operating underground and the activities of the Ethiopians also intensified. They have been throwing some bombs in the Western Gash area of Kassala against the Sudanese petrol distribution area to threaten them, This was the general information I had, but I realy did not know what was going on.
Gunther:What did you do after you returned to Kassala with the materials of Kramer?
Abdalla Hassan Ali: After the formation of the Tripartite Unity I went to that area and with me were many other fighters who were sent to the field in many directions and with the same ideas we had we joined the units in the different zones. I went to Akele Guzay and joi¬ned the unit called seriya 8. Seriya 8 at that time had about 150 fighters. In the Tri-partite Unity there were at least eight seriya but also independent gantas for guerilla activities. I did not participate in the Adobha Congress. I continued in this seriya in Akele Guzay. Its commander was Umer Suba. I stayed with this unit till the Tekhlit of Tahra. After that some units were sent to the vicinity of Asmara. After the merger of the army new units were formed and it was also decided to send guerilla units around every town. Saleh ad-Din Abdalla and myself were given the duty to organize inside Asmara, Mahmud Hazeb was sent to Aqerdat, a certain Mehamed Yazin to Mas¬sawa, Suleiman Musa Haj to Keren, Mehamed Taher to Mendefera. The guerilla units were given the tasks of organization around Asmara and inside the town. When I returned responsible for organizing the city I found everything had come to a new situation, that the Ethiopians intensified their campaign to arrest the ELF members. So we began to organize the city according to the acquaintances we had. We also tried to recruit new elements. At that time to operate in Asmara was very difficult. Besides this task of organizing the guerilla units had other tasks which can be identified as military operations and political agitation around Asmara.Our main camps we were depending on, were in the area of Mensa up to Ad Shumer (Filfil, Agenat). When we tried to go up to the Highlands we couldn't even stay for half an hour, just after some time the Ethiopians used to arrive. So, the center being these lowland areas gradually we were managing to expand our activities, to create cells in the villages, to get information and to return back. We had cells inside the villages, we got information from them and sometimes we came into contact with some persons who came from Asmara and organized them. But we were always returning hastily. For example, we first met in She'eb, Selemona, some teachers and we mandated them to carry our mission.
Concerning the acceptance of the people, of course, because there is an intensive enemy pressure in that area, there were difficulties, but those who came intocontact with us from Asmara were mainly composed of Christians and we fighters, our units, were both composed of Christians and Muslims. So, especially in our task, when we come to work, the general national sentiment was dominating. And when we were inside Asmara, Muslims and Christians were working together. I did this work up to October 1970. Then I was captured on October 13, 1970 inside Asmara, but Saleh ad-Din Abdalla carried on with our work after I was arrested. I was about 6 months in prison, then in April 1971 Mehamed Amir "Kabli", who was captured at Massawa, and myself, we escaped from the prison by digging our way out. After I fled from the prison, I was mainly on treatment in Kassala and Khartoum and then I participated in the 1st National Congress.
Below is the transcript of Gunther's interview
On the events of 1969/1970 in Kassala.
Kassala. March 21, 1989/translated Tigrigna to English by Gebray Weldeselase.
I'm more than 35 years in Kassala. Many people in Kassala were killed at that time. These two were killed out of the six of the pC in Kassala. Mesfin Hagos was supposed to be killed with them. He was here in Kassala when they called him, he told them he has a job right now. After this Time, Mehari was in Khartoum. After they were killed he came and took their belongings to send them to their families. They were the ones to make contact with the Sudanese government. If any fighter was wounded or in need of any help these people were trying to solve the problem of the fighters in Kassala. Any Eritrean, who had an interest in the revolution, they were helping if any problems or difficulties were happening to him. lf people were kidnapped by the organization these people appealed to the Sudanese police. Ali Berhatu came from Arab nation. He was responsible for refugees through the ELF.
When he arrived, Welday and Kidane took him to the hotel. They suspected "if he sleeps without any guard the opponents may kidnap him and take him to the field." They went to the police station and they requested to give one police to guard him in the hotel. They gave them the police. Then the opposers knew he is sleeping in the hotel and they came the next day by taxi to the hotel and told the police this guy is wanted by the Sheikh of Hilla. They took him to this place. When they dropped him there he was taken by other opponents waiting there by force to the field.Kidane and Welday came to the hotel to find him. They asked the police and the police told them, a member of your organization came and took him by taxi to the Sheikh of Hilla. They were angry with the police but immediately they went to the police sta¬tion and appealed that this man has disappeared from the town. Then the administration of Kassala send a letter to Khartoum that this man had disappeared from Kassala by kidnapping. Then the administration of Khartoum sends a letter to this office to ask the ELF office and force them to bring the man from the field. The police arrested some of the ELF to force them to bring him back. They asked for two months and assured that he is alive. And after 2 months they brought him. He was saved his life because of these two pwople Welday and Kidane. When he came back, they were already killed. Tesfay and Ibrahim were leading with these two. They were in the field, they came to Kassala. Ibrahim was in China for training and educated. Tesfay was an ordinary fighter.
They were newcomers and started simply discussing, talking with other members of the ELF, because they did not know what things were happening in Kassala. Welday and Kidane advised them not to go with the others members and not to separate from them and after some time the opponents understood that the idea of Tesfay and Ibrahim is the same as those of Welday and Kidane. They kidnapped them immediately and took them to Sowake, a garden near Kassala. They killed Ibrahim there, but took Tesfay back to the field. When the two, Welday and Kidane, appealed to the.police station that Ibrahim and Tesfay had disappeared, then the police arrested some members of ELF and investigated. Then among the members of ELF it was believed that Ibrahim had been killed but they did not find the body.The people who had done it, told actually the police that they had killed him in the garden then. They promised to the police to bring Tesfay back to Kassala. Before they brought Tesfay back Welday and Kidane were assassinated.
ELF got behind Welday Feqaq , one of their members, to bring his wife from Ali Giddir and then to make a feast and to invite Welday and Kidane as otherwise they would not have a chance to touch them. They gave Welday Feqaq money to get these people into his house. He hid 8 persons from the opponents in his house and when these two came to his home, immediately these 8 persons caught them. Welday started to fight and trying to escape. Immediately they killed him by knife in his side.
Kidane was gagged and trussed up and tied, then they attend a taxi and they took them away. Kidane was covered by sacks from head to toe. 4 sacks. When they went around Haffera, Welday's dead body dropped from the taxi and the taxi is soiled by blood. A villager who sells milk passed the car and saw this. The taxista and the other people tried to escape from that place and they succeeded.
The villager went to the police station and told there are some dead bodies there. Then the taxista started washing his car. When the police investigated they found him washing his car. When they asked him, he said, people were fighting and I took them to their house. Then the villager, police and the taxi-driver went to the area there and found the dead bodies. They were taken to the police station for investigation. The police asked the taxista how it happened, they beat him to tell the truth. When the police asked the taxista he explained that when someone gave me money to take people that way, I do it, and all police, you know this, that many taxistas do that. The police declared then that he is mad. Then the taxi-driver informed the police that many taxistas are working like that and many were arrested.
When the other taxi-drivers were questioned, they were released again as there was no evidence against them. Welday Feqaq, the traitor, and two others were arrested at that time by the police. The taxi-driver said, he was called by a fighter called Shinkakay to carry a sick person to the hospital and I came. Shinkakay and one other were arrested. The other six escaped. The taxi-driver claimed to have been forced by Shinkakay by knife to carry the dead bodies. He received 25 Sudanese Pounds and was promised another 25 Pounds. At last, Welday Fekak, his wife, Shinkakay and his friend and the taxi-driver were imprisoned. Shinkakay was sentenced to death but the ELF office appealed and he was released after some years. The second man was sentenced to 14 years, after 7-8 years in Port Sudan they were released. Welday Fekak and the taxista stayed only one year in prison. The wife was imprisoned for one year only. Kidane was killed when Welday's body fell out of the car. Originally it was planned to take them alive inside for interrogation.
From the Harakat many people were killed in Kassala and in the field by the ELF.There were no clubs here for the Christian Eritreans especially because the Sudanese Government would pick them up and return them to Tesseney. Teku, Mehari, Mesfin, Welday and Kidane were secretly working in the house of Letefiel. Teku Yehdego, later killed by ELF, has a child now in Sahel. Was killed about 3-4 years after death of Welday.
THE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
PART SEVENQ: What was the importance of Kidane Kiflu in the Eritrean struggle. In other words, what did Kidane Kiflu symbolize?Professor Berhe: Kidane landed in the midst of the turbulence that characterized the first decade of the Eritrean armed struggle. In the second half of the 1960s the armed struggle for Eritrean independence was undergoing severe growth pangs. Kidane’s writings (correspondences) show his concern about the problems faced by the movement and the need for positive reform and development. The leadership of the Front at that time did not welcome such views. Eventually he was murdered in cold blood. Alamin Mohamed Said in his book “The Ups and Downs of the Eritrean Revolution” (1994), specifically states, “The Eritrean Liberation Front … executed 250 individuals based on religion and regional affiliation. Kidane Kiflu and Weldai Ghidey were two of them.” (p.26).Q: What was your feeling when you heard that Kidane Kiflu was killed?Minister Naizghi: I had just finished my studies in Russia and was getting ready to go to the United States for a Ph.D. From Russia I went to Rome and it was in Rome that I heard that Kidane Kiflu was martyred from Tsegai Kahsai. I was saddened. On the other hand, I decided to quit mystudies and join to fight.Q: What is the significance of the death of Kidane Kiflu?Professor Berhe: Recent interview by Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari, serialized in Haddas Eritrea, confirms the previous word of mouth account of how the two (Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey) were murdered in cold blood in Kassala. They were lured to a certain Woldai Fikhakh’s house for lunch. There they were literally butchered by “fedayeen”, hiding under a bed. Later, the killers put the corpses in sacks, put them in a taxi and were on their way to Mt. Mikram to dump them away when one of the bodies fell off the car. (HadasEritrea, October 1, 2003). Kidane Kiflu was a learned man, a man of ideas and idealism. I have no doubt that his ideas contributed in shaping the future direction of Eritrean revolution. Kidane died an untimely death, in his twenties. His death should torture the conscience of his assassins, and the pusillanimous leaders who ordered his murder, that is those who are still alive, and assuming they have the conscience of a penitent murderer in his deathbed. But that is expecting too much.Q: While I was working on this article/interview, coincidentally you were interviewed on Haddas Eritrea. Even though you have mentioned in detail your experience as a fighter in the newspaper, if you don’t mind I would like to ask you a few questions.Brig. General Ghirmay: There is no problem. I will be glad to. Brigadier General Ghirmay Mehari
Issayas: Did you know Kidane Kiflu?Brig. General Ghirmay: No, I did not know him very well. But I have met him a couple of times.Q: When was he killed?Brig. General Ghirmay: He was killed along with Woldai Ghidey. I have pictures of both of them. If you need the pictures for your article I will let you use them. They were killed after the end of the Adobha Conference. The main aim of the conference was to unite the various divisions. Kidane and Woldai were working hard and believed that the struggle or the revolution should be united. Both of them were invited for lunch at Woldai Fekhak’s home. Once there, they were butchered by the “fedeyeen” who were hiding under a bed.Q: A lot of people say that the killing of Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey was the breaking point for the later EPLF to split from the ELF. What do you think of the statement?
Woldai GhideyPictures courtesy of Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari. Minister Naizghi: The split from the ELF had already started before the martyrdom of Kidane. Basically, Kidane was in Kassala with the understanding reached between him and Isaias Afwerki and Abraham Tewolde. Isaias and Abraham had already split with their respective comrades. Kidane Kiflu was in Kassala to coordinate the activities outside of the field. From Kassala he used to correspond with me, Aboi Woldeab Woldemariam, Hiruy Tedla and others about the conditions and situations of the field.Q: Thank you for the pictures. In the Haddas Eritrea interview you mentioned that you and Wolderufael Sebhatu were sent to retrieve the documents of Kidane and Woldai Gheday after they were killed. What was the importance of those documents and where are they now?Brig. General Ghirmay: They were very important documents. Wolderufael Sebhatu (who was martyred in Nakfa) and I were sent to get the documents from the house that was used as their office. Wolderufael knew the whereabouts and the importance of the documents because he used to work with them. You know, Wolderufael was supposed to have been killed with them but he was away at the time. Once we got to Kassala we got some of the documents but no all.Q: In the interview with Haddas Eritrea, Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari stated that he and Wolderufael Sebhatu were sent to Kassala to collect the documents of Kidane Kiflu. What was the importance of these documents? Where are they now?Minister Woldenkiel Gebremariam: The documents were very important. Kidane Kiflu was in Kassala and Kassala was the coordinating point with the field. He used to follow up the situations in the field and record them. They were very important historical documents. Some of the documents (letters) were sent to the field. With the situation that we went through in the field, it is hard to say where they are. Some documents were taken by Tekue Yhidego and etc. to Aden from Kassala. We used to have them with our Hafash Wudubat (Mass Organizations). After we went to the field we did not know the situation of the documents.Minister Naizghi: The documents were very important. They used to describe the situations in the field. Who did what? Who got killed by whom ...etc. are the sort of things that were in the documents. We left some of the documents with our Hafash Wudubat (Mass Organizations) in Aden, Yemen. Later, we heard that the documents were stolen. NEXT: FINAL PART (EIGHT). “The Battle of Halhal” (1968) with Mr. Jack Kramer, Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis and Dr. Tom Killion. Also, a sketched map from the “Kramer Papers 1968-1969.”
KIDANE KIFLU & THE JACK KRAMER PAPERSTHE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
As I have mentioned in my introductory remarks, what impressed me the most were the contents of the letters of Kidane Kiflu to Jack Kramer. There are three letters written by Kidane Kiflu from Kassala, Sudan to Jack Kramer in Palo Alto, California, USA. In part six, I will present only the first four pages of the 8 pages letter of Kidane Kiflu dated; November 27th, 1968. The second four pages of the same letter are a literal translation of an Arabic article that appeared on a Lebanese newsletter “Kulush” entitled; “25 Days With Eritrean Strugglers”. I will also present a two-page letter written and signed (12/9/68) by Mohamud Dinai who was the commander of the First Division. Included you will also find typed transcribed letters of the aforementioned letters.
Summary of Kidane’s first letter to Kramer.In Kidane’s first one page letter dated 29th, October 1968 (a month later after the visit of Kramer to the field), Kidane conveys his heart-felt greetings and wishes Kramer a good academic year. Kidane also mentions to Kramer that Abdella and Aberra have returned to Kassala safely from the field. In the rest of the letter, Kidane tells Kramer that he had sent him his packages (documents, recorder and negative films) that Kramer left with him. Kidane finally asks Kramer to let him know once he gets the packages.
Second and third letters.
I don’t need to go through the second letter (which I am presenting here) becausethe contents are self-evident. For the third letter dated April 3rd, 1969 I will use excerpts to convey the thinking of Kidane four months before his brutal murder. On the first page he wrote; “We are struggling to have a clear cut party line, policy and principles we have to follow an ideological pattern, which will be implemented in the course of struggle without having any sort of inclination be it to the Western or Eastern Blocks. As Eritreans we have the common principles, common values and sentiments which we share together and we stand for together. We are struggling to defend our constitutional and birth rights with the motto that Eritrea is for Eritreans and Eritreans have the right to self-determination on the basis of democratic principles without being subject to any nation or groups or individual leaders, who want to exercise political power byimplementing a totalitarian state in our fatherland.”
In the second page he continues;
“Some leaders in the Front have Arabism as a sentiment instigating them and
this sentiment is wholly undesired by the people of Eritrea. We are first Eritreans
then Africans. We have no enmity or love be it for Israel or for the Arabs. We do
not base our analysis on the basis of dislikes and likes we base our objectives on
the understanding ofmatters through principles carefully and critically analyzed on
the basis on neutrality. But for most leaders in the Front the latter course is
bitter to accept. With respect to the problems of all Eritrea for that matter which
I have enumerated in my letters to you are real facts. Because of fear, truth and
facts should not be hidden as treasure. Everything should be exposed and made known,
so that a solution could be found and will serve as a pressure if exposed by world
public opinion. I left my country because I stood for the “truth” and for Eritrean
national principles and goals. In the Front
also I stand for principle, and I do not fear from anybody.”
Is it this kind of stand and “Eritrean national principles” that got Kidane Kiflu
killed? Interestingly, there is also in the “Jack Kramer Papers 1968-1969” an 11
pages (no date) paper entitled; The Progressives Demand Radical Changes In The
Eritrean Liberation Front. Even though the paper did not have a date in it, it
mentions that “seven years have elapsed since the armed struggle was organized,
which makes the paper written in 1968.
Some of the points that Kidane wrote to Kramer were also in the “The Progressives
Some of the points in the “Demand” are:
“Understanding that the present division of the Eritrean Liberation Army on the
basis of tribal, religious, regional and functional elements is a retarding force in
fostering national unity and is hazardous in maintaining Eritrean national beliefs,
values andsentiments which the people of Eritrea have in common and believing that
unless the latter course is implemented Eritrean nationalism will not have firm
ground in our armed struggle and without a united front and unity of action we can
hardly wipe out Ethiopian Colonialism”.
“The Progressives Demand” continues by raising their concern that “seven years had
elapsed since the armed struggle was organized. When we review the political
developments in the last seven years we can see that in name we are the Eritrean
Liberation Front, but in practice a militia (an auxiliary force). The “Demand”
continues its call and on page five has the following paragraph. As we see it, a
revolution cannot be guided through telegrams and telephones, and it has never been
attempted elsewhere. It is impractical and fruitless to alleviate the leadership
group from the masses. A leader is expected to lead life with them, he should
understand their problems through their help. In any revolutionary movement no
revolution that detaches itself from the people existed and if it existed it was
doomed to failure.”
Regarding the leadership of the Front, this is what Kidane Kiflu (letter dated
November 27th, 1968) had to say;
“Many of the leaders in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo
revolutionaries they do not have a clearly defined ideology nor have they the
ability and the qualification to lead our revolution. They live detached from the
realities of the people’s struggle and reside abroad and lead the revolution through
letters and telegrams. This is a unique case of a leadership body living outside.
(unreadable) country unlike the revolution in Cuba the role-played by Castro, and
Mao Tse Tung in China. In the near future, we hope to change the tide of the status
quo in a sure refined way, which will satisfy the demands of our people”.
Now, I want to take you back to the interview with Mr. Jack Kramer.
Q: In the 21 pages report in your collection at Hoover, you mentioned that you saw
Osman Saleh Sabbeh in Aden, Yemen after you went to Yemen from Asmara. You also
mentioned that Osman did not have information on the “Battle of Halhal” (I will deal
with it in the last part) except only what he read through the Ethiopian papers. Is
it fair to say, what Kidane wrote in his letters to you, was he right on the money
about the weakness of the leadership when he said and I quote, “Many of the leaders
in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo-revolutionaries. They do not have a
clearly defined ideology nor have they the ability and the qualification to lead our
revolution. They live detached from the realities of the people in struggle and
reside abroad and lead the revolution through letters and telegrams.”?
Mr. Kramer: In retrospect, it is fair to say. As for my judgment of Osman Saleh
Sabbe at the time, remember I was young. I was not certainly not impressed by him
the way I was impressed by the lads in the field, but any leader living in relative
comfort is at a disadvantage. He is bound to be less impressive, except to reporters
who appreciate nice clothes. He was nice to me, and I appreciated it. As for
fighting the war through letters and telegrams, it’s hard to say for sure, but
coming from Kidane, this may have had some real impact on me. In my writing I find
myself becoming more and more skeptical of writers who analyze from afar, parsing
opaque tracts and alliances instead of talking to real people who have gotten their
hands dirty in the real conflict.
Q: Mohamud Dinai wrote you a letter dated September 12, 1968 (two days after the
“Battle of Halhal” and two days after the Anseba Conference) warning you not to go
to the second division. Did you know why? How and where did you get the letter?
Mr. Kramer: Yet more confirmation that memory is a bad reporter. At first I told you
that maybe I got that letter in the US. Checking my notes and trying harder to
remember, there’s no way I got it in the US. It came in to camp by runner. There may
have been political implications to his warning. From what we know now, the entire
Halhal region was dangerous at that moment; where we were at may have been even more
dangerous. But reading political implications into his warning is pure speculation.
I am inclined to take it at face value. A warning of physical danger.
Here is the transcribed letter of Kidane Kiflu.
November 27th, 1968
Allow me to convey to you my heart felt “revolutionary greetings on behalf of myself
and my colleagues here in Kassala. I have received your letter mailed from
Singapore; with respect to the other letter I have not received it. I was pleased to
note from your last letter, that you had safely arrived in the United States and
that you have received the material we mailed from here.
From the moment you left Kassala until I received your first letter, I was
pessimistic and I felt that you were in the hands of the autocratic Ethiopian
Empire. As is stated in Article 4 of the Ethiopian constitution promulgated on
November 2nd in 1955, “the personality of the Emperor is sacred who so ever is bold
enough to attack him will be severely punished”. This is a warning to the Ethiopian
people that the Emperor and the state has one corporate personality and any body who
stands against the Emperor and his Empire awaits him severe torture ( a barbaric one
like that of the days of the Roman Empire), and flogging as well as death sentence.
For the gloomy Ethiopian autocrat, the Eritrean case considered as an internal
affair. If you had by chance been caught by the Ethiopian police, an electric shock
might had rang into their ears and
protest after protest to the American Ambassador would have been the result. On the
whole, you had safely managed your way out from the area of a (unreadable) Ethiopian
autocracy , which had been forgotten by the world for 3000 years.
Your experience with the freedom fighters of Eritrea, as I see it will owe a useful
purpose in analysing and making comparative study of revolutionary movements in
Africa and elsewhere; and particularly in understanding the problems of the Eritrean
revolution for not getting an active support from the world public opinion. To some
extent, the cause for the Eritrean case to remain a dead case in the eyes of the
world public opinion is accountable. 1. The policy of the leaders of the Front, who
in most cases identify themselves as Moslems and not as Eritreans and join their
hands in the Moslem League . Besides, they imagine through wishful thinking that
they are Arabs and join the Arab world regardless of the voice of the people of
Many of the leaders in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo revolutionaries
they do not have a clearly defined ideology nor have they the ability and the
qualification to lead our revolution. They are detached form the realities of the
people’s struggle and reside abroad and lead the revolution through letters and
telegrams. This is a unique case of a leadership body living outside their country
unlike the revolution in Cuba the role played by Castro and Mao Tse Tung in China.
In the near future, we hope to change the tide of the status quo in a more refined
way, which will satisfy the demands of our people.The fact that the leaders of the
Front identify the Front as a Moslem and Arab movement, in their foreign policy,
besides, being a hindrance and turning the revolution into a religious movement;
half of the population of Eritrea being Christians up to now have not been able to
support the Front wholeheartedly, mainly because of the religious,
and Arabism sentimentality of the leaders of the Front. Every progressive
revolutionary at this moment is against the policy of the reactionary leaders in
the Supreme Council and their puppets in the Revolutionary Command as well as in
some of the leaders of the divisions. Through persistent work and perseverance we
hope to change the tide of the reactionary sentiments in the Front and appeal to
our people on the basis of national goals and principles.
The political movement and the concept of political party organization started in
Eritrea in the modernsense in 1942. The patriots at that time were the late Ras
Tessema Asberom, and the late Degiat Abraha Tesema and Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam. As
founders of one Eritrea party they stood for the principles for one people, the
people of Eritrea for one country Eritrea and for one political program, for the
independence of the people of Eritrea. During the British Administration in Eritrea
(1941-52), Eritreans were not yet politically mature enough to perceive and
understand fully the concept of the political party. Many opposed it busing their
sentiment on religious, regional and other factional elements. Since 1942 Eritrea
has not yet produced a national leader except one Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam, noted by
progressive Eritreans as an Eritrean charismatic Ghandi, who has been struggling for
the motto Eritrea is for Eritreans for the last 26 years. John
Gunther in his book “Inside Africa” mentions Mr. Woldeab as an African nationalist,
who escaped from an attempt on his life for 7 times from1943 up to 1952. Mr.
Woldeab during the British Adminsitration in Eritrea was an editor of the
Government newspaper Eritrean Weekly news and of an independent newspaper One
Eritrea (the Voice of Eritrea newspaper) and President of the Eritrean Labourers
Union. In 1952 he was elected as a representative in the Eritrean Assembly. The
Ethiopian Government through its puppets in Eritrea were trying to assassinate him.
In 1953, he exiled himself to the United Arab Republic. Since 1953, he is residing
in Cairo, as a political refugee. He appealed to the United Nations General
Assembly on several occasions, but the U.N turned a deaf ear. In 1956 from Radio
Cairo he was broadcasting in Tigrinya, his teachings about the political activities
in Eritrea raised the morality and national sentiment of the Eritrean people. Up
to now Mr. Woldeab as a progressive nationalist stood for the principles acceptable
to the people of Eritrea on the basis on Eritrean nationalism. We regard him as our
trued and honest leader. The leaders of the Front when we examine their past
history, some of them were standing for the partition of Eritrea into two, the
western provinces to be independent or to join the then Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and
the rest to join Ethiopia. Some are Moslem brothers at heart and appear as
progressive from the outside by memorizing some revolutionary phrases from books;
and others concern themselves in the basis of the Moslem movement in Ethiopia and
others were pro Ethiopians.
In the eyes of the Eritrean people only Mr. Woldeab is the most respected and looked
upon as a charismatic leader. Since the personality of Mr. Woldeab outweigh that of
the leaders of the Front; the leaders of the Front has been trying in vain through
their propaganda to exclude Mr. Woldeab from the political scene of Eritrea.
Although he is a great teacher, a true leader of the Eritrean people, the futile
attempt of the leaders of the Front to exclude Mr. Woldeab from the political scene
of Eritrea is failing and will fail more when all the corruption and re(d)tape in
the Front are exposed particularly that of the present leaders. In order to
understand the Eritrean case much better I advise you to correspond with our true
leader Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam. He is not participating in the Front, because he
disagrees with the policy of Arabism, Moslem sentiment, tribal and regional motives
of the leaders of the Front and their puppets.
His address is:
Mr. Zaky Fahmy
Mariette Pahsa Street No.11
N.B. I am not intending here to give you a biased opinion but I wanted you to have a
fair picture of the Eritrean case so that you can dig into the matter to analyze the
condition. Please do not expose some of these facts in the newspaper to which the
Ethiopians may benefit in their propaganda. Abdella, Aberra and Woldai Gedai a
member of the revolutionary command Myself and all our colleagues are conveying
greetings and good wishes and success in the academic year.
Hassan Karar is still in the field.
P.S In case you introduce yourself with Eritrean students in the U.S.A. please do
not forget to give them my address and let them contact me. We wish to see you back
in Kassala and particularly in Eritrean soil.
Hoping to hear from you soon,
P.S I am enclosing a literal translation of the Lebanese article.
Transcribed letter of Mohammud Dinai.
To Mr. Jak;
I am Mahmud Dinai the leader of first divistion, I heard about you, and I am very
sory that I am not met you. So the reason is their the second divition that you wont
to see them many of their solder were travling by the wounded solder they are
transferred them form the war field if you have time you may meet me if you have not
you can inter ADARDE vilag. do not try to inter to the second divition because the
second divition coverd by the enemy military.
If you wont to see me the wounded soleder you may come we are working in their
I was very hapy to meet you
( ELF Stamp)
E.L.F good lack
Mahmud - Dinai
I was glad to show you about The Eritrean people and in which they are living, And
to discouse with you bout Eritrean Libertion Front and the treatment to our people
From the enemy. And we of ways hapy to see men like you in time like this, for your
Kindness in our wor.
Your . b.
NEXT: PART SEVEN. The interview continues on the murder of Kidane Kiflu and the
documents of Kassala with Minister Naizghi Kiflu, Birgadier General Ghirmay Mehari,
Berhe Habte-giorgis and Minister Woldenkiel Gebremariam.KIDANE KIFLU & THE JACK
KRAMER PAPERSTHE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Q: When you entered Eritrea from the Sudanese/Eritrean border with the ELF, do you
remember with which zone or division you traveled?
Mr. Kramer: Memory is bad reporter. We should rely on what we know for sure. Two of
the fellows in the group picture I sent you(see part three), Ibrahim on the far
left, first row, and the fellow in the middle of the first row (I believe his name
is Ismail) were the two of the three armed and uniformed scouts who took us over the
border, near Tessenai. I believe they belonged to whatever zone or division we
entered because when we left that region, they stayed behind and new guerrillas took
over from them.
Q: Your guides with the ELF were Aberra Mekonnen and Abdullah Hassan. Would you
Mr. Kramer: Abdullah was like me, young. We were similarly naïve. He was short and
slight. Aberra was not heavy, but thick set, somewhat older. He seemed to carry a
real sense of tragedy about him. His only weapon was a hand grenade, and I had the
distinct sense it was meant for himself, should events call for it.
Q: In a couple of places in your collection you mentioned that Aberra Mekonnen kept
diary. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Have you had contact with either
Aberra or Abdullah since your last visit?
Mr. Kramer: No I haven’t had any contact. Aberra’s diary was more like a tiny
appointment book. We had to travel light. Again, as I described him he carried a
sense of tragedy about him.
Q: You entered Eritrea from Sudan and after you separated from the fighters you went
to Asmara and then left Asmara to go to Yemen. How was that possible, especially
since you did not have an entry visa?
Mr. Kramer: Because of Halhal, and the insecurity in the countryside, Abdullah and
Aberra left me with a new cadre just west of Keren. He took forever, something like
three days, to loop around Keren to the east. Once there I was handed off to
civilians, who got me to the Keren-Asmara road, where I hitch hiked into Asmara.
(Once I actually got picked up by an Ethiopian Army truck!) How I got out, lacking
an entry visa is a comedy. They had me wait for a couple of hours. I was worried.
Basically they did not notice that I did not have an entry visa because they were so
concerned about my lack of a TB shot, or some such.
Q: You and Kidane both in your correspondences mentioned a journalist called James
Cameron. Who was James Cameron?
Mr. Kramer: James Cameron was a wonderful journalist who wrote mostly for the
British public. He covered the Korean War, the Vietnam War from North Vietnam, and
the escape of the Dalai Lama from China etc. I forget how I ran into him; as I’ve
indicated he is among the few.
Q: Has Mr. Cameron ever written on Eritrea?
Mr. Kramer: I don’t know. When I met him, I did not even know about the struggle in
Eritrea. He was certainly interested in it after I went there, but he was an old
man, and ill. All Pictures are courtesy of the Hoover Institution Archives. (The Jack Kramer
Lower right (Abu Sheneb) September 1968.
Q: A person named Fathy Mohammed Ahmed Saleh wrote you a letter. Do you remember who
he is/was? All the correspondences in your collection were very famous people in the
Eritrean revolution except Fathy Ahmed Saleh.
Mr. Kramer: No
Q: Kidane was using an address in Kassala. Hassan Hasankai. Do you know who he was?
Mr. Kramer: No. Maybe he’s Hassan mi Jack. Maybe he’s the older fellow at the center
of that group photo. Maybe it is not a good idea to speculate too much.
Aberra Mekonnen (Sept. 1968)
Ibrahim in the mountains of Tessenai/Kassala frontier. Ibrahim is scanning the
eastern horizon. (Sept, 1968)
Kramer after a Front sponsored civil meeting had just broken up under the trees.
In a wadi with a battalion commanded by Muhammed Ali Idris (Not in the picture). The
person on the far left of the group wearing a blue scarf is a seventeen year old
female fighter. One of the few at that time.
Kramer "with the largest unit (11) men".
Figure in light khaki, on the right of photo, facing battalion, is their commander,
Next: Part Six. Letters of Kidane Kiflu and Mohamud Dinai. The interview
continues.KIDANE KIFLU & THE JACK KRAMER PAPERSTHE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL
Note: To get a perspective on Kidane’s youth and nationalism, Minister Naizghi Kiflu
and Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis (Chairman of Rowan University’s Marketing
Department, New Jersey, USA) were interviewed.
Q: Did you know Kidane Kiflu when he was a kid in Adi Ugri?
Naizghi Kiflu. I knew him very well. He was older and also in a higher class than
me. His given name was Kebede. His nickname was Kebedom and his baptismal name was
Q: Did you notice any qualities in him when he was a kid?
Naizghi Kiflu. Kidane was brilliant and wise. He was smart in his studies. He used
to be always first in his class. He used to help and tutor kids like us who were in
the lower class during exam. He used to be hard working and considerate and was
always helping his mother. He has an older brother called Yohannes Kiflu. I don’t
know too much about his father but I think his father died when they were young.
Q: Did you know Kidane Kiflu?
Professor Berhe: Yes, Kidane Kiflu was my classmate at the formerly Haile Selassie I
Secondary School in Asmara. Perhaps the most memorable image I have of him is his
ever-present smile and very calm demeanor. He was quiet to the point of shyness,
always low keyed, and never got into heated argument, as many of us at that age
Picture courtesy of Professor Berhe Habtegiorgis.
A class (tenth grade) photo taken on 10/25/1958, tenth grade at Haileselassie I
S econdary School, Asmara.
Kidane (Kebede at that time) Kiflu is on the third row, extreme left column, in
front of the person with dark glasses. Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis (The person
with dark glasses). Professor Tekie Fessehatzion (Back row, extreme right next to
the column). Second row, second from the right is Capt. Mebrahtu Teweldemedhin who
joined the EPLF in 1975 and was killed with Ibrahim Affa. Mebrahtu was also a
classmate of Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis in the Military Academy at Harar. He
joined the EPLF from the airborne regiment in Debre Zeit.
Q: What were the qualities of Kidane Kiflu as a student?
Professor Berhe: As a student Kidane was very intelligent, hard working, with a
penchant for social studies, especially geography. He did not participate in sports
and physical activities. In terms of social relations at school, he had the quality
of being friendly with everybody without getting particularly close. His politeness
and respect of others earned him plenty of respect and love by his classmates. He
was always neat and meticulous in everything he did and displayed a high level of
discipline and seriousness of purpose. After high school he joined the then Haile
Selassie I University in Addis Ababa in 1961. From there he went to the field and
the last thing we heard about him years later was that he was murdered in Kassala,
Sudan by the same movement that he joined to liberate his country.
Q: Did Kidane show nationalistic feeling when he was in Adi Ugri or after he went to
Haile Selassie I University?
Naizghi Kiflu: He was a very observant and patient person. For anything we used to
do, he used to approach us in a calm and collective manner and advise us. If one did
not accept his ideas he would continue to make us understand, tirelessly. Whether in
Adi Ugri or at Haile Selassie I University, he had a lot of nationalism. Not the see
me hear me type. Especially at the University, he was a very active participant. He
did not finish his studies there because he had so much love for his mother; he
wanted to help her financially. Putting in consideration his active political
participation, he decided to get a job. He then got a job at Agip Co.
NEXT: PART FIVE. The interview continues with Mr. Kramer.
KIDANE KIFLU & THE JACK KRAMER PAPERSTHE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Issayas Tesfamariam: Would you tell readers about yourself?
Mr. Kramer: I’ve worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (two years), as
Business Week Magazine’s Cairo-based Middle East Bureau Chief (three years) and as a
Staff Editor at Time Magazine (three years.) I’ve also worked as a freelance
producer for the Public Broadcasting Service, During the Civil Rights Movement in
the mid-sixties; I was Birmingham Alabama bureau chief for the Southern Courier, a
movement newspaper associated with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights
and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In addition to the above outfits,
I’ve written for the Nation, the New Republic, the New York Review of Books and New
Society, and a British periodical.
As a reporter I’ve covered banking and oil, most particularly the oil crisis, which
took me from Texas to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Geneva, London, Vienna, and Rome. I was
accredited three times as a reporter in Vietnam (1967, 1968, and 1969), and covered
major battles at Cam Lo, Con Thien, Gio Linh and Khe Sanh. I covered the Six Days
War in Israel, the war in Eritrea, the war in the Western Sahara, the revolution in
Iran (from Teheran, Ahwaz and Abadan), the civil war in Lebanon (I was there when
the French and US barracks were bombed and helped restart Beirut’s English-language
Daily Star, and in 1994 I covered both the French Foreign Legion and the US Marine
Corps during the Somali troubles. In addition to the high spots, I’ve traveled
extensively through East Africa, including, of course, Rwanda, about which I’m now
co-writing a book, King Solomon’s Crimes. I’ve also written a book about the
‘sixties, Travels with the Celestial Dog, which
was published by a London subsidiary of Random House, Wildwood House, and which
contains extensive material on Vietnam and Eritrea. I’m a veteran of the Marine
Corps, and a graduate of Stanford and Columbia University’s Graduate School of
Mr. Jack Kramer
Q: You were one of the first Western journalists who reported on Eritrea. How did
you get interested in Eritrea at that time (1968)?
Mr. Kramer: I wish I could say it was my perspicacity that got me interested in
Eritrea. In fact I was quite young and like most Americans, I barely knew Eritrea
existed. My only reporting jobs had been for the civil rights paper, the Southern
Courier, and for a provincial newspaper in Britain. The previous summer I’d made a
friendly bet with a student reading law at Cambridge, Malcolm Ashton, that come the
summer of ’68 I’d make it to Addis overland before he did. I got my Egyptian and
Sudanese visas; in London, the Ethiopians told me that I didn’t need one. I traveled
by third class railway coach to Port Sudan, where I tried to book passage on a Greek
freighter and the Greeks told me all about Eritrea, and how you really couldn’t go
there because of the war. So I got back on the train to Kassala, where I slept on
the floor of the police post, and was told all about a fellow who shared the same
room with us (only about half of us were
inmates). He had a huge head, and they said he was in jail “for throwing bombs at
the Eritreans” i.e., Eritrean activists living in Kassala. Of course I was
interested, but still more interested in getting to Addis overland, and was having
no luck with the Ethiopian consul in Kassala, who kept putting me off. Eventually I
ran into the Indian fellow who ran a radio shop. Eventually he put me in touch with
a Sudanese fellow called Hassan mi Jack who had a small shop from which he rented
and repaired everything from bicycles to refrigerators. I remember he had a couple
small posters on the wall, one of Mao as a young scholar in Kiang Si, and another
of a female Chinese guerrilla about to pitch a grenade. For a small businessman, he
was quite a character. I remember he said, “My name is Hassan mi Jack. They call me
Jack Palance. The Man without a Gun. Only I have a gun.” And with that he pulled
out a .38 revolver. We talked for some time, and he
suggested that come sundown, I get a table at Kassala’s Central Gardens, order tea
and wait. I did.
Q: Can you tell me more about the guy who was in jail “for throwing bombs at
Eritrean activists”? Who was he? Who was he working for,etc.?
Mr. Kramer: No. I had the impression he was mentally disturbed, and in any case,
just hireling. Regardless, at that moment I was not working as a reporter.
Q: You met Kidane Kiflu in Kassala and then he convinced you to go to Eritrea. Would
you describe Kidane Kiflu?
Mr. Kramer: I didn’t have to wait long for Kidane to show up with some friends. We
talked a while. He asked if I had any of my articles with me. I showed them to him.
It was hard not to be impressed by his earnest and straightforward manner. He was
altogether unaffected, wearing a white shirt that was clean and pressed, and black
trousers. I don’t think that at that point he offered to take me into Eritrea. I was
impressed, and you can tell from my C.V. that I’ve covered some trouble spots, but I
don’t go looking randomly for trouble and jump at the chance to cover it whenever it
comes up. At that point, I would have been happier getting a visa and a bus to
Addis. We met again, and eventually he asked me if I’d like to go over the border
into occupied Eritrea with ELF guerrillas, meet some locals and come back to
Kassala. I said thanks but no thanks. But then the Ethiopians gave me a firm and
final No, and so I asked him if the ELF could take
me all the way across Eritrea to Asmara. He didn’t say yes right away. It took
awhile; I went to see him where he worked as a tailor, and met some other
activists. Eventually I got the go-ahead and six of us left Kassala in an old
Peugeot taxi that almost immediately left the road and took off straight out over
the desert. The five were myself, two cadres (Abdullah Hassan and Aberra Mekonnen)
and three guerrilla scouts, Ismail, Ibrahim and Ali. As I remember, it took almost
three days just to reach the border. It was hard just to get a camel.
Q: How long where you in Eritrea? And would you describe your stay with the fighters?
Mr. Kramer: My account at Hoover should say how long I was in Eritrea. As I remember
it was just over a month, more than three weeks of which were spent with the ELF.
Q: In the “Kramer Collection” at the Hoover Institution Archives there is a
transcript of the audio tapes you made in Eritrea in 1968. In it you mentioned that
you met the guerrillas (fighters) through an Indian contact in Kassala. What does
contact mean? Who was this Indian and what was his connection with the ELF, if any?
Mr. Kramer: I can’t remember any more than what I’ve written above. As I remember, I
just ran into the fellow. It wasn’t unusual. Reporters are curious. And in a
backwater like Kassala in 1968, everybody is interested in an outsider. It was easy
to talk to people; sometimes too easy.
Q: I am going to start backwards and ask you, where and when did you learn about the
murder of Kidane Kiflu? And what was your reaction?
Mr. Kramer: I learned of Kidane’s death years later reading propaganda that the EPLF
sent me. I’m usually pretty cynical reading any sort of propaganda, but reading
about Kidane’s death and how he died ambushed me. It was partly because of how he
impressed me, and that he’d trusted me, but I wasn’t in Kassala that long and he
didn’t come with us. So I think one reason it hit me so hard was that he represented
what I saw in Eritrea. There are six ghosts who follow me wherever I go. My father,
Kidane, my old drill instructor at Parris Island (his name was Jettie Rivers and he
won a posthumous Silver Star while I was in Vietnam) and three old geezers who kept
me writing (an American, Malcolm Cowley, and two Brits, James Cameron and Oliver
Q: You mentioned that one of the ghosts that follow you around wherever you go is
Kidane’s. My long search to locate you partly was that my suspicion had always been
that you were turned off (after the brutal murder of Kidane) from reporting about
Eritrea. Was my suspicion well founded?
Mr. Kramer: I didn’t make myself clear. I was briefly turned off by reading about
in-fighting. I thought to myself, that’s all these guys need, with all their
troubles. Fighting among themselves. Of course I read the propaganda, but it didn’t
convince me. Soon enough, though, I began to understand, and was once again
interested in Eritrea. If anything turned me off writing about Eritrea, it was the
great wall of indifference I met when I tried to convince quality publications that
Eritrea was worth writing about. I told them basically that we were fighting a
guerrilla war in Vietnam, that Vietnam was heavily covered, and meantime, we had
hardly any coverage from independent (i.e., non-ideological) reporters of what it
was like on the other side of a guerrilla war, the Liberation Front side. They were
more interested in my Vietnam reporting. In fact, it was easier to convince them to
hire me to write and report for them on staff than it was to get
them to accept one freelance article about an African country. Aidan Hartley, who
has just published a book called The Zanzibar Chest about Rwanda, sums up what it’s
like. He recalls hearing from his Reuters boss in the middle of the Rwanda
genocide, which was still barely reported (the horror wasn’t widely known until
after the war). “Sorry, mate,” his boss said. “We’re not going to be able to use
any more Rwanda material from you.” Hartley asked why not. The answer: “It’s not
making any money for us.” In other words, papers that subscribed to Reuters weren’t
buying anything. Another example, which has shades of the current scandal dogging
the NY Times,: After I left the guerrillas and got to Asmara, I ran into Times
reporter Eric Pace, who took my photos of the guerrillas, took my story, said it
should be in the Times, and promised to send it in. He sure did.
When Eritrea’s Liberation Front let a Marine Corps veteran, credentialed as a
reporter in Vietnam, accompany them, they were in effect handing a fat goat to
whatever news outfit got the material. What the reading public got was tripe you’d
never call fit-fit. What appeared in the paper (under the byline of their reporter)
was a thoroughly gutted version of what I provided, without a hint that an
ideologically independent US reporter had been with the guerrillas. (Years later,
this same Times reporter published a political novel about Iran that appeared either
just before or after the revolution; in it, the word “ayatollah” never once
appears.) This is a lot worse for Eritrea and for Africa than it is for the small
clutch of reporters like me. We take chances, including professional ones; we expect
to take our lumps. For Africa, it means grotesque reporting. Aidan Hartley notes how
much news (Liberia, for example) comes out of Africa during
August. Why? August, he points out, is “the silly season”, when “real people” are
on vacation and editors are hard up for what they consider news, so they run stuff
from Africa that they’ve been ignoring all year. I’d add another reason: When an
outfit sends a reporter to Africa, it likes to show off. That’s why you’ll see big
stories running about Africa long after the news to which the story is pegged.
That’s because the news really isn’t pegged to the news, which was ignored when it
happened. It’s pegged to their reporter’s tour. Reporters for big American outfits
like to laugh at the way African news programs always start out with the
president’s schedule, even if he’s just meeting with the Ministry of Female Sport,
while elsewhere in the world, the Berlin Wall is falling.
The way rich, sophisticated US news operations report Africa, with “news” neatly
corresponding with the month of August or their reporters’ tours, is just as absurd.
Hartley praises local African reporters in Rwanda (and I can confirm that many, all
Bahutu, did great work exposing the genocédaires persecuting Batutsi), then laments
how their work was often either ignored or stolen by outfits who were paying big
bucks to have their own reporters on station. He calls it “the big foot from the big
hacks.” Halhal is an example. Years after I left Eritrea, western reporters began to
travel somewhat regularly with the guerrillas, thanks to EPLF work, the availability
of vehicles to carry reporters, and greater security. During this period, I ran into
Times reporter John Darnton in Nairobi who had my wife and I over for supper. John,
who is a good reporter, had recently spent almost as much time with the guerrillas
as I had. Though it was now a much
more common story, and the Eritreans were much less “the other side” (the Stalinist
Mengistu having taken over Addis), the Times ran his story in three parts, with
each part starting on the front page. Needless to say, there was no Halhal to which
to peg all this. Which makes the Nation, and several British periodicals that
published my reports out of Eritrea, look pretty good. It was also a British outfit
(started by two successful editors at Penguin, Ollie Caldecott and Dieter Pevsner)
who published my book on the sixties, Travels with the Celestial Dog, which
includes a long chapter on Eritrea. Likewise, Hoover showed prescience. Given their
conservative reputation, I was cautious, but a) I wasn’t disclosing anything the
Eritreans had not disclosed openly to me, b) Peter Duignan assured me my account
would be unedited and open to anyone and c) I was guided above all by Kidane’s
obvious concern just to get the story out, available not just to
reporters but to researchers and writers. Hoover lived up to its commitment not to
edit me, and to make the collection available in the open stacks. In general, it
showed more foresight than news outfits in recognizing the substance of the
Eritrean movement, Marxist or not. (Though I must say I was somewhat baffled by
their lack of interest in Rwanda, which seems to me of equal interest.) By the way,
I’ve been getting complaints from one of the ghosts who hike around the world with
me. When I mentioned them to you, I neglected to mention Ollie Caldecott. He was,
is (even in death), inspirational.
Q: You also mentioned that you learned about Kidane’s death from reading EPLF’s
material that they sent you. How did they contact you especially since there was no
EPLF at that time?
Mr. Kramer: After the ELF/EPLF split, virtually all the correspondence I got was
EPLF; in short, they continued the correspondence that Kidane began.
Q: The ideas that Kidane expressed in his letters to you, did he ever express to you
verbally the same ideas before in Kassala?
Mr. Kramer: It is too easy for me to read those ideas into what Kidane talked about
in Kassala. Maybe they were there, but he was more guarded.
Picture courtesy of Mr. Jack Kramer. (Kassala, Sudan.1968)
Kidane Kiflu (second from the left back row), Aberra Mekonnen (second from the right
front row). Jack Kramer (second from the left sitting).
Q: Were you suspicious from reading his letters to you that he was a threat to the
status-quo of the ELF or was he in danger at that time?
Mr. Kramer: I was not suspicious that he was a threat when I read his letters to me,
but I was nonetheless naïve. I was still young. I admired the movement. I was not
critical enough. So when I got his letters, I thought to myself, “Don’t you guys
have it hard enough without fighting with each other.” My basic reaction was
disappointment. Which I must admit is a silly reaction for a reporter, but that’s how it was.
Next, Part Four. Kidane’s childhood, education and nationalism. Interview with Minister Naizghi Kiflu (no relation) and Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis.KIDANE KIFLU & THE JACK KRAMER PAPERSTHE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
In order to understand the significance of the “Jack Kramer Papers”, it is important, at least briefly, to get a short historical background of 1960’s Eritrea.
By 1965, the ELF had divided Eritrea into five military zones/divisions to fight against Ethiopian forces (Actually, they first formed four zones and later added a fifth zone). The divisions were modeled after the Algerian FLN (Front Liberation Nationale).
The commanders of the five divisions were as follows:
• Mohamud Dinai, 1st zone
• Omar Ezaz, 2nd zone
• Abdulkarim Ahmed, 3rd zone
• Mohammed Ali Omaro, 4th zone
• Woldai Kahsai, 5th zone.
It is also important to understand the organizational structure of the ELF at that time. At the top was the Supreme Council (SC) based in Cairo.
Some members of the SC were:
1. Osman Saleh Sabbe
2. Idris Osman Galawdios
3. Idris Mohammed Adem
4. Taha Mohammed Nur, etc.
The next tier was the Revolutionary Command (RC) based in Kassala, Sudan. The main task of the RC was to coordinate the five military zones in Eritrea.
Some members of the RC were:
01. Muhammed Saed Adem
02. Muhammed Ismail Abdu
03. Azzein Yassin
04. Omar Haj Idris
05. Abdu Osman
06. Jaffar Muhammed
07. Ahmed Muhammed Ali
08. Mohamud Muhammed Saleh
09. Ahmed Ismail
10. Saleh Hedug
11. Woldai Gedey
12. Abdulkadir Osman
There were also five political commissioners or commissars who were attached to each zone.
• Ahmed Adem, 1st zone,
• Mohammed Shikini, 2nd zone,
• Ahmed Mohammed Ibrahim, 3rd zone,
• Romadan Mohammed Nur, 4th zone, and
• Isaias Afwerki, 5th zone. (For more on this, read SEWRA ERITREA: The Ups and Downs
of the Eritrean Revolution, by Alamin Mohammed Said)
The zonal structure in the field had its complement in the Supreme Council, whose
leading figures vied for control of one or another of the zones, completely
bypassing the intermediary structure of the Revolutionary Command. In 1967 Ethiopia
conducted a major "counterinsurgency campaign". The military campaign was conducted
with the assistance of the United States and the Israelis and its main were:
1. The creation of strategic hamlets (create villages around Ethiopian military garrisons) in an effort to "dry the sea to get the fish" or to "cut the lifeline of the mass support" for the fighters. Barka, Senhit, Semhar and Sahel became the primary targets of this scorched earth policy. Many villages were burnt down and there was a mass exodus to the Sudan of some 30 – 40,000 Eritreans.
2. To attack the divisions one at a time, fully understanding the absence of coordination among the zones.
The zonal structure of the front proved incapable of responding effectively to the bEthiopian offensive, and soon after led to a political crisis in the ELF. A reform movement (the Eslah) emerged with the intention of creating a unified army and command structure. In June 1968 military commanders and political commissars of the 3rd, 4th and the 5th zones met in Aradeib. The following month, the aforementioned people along with the representatives of the fighters, again met in Aradeib. They agreed to get rid of the zonal divisions, to unify the army under a single command, to organize the masses in associations, etc. During the meeting, the first and the second divisions were absent.
This was the overall situation in the second half of 1968 in Eritrea when Jack
Kramer, a young American journalist arrived.