Leading Personalities in Eritrea (1950)
By Source: British Archives - Jan 16, 2003   

[Awate Editor's Note: The following information was provided by the British administration in Eritrea to the government of the United Kingdom in a letter dated June 7, 1950 and acknowledged as received on June 10, 1950. Awate.com does not necessarily agree with the characterization of the individuals named nor even that the list of the 40 names is comprehensive. The information is provided here to counter two myths (largely advocated by PFDJ): (a) that Eritrea, pre-Isaias Afwerki, had no nationalist figures and (b) that all Eritrean political figures of the 1940s and 1950s were unsophisticated rubes who were outsmarted by Haile Selassie, the Brits and the Italians. We ask our readers to read the following and make their own judgements on some of the children of Eritrea's fertile womb. Still, this is Eirtrean history as written by foreigners with a British perspective and we ask all Eritreans to write and share what they know about the individuals listed below (and any other historic figures) for the sake of posterity.]

Asmara and Hamasien Division

1.    Dejach Hassan Ali.
2.   Tedla Bairu.
3.   Dejach Beine Barakhi.
4.   Carrelli Roberto.
5.   Dr. Vincenzo di Meglio
6.   Du Lac Conte Emmanuele.
7.   Fanano Mario.
8.   Samuel Gebreyesus.
9.   Gianfillippi Luigi.
10.  Colonel Negga Haile Selassie.
11.  Monsignore Kidanemariam.
12.  Abuna Marcos.
13.  Monsignor Marinoni.
14.  Shoa Menahem Yoseph.
15.  Ibrahim el Mokhtar.
16.  Vercellino Vittorio.
17.  Woldeab Woldemariam.
18.  Ghebremaskel Woldu.
19.  Dejach Araia Wassie.

Akele Guzai Division

20.  Dejach Abraha Tesemma.
21.  Ras Tesemma Asberom.
22.  Grazmach Asberom Abraha.
23.  Q'adi Ali Omar.
24.  Nasser Pasha Abubaker.
25.  Ali Bey Mohamed.

Serae Division

26.  Ras Kidanemariam Ghebremaskal.
27.  Kashi Demetrious Ghebremariam.
28.  Dejach Sebathu Yohannes.
29.  Dejach Woldegherghis Kahsai.
30.  Dejach Haile Tesfamariani.

Red Sea Division

31.  Saleh Ahmed Kekia Pasha.
32.  Sheikh Mohammed Nur Bey Hassan Naib.

Western Province

33.  Ertola Luigi.
34.  Sayid Mohammed Abubaker el Mergani.
35.  De Rossi Comm. Guido.
36.  Ibrahim Sultan.
37.  Ali Radai.
38.  Saydna Saleh Mustapha.
39.  ldris Lijam.
40.  Qadi Hamid Mohammed Nur Abu Alama.

Dejach Hassan Ali

Born Addi Hannescio in 1883. Moslem. Was formerly an interpreter under the Italian Govemment and is now chief of the second town ward, Asmara. Well educated, loyal to the Administration and most capable, although he is not a man of strong personality. Enjoys great popularity and political influence among both Moslems and Copts. Supporter of the Moslem League. Had a narrow escape when a bomb was thrown at his house by members of the Andinet in July 1947.

Tedla Bairu

Secretary of the Unionist Party.  Born 1914 near Asmara.  Protestant. Was educated at the Swedish Mission School and for seven years in Florence. Speaks Italian fluently, good English and several native languages. If not so far the most influential Eritrean, is certainly one of the most astute. Under the Italians he was headmaster of an Eritrean school; worked for the British Administration from the occupation till September 1946, since when he has given his whole time to politics. He dresses well, talks well and is altogether far more sophisticated than most of his compatriots. He is shrewd, intelligent and ambitious. Has represented the Unionist Party at Lake Success on two occasions.

Dejach Beine Barakhi

Born Amba Derho 1888. Copt. Was formerly head of the first town ward of Asmara and district chief of Saharti, Lamza and Wokerti but was deposed in 1948 for an incitement to disorder at a political meeting. Eldest son (by first marriage) of the late Ras Baraki and now head of that large and influential family. President of the Unionist Party and held in respect by all members of the community.

Carrelli Roberto

Born Napl-.s 26th April, 1903. Married but living apart from his wife. A lawyer and journalist who contributes articles of a political nature to the Eritrea Nuova. 1-fas a deep-rooted dislike for the British Administration in Eritrea, but has always been careful not to over-step the mark.

Dr. Vincenzo di Meglio

President of the C.R.I.E. (Italian Community Council). Born 1903 near Naples. Is a gynocologist and obstetrician with a prosperous practice. He has many of the narrow-minded ideas of those Italians who have lived too long in the colonies and appears to retain a Fascist outlook. His rise in public life has been recent and has depended on the skilful manner in which as president of C.R.I.E. he has whipped up Italian opinion against the British Administration. Is married with a wife and child in Italy. Speaks only Italian. Can be pleasant socially, but is dangerous and untrustworthy. Is a fluent orator. Has been to Lake Success both for April and September sessions 1949.

Du Lac Conte Emmanuele

Born Lucca (Italy) 26th January, 1905, Agriculturalist and owner of concession near Keren. Married with one child. Together with Sig. Fanano Mario edits the pro-Italia paper Eritrea Nuova. A strong Fascist who was interned during the war and released in 1945. A gentlemanly person but anti-British. A leading member of the C.R.I.E.

Fanano Mario

Born Rome 4th July, 1912,. Engineer. A promin- ent member of the C.R.I.E. Is co-editor of the Italian Government subsidised newspaper Eritrea Nuova. Was formerly regarded as an amiable and harmless person in favour of an understanding with the British Administration but has recently attacked the Administration as violently as any of his journalist colleagues.

Samuel Gebreyesus

Born 1908 in Hamasien. Educated at Swedish Mission School, Asmara, in Addis Ababa at the American Mission in Japan and at the Lutheran School, Madras. Returned to Ethiopia in 1936; captured by the Italians on suspicion of being involved in Graziani bomb incident and sent to Italy where he was imprisoned for seven years. Released by British in 1943 and returned to Ethiopia. Employed in various ministries, including Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Came to Asmara August 1948 as secretary to Colonel Negga. Speaks fluent English. Not unnaturally is violently anti-Italian.

Gianfillippi Luigi

Born Verona (Italy) 10th July, 1897. Married. Manager of the C.I.A.A.0. Hotel, Asmara. An affable and Pleasant personality who, since the earliest days of the occupation, has carried out his rather difficult job with great ability. During the Italian regime, in common with other hoteliers, was in the pay of O.V.R.A. (Italian secret police). He is a man of moderate views who desires friendly co-operation between British and Italians. He deplores the Fascist antics of the C.R.I.E. and Italian interference in Eritrean politics.

Colonel Nega Haile Sellassie

Born 1912. Shoan. Educated in Ethiopia and in France. Speaks French, a little English. During Italian occupation of Ethiopia went to the Sudan; returned to Ethiopia 1941. Was Secretary-General of Ministry of War and later Director of Public Security.    In March 1946 appointed Ethiopian Government Liaison Officer in Asmara.  Has notoriously used his position in Eritrea to further union with Ethiopia by means of propaganda and distributions of money. Although he personally directs the affairs of the party, he does not appear to be popular with Eritrean Unionists, particularly as he does not speak Tigrinia. Is a somewhat colourless personality. Has an implacable hatred of the Italians and is suspicious of the British.

Monsignore Kidanemariam (Asmara)

Born 1888 at Nebo (near Saganciti). Speaks and writes Tigrinya, Amharic, Geez and excellent Italian. Catholic of Ethiopian Rite. Educated at Keren and Jerusalem. Studied canon law at Rome. Ordained as priest in 1915. Consecrated as Eritrean Bishop of the Catholics of Ethiopian Rite at Rome in 1930. Returned to Eritrea in 1931; since 1942 also Acting Delegate Apostolic for Ethiopia, with seat in Addis Ababa. A dignified and highly cultured man. In close touch with Ethiopia, where he spends much of his time. Seems persona grata with the Emperor, and favours the union of Eritrea with Ethiopia, but does not seem to be politically active.

Abune Marcos

Born at Sessah (Engana) about 1890. Bishop of the Coptic Christian community of Eritrea and the " Rasputin " of the territory.  Commenced his religious studies at Bizen, where he was befriended by the late Abbot Andemariam Hagos. Appointed Abbot of the dependent monastery of Debret Ghermet in the Tigrai in 1925. The appointment was contested at the time by Ras Seyu who wanted a nominee of his own appointed, but was confirmed by the Emperor in 1929. In 1931 the Abbot of Bizen died and with the support of the Emperor, Marcos was appointed in his place. In 1937 was appointed as Bishop of Eritrea and the Tigrai. Since the occupation has become the mouth-piece of the Unionist Party and never misses an opportunity of encouraging the aims of the party.   Is poorly educated, conceited, ambitious, and deceitful. His private life is not what it should be. He tried to establish a hold over all the churches and monasteries in the territory and for this reason has come in conflict with his old monastery at Bizen, whose Abbot has complained of his constant interference. Is hated and despised by the more enlightened of his followers who are however few in number. He has considerable influence amongst the Coptic masses.

Monsignor Marinoni

Aged 68. Roman Catholic Bishop (Apostolic Vicar) of Eritrea. He is a shrewd man and hides a fund of political wisdom under an assumed simplicity. Was formerly on good terms with the Fascists and since the occupation has worked discreetly for the maintenance of Catholic and Italian influence in Eritrea.    He has, however, always remained on good terms with the Administration.

Shoa Menahem Joseph

Born Aden 1884. British subject. Arrived in Eritrea 1910. General merchant with large interests in Asmara and Aden. Head of the Jewish community in Eritrea since 1928 in which capacity he has kept the community clear of local politics. Past somewhat obscure. From 1935 to 1937 collaborated with the Italian secret police in counter espionage and during that period made frequent visits to Aden, apparently unsuspected by the British authorities. Was held in high regard by the Italian authorities as late as 1939 and was closely, though secretly associated with some of the highest officials. Since the occupation has been friendly and helpful to the Administration and is regarded as trustworthy.

Ibrahim el Mokhtar

Born Adi Caieh about 1903 of Miniferi parentage. Moslem. Grand Kadi and president of the Sharia Court of Appeal, Asmara. Son of "Al Flg " Ahmed, a noted Koranic scholar of the Miniferi tribe. Educated at the Government school Omdurman and later studied Koranic law at Al Azhar University, Cairo. Worked for a time as a lawyer in Cairo, but was asked to return to Eritrea in 1939 by the Italian authorities to take up his present appointment. Is intelligent, able and well versed in Koranic law. Is a strong supporter of the Moslem League and bitterly opposed both to Ethiopian rule and partition. He has, however, not allowed politics to influence him in his work.

Vercellino Vittoro

Vice-president of S.R.I.E. (Italian Community Council). Born 1904 at Turin. Is a lawyer with a large commercial practice. He is well-educated, a forceful personality and a good conversationalist. He used to be a prominent Fascist and is critical of British Administration. He is socially on good terms with British officials and has no deep-rooted anti-British feelings. Speaks French but no English. Went to Lake Success both for April and September 1949 sessions.

Woldeab Woldemariam

Born Serae, of Tigrai extraction, about 1905. A Swedish Mission Protestant. Well educated with an outstanding knowledge of English. Formerly employed by the British Information Service. Once a member of the Unionist Party, he later joined the Liberal Progressive Party, and later still became a lone advocate of partition. Latterly he has become leader of the Intellectualist Party of the Independent Bloc and one of the chief opponents of the Unionist delegation at Lake Success. Is ambitious, unscrupulous, avaricious, and deceitful. His personal extravagance led him into serious debt from which Italian largesse has temporarily extricated him. He is regarded with general contempt as a toady and turncoat. Several attempts on his life have been made by his political opponents.

Ghebremaskel Woldu

Aged 41. Catholic from Saganeiti (Acrar). Under the Italian Government was an interpreter of the first grade.  After the British occupation he interested himself in politics and became the first president of the Unionist Party. Although he has considerable influence with the more youthful elements of the Unionist Party, his comparatively humble origins proved a handicap and in 1946 he was replaced by Tedla Bairu who had the full support of the influential Hamasien section within the party. Has been critical of Colonel Negga Haile Selassie's interference in local politics and has generally taken an independent line. In 1950 he joined the Liberal Unionist Party and became secretary of the Asmara branch of the party. An intelligent man but a habitual drunkard.

Dejach Araia Wassie

Aged 45. Son of an Amhara immigrant to Keren. Served under the Italian Government as an interpreter in Eritrea, Somalia and finally in Ethiopia where he was personal adviser to Graziani. Became very unpopular in Addis Ababa because of his association with Graziani and was later transferred to Gondar. Since the occupation has been one of the principal Unionist Party leaders and is on intimate terms with Colonel Negga Haile Selassie. He is a wealthy man and has a number of commercial interests.

Dejach Abraha Tesemma

Born Mareb 1901. Son of Ras Tesemma and was formerly district chief of Dekki Admokham, Robra and Eggela Hames.  Was appointed assistant political secretary in 1948 (served during the Italian regime as adviser on native affairs in the " Direzione Affari Politici "). Is politically one of the most astute men in Eritrea and has a remarkable clarity of vision. He is bitterly opposed to Amharic rule and seeks to re-establish the supremacy of the Tigrai in Ethiopia. Earlier he sought this by advocating independence and union with the Tigrai. Later when Italian influence became supreme in the Independence Bloc he formed a new party (the Liberal Unionist) which advocated conditional union with Ethiopia.

Ras Tesemma Asberom

Aged 89, bom 26th May, 1870, in Maraba. President of the Liberal Progressive Party and provisionally also of the Independence Bloc. Copt, ex-district chief of Decchi Admocom, Egghela Hames, Robra and Haddegti. One of the most influential personalities in the Akele Guzai Division, coming of an ancient ruling family. Fought in the Italian army at battle of Adua. Has visited Italy and Palestine.  Authoritative, energetic, respected and well loved by his people. Proud and vindictive where his prestige and position are involved. unusually attached to the principles of justice even where his own family is concerned. For example, when in 1933 his son Negash Tesemma was hanged for shifta activities, he approved the Italian Government's action and refused to ask for preferential treatment. He is too honest to make a successful politician. Thus, while he clearly finds association with Italians in the Independence Bloc embarrassing, he has refused to desert his old associates to join his son Dejach Abraha Tesemma in the Liberal Unionist Party. In the past his son Dejach Abraha was his principal adviser but they quarrelled over a year ago, and the Ras now blames his son for the difficult and unsatisfactory political situation in which he now finds himself.

Grazmach Asberom Abraha

Twenty-eight years. Born Maraba. District chief of Robra, Eghela Hames and Decehi Admocom Districts. Grandson of Ras Tesemma and son of Dejach Abraha whom he succeeded as chief. An intelligent, active and capable young man who speaks good English. Formerly a member of the Liberal Progressive Party, but entered Liberal Unionist Party in opposition to the Independence Bloc.

Qadi Ali Omar

Aged 50. Muslim, president of the Adi Caieh branch of the Moslem League. Q'adi of Adi Caieh. Respected by most Moslems in the Akele Guzai division. Bitterly anti-Ethiopian and since the British advocacy of partition inclined to be anti-British. The tribal chiefs in this area tend to regard him with suspicion arising out of jealousy.

Nasser Pasha Abubaker

Aged 79 paramount chief of Assaorta since 1935. Moslem League. A likeable and distinguished old gentleman who is too old to take an active interest in politics. He is, however, bitterly anti-Ethiopian and voices the general opinion of his tribe amongst whom he exercises considerable influence.

Ali Bey Mohamed

Aged 75. Paramount chief, Miniferi, since 1936. He is anti-Ethiopian but also anti-Italian. Before the United Nations Commission he declared that he was opposed to the Bloc and was only a member of the Moslem League. An old soldier who fought in all the battles in 1893-96.

Ras Kidanemariam Ghebremaskal

Ninety years of age. The most important chief in the Serae and the descendant of the principal ruling family in this area. Fought at the battle of Adowa in the Italian army. Despite his age he has taken an active part in politics, being honorary president of the Unionist Party.

Kashi Demetrious Ghebremariam

Fifty-seven years of age. Private chaplain to Ras Kidaneniariam over whom he exercises a great personal influence. He is an ardent Unionist and has been suspected of encouraging terrorism against his political opponents in the Serae.

Dejach Sebathu Yohannes

Fifty-five years of age. District chief of Gundet and Aila (Serae Division). Formerly interpreter to Graziani. Was arrested by Ethiopian Government in 1941 and detained until 1944 when he returned to Eritrea. Joined Liberal Progressive Party of which he is a recognised leader.  Latterly has come under Italian influence and was principally responsible for keeping the Liberal Progressive Party within the Independence Bloc.

Dejach Woldegherghis Kahsai

Sixty-fi've years of age. District chief of Mai Tzada (Serae Division). An ex-sergeant-major of the Italian Colonial army. Has considerable influence in the Adi Quala district. A leading spokesman of the Liberal Progressive Party. His politics are not uninfluenced by the fact that his present appointment was made in 1943 after the dismissal of Dejach Haile Tesfamariam, the president of the Serae branch of the Unionist Party. It is no secret that Dejach Woldegberghis is likely to lose his position to Dejach Haile should union with Ethiopia be realised.

Dejach Haile Tesfamariam

Sixty-five years of age. Formerly chief of Mai Tzada. Dismissed for incompetence in 1943 and replaced by Dejach Woldegherghis Kahsai. Has many connexions in the Tigrai and is persona grata at Addis Ababa. President of Serae branch of the Unionist Party. A sly intriguer who is suspected of instigating shifta activities in the Serae for political and personal reasons.

Saleh Ahmed Kekia Pasha

Born 1903 at Archio. Moslem. Wealthy general merchant. In Italian days was an Italian spy and was interned for security reasons after the occupation. Protested that he was strongly pro-British and was released. Joined both Unionist Party and Moslem League at different times. In 1944 Brigadier Longrigg the Chief Administrator conferred the title of Pasha on him. Kekia is an unscrupulous rascal. Was in Addis Ababa during 1946, 1947 and 1948. Returned to Eritrea in 1949 and became prominent as vice-president of the Unionist Party where he was engaged in a civil suit involving large sums of money. Having won his case he became a strong supporter of the Unionist Party.

Sheikh Mohammed Nur Bey Hassan Naib

Fifty-four years of age. Nazir of Massawa. Appointed Nazir of the Samhar tribes by the Italian Government, came into conflict with the Italian Commissario of Massawa and reduced to the status of the market master of Massawa. On British occupation came into prominence and did important and useful work as native adviser.       Appointed Nazir of Massawa in 1944. Of old family, strong character and dignity, widely versed in Massawa history and custom.   Has great influence in Massawa and amongst Samhar tribes. Joined the Moslem League but when he failed to obtain an official position of consequence he deserted in a fit of pique to found the Nationalist Party or the Hezbi el Watani.

Ertola Luigi

The son of one of the earliest Italian settlers in Eritrea. Born at Keren on 25th February, 1898. Agriculturalist and owner of large concession near Keren. Married with three children. Is regarded by the Italian community as an expert on Eritrean affairs, but he enjoys an undeserved reputation in this respect.  Has a smattering of the local Tigrai dialect and has some local influence as an employer of Eritrean labour. Was one of the principal supporters of the Pro-Italy party and has been the principal Italian agent of the Independence Bloc in the Western Province.

Sayid Mohammed Abubaker el Mergani

Bom 1911 at Keren. Ex-president of the Moslem League and religious head of the Moslems of Eritrea. Owes his position to being head of the Mergani family. He is weak and vacillating, venal, intemperate and immoral. As a religious leader, therefore, he does not command as much respect as he should. After his " conversion " to Unionism in November 1948, he was deposed from the presidency of the Moslem League and his political stock slumped badly. Although his personal activities have brought him into contempt as an individual, the traditional prestige of his family has allowed him to retain a hold on a backward and conservative Moslem community. On the formation of the Independence Bloc he became the recipient of a regular salary from Italian sources and changing his political views left the Unionist Party.

De Rossi Comm. Guido

Aged 46. Half-caste son of a former Italian Government official. An important industrialist and the owner of a button factory at Keren. Abstained from politics until the arrival of the Four-Power Commission since when he has been one of the

principal spokesmen, first for the Pro-Italy Party and later for the Independence Bloc. He himself is president of the Italo-Eritrean Association, of which he was the virtual founder. His political interests are closely bound up with his not inconsiderable financial interests.

Ibrahim Sultan

Aged about 45. Moslem of a serf tribe of the Nacfa district. Speaks good Italian.           Was an Italian Government employee and rose to the highest rank possible for an Eritrean. Employed by British Administration from occupation till 1944. Was originally an advocate of union with Ethiopia but split with the Christian leaders of the party to become general secretary of the Moslem League 1946 on its foundation. Is a strong and pleasant personality. He was an ardent champion of serf emancipation and was chosen as chief of one of the biggest of the newly emancipated serf tribes, but resigned in 1949 to devote his whole time to politics, going to Lake success both for April and September 1949 sessions.  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, though he has announced to his Moslem League supporters that he intends to throw them over. 0ne of the most able and dangerous men in the political field.

Ali Radai

Aged about 40. Merchant with interests in Asmara and Western Province. Attended Lake Success September 1949 with Moslem League delegation.  Returned more anti-Italian and became advocate of Partition and virtual founder of the Moslem League of the Western Province. He is shrewd, tactful, and has a large following in Agordat, Tessenei and Nacfa Districts, where he is trusted by the tribal sheikhs.

Saydna Saleh Mustapha

Aged about 45. A religious leader exercise considerable influence within the Beni Amir tribe.  He is also a chief of the Faidab Clan. His political opinions have tended to vary and he has flirted with most parties, including the Unionist Party. Officially, however, he remained in the Moslem League until he transferred his allegiance to the Moslem League of the Western Province.

ldris Lijam

Fifty years of age. Formerly an interpreter employed by the Italian Government and later a sub-chief of the Bet Tarka. He is intelligent and ambitious.  Interested himself in the formation of Moslem League but when he failed to obtain superior official position in it declared himself Unionist. Has set himself up as the spokesman the Unionist Party Moslems in the West Province.

Qadi Hamid Mohamed Nur Abu Alama

Fifty years of age. Born and educated in Massawa where his grandfather held the appointment Mufti under the Egyptian Government, and father that of Q'adi under the Italian Government. Studied for some years in Mecca and on his return was appointed Q'adi of Keren and then of Agordat. After the Italian conquest of Ethiopia he was pointed Q'adi of Adigrat and later president of Superior Sharia Court for Italian East Africa - highest position open to him. After the liberation of Ethiopia he lost his appointment and returned to Eritrea where he became Q'adi of Massawa in 1941. He resigned this appointment as a result of differences of opinion with the Mufti and practised for a time as an advocate before the Sharia Court in Asmara. Here he again fell foul of the Mufti who to be rid of this "turbulent priest" obtained him his present appointment of Q�adi at Agordat.

He joined the Moslem League on its formation in 1947 but, it is believed as a result of personal differences with Ibrahim Sultan and the Q'adi of Keren, flirted for a time with the Unionist Party, although it is not known whether he officially became a member. On the arrival of the Four-Power Commission he openly declared himself in favour of the Pro-Italy Party and remained a member of it until the formation of the Independence Bloc and the supremacy of Ibrahim Sultan within it. For a time he took no interest in politics, but later, shortly before the arrival of the United Nations Commission, he associated himself with those of the Moslem League who opposed Ibrahim Sultan and his Italian connexions and on its formation became president of the Moslem League of the Western Province.

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