The Eritrean Revolution: Born of a Shifta father, produced a  Shifta system – part 2 and final

We have read the documents in part one regarding the affairs of shiftas and their crimes in the 1940-1950s. Let’s now see the issue critically. Whose narrative is true? Let us start with open and curious mind and with open questions. Let us freeze our previous knowledge and do not block our mind to receive new information we have never known before. To do that we have to approach the issue using the following questions:

  1. 1.    Was Awate a shifta?
  2. 2.    If yes, was Awate involved in criminal activities during his banditry life?

As we can see from the public notice presented in part one, the answer is absolute yes that Awate was a shifta. Nobody can refute the fact that Awate was a shifta because the documents presented contain hard facts and evidence that prove so. I challenge anybody who denies this reality. It is well documented and well known that awate was a notorious shifta leader in the 1940s- 1950s. Even his family members and his is own community do not deny this. Among the Kunama, the whole kunama population know Awate as a shifta and criminal who killed and looted them. Anyone who wishes to know the truth about Awate can get the real information by interviewing the Kunama elders who witnessed Awate’s crimes with their own eyes. Awate was not only a shifta but he was a great a shifta leader. This means there were many armed men under his command who follow his commands and his instructions.

Regarding the question of Awate’s involvement in crimes, the document provides us the answer in unequivocal manner that Awate had committed crimes -  no doubt about that. The document I have presented in part one however, does not provide us details of the nature of crimes Awate had committed because according to the public notice, Awate’s crimes were ‘already notified’ in prior notices to this notice. And unfortunately, at the moment I do not have the means and capacity to access the missed documents (I hope the Asmarino team will do it). But one thing is crystal clear from the introductory part of the public notice and the attached police notice regarding the nature and scale of the crimes. The public notice states that the crimes had been committed against the Eritrean people emphasizing that ‘the normal life of the people of Eritrea is continually being disrupted and {???} by the activities of the shifta bands.

From this public notice we can see that Awate had committed crimes against innocent people and his crimes exceeded any crimes committed by other shiftas of his time. As we can see from the specified crimes listed, all the crimes for which the shiftas were wanted for were capital offences or murder. Hence, though the notice only tells us that Awate’s crimes were previously notified and no need to repeat them, awate is listed at the top of all the murderers and this indicates that awate was the number one murderer. According to the public notice, Awate is the most wanted shifta and criminal. This means he must had committed crimes of the highest order to be at the top of the list and that is why the British administration put on Awate the highest financial rewards (£300). This huge amount of reward was being decided based on the nature and scale of the crimes.

The irony is some websites such as (in 2009) had been posting articles under the author name of Ali Salim, that the Tigrigna Christians are criminals and that the Muslims have suffered by their criminal acts citing Shifta Ghebre Tesfazion but when it comes to shifta Hamid Idris Awate, they are threatening the Kunama movement for calling Awate shifta and they are trying their best to cover up the crimes of Awate. Not only that, they are calling shifta and criminal awate, a national hero and they are imposing their will on the rest of us. But Ghebre Tesfazien’s crimes are far less than Awate’s. Awate’s crimes have no match at all. It is not me or the Kunama movement who are saying this, but the British administration.

I have included the interview conducted by the British Administration police officer with shifta Ghebre Tesfazien in order to be able to compare and contrast between the nature and scale of the crimes committed by both shiftas.  As we can see from the interview, first and foremost Ghebre tesfazien was driven to turn to shifta because of the extreme hate he had against the Italians resulting from the injustices he suffered by the Italians and the denial of justice under their rule. As the result, he decided to be a shifta to avenge the Italians. His targets were the Italians. From the Interview, it is clear that he killed many Italians and a British officer. He admitted proudly for the killing of the Italians and he apologized for the killing of the British officer. Leaving aside the British officer, the crimes he was accused of were for targeting civilians (Italians) and the British are right to pursue him as criminal because though the Italians were foreign settlers but still they were innocent civilians. We can also deduce from the interview that shifta Ghebre was a religious and God fearing person and a nationalist who advocated for Eritrean freedom. Some people may argue that he was advocating for the unity of Ethiopia hence he did not stand for freedom. But for him as it was the case with the majority of the Christian highlanders of his time, he believed that the Eritrean and Ethiopian people are the same people who need to unite and be governed under one flag. Furthermore, from the interview, we can understand that shifta Ghebre Tefazien had no hatred or negative attitude against any ethnic groups, race, religion and region except the Italians. But as long as he was a shifta, we can neither prove nor disprove allegations of looting animals and property from the Tigre/Beni-Amer community in the western lowland of Eritrea as it is claimed by Ali Salim (Awate team). The essence of this comparison is to show that nobody has come to defend shifta Ghebre Tesfazien when he was accused of crimes by the Awate Team and others, the very team who is defending Shifta Awate.

To the contrary, Awate’s victims were native Eritreans, mainly the Kunama and probably others. Now if we compare the amount of money allocated as a reward for the capture or death of shifta Ghebre Tesfazien with that of Awate, it stands at £100; i.e. one third of the amount allocated for Awate’s capture or death. But those groups and individuals are defending Awate and crowning him as national hero and icon and condemning Ghebre Tesfazien when Awate’s crimes are far  greater than Ghebre Tesfazien’s crimes. This shows they do not stand for justice.

Now Awate team and all the Islamic movements and organizations together with some elements who claim to belong to national movements or elements such as the founders of are waging extensive and intensive campaigns against those who are telling the truth to inform the public about the history of Awate. Awate team and the likes, if you are embarrassed by the ugly legacy of Awate and you do not want to like the ugly truth of Awate’s crimes, it is not the Kunama’s movement problem but your own problem. Stop blaming the victims for exposing the ugly truth but you should blame the criminal and shifta for his ugly acts. The sad thing is those who are waging intimidating and harassing campaigns against the kunama movement claim to stand for justice, freedom, respect of human rights and democracy. But your attitudes and actions show the contrary. You should stop being selective advocate of justice and freedom based on race, religion ethnicity and region. I hope the Kunama movement will come up with more information on the issue.

The of the Armed struggle

Now let’s come to the other ugly legacy of Awate. Why did those who founded the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in Cairo resort to Awate to declare the launch of the Eritrean armed struggle on their behalf? It was not because Awate stands for justice, peace and freedom. It was for the mere fact that Awate was a great shifta leader and a warrior with high military experiences, tactics and knowledge of the area. This means, they realized from the very beginning that if Awate had risked his life to challenge the authorities for his own personal interests and material benefits and he could commit such grave crimes of such magnitude, it was not difficult for Awate to challenge the authorities under any banner; specifically when he was supported by the revolutionary individuals and funded by the Islamic and Arab world.

For Awate who was a warrior,who used to fund his banditry activities by looting and killing, to continue the profession he likes (being a warrior) supported and funded by an organization and the Arab and Islamic world is more easier and preferable. We can compare this with Ghebre Tesfazien’s readiness to go to Korea to fight- this is the attitudes of warriors as long as the objective of the war does not contradict their objectives, interests, value systems and perceptions. For example, though shifta Ghebre was ready to fight in Korea for fame, but would not would had accepted to join the ELF because his vision was to see Ethiopia and Eritrea United. But as for Awate, as most Muslims supported the Muslim league which was calling for the independence of Eritrea in the 1940s – 1950s, it is possible Awate agrees with principles of the Muslim league. After all the call for awate came from Muslim brothers.

Now can we say Awate and ELF had national agenda when they launched the armed struggle? The answer is no. The following factors demonstrate that the ELF and awate had no national agenda. Then what was their agenda? Leaving the name ‘ELF’, the ELF was Islamic movement with Arab and Islamic project particularly in the period before 1970. However, Awate who spent most of his life as Shifta is remembered as national hero for the nine months (September 1961- May 1962) he had contributed for the Eritrean struggle and the few shots he fired into the air at Adal mountain to declare the launch of the Eritrean armed struggle. Apart from the few shots he fired into the air, there are no any historical records of combat engagement of Awate with the enemy during the 9 months of his armed struggle for the independence of Eritrea. The below listed facts show that the ELF and Awate had Islamic and Arab agenda than national agenda:

  1. ELF was fully funded, supported, trained, hosted and accommodated by the Arab and Islamic countries not because the Arab and Islamic countries stand for justice and democracy. On the contrary, they are the most oppressive, discriminatory and undemocratic countries. For example, while the successive Sudanese regimes hosted and supported the Eritrean revolution, they continued the islamization project of south Sudanese through oppressive and criminal means and methods to the extent they made them second class citizens in their own country. Muslims from Eritrea and other countries such as Nigeria were given more right than the Christian South Sudanese. The oppressive and unjust policies and actions of Sudan was supported and funded by other arab and Islamic countries; i.e. they were complicit in the crimes committed against the South Sudanese people by the successive Sudanese governments;
  2. The ELF committed genocide crimes against the innocent Christian Tigrigna right from the beginning of the armed struggle. Many villages and properties in Akeleguzay and Seraye such as Qohain were destroyed and looted. Many Christian peasants and traders were murdered in mass only for being Christians. I myself have lost a relative in the mass murder of 49 innocent peasants committed by the ELF in July 1967 in Shimbare, near Tokobya;
  3. The ELF never concealed that its struggle serve the arab and Islamic agenda even when later, after the 1970 tried to be more inclusive and nationalist movement. In their communications with the Islamic and arab world, they claim Eritrea is an Islamic and Arab state. On this basis, they established a good relationship with the Baath party of Syria and Iraq. Even they formed their own secret Baath party within the ELF itself that promotes the agenda of the Baath parties in Iraq and Syria. In their political campaigns they were sensitizing the fighters and the Eritrean people that their struggle is against Zionism – Fighting Zionism is purely an Arab and Islamic agenda!
  4. 4.    The ELF opened itself to include Christians after the realizing that it cannot win the war without the support and participation of the Christians. Though it was clear that the ELF had Islamic and arab agenda, the Christians were fooled to support and join the ELF and paid heavy price for that. The ELF leadership was afraid of the Christian domination thus pursued a policy of marginalization and oppression against the Christians. Those who split from the ELF claiming that the ELF murdered Christian fighters never dared to talk of the crimes committed on the Christian population by the ELF. Probably because people such as Issias Afeworki were members of the ELF when the crimes were committed.
  5. The ELF also mass mass massacred the Kunama people but unlike the Christian Tigrigna, the Kunama stood for their rights and resisted the ELF. The resistance has further contributed to the view held by the nationalist elements and organizations that the Kunama people are against the Eritrean revolution and independence whilst ignoring the injustices committed by the revolution and the current regime itself. As the result, the kunama people are viewed with suspicion and lare abelled as anti –Eritean identity by the so called nationalist forces and elements.
  6. When the Islamic regime of Omer Al Beshir and Dr. Hassan Al Trabi came to power in Sudan with jihadist agenda, in June 30, 1989, immediately, remnants of the ELF splinter organizations and elements got conducive environment to launch their Eritrean Jihad movements. How can individuals and organizations who claim they had been fighting for national cause turn overnight jihadists to kill civil Christians? These groups have now formed the block called ‘Tadamun’ within the Eritrean democratic alliance.

Considering the above outlined factors, the claim that the ELF and Awate had national agenda is watered down. Any exclusionary and marginalizing agenda cannot qualify to be a national agenda. Hence agenda such as that of the ELF and Awate that envisioned Eritrea a state minus the Tigrigna Christians and the Kunama is not a national agenda. The worst thing is both the ELF and EPLF committed crimes not only against civilians but also against fighters. There was no any tolerance for difference of the opinion and views in the ELF and EPLF culture except violence. History has recorded it how many people were killed by both organizations for the mere fact that they differed in their opinion with the leadership. The list goes from the extermination of Hareka (Mahber 7), Obel, Menkae, Yemin to Falul and the ELF itself by the joint operations of the EPLF and TPLF.

The only difference between the ELF and TPLF is that the EPLF learned and mastered all the criminal policies and practices of the ELF and applied it in a more systematic, aggressive, effective, intensive and extensive way and scale, and with no discrimination. It is the ELF first declared war against other Eritrean movements claiming that the Eritrean field cannot accommodate more than one movement- except the ELF. After the Elimination of ELF from the Field, EPLF declared that the Eritrean field cannot accommodate more than one organization. The EPLF believes equality in suffering and injustices i.e. treat all Eritrean citizens as slaves and objects. To my understanding those people who show some kind of resistance or oppositions to the crimes committed are discriminated and treated more harshly. Hence throughout the struggle period, peaceful means and dialogue as approaches and tools to conflict resolutions were alien to the Eritrean revolution. Violence and injustices were the norms of the revolution.

Actually, we can conclude that the Eritrean revolution was launched or planted by a shifta criminal and produced a shifta criminal system. This means we are harvesting what we planted. If we had ignored the issue of justice in 1961 when we launched the armed struggle, it is natural for the injustices to build up, accumulate and develop to this level and scale and produce the existing Shifta system. The only difference is the scale and intensity of the crimes. The Issias regime has controlled all Eritrea and all aspects of our life: our culture; our religion; our belief systems; our economy; our society; our family; our psychology and mentality; our life; our education system…etc. The list is countless.

This concurs with the saying “you harvest what you plant”. Thus we cannot expect a revolution launched by a shifta to produce the fruits of justice, democracy and freedom.

At the end, if we see some people crown shifta criminal awate as a national hero and figure, we should not be surprised because we have also seen the crowning and praising of another criminal shifta Issias Afwerki as a national hero and icon. A vivid example is the warm welcome and reception accorded to criminal Issias Afewerki in New York by those followers who came from all over the USA and Canada to show their respect for their criminal leader.

However, the paradox here is that many of those who are crowning and praising criminal shifta awate felt embarrassed and offended by the actions of those who crowned and praised criminal Issias Afeworki as a national hero and icon.

My view is that those who are praising shiftas and criminals are offending the very people who are victims of these criminals and shiftas. Even if you choose to respect Shifta Awata and criminal Issias as your national heros and icons, please keep it for yourself but do not try to impose your views and feelings on others so that you do not offend others. Hence in order not to offend the victims of Awate and not to scratch their wounds and scars I recommend the followings:

  1. Organizations, individuals and others should refrain from provocative attitudes and behaviours such as praising and crowning Awate as a national hero and icon in any public communications and events;
  2. All narratives in history books, education curriculum and media portraying Awate as a national hero should be corrected in a way that do not present Awate as a national hero and icon. To the contrary, true history should be told and accounted that include his shifta life and crimes.
  3. Any national symbols that represent Awate as a national hero should be removed and erased;
  4. His statue which is erected in Haikota adjacent to the Kunama territory is very provocative and offensive to his victims- the Kunama people- thus it should be dismantled.
  5. If you want sustainable peace, coexistence and harmony among the Eritrean people, those who harassed the Kunama movement should publicly apologize to redress your offensive statements. Furthermore, you should work in collaboration with the victims to research and document the crimes Awate committed. You can only win the hearts and minds of the victims and heal the wounds only if you acknowledge the crimes committed and try to redress them.


Merhawi Kunfu