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A Thorny Path: the Life of Woldeab Woldemariam, Eritrea’s Campaigning Visionary

There were very few actively engaged citizens who withstood the test of time and lived through Eritrea’s past struggles.  One of them was an elder by the name of Woldeab Woldemariam who passed away on 15 May, 1995.  This is his story.

In 1997, when Mrs Hillary Clinton began her nine-hour visit of Eritrea, the first thing she did was to acknowledge Eritrea’s martyrs in the independence struggle by laying a wreath near the grave of the great patriot Woldeab Woldemariam.

Woldeab embarked on a project that trailed a blaze in Eritrea’s nationalist movement. His contribution influenced many Eritreans to choose self-government (40s), challenge the ill-fated federal agreement with Ethiopia (50s) and rise up against the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia (60s), which led to the launching of a fierce and costly armed insurgency that lasted for three decades.

Unfortunately, most of Woldeab’s history, in spite of his popularity and wide ranging contributions, died with him.  Apart from some trivial accounts that appeared on various newspapers and Internet articles, his overwhelming involvement in the construction of Eritrean nationalist struggle has not received the attention it deserves yet.  I suspected something was wrong. Years of research proved that my suspicion was substantiated. The outcome is included in this account.

Denying Eritreans a solid grounding in the history of their former heroes is deemed to produce a generation of uninformed citizens who will be swayed by those who happen to ‘own the country’s history’.  Actually, that is what is happening in Eritrea now.  Therefore, to follow Woldeab’s life journey becomes necessary because it will enable historians in particular and the public in general, to face up to the triumphalist and exclusionist version of history that has been imposed by those in power.

Woldeab, before he went into exile in 1953, excelled in teaching, writing, journalism, activism and trade unionism.  His language skills, for a man of his era, were quite remarkable. He spoke and wrote Italian very fluently, and used Amharic, the leading Ethiopian language, Swedish and English in his work.  His writing style was so exceptional that many refer to him as the father of modern Tigrinya (one of Eritrean languages).  Moreover, he was guided by a unique sense of morality, one that was principally based on his Christian faith.  Many remember him for his radio broadcast from Egypt which inspired many youngsters to follow his footsteps.  But most of all, Woldeab remained one of the prominent nationalists who tirelessly campaigned for Eritrean independence for almost five decades.

During his Eritrea-for-Eritreans campaigns Woldeab became the target of the irredentist groups who perpetrated seven assassination attempts on his life.  He was fiercely opposed by the Unionist Party and its unruly youth group, leaders of the Orthodox Church, many members of his own Protestant community, the Shifta (terrorist groups), as well as agents of the Ethiopian Government.  In exile he lived a difficult life as members of the two pro-independence factions he was involved with were at each other’s throats.  He witnessed the religious divide between the fighters grow larger.  At times he was unfairly blamed for his old-fashioned, ‘crusader approach’ and unbending principles by the competing factions.

Eritrea’s independence came in the nick of time for the old patriot as he reached the end of his life. Perhaps that propped up his emotional state and mitigated the pains of old age. Most of his contemporaries had passed away by then and Eritrea was populated with people of his children’s and grandchildren’s age.

When Woldeab died his funeral attracted tens of thousands of mourners – the biggest gathering of mourners in the country’s history.  The ceremony was a demonstration of gratitude for committing his entire life to fighting injustice and campaigning for the independence of Eritrea.  Surprisingly, after his death, due to lack of recorded account of his accomplishments, his memory has fast faded.

Now I know why a monument has been erected for Alexander Pushkin, the renowned Russian poet, in the heart of Asmara, while the country’s most prominent pro-independence campaigner, one who co-fathered Eritrea alongside his fellow nationalists of the 1940s, is brushed aside. In point of fact, this account reveals how and why a hero such as Woldeab is systematically dismantled to make way for others to shine.  Having uncovered some long held secrets about Woldeab’s views, reflected on the outcome of my ten year journey, now I am intensely curious as to what will happen to this hero’s reputation after this account is published.

This project is an attempt to capture faded memories of Woldeab.  He is part of my history – the source of my identity and fledgling patriotism. I came across Woldeab’s name as a young boy in the early 1960s. I remember it was forbidden to mention his name in our household due to the menacing atmosphere that surrounded his reputation.  The atmosphere around my first school where he taught students of my father’s generation was also the same. His name was totally effaced from the school environment where he presided over as school principal.  The teachers knew him well but no one dared to mention he ever existed. Members of the Church community, located around the school, had totally disowned him.  However, the older youngsters who knew more about him than us revered him. The younger generation, in total disapproval of their parents’ pro-unionist sentiments and position, formed underground circles that venerated Woldeab’s ideals. That enticed my interest in his persona.  And that youth rebellion is what prompted the armed struggle for independence in 1961.

Woldeab’s journey affected Eritreans from all walks of life. The struggle, which lasted from 1961 to 1991, claimed the lives of an estimated 65,000 freedom fighters and tens of thousands of civilians. Victory created an utter feeling of elation which lasted for months as the returning freedom fighters reunited with their family members. Also Woldeab, who was old and feeble by then, returned from exile. He began to lead a quiet and secluded life in Asmara.  Startlingly, it did not take long for Woldeab’s pre-independence prediction to materialise that independence would fail to bring liberty for the people of Eritrea. It did not take long for the freedom fighters to change their posture – their focus turned to power, their relationships with one another, and their norms and ethics.

The Audience

A comprehensive history of Woldeab has not been published yet.  However, there exists a PhD thesis written by Dr Denise Saulesberry, an American academic whose focus of her research is Woldeab.  There are other books on Eritrea who mention Woldeab’s life and his struggle. But they lack perceptive aspects of who he really was.  The chapters in this book are a collection of the dramatic experiences that helped shape his destiny and that of his country. It is the story of an epic life which experienced hope, hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph.

Moreover, Woldeab is not in the history books of Eritrea except in Alemseghed Tesfai’s book which is written in Tigrinya.  School books in the country barely mention his name and the struggle he and his compatriots conducted during 1941-1961.  Considering that those early years of struggle changed the course of Eritrean history, the young generation grew up learning very little of who he was, what happened during the years when he was most active.  This book will help them construct their own understanding of how Eritrean nationalism came about – a phenomenon mostly influenced the lives of their fathers and grandfathers.

The other target audience for this book will include historians, and Africa watchers, but also a broader segment of the public who are engaged in current events, politics, and international affairs.

The Book Structure

The book starts with an introduction which focuses on the eleven chapters of the book.  And it gives the reader a flavour of how the book came about and other information the reader should be aware of.  It describes the ups-and-downs of the journey, the sources, the fears and trepidation of Woldeab’s family members which obstructed the smooth development of the story.

Chapter 1:  Now ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’

In this chapter the mystery surrounding the life of Woldeab whose story should tower over the history of the young nation of Eritrea, is unearthed through his quietly documented thoughts which I refer to as the Woldeab Papers. Now I can say I know why silence descended on his death. The account is based on information I obtained towards the end of my project in the form of a transcript of interviews Woldeab had given in 1987-1988 to a confidant.  His comments, delivered in the measured, poetic tones typical of the man, delivered a damning verdict on the leadership of the EPLF, Eritrea’s revered freedom fighters who have taken the reins since independence (1991). The Woldeab Papers warned of the dangers of arrogance and personality cults within the EPLF. His reward was a concerted but quiet campaign during his later life, and even more so after his death, to air-brush him from Eritrea’s history.

Chapter 2:  Woldeab and Family

The account focuses on the story of Woldemariam and Waga, Woldeab’s parents, which is an inspiring one.  The illiterate individuals who left their homes in Tigray (Ethiopia) and travelled to Eritrea before it became Eritrea, contributed to the country’s wellbeing with their hard work and by giving it their high achieving children. The family’s contribution to Eritrea – to every aspect of its national life – was extraordinary and has to make it one of the most significant in the history of the country.  Without the contribution of Woldeab, their visionary son, Eritrea would have assumed different political, social and economic contours.  He greatly assisted in putting Eritrea on the world stage.

Chapter 3: Woldeab and the Contested Land

Unlike many other states in Africa, Eritrean nationhood came about via a succession of events, one of the most important of which was Italian colonialism (1890-1941). The British occupation (1941-1952), the ensuing Ethiopian intervention which paved the way for federal agreement and later resulted in the annexation of Eritrea, continued the shaping of Eritrean nationalism. The narrative hinges on how Woldeab lived through all the eras that defined Eritrean nationhood. Woldeab explains 1) how the Italians, using their political and moral might, destroyed Eritreans in the name of peace and security; 2) how the British tossed fire into Eritrea and between Eritreans in the name of liberty.

Chapter 4: The Teacher

The account in this chapter captures the essence of human transformation – how Woldeab’s life was transformed as he became a teacher.  Woldeab used proudly to say, even in his old age, ‘I am a teacher’. As a teacher, although respected and admired, he was known for his conservative values – sometimes feared as a disciplinarian by his students.  His formal education at the Swedish mission school in Asmara had been in Italian, giving him a window into a foreign life. Signe Berg, a Swedish missionary who had mentored Woldeab in his early days as a teacher in Kunama-land, always admired his earnestness and competence in the classroom. ‘Woldeab is such a confident and poised teacher’, she used to say. Woldeab taught literacy, the Bible, languages, music; and such was his hunger for learning that if he was not teaching others he would teach himself.  Woldeab was so driven he used to spend days studying one of the classics of Western literature, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and the richly romantic poetry of Giovanni Pascoli.  In terms of what he taught, and how he made it accessible to the students, he was endowed with an aptitude which was ahead of his time.

Chapter 5: The Journalist

The theme of ‘The Journalist’ depicts the calamities freedom of press creates in a virgin territory.  When the victorious British army marched into Asmara in 1941, the state of affairs went from bad to worse in the country.  Although the Italians wanted to remain a considerable player in the future of the country because they felt they had ‘Italianised’ Eritrea, the prospect for Eritreans to remain ‘Italian’ was very slim.  The British, meanwhile, did try to usher in change, but it only had the effect of creating instability in the country. They could not maintain order and revive the economy. The changes, such as freedom of the press, were not introduced methodically – without preparing and empowering the people. During that time the British hired Woldeab to run the Tigrinya version of the Eritrean Weekly News (EWN). Sadly, EWN opened a Pandora’s Box of domestic problems. Woldeab was immersed in the thick of a chaotic transition period.  The newspaper project was meant to aid the British to introduce their values and entice the local population into falling in line with their vision of how Eritrea should be shaped.  On the contrary, the debates put rivals on the warpath in defence of their respective ideals.

Chapter 6: The Wordsmith

Woldeab recognised how the use of language was related to the exercise of power in Eritrea and how he could use it to stimulate serious discussions via the Eritrean Weekly News.  But it was not only Tigrinya that played a significant role in Eritrean politics; Arabic was the language used by many lowlanders to articulate their political thoughts. Likewise, Italian, the public language of the ruling and political elites, shaped the mind-sets of the Eritrean intelligentsia.

As the editor of EWN, Woldeab was in a key position to influence his readers. The period in which he could write publicly, deploying the power of his excellent Tigrinya, was one of the most significant episodes in his life. Did he write to solve Eritrea’s problems?  Unlikely, but he certainly wrote to allow them to emerge.  Woldeab had clearly understood that Tigrinya was the language of political debate, not only that of Eritrean freedom politics, but also of the mighty Unionists, his opponents, who were backed by Ethiopia.

Chapter 7: The Activist

‘The Activist’ chapter reconstructs the episodes of how Woldeab turned into a modern-day activist who ushered in new sense of national consciousness in the country.  It shows how his ideals, that Eritrea would be better off if its people would demand, and ultimately fight for, their autonomous existence, began to resonate with the public.  It also addresses how his own vision evolved to a point that it goaded others into developing their own ideas about Eritrea’s future.

Chapter 8:  Woldeab and Banditry

This chapter focuses on a collection of unpleasant episodes that were hard to compile. It is a story of how Woldeab stood up not only to his enemies, but also his friends who betrayed him.  As many influential Eritreans began to support the notion of Eritrea for Eritreans, Woldeab, dubbed a pathetic turncoat by the Unionists, became one of the primary targets of the Andinet (militant youth group) and Shifta.  Eventually, his enemies, after committing seven assassination attempts on his life, did manage to intimidate, silence and drive out not only his fellow campaigners but Woldeab himself, changing the course of Eritrean history.

Chapter 9: The Trade Unionist

This chapter depicts the assaults on Woldeab on various fronts.  He had to put up with not only the Shifta onslaught, denunciation by the Orthodox Church, his rejection by the Evangelical community, the distancing of family members, pressure from Ethiopia, the British/US support for Ethiopia, the UN federal verdict, he also had to cope with the splintering and uncoordinated work of the pro-independence group. He simply could not catch his breath.   How could he give new life to his appeal to the people under such circumstances? Trade-unionism was the answer.  The movement Woldeab launched was an answer to the triumph his critics and enemies relished over his group, pro-independence.  Woldeab embarked on the trade union vehicle because it gave him the opportunity to redeem himself and help him make a political come-back.  According to Woldeab, the hearts and minds of young Eritreans and factory workers were slowly changing, and this spurred him on. The syndicate of Free Eritrean Workers was becoming an increasingly powerful and respected organisation under his leadership. And then disaster struck. He was attacked and badly wounded by revolver shots in the main street of Asmara. Woldeab was not expected to survive the 7th attempt on his life, and indeed it took five months in hospital for him to recover. Soon after his recovery he went into exile.

Chapter 10: The Nationalist in Exile

Life in exile was a time of great mental anguish for Woldeab; he could not bring himself to acknowledge the dawning of the new reality – the fact that he was not the major player he once had been in his country’s destiny.  After living in Khartoum for six months, Woldeab moved to Cairo to run his radio station.  This chapter summarises his on and off struggle that lasted over two decades.  Unfortunately, the belief of the Eritrean community in Cairo, all Muslims, was not in step with his religious humanism. They discriminated against him for he was a Christian; most of Eritrean Christians supported unity with Ethiopia.  Anyway, his radio messages were effective.  Back home people sat around the radio and listened to Woldeab’s messages on unity and how Eritrea should remain in the hands of Eritreans.  In exile Woldeab witnessed the Birth of Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM), Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) – all factions experienced discords and war of attrition amongst them which broke his heart.  However, although his role was diminished to observer-level in 70s and 80s, Woldeab remained hopeful that the fighters would come to their senses to liberate the country.  Fratricidal Strife among Freedom Fighters became worse. During those tumultuous times he lived in seclusion in Cairo.

Chapter 11: The Revenant

This chapter is an account of Woldeab’s sunset years of his life as he triumphantly returned to a liberated Eritrea, where the ordinary people welcomed him with reverence. To them he was the symbol of the struggle for independence, a factor that drew the jealousy of the Young Turks who led the EPLF, the party of the country’s victorious freedom fighters.

As Woldeab slowly melted away into obscurity, privately he received visits from ex-fighters, admirers, journalists and family members but never from the president. According family members, President Isaias visited Woldeab only once, and that was when he was on his death bed.  Nevertheless, Woldeab continued to entertain and advise his visitors until his death.

The final epilogue describes Woldeab, according to his opponents, as a man of ‘illegitimate heritage’ to lead a nationalist campaign.  It also describes how Woldeab worked for Eritrean independence throughout his adult life while many segments of the Eritrean society worked against him. The old campaigner’s life was parcelled out in periods of adventure, intrigue, danger, conflicts, pointlessness and irrationality that nurtured eventual rationality.  But one thing remained constant for Woldeab.  He loved the Eritrean people and the people loved him back. In the end that is what counts in a life of a hero. What transpired after his death is a different story.

About the Autho

I am writer and commentator on Eritrean affairs. I am also an activist – I have participated in many projects and campaigns for democratic and human rights for Eritreans.  I was one of the 13 Eritrean academics and professionals who wrote a critical letter to the Eritrean leadership in 2000 and travelled to Asmara to meet President Isaias Afwerki to discuss the issues raised in the letter. I used to regularly contribute to Eritrean websites and worked as a senior editor of I am a founding father of, a prominent Eritrean Website/Foundation. I then set up and ran Voice of Liberty, a SW radio station transmitting from Europe to Eritrea. I chaired EHDR-UK (a London-based human rights group) and NECS-Europe (an umbrella organisation of 13 civil society organisations based in Europe). I have travelled to Sweden, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and the US to give presentations on various subjects regarding Eritrea.  I worked for London Metropolitan University, International IDEA, and I was the principal director of Justice Africa, an international NGO, from 2011-2014.

About Dawit Mesfin

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  • Abrehet Yosief

    Dear Dawit,
    Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I keep the memory of two alarm bells that were rung by two individuals who loved Eritrea and it people. Soon after independence, Dr. Fred Hallows was working with the transitional government to build a suitable building for the intraocular lens manufacturing machines. There was a TV interview, never shown again, in which Dr. Hallows says “They have to understand that the days of guerrilla fight are over, they need to listen …” The second alarm bell was when Aboy Weld’ab stated “simeru, simeru to the people and said “You must listen to the heartbeat of your people, you seem to forget that” …”. They were the voice of two men who had contributed so much for Eritrean people and who were anguished by the clear signs of where things were headed. You do great to tell the story of a great man. Hopefully, those who know more but are rightly intimidated from sharing their knowledge, will find the courage once they see your book published and the reaction of the readers.

  • Nitricc

    Hi All, To day is a very special day to the real Eritreans who believe in everything Eritrean, the history, the Gedli and the actors of it, Eritrea’s Martyrs.
    Happy Eritrea’s Martyrs day and Awat-N-Hafash.

  • Brhan

    In the mean time :
    Djibouti accuses Eritrea of occupying disputed area
    Official says Eritrean soldiers occupied moved contested border territory, days after Qatar pulled its peacekeepers out.AL JAZEERA

    • saay7


      And Djibouti complained to the UN and the UN is convening an emergency meeting.

      Meanwhile IGAD is condemning Eritrea.

      There is no way to believe that IA and PFDJ didn’t know the chain of events. They just love crisis.


    • Abraham H.

      Selam Brhan, I don’t know why they don’t settle the border issue with Djibouti just the way they did with Yemen and Ethiopia? Why not just take the simple issue to the UN arbitration? From what I see the border dispute is about the tiny island of Dumeira, and a small part of the Djibouti-Eritrea border. The tripoint at mount Mussa Ali was delimited by the EEBC decision; I guess, because that Commission was tasked to delimitate the entire Eritrea-Ethiopia border. Actually I wonder what Qatar was doing the entire 7 years, after they started to mediate between the two countries.

  • Ismail AA

    Selam Dawit,

    This second, and more informative, introduction of the book will prepare the readers. As I noted in my comments in regard to your first part in this forum, the book a welcome gift to the young as well as to the old. The young would be enlightened to the roots of their people’s national patriotism, and the still living older generation shall get a source that will help the reflect on their time, and participation in the long pursuit a nationhood that was not so cheap to attain.

    Moreover, the next generation of Eritrean, who followed in the followed in the footsteps of Wel Wel and his comrades-in-cause, would get opportunities to find answers for many questions that constraints of time and circumstances had not given them to research.

    • Dawit Mesfin

      Dear Ismail,

      As always, I admire your gentility. There was a time when I thought you were one of the two Ismails I grew up with around the Mai-bela neighbourhood. You see, I knew Ismail Abdella (brother of Salahadin Abdela) and the other Ismail (brother of the Beirut-educated teacher who taught at Qehaz – memhr Mohamed) very well . The former, a fierce rival in football, and the other Ismail – the great defender are always on my mind. It was Saleh Gadi who explained who is who.

      Ismail, allow me to say a few words about Woldeab.
      Woldeab must have been an eternal optimist. No matter how rough things got, he could see light somewhere beyond his predicaments. The rest of the sky could have been cloudy, but that little bit of blue, that little opening, drew him nearer to his life long dreams of seeing Eritrea free. What kept him alive all those years after most of his opponents, enemies and persecutors passed away, could be that ray of hope that kept on shining through the crack of Eritrea’s rickety door. Let’s say he certainly had a longer shelf life than most.
      Our young need to know the real history of Eritrea – not only the post-armed struggle history.

      • Ismail AA

        Dear Dawit,

        Thanks for the compliment. The same and more apply to you. I had witnessed your gentility and grace when we met at Kassel Festival some years back. At that time, you represented a rare example among us Eritreans who tend to be inflicted by misplaced pride of not reflecting on what we did, pronouncing mistakes and apologizing.

        Sorry for the confusion Saho love for the name “Ismail”. Incidentally, I know and met the Ismails you mentioned save Ismail, the defender, whom I knew through his superb articles and famous debate with you that drew me towards getting in love with
        Thank you, Dawit.

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Dear Dawit,

    The highlights of each chapter of your book makes the potential readers of the book so enthusiastic to own it. You started with one of our giants of the Eritrean politics, and hopefully to see similar books on the contribution of Ibrahim Sultan and Abdul-Qadir Kebire. I look forward to see your book on my shelves. Thank you with anticipation.


    • Dawit Mesfin

      Ahlan Amanuel,
      Thank you for the kind words. There are many people around us who know a great deal about the other patriots – Kebire, Ibrahim Sultan and more. I believe now is the time to do something about their stories. We should not allow others, particularly those in power, dictate our own history.

  • tes

    Dear of dears Dawit Mesfin,

    Kudos to you for giving us such a wonderful gift. It will be my precious book in my shelf. Without doubt, WelWel is a the greatest political thinker Eritrea has endowed with. The line that you put here has indeed reveals the secret of Wel-Wel. You wrote,

    Did he write to solve Eritrea’s problems? Unlikely, but he certainly wrote to allow them to emerge.


    What a big mind you have to sum up his entire work. Indeed Wel-Wel’s writings were/are coming from his deep thinking and critical observation. Albert Einstein has said,

    “Our mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled”

    And indeed many great thinkers and philosophers also said similar things.

    -Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel —Socrates
    -Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —William Butler Yeats
    -Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —Plutarch
    -The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. —Plutarch

    And what you revealed about Wel-Wel’s work is nothign but in correspondence to what these great thinkers said. The more we dig, the more we will get great wisdom about Wel-Wel.

    I think, Dawit Mesfin, second book, at least, is expected from you about Wel-Wel’s political thinking. I believe you have the wisdom to provide us with such kind of work.

    Plus, Wel-Wel could be influenced by Liberal Ideas of UK and Scandinivian countries. And these influences shine in his take on humanity and human liberity, freedom and democratic values. Wel-Wel,

    Dear Dawit, lots of respect.

    Merci Beaucoup!!!


    • Dawit Mesfin

      Dear Tes,
      Thank you for your kindness.
      Indeed WW was influenced by the people he came in contact with in 1930s and 1940s. The Kunama experience clearly gave him time to think – that was when he was a teacher there along side Signe Berg. Then there was the ‘qeshi Tron’ experience in Beleza which helped him to imagine ‘Eritrea’, so to speak. And of course, there was the Ullendorff period which swept him off his feet. WW learned , and learned quickly. He learned Swedish (in Kunama), Italian (in Beleza) and English (during the Ullendorff era). He read classics – a village boy who started school as a teenager …

    • Berhe Y

      Dear Dawit,

      I too can’t wait to read the book. WelWel was a teacher and his students became great in their own right. One such student was the late Memhir Musa Aron. In one of the conversation I had with him while he use to live in Toronto, WelWel was his teacher and he is one of the first students. Memhim Musa become a famous novelist, translated and researched and published many books, Including writing dictionary for Tigre and if I am not mistaken he also translated the bible to Tigre.


      • Dawit Mesfin

        Dear Berhe,
        You are right, Memhr Musa Aron was WW’s student. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to speak to him while I was researching. Memhr was in Asmara working on the Tigrinya/Tigre dictionary. However, I had the chance to speak to many former students of WW. I could not use the majority of the interviews because my editor cut most of it – in order to shorten the book. The most unfortunate aspect of the research was the fact that many refrained from sharing what they knew – you see, people are afraid of the government (paranoia of extreme kind). If we are to make progress in this respect then we need to pluck up our courage and tell what we know.

  • ሰላማት ኣቶ ዳዊት መስፍን፡

    የቐንየልና። ዛንታ ሃገራውያን ከኣ ንዘመናት ይዘንተወልና።


  • MS

    Dear Dawit
    Thanks for the heads-up article. I have a feeling this book is going to be a “must have” one. I look forward to reading it. I have a vivid memory of Welwel when, in 1987, he entered the conference room of the Second and Unity Congress of the EPLF. He was short and skinny, surrounded by his entourage. His speech was short but stirring. One evening during the conference week, he joined us in a dinner “table”, the traditional me’adi. I think he just walked by and we were on his way. We missed part of the next session.
    He also visited Nakfa front line and had memorable meetings with tegadelti there. THat’s the memory I have about this great man.
    There is no question that the young revolutionary leaders of the fronts sidelined figures such as WelWel and SheiK Ibrahim sultan. They started reappearing in our discourse in the late eighties.
    Thanks for the effort and I wish you the best.

    • Selamat MaHmuday “The Best” SaliH,

      Immediately after the Second Congress of the EPLF, Welwel graced with his presence the biannual Festival of Eritrea at Howard University, Washington DC in 1988. The USA Eritrean Students Union Chair, Fikreyesus wispeared into my ear to make the announcement to prior to TiEgisti singing the song: ኣርሓ ዘይዳነ ንያት ናይ ሃገሩ or maybe በሊሕ ጉራደ?

      Fikre, (who did a tour in SaHil’s Revolutionary School – perhaps you crossed paths…) was elected Chair of the ሃማተኤ in NA, its First and Last Congress since ENASA’s walkout in 1978/1979…. …

      Yes I agree “ብጻይ” ማሕሙድ “ብሉጽ” ሳልሕ, “I have a feeling this book” is a ‘must have’! as Well Wel:-)


      • Dawit Mesfin

        Dear friends,
        I found it overwhelming to write the book because it did not take long for me to come to the realisation there was so much I did not know about our own history when I first started out to document the pre-gedli era. If it was that difficult for me to comprehend the initial stages of the Eritrean struggle, then you can imagine how tough things would be the younger generation . I came across many, during my journey, who did not have a clue who WW or Ibrahim Sultan were. That is quite alarming.
        We are mere products of our history, aren’t we? And to understand that relationship we have to write our own history first. The history of Eritrea is but the biography of our great men.
        So this is just a small attempt.

        • Kim Hanna

          Selam Dawit Mesfin,
          You have undertaken a huge project and I wish you success in your efforts.
          I am sure you have consulted a wide range of individuals and read extensive materials in the research for your book.
          My inquiry to you is did you by any chance read or consulted an Amharic book written by Zewde Reta, “YEritrea Guday”?
          Mr. K.H

          • Dawit Mesfin

            Dear KH,
            Yes, I read Zewde Retta’s book – a few times. And I also read Shumet Shishagne’s book on the Unionists.

          • Kim Hanna

            Selam Dawit Mesfin,
            You are an honorable man. I appreciate your response to my question.
            I look forward to reading your book, assuming it is in English. I recently acquired Dr. Bereket’s book, Wounded Nation. I hope folks who have a direct access to the events and facts on the ground document their experiences. Time is of the essence.
            May I also express my admiration and thanks to you for being the founding father of
            We the students, now call it Awate University, in case you are not aware of it.
            Wishing all the best.
            Mr. K.H

        • Sahay Erican

          Dear Mesfin,

          I know you and I don’t agree on anything about the history of the barbaric gedli and even on the history of the 1940s and 1950s, but there is a little puzzle I want you to clarify for me. You said, “The history of Eritrea is, but the biography of our great men.”

          1. Could you tell us who those great men were?

          2. Do the Unionists fall within the statement I quoted you above? Please explain.

          3. Would you ban the same Unionists in a free and democratic Eritrea in the 21st century? Please explain.

          Thank you in advance for addressing my curious questions.

          • Dawit Mesfin

            Dear Sahay,

            You asked me three questions:

            1. Could you tell us who those great men were?

            Ans: I guess greatness is a funny concept, don’t you agree? Someone who I consider a great man might be a villain to you. I noticed the picture of Dimetros Ghebremariam pasted to your account. I presume you consider him a great man, don’t you?
            There are many great people in our history. Ibrahim Sultan is one. He led Harakat Tahrir al Aqnan. He struggled to safeguard our identity and obtain our independence.

            2. Do the Unionists fall within the statement I quoted you above? Please explain.

            Ans: According to the definition of ‘greatness’, great people are individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. Did Dimetros do better than many others? Yes. Whether I like it or not, Dimetros is part of the Eritrean history. However, to me, he was a controversial figure in Eritrean history. He was the arm-twisting spiritual leader of the Unionist party who engineered the 1962 annexation.

            3. Would you ban the same Unionists in a free and democratic Eritrea in the 21st century? Please explain.

            Ans: Ban? No. Democracy is a ‘system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives’. So the democratic framework/process provides an answer to your question.

          • Ismail AA

            Good morning Dawit,

            Your are perfectly correct in stating that genuine writing of history does not discriminate. It records events as they happened on merits of sources materials. The history of the actors in the unionist movement of Eritrea do surely have a chapter in modern history because they were responsible for the losses in life and property their ill-considered options had incured.

    • Dawit Mesfin

      Selam MS,
      Some memories are indeed unforgettable. I guess history is, partly, all about reliving those unforgettable memories. So many people who lived and witnessed the initial rumblings of ‘Eritrea for Eritreans’ (and ‘Eritrea for Ethiopia’) passed away without leaving documented stories behind.