Book Review: A Memoir of Eritrean Freedom Fighter Mesfin Hagos

Book Review
An African Revolution Reclaimed: A Memoir of Eritrean Freedom Fighter Mesfin Hagos.
By Mesfin Hagos with Awet Tewelde Weldemichael, 2023, Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press. I-x, pp. 434 plus appendices and index.

This is a worthwhile read that provides much-needed information on the Eritrean armed struggle (named as African revolution) and on the people who led it. It is about the Eritrean Peoples´ Liberation Front (EPLF) and it shows its bias against the Eritrean Liberation Front. It is more informative than the standard books by Dan Connell and David Pool. It is more focused than Hirui Tedla´s quite important reconstruction of the Eritrean revolution and the recent reminiscences of Yemane Teklegiorgis and Tsegu Fessehaye Bahta on their experiences as members of the EPLF[1].

Yet I want to stress from the outset that I remain very critical to its underlying assumptions, such as the goals of the Eritrean liberation movement and the ideas and praxis of the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front. For a positive review of the book see Semere Habtermariam, 2023.

This memoir is based on oral accounts of Mesfin Hagos that were then competently translated into English by Awet Weledemichael. Although a reader can detect that Awet, the translator and interlocuter has added biographical information, it is by and large a memoir of one of the founders of the Eritrean peoples Liberation Front. And Awet Weldemichael is a very competent researcher for the task, although a poor historian[2]. Readers are promised a larger and more encompassing version in Tigrinya that would include his life in exile, that is from 2001 until the present.


The book is made up of ten well-structured chapters, where the first three chapters provide insights into the making of the mammoth organization known as the Eritrean people´s Liberation Front, EPLF (1971-1994) and later changed its name to Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). In the first chapter Mesfin Hagos who lost his father when he was just four years old, narrates the poverty that surrounded him. However, a careful reading reveals that Mesfin Hagos had an elder brother who was well established within the Ethiopian public service and an uncle who deserted the Italian colonial army in order to fight for the liberation of his country beside other Ethiopians who resisted Italian occupation between 1935 and 1941. His uncle was an officer in the Ethiopian armed forces.


In 1962 at the age of 14 Mesfin Hagos migrated to Addis Ababa where he had well placed relatives. He had the possibility to be in school (supported by his elder brother and his uncle) and says that despite his excellent performance, “my status remained precarious because I was rebellious, sensitive, and wallowing in self-piety” (Memoir, 2023:6). Somehow, Mesfin completed grade 8 in 1966, but he did not mention how he scored at the Ethiopian national school leaving examination.

In late 1966 or early 1967, Mesfin Hagos was in various parts of Ethiopia doing some odd jobs until he finally landed at Yirga Alem, (southwest of the then Ethiopian empire) where he encountered Habteab Woldemariam[3], the younger brother of Woldeab Weldemariam commonly known as the father of the Eritrean nationalism, and a coffee bar owner by the name of Asghedom[4]. Mesfin Hagos was recruited to the ELF by his friend Asghedom, the coffee bar owner at Yirga Alem. The motives that his friend laid down were not substantial. One of the motives for wanting to join the ELF was that Eritrea was not treated like the other provinces; that Emperor Haile Selassie had appointed a non-Eritrean as governor general over Eritrea (Memoir, 2023:12). Here lies, I believe the tragedy of “the African Revolution to be reclaimed”. How could Mesfin Hagos decide to join the Eritrean Liberation Front presumably to liberate Eritrea without having the slightest knowledge on the matter? He confesses that his only source of knowledge is the coffee bar owner in southwest Ethiopia. How could Mesfin Hagos privilege such information? It appears that Mesfin Hagos did not show any interest at all on the experiences of his elder brother – a member of the Ethiopian Police and his uncle who belonged to the Imperial Army. Mesfin Hagos does not mention that he ever discussed the position of Eritrea within the Ethiopian state system with Habteab Weldemariam. Having read carefully the first chapter on the early childhood of Mesfin Hagos and how he joined the Eritrean Liberation Front, I can only draw one conclusion. Mesfin Hagos was a lost soul who for one reason or another did not have the slightest respect for the views of his elder brother and his uncle. He was rebelling against the values of the generation of his parents who fought very hard to keep Eritrea within Ethiopia.

The following chapter is equally fascinating. In April of 1967 Mesfin Hagos joined the Eritrean Liberation Front. Once inside the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), Mesfin Hagos soon found out that he as a Christian and Tigrinya speaker, was not welcomed at all. The ELF was Eritrean only in name. Formed in Cairo in 1960, it was made up of Eritrean Muslims whose main objective was to get rid of Christian power in Eritrea[5]. The ELF of the 1960s did not make any distinction between the Ethiopians (so called Amhara) and Christians from Eritrea. The tragedy of the early ELF (1960-1974)[6] is that it believed that Eritrea was predominantly Muslim and the Christians are only a small minority. This wrong perception was a legacy of the politics of the 1940s[7].

Mesfin Hagos describes (Memoir, 2023:23) his personal experiences as follows: “While I heard worse stories of purges in late 1967 against Tigrinya-speaking Christian fighters in other units, my own company experienced its share of killings and disappearances. My commander told me to work with what I had or go to your brothers, pointing toward the Ethiopian military across the line. Hearing that at a critical moment when our lives were equally in danger, confirmed my prior feelings of isolation and exclusion from the ELF”.

After about a year of hardship within the ELF, Mesfin, was commissioned to go to China. On his way he met for the first time Isaias Afewerki in Syria in late 1967 and knew that Isaias was going to be his boss (Memoir, 2023:32).

The internal divisions within the ELF and the timeline for the breakaway groups from the ELF and the eventual formation of EPLF out of three quite distinct organizations is re-narrated giving lucid background of the main actors and their environment. The formation of the secret political party in April 1971, (first known as the Eritrean People´s Revolutionary Party later changed to Eritrean Socialist Party) inspired by the theories and praxis of the Chinese communist Party is very well narrated. The role of Isaias as the brain behind the party is fully described. What is striking is that the secret party (which remained secret to non-party members of the Eritrean people´s Liberation Front) and the Front itself were both established at the same time. So right from the start the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front that Isaias created was made up of members of the secret party and others, i.e. nonmembers. It was understood that the real power of the EPLF was in the hands of the secret party where Isaias was the supreme leader. So there were two organizations: the secret party and the bigger organization known as the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front.

The secret political party was formally dissolved in 1994. Many outstanding members of the EPLF who reached high careers within the organization were not members of the secret party. Members of the party could talk more freely among themselves and were consulted on all political issues that concerned the wider organization. One of the reasons why the secret party remained secret was because of the culture of fear that pervaded the entire organization. A simple question can lead to jail, forcing the person who asked the question to clear himself or herself from all sorts of anti-revolutionary intentions such as power-seeking leftism, rightist leanings and worse as a potential or real Ethiopian and or CIA spy that lay hidden behind the question. Yemane Teklegiorgis´ account of the reign of terror that prevailed within the EPLF is compelling. Messfin Hagos himself revealed that: “Money was not a topic that anyone dared to raise at the time [from 1971 presumably] because of what would be implied in the questions. Asking could imply suspicion of Isaias (and of those he was delegating) and could have serious consequences. I was right in the middle of it all. Speaking about it was a problem and so was not speaking.”(Memoir:2023:223). And for many years Mesfin Hagos was the head of the biggest department and did not have full access to its workings.

Soon after the formation of the secret party, Isaias, according to Mesfin Hagos, set out to justify of why he broke away from the ELF to create his own group (known as the People´s Liberation Forces. The ELF had accused Isaias and his group as gospel preachers. His reply written in November 1971 with the help of Mesfin Hagos (Memoir, 2023:62-63), was Nihinan Elamanan (Our Struggle and its Goals), – the single most important document that mobilized the great majority of Eritreans of Christian background behind the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front. It is in this document that Isaias challenged ELF´s description of Eritrea as 80 per cent Muslim. And only 20 per cent Christians. He produced a demographic data where up to 57 percent of the Eritrean population were from the highlands where the great majority were Christians[8]. It is in this document that Isaias came out clearly and stated that he and his group are Christians but not believers; he broke away from the ELF and created his own for Christians because he and his group were not tolerated by the Anti-Christian ELF.

The growth of the EPLF and its bloody wars against the ELF (chapter 4), the Eritrean strategic offensives from the end of 1974 until the end of 1977 where up to 90 percent of the Eritrean land mass was under the control of the Eritrean Liberation Fronts (chapter five), and Ethiopian offensives from 1978 onwards followed by EPLF´s strategic withdrawal (chapter 6) are told in great detail but do not add new material to what we already know from Dan Connell and David Pool and especially from Awet Weldemichael´s impressive narratives (Awet, 2009; 2013). Chapter seven, where Mesfin Hagos narrates of his years as the chief of the Economic Department (which after independence, became the Red Sea Corporation, the only state-owned company that is only accountable to President Isaias), although Papayo as the representative of Isaias was higher in hierarchy than Mesfin (Memoir, 2023:222).  Although Mesfin Hagos toed the line and kept quite on financial transactions taking place behind his back, he was nonetheless considered a hindrance and banished to Nakfa to face the onslaught of Ethiopian successive offensives. The EPLF scored a notable victory at Nakfa, 1988 and Mesfin Hagos writes that his role was highly exaggerated.

The story of how the EPLF defeated the Ethiopian forces is narrated in chapter nine where the role of the Tigrean People´s Liberation Front is grudgingly acknowledged[9].

The final chapter is devoted to an account of the state of Eritrea and his role in it. Mesfin, writes that he and the EPLF achieved complete liberation of Eritrea but failed to deliver freedom to those Eritreans that they liberated from Ethiopia´s repressive rule[10]. Such is a story told by the victors, however the fact remains that liberated Eritrea (since 1991) is in a far worse condition than it has ever been since its creation as a political entity in 1890.

The book is concluded by an appeal and a call to get rid of Isaias who “went into full betrayal of our cause to free our people and bring about peace and prosperity to our country” (Memoir, 2023:391).

Merits of the Memoir

The authors promised the reader that in telling what happened they would neither exaggerate nor in any way misrepresent in order to suit their current views or interests. Mesfin Hagos and Awet Weldemichael have amply fulfilled their promise.  It is a joy to read it even if the endless military confrontations and equally endless place names may be too taxing for the reader. Mesfin Hagos has not told us a lot if things, but he exudes honesty about the things he chose to tell.

For a historian the Memoir is an invaluable source for a deeper study on the biographies of Mesfin Hagos and Isaias Afewerki. The regime that Isaias Afwerki founded has been severely criticized ever since 2001. But it is only in the Memoir that a robust political biography of Isaias Afewerki emerges with all its nuances. From their first encounter in Syria in late 1967, Mesfin provides essential information on Isaias and the role he played up to 2001.

Who was Mesfin Hagos and how is he different from many others who were in the organization? Mesfin is the only surviving member of the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front who had most access to Isaias. The nature of their friendship is deep that Isaias did anything he wanted with Mesfin. Isaias would appoint him to lead the biggest department (logistics, transport trade finance, etc) and then sideline him at will; keep him stranded for a long time and would pick him up again and empower him to deputize for him when the latter felt like travelling to the Middle East and Somalia[11]. Mesfin was undoubtedly a very good army leader but lacked the guts to challenge Isaias on issues of decision-making; notwithstanding his repeated and exaggerated claim that he was one of the very few who spoke his mind without fear of Isaias.

The cruelty of Isaias Afewerki against those who spent thirty years of their lives fighting beside him is well known. On the 18th of September 2001, Isaias Afewerki arrested eleven (out of 15) of his comrades because they asked in an open letter for an open discussion on how the country was run and ought to be run. Known as the group of 15 (G-15), they demanded in an open letter that Isaias calls the National Assembly to discuss the affairs of the country on the aftermath of the defeat of Eritrea by Ethiopia in May 2000. All of the members of the G15 had served their country for many years and occupied high government offices. The eleven prisoners are held incommunicado ever since.

“Mesfin Hagos escaped his colleagues´ fate because he had travelled overseas for health reasons. His attempt to go back to Eritrea was blocked midcourse; on route from the US, he had stopped over in Germany when he was informed that his passport had been cancelled” (Memoir, 2023:xvi).

Who cancelled the passport of Mesfin? If it is Isaias who gave the cancellation order of the passport, why did he give that order? If Mesfin Hagos is telling the truth as he perceived it, then there are two possible explanations. First, Isaias might have concluded that owing to the popularity of Mesfin, keeping him out in the cold in Europe was a better choice. The other explanation (which I believe is more likely) is that Isaias had a soft heart for his longtime friend – much more than for the others – and decided to banish him to Europe than to let him rot in one of the hundreds of prison holes and shut him off from the world until the end of time[12].

The record of Mesfin Hagos from 1991 to 2001 is that of a docile and obedient member of the politically corrupt regime led by Isaias Afewerki. He did not complain or fight against the authoritarian acts of Isaias. His younger colleagues, such as Tsegu Fessehaie Bahta (2014: 209-210) did much better in raising the importance of establishing competing political parties. It is only when it dawned on Mesfin Hagos and the G-15 that Eritrea had lost a major war against Ethiopia in May-June 2000 that he begun to call for power sharing between the president and the National Assembly.

An African revolution reclaimed- what is it?

What is meant first by African revolution and second by a revolution that is being reclaimed, and thirdly by who?  The title is purely the imagination of Awet Weldemichael. Asked to translate the title of the book into Tigrinya, Mesfin Hagos could only render it as African Revolution narrated again. And it is the correct translation of the contents of the book. The goals of the African revolution that Mesfin Hagos described in great detail had in the words of Dan Connell, the following features: “a commitment to simultaneous social and political struggle and the incorporation of this approach into its political culture as well as practice. It was this aspect that made it a revolutionary nationalist movement, as it worked to transform the society it fought to liberate” (2001:345). The Memoir is a narrative that celebrates the achievements of the Eritrean revolution.

In order to claim the title “African Revolution Reclaimed,” the Memoir had to deal with three keys items. First it should define the Eritrean revolution itself. The Memoir does nothing of this sort. Moreover, I doubt whether Mesfin Hagos has the capacity to carry out such analysis of the EPLF. There is very little written by the EPLF on why it was waging a war against Ethiopia. It was people like Dan Connell who told us and the world about its objectives. Second, the Memoir has to show clearly how and when the “African Revolution” was betrayed. The “African Revolution” was not betrayed, we can assume until the date Mesfin Hagos was expelled from Eritrea towards the end of 2001. He could have tried to deal with this issue, and he had more than two decades to do so but he chose to remain silent. Third, the Memoir had to show clearly the road map for putting back in place he tenets of the -Eritrean revolution. Mesfin Hagos has promised to write in great detail of his life in exile, but whether this would include a theoretical and methodological strategy that would capture the ethos of the “Eritrean revolution” (if there ever was one) after 2001 remains to be seen. As it now stands, the Memoir does not in any way deal with “reclaiming the Eritrean revolution”. It is a completely wrong and misleading title.

Here it is worthwhile to add Isaias Afewerki would have no quarrel with the narrative of the Eritrean revolution eloquently written and described by Mesfin Hagos. Mesfin Hagos accuses Isaias Afewerki for just liberating the country but not the people. I do not think that Isaias Afewerki would be too much bothered with such accusation. Presumably, Isaias Afewerki would counter that he is still in the process of transforming the society and he would have achieved his goal had it not been for internal and external enemies.

I have argued elsewhere I still argue that the group (made up of Isaias and Mesfin Hagos) that brought “freedom and independence” to Eritrea is both incapable and unwilling to either transform itself into a civilian government or hand political power to civilians. Neither Mesfin Hagos nor Isaias Afewerki knew how to run a country for the welfare of its citizens. Eritreans who succeeded to accumulate some Capital (mostly in the service sector) were considered as enemies of the revolution. (Cf. Yemane, pp. 409-410). They knew only how to control the human and material resources, crucial for survival of the EPLF when it was locked in war with Ethiopia.

Not willing to relinquish or share power, Isaias and his political party had to continue to believe that the country is still not liberated from its external enemies. On the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of an independent Eritrea, President Isaias informed his citizens that they have to further tighten their belts as the United States of America has declared an open war against Eritrea and its right to exist as an independent nation[13]. To prove his point Isaias cited and mentioned United States of America (State Department) integrated country strategy paper on Eritrea. The only offensive statement in the paper (for public release) was that the US had to prepare for the post Isaias era as “he will not live forever” [14]  It is very difficult to imagine why the United States would declare war on Eritrea.


The 32nd independence anniversary was celebrated in great style. First, Eritrea together with the Ethiopian Defense forces played a decisive role in the decimation of the people of Tigray, where up to one million people might have died. Eritrea had invaded northern Tigray and thus ensured the victory of Abiy Ahmed against the Tigrayan forces. In the process Eritrea might have lost up to 70 000 of its men and women, but the Eritrean government has not officially informed the families of the those who died in the war. Isais had scored a resounding victory against his archenemy, the TPLF, but the victory was not complete. The Pretoria agreement between Ethiopia and Tigray had ensured the survival of TPLF, although highly weakened.


The second milestone was the manner by which he was treated by Russia and China during April May 2023. The Russians showed their gratitude for the support that he gave Russia when it declared war against Ukraine. The Chinese have several reasons to be happy with Isaias. The Chinese Embassy is highly privileged in Eritrea; moreover, both governments capitalized on the fact that Isaias had his first and only training in China in 1966-7, during the cultural Revolution. And finally, the Chinese appreciated the path of development (with the dominant role of the state in the economy) that Eritrea pursued. The image of the president of Eritrea as one of the notable world leaders from the African continent could hardly go unnoticed[15].

However not all Eritreans and especially those in the Diaspora were happy. The more the supporters of the Eritrean regime sung and danced in praise of Isaias, the more those who did not like his policies counter reacted leading to violent clashes in several cities in Europe. The opposition in the Diaspora (now organized under the banner of Blue Revolution) accuse the regime of Isaias of turning the country into a ghost nation where everyone who can is leaving the country probably never to return. They accuse Isaias of conducting both a genocidal war in Tigray on behalf of Ethiopia and of pursuing a genocidal policy against his own people.

However, the exodus from Eritrea, a movement that started in the middle of the 1960s (as a direct outcome of the armed confrontations) first against the Ethiopian state and later (after 2001) against the militarization of the Eritrean society, need not be seen as a zero-sum game[16].

For every year that goes, the resilience of the Eritrean society gets undermined, and this raises the question as to whether Eritrea would rise again after the demise of Isaias Afewerki and the destructive system that he cultivated over the years.

The Memoir is a very interesting study that sheds much light on one aspect of the “Eritrean Revolution”. For a more fuller picture the Memoir should be read together with that of Yemane Tekle Giorgis, and Tsegu Bahta whose experiences of the “Eritrean revolution” are very different indeed.


-Alamin Mohamed Said, 1994, Sewra Ertra, Lawreceville, NJ: Red Sea Press. [in tigrinya]>
-Andeberhan Welde Giorgis, 2014, Eritrea at Crossroads: a narrative of triumph, betrayal and hope, Strategic Publishing and Rights Co.
-Awet, Tewelde Weldemicahel, 2013, Third world colonialisms and Strategies of Liberation: Eritrea and East Timor compared, New York: Cambridge University Press.
-Awet, Tewelde Weldemichael, 2009, “The Eritrean Long March: The Strategic Withdrawal of the Eritrean People´s Liberation Front (EPLF), 1978-1979”, The Journal of Military History, 73 1231-1271.)
-Connell, Dan, 1997, Against all odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution, Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press.
-Connell, Dan, 2001, “Inside the EPLF: The Origins of the People´s Party and its role in the liberation of Eritrea”, Review of African Political Economy, 89:345-264.
-Connell, Dan, 2005, Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners, Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press.
-EriTV, May 24, 2023, Speech by President Isaias Afewerki n the 32nd Independence f Eritrea Anniversary.
-Hiruiu, Tedla Bairu, 2016, Eritrea and Ethiopia: A front row look at the issues of conflict and the potential for a peaceful resolution, Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press.
-Michael Weldegiorgis Tedla, 2014, “The Eritrean Liberation Front: Social and Political Factors shaping its emergence, development, and demise, MPhi thesis, African Studies, University of Leiden.
-Peoples´ Republic of China (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) May 15, 2023, Xi Jinping Holds Talks with Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki.
-Semere Habtemariam, 2023, Reviewer of An African Revolution Reclaimed: A Memoir of Eritrean Freedom fighter Mesfin Hagos, Awate Com.
-Simon Weldehaimanot and Emily Taylor, 2011, “Our Struggle and its goals: A controversial Eritrean manifesto”, Review of African Political Economy, vol 38, no. 130, pp. 565-585.
-Tekeste Negash, 1972, “Criminal Responsibility in Eritrean customary laws”, LLB thesis, Asmara University.
-Tekeste Negash, 1997, Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal Experience, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
-Tekeste Negash, 2000, “Towards new premises in Eritrean Historiography”, A paper read at the XIV International Conference f Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, November 6-10, 2000.
-Tsegu Fessehaie Bahta, 2014, Etta Hibi ´ti Selfi (The Hidden Party based on a personal experience).
-United States of America (Department of State), May 5, 2022, Eritrea: Integrated Country Strategy.
-Wrong, Michela, 2023, “The Surprising Triumph of Africa´s Lim Jong Un”, The Economist, September 28, 2023.
-Yemane Teklegiorgis, 2017, My experiences with the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (in Tigrinya), Part 1, printed in Germany. Part 2, printed in Germany, 2018.

[1] See the list of references.

[2] His major book, Third World colonialism and strategies of liberation (2009) is a sterile account that reads history backwards and lacks the basic tenets of how history is made.  First, Awet does not define “third world colonialism and second, he deliberately ignored sources that did not fit his thesis that it was Ethiopia that abolished the federal relations that existed between Eritrea and Ethiopia. How is a third world colonialism similar or different from first world (for instance Italian) colonialism? Here is my sketch of the different forms of colonialisms.

Social, Political and economic rights of Eritreans under different forms of colonialisms

First world colonialism, Italian “Third world colonialism,” Ethiopian, 1952-1974 “Third world colonialism,” Ethiopian, 1974-1991
Limited economic rights. Unlimited access to capital accumulation. Socialist economic rights.
Limited access to education. Unlimited access to education; 30 percent of all students in the Ethiopian empire were from Eritrea. Limited access due to war between EPLF and the Ethiopian state.
No political rights. More access to higher political positions compared to groups from other regions after the Amhara. Limited political rights across to all groups in the country.
Eritreans are born inferior and would remain inferior to Europeans (1922-41). Eritreans could reach the highest political office (head of state. Eritreans are as good as other Ethiopians.

I could have added a fourth column that is the post independent regime (EPLF/PFDJ) as a variant of third world colonialism over Eritrea and its citizens. In March 1996, Irma Taddia who spent over twenty years studying Eritrea summed up here views to me as follows: The EPLF/PFDJ is the worst regime that the Eritrean people experienced since the time of Ras Alula [who governed Eritrea during the reign of emperor Yohannes, between 1872 and 1889]. She confirmed what I believed all along. And more recently, Yemane Tekle Giorgis (2018:494) described the EPLF/PFDJ in even stronger terms.

[3]Unlike his elder brother, Habteab lived his life as an Ethiopian citizen. I met him in Addis Ababa shortly before his death in the first months of 1988.

[4] Mesfin and I are of the same age. After completing secondary education at Jima Agricultural and Technical School, I joined, in 1967 the newly established Asmara University. The main concern for my father and me at the period was not the abolition of the federation at all. Our focus was directed against the tyranny of Ras Tessema Asberom and his extended family. His son Geberekidan Tessema was the ruler of our district (Hadegti where Mareba, our village is just one) and Ras Tessema´s nephew Tesfayohannes Berhe was the effective governor general of Eritrea safely entrenched in Asmara. First, the Tessema family refused to re-distribute the village land according to customary law – the land ought to be redistributed every seven years, in order to accommodate the newly established families in the village. Second, the Tessema family refused to hand back some plots that the Italian colonial state had set aside for fodder for its pack and transport animals.  In the 1960s my father paid for my school, (three birr a month to Comboni College) gave my mother the minimum amount of money for food (about 40 birr) and spent the rest of his salary paying lawyers and bribing judges. Of course, he was not alone. My father started his career as a cleaner at one of the American Clubs at Kagnew Station in about 1954 and ended up being a cashier in the same club. By the 1960s, my father was earning about 200 birr a month.  I was groomed to challenge the power base of the Tessema family. My uncle, who was a village judge, told my father that I  was not up to the challenge because I lacked proficiency in Tigrinya but my father stubbornly believed that I would stand up to the challenge. Towards the end of the 1960s, we won; the land was redistributed, and then came the Ethiopian revolution of 1974.

[5] Cf. Michael Weldegiorgis Tedla, 2014, ”The Eritrean Liberation Front: Social and Political Factors shaping its emergence, development and demise”, MPhil Thesis (African Studies) University of Leiden.

[6] From 1974 onwards and until it was thoroughly defeated and pushed out of Eritrea by the combined forces of EPLF and those of Tigray (Ethiopia) in September 1981, the ELF was flooded by tens of thousands of Christian and Tigrinya speaking Eritreans.

[7] See for instance, chapter 2, in Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal experience,, 1997, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

[8] Our Struggle and its Objectives translated by Simon Weldehaimanot and Emily Taylor, 2011. For a demographic table see p. 571.

[9] In 1981 the Tigrean forces coordinated their military offensives with the EPLF and against the ELF. The combined attack led to the complete elimination of the ELF from the Eritrean landscape. For more detailed information on the joint EPLF and TPLF assault against the ELF see, Hirui Tdela Bairu, 2016:191. The second time the Tigrean forces came to the rescue of the EPLF was in 1982 during a major Ethiopian offensive. Relations between the EPLF and the Tigrean forces went sour from 1984 until 1989. During the last two years, that is from 1989 to 1991, the EPLF and the Tigrean forces worked in tandem and contributed to each other´s victory.

[10] Mesfin Hagos further writes that “I do not regret my youth and adult years in pursuit of the safety and freedom of my people” (Memoir, 2023:388). This begs the question whether Eritreans are free and safe because of the heroic struggle that Mesfin Hagos carried out? I leave it to the reader.

[11] Isaias did indeed travel widely throughout the 1971-1991 period and could spend any amount of money he pleased to entertain himself. Yemane Tekle Giorgis describes several encounters but the most stunning example is his extravagant forays to nightclubs in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, spending up to 70 000 (seventy thousands) USD as recorded in Dan Connell´s book, Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners, 2005:131.: His treasurer, who is now in prison, was Ermias “Papayo” Debessai.

[12] No matter how much Mesfin Hagos might deplore his new status as one among many of us (refugees/migrants) he must now and then thank Isaias Afewerki for cancelling his passport. It is infinitely better to survive as a refugee/migrant than to get wasted in Eritrean prisons. I would thank Isaias if I were Mesfin hagos.

[13] EriTV, May 24, 2023. Speech by president Isais Afewerki on the 32nd Independence of Eritrea anniversary.

[14] United States Government, State Department, May 5, 2022, Integrated Country Strategy: Eritrea, p. 3.

[15] Cf. Michela Wrong, 2023.

[16] Eritreans fleeing their country from such oppressive regime have greater chance of making it to Europe than other African populations. Hence, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans (including me) started our their lives as refugees and ended up as citizens of host nations. Apparently, it is easier to swap your country for another than to change your parents. In this way hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have become migrants and have left Eritrea for good. This is a universal human phenomenon.

The nexus between oppression in Eritrea and forcing open the gates of fortress Europe is quite clear. While Eritrean migration to Europe and to the North Atlantic world is most likely the unintended outcome of the political history of the region, restrictions on migration are and cannot be defensible; one can argue that such restrictions are against the nature of man/woman. Restrictions on migration is the result of the evolution and development of the idea of the nation state, which is barely three centuries old. How would we otherwise explain the invasion of all corners of the world by homo sapiens in such a short time? I have wondered many times why Sigmund Freud did not put the urge to migrate as one of the prime instincts of being human.


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