Sudanese Destinies of Haile Selassie–the Story of A. Tayfur and his book
Introduction by the translator:This article is a detailed story of a book which, in its time, influenced the Eritrean National Movement in a deep negative way and caused schisms which kept developing, morphing and clustering until today. It details the story and the circumstances that led to the appearance of the book and the reactions which followed its publication. It is the history which until now stood overlooked and neglected by History.
Eritreans are not known for the love of reading books. Nevertheless, the Eritrean National Movement have, ironically, fallen, at a time in its history, victim to two contaminant books and got infected and negatively affected to the core thereby. The two books, published early at the beginnings of the Eritrean Armed Struggle, succeeded in driving a series of wedges between the components of the movement, and perpetuated discord and fragmentation among them. The material and the contents of these two coordinated books were based upon identical false claims aiming at the stirring of sectarian suspicions and affecting confessional feuds. The effects of these evil works are still echoing in the Eritrean collective memory with reverberations working havoc to this day. The first book was a foreign based, external effort, nominally authored by a Sudanese reporter, Ahmed Tayfur, titled “The Truth about the ELF”. The second was an insider job, an effort from within the national movement itself, a manifesto, said to have been authored by Issayas Afeworki, Titled “Nehnan alamanan”. The two books, displayed the same aim and spirit in spite of their difference in language and style. It is impossible for one who reads and compares the two books to escape concluding that one is, definitely, a re-arrangement, rephrasing and compression of the other.
This article, which appeared in few Sudanese web sites, was written in the Arabic language by a witness of the times, a Sudanese Journalist and a man of letters, Ustaz Omar Ja’afer Al-Suri (Alim), who observed the drama with open eyes at a close range from a privileged position as the intrigue was unfolding and evolving.
This work appeared for the first time in 2010 but was again published in several Sudanese websites and Arabic speaking Eritrean websites in May of 2016 with a word from the author by way of introduction.
The posting of this article in Awate.com is necessitated by the fact that these days the same feint and malice that poisoned the Eritrean national movement’s environment long time ago, is now, rearing its ugly head and trying again to stir racial, religious and regional divergence for the purpose of derailing the struggle for justice and democracy, and steer it away from its true and honorable objective, into a different delusional struggle, featuring internecine feuds and self annihilation. Perhaps, the usefulness of reading this article is in its suggestion to the new Eritrean readers of asking themselves a question their predecessors and brothers avoided asking long time ago, at the distribution of the two venomous books: who benefits from this ?who is the real beneficiary?
A word from the author:
Eritreans are going to celebrate the silver jubilee of their independence which came after a bitter struggle in which they sacrificed the dear and the precious, unimaginably countless martyrs, the blood which run like rivers, the innocent who were forced to abandon their homes, and the children who saw death by their own eyes calling their parents with no response. In this occasion I remind all, of what happened and remind further of the tight bond and relations which joined the Eritrean struggle to Sudan and its people. (Written in May 2016).
Sudanese Destinies of Haile Sellassie :
Colonel Tarreke running wild in Khartoum Streets!
The Story of A. Tayfur and his book
A Sudanese Perspective
Written in Arabic by Ja’afer Al-Suri
(Translated by Burhan Ali)
Stand up on your crippled legs if you can reach a summit!
Swing your imbecilic sword if you can hunt a star!
….O’ you, herd of sheep
“Have you seen a disabled palm defile a nation’s history?”
From a poem by “Ali Abdulqayoom”
His star swiftly rose and twinkled for a while before fading away as swiftly as it rose. And as his pen quickly and brightly glowed, it was quickly extinguished, like a meteor rising at the break of dawn, unnoticed –except by nighthawks and late worshipers. The Sudanese journalist Ahmed Teyfur was a victim of the frivolities of spies, the betrayal of fellow co-workers, and the disgrace and weakness of rulers.
Ahmed Teyfur’s life was terminated in 1966, long before his actual death from thirst and hunger, three decades later. He escaped straying and roving the deserts of North Sudan, trying, in a moment of desperation, to leave the country heading for Egypt, where he may have hoped, to melt away in the human waves of Cairo, forget himself and be forgotten in a village or a town of that country. He may also had hopes of taking refuge in a saint’s remote sanctuary where his sins may be forgiven, or in an oasis, which, in the olden times, might have been a prison for some rebels one day and their retreat at another. But Teyfur’s destiny had to be dying in a cheap shelter- room at a poor neighborhood of Cairo, where some comates extended their magnanimity and kindness in spite of what they endured from him, and shipped his worn out, alcohol-consumed body to rest among his folks, in a soil he was coerced to betray, and where his soul may find peace and absolution.
Ahmed Teyfur’s story sounds as if it were a modern Sudanese replica of an excruciating Greek tragedy which the successive events of its chapters took place in the Sudan of the sixties. Yet, its horrific finale was not witnessed except by a few, when his corpse was found in that miserable room, where the stage curtains fell on a success story, assassinated at genesis.
Ahmed Teyfur’s sun rose in the newspaper (“October 21”), which was being issued by Saleh Mahmoud Ismail, one of the most eminent personalities of the Nationalist Unionist Party, and the Minister of Information in the October era[i]. Teyfur was the first reporter to enter Eritrea accompanied by its rebels, crossing, under the veil of night, the hills forming the border between Eastern Sudan and western Eritrea at the Hafera region, neighboring the town of Kessela. He returned back to write elegant reportages supported by photographs snapped and frozen in testimony of an experienced and scrutinizing eye.
In hindsight, it seems that it is an undeniable fact that the adventurous journey of Ahmed Tayfur to Eritrea was the hammer which singlehandedly brought down the siege of silence which was surrounding the Eritrean struggle, and indeed it was the hand which forced the doors open to the Eritrean rebels, to defeat the Ethiopian Empire’s persevering hard work in painting them as bandits and shifta gangs who prey on peaceful passengers, travelers and commercial convoys.
But, before elaborating on and resuming the story, it may be helpful to step back a little, and have a look at the relations of Sudan with its two neighbors to the East, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
There is no need to go as far back as to the Mahdiyya and the slaying of Emperor Yohannes IV[ii] but a good start may be the arrival of Emperor Haile Sellasie to Sudan, escaping the troops of Mussolini, which at that time had overrun Ethiopia using its colony, Eritrea, as a springboard, on the eve of World War II.
The Emperor was welcomed and accommodated by Al-Sherif Yousif Al-Hindi[iii], in Burri[iv], offering his majesty his utmost magnanimity. From there, the Emperor went to address and try actuating the League of Nations, which, a working, organization was as good as a dead body at that time, paralyzed and unable to raise as much as a finger in the face of the imminent danger threatening Humanity — a danger the clouds of which were accumulating and hanging everywhere, though its first calamity fell down upon the Horn of Africa before engulfing and drowning Europe. Thus the fascist invasion of Ethiopia proved to be the knockout blow which finished the crippled organization once and for all.
When the War broke out, the lot of the Sudanese troops in defeating Italy’s fascist armies in East Africa was the greatest and the most honorable. The battles of the valleys and highlands of Anseba and Keren–which were immortalized in popular songs–and the martyrs and the wounded of the Sudanese battalions were only testimonials to this fact. And when the British forces accompanied by Sudanese battalions[v] entered the Eritrean capital, Asmara, they were escorting Sudanese teachers, engineers, nurses, musicians, singers, and craftsmen ready to open schools and construct canals, roads, heal wounds, restore life-beats and manifestations. These were followed by businessmen, adventurers and spies which the British and the Emperor recognized their role and graced them for their work behind the lines of Mussolini’s forces. The most famous of these was a man whom the British administration rewarded after the war by appointing him a teacher of the English language in Sudanese secondary schools in spite of the fact that he was not in possession of credentials higher than a primary school certificate. The truth, however, is that he was the most competent among the teachers who taught English literature and successfully drew the students’ attention to the beauty and wonder of that literature. Beside the English language, the man mastered the Italian language and spoke Amharic as if he was a pure Shewan Prince. He deserved the reward not because of his services in the British intelligence apparatus, but because he sat for a ‘skills test’, during which he was interrupting it each half an hour for a cup of lemon juice, and brilliantly excelled at it[vi].
After the war, Haile Sellasie victoriously returned home to his throne. This time he had set an aim of subjugating Eritrea (from where the Fascist invasion had broken out) and expanding his dominions to the warm Red Sea waters, thus, coming into contiguity with neighboring Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, and the Holy Lands in Palestine. And here (In Palestine) the followers of the Orthodox Church have places of worship and monasteries which have long been objects of dispute between two Coptic churches: the Egyptian Church of St. Marcus embracing the ‘Church of Alexandria and the East’, and the Abyssinian Church.
Assuming good intentions, one may say that the British Military Administration, which had a United Nations mandate to run the colony of Eritrea, was unable to help the people of that country and empower them to acquire their rights. But this is on assumptions of goodwill, because the majority of observers believe that the administration, to the contrary, lacked the will to do any help. Earnest Bevin, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and Italy’s Carlo Sforza failed to reach a conclusion on the destiny of the Italian ex-colonies in Africa, Libya, Italian Somaliland, and Eritrea. As a result they brought the matter back, in its entirety, into the hands of the victorious four great powers. These were successful in reaching happy conclusions concerning the destinies of Somalia and Libya. But, concerning Eritrea, they had, each, an axe to grind in binding Eritrea irreversibly with Ethiopia–preferably as an action of actuating the international will. The Emperor of Ethiopia, too, worked hard to take advantage of this opportunity to expand his isolated and closed Empire. He started to offer generous promises and gifts both internally and externally as well as to different parts and ethnic groups of Eritrea. The Unionist Party was created but the Independence Block was also founded in response.
The result of these efforts were brought to fruition when the United Nations General Assembly decided, in December 1950, to bind Eritrea to the of Ethiopia Empire, in the aftermath of the failure of the fact-finding committee sent by the international organization itself: South Africa and Norway advised the division of the country between Sudan and Ethiopia; Pakistan and Burma were for full independence, and Guatemala alone voted for the annexation of this Italian ex-colony to Ethiopia. But the United Nations’ Security Council had yet another solution in store. It issued a resolution, in compliance to which Eritrea was to be bound with the Ethiopian Empire in a federal union, a state of affairs the Soviet Union’s representative at the time equated to a coerced catholic marriage. Most Eritreans accepted the UN resolution reluctantly. The resolution, however, entered its application stage by the end of 1952 at the hands of the UN’s envoy, the Bolivian diplomat Anze Matenzo. That opened the way for the first elected Eritrean Government headed by the chief of the Unionist Party, Tedla Bayru. The United States was also rewarded for its relentless efforts in formulating and promoting the resolution. The Emperor granted it the permission to build the largest American military communications base outside the United States and thus Kagnew Station was set up on the heights of Asmara[vii].
The cesarean section which led to the birth of the federal union brought to the world a disfigured creature; For the UN had tailored a democratic constitution for Eritrea and tied the country, at the same time, with a Theocratic Empire. This, in my opinion, is a thing which never came even with the context of a fictitious legend, and it might never have crossed any man’s mind or heart. Its novelty and uniqueness surpassed even the excessive wonders and travels of Gulliver to all countries! How is it possible for a political unit–one that has active political parties and labor unions; is tolerant to free press and publication; elects the parliament; imposes accountability on governments and ministers; has a written constitution and an independent judiciary system– how could it be possible for such a unit to enter into union with another unit which knows nothing of that at all; one that is, above that and beyond, worshiping beside its other religious rituals, the King of Kings, the Lion of Judah and the descendant of Solomon and Queen Sheba!
This was the beginning of the on-going tragedy which Eritreans have been suffering, and which later spilled to the rest of the region of Northeast Africa. The Emperor transformed the union into a coerced annex, the effect of which was that the whole Empire suffered in wars erupting and kept aflame in all of Ethiopia following the years of mid-sixties of the last century.
The federal union was a bad omen to the Emperor and his Empire: after a few years of its application, the country was shaking, most visibly in Eritrea. In 1958 the Eritrean Liberation Movement was founded expressing the people’s distress at Ethiopian hegemony, and in disapproval of the continuous breach of the UN resolutions’ articles.
To keep step with some of the junior partner’s active political life aspects, the Emperor appointed a consular assembly in Addis Ababa. Groups of the educated started to trail back from the US and Europe finding positions in ministries, government offices and the army. Then, suddenly, the great catastrophe took place in December of 1960 when the brothers Neway–Mengistu and Grmamie–launched a bloody coup at a time when the Emperor was on a state visit to Brazil, after having wandered in the Caribbean Islands where the “Rastafarian” sect exalt him to deification.
Sudan, In those days, had another appointment with the amazing destinies of Haile Sellasie; for the Emperor insisted to return back to his country disregarding the advice of his American and European allies. The Germans, in particular, welcomed him to stay in their country and advised him to avoid going to Addis Ababa and to wait until noon the next day when the scene probably gets clearer. The Emperor chose Sudan for his return route.
Sudan was ruled at that time by General Abboud and his “jolly friends”. There was yet another appointment, this time for Eritrea, with bad luck and mismanagement. For Mengistu Neway communicated with General Tedla Uqbit–the Eritrean Chief of Police, the police being the only active military force of Eritrea then–requiring him to secure the borders as the military committee which he was leading have decided to recognize Eritrea’s independence. But the Eritrean General rejected the offer and preferred to welcome the Emperor in Asmara, on his way from Sudan, and thereby facilitating his return to the throne. A week after the Emperor’s arrival to Asmara the battles between the rebels and his supporters reached their climax with the defeat of the rebels as a conclusion. And so, the attempt to change failed and was crushed, it was one which enjoyed sympathy among some enlightened members of the ruling family. Interestingly, there is a famous photo snapped upon the arrival of the Emperor in Asmara Airport: it depicted the elected chief executive of the Eritrean government – Asfaha Woldemikael who had succeeded Tedla Bayru–throwing himself at the emperor’s feet and kissing his shoes.
Willingly or otherwise, Asfaha Woldemikael remained loyal to Ethiopia even after the independence of Eritrea, in the Nineties of last century.
Tedla Uqbit, however, received “Sinimmar’s reward[viii]”; for in a little more than a year after the above-mentioned events took place, the general assembled his officers in their club. There, he gave his eloquent speech complaining about how things had developed and turned out, and demanded preparation for change. Noon of next day, they killed him and placed a golden pistol in his hand, a pistol given to him by the Emperor, the day his majesty arrived at Asmara on his way to oppress the Neway Brothers’ coup, as a gift in expression of gratitude and as a reward for his rejection of the Independence offer. Then they circulated the rumor that he committed suicide. He was succeeded at the police leadership by General Zer’e’ Mariam Azzazi.
Meanwhile a personal tragedy hit the Emperor: his most beloved son, Ras Mokonnen, was killed–leaving him alone with his elder son, the crown prince, Ras Asfa wossen who between him and the emperor stood barriers and obstacles. Officially, it was announced that the prince met his death at a road accident. But it was widely rumored that he was, in fact, killed by the legendary marathon hero, Abbebe Beqila, in a fit of anger following his surprising the prince and his wife (beqila’s) in his own bed.
Again, the Emperor found a consolation and relief from his sorrows in Sudan. The Emperor came in a state visit to Sudan, upon the invitation of General Abboud. His program included a visit to the town of Al-Ubayyid. General Abboud escorted his guest on the visit to that town and a colorful festival followed, held in his majesty’s honor. Camel-racing was featured in that festival, and there, among the detail assigned to his security, was a police officer who drew the attention of the Emperor: Lieutenant Karim-u-ddin Mohammed Ahmed of Omdurman, who held an uncanny resemblance to Ras Mokennen as if he was his twin.
The Emperor requested that the officer approach to the festival’s platform. Protocol officials hurried to invite the officer to present himself to the Emperor. They thought that this could be no more than greetings and a handshake, or a commendation for a distinguished performance. But as soon as the officer presented himself to the Emperor, he was required by the Emperor to sit next to him and a space was arranged for him. As soon as he took his place beside the Lion of Judah, and amidst the wonder and the gaping mouths, the royal hand extended to rub the officer’s hair with a clear fatherly affection.
The lieutenant was taken by surprise, facing a situation he wasn’t prepared for, knowing nothing about its nature–for no one had forewarned him of the moment to prepare him consider its awe. The officer was confused and didn’t know what to do-(as he related to me later, when we met in Abu Dhabi, where he had enrolled in its police force) – he didn’t know what was behind it all. The Emperor requested from him to go to Khartoum in his company, and then to Addis Ababa from there. Officer Karim became a frequent visitor of the Ethiopian capital and was admitted to the Emperor’s audience at all times, enjoying a treatment only proper to Ras Mekonnen.
The succession of events at the beginning of the sixties and the break-out of the Eritrean Armed Struggle forced the Emperor to search for an exit which could preserve his dignity and prestige: as he perceived it, he was the unique leader of Africa regardless of the attempts of Nasser and Nkrumah as he thought. He worked hard, searching for ways to regain tenacity and cohesiveness to the old Empire and prevent its disintegration and division. He brought Aklilu Habte Wold to form a government of technocrats; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was assigned to an active, young, and ambitious intellectual by the name of Ketema Yfru.
The Emperor then set the political and diplomatic relations of Ethiopia at the top of his priorities especially that with Sudan to whom he sent the Eritrean Melles Andom, as ambassador: a personality with qualifications of help to him in blending easily in the Sudanese fiber. He was succeeded by yet another Eritrean, Saleh Hinit, who enjoyed the same qualifications as his predecessor in addition to a few more: he was a Muslim and erudite in Arabic. The first Eritrean chief executive of the government of Eritrea, Tedla Bayru, was sent to Sweden which was building the Ethiopian Marine Forces base; “Commando Marina” in the Eritrean waters at Garar north east of Massawa, as well as equipping it with fleet pieces and gadgetry. The handsome prince, Iskndr Desta, Princess Tenagn Werk’s husband, was assigned to the commandership of the fleet.
In reciprocation, Sudan was sending the best of signals to Ethiopia before and after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) took its capital as its seat. The best and most experienced of ambassadors were sent, of whom Abdullah Al Hassan and Fakhr-e-ddin Mohammed were two of the most remarkable. The latter was a great Plastic Artist and he, uniquely among the diplomats, used to roam the Ethiopian capital’s streets in a motorcycle. Today, Ambassador Muhyiddin Ahmed Salem, a judicious diplomat, a man who would feel concern had a day passed-by without being of help to someone, is representing Sudan in that capital and was there, as a charge d’affaires, the day the army of Melles Zenawi entered Addis Ababa defeating Mengistu’s troops. In Addis Ababa and Abu Dhabi, his hands were conspicuous in helping the victorious Ethiopians and Eritreans.
But the succession of events in Sudan and Ethiopia imposed new circumstances which traditional diplomatic communications and personal relations were inadequate in addressing them. In Sudan, the Generals’ regime collapsed –a regime which handed over to Ethiopia seven of Eritrea’s best and pioneering rebels, to be hanged from the branches of the Nabk[ix] trees in the market place at Barentu, a town famous for its edible Nabk disks. Barentu was also known for being a hub of transportation for busses coming from Asmara or Tessenei. Many of the busses carried Sudanese from Kessela on their way to the capital Asmara for tourism or commerce, or Eritreans living and working in Sudan. The October uprising which overthrew the Generals’ regime gave the Eritrean revolution a space to breath and get help through.
In 1963, the Eritrean Liberation Front approached the new Syrian regime which came to power through the 8th of March 1963 movement[x]. The prime minister of Syria, Salah al Bitar, was the man, who in association with Michael Aflaq[xi] co-founded the Baath party.
In spite of their novelty in power, the Baathists were apprehensive of the growth of the Israeli presence in Ethiopia especially on the Red Sea shores and its islands. The Israeli intelligence’s establishment of an advanced post to manage its operations in the east and the center of the African continent came only to confirm their suspicions. Nevertheless the Syrians had, as well, certain limitations and apprehensions when dealing with those who claimed armed struggle and revolution. They didn’t know the persons who approached them at the time, they may, probably, be swindlers and con artists trading on Peoples’ cause and make a living off it, a reason all too obvious for them to endorse a plan for putting them to a test. Before pursuing discussions detailing what Syria could offer by way of assistance, Salah Al-Bitar, the prime minister, and the Baath Party leadership issued an order in compliance to which the Syrian Army requested the Eritrean envoy headed by Osman Saleh Sebbe to send twenty of their Eritrean fighters to be trained on guerilla warfare by the Syrian Commando and Special Forces. The Eritrean fighters were brought and took their six months training. In the process, they impressed their trainers and secured their admiration to which the Syrians responded by the decision to offer the Eritreans all the assistance that Syria could afford. The means for delivery of this assistance was now available since the most formidable barrier, the rule of the General’s in Khartoum, has collapsed at the Set-up of the October Government[xii] in 1964.
The E.L.F’s chief, Idris Mohammad Adem, and the director of the of Revolutionary Affairs, Idris Osman Glaidos[xiii], approached Mr. M. Al Awad Jubara, a prominent figure of the Unionist Democratic Party, and a minister of the premiership affairs. The two Eritrean leaders had close relations with this Sudanese official, relations going back to their early youth years, for they were attending the same school in Gadarif[xiv] . They also communicated with Mohammed Saleh Omar, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representative and a member of the cabinet of ministers. The two Eritrean leaders knew him as well, and they were aware of his sympathies to the Eritrean cause. The Eritrean leaders requested these two officials to facilitate receiving Syrian aircrafts carrying ammunitions and weapons for their revolution, weapons which were awfully and direly needed.
Owing to their sympathies, the two ministers accepted to do what they were required to do, on one condition: the matter should stay confidential, and that no other member of the cabinet, aside from them, should know about it. Jubara was to arrange for it with the civil aviation authority because of his department’s association with the authority, additionally, he had friends and followers in that department. The Syrian civilian aircrafts began arriving at Khartoum Airport late in the nights to unload before the break of dawn. The weapons were stored in the Burri area temporarily, before their swift transportation to Eritrea. But the matter has, in time, reached the ears of some Sudanese political officials who started asking themselves about the nature of these Syrian aircrafts at a time when there were neither regular flights nor close relations between Sudan and Syria as it is the case today. Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi[xv] disclosed what was hidden when he accused the ”People’s Democratic Party” of importing weapons for the purpose of aborting the elections which were scheduled to be held in 1965 and which Sheikh Ali Abdurrahman[xvi] had previously threatened to boycott and prevent. The real question[xvii], however, is if Almahdi knew who the real owners of these weapons were, and it is also unknown if he was not using this for a local political struggle sacrificing, for his purposes, a young revolution along the way.
However, the greatest part of the weapons cache, have already reached its destination and the fighters who, previously, were trained in Syria were the same people who looked over its arrival. Sudanese security forces confiscated only a small quantity, but they placed Osman Saleh Sebbe and others under arrest.
This operation, which had resulted in the confiscation of military hardware and the imprisonment of some Eritrean figures, casted an intense light on their cause, anew, depriving the Emperor and the Ethiopian Government a single moment of sleep. More than anything else, the emperor was most eager to muzzle all mouths speaking on what goes on in his country, but now it was not only the world that heard about what was going on in Eritrea, but the news had also reached the Ethiopians’ ears from foreign radio programs directed to Ethiopia in the different Ethiopian languages. This was stimulating to other Ethiopian nationalities as was seen as forming a incitement recommending Eritrea’s example to follow.
The Syrian weapons had their impact on the expansion of the Revolution away from the Sudanese border into the Eritrean hinterland. The information explosion caused by the media on the confiscation of some of the weapons had, as well, a magical influence on mobilizing the youth to join the Revolution.
It was at this point that the Revolution’s Leadership started to give the media and the role of information in the battle, the attention it deserves. That, also, was the reason why the leadership went in search for reporters and journalists who may tell the story to the world and expose the picture of what goes on in the field, both in word and images. They talked with a number of journalists, some famous and others who were not. In the end, no one accepted– except for one young reporter just starting his career in a recently-established newspaper.
Ahmed Teyfur’s journey to Eritrea was prepared in top secrecy, in apprehension of not only the familiar, but also, of all the unknown intelligence agencies. All such agencies were working in Khartoum — including the Mossad, which had established its station in the “Bon Marche”, a supermarket frequented by the high society.
The journey was a challenging, arduous and difficult one, atop camels, avoiding travel by day or moonlit nights.
When the journey came to an end, Ahmed came out to publish a series of reports, which had the effect of bombshells. The circulation of the newspaper, “OCTOBER 21”, went through the roof. The reportages, themselves, were considered a victory for the profession of journalism in Sudan; one could say it was a conquest: for it was the first time that the media went out there, searching for news outside the border. Up until that time, journalism was always sitting in its offices, waiting for the news to come to its doorsteps while it enjoys the comfort of the chair. On the rare occasions when it moves forward to get news by itself, it wouldn’t go anywhere beyond the government and party offices, politicians’ houses, trade-unions seats, and even when any of this happens it would be no more than a couple of miles distance at most!.
Ahmed Teyfur’s reportage covering eight columns, and sometimes overflowing, were the talking-point of people not only in the Capital but in the rest of the Sudanese cities. Ahmed Tayfur became, overnight, a shining star, a model of courage and heroism.
Ethiopia followed the developments in Sudan closely and decided to dispatch to Sudan one of its best intelligence officers as a military attaché. Colonel Tarreke, in short order, was not only in a position to enter the houses of many politicians and others, but he was as well entering the residence of the Prime minister, Mohammed Ahmed Mahjoub[xviii], with no prior permission needed. He didn’t waste much time: he recruited prostitutes to his network, opened prostitution houses and established a club intended, via its liberally low-priced food and drinks to attract the “Effendis” who take public affairs as their practice for livelihood. Some of these were active supporters of the Eritrean Revolution, while others belonged to the different tribes of the Arab political left and the different Arab Socialist schools. Tarreke was always present in all the places. On a Thursday night, at the heart of the club, euphoria took itself up the head of one of the “Arab-left” activists, and led him, while pointing to a portrait of the Emperor on the wall, to loudly shout, in English, “Down with the Dictator Haile Sellasie”–. Turning right, his wide smile of victory faded off his face as he saw Tarreke smiling at him and asking: “Do you really believe that?” The invisible man, as he was known among his friends, replied: “I was only saying it!” Then he and his friends left.
The Eritreans and Badr-e-ddin Muddathir advised these people to avoid the Ethiopian club and its Zigni and get satisfied with hot Tilapia.
To frustrate the growing media attention the Eritreans were enjoying, especially after Teyfur’s reports, Tarreke started searching for a way of striking them a knock-out punch– one that would rally the Sudanese public opinion against them and motivate the Sudanese authorities to chase away Eritreans the way it was done in the “golden” days of General Abboud. He settled upon an idea: publish a book by the first reporter who entered the lions’ den and then returned! However, this plan proved to be impossible and so had to change such that a book would be written and then labeled to the name of Ahmed Teyfur. But first, the reporter had to be tamed.
The taming operation was executed at the hands of a few fellow practitioners. Using as pretext the celebration of his recent marriage to a co-worker–an editor of the Women’s page in the same newspaper and who ended up divorcing him upon the explosion of the scandal–they invited him to parties. They took him to the Al-Waha Hotel, recently inaugurated and frequented by the high classes of Khartoum who would spend their nights around its swimming pool, its halls or its night club “Caffe d’Roi.” In this atmosphere, he was introduced to Tarreke who left no chance for his victim to evade from between his hands. In the beginning, Ahmed told the Eritrean leadership who knew about these parties that he had attacked the Ethiopian attaché ferociously when they met, and let him hear the Sudanese people’s view on what they are doing in Eritrea.
At this point, the Eritreans advised him to avoid this man. But the blow was already dealt when drugs were put in his cup and disgracing photos of him were shot.
The book “The Reality of the ELF” was already at the start of its printing in the Al-Zaman printing press (the paper was published by its chief editor, the journalist Abdul Aziz Hassan). Mr. Hassan was the first link between Tarreke and Ahmed Teyfur. Offended by what was being planned for the Eritrean leaders, some of the employees in the printing press informed the Eritrean leaders about the conspiracy, and came to them with few copies of the pre-printed models.
It is my belief that the book was not written by Ahmed Teyfur: he did not author the book, though it was written with slyness surpassing that of the fox, on the basis of what he had already written in “October 21”. The book claimed, among other things, that Eritreans were seeking to isolate Kessela from Sudan to seize and claim it as part of Eritrea.
The Eritreans decided to move quickly to abort the book even before its publication and distribution. Carrying drafts of the book with them, their delegates visited all the political parties, labor unions, spiritual and community leaders, and all the newspapers except the “Al-Zaman”. For long, ‘October 21’ was appearing in all its numbers with a fixed square expressing its objection. Political parties and labor unions also declared their objection even before the book was distributed.
During their visits to the Sudanese newspapers, the Eritreans held a meeting once with the poet and journalist Hussein Osman Mansur, chief editor and owner of the newspaper “Al Sabah”. He took the draft and started turning its pages. He read the introduction “Forced by relations of blood and family, I went far with the ELF…”, then turned to other chapters before falling into deep silence for few minutes and then say: “the introduction and the lines of words here and there in the book can only have been written in Sudan by either one of two individuals: myself and Abdallah Al Hassan.” Then a moment passed before he declared “I didn’t write it”.
Abdallah Al Hassan was known among his friends for his opportunistic nature as far as being nicknamed the “fake director” in reference to his crooked ways.
Ahmed Teyfur was Tarreke’s first victim. He slew him horribly and made him bleed for decades, and when he died his soul must have left his body once with each and every breath for all these years. The other victim of Tarreke among the Journalists of the time was the renowned Sayyid Ahmed Khalifa[xix].
Like many others Sayyid Ahmed supported the Eritrean revolution and the right of the Somali people to unite its five regions (including Ogaden, occupied by Ethiopia), represented in the five edged star at the center of the Somali flag.
Sayyed Ahmed wrote for the Al-Sahafa newspaper and worked under its owner and editor-in-chief, Abdurrahman Mukhtar. During the campaign for aborting the book, Sayyed Ahmed was active in confronting its contents and refuting it. This made him the next target in Tarreke’s hit list.
Tarreke used his excellent relations with Abdurrahman Mukhtar (the owner) and, depending on that, and the influence of Prime Minister Muhammed Ahmed Mahjoub, he asked his friend to get rid of this contentious journalist. The boss complied.
Sayyed Ahmed wrote two books after that, Eritrea, the Algeria of the African Sahel and the other book was about Somalia. Later, to the chagrin of Tarreke, I and Sayyed worked together for the Khartoum News Agency.
The political and journalistic mediums were now fed up with the Ethiopian military attaché and his orgies. They were as well disappointed with the Sudanese government’s surrender to Ethiopia’s growing pressure for opening a consulate in Kessela. The Sudanese government could not resist longer; after all, Sudan already had an open consulate in Asmara.
Yet, the Ethiopian consul in this border town couldn’t have enjoyed his stay, for in Kessela there was a dense Eritrean presence and the revolution had open activities on top of the support it enjoyed from the citizens and dwellers of the town especially after its economy started to take off binding itself to the Eritrean presence and becoming a principal supply and reinforcement hub for the fighters across the border.
The means of entertainment and indulgence in the town of Kessela of that time were limited, there was only one Movie House, a place where Eritreans would go to whenever the Ethiopian counsel was about to go in. Ticket sellers were cooperating with them and were providing them with seats in the same wing as the Ethiopian consul and his guards, sometimes even nearer to him. He would withdraw as soon as the lights go off. This was repeated several times, and at last, the diplomat was not leaving his house. This was not possible in Khartoum, and Colonel Tarreke was as active as ever. However, the Eritreans sent him a clear message telling him in it, that their long hand will reach him if he touches any one of their leadership or fighters who were coming for treatment or on their way to other welcoming country for training. As a result, he limited his activities to information collection and attempts to lobby the politicians and influence the government in the hope that they may curb and limit the Eritreans’ activities as far as possible.
Meanwhile, a new challenge for Ethiopia was represented in the appearance of an Ethiopian opposition. The pioneers of this movement started to appear in Sudan, when a number of them arrived in Gallabat and Gadarif and then Khartoum. But the arrival of the prominent opposition leader, Kebbede Tesemma, to the Sudanese Capital was the one which sent shocks to the Ethiopian government’s spine and that is why it instructed its military attaché to concentrate on besieging this new, growing danger.
Kebbede Tesemma, showed notable activities among Ethiopians belonging to diverse nationalities of his country. He established relations with the Sudanese political powers, labor unions and foreign embassies.
Tarreke’s mission was to compromise Kebbede’s group and murder him with a few of his assistants. This objective was quickly achieved, and their corpses were found pitched in the desert between Burri and the airport. This crime was a bloody multi-addressed message: The Ethiopian opposition was the primary addressee. To the Sudanese government and its security apparatus, it was a statement that Tarreke could do whatever he wants to do, that the time for serious business have come, and that he would use the iron fist. To the Eritrean Revolution, it was a message, relating by example, what exactly is awaiting their leadership. The Eritrean response came swiftly and decisively, they left him messages in his car and in his house in different times, some of these messages were attached to bullets or hand grenades. They told him through their messages that they are capable of reaching him at any time or place and that the only thing preventing them from initiation is their interest in the peace and safety of the host country. He subsided.
The murdering of Kebbede Tesemma murder caused a fury in the Sudanese political circles and discontent among the conservative political forces, as well as in the elite including the national and leftist movements and centers. Voices demanding to stop the military attaché on his tracks and of bringing the murderers to justice were raised. Some even went as far as to demand breaking off diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, the closure of the borders and the advance of political and military assistance to the Ethiopian opposition. The intense reactions to the crime reached its climax at a hot and loud session of the parliament, when the government was in a situation that no government in the past has ever experienced, passive and incapable of responding. And when it thought, finally, of defending itself, the Deputy Minister of Foreign affairs, Ibrahim Al Mufti, called to the first press conference the Sudanese TV ever covered and broadcasted. All the media attended this conference at the leadership level and saw it much more important than leaving it to their editors. The Deputy Minister read a short declaration in which he indicated that the government is taking certain steps to guard the security of the country. Then questions and arguments of the media chiefs started to rain on the deputy, who, in fact, was only a good-natured man who avoided getting himself into collusions as far as possible. But, fate has now put him, in the absence of the Minister in charge, in a hardly enviable situation! Sudanese TV transmitted it all to the public in homes, coffee shops and clubs.
The reaction to the crime which the Ethiopian opposition personalities were victims of, and before it, the reaction to the book attributed to Ahmed Teyfur, the confessions and trial of the spy Al Rifae’i, who was recruited by Tarreke, and his conviction and condemnation, in the Grand Court which was headed by the judge Abdulaziz sheddu, to two years of jail, All these limited the boisterous festivities of Tarreke and his henchmen a little until the 25th May coup d’état[xx].
At this moment a stanza or two from the poems of “Al-Bayyati[xxi]” which came, I believe, in his divan (anthology) “Broken Pottery”, rush into memory:
And I wonder!
How the traitors betray?
Can one betray his country?
And when he betrays his essence and meaning
How is he to live and become?
Footnotes by the translator
[i] The October era is the political era between the fall of the government of General Abboud in October 1964 and the elections which took place a year later. In the October era, a government of coolition of all northern parties and labor unions was formed immediate to the fall of the regime of the generals.
[ii] . The author is here referring to the battle of Metemma where the Soldiers of the Mahdiyya (known as Darawish) overrun the Emperor’s camp and recognized the king among the wounded; they severe his head and brought it back to Omdurman. This was year 1889.
[iii] 3. A notable political and religious Sudanese character of the time.
[iv] An outskirt, of the capital, Khartoum.
[v] . There is here a great deal of exaggeration and irrationality. However, the translator thinks that the author should be excused since one can think of him as one controlled by exceedingly nationalist feelings. How else can we accept that the Sudanese battalions accompanying the British instead of vice versa. Another claim of him can be as well refuted by the fact that since the conquest of the British, Eritrea has lost material and establishments more than it gained by the conquest. Eritrea for them was war booty and it was treated as such, facts and figures are dispersed in documents. Well known published books. That makes the bragging here out of place.
[vi] The author didn’t mention the name of this interesting man.
[vii] it is worthy observing that Essayas Afeworki tried to lure the United states into establishing a military facility anywhere in Eritrea, but he failed in his attempts.
[viii] Sinimmar was a legendary engineer who built a palace for his king. The Palace was a wonder of the world and the king, fearing that Sinimmar may design another similar or better palace for another king, resolved his fears by amputating Sinimmar’s both hands and as such the saying “Sinimmar’s reward”.
[ix] Nabek is the tree normally known as GABA in Eritrea.
[x] The coup which brought the Baath party to power in Syria.
[xi] Michael Aflaq, A Syrian philosopher and Sociologist, an Orthodox Christian, was the founder of the pan-arab ‘Baath Socialist Party’ he died in 1998 in Paris, France
[xii] The October Government is the government which followed the collapse of General Abboud’s junta in October 1964.
[xiii] . These are two of the historic leaders of the ELF and both are co-founders ot it. Idris Mohammed Adem was also a onetime president of the Eritrean Parliament before the annexation in 1962.
[xiv] A town in Eastern Sudan.
[xv] An important Sudanese politician of the Ummah party, he is the grand-son of the Mahdi who fought Yohannes and the British. As of his history with Eritrea, he is the only one who kept his stand throughout his political life consistently at appearing aligned at all times with oppressors of the Eritrean people, Ethiopia, Mengistu and I.Afeworki all of them.
[xvi] . Another Sudanese politician of the Democratic People’s Party, he is also a spiritual figure for the followers of the Khatmiah Sufi Sect notably in Eastern Sudan.
[xvii] It is difficult to assume that Al-Sadig didn’t know who the weapons belonged to. Any observer of this politician’s history would tell you also of his Machiavellian consistent pattern, throughout. The truth is, most probably, that he knew who the owners were and that he calculated that exposing is killing two birds with a single stone. Internally, he would appear over all the politicians by affecting a political explosion just before elections, and externally he will have advanced to the Ethiopia and its Emperor a payment for a future day.
[xviii] . A prime minister for a number of times. He belonged to the Ummah Party of Sadig Al Mahdi.
[xix] an all and old time friend of the Eritrean revolution
[xx] . The coup which brought Nimeiri to power.
[xxi] A celebrated Iraqi poet.