A Huge Public Rally against PFDJ Festival in Stockholm - Sweden
The Swedish- Eritrean Partnership for Democracy and Human rights/ SESADU in cooperation with other partners invites all activists for democracy and justice in Eritrea to a rally under the theme,Stop PFDJ Festivals" in Sweden and continue the struggle against human rights violations in Eritrea.
Date : Saturday 1st August 2015
Time: 11.00 -20.00
Place: Folketshus-EggbeyGård Järvafältet
Organizing Committee/SESADU in cooperation with others
A Huge Public Rally against PFDJ Festival in Stockholm - Sweden
The Swedish- Eritrean Partnership for Democracy and Human rights/ SESADU in cooperation with other partners invites all activists for democracy and justice in Eritrea to a rally under the theme,Stop PFDJ Festivals" in Sweden and continue the struggle against human rights violations in Eritrea.
Date : Saturday 1st August 2015
Time: 11.00 -20.00
Place: Folketshus-EggbeyGård Järvafältet
Organizing Committee/SESADU in cooperation with others
While making dinner and having my children run around the house, I thought about how to increase the understanding towards the Bologna Summit. So I sat spontaneously down to type a few words into my computer, which ended up to be the outline below thirty minute later. I hope it is worth your consideration.
You see, we always ask ourselves how to make the opposition more impactful and here is a chance for each one of us to play our part this summer.
Three Bologna Summits are planned for 2015 to increase accessibility, participation, and ultimately output: In London (July), Oakland (August), and in the end in Bologna Italy during October. Here are 10 quick reasons why attending and supporting the Bologna Summit 2015 may be worthwhile.
1. Creative anti-PFDJ action and demos are important to mobilise the wider mass and create momentum – but they cannot take the biggest worry of us: How will a weak and fragmented Eritrean opposition ever be an alternative to the dictator and his regime, now or post-PFDJ? The Bologna Summit aims directly at strengthening the opposition’s effectiveness and work towards increased unity among like-minded groups. It’s one avenue among others you can join.
2. Democracy is not just established on paper or through a system, it first needs to be installed in the mindset of Eritreans, both abroad and inside Eritrea. The Bologna Summit strongly rallies around tolerance, mutual cooperation, and democratic values.
3. One of the opposition’s greatest failure thus far, in my view, has been the inability to link up with the people of Eritrea and pro-democratic entities inside the country. The Bologna Summit actively incorporates the strategy to link up with change agents inside Eritrea. They are our most valuable hope and the greatest fear of the dictator. They deserve our attention and combined effort.
4. World statistics regarding regime change have shown that the large part of regime change that took place through armed struggle resulted in another authoritarian regime. Eritrea’s struggle for independence is a relict to that (Eritrea, Libya, Syria etc). Unfortunately, non-violent struggle and non-cooperation is widely misunderstood among Eritreans and sometimes even ridiculed, yet it is the most powerful strategy towards democratic regime change with the least casualties (Tunisia, Serbia, Burkina Faso etc), and believe it or not, the one dictators fear most.
5. The Bologna Summit is independent. If something has been missing in Eritrea’s opposition policies it is a strong, independently managed and lead Eritrean opposition entity. The Bologna Forum is a young effort, but recognising the fact that it runs independent and can survive self-sufficiently (including financially) is important and in that respect Bologna has achieved rather great momentum and has kept the peace among endorsing organisations.
6. The Bologna Summit is growing organically. We ache for unity, however all hasty attempts in the past to ‘unite’ under one name, one umbrella, or one event have often not resulted in effective cooperation. The Bologna Forum deserves a chance, it is growing organically, and you can become part of that grassroots growth story.
7. The demo in Geneva was a historical moment for all justice seekers and one of great hope and pride. Having said that you cannot build a political platform or alternative to Higdef through mass events without a leading body and clear political agenda. That gap needs to be filled, in many ways. Bologna is just one avenue, and you can choose to strengthen that further, among other.
8. Bologna has attracted a high participation of youth and women at all levels. In fact, women participation during the last two summits where around 40%. Among the highest in any opposition-lead effort (accept for women groups) – The Bologna Forum believes in the active role youth and women have to play on Eritrea’s path towards democracy. And I think what is also worth mentioning is that the Bologna Summit managed to adopt an image and dynamic that fits into the 21st century.
9. The Bologna Summit focuses on the mantra ‘Eritrean solutions for Eritrean problems’ as an effective strategy towards a Eritrean people-lead democracy. This strategy has thus far been largely misunderstood and has been nearly invisible in Eritrean opposition politics. When it was made public, HIGDEF noticed: I don’ t think it was a coincidence that they cancelled all festivals to summon in Bologna in 2014 after 23 years. This mantra hits PFDJ propaganda right into the foot and weakens its political stand point.
10. And lastly, the Bologna Forum is a gathering by Eritreans who want to see justice, freedom, and prosperity, and peace in Eritrea. It is an open platform to learn, debate, work, connect, and make new friends – it is an effort by Eritreans for all Eritreans and friends of Eritrea, and we hope at least that this is worth your support and participation.
We hope to see you at the Bologna Summit in London, Oakland, or Italy – you are warmly welcome.
But I confessed to every inquirer that, while I was at the midst of the Geneva demo on 26 June, I was also thinking of a similar event that took place in Asmara 50 years earlier. Therefore, my responses to friends were based on new thoughts and old memories that led me to the conclusion that the two events were strikingly similar in many ways, although separated by a time span of half a century!!
Needless to say, the Geneva demonstration was historic and will prove to be a hugely important turning point in the current struggle for democratic change. Similarly, to me and to some members of my generation, the demonstration of 8 March 1965 in the Eritrean capital did positively influence developments in the Eritrean struggle for national independence.
Two related historic events of Asmara 1965 and Geneva 2015 separated only by span of time.
Youth-Initiated, Inspiring Occurrences
As we have witnessed, the 26 June demo in Geneva was the biggest such event ever organized by the Eritrean opposition camp. It was mainly organized and dominated by young Eritreans in exile who helped bring in one place such a huge number of freedom fighters. Participants willingly availed themselves for jointly expressing their utter frustration with the sad condition prevailing at home. The event was inspiring. For many, it indeed was a birth of a new activism for doing something to change a very bad situation. Almost every demonstrator was being heard vowing to never again be silent observer of what is happening to the country and its people. To say it in other words, even the ones who were there simply to see and, for the first time ever as demonstrators, will never again remain the same. They are enthused to climb and ride the bandwagon of justice seekers.
Likewise, the March 1965 demonstration in Asmara was conducted by teen-age students who became aware of the worsening condition of the Eritrean people under alien rule. Before that time, Asmara witnessed a number of student demonstrations in 1957 and later continued student activism between 1961 and 1964. But no student demonstration was like the one of March 1965. It inspired so many young people to join the then growing armed struggle. Even the elementary and middle school children of the day (like EPDP’s Menghesteab Asmerom and Tesfai Degiga who also were with us in Geneva demo on 26 June) could not escape from being much, much influenced by the events of the time.
Also like the Geneva demonstration of last month, which was organized by the full participation of all activists in the camp of justice seekers, the event in Asmara 50 years ago was also organized in an inclusive manner - all the then existing secondary schools of the day in Asmara took part in its preparation although the Prince Makonnen Secondary School was the usual initiator..
As we know, the Geneva demo was organized both to give support to the UN report on Eritrea and at the same time demand for more from the international community to help change the intolerable Eritrea situation.
Likewise, the Asmara demo of March 1965 was partly a call on the UN “to be seized” of what was happening in Eritrea; condemn the abuses of the occupation authorities, and then take concrete measures to help the release of political prisoners and give moral and political support to Eritreans fighting for freedom.
Change of Political Climate
After March 1965, the political climate in Asmara was changed. The key words that can characterize the period that followed the 1965 demo were: mobilization and active participation. Students were organized in effective cells, and people in and around the national capital wanted to know more about the armed struggle and to find ways of helping it in any way possible. This writer and a few other compatriots were forced by fate to attend both the Asmara and Geneva demonstrations can be taken as good witnesses.
It was only a week after the 8 March 1965 Asmara demo that the then youthful Seyoum Ogbamichael (Harestai) and Dawit Temesghen left Asmara to join the freedom fighters in the field (Meda). The now notorious Isayas Afeworki, his victims Haile Woldetensae (DuruE) and Mussie Tesfamichael, as well as Ahmed Nasser, Tesfai Tecle and many others who followed them in 1966. Many of the nearly 3,000 students who were imprisoned for about two days without food at Sembel after the 1965 demonstration either joined the armed wing of the struggle in due course of time or remained active mobilizes and organizers of the struggle. The Asmara demo of 1965 was, therefore, a momentum builder to the then nascent national awakening for independence.
The 26 June 2015 event in Geneva now appears to have created a rare opportunity that should not be missed in closing the ranks of the existing forces of change both inside the homeland and abroad. It is a gold momentum for mobilization of the youth, and uncommon opportunity to be seized in order for us to realize a much needed national salvation. The youth of the 1960s and 70s joined the then existing organization(s) and built upon it. Our youth in 2015 can do the same. Why not!
Printed below for the benefit of those readers who might not have seen it is an article on student activism of the 60s that appeared in the Journal of Eritrean Studies in 1997. Good reading
THE ROLE OF ASMARA STUDENTS IN
THE ERITREAN NATIONALIST MOVEMENT: 1958-68
Due to Italian colonial policy on education,[i] there was a discernible absence of students and student activism during the 1940s when the fate of Eritrea was being discussed at international forums. That lack of sufficient educated elders and students let the political stage be dominated by traditional leaders and their type of sectarian politics. However, the situation changed during the phase of the liberation struggle.
The British care-taker administration (1941-1952) promoted education.[ii] This policy was continued by the Eritrean Government formed under the federal arrangement voted by the United Nations. Within a decade, Eritrea had a sizable intelligentsia with intermediate education as the number of students beyond the elementary level grew considerably.[iii] A few more were studying outside Eritrea. During the 1960s, there were more than 300 Eritrean students pursuing higher studies in Cairo.[iv] Another 800 or so Eritreans were enrolled in institutions of higher learning in Ethiopia.[v] School children who were subjected to parading and singing propaganda for a pro-Ethiopian party during 1946-56, had by late 1950s become reluctant to respond to non-Eritrean sentiments.[vi] Developments in Eritrea and the surrounding region inspired many students to take up politics as their extra-curricular activity. Thus, Eritrean students were destined to make a remarkable contribution in the growth of the nationalist movement. As Tahir Fadab, an active leadership cadre of the Eritrean Liberation Movement, affirmed in his recent book on the history of the ELM (or "Mahber Showate") covering the period 1958-1966,
We are obliged to record for history that Eritrean students, both those inside and outside the country, merit a lion's share of the credit for having kept momentum of the nationalist movement until the final liberation.[vii]
It is argued that the movement for Eritrean independence was in a relative decline after the installation of the Federation, but that it was revived in the late 1950s mainly as an idea promoted by students - "fikra tulabia".[viii] An Eritrean student of history confirmed that "be it in Asmara, in Addis or in Cairo, those who propagated to keep the spirit [of Eritrean independence] alive were mainly young students".[ix]
The fact that the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was established with an overwhelming participation of students in Cairo[x] further attests their overall contribution in the rebirth of the nationalist movement.
Asmara students followed in the footsteps of those in Cairo and from the start played an important role in instilling nationalist feeling among the population. Between 1961 and 1965, in particular, they organized demonstrations almost yearly in the Eritrean capital and helped create awareness about the struggle for independence in part of the country where Eritreanism was initially weak.
The same generation of Asmara students continued to contribute immensely in the growth and eventual victory of the liberation movement. Some of those students are easily identifiable and still active either with the government in Asmara or with the main opposition group so far kept in exile. The then Prince Makonnen Secondary School (PMSS) produced the most militant group of students in the 1960s, among whom was Issayas Afeworqi, the founder-leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and incumbent President of the State of Eritrea. The other centre of student politics was the Haile Selassie I Secondary School (HSISS) where Ahmed Mohammed Nasser, Chairman of the mainstream ELF between 1975-95, was among the agitators.
This article is intended to initiate discussion on the role of Asmara students in rousing nationalist sentiments during 1958-1968.[xi] It will review the general political environment that influenced students to act as they did during that period; outline the major activities undertaken by Asmara students in the 1960s, and summarize under a few points the significance of those early student activities in the growth of nationalist awareness, especially among the population in the Eritrean highlands.
There wouldn't have been a student movement or an Eritrean liberation movement, for that matter, without the right political environment on local, regional and international levels. Ethiopia's social, economic and political backwardness and its systematic policies to erode Eritrea's special status were among the central causes that helped nurture a nationalist feeling in the territory. The modern forces, among them the students and their teachers, started to feel unhappy of the link with feudal Ethiopia when former colonial territories in Africa - many of them at least as small and as "unviable" as Eritrea - started to emerge as independent states. Other factors that influenced the political thinking of Asmara students included the emergence of Arab and other national liberation movements in the Third World; activities of Cairo students; memories of the March 1958 general workers' strike and activities of the ELM. How those developments influenced Asmara students merit further explanation.
1) Ethiopia's Contributions
Ethiopia's encroachments on the UN-installed federal arrangement for Eritrea were excessively blatant from the very beginning. Trade unions and political parties were banned, journalists were incarcerated arbitrarily and the local press muzzled. Elections to the Eritrean Assembly were rigged, and Ethiopian laws introduced in violation of the Federal Act. The Eritrean flag, a strong emotional symbol of Eritrea's national aspirations, was discarded and Amharic was introduced as the language of instruction replacing Tigrigna and Arabic.
As Eritrea became more closely tied to Addis Ababa after 1952, it became clear to many who had hitherto favoured some sort of union with Haile Selassie's government that the fears of those who opposed union were well founded.[xii]
The political suppression, which bred general frustration, was compounded by economic distress. The Unionist[xiii] propaganda of the 1940s had presented Ethiopia as the Promised Land of milk and honey. But when the Federation was put into effect, there was little that Ethiopia could contribute to the well-being of the Eritrean people. To the contrary, concerted action was taken to kill the new political arrangement both politically and economically. Many economic establishments were shut down and told to reopen in Addis Ababa. Number of industrial workers went down from 32,400 in 1947 to 10,350 in 1962.[xiv] Jobless Eritreans thus had to migrate to Ethiopia and to neighbouring countries.
As years went by, Eritreans observed all social and economic indicators revealing that Ethiopia was lagging far behind the young states in Africa. In 1960, for instance, about 62% of school age children in neighbouring Kenya went to school while the figure for Ethiopia was only 7%.[xv] Furthermore, Ethiopia's undemocratic governance and its archaic feudal practices disheartened the Eritreans, especially the youth.
A large segment of the population, including former supporters of union with Ethiopia, started talking vehemently against the political and economic measures of the Ethiopian government in Eritrea. Students were imbued with the bitter grumble of elders - and no wonder that they were to become the best agents to articulate a deepening frustration in the society.
In December 1960, a coup attempt in Addis Ababa further reminded Eritreans that the Ethiopian Emperor, who was seen as a stumbling block to Eritrean national aspirations, may soon go away and that they would better prepare for that eventuality without procrastination.
2) Decolonization and Asmara Students
Decolonization of Africa was another important development that helped steam up a nationalist awakening in Eritrea. Between 1956 and 1966, 33 former colonies in Africa attained independent statehood; of this, 16 became independent during 1960. (Eritreans hastened to declare an armed struggle a year later.)
When Eritrea's case was being debated in the United Nations, economic viability of the colonial territory, the 'right' of access to the sea of landlocked Ethiopia, historical and cultural affinity of neighbouring peoples, and the size of its population were among the issues and arguments considered at reaching a decision on the fate of Eritrea. Eritrean students in 1960 observed that those arguments were not raised against the other former colonial states and resented the fact that their country's case had been brought to the UN General Assembly at a wrong time. An American writer expressed it well when he wrote,
... the political developments in Eritrea during the 1940s foreshadowed the rise of African nationalism across the continent a decade later, but unfortunately for the Eritreans, they were perhaps too early. The international stage was not yet set for decolonization and [that] first skirmish with European colonialism was met with a solid united front of opposition from the colonial powers.[xvi]
3) Arab Nationalism/Third World Movements
Among the first to be influenced were those Eritrean students who were directly exposed to the Arabic language broadcasts and writings of the Arab nationalist movement awakened by the charismatic Jamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. Tuning to Cairo became a long-lasting habit to many Eritrean nationalists with some knowledge of Arabic. More Eritrean ears listened to broadcasts from Cairo following Cairo's Tigrigna language programmes for a short period in 1956. The Tigrigna broadcasts had additional significance because the presenter was none other than Woldeab Woldemariam, a leading nationalist who had a great political appeal to many Eritreans.
The Algerian struggle for independence and, in general, the Third World liberation movement, which was building up encouraged by the collapse of colonialism and the vocal support of the Socialist camp, inspired Eritrean youth to join the new wave.
4) Influence of Cairo Students
Eritrean youth looking for better schooling or jobs were, as of mid-1940s, trekking to Cairo through all possible routes. Most of them travelled without legitimate documents. In 1952, a student association was formed in Cairo.[xvii] By the late 1950s, Cairo became a centre of Eritrean student movement with far-reaching influences. Many of those students were returning to Eritrea on family visits, and some went on missions with political agenda. One such prominent visitor was Saied Hussein, known to some as the 'dynamo' of the student movement in Cairo.[xviii] In one of his visits to Asmara, he tried to carry out a military operation but was arrested.[xix]
Cairo students, whose club became an information desk on developments in Eritrea, organized many anti-Ethiopian demonstrations during the 1950s and early 1960s which influenced the students in Asmara.
5) The March 1958 General Strike
The workers' strike of March 1958 was the single most defiant reaction in the 1950s to Ethiopian abuses in Eritrea. School children in Massawa, Asmara, Keren and other urban centres watched the massive demonstrations staged by angry adults who forced shops and businesses closed. Some of the demonstrations were quite bloody. Nine persons were reported killed and over 500 wounded.[xx] Students saw blood-letting for the first time. The contributor of this article was a fifth grader in Keren and watched injured persons being rushed towards the hospital.
Before the year 1958 ended, the ELM was founded in Port Sudan by young Eritreans[xxi] who as students in the 1950s "were caught in the rising tide of Sudanese nationalism and the excitement of independence in 1956".[xxii] By 1960, ELM claimed to have established many cells in Asmara. The movement initially concentrated on recruiting Moslem elements because of old fears of Unionist (i.e. Ethiopian) tendencies in the highlands. But its organizers were "caught by surprise" when students and workers in Asmara responded to ELM's call with great enthusiasm.[xxiii]
POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF ASMARA STUDENTS
The period under consideration can be divided into two distinct phases of the student movement in Asmara. The formative stage, extending between 1958 to mid-1965, could be termed as the period of spontaneous action.[xxiv] It was followed by a period of organized activities lasting between late 1965 to mid-1967. By 1968, the student movement inside the country was in a state of utter collapse paradoxically at a time when global student militancy was at its peak. (Eritrean students in the Middle East and Europe fared better than their compatriot students in Asmara and Addis Ababa.[xxv])
a) Spontaneous Action
As noted, the general discontent of the population was gradually impacting on young school children in the country. Despite lack of organization, students in Asmara were engaged in political activities starting in the late 1950s. Some were acting on their own - some writing graffiti wherever they could lay their hands, others mailing letters to government officials accusing them of sell-out to Ethiopia.[xxvi] Individual efforts developed to group, but still spontaneous, action. Among well remembered incidents of the second half of the 1950s include a student strike at Benevolente school, popularly known as Islamia,[xxvii] and an 'uprising' at the HSISS in which students destroyed their dormitory and damaged school furniture opposing, among other administrative complaints, a suggested introduction of Amharic as the language of instruction in Eritrea.[xxviii]
Those events were given political significance by succeeding generation of students.[xxix] It is also claimed that workers' demonstrations of March 1958 had as many student participants as workers.[xxx]
In September 1961, the two major high schools in Asmara received a larger number of 9th graders than at any time before. PMSS alone doubled its total population to about 350 by accommodating six new classes in grade nine from among whom cropped up a nucleus of a militant group. This new numerical strength of high school students helped increase the frequency of spontaneous activities.
The declaration of the armed struggle was not immediately known to many people in Asmara. Most parents and relatives learned about it when their children were detained or beaten by the police while demonstrating or writing wall slogans in support of the armed struggle for independence. As of early 1962, PMSS became the origin of anti-Ethiopian graffiti and leaflets distributed in the city.[xxxi] At one point, the Eritrean Police Commissioner, Tedla Ogbit,[xxxii] had to come to PMSS to harangue the students on this problem. Written in bold characters on the gate of PMSS was the slogan: "Long Live Hamid Awate!".[xxxiii] In his address the Police Commissioner furiously mentioned what he read at the gate and warned that stern measures would be taken against those engaged in 'subversive' activities.
During the early 1960s, Asmara students staged demonstrations whose political significance and mobilizational effect in reviving Eritrean nationalist feeling was quite high. Ethiopian authorities who foresaw the possible long-term consequences were deeply frightened. PMSS was again the organizer of this form of agitation.[xxxiv]
The most significant demonstrations of that early period were the ones staged in May 1962 and in March 1965. A brief description of those two events can help shed light not only on the spontaneity of the activities and the relatively advanced degree of political consciousness of the high school students in that early period but also the direct and indirect effect of those demonstrations on the general population.
i) The May 1962 Demonstration
The May 1962 demonstration, which marked the debut of student activism following the declaration of the armed struggle, was incited by a handful students at PMSS[xxxv]. The Eritrean Assembly was scheduled to meet for a controversial debate on the budget. During previous debates in the Assembly, outspoken legislators questioned the Ethiopian Emperor's "generous grant" of 1 million Ethiopian birr to help the Eritrean Government correct a budget deficit in its 1960/61 total expenditures of 18 million birr[xxxvi]. It was felt that a group of students demonstrating in front of the Eritrean Assembly would sway the 68 Eritrean legislators. The students hoped, genuinely but quite naively, that their action would bring about an overnight change on the status of Eritrea!
To that end, a circular was passed to all classes in PMSS informing that a demonstration would be held on 22 May 1962, the day the Assembly was scheduled to meet, and that every student was expected to participate. A spontaneous student assembly inside PMSS was informed that every student would have to write "something about Eritrea" in several copies for distribution during the demonstration. This writer was the sole speaker at that short meeting. That was all. There was no group discussion to organize it nor any participation from outside PMSS. After spending most of the morning hours in utter confusion, the PMSS students went in large groups to incite HSISS students, where the majority were still reluctant to join the demonstration. Finally, a mob action prevailed and students of the two schools started to march (rather, run!) through the main road towards the Eritrean Assembly building in the centre of the city. By then, policemen and security agents were posted in every corner. Thus, no peaceful demonstration could be pursued, nor could the students gather near the Assembly (parliament) building. However, they managed to run past it singing:
This simple phrase reverberated in the heart of Asmara and undoubtedly roused high emotions. Many by-standers joined the singing and running students.[xxxviii] Horse-mounted policemen chased many of the 'demonstrators' across the Grand Mosque and St. Mary's Church towards Biet Ghiorgis on the way to Massawa. Many students were beaten and detained at several police centres including at Caserma Mussolini.[xxxix] Disturbances continued for a week by students demanding the release of detained students. A defiant student assembly was organized at Mai Anbessa, north of Asmara, and added resolve to the continuation of the demonstrations. Primary and middle school students in Asmara and the other Eritrean towns also boycotted classes in solidarity with those arrested during the demonstrations.
Many parents, whose political stance was undecided, found the action of their children and the general direction of political developments quite disconcerting. They were unhappy of Ethiopia's violations of the Federal Act but continued to think that it was too late to fight for Eritrean autonomy let alone total independence. It seemed difficult to challenge the King of Kings of Ethiopia and to ignore the influence of the Orthodox Church. Majority of the elders wondered whether a small country like Eritrea would exist without a "king". The young students did not share the worries and fears of their parents.
Ethiopian authorities dreaded the prospect of a nationalist awakening among Christian Eritreans. Now they saw it coming true. Their security apparatus thus resorted to all sorts of physical and psychological torture and intimidation to suppress any opposition.[xl] Students and school teachers were among many who were jailed or ordered to report to security offices for finger printing and photographing. As one member of the American Consulate in Asmara reported,
A number of those who participated in demonstrations were severely treated by the police and stories of police brutality were being more widespread. [xli]
The suppressive measures served the Eritrean cause by breeding more anti-Ethiopian sentiments. The May 1962 student demonstrations and the 7 July 1962 attack on government officials in Agordat were important political events of the year. Those two incidents might even have contributed in hastening Ethiopia's decision to dissolve the Federation on 14 November 1992.
ii) The March 1965 Demonstration
The other most important demonstration of the 1960s in Asmara took place between 8-12 March 1965. Again there was no student union organizing action nor did the ELF or ELM take any part in its preparation.[xlii] It was a semi-organized action started when a few politically conscious elements at PMSS felt that it was time for Asmara demonstrations to be reported on the BBC like the February 1965 "Land to the Tiller" demonstration of the Ethiopian university students in Addis Ababa. This time it was decided to broaden participation by inviting other schools. A meeting was called in which representatives from HSISS and the Point Four Technical School attended.[xliii] The representatives agreed on points that had to be propagated through placards and pamphlets. The main student demands were the following:
1) That the UN should forcefully condemn the Ethiopian annexation of Eritrea and the General Assembly be 'seized of the matter' as it promised on October 17,1952; 2) that the UN should hold a referendum on the future status of Eritrea; 3) closure of the American base of Kagnew Station in Asmara; 4) expulsion of Israeli military personnel; 5) release of all political prisoners, and 6) [that Ethiopia should] stop closing schools and industrial establishments in Eritrea.[xliv]
The government was better prepared to deal with the 1965 demonstration than in the past. Rubber-stick wielding police and trainees of commando units filled the streets of Asmara from early morning. Police vans were deployed at many places in the city. Students came out of their schools lined up for a "peaceful demonstration" and pleaded to be left alone to exercise their right to demonstrate as that right was enshrined in the Eritrean Constitution. However, the police started beating them towards the prepared trucks. About 2,000 students were beaten and forcefully transported for detention at an anti-ELF Commando training centre at Sembel in the outskirts of Asmara. The students spent about 40 hours at the detention centre without any food supply.[xlv] All schools in Eritrea boycotted classes in solidarity with Asmara students. As this writer noted it elsewhere,
That student activism had a more lasting effect on the Eritrean armed struggle than a number of other undertakings by the nationalists at that difficult epoch. This was because: (a) a political action in the heart of the Eritrean capital was seen as a serious challenge to the locally awed and respected person of Emperor Haile Selassie; (b) news of the students' activities were easily carried to every part of the country by scared relatives; and, above all, (c) Asmara students rallying behind the Eritrean nationalist movement signified that the Kabassan population, the most important other half of the Eritrean people, will not for long lag far behind the other segments of the society in the nationalist cause. Those in Cairo and Kassala fully appreciated its far reaching significance.[xlvi]
This viewpoint is entertained by many student militants of the period.[xlvii] Ahmed Nasser described Asmara students of 1960s as "the generation that made a generous contribution to help create the present realities in Eritrea".[xlviii] Seyoum Ogbamichael sees that one cannot think of increased nationalist reawakening among the population in Asmara without the important contribution by students in the early 1960s.[xlix] To Gherezghiher Tewelde, another student actor during the second half of the 1960s, the demonstrations initially had more influence on the students themselves than on the general population. However, taking into consideration the fact that many of those students became fighters, political cadres and front leaders, "one can comfortably say that the demonstrations indeed played a significant role" in the nationalist movement.[l]
2) Organized Action
The student militancy of 1961-65 recounted above was conducted without formal structure. Real organization started in August 1965 by two ELF envoys sent from Kassala to create cells of mass organizations in Asmara. The two were Woldedawit Temesghen and Seyoum Ogbamichael of PMSS who joined the ELF in the Sudan soon after the March 1965 demonstrations in Asmara.[li]
During their two-week meetings in Asmara until their arrest on 30 August 1965,[lii] Woldedawit and Seyoum discussed with friends and trusted nationalists a general plan of establishing mass organizations for students, teachers and others on the basis of occupation and location. In the fall of 1965, Siraj Ibrahim, another ELF envoy was in Asmara organizing a student union. Meetings were held in Biet Ghiorghis for students from various secondary schools in the city.[liii]
During 1966, the system was improved by another ELF envoy, Ghilai Ghirmai,[liv] who entrusted the PMSS student committee[lv] with the task of centralizing activities of other committees in Asmara. According to the new structure, every school with an ELF cell appointed a representative to liaise activities with the PMSS committee. The PMSS committee was reporting directly to the Revolutionary Command of the ELF headquartered in Kassala, Sudan
The newly organized student movement, still led by PMSS, took quick action and within 1966 formed branch unions in the provinces.[lvi] Student cells thus flourished in groups of five members throughout the high schools in the country. Truck and bus drivers were recruited to facilitate communication between the different towns. The organized student movement in Asmara called itself "the General Union of Eritrean Students". An organization of the same name was to be established in Damascus in late 1968.[lvii]
Other normal everyday activities included distribution of pamphlets, gathering basic information for the ELF as required, recruiting cell members, and agitating in the city through various forms. Among memorable feats of the young union was a sabotage work which succeeded to partly weaken public attendance at a major government preparation in 1966 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Haile Selassie's return to his throne and to inaugurate a new title of 'Ras' for Prince Asrate Kassa, the Emperor's Representative in Eritrea.[lviii] The ELF student cells posted their members at key junctions in the city and misinformed their schoolmates to return home because the day's ceremonies were cancelled until further notice.[lix]
The union rented three houses where it accommodated ELF fighters coming for military operations inside Asmara. Activities of student cells were progressing well until March 1967 when Gherezghiher Tewelde and other PMSS committee members either joined the ELF or were arrested.[lx] Those who replaced them in the committee were also arrested or went underground. Some joined the ELF army in the semi-liberated areas.
Similarly the pioneer group of PMSS student militants of the period were instrumental in forming cells for the ELF in the university campuses in Addis Ababa. For practical reasons and purposes of this article, the student cells in the Ethiopian capital can be treated as continuation in an organized form of student activism in Asmara. Based on the organizational guidelines discussed with Woldedawit and Seyoum during the summer of 1965, the cells in Addis created a central committee to run activities inside the Haile Selassie I University. And as in Asmara, former PMSS students centralized university cells in the Ethiopian capital.[lxi] Several groups were formed although the majority of university students were kept as sympathizers. Some students who volunteered to
[i] In 1939, there were only 4,117 primary school pupils in Eritrea and Tigray, then treated as one administrative unit. Between 1894 and 1940, missionaries in Eritrea taught a grand total of only 20,000 pupils in Italian and native languages (see Report of the UN Commissioner for Eritrea, Vol.1, Beirut: ELF-PLF reproduction,1977), p.74.
[ii]. In 1952, there were 14,897 students in 100 primary, 14 intermediate and 2 secondary schools, and 30 students were pursuing higher studies abroad (see G.K.N. Trevaskis, Eritrea: A Colony in Transition, 1941-52; London: Oxford University Press, 1960) p.34.
[iii]. During academic year 1961/62, total number of students reached 38,000 of which 1,372 were in academic high schools and vocational institutions (see Statistical Abstract, Addis Ababa, 1963) p.106.
[iv]. John Markakis, National and Class Struggle in the Horn of Africa ,(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987) p.109. Jaffar Ali Assad (interview, 24.9.95) affirmed that by mid-1965 there were 700 students in Cairo. By 1980, the figure reached 2,000 (see Markakis, Ibid, p.283, footnote 13).
[v]. Markakis, Ibid, footnote 37, p. 285.
[vii]. Tahir Ibrahim Fadab, Al-Haraka Al-Eritria Wa Masirataha Al-Tarikiya, (Beirut: Al-Shiruq Printing Press, 1994) p.212. The movement was known as "Haraka" in Arabic and "Mahber Showate" or association of seven in Tigrigna because it proliferated in cells of seven members.
[viii]. Jaffar (1995) called it "a student idea" without denying the fact that students were articulating a general discontent of the population.
[ix]. Ismail Ali (letter dated 17.7.95).
x.. The following students were among the key founders of the ELF in Cairo during the spring of 1960: Abdulkerim Ahmed, Adem Akte, Hamid Turki, Ibrahim Idris (Blenai), Idris Osman Ghelaidos, Mohammed Saleh Hummed, Mohammed Ali Omaro, Mohammed Ali Afarora, Mohammed Saied Omar (Antata), Ramadan Mohammed Nur, Saied Hussein and Taha Mohammed Nur. (sources: Mohammed Saleh Hummed to author in Beirut, 1978; many other informants confirmed, including Jaffar, 1995).
[xi]. Due to shortage of printed material on the subject, this writer had to depend mainly on memories of participants in the events and his own recollections.
[xiii]. The Unionist Party of the 1940s was financed and manipulated by the Ethiopian Government. Its main platform was religion backed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
[xiv]. Dimtsi Serahtegna Vol. 1(3), Asmara, August 1995.
[xv]. Aristide Zolberg et al, Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World (London: Oxford UP, 1989) p.108.
[xvii]. Fajir Al-Wihda No.37, 1990. The student grouping in Cairo had changed its name several times - Eritrean Students Club, League, Union - until it became a branch of the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES) created in Damascus in late 1968 and early 1969.
[xviii]. Jaffar (1995).
[xix]. Jimie Ahmed (Kassel, Germany, 13.8.95). In the early 1960s, Saied Hussein met in Asmara several activists including a few students and members of a little known Eritrean Rehabilitation Party (ERP). A few students including Jimie, at Botego school, Ahmed Karrar of PMSS, and Zahra Jaber of nursing school ran errands for the ERP. In May 1963 (probably his second leg to Asmara), Saied was arrested while trying to carry out a military operation at the Asmara airport. (During the Suez Canal war of 1956, Saied Hussein, a student at Al-Azhar University, joined the Fedayeen Brigades comprised of volunteers deployed near Port Said. It was the same Saied Hussein who headed the "student group" that became ELF in 1960; he is said to have relinquished the chairmanship to Idris Mohammed Adem, former president of the Eritrean Assembly, who was brought from Eritrea in 1959 with the assistance of the Cairo student group (interview with Abdulkerim Ahmed, Rassai, Sudan, 15.3.1982, confirmed by Jaffar, 1995).
[xx]. ELF-PLF, Eritrea: Victim of UN Decision and Ethiopian Aggression (no date) p. 78. The referred document was a reprint of a 1971 Memorandum submitted to the UN in New York, signed Woldeab Woldemariam, Osman Saleh Sabbe and Taha Mohammed Nur.
[xxi]. The founders of ELM were members of the youth branch of the Communist Party of the Sudan, and there were some Sudanese nationals among the original 17 founders, see Tahir Fadab, op.cit. p. 58.
[xxii]. Markakis, op.cit., p.106.
[xxiv]. According to Jimie, Paulos (Degiat) Sebhatu represented an ELM student group. Jimie says an ELF student group was formed before 1965. Its members included Abdulwahab Mohamoud, Mohammed Nur Kekia, Mohammed Ibrahim Hazam and Jimie himself. However, if ELM and ELF student groups ever existed in Asmara before 1995, they had no role whatsoever in the PMSS-organized political activities in the Eritrean capital during 1961-65.
25. Eritrean student groupings in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Sudan Somalia, Hungary, Poland, and the Federal Republic of Germany were represented in a meeting in Damascus held between 28 December 1968 and 4 January 1969. They established an umbrella organization called the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES) which claimed to represent also students inside Eritrea ("Eternal Pages in the History of the Eritrean Student Movement", Fajir-al Wihda op.cit., pp. 2-4.
[xxvi]. This writer in 1959 wrote a letter to the then Director of Education, Asfaha Kahsai, naively telling the official to support Eritrean independence or face "liquidation" by a non-existent organization working for Eritrean independence.
[xxvii]. According to Jaffar (1995), the strike started because of administrative problems but was interpreted by the public to have had a political background. Jaffar, a relation of Ibrahim Sultan of the Moslem League, took part in the Benevolente school strike.
[xxviii]. Fissehaye Gherezghiher (Geneva, 6.1.96). Fissehaye was with the graduating class of Point Four Technical School in May 1957 which refused a request to joint HSISS students in the strike because of fear losing final certificates. Also see Fajir Al-Wihda, No.30, 1981.
[xxix]. Dr. Habte Tesfamariam (Kassel, Germany, 14.8.95). He remembers that a group of those Asmara students were brought to Adi Quala where they were detained.
[xxx]. Mohammed Omar Yahya, a student who participated at the March 1958 demonstration in Keren (as quoted by Ismail Ali, letter of 17.7.95).
[xxxi]. Michael Ghaber and this writer had experience of putting on wall posters and graffiti in Keren between 1959-60 and continued the practice in Asmara, 1961-65. The most daring group action in February 1965 involved 8 PMSS students who festooned Asmara with sketches of the Eritrean flag prepared by Seyoum Ogbamichael.
[xxxii]. Six months later on 15 June 1963, Tedla Ogbit allegedly committed suicide, but was most probably killed, in his office. Ethiopia had intended to replace. He refused requested going to USA for training, and soon started defying Ethiopia's unilateral dissolution of the Federation seven months earlier; see Tahir Fadab, op.cit., p.331.
[xxxiii]. Referring to Hamid Idris Awate who started the armed struggle in the western lowlands in September 1961. Awate was martyred in the spring of 1962 but the ELF kept his death secret for a long time.
[xxxiv]. Ring leaders were Mussie Tesfamichael (EPLF/Menka'e, martyred), Woldedawit Temesghen (ELF, martyred), Michael Ghaber (ELF, martyred), Seyoum Ogbamichael (currently responsible for Foreign Relations of ELF-Revolutionary Council), Issayas Afeworqi (President of the State of Eritrea), Haile Woldetinsae (cabinet minister), Bereket Ghebretinsae 'Aket' (EPLF sympathizer in France) and this contributor (member of ELF-RC).
[xxxv]. It was first discussed between Michael Ghaber and this writer, both of whom hailed from Keren, then a hot-bed of Eritrean nationalist politics. Both were friends of shopkeeper Abdulkerim Zeinu, a committed ELM organizer in Keren, and Mohamoud Janjar, a former classmate who by 1962 was ELF activist on frequent visits to Asmara to procure winter needs for fighters. But there was no direct ELM or ELF involvement in the student politics at PMSS.
[xxxvi]. This writer attended an Eritrean Assembly (parliament) session during the summer of 1961 and was stirred by the arguments of Mesghina Ghebrezghi and Stephanos of Decamere (full name not remembered) both of whom claimed that Ethiopia owed 72 million Ethiopian birr to Eritrea in unpaid arrears of customs duties and federal levies.
[xxxvii]. Literal translation: "We want freedom, help us".
[xxxviii]. Ibrahim Siraj was on a visit to Asmara that day. He joined the demonstrators near the Catholic Cathedral. Siraj, who vividly remembers the verse chanted at the demonstration, says the May 1962 demonstration influenced him so much that he became member of a political cell in the early 1960s (Geneva, 16.8,95).
[xxxix]. Many students, including this contributor, were severely beaten and some arrested at Biet Ghiorgis. Those detained at the infamous Caserma Mussolini - ironically, very near the Eritrean Assembly building, planned destination of the day's demonstration - chanted nationalist songs before being silenced by police beatings. The prison cells were drenched with cold water.
[xl]. Eyasu Gaym, The Eritrean Question (Iustus Forlang, Uppsala 1992) pp.471-72.
[xli]. Richard H. Johnson, American Consulate, Asmara, in aerogramme A-41 of 1.5.1963 addressed to State Department, US Archives 775.00/1-56.
[xlii]. In the eve of the demonstration, this writer was taken for interrogation to the police station at night and thence to the residence of Zeremariam Azazi, the Chief Commissioner for Eritrean Police. Zeremariam claimed that armed ELF fighters were hiding inside Asmara ready to take advantage of the demonstrations, and that he also knew about a meeting of the student organizers. (Only the latter claim was true.)
[xliii]. The meeting was held at the residence of Yohannes Naffi, uncle of Michael Ghaber of PMSS and a close friend of Police Commissioner Zeremariam Azazi.
[xliv]. ELF, The National Democratic Revolution Vs Ethiopian Expansionism (Nahal Printing Press, Beirut, 1979) pp.34-35.
[xlv]. Eritrean Police Commissioner Zeremariam slighted the detained students at Sembel saying that they would never be able to "fight in the field" because many could not resist hunger for 36 hours at Sembel. He was referring to a number of students who fainted of hunger and were sent to the hospital (Gherezghiher, 1995).
[xlvi]. Wolde-Yesus Ammar, Eritrea: Root Causes of War and Refugees (Baghdad: Sindbad Printing Press, 1992) pp. 56-57.
[xlvii]. Other participants whose viewpoint could not be solicited due to 'communication' constraints are, among others, Issayas Afeworqi, the Eritrean President, Haile Woldetinsae and Tesfai Woldeselassie, cabinet ministers.
[xlviii]. Telephone interview of 31.12.95.
[xlix]. Interview in Kassel, Germany, 14.08.95.
[l]. Letter of 1.9.95.
[li]. Seyoum Ogbamichael confirmed the absence of any mass organization for students in Asmara until mid-1965 (Kassel, Germany, 14.8.95).
[lii]. Woldedawit and Seyoum, who were sentenced for 10-year prison term each, continued to follow up their organizing activities from behind the prison bars.
[liii]. Siraj Ibrahim currently resides in Cologne, Germany.
[liv]. Ghilai was a political cadre in the 5th Zone. He was killed by an ELF unit leader in 1967.
[lv]. PMSS's committee consisted of Ghirmai Hadgu, chairman; Abdalla Hassan, secretary; Gherezghiher Tewelde, secretary for propaganda, and Gherezghiher Woldu, treasurer (Gherezghiher, 1995).
56. Gherezghiher Woldu an Abdalla Hassan of PMSS organized student unions in Mendefera and Decamere, respectively. Tesfai Tekle and Bereket Eyoab of HSISS were sent by the coordinating PMSS committee to Keren and Massawa, respectively, where they organized student unions.
[lvii]. Gherezghiher Tewelde (1995) thinks that the Damascus meeting which created the international GUES might not have known the existence of an organization of that name in Asmara.
[lviii]. Gherezghiher (1995).
[lix]. Consulates represented in Asmara were instantly informed through letters, carrying an ELF seal improvised by the students, that the scheduled celebrations were partly sabotaged by Eritrean nationalists (Gherezghiher, 1995).
[lx]. Gherezghiher Tewelde was accused of complicity in ELF operations inside Asmara and was sentenced to 20 years. A standby or "shadow committee" took over the functions of the PMSS centralizing committee. Among the shadow committee members were Tsegai Yosief, Saleh Ismail, Habteselassie Ghebremedhin and Berhane Redda. Berhane was arrested by mid-1967 and the others went hiding (interview with Berhane Redda, Vevey, Switzerland, 27.8.1994).
[lxi]. The centralizing committee in Addis Ababa consisted of Andom and/or Habtom Ghebremichael (the PMSS twins), Bereket Ghebretinsae, Haile Woldetinsae (Diru'e),Issayas Afeworqi, Tesfai Woldeselassie (the only non-PMSS member) and this writer who was the focal point. Initially, Mohamoud Mohammed Suleiman, an Eritrean employee of UAR (EgyptAir) linked the group with Khartoum. But as of mid-1966, Kidane Kiflu, alias Kebbede Kiflu, a loner law student who had no cell of his own in the university, was indirectly affiliated to the committee per advice of ELF envoy Ghilai Ghirmai. Hence force, most communication and liaison outside Addis was handled via his connections through ELF cells in the Ethiopian Airlines.
The triumph And the Challenge: At last the people of Eritrea are being listened: The Geneva demonstration 26 June 2015Wednesday, 08 July 2015 23:40 Written by By Petros Tesfagiorgis
The date was 26 June, 2015 in Genève Switzerland. A friend and I arrived at the Central station (City Centre) at about 11.45 am to make it to 12 to the designated rendezvous where the March to the office of the United Nations begins. The march was to express solidarity with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE). On June 8, 2015, the Commission made its 485-page report public and confirmed to the world community the pain and the sufferings that Eritreans are enduring under PFDJ government.
We came across many Eritreans at the entrance and asked one were the meeting placewas. He said “we are going there follow us.” We entered through the main entrance of the station and came out through the back door. We walked for about 15 minutes and arrived at a big park –the rendezvous. We were overwhelmed by the activities taking place there. Several people were busy attaching slogans to placards. Some were arranging flags and banners. There were several people holding cameras on their shoulders and on stands. What an extraordinary sight, seeing people doing their share of work with enthusiasm and dedication. The flags of EU countries where Eritreans got sanctuary made the demonstration colorful and beautiful.
It was amazing to observe a sea of people mostly young walking orderly and chanting. At the first rows, there were children and disabled war veterans. The youth were dominant. Their faces shine radiating hope and happiness. The expression in their face tells the tale of love between each other. After all
they all share the value of freedom and justice. The value which inspired them
and motivated them to rise up and stand up against injustices. The beauty of it
that the demonstration has bonded people together even more. What a gloriouss historical day. I told myself that I was glad to be there. The Eritrean people’s dignity –resilience and incredible history of defiance has been compromised by PFDJ oppression. The people wanted their pride and dignity back and they felt they have to do it collectively.
“The popular slogan was down, down dictator”. “What do you want? Freedom”When do you want? Now? “Enough is enough”etc.
I was soon to find out that people have come from as far as Canada, Australian and the United States. They came all the way to witness history in the making. Awate team captured the situation and explained its significance in a single sentence. I quote
“TheGeneva rally has represented the true face of Eritrea; no such diverse crowd of Eritreans assembled in one place, around a united cause, in the last twenty years.
The huge march estimated to be more than 5000 symbolizes people’s power. Power the majority of Eritreans did not realize they have. –It represents a mini mobilization, a nucleus that lays the foundation for democracy.
It was remarkable to see the march was orderly, the Swiss police were not in big number and they were very trustful and respectful as to let the Eritreans handle security themselves. Credit to the organizers they were effective. My congratulations to them.
I will not talk more about the March and the message in the slogans as Amanuel Iyasu of Assenna was covering them live. There was also reports on Radio ERENA, The Forum, Awate.com and many more such as face books. At the same time, there was demonstration in Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa Eritreans marched to the African Union and the Office of European Union. Similar rallies took place in the refugee camps in Shimelba, Mai Aini –Assaita, Berhalene and Hintzas. There was demonstration in Israel where Eritrean are denied protection.
The triumph and the Challenge
The triumph of the Geneva demonstration presents the justice seekers with formidable challenge. Would the justice seekers seize the momentum? In this moment in time where the Eritreans worldwide are experiencing a profound inspiration the leaders of various political, civil and human rights organizations should put in place a comprehensive path and vision – that shapes the destiny of Eritrea. And present to the public in conferences, workshops and group discussions. Some colleagues including Dr Russom Mesfun of Asmarino.com from California –Berhane Haile of Boston, Miss Bee Hassan of Norway (she was passionately advocating of the rights of Eritrean women), and others expressed expectation of a meeting on Saturday 27, 2015 in Geneva. It didn’t’t happen. That is to be expected the work of the organizers was difficult. However we had a lot of an informal discussion. The Geneva city center displays a variety of restaurants and cafes with comfortable seats outside. It is there that Eritreans engaged in discussions in the form of brainstorming –The main issue was “the way forward” I remember there was this youth literally on fire demanding that people should work in unison and accelerate the demise of PFDJ. I liked his discourse and his spirit to move on without wasting time. The youth seems to realize the damages of fragmentation. People were sensing that it is time to radically change in the way the opposition works. They expect the older generation to share their wisdom and experience admitting their participation is critical to the struggle for democratic change.
It is during that discussion that Suleiman Adam – chairman of CDRiE mentioned the conferences that will take place in London, Oakland and Bologna. The conferences are organized by BOLOGNA FORUM. Its objectives are summarized by Miriam September in her face book. It goes;
“In my view, nothing is more important than working on the increased effectiveness and relevance of the Eritrean opposition. This will not only help shortening the life of the dictator, but above all, mitigate the risks post PFDJ. The Bologna Forum aims to achieve just that and this is why it has a huge importance. As a people-lead effort, it will only work with everyone’s contribution and full participation. And that can only be achieved when the enormous potential value of his effort is truly recognized. Hope to see many of you in London, Oakland and Bologna. To make it happen. The initiative s is very encouraging. It is timely initiative which we should all attend.
The United Kingdom Situation – The UK voice:
I don’t hide my concern that the justice seekers in UK is not playing the role it was supposed to play. It was weakened not by fragmentation only but by complacency. It is far away from being action oriented. Some studies indicate that there are up to 50 Eritrean communities in UK. To the advantage of PFDJ- the communities don’t engage in debate about the social situation let alone the political situation in Eritrea and have become de-politisation centers. This system encourages conspiracy of silence, and the UK activities being vibrant few years ago have become surprising weak today. Such weakness is predominantly in London. Those outside London in the North are much better.
As a consequence, the justice seekers are not visible to the British Government authorities whose contact has been with the Embassy of Eritrea in London. PFDJ has assured the British Government that the indefinite national service is reinstated to be 18 months. That may be one of the reasons why the Home Office came with the following. I quote from Eritrea-Focus electronic newspaper. 1
“In March, the UK Home Office issued two documents, Country Information and Guidance Eritrea: Illegal Exit, which in a combined 64 pages have hardened the asylum rules by which thousands of Eritreans will be judged.”
Today with the report of ICOE an environment has been created that makes it relevant to listen to the views of the opposition. In such political climate the provision of credible opposition in the form of UK voice is essential to engage with the British Authorities. To find ways to form an umbrella sort of “UK voice”has been the subject of discussion during the commemoration of Martyrs day, June 20. Subsequent meetings are arranged to take place at the hall of “International initiative for Peace”off Victoria Station.
At last the people of Eritrea are being listened. Their pains and suffering acknowledged by the international community and the highest authority in our planet, the United Nations. Seize the momentum.
1. Eritrea Focus: is an association of Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) human rights organizations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuse of human rights in Eritrea.
2. Bologna Forum:is an independent, people-lead platform and alliance of Eritreans and organizations who seek to strengthen the 'Eritrean solutions for Eritrean problems'-mantra as a political strategy for Eritrea's path towards democracy.
3. The Bologna Forum Programs: Eritrean Summit to End Dictatorship: London 18-19 July: Oakland California 28-29 August: Bologna 9-11 October 2015.
4. The picture: The woman in Black cardigan and grey t-shirt is Mrs Shoa the wife of ex-ambassador to China. Erimias Debesai (papaya): Some time ago her daughter, Aura, came out with a moving placard in an-anti PFDJ demonstration in Germany. It read “Where is my father “. It symbolizes the pains of all the families whose beloved are illegally imprisoned by PFDJ.
5. A New Campaign by Amnesty International has been launched to call for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea. Putting Aster Fitzehasion in the front line. And a petition to be signed.
Migrants from Eritrea take part in a protest outside the European Union delegation in Israel, in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
By Tom Miles
GENEVA, July 2 (Reuters) - Eritrea faces a second year of scrutiny by human rights investigators after the U.N. body overseeing them extended their mission on Thursday, a decision that may put the government at risk of referral to the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Human Rights Council asked the independent investigators to use the time to consider if the Horn of Africa country was committing "crimes against humanity" - a level of offence that can be prosecuted by the global tribunal.
Eritrea's envoy to the Geneva-based rights council described the decision as "politicised" and dismissed an earlier report detailing testimony of widespread torture, sexual violence, forced labour and mass surveillance as unfounded and biased.
Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world and around 5,000 of its citizens flee every month to try and join migrants heading towards Europe, according to the United Nations.
Somalia, which formally asked the U.N. council to extend the investigation of its near neighbour Eritrea, has regularly accused Eritrea of backing militants on its a territory, a charge Asmara rejects. Djibouti, which shares a border with Eritrea, also backed the resolution.
The investigators, who submitted a report last month, had recommended that the council extend their remit to decide whether crimes against humanity had been committed.
In the past they have said such a finding could lead later to a case before the Hague-based global court - a tribunal set up to investigate the worst crimes when local courts fail.
Thursday's resolution told the investigators to look into "systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring full accountability".
Eritrean envoy Tesfamicael Gerahtu told the 47-member Council that his country believed that "the draft resolution is a recipe for sustained confrontation with no dividend for the promotion of human rights".
He called Djibouti and Somalia "the usual bidders... on behalf of the main known architects".
Gerahtu said Eritrea was "redoubling its development efforts to achieve a qualitative leap in the next three to four years," and was strengthening human rights as part of this effort.
Last week the three U.N. investigators were given police protection, even inside the secure U.N. complex, after a senior official said they had received threats on the street and at their hotel.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Andrew Heavens)
Mussie Awate (2013)ላዶን ብሊንድ ጋብያ (I will speak once in Blin), Stockholm
By Kiflemariam Hamde, Sweden
This publication is a second in a series of published poetry books in Blin[i], after Bogos Goitom’s pioneering poems of love, እንከሊ enkeli[ii]. In 25 poems running several paragraphs or entries, Mussie describes how his competence on writing poems in other languages convinced his inner intuition and motivation to do so in Blin script. “Encouraged by the growing literature on Blin for the last two decades, I also take the real step to write in Blin”, asserts the author (2013: 9). Another implicit reason for taking this initiative is his critical stand on the socio-political life on Eritrea, his reaction to the continued domination of the public space by Tigrigna and Arabic, while ‘participants speaking other languages’ are often ‘expected to use their own languages only at home, continuously stripping them off their vitality in the Eritrean public space’ (Forward). According to the author, this phenomenon is also apparent in literature and communication among Eritreans in general. The author capitalizes on his rich experience (from the liberation period) when he participated in the liberation movement as a fighter between 1976 and 1981, and even after that period, continued working in the opposition movement from the diaspora.
It is impossible to comment on all of the poems in this short review but I have selected a few so that the reader can get an idea of the contents. Attending to the titles, I can identify five groups of poems: Poems based on Blin proverbs (p. 14, 28, 30, 48, 58, 61), idioms (p. 23, 37, 63, 69), famous or notorious actors or special events (p. 33, 39, 42, 45, 56, 76), riddles (p. 48) and poems with general contents (the rest). Moreover, there are critical rhetoric illustrative of current events, at times challenging the status quo in the socio-political impasse in Eritrea (p. 23) and victimhood (p. 30), shaky communication (p. 56), on care and judgement, (p. 76) on economy and war (p. 23, “Don’t provoke in your communication with each other – literally, ‘don’t throw words ), comments on the sad situation facing the Eritrea youth in different corners of the world, etc.
In the first Poem (p. 14), Mussie invokes a Blin proverb ኒመሓርኒዩዅቊጡምሰምበርጎደ! (Ni meHarini yuxw QTum sember Gwede! (p. 4-19). It is based on a factual event about a man who ploughed his farm in a forbidden day, Sunday, because he did not own oxen. After farming on Sundays a couple of times, he asks God for forgiveness. As for my reading, the greatness of the poem lies in its allegory for a value that is often difficult for human beings to acknowledge their mistakes, and ask for forgiveness, especially for Eritreans. Reversely, the poet abhors people who are inconsistent in their behaviour, hypocrites, and those who hurt, rebuke, or sell their brethren, gradually only fool themselves. He laments particularly the loss or lack of respect, dialogue and understanding, consequently everybody losing together! The author reminds Eritreans and the Blin people that interdependence, care and compromise should be the end (goals), rather than bickering on the means.
Mussie also describes the linguistic situation of Blin speakers both in the private and public arenas, alluding to future trajectories for the development on Blin writing as well as the expected Blin speakers’ active participation in Eritrea’s socio-political life and literature (p. 48-50). The author illustrates issues of language domination and power (p. 49), the impact on ordinary Eritreans lives of the cultural fragmentation and socioeconomic underdevelopment caused by the atrocities during the Ethiopian domination in Eritrea (1961-1991) , particularly the legacy of massacres and imprisonment of civilians in urban and rural areas in Eritrea in general, etc., for example, of almost 1000 civilians who were killed by the Second Military Division of Haile Selassie’s regime in Besikdira and Ona in November 30, and December 1, 1970, respectively[iii], and since 1991.
The poems reflect deep-rooted values, norms, and respectful communication that tends to be weakening or completely lacking among Eritreans, politicians, and in the general public, and calls for tolerance, respect, and justice, and thereof equality among Eritreans. Mussie is a good example of the growing number of authors on Blin language[iv] and culture. Anybody who is interested to understand how an author understands the past events, ongoing current happenings, and future trajectories about language, culture, politics and economy is advised to read this book. My only complaint is that the poems are not numbered, and we have to quote the page number or title in quoting them. However, that does not affect the quality and legitimacy of the language used and richness of values invoked and the call for future development of Blin language. As a reader, I recommend the book for anybody who wants to know about the mentioned values and norms within the context of past and current Eritrean situation is encouraged to read the book. Finally, it is a good starter for (Eritrean) language students and literature, it is a good addition to the growing poetry on and in Eritrean languages[v].
A father of three, Mussie Awate lives in Stockholm, Sweden.
[i] Since mid-1970s, more than 40 literature in Blin ብሊንድ and on Blin ብሊን has increasingly emerged both inside Eritrea and in the Diaspora, specifically Sweden, Norway and also London. or many – old and new - works on Blin language, culture, history, music, etc., read at the Blin Language Forum website www.daberi.org and www.debanma.com. The entries are mainly in Blin, and on Blin in English, Tigrinya, and a few in Arabic (on History).
[ii]Bogos Goitom (1992). እንከሊ (Love Poems), Nyna Tryckeri, Uppsala, Sweden.
[iii] For a succinct narrative of the painful massacre, and its consequences, at Besikdira village, and the general situation at that period, see Abba Teweldeberhan Geberemedhin and Abba Zerayakob Okbamikael, Capuchin friars: መሪርግፍዒኣብበስክዲራንከባቢኣን (A Painful Massacre at Besikdria and its Environs), ትምጻእመንግስትከ (Adveniat Regnum TUUM), 44th Year, Nrs 73/74, page 1-14.
[iv] A couple of them will be reviewed in English during the coming few months so that readers might get information on the type of literature that is emerging in local languages (i.e., Eritrean languages).
[v] See for example “Who needs A Story?” by Charles Cantalupo & Ghirmai Negash (2005), and “We have a voice, Selected Poems of Reesom Haile”, by Charles Cantalupo (2000), and many more.
A rare insight into what goes on inside the “North Korea of Africa”.
by Martin Plaut Published 6 July, 2015 - 17:40
Martin Plaut writes: A message has been smuggled out of Eritrea calling for UN sanctions against the regime to be maintained. It provides a rare insight into the conditions in a country that is so isolated and repressive that it is often referred to as the North Korea of Africa.
This appeal, which comes from the underground resistance in the capital, Asmara, helps explain why Eritreans make up one of the largest group of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe and finally making their way to Calais. It comes via the “Freedom Friday” network, which has used posters and phone calls to reach their people inside the country.
Last month a UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea concluded that human rights in the country are so severe that they may constitute crimes against humanity. Among these abuses is the system of national service. Young men and women are conscripted into the military at the age of 17 and have to serve indefinitely, with next to no pay. Some people have served for more than 20 years, acting as forced labour on the country’s gold and copper mine.
When the findings were debated in Geneva there were large demonstrations organized by the Eritrean government and the opposition, with the respective sides attacking or supporting the Commission’s findings. The President of the Commission complained that his members had received threats and attempts had been made to intimidate them. The Swiss police provided guards for the UN investigators.
Eritrean state television only broadcast news about the pro-government demonstrations, and it was in reaction to these broadcasts that a group of Eritreans sent this message abroad. They support sanctions against the regime. This is reminiscent of the calls by the African National Congress for sanctions against apartheid from the 1960s onwards, even if it was going to hurt the people of South Africa.
Eritrea’s history is one of the saddest in Africa. Eritreans fought for their independence from Ethiopia for 30 years. During that time vast quantities of American arms and financial support were provided to Emperor Haile Selassie. After he was overthrown in 1974 by the Marxist regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, the aid continued, but this time from the Soviet Union. Despite this, the Eritreans fought their way into their capital, Asmara, in 1991 and the country gained international recognition as an independent state in 1993.
A further border war with Ethiopia from 1998 until 2000 left the country badly weakened. The army remains entrenched along the Ethiopian border and a state of no-war, no-peace has allowed permanent conscription to be enforced.
In May 2001 President Isaias Afwerki was criticised by his party colleagues, who described his despotic rule as “illegal and unconstitutional”. They were promptly arrested and have been held without trial ever since. There have been no elections since independence. The constitution has not been implemented, there is no freedom of speech or independent media of any kind.
A message from Asmara: is it naivety or callousness?
Some Eritreans think the demonstration that took place on the 22 June has something to do with the existing UN sanctions against our country, or any economic sanction that might be imposed in the future. But although sanctions can hurt the people the current appalling situation of Eritreans is a reality that should be understood by every Eritrean living in the diaspora.
We are unable to make a living; we are forced to go to endless military training in the national service and the people’s army forces our children to go on “development” projects. This is the reality of our arduous lives.
All enterprises are shut. Even the meager provisions for every day goods including food items are limited. Those businessmen who used to be able to import small amounts have been forbidden from doing so. This has resulted in scarcity of every item. People are suffering.
It is as if the government has declared war on us; the government is busy shutting every door on us and making our lives a misery whilst we continually have to fight to overcome these difficulties
For example, domestic fuel is now very scarce and very expensive. The prices of essential food rises by the day. Even government owned ‘fair shops’ are working against the people and exposing the people to even more hardship. Shoppers are forced to queue for hours on end just to buy basics. Restrictions are placed on how much can be bought at one time.
Electricity is so seldom available that our children joke about it. They say it is rather like bread. This used to be rationed; now it has totally vanished from many shops. The absence of electricity is one indicator of how far our standard of living has fallen. We are convinced that this is a deliberate ploy of the government to keep us so bogged down in the grind of daily life we cannot begin to think about the future.
We are convinced that those who support the government abroad, by protesting against any report exposing the harsh reality under which we live, effectively believe that we only deserve the worst here in Eritrea.
Since those who are protesting don’t live here with us we consider their actions callous selfishness and greed, rather than naivety. They want to gain government favours at our expense.
We often hear and see reports about the “contribution” of young people (YPFDJ – the youth wing of the ruling party) in the diaspora. Our response is please don’t be duped by people like Yemane “Monkey”. [Yemane Gebreab, Presidential adviser and senior party leader. Most prominent Eritreans are known by their nickname.] Please listen to us, the victims.
Ask those who are mobilising you why the PFDJ [the ruling party] doesn’t abide by its own rules? Why are there no elections? Why do so many young people leave the country at great risk to themselves?
Instead of opposing the human rights report you could even suggest a committee made up of Eritreans to investigate everything that is taking place in our country. Make your own assessment!
We have our own country, yet we are the gypsies of the world. We are discriminated against and looked down upon. This is the tragedy that has befallen the heroic people of Eritrea, who stood up to the super-powers to secure Eritrea’s independence.
In conclusion, we understand what defending your country and standing with your people really means. But we consider your activities are working against us in the guise of defending the country and its interests.
What are you protecting the country from? What worse is going to happen to us?
There is no electricity, we have severe housing problems, there is a real scarcity of food and getting health care is difficult. Trust us: nothing worse can happen to Eritrea. So don’t deceive yourselves into thinking you are doing this for us or acting on our behalf.
Thursday, July 2, 2015 7:43 PM GMT
The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday decided to prolong an investigation into horrendous abuses in Eritrea, and widen it to include looking into suspected crimes against humanity.
The 47-member rights body unanimously agreed to extend for another year the work of a special commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa state.
The commission should "investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view of ensuring full accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity," the resolution said.
The three-member team last month published a 500-page report detailing how Eritrea, under Isaias Afwerki's iron-fisted regime for the past 22 years, has created a repressive system in which people are routinely arrested at whim, detained, tortured, killed or go missing.
A system of indefinite conscription of all Eritreans also forces many to toil in slave-like conditions in the military and other state jobs, sometimes for decades, according to the report, which was flatly rejected by Eritrea.
The investigators said violations were taking place on a "scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere".
The report found that some of the numerous abuses committed in Eritrea "may constitute crimes against humanity," but the investigators said they had not probed that possibility, since it was not in their initial mandate.
"We didn't have the time, the resources (or) the possibility to be able to make any determination on (crimes against humanity) and we simply recommended that some mechanism could be judged to look at that issue," head of the commission Mike Smith told reporters last month.
The report provides a list of government and state entities responsible for the abuse, including the military, police, justice ministry and Isaias himself.
Thursday's resolution, which was tabled by Djibouti and Somalia, strongly condemned "the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have been and are being committed by the government of Eritrea in a climate of generalised impunity."
It also lamented that the abuses were inciting "an ever-increasing number of Eritreans to leave their country."
Eritrea, which after Syria is the largest source of migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, is seeing some 5,000 people flood out of the country each month, despite a "shoot-to-kill" policy along the borders.
Thursday's text urged Eritrea to among other things release all political prisoners, halt the use of torture, end the system of indefinite national service and "end the practice of shooting at Eritrean citizens attempting to cross the border".
And it demanded that the country cooperate with the investigators, who have not been permitted to enter and who have so far mainly based their findings on interviews with Eritreans living abroad.
The resolution also said all the commission's findings should be passed on to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the General Assembly in New York "for appropriate action".
© 2015 AFP