Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A conversation with Singer-Lyricist Saba Tewelde

Issayas Tesfamariam: Can you tell our readers about yourself?

Saba: I arrived with my family in Germany when I was six
years old. I have always loved singing. It feels very natural
to me, but it took me a long time to actually sing in public
or even think of taking it further. No matter how hard you
try you can never kill a real passion for something.
Beside music, I always felt myself drawn to basically all art
forms.I think they are great gifts for us to express our inner
world and feelings, which often can’t be explained in plain
words, especially those overwhelming feelings that leave
us speechless.Like colors on canvas give us a great
sensation, so can a piece of music, lyrics or dance.
What else can you do, but love it!

Issayas: Your band’s name is InjeraSoul. Why did you choose
the name InjeraSoul?

Saba: Thinking about the music I had in mind and was already
doing, only one word came close to describing it, “Soul food”
(at least that’s what I like to think of it). So InjeraSoul
just fitted perfectly.We all love Injera and it is a little
piece of home in the Diaspora. And another great thing about
it is,it brings people naturally together to share and eat out
of one plate, just like the music that brings the audience
together. Finally, these two words simply sound beautiful
in combination.

Issayas: What kinds of songs do you sing?

Saba: All sorts of subjects can be found in the songs, mainly
raising social critical issues, but how else could it be if
you look at the conditions of the world we live in. But of
course love in many ways is also a great inspiration for the
lyrics. You know some of the songs have been written by
one of my uncles and a cousin in Eritrea, so that was extremely

Issayas: Which songs were written by your uncle and cousin,
respectively? Are your uncle and cousin songwriters and musicians
in Eritrea?

Saba: No they are not musicians, but they like to write so
I asked them to write for me. Two songs were written by my cousin,
they are called “Laura” and “Turum Neru”. My uncle wrote a song
called “Seb gin Seb eyu”.

Issayas: What type of music does your band play?

Saba: The music is always different. Each song has another
influence to it. We play mainly with a twist of different genres
and soulful melodies with a nice beat.

Issayas: Do you sing mostly Tigrigna songs,or do you sing in other

Saba: I sing in English which actually is the language I started
to sing in. But I also did lots of backup vocals for several artists
in French and some African languages.

Issayas: Who were the people you did backup singing for?

Saba:I did a backup for “African Consciences” that’s a music project
based in Paris. And for several afro beat bands in Frankfurt. And
different things like backup for a Caribbean influenced show band
and singing in a Gospel musical.

Saba: It wasn’t really a planned thing to sing in Tigrinya, because
growing up Tigrinya was my parent’s music and I had my own taste of
music. I was hardly listening to Tigrinya music to begin with, but my
parents would listen to it all the time, so it wasn’t really too far
away. But as for many female singers growing up my vocal heroes was
Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige and
other soul voices. But, I always had a diverse taste of music from
Soul, Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Gospeland Classic. I also liked to listen
to fusion World Music loving the sound of different languages and
singing styles blending in with jazz/afro beat and traditional music,
the creativity behind it really impressed me. So the idea of sometime
trying this in Tigrinya was definitely growing.

I did start to also discover more of Tigrinya music. One day at the
end of 2003, a friend of mine was organizing a world music concert
featuring local musicians. He asked me if I would like to contribute
something. I spontaneously said "sure" but until that time I was
only singing in English, unless I had to do backup vocals for none
English performance. This was an opportunity to try something new.
So afterlooking around for a while to find a Tigrinya lyricist I
heard about a writer/poet who was studying in the area,Petros Werasi.
I met Petros and told him what I had in mind. After we had a long
and interesting conversation about the subject and message I wanted
in a song, he came up with “Tesfa Kabana”. For the second song,
I sang “Woledi kindey tenaferu” by Elsa Kidane but changed the
music with my guitarist and sang it in my style. So I performed
these songs at the acoustic, vocal and guitar event, and it went
really well and just felt right. I guess that’s when InjeraSoul
was born.

Issayas: I have heard comments such as Tigrigna is not for lovers,
can’t sing romantic songs in Tigrigna,Amharic is suited better for
music etc. Personally, I don't agree with the comments,but what is
your take on it?

Saba: I also wouldn’t agree with that statement. It’s too general,
even tough, I know it can be a challenge to sing Tigrinya in a soft
way simply because of the pronunciation of certain words and that’s
just a fact.And people do associate softness and melodic of words
as being romantic and emotional, but then again it is not impossible.
It depends on how you are using the language and the way you sing.
I actually have received a lot of emails on my website from people
saying how surprised they were to hear Tigrinya in such a soft
way and with that type of music. Therefore, I don’t think that it
is the language that keeps it from sounding romantic and let’s say
suitable for lovers, I think the music/melody/beat plays a major
role and our understanding of what sounds soothing. For example,
Abraham Afewerki’s (May he rest in peace) last album, is so diverse
and is beyond romantic. If you listen to the way he used the guitar,
it makes you emotional. Also the backup vocals he used to complement
some of the songs are very creative. I think it only takes an open
mind towards different influences and ideas and then actually allow
it to be part of Eritrean music.

Issayas: I have heard how you have "soulfied" some Tigrinya songs.
I love how you did them.For example, Tsheatu's "Mejemaria fikre ab
men tejemere?". How do you pick the songs that you want to

Saba: The reason why I, for example, picked Tsehatu Beraki’s song
was because I love the lyrics. They are very poetic and deep,
unlike many other love songs. I am very much interested in the
way a song is written. I like when words are able to draw pictures
in your mind. The message of a song is also quite important to me.
When I pick a song it has to touch me and I have to relate to it
somehow, that’s what makes me want to pick a certain song and
interpret it my way. It was actually a friend that pointed out
to me that Tsehaytu has put out an album with a lot of her old
songs. After listening to it I was really touched by her voice,
she has a unique sound and deepness, fantastic.

Issayas: I would like to see Eritrean music compete in the
world music scene. But, to do that, I think, Eritrean music has
to innovate. Do you agree with this lazy and easy assessment or
you disagree? And how should Eritrean music become internationalized?

Saba: Actually I am pretty confident that Eritrean music will
be internationalized; it’s just a matter of time.Not necessarily,
exactly the way traditional music sounds. We enjoy traditional
music because it is part of our culture. But, different sounds of
it need to be developed so that it suits the ears of a wider range
of audience.Depending on where you are from, you have a different
understanding on what sound is pleasant to your ears simply because
of what you grew up hearing and what you associate the sound with.
Here again, we have to just keep an open mind and just mingle in
the different music genres and see what happens. If you look at
the world music scene, the most successful are those who use
fusion with other more contemporary genres. Most of it is
not straight traditional music. And if you look around there
is much more going on now than a few years ago. There are several
Eritrean musicians out there in the Diaspora,who use Tigrinya
lyrics in Hip Hop ,for example.It is already happening,
you might say.

Issayas: Saba, thank you very much for your time.
And keep up the good work.

Saba: You are welcome.

Please check out Saba's website at the following url:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007




In this last segment, I would like to bring you a full circle to the beginning of the first part. The catalyst for this article was the 35th year of the “Battle of Halhal” in September 2003. You will find that I have put a reference to the “engagement” (using Mr. Kramer’s terminology) in Halhal of 1968 in parenthesis. The reason is some people argue that the attack on Halhal in 1968 by the second division (zone) was not even a battle. Whether one sees it as a battle or an attack or engagement, I chose to put it in a parenthesis. Also in this final part, I am presenting a sketched map drawn by Mr. Kramer that is in the Hoover Archives . There is also another sketched map by the commander of the unit, that Mr. Kramer was with at that time, who attacked the reinforcement convoy sent to Halhal. But that particular map is not presented here because some parts of it are very faded. Battle or attack, what is important is to investigate: (a) what was the significance of that attack? (b) What was the aftermath? (c) What was the political and military significance of that attack or battle? ... etc.

Issayas: You were not too far away from Halhal in 1968 where the “Battle of Halhal” took place. Can you tell me about it?

Mr. Kramer: Yes I was close to Halhal. But being close is not being there, especially, when you are reporting the guerrilla side of a guerrilla war. In Eritrea it took me days to cover ground that I could cover in ten minutes of hitchhiking by chopper in Vietnam. Of course I got reports, and those are in the collection. But I don’t want to make it sound as if I could see the units attack. I can’t even say if any of what we heard over that period of days was the Halhal engagement itself. The guerrilla attack on Halhal fortifications was the centerpiece of the engagement, but there were related actions all over. When an attack like this takes places, the entire region gets hot, helicopters are out hunting, and if you are with the side they are hunting for, you get an intense idea of what it’s like to be on the guerrilla side, especially in open country. I got much more detailed stuff on the attack by Mohammed Ali Idris on an Ethiopian column sent to reinforce Halhal, maps, descriptions of the participants, etc. The picture (see part five) of us in the wadi with the blue Eritrean flag was with the unit that carried out that attack. The figure near the left of the group with a blue scarf is a girl--- one of the few female guerrillas at that time, though I understand that they were later to make a great contribution. Many of the guerrillas in that wadi bore deep scars, and they were so young.

Issayas: In our phone conversations, you mentioned that you did not find out about the failure of the “Battle of Halhal” until you came back to the United States. Was there any new information that you did not know when you were there?

Mr. Kramer: I did not understand how severe the engagement was until years later. Without over dramatizing, the guerrillas were honest with me about an engagement during which they took serious losses. But when I got to Asmara I was fed Ethiopian propaganda that was so obviously false (for example, that the Eritrean guerrillas had been cleared from the regions in which I knew first hand they were still operating) that it backfired, and convinced me that the Eritreans had not suffered nearly as bad at Halhal as they had. I really didn’t understand just how bad things were when I was there until I read the Eritreans’ own accounts of what happened, and I didn’t read them until much later.

Issayas: You were a military man. What was the significance of the “Battle of Halhal” of 1968?

Professor Berhe: The Battle of Halhal was a daring assault by a fledgling guerrilla force on entrenched government outpost. The attack was repulsed. With around sixty freedom fighters and the zone commander (Omar Ezaz: commander of the second zone) killed the outcome was disastrous. Alamin Mohamed Said explains the incident in a footnote in his book as an attempt to disrupt the reform oriented meeting of the field commanders of the ELF that was scheduled to take place at Anseba to work on the reform of the ELF’s organization and leadership. To understand the situation it is important to view the context within which events were evolving at the time. Alamin Mohamed Said describes the many challenges the Front was facing and how, instead of meeting the challenge by solving the problems, the leadership took measures that aggravated the situation and plunged the movement into deeper and wider religious and regional divisions. The five military zones that reflected the religious and ethnic homogeneity of the area were created. In addition, there was rivalry between former members of the Sudanese military and former members of the Eritrean police force (Alamin Mohamed Said, p.14). The commander of the second zone, Umar Ezaz, was a sergeant in the Sudanese forces. The progressive counter movement that was developing inside the Front was trying to call a meeting at Anseba to create a unified command and structure. The first and second zone commanders did not attend the meeting. Some writers and people who were in the Front at that time explain the “Battle of Halhal “as an attempt to gain an upper hand in the power feud in the field. Alamin further portrays the leadership of the early years of the revolution as consisting of individuals who “misappropriated money and services such as scholarships and medical aid donated for the Front” by supporters of the Eritrean struggle. The field commanders, in a way, became warlords with complete authority over life and property in their region. Keeping the fighters divided was their strategy of maintaining their power and promoting their interest. Ahmed Teifar, editor of the Sudanese paper “October” in his book “The Truth About the Eritrean Revolution” provides detailed account of the abuse of power by the leaders and their views on religion and the role of non-Moslems in the movement and future Eritrea (quoted in “The Eritrean Riddle” by Alemseged, B. Adal, 1993). Change was imminent, because there were too many committed young people in the movement. Some eventually split and formed new organizations while others worked for change from within. The resolution of the contradiction in the organization catapulted the struggle for independence to a new plane, which eventually led to total liberation of the country from enemy rule.

Issayas: Tom, you know about the “Kramer Papers”. Kramer was near Halhal in 1968. What was the significance of the “Battle of Halhal”?

Dr. Killion: Battle of Hal-Hal 1968 was the worst ELF defeat of the liberation struggle to that point they lost about 75 fighters and gave the Ethiopians a propaganda victory. Apparently, Omer Ezaz had planned the action in an attempt to strengthen his independent bargaining position at the upcoming Anseba Conference. At the time, he was both critical of the ELF leadership but unwilling to join Eslah reformers, and he seems to have hoped form a"third force". His death and the Hal Hal defeat ended any possibility of a "Bilen" third force emerging in the ELF; it also increased the divisive and recriminating bickering in the ELF, thus paving the way for the rise of the reform movement and eventually Shaebia.

                                                                    Dr. Tom Killion

Issayas: You interviewed Azen Yassin in Asmara in 1994 for a couple of days. Did you ask him about the "Battle of Halhal”? If yes, what was his response?

Dr. Killion: I have looked through the notes I took in Asmara in 1994, but I can't find any comments by Yassin on Hal Hal. I will look more carefully when I have more time... unfortunately; my notebook organization needs to be revisited. The tape of the interview is in the former RICE (today’s Research and Documentation Center) archives in Asmara, but it is unfortunately of poor quality. I got much of my information from an interview I did in Hal Hal in 1994 with some Muslim villagers who had just returned from 25 years or so of exile in the Sudan -- they remembered the 1968 debacle well and were still bitter about it. They respected Ezaz for his bravery, but certainly did not paint him as a great hero.

Issayas: The attack on Hal Hal was ill fated. Some people even say it was a blunder on the part of Omar Ezaz. What is your take of it?

Dr. Killion: Of course the attack was a blunder. To begin with, Ezaz had planned it for the wrong reasons (ELF politics, not a larger guerrilla strategy). Second, his military security was weak and one of his men (some say Omer himself) leaked word of the operation to a relative in the town who let it be known to some others, one of whom was a prostitute who told her Ethiopian boyfriend -- so the Ethiopians were waiting in ambush for Ezaz instead of the visa-versa. Though Ezaz had about 200 fighters and outnumbered the "Ethiopian" (mostly Eritrean Christians, by the way) police, he lacked the element of surprise. Ezaz should have then retreated to fight another day as a good guerrilla strategist would do -- but it was his home and apparently pride got in the way, leading to a senseless continuation of the attack and the slaughter of much of the Bilen contingent of the early ELF. Ezaz was brave, but he was not a good strategist. The defeat dealt a serious blow to ELF prestige for many months and increased the divisions in the ELF -- so it was in every sense a big defeat at that period in the liberation struggle. The defeat also brought horrible reprisals on the civilian population of Hal Hal, with some 30 killed and much of their property and livestock looted.

Issayas: What was the after effect of the “Battle of Halhal”?

Professor Berhe: Militarily, the Battle of Hal Hal may be viewed from many angles. One angle demonstrates the danger a guerrilla force faces when it moves too quickly out of hit and run tactics to attacking entrenched enemy positions without appropriate weapons and adequate training plan. The danger is multiplied when the enemy force is well trained and disciplined. Hal Hal post defenders were Eritrean Police commandos trained by the Israeli military in advanced infantry and counter insurgency tactics. Above all, they were Eritreans, albeit on the wrong side. Eritrean fighters are known throughout history for their tenacity and fighting spirit. Eventually, most of the young Eritrean Police Commandos joined the fronts and proved their mettle. The loss in human life was staggering. Over fifty freedom fighters, including the commander were killed. The total combatant force of the zone was believed to have been less than 200. Perhaps the indirect effect of the Battle of Halhal may have had more enduring effect in the long run than in the immediate future. Temporary success at Hal Hal may have given the Ethiopian government and military false hope that they can succeed militarily. The Ethiopian military had failed to suppress the Eritrean armed struggle at the initial stages. Experts in counterinsurgency stress that if a movement cannot be stopped during the first few months or years, it will be difficult to control. The Eritrean armed struggle had crossed that stage. Ethiopian counterinsurgency doctrine, which relies on brutal suppression, loses its effectiveness once the people in uprising and their organization pass that critical stage. The consternation of arrogant Ethiopian leaders was why Eritrea should be an exception, because earlier peasant uprisings in Ethiopia, example Oromo, Tigray, Sidama, were “nipped in the bud” in the first two or three years. An exception to this scenario is the Ogaden movement, which survived for many decades and may eventually bring the unraveling of the empire that Menelik built.

Issayas: Before I finish this article/interview I would like to ask you two more questions, if you don’t mind. When I went and re-read your 21- page article that is in the Hoover Archives, the following questions came to my mind. You wrote;

“Eritrean strategy parallels the Vietnamese strategy, but at this moment, it doesn’t so much parallel the Giap strategy, particularly of battle from a fixed emplacements. Given the Eritrean terrain, fixed emplacements may never be feasible or necessary anyway. Their current strategy would seem parallel much more the earlier Vietnamese strategy of “Trung Chinh”, which essentially means prolongation.

Can you explain? EPLF won the war in 1991 from their base in the Mountains of Sahel, which was basically a fixed position. What is your comment?

Mr. Kramer: You must remember that whether I was the first western reporter, or one of the first western reporters, or the first non-Party reporter in Eritrea, I was still just one reporter at a particular place at a particular time, and my reporting reflects that narrow perspective. I had a little background: the Marine Corps; several months as a reporter in Vietnam; an interest in liberation movements. But I also had my biases, among them a sympathy for minorities, which may have been no more than the traditional American sympathy for the underdog, and whatever else you may think of that, it is a bias. It limits objectivity. In short, I was simply reporting what I was able to comprehend of what was going on at that early stage in the war. Not only were there few fixed positions (from Tessennei to Keren, I saw none), the ELF was deploying virtually no vehicles. We rode mules, we rode camels, we walked, once in a while we ran; we never once rode in a vehicle. In fact the only vehicles we saw were bombed out Ethiopian armored cars near Agordat. Once or twice we saw Ethiopian choppers overhead. (It was not until years later, traveling with the Polissario in the Western Sahara, that I realized guerrillas could actually get away with driving oil tankers across open desert behind enemy lines; I was quite amazed and equally frightened.) From what I’d seen in Vietnam, it seemed that Trung Chin’s emphasis on protracted war more closely reflected what the ELF was doing and could do in such open country, with little cover. Not only did I see no evidence of Giap’s fixed-position tactics, but also I could hardly imagine it. Not only was there none of the cover guerrillas had in Vietnam, but where the Vietnamese could take advantage of a large population to build emplacements, Eritrea had a comparatively light population. From what I saw at that moment, mobility appeared clearly to be the tactic and protracted war the strategy, wearing the Ethiopians down until they understood that Eritrea was too costly to hang on to. The great achievements came later -- the underground munitions factories, underground hospitals and operating rooms, underground machine shops, oil tankers and tanks roaming at large despite the lack of air cover and subject to air attack. As I wrote, I had no inkling that this was coming. When it did come, it amazed me. Whether it represented a change of strategy by the EPLF or was always the strategy of the leadership is a question you should address to the leadership.

Issayas: You also wrote; “In Aden I heard the common stories—Eritrean and other African revolutionaries being trained by the Chinese in Zanzibar, or on some island near, Zanzibar the Cubans who were supposed to be or were supposed to have been in Eritrea. There were stories I had occasionally heard in Eritrea as well, but with an altogether different emphasis.” Would you elaborate on the quote?

Mr. Kramer: All I meant by that comment about Chinese/Cuban involvement was that this business seemed of much greater moment over hookahs in coffee shops in the Crater (not to speak of espresso bars in Milan) than it did on the ground in Eritrea, where it actually mattered. Aside from my few days in Asmara, and auto-stopping the road to Asmara, the only people I saw in Eritrea were Eritreans.

Issayas: Have you visited Eritrea since you last visited with the ELF fighters in 1968?

Mr. Kramer: No. How I wish I could. I go where I am sent, and there still isn’t much interest. There should be. Eritrea is at the hub of a critical region, and Lord knows we need good news out of Africa. But there isn’t much interest, and so I watch Eritrean news on public access cable and whenever we can, my son Zeke and I get ful for breakfast at the Keren Café on Florida Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Issayas: Thank you very much for all your help, time and specially for granting me to publish your pictures, audio clips and letters from the Hoover Archives. Also, thanks for being patient with my constant endless questions. Finally, I am looking forward for your upcoming co-authored book on Rwanda. 

Note: Mr. Kramer's book is already out and is entitled: Rwanda Means the Universe: A Native's Memoir of Blood and Bloodlines.

Concluding remark: By no means, this is not an exhaustive research. Of course, more is needed. As more documents surface and more people share their experiences in the Eritrean struggle, we hope to get a better and full picture of the early part of our struggle for independence. I hope the above interviews have succeeded in putting few pieces in this bigger and much needed picture. What the experience of writing this article has shown me was that sometimes things happen for a reason. As I have mentioned in the introduction, I have been looking for Mr. Kramer for a long time. Once I found him in September 2003, not only the questions that I was dying for to ask Mr. Kramer were answered but also five more other people were interviewed to show the significance of the collection. Now I know why that entire wait was for a reason, Zeigiest. There were many people whose names are not mentioned in this article but were involved in a lot of different ways. They know who they are. Many people including the interviewees had to tolerate my continuous nagging, sometimes disrupting them from their activities, yet they accommodated me with patience. I am grateful for that. Again, I would like to thank all the people who helped in the completion of this article, especially the interviewees for their time and mind. Finally, as you have read in part three of this article/interview, Mr. Kramer mentioned that seven ghosts follow him wherever he goes. One of them is Kidane’s. I would hope that Mr. Kramer (through the invitation by the GOE, etc.) visits Kidane’s Eritrea to rest assured the ghost of Kidane that he did not die in vain. All the hopes, aspirations, struggle, stand, truth that Kidane stood for, for an independent Eritrea has been achieved and is being achieved by his country men and women and his comrades.

Monday, October 1, 2007




Issayas: What was the importance of Kidane Kiflu in the Eritrean struggle. In other words, what did Kidane Kiflu symbolize?

Professor Berhe: Kidane landed in the midst of the turbulence that characterized the first decade of the Eritrean armed struggle. In the second half of the 1960s the armed struggle for Eritrean independence was undergoing severe growth pangs. Kidane’s writings ( correspondences) show his concern about the problems faced by the movement and the need for positive reform and development. The leadership of the Front at that time did not welcome such views. Eventually he was murdered in cold blood. Alamin Mohamed Said in his book “The Ups and Downs of the Eritrean Revolution” (1994), specifically states, “The Eritrean Liberation Front … executed 250 individuals based on religion and regional affiliation. Kidane Kiflu and Weldai Ghidey were two of them.” (p.26).

Issayas: What was your feeling when you heard that Kidane Kiflu was killed?

Minister Naizghi: I had just finished my studies in Russia and was getting ready to go to the United States for a Ph.D. From Russia I went to Rome and it was in Rome that I heard that Kidane Kiflu was martyred from Tsegai Kahsai. I was saddened. On the other hand, I decided to quit mystudies and join to fight.

Issayas: What is the significance of the death of Kidane Kiflu?

Professor Berhe: Recent interview by Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari, serialized in Haddas Eritrea, confirms the previous word of mouth account of how the two (Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey) were murdered in cold blood in Kassala. They were lured to a certain Woldai Fikhakh’s house for lunch. There they were literally butchered by “fedayeen”, hiding under a bed. Later, the killers put the corpses in sacks, put them in a taxi and were on their way to Mt. Mikram to dump them away when one of the bodies fell off the car. (Hadas Eritrea, October 1, 2003). Kidane Kiflu was a learned man, a man of ideas and idealism. I have no doubt that his ideas contributed in shaping the future direction of Eritrean revolution. Kidane died an untimely death, in his twenties. His death should torture the conscience of his assassins, and the pusillanimous leaders who ordered his murder, that is those who are still alive, and assuming they have the conscience of a penitent murderer in his deathbed. But that is expecting too much.

Issayas: While I was working on this article/interview, coincidentally you were interviewed on Haddas Eritrea. Even though you have mentioned in detail your experience as a fighter in the newspaper, if you don’t mind I would like to ask you a few questions.

Brig. General Ghirmay: There is no problem. I will be glad to.

Issayas: Did you know Kidane Kiflu?

Brig. General Ghirmay: No, I did not know him very well. But I have met him a couple of times.

Issayas: When was he killed?

Brig. General Ghirmay: He was killed along with Woldai Ghidey. I have pictures of both of them. If you need the pictures for your article I will let you use them. They were killed after the end of the Adobha Conference. The main aim of the conference was to unite the various divisions. Kidane and Woldai were working hard and believed that the struggle or the revolution should be united. Both of them were invited for lunch at Woldai Fekhak’s home. Once there, they were butchered by the “fedeyeen” who were hiding under a bed.

Issayas: A lot of people say that the killing of Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey was the breaking point for the later EPLF to split from the ELF. What do you think of the statement?

                   Kidane Kiflu

                   Woldai Ghidey
                 Pictures are courtesy 
         of Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari.

Minister Naizghi: The split from the ELF had already started before the martyrdom of Kidane. Basically, Kidane was in Kassala with the understanding reached between him and Isaias Afwerki and Abraham Tewolde. Isaias and Abraham had already split with their respective comrades. Kidane Kiflu was in Kassala to coordinate the activities outside of the field. From Kassala he used to correspond with me, Aboi Woldeab Woldemariam, Hiruy Tedla and others about the conditions and situations of the field.

Issayas: Thank you for the pictures. In the Haddas Eritrea interview you mentioned that you and Wolderufael Sebhatu were sent to retrieve the documents of Kidane and Woldai Gheday after they were killed. What was the importance of those documents and where are they now?

Brig. General Ghirmay: They were very important documents. Wolderufael Sebhatu (who was martyred in Nakfa) and I were sent to get the documents from the house that was used as their office. Wolderufael knew the whereabouts and the importance of the documents because he used to work with them. You know, Wolderufael was supposed to have been killed with them but he was away at the time. Once we got to Kassala we got some of the documents but not all.

Issayas: In the interview with Haddas Eritrea, Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari stated that he and Wolderufael Sebhatu were sent to Kassala to collect the documents of Kidane Kiflu. What was the importance of these documents? Where are they now?

Minister Woldenkiel Gebremariam: The documents were very important. Kidane Kiflu was in Kassala and Kassala was the coordinating point with the field. He used to follow up the situations in the field and record them. They were very important historical documents. Some of the documents (letters) were sent to the field. With the situation that we went through in the field, it is hard to say where they are. Some documents were taken by Tekue Yhidego and etc. to Aden from Kassala. We used to have them with our Hafash Wudubat (Mass Organizations). After we went to the field we did not know the situation of the documents.

Minister Naizghi: The documents were very important. They used to describe the situations in the field. Who did what? Who got killed by whom ...etc. are the sort of things that were in the documents. We left some of the documents with our Hafash Wudubat (Mass Organizations) in Aden, Yemen. Later, we heard that the documents were stolen.

NEXT: FINAL PART (EIGHT). “The Battle of Halhal” (1968) with Mr. Jack Kramer, Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis and Dr. Tom Killion. Also, a sketched map from the “Kramer Papers 1968-1969.”

Sunday, July 29, 2007



Part Six
As I have mentioned in my introductory remarks, what impressed me the most were the contents of the letters of Kidane Kiflu to Jack Kramer. There are three letters written by Kidane Kiflu from Kassala, Sudan to Jack Kramer in Palo Alto, California, USA. In part six, I will present only the first four pages of the 8 pages letter of Kidane Kiflu dated; November 27th, 1968. The second four pages of the same letter are a literal translation of an Arabic article that appeared on a Lebanese newsletter “Kulush” entitled; “25 Days With Eritrean Strugglers”. I will also present a two-page letter written and signed (12/9/68) by Mohamud Dinai who was the commander of the First Division. Included you will also find typed transcribed letters of the aforementioned letters.

Summary of Kidane’s first letter to Kramer.

In Kidane’s first one page letter dated 29th, October 1968 (a month later after the visit of Kramer to the field), Kidane conveys his heart-felt greetings and wishes Kramer a good academic year. Kidane also mentions to Kramer that Abdella and Aberra have returned to Kassala safely from the field. In the rest of the letter, Kidane tells Kramer that he had sent him his packages (documents, recorder and negative films) that Kramer left with him. Kidane finally asks Kramer to let him know once he gets the packages.

Second and third letters.

I don’t need to go through the second letter (which I am presenting here) because the contents are self-evident. For the third letter dated April 3rd, 1969 I will use excerpts to convey the thinking of Kidane four months before his brutal murder.

On the first page he wrote;

“We are struggling to have a clear cut party line, policy and principles we have to follow an ideological pattern, which will be implemented in the course of struggle without having any sort of inclination be it to the Western or Eastern Blocks. As Eritreans we have the common principles, common values and sentiments which we share together and we stand for together. We are struggling to defend our constitutional and birth rights with the motto that Eritrea is for Eritreans and Eritreans have the right to self-determination on the basis of democratic principles without being subject to any nation or groups or individual leaders, who want to exercise political power by implementing a totalitarian state in our fatherland.”In the second page he continues;

“Some leaders in the Front have Arabism as a sentiment instigating them and this sentiment is wholly undesired by the people of Eritrea. We are first Eritreans then Africans. We have no enmity or love be it for Israel or for the Arabs. We do not base our analysis on the basis of dislikes and likes we base our objectives on the understanding of matters through principles carefully and critically analyzed on the basis on neutrality. But for most leaders in the Front the latter course is bitter to accept. With respect to the problems of all Eritrea for that matter which I have enumerated in my letters to you are real facts. Because of fear, truth and facts should not be hidden as treasure. Everything should be exposed and made known, so that a solution could be found and will serve as a pressure if exposed by world public opinion. I left my country because I stood for the “truth” and for Eritrean national principles and goals. In the Front also I stand for principle, and I do not fear from anybody.”

Is it this kind of stand and “Eritrean national principles” that got Kidane Kiflu killed? Interestingly, there is also in the “Jack Kramer Papers 1968-1969” an 11 pages (no date) paper entitled; The Progressives Demand Radical Changes In The Eritrean Liberation Front. Even though the paper did not have a date in it, it mentions that “seven years have elapsed since the armed struggle was organized, which makes the paper written in 1968.

Some of the points that Kidane wrote to Kramer were also in the “The Progressives Demand…”
Some of the points in the “Demand” are:

Understanding that the present division of the Eritrean Liberation Army on the basis of tribal, religious, regional and functional elements is a retarding force in fostering national unity and is hazardous in maintaining Eritrean national beliefs, values and sentiments which the people of Eritrea have in common and believing that unless the latter course is implemented Eritrean nationalism will not have firm ground in our armed struggle and without a united front and unity of action we can hardly wipe out Ethiopian Colonialism”.

The Progressives Demand” continues by raising their concern that “seven years had elapsed since the armed struggle was organized. When we review the political developments in the last seven years we can see that in name we are the Eritrean Liberation Front, but in practice a militia (an auxiliary force). The “Demand” continues its call and on page five has the following paragraph. As we see it, a revolution cannot be guided through telegrams and telephones, and it has never been attempted elsewhere. It is impractical and fruitless to alleviate the leadership group from the masses. A leader is expected to lead life with them, he should understand their problems through their help. In any revolutionary movement no revolution that detaches itself from the people existed and if it existed it was doomed to failure.”

Regarding the leadership of the Front, this is what Kidane Kiflu (letter dated November 27th, 1968) had to say;

“Many of the leaders in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo revolutionaries they do not have a clearly defined ideology nor have they the ability and the qualification to lead our revolution. They live detached from the realities of the people’s struggle and reside abroad and lead the revolution through letters and telegrams. This is a unique case of a leadership body living outside. (unreadable) country unlike the revolution in Cuba the role-played by Castro, and Mao Tse Tung in China. In the near future, we hope to change the tide of the status quo in a sure refined way, which will satisfy the demands of our people”


Here is the transcribed letter of Kidane Kiflu.

P.O.Box 9
November 27th, 1968

Dear Jack:

Allow me to convey to you my heart felt “revolutionary greetings on behalf of myself and my colleagues here in Kassala. I have received your letter mailed from Singapore; with respect to the other letter I have not received it. I was pleased to note from your last letter, that you had safely arrived in the United States and that you have received the material we mailed from here.

From the moment you left Kassala until I received your first letter, I was pessimistic and I felt that you were in the hands of the autocratic Ethiopian Empire. As is stated in Article 4 of the Ethiopian constitution promulgated on November 2nd in 1955, “the personality of the Emperor is sacred who so ever is bold enough to attack him will be severely punished”. This is a warning to the Ethiopian people that the Emperor and the state has one corporate personality and any body who stands against the Emperor and his Empire awaits him severe torture ( a barbaric one like that of the days of the Roman Empire), and flogging as well as death sentence. For the gloomy Ethiopian autocrat, the Eritrean case considered as an internal affair. If you had by chance been caught by the Ethiopian police, an electric shock might had rang into their ears and protest after protest to the American Ambassador would have been the result. On the whole, you had safely managed your way out from the area of a (unreadable) Ethiopian autocracy , which had been forgotten by the world for 3000 years. 

Your experience with the freedom fighters of Eritrea, as I see it will owe a useful purpose in analysing and making comparative study of revolutionary movements in Africa and elsewhere; and particularly in understanding the problems of the Eritrean revolution for not getting an active support from the world public opinion. To some extent, the cause for the Eritrean case to remain a dead case in the eyes of the world public opinion is accountable. 1. The policy of the leaders of the Front, who in most cases identify themselves as Moslems and not as Eritreans and join their hands in the Moslem League . Besides, they imagine through wishful thinking that they are Arabs and join the Arab world regardless of the voice of the people of Eritrea.

Many of the leaders in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo revolutionaries they do not have a clearly defined ideology nor have they the ability and the qualification to lead our revolution. They are detached form the realities of the people’s struggle and reside abroad and lead the revolution through letters and telegrams. This is a unique case of a leadership body living outside their country unlike the revolution in Cuba the role played by Castro and Mao Tse Tung in China. In the near future, we hope to change the tide of the status quo in a more refined way, which will satisfy the demands of our people. The fact that the leaders of the Front identify the Front as a Moslem and Arab movement, in their foreign policy, besides, being a hindrance and turning the revolution into a religious movement; half of the population of Eritrea being Christians up to now have not been able to support the Front wholeheartedly, mainly because of the religious, and Arabism sentimentality of the leaders of the Front. Every progressive revolutionary at this moment is against the policy of the reactionary leaders in the Supreme Council and their puppets in the Revolutionary Command as well as in some of the leaders of the divisions. Through persistent work and perseverance we hope to change the tide of the reactionary sentiments in the Front and appeal to our people on the basis of national goals and principles.

The political movement and the concept of political party organization started in Eritrea in the modernsense in 1942. The patriots at that time were the late Ras Tessema Asberom, and the late Degiat Abraha Tesema and Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam. As founders of one Eritrea party they stood for the principles for one people, the people of Eritrea for one country Eritrea and for one political program, for the independence of the people of Eritrea. During the British Administration in Eritrea (1941-52), Eritreans were not yet politically mature enough to perceive and understand fully the concept of the political party. Many opposed it busing their sentiment on religious, regional and other factional elements. Since 1942 Eritrea has not yet produced a national leader except one Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam, noted by progressive Eritreans as an Eritrean charismatic Ghandi, who has been struggling for the motto Eritrea is for Eritreans for the last 26 years. John Gunther in his book “Inside Africa” mentions Mr. Woldeab as an African nationalist, who escaped from an attempt on his life for 7 times from1943 up to 1952. Mr. Woldeab during the British Adminsitration in Eritrea was an editor of the Government newspaper Eritrean Weekly news and of an independent newspaper One Eritrea (the Voice of Eritrea newspaper) and President of the Eritrean Labourers Union. In 1952 he was elected as a representative in the Eritrean Assembly. The Ethiopian Government through its puppets in Eritrea were trying to assassinate him. In 1953, he exiled himself to the United Arab Republic. Since 1953, he is residing in Cairo, as a political refugee. He appealed to the United Nations General Assembly on several occasions, but the U.N turned a deaf ear. In 1956 from Radio Cairo he was broadcasting in Tigrinya, his teachings about the political activities in Eritrea raised the morality and national sentiment of the Eritrean people. Up to now Mr. Woldeab as a progressive nationalist stood for the principles acceptable to the people of Eritrea on the basis on Eritrean nationalism. We regard him as our trued and honest leader. The leaders of the Front when we examine their past history, some of them were standing for the partition of Eritrea into two, the western provinces to be independent or to join the then Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and the rest to join Ethiopia. Some are Moslem brothers at heart and appear as progressive from the outside by memorizing some revolutionary phrases from books; and others concern themselves in the basis of the Moslem movement in Ethiopia and others were pro Ethiopians.

In the eyes of the Eritrean people only Mr. Woldeab is the most respected and looked upon as a charismatic leader. Since the personality of Mr. Woldeab outweigh that of the leaders of the Front; the leaders of the Front has been trying in vain through their propaganda to exclude Mr. Woldeab from the political scene of Eritrea. Although he is a great teacher, a true leader of the Eritrean people, the futile attempt of the leaders of the Front to exclude Mr. Woldeab from the political scene of Eritrea is failing and will fail more when all the corruption and re(d)tape in the Front are exposed particularly that of the present leaders. In order to understand the Eritrean case much better I advise you to correspond with our true leader Mr. Woldeab Woldemariam. He is not participating in the Front, because he disagrees with the policy of Arabism, Moslem sentiment, tribal and regional motives of the leaders of the Front and their puppets.

His address is:
Mr. Zaky Fahmy
Mariette Pahsa Street No.11

N.B. I am not intending here to give you a biased opinion but I wanted you to have a fair picture of the Eritrean case so that you can dig into the matter to analyze the condition. Please do not expose some of these facts in the newspaper to which the Ethiopians may benefit in their propaganda. Abdella, Aberra and Woldai Gedai a member of the revolutionary command Myself and all our colleagues are conveying greetings and good wishes and success in the academic year.
Hassan Karar is still in the field.

P.S In case you introduce yourself with Eritrean students in the U.S.A. please do not forget to give them my address and let them contact me. We wish to see you back in Kassala and particularly in Eritrean soil.

Hoping to hear from you soon,
Kidane Kiflu

P.S I am enclosing a literal translation of the Lebanese article.

Now, I want to take you back to the interview with Mr. Jack Kramer.

Issayas: In the 21 pages report in your collection at Hoover, you mentioned that you saw Osman
Saleh Sabbeh in Aden, Yemen after you went to Yemen from Asmara. You also mentioned that
Osman did not have information on the “Battle of Halhal” (I will deal with it in the last part) except only what he read through the Ethiopian papers. Is it fair to say, what Kidane wrote in his letters to you, was he right on the money about the weakness of the leadership when he said and I quote, “Many of the leaders in the Supreme Council of the Front are pseudo-revolutionaries. They do not have a clearly defined ideology nor have they the ability and the qualification to lead our revolution. They live detached from the realities of the people in struggle and reside abroad and lead the revolution through letters and telegrams.”?

Mr. Kramer: In retrospect, it is fair to say. As for my judgment of Osman Saleh Sabbe at the time, remember I was young. I was not certainly not impressed by him the way I was impressed by the lads in the field, but any leader living in relative comfort is at a disadvantage. He is bound to be less impressive, except to reporters who appreciate nice clothes. He was nice to me, and I appreciated it. As for fighting the war through letters and telegrams, it’s hard to say for sure, but coming from Kidane, this may have had some real impact on me. In my writing I find myself becoming more and more skeptical of writers who analyze from afar, parsing opaque tracts and alliances instead of talking to real people who have gotten their hands dirty in the real conflict.

Issayas: Mohamud Dinai wrote you a letter dated September 12, 1968 (two days after the “Battle of Halhal” and two days after the Anseba Conference) warning you not to go to the second division. Did you know why? How and where did you get the letter?

Mr. Kramer: Yet more confirmation that memory is a bad reporter. At first I told you that maybe I got that letter in the US. Checking my notes and trying harder to remember, there’s no way I got it in the US. It came in to camp by runner. There may have been political implications to his warning. From what we know now, the entire Halhal region was dangerous at that moment; where we were at may have been even more dangerous. But reading political implications into his warning is pure speculation. I am inclined to take it at face value. A warning of physical danger.

Transcribed letter of Mohammud Dinai.

Date 12/9/68

To Mr. Jak;

I am Mahmud Dinai the leader of first divistion, I heard about you, and I am very sory that I am not met you. So the reason is their the second divition that you wont to see them many of their solder were travling by the wounded solder they are transferred them form the war field if you have time you may meet me if you have not you can inter ADARDE vilag. do not try to inter to the second divition because the second divition coverd by the enemy military.
If you wont to see me the wounded soleder you may come we are working in their transferred them.

I was very hapy to meet you

( ELF Stamp)

E.L.F good lack

your brother

Mahmud - Dinai

I was glad to show you about The Eritrean people and in which they are living, And to discouse with you bout Eritrean Libertion Front and the treatment to our people From the enemy. And we of ways hapy to see men like you in time like this, for your Kindness in our wor.

Your . b.

M. D.

NEXT: PART SEVEN. The interview continues on the murder of Kidane Kiflu and the documents of Kassala with Minister Naizghi Kiflu, Birgadier General Ghirmay Mehari, Professor
Berhe Habte-giorgis and Minister Woldenkiel Gebremariam.