THE JACK KRAMER PAPERS: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
I posted the following series on various Eritrean websites a while back. Some people have asked me to re-post this important story again. Agreeing with their request, I am re-posting the entire series in eight parts.
When I got home on September 5, 2003 from work, my wife noticed that I was unusually excited. It was not our wedding anniversary, she figured. But she wondered what the excitement was all about. I was not going to tell her until I was sure myself. What almost got me do the jitterbug was the thought of the finality of a search. I picked up the phone and dialed a number. I did not know who was going to be on the receiving end, but I was hoping that it was the person or the number of the person I had been looking for since 1991.
Back in 1991, I read the contents of a collection called ”Jack Kramer Papers 1968-1969” at the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. A young American journalist named Jack Kramer donated the collection. The collection includes various ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front) pamphlets, letters, pictures and audio reels. Beside the pictures and the audio reels (interview), what got my antennae raised were the letters.
The letters include the following:
• 3 letters from Kidane Kiflu to Jack Kramer (1pg, 8pgs, 4pgs dated Oct.29, 1968, Nov. 27, 1968 and April 3, 1969, respectively).
• 1 letter from Mohamud Dinai to Jack Kramer (2pgs, dated 12/9/’68).
• 1 letter from Kramer to Kidane (1pg, dated Feb.6th 1969).
• 2 letters from Osman Saleh Sabbe to Kramer (1pg each, dated 5/11/’68 and 27th Dec.’68, respectively).
• 1 letter from Fathay Mohammed Ahmed Saleh to Kramer (1pg, dated 1/4/’69).
• 1 letter from Kramer to Osman Saleh Sabbe (2pgs, dated Feb.7, 1969).
• 1 letter from Kramer to Woldeab Woldemariam (1pg, dated Feb.24, 1969).
What is most interesting, at least to me, is the contents and the uniqueness of the letters of Kidane Kiflu to Kramer. Who was Kidane Kiflu? What are the contents of the letters? etc. are questions that this article/interview will attempt to answer.
The format will be difficult to categorize, since I am experimenting with it myself. Suffice it to say that it is an article/interview format. First, I will give a short background of the historical period (late 1960’s) to which the collection belongs because of the importance of the historical period in the Eritrean struggle. Second, I will interject interviews with six people (Mr. Jack Kramer, Dr. Tom Killion, Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis, Brig. General Ghirmay Mehari, Minister Naizghi Kiflu, and Minister Woldenkiel Gebremariam) at various junctures that will be pertinent to the topic discussed. I conducted the interviews via phone and e-mail from California to the East Coast of the United States and Asmara, Eritrea at different times.
Before I start with this article/interview, I would like to take you back to September 2003. Around the beginning of September 2003, I was thinking as to what important Eritrea related historical events would be up coming. Of course, September 1, 2003 was the 42nd anniversary of Bahti Meskerem. The first shot that announced the birth of the Eritrean armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia. I also remembered that September 8-10, 1968 was the period where the “Battle of Halhal” took place. Well, that was 35 years ago! I knew from the “Jack Kramer Papers”, that Mr. Kramer was near Halhal at the time of the “Battle”. What I wanted to do was introduce the “Jack Kramer Papers” on the 35th anniversary of the “Battle of Halhal”. But I had one problem since I first read the “Kramer Papers”. The problem was that I had too many questions, at least in regards to the collection, but I could not locate the person who was in the position to answer them. Furthermore, I could not find any articles written by Jack Kramer about Eritrea from 1969/70 on. Before that, Jack Kramer was one of the few Western journalists who wrote about Eritrea and visited Eritrea (1968) with the ELF.
Mr. Jack Kramer
To get answers for the questions that I had, I started searching for Mr. Kramer. All the available leads led me to nowhere. Since the collection was obtained through Dr. Peter Duignan (a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution), I asked Dr. Duignan as to the whereabouts of Mr. Kramer, sometime before 2000. In April 2003, I asked Dr. Duginan again. To my surprise, he mentioned that Mr. Kramer had contacted him through an e-mail back in 2001. Armed with this new information, I went back to the Hoover Institution Archives and with the help of Ms. Linda Bernard, Deputy Archivist, we followed a paper trail. Sure enough, we found the e-mail message that Dr. Duignan mentioned. In it there was a phone number and of course, the e-mail address. The question then was, "were both the e-mail and the phone number current?" After I called the number and introduced myself, I was waiting for Mr. Kramer to come to the phone. The voice on the other end sounded the same as the one on the tapes that I heard 12 years earlier. That was when I did the jitterbug. Not quite, but close. It was a long time coming! This article/ interview will be in parts. With the permission that I received from Mr. Kramer and the Hoover Institution Archives, I will present some pictures, two/three letters, a sketched map to go with this article.I will also present pictures I received from Professor Berhe Habte-giorgis and Brigadier General Ghirmay Mehari.
Before I finish this introduction, I would like to thank the following people for all their help. Mr. Jack Kramer, Dr. Peter Duignan, Linda Bernard, Heather Wagner (Audio/Visual Archival Specialist), Karen Fung (Africa Curator, Green Library, Stanford University) and from the Hoover Institution Archives Carol Leadenham (Reference Assistant Archivist). Last but not least, my thanks to the interviewees for their time and the interview.
Next: Part two. A short historical background of the late 1960's Eritrea.