Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sketches of a trip : Eritrea 2011

Sketch Two

My trip to Eritrea would not have been complete without looking into some information on Kidane Kiflu. People sometimes ask me why I continue to research about Kidane Kiflu. My answer to that is twofold. First, I read the letters that Kidane Kiflu wrote to Jack Kramer, which are housed in the Hoover Institution Archives. Through his writing, I began to understand and appreciate his prophetic vision (while he was in his early 20’s) for a future Eritrea. Second, and most importantly, I wanted to understand, through Kidane Kiflu (his life and writings), his generation. That is, the generation that brought independence to Eritrea, fighting through thick and thin to achieve this goal. In other words, was the vision that is described in his letters only his or was he representing his generation’s sentiment and vision for the way forward for Eritrea at that time and beyond? I came to the conclusion that he was representing his generation. I believe that he along with Woldai Ghidey became important in the struggle because their death signified “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in the EPLF’s split from the ELF.

Kidane Kiflu

As evidenced with other students and student leaders who joined the Eritrean struggle such as Tekue Yehdigo, Welderufael Sebhatu, Mehari Debesai and others, they were as dedicated, well versed, well articulating in their analysis and vision as Kidane Kiflu was in his letters. Therefore, Kidane was one of the many young people of his generation who had the vision, commitment, determination and discipline to see an independent and truly free Eritrea. His letters, and letters by other student leaders of the time, testify to the aforementioned. By the way, I believe that a particular period in history can also be understood not only through archival materials, interviews, but also through letters to/from individuals, organizations, friends, family members
and etc. A couple of years ago, for example, at the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) in Asmara, I looked through letters written in the early 1970s by Eritrean students in various countries across the world to their respective organizations in various countries. It is a fascinating read. Of course, I didn’t have enough time to look through all and research deeply, but suffice it to say that one day it should warrant for research on the various Eritrean student movements (Eritrean Students Association in North America, Germany, Russia “the former Soviet Union” and etc.) While we are at it, we also need to do research and publish all the posters and tapes that the liberation struggle published. It is because the various respective cultural and political productions (posters, designs on the cassettes, songs, etc.) of the time represented a
particular threat, motivation, mobilization, education, and etc. This doesn’t mean it has not been done yet, but we need to do more. For example, RDC has digitized the entire Dmisti Hafash (Voice of the Masses) broadcast since its first broadcast in 1979. Also RDC has identified and reproduced digitally, books that were printed in Eritrea since the first book came out in 1867 through 1941. There were more than 750 titles identified and some 60,000 pages digitized. For more on this keep an eye for my interview with Dr. Massimo Zaccaria.

Tikue Yehdego

One thing that I noticed every time the name Kidane comes up in conversations in Eritrea is that he is remembered fondly and respectfully. I have talked to people who knew him personally and every time I end up hearing some new information about him that I have not heard before. For example, in my 2008 visit to Eritrea, I heard from a person who told me that he had received a letter from Kidane a week or so before his murder. In that letter, I heard Kidane has sensed that he was going to be killed and he had mentioned that in the letter. I have urged the person to look for the letter.

On one occasion during this visit, a group of us went to have drinks after a book signing/ book review event of Michael Adonai’s latest book entitled “Tsehifto Haneta: Ekub Tewaseotat Hagerawi Bealat” (Haneta’s Writings: collected national holidays theatrical plays). For a report on this event, see my upcoming Sketches of a Trip: Eritrea 2011.While discussing and admiring the just concluded event, the conversation ended up discussing Kidane Kiflu. A person who was there was shocked when he heard that I had written about him. He said that he knew Kidane and his family very well. As a matter of fact, he mentioned that he still remembers when Kidane left to join the Eritrean struggle from Addis Abeba; People who knew Kidane in Addis Abeba understood (including his family) that he was leaving for Czechoslovakia for his studies. This was something that I never heard before. Further down in the same discussion, several names popped up who knew Kidane in Addis Abeba and I jotted down the names to interview them.

Some of the people on the list were people who I already knew and had interviewed for other topics, but did not realize they knew or even went to school with Kidane. One person told me that Kidane was very serious at Haile Selassie I University in Addis Abeba. He told me that Kidane, behind the scenes, was one of organizers of the Eritrean students at the university. I also understood that he was a good friend of Professor Donald J. Grady, a Canadian political science
professor from McMaster University, who was teaching at that time at Haile Selassie I University. I was informed that Kidane Kiflu threw a party for Prof. Grady, when the latter was returning to Canada. In that event, Kidane was the MC of the party and had on his Eritrean traditional cloth. In that event, the renowned historian and playwright, Alemseged Tesfai sang a song. Who said our heroes didn’t or don’t have fun!

During a discussion with some people in Asmara, I heard about the book written by Tekie Beyene entitled “Kab Rik Hifinti” (a loose translation would be “a snippet from an enormous part”). I bought the book and asked Tekie to autograph it. The book is an autobiographical account of his involvement in the struggle. It is the first of its kind. Tekue Yihdego’s name is mentioned many times as one of the student organizers in Asmara. As I mentioned at the beginning of this sketch, Tekue Yehdego’s (Mehari Debesai’s and others’) writing and vision was similar to Kidane’s. In the book Tekie mentions that sometime later after Yehdego joined the liberation struggle, he was sent to Beirut, Lebanon. By this time, Kidane Kiflu was already killed (1969) in Kessela, Sudan. In Beirut, Merhai Debesai and others arranged for Tekue to get married to Haddas. When their son was born, the couple named him Kidane in memory of Kidane Kiflu. Later, Tekue died in Eritrea while he was on assignment. And guess what? The god-father of Kidane Tikue is none other than the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki. All of the above and more are detailed in the aforementioned book by Tekie Beyene. I recommend the book highly. I encourage other people who participated in the struggle for Eritrea’s independence to follow Tekie’s example and write their personal experiences in the struggle.

The front cover of Tekie's book
published by Hidri Publishers
in Asmara, Eritrea

Back cover. Commentary by Alemseged Tesfai,
Woldemichael Abraha and General Sebhat Efrem.

Pictures are courtesy of Tekie Beyene. I would like to thank Tekie Beyene for letting me use the pictures.

Next, sketch three. My visit to the National Museum of Eritrea