The Africanists

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Eritrea: Woldeab Woldemariam, even after death they tried to silence him

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Woldeab Woldemariam, a Visionary Eritrean Patriot, Biography

By Dawit Mesfin

Now I know why a monument has been erected for Alexander Pushkin, the renowned Russian poet, in the heart of Asmara, while the country’s first independence campaigner, one who co-fathered Eritrea alongside Ibrahim Sultan and other nationalists of the 1940s, is brushed aside.

Although my primary objective is to evoke a picture of Eritrea via the story of a unique individual set in an era prior to the armed struggle, I came to realize the portrayal of Woldeab Woldemariam’s story would only cover certain aspects of the history of Eritrea. It does not do justice to those aspects shaped by Sheik Ibrahim Sultan, Tessema Asberom, Abdulkadir Kebire and others.  And then there are those who opposed Woldeab and his fellow campaigners of the Eritrea-for-Eritreans campaign. But they own the other side of the story. This is Woldeab’s.

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The revolution that consumed so many of us

By Dawit Mesfin

Book review

DELIVERANCE: A Tale of Colliding Passions and the Muse of Forgiveness

A Historical Novel

by Bereket Habte Selassie

The story Dr Bereket Habte Selassie presents in his latest book is about the tumultuous era during which I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I can say that I found it, partly, the story of my youth, reminding me of how the bright and dark shades of the 1970s shaped my attitude and the positions I took in my personal life. The account took me back to an era I had stepped out of long ago and have tried to dismiss from my memory. But the vivid portrayal of that era readily conjured the image up and I came to realise that the characters, and the story itself, touched a nerve within me.

Both Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON) were fervent leftist supporters of the Ethiopian Revolution that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie and abolished the monarchy in 1974. There were many Eritreans among them. Who can forget Amanuel Gebreyesus, Tesfu Kidane, Marta Mebrahtu, Yohanes Sebahtu, Amanuel Yohanes and more? The historical phenomenon of the student movement which was overtaken by the outbreak of the 1974 revolution and hijacked by the Derg, played a significant part in the intensification of the struggle to liberate Eritrea. The major part of Dr Bereket’s account revolves around the work of both the EPRP and MEISON and the era of the Derg’s Ityopia tikdem movement which ushered in a collective madness that affected all of us.

The ideological intoxication, courage, armed struggle, military ruthlessness, betrayal, youth anger and frustration, slaughter, flight to safety, life in diaspora and more are movingly depicted by the various characters in the story. The Ethiopian revolution consumed so many young lives that my mind is seized with revulsion whenever it drifts back to that era.

On the other hand, the human stories depicted in the account are heart-warming, albeit sad. Dr Bereket captures love of local cultures, love among human beings, love of God and of course, love of country. The depiction of the personal challenges people faced once bitten by the revolutionary bug is spot on. The accounts of ‘the underground days’ of the revolutionaries, their evolving consciousness during internal fighting, the Derg’s open hostility towards them, the back-biting and betrayal among rivals is emotionally draining to read.

The story challenged my heart while my mind, which retains resentful memories of that era, tried to disown it as if it played no part in my life as an Eritrean. We Eritreans have always been staunchly loyal to our own cause. However, that commitment was so abused as to allow Isaias Afwerki to manipulate and hijack the youth spirit that sustained the struggle. I would argue, heavy-heartedly, that it suffices to look around us to see where that blind loyalty got us in the end.

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Achebe’s “There Was a Country” risks opening old wounds

There Was a Country – A Personal History of Biafra

Chinua Achebe

Allen Lane, 318pp £20.00

The author is one of Africa’s finest novelists, the subject is one of Africa’s greatest tragedies, the accusations he makes could not be more serious, and his prognosis for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is grim indeed. The combination should make for a compelling read. Instead the result is a quirky mix of opinion and autobiography, history and polemic, uneven in quality and partisan in perspective.

It has been more than forty years since Nigeria’s civil war over the breakaway state of Biafra ended and Chinua Achebe, its best known son, has at last broken his silence on the subject: “It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren, that I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.”

The story he tells has all the elements that were to become so familiar across the continent: ethnic divisions, religious rivalries and regional tensions, a problematic colonial legacy, and an elite of venal politicians and ambitious soldiers who plundered national resources. {read more…}