BRITSH ADMINSTRATION (1941-45)

About Eritrea - History & Culture

At the beginning when the British occupied Eritrea, the people of Eritrea accepted them as their liberators and thought that they will get their promised freedom, but what the British later did was completely against the wishes of the Eritrean people. The British retained the Italian system of racist administration and allowed all Italian officials to keep their position.
The British did not even try to consider the needs of the Eritrean people. As a result of World War II, unemployment, hunger and various forms of diseases spread throughout the country. The settlement of Italian recruits (Ascaries) and laborers led to the increase in the number of city dwellers and with the support of the British, the Italians resumed their crimes against the natives.

As a result, Eritreans were compelled to get together and form associations to solve the prevailing problems of food, health care, and the discriminative policies of the colonizers. Majority of the members of such associations were religious and traditional leaders, businessmen and ‘Meslenetat’ (native administrators).

On May 5, 1941 an association known as “Mahber Fikri Hager” was established with 12 administrative elders, six of which were followers of Christian faith and the other six Moslems. These notable elders included,  Fitewrari Gebremeskel Weldu, Dejazmat Hassen Ali, Blata Demsas Weldemicaheal, Haji Emam Musa, Berhanu Ahmedin.  Ato Weldeab Weldemariam and  Fitewrari Gebremeskel Weldu were chosen to be the acting Chairman of the association.

The British Colonizers Plan Vis-a-Via the State of the People


In the years 1942-43 Germany and Britain were fighting a war in Libya and Eritrea was the main base for the British, as a result there were some progressive activities in the country. To mention some, there was aircraft Machinery Company in Gura’e, large stores and car repairs shops were constructed in Ginda’e and Asmara. There was also a large workshop for the war ships in Massawa. There were large plantations for fruit and vegetable for the soldiers and large companies were also constructed by the British to full-fill their demands during the war.

After the war in Libya was over, Britain shifted its base to other colonies and transferred out most of the modern manufacturing companies in Eritrea.

Some of the major factories dismantled by the British colonizers were:-

1. Machineries worth of 20 million USD in the stores of Gura’e, Ginda’e and Mai Habar were exported to other countries and some of the materials were even sold to foreign countries.
2.    One of the docks in the Massawa port was sold to Pakistan.
3.    16 large ships were sold to rich people from all over the world.
4.    500 tanks of oil were stolen from Hetemlo.
5.    400 residential houses in Zula were completely destroyed without any particular reason or cause.  
6.    The British army looted one factory in Marsa Fatma.
7.    The railway that was supposed to extend from Agordet to Massawa was destroyed and the rails were removed and sold.
8.     Majority of the factories built and functioning during the Italian colonization were either closed or exported to foreign countries.

What Prompted the British to Destroy the Modern Development in Eritrea


From the very beginning the purpose of British’s occupation was to expand its colony by joining regions of Barka, Sahel with Sudan and while the rest of the country would be left to join Ethiopia.

To realize its plans, Britain began to lobby that Eritrea could not sustain itself economically as a country, while destroyed every major economic activity in the country to validate its claims. As a result of Britain onslaught on Eritrea’s economy, many of the people become victims of the unemployment and hunger.  To make matters even worse, the British rule in Eritrea became very oppressive and brutal.

All the government employees were Italians, business and trade were dominated by Italians and Jews residing in the country and as an outcome of all this number of unemployed youngsters in the country skyrocketed. The Eritrean people could not even demonstrate openly their opposition due to suppressive measures taken by the colonial administration. 

There were similar problems rising in the rural part of the country, particularly in the lowlands. The main reason for the chaos and instability in the lowlands were the resistance upraised between the Shemagle (local leaders aided by the colonizers) and the local residents of the region especially in the Tigre ethnic group.

In the highlands there were the scarcity of land for farming; the British confiscated majority of the land for plantation. And these created riots as a result many plantations owned by the Italians were burned and dams were destroyed. Some of the native residents become outlaws and migrate to the lowlands, and their migration created another chaos and riots. There were chaos, instability and riots in every part of the country.

In general in the year 1941-45 the people of Eritrea were not stable and the people was freedom hungry but there was no organized force that able its resistance put in action. 

The Division of “Mahber Fikri Hager”

As mentioned at the beginning of this article “Mahber Fikri Hager” was established to fight for the freedom of the people of Eritrea but the association didn't have the ability or the capability to win the dreams of the people. And in 1943-44 the members start dividing among themselves; some of them were supporting the idea of free Eritrea where some say unity with Ethiopia.

Starting from the defeat of Italians in the region, Ethiopia was claiming Eritrea as part of its governance and the main aim of the claims was to have the access to the sea and control the ports of Asseb and Massawa. In order to achieve its agenda Ethiopian rulers were organization Eritreans.

At first those who were asking for unity with Ethiopia were Eritreans that migrated to Ethiopia to escape the brutality of Italians and some were slaves and servants of Italians who went in exile to Ethiopia with the defeat of Italy in the region. Ethiopian rulers start organizing those Eritreans and make them preach the people of Eritrea to accept union with Ethiopia. Some of those were Asfaha Weldemicheal, Dejazmat Gebremeskel Habtemariam, Blata Dawit Qkbazgi and Blata Keflezgi.

The others that support the union with Ethiopia were Mesafenti           (traditional leaders) and religious leaders in the highlands. The Italians crowned Abune Markos as a Partraich of the Orthodox Church and when the Italians take the land of the church for plantation he ask the help of the British to return their land but the British didn’t take any effort to return the land of the church. Later the Ethiopian rulers promise to return the land if the patriarch preach the people about unity with Ethiopia and he did so to keep the end of his deal.

The others supporting the union with Ethiopia have the same reason, they all have one or other thing confiscated by the Italians so in order to return their belonging they look up for the support of Ethiopia and the rulers of Ethiopia come with the theme of “land is for the native” and it make them achieve the trust and support of the people in their agenda to unite Eritrea with Ethiopia.

At the end of the year 1944, “Mahber Fekri Hager” change its name to “ Mahber Fekri Hager: Eritrea with Ethiopia” or “ Mahber Hebret” and this was done mainly by Abune Markos, Dejazmat Beyene Beraki, Blata Demsas Weldemicheal, Fitawrari Haregot Abye and Dejazmat Araia Wasie.

Abune Markos start teaching and preaching that Ethiopia is the one and only Christians country and start creating differences among the people of Eritrea and as a result concerned nationalists start organizing another better association were both Christians and Moslems work together for the freedom of the country. One of the main organizers of this latter movement was Ibrahim Sultan.

Ibrahim Sultan was born in 1916 in Keren. He was from the Tiger ethnic group and had faced many crimes and brutalities committed by the traditional leaders of the country. At first this resistance was just against the “Shemagle” but later it also becomes against the Italians. The Italians imprisoned him and he was one of those that were teaching the people of the country not to be divided based on religious believe.

Another known resistance leader was Abdul kader Kebire. He was born in 1902 around the coastal area of the Red Sea. Though Abdul kader Kebire was one of the founders of “Mahber Fekri Hager” but when the association starts diverting its aim to the unity with Ethiopia, he with his two friends left “Mahber Fekri Hager”.

Dejazmat Hassen Ali was one of those that oppose unity with Ethiopia. He was born in 1883 in the former Serai district in a place called Adi Hanso. He was famous for his intelligence and smart advices to the people and was respected by both the Moslem and Christian population.

Another opposition leader from the highlands was Rasi Tesema Asmerom. He was born in 1870 and was known for their justice and strength. In 1943-44 he was teaching the people that they shouldn’t join the unionists.

Woldeab weldemariam was also another fighter that opposes the union with Ethiopia and was born in 1905 in the former Serai district in a place called Adi Zarna. At the times of the British colonization, he was the editor of the weekly newspaper in the country and before that he used to be a teacher. He was advocating that the people of Eritrea should be proud of his identity and cultural values and was against any form of colonization. His speech and talent of the Tigrinya language was excellent and many people start listening and accepting him as a result he was hated by both the Ethiopian rulers and “Mahber Fekri Hager”.


In 1944 all the above mentioned freedom hungry Eritreans gathered together and start preparing for forming a new association that fight for the freedom of the Eritrean people. And one day Ibrahim Sultan, Weldeab Weldemariam, Dejazmat Abrha Tesema, Dezamat Hassen Ali, Dejazmat Omer Sefaf and Berhanu Ahmedin meet and swear in the holy Korean and after that they went to Dejazmat Abrha's house and swear on the holy Bible that they will not be separated by any religious believes and will not allow any foreigner to interfere with their struggle for the independence of the people of Eritrea. At the end of their meeting they form a new association known as “Mahber Eritrea N' Eritreans” (Eritrea is to the Eritreans).


Source:- "Tarik Hizbi Eritrea"