The emergence of the EPLF as a power promoted the geo-political interest of the Eritrean people: Mr. Alamin Mohammed Seid
Mr. Alamin Mohammed-Sied, Secretary of PFDJ, conducted an interview with the local media outlets on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the demise of Nadew Command and the liberation of Afabet town. The 1st part of the interview follows.
Mr. Alamin Mohammed Seid, we would like to begin our question with the first stage of our struggle 1977-1987. This stage has significant place in our struggle with regards political and military developments. It was also a period in which there was Soviet interference and the EPLF was compelled to shifting from an offensive into a defensive position and conduct strategic withdrawal. Could you please tell us what was the situation during this stage?
First I would like to thank you for having me. It is also very important for we are going 25 years back and talk about past events and draw important experiences. If we are to talk about the demise of Nadew Command (What we call Nakfa Front) and the liberation of Afabet town we have first to look at the situation prior to that. It is very important to look at the general picture between 77 and 87. How was the Command demolished? What victory was gained? How did the situation emerge? It is very important to look at these questions separately. One important aspect during this stage was the strategic withdrawal and the change of military balance. Until 1977 the balance of power was in favor of the EPLF but after that the situation changed. An important political development emerged in the field that went on for ten years, from 1977-1987. That was the Second and Unity Congress was conducted and with that the unity within the Eritrean revolution was realized. The struggle continued within the framework and credence of the EPLF. Hence, the Second and Unity Congress was an important political milestone.
The second scenario that emerged during this time was the interference of the Soviet Union. This external intervention had two strategies: the enemy and the external forces that took side with the enemy with a motive to deny the fundamental rights of the Eritrean people (the Soviet Union and its allies-South Yemen, some Palestine organizations) on one hand and the EPLF and other revolutionary fighters on the other. The antagonism was between these two forces. This stage was very complicated and intertwined. How did the EPLF pass through that? The liberation struggle sustained because all Eritreans nationalists from all factions stood together against the external invasion and against the sub-nationalist elements within the revolution. That was a very historic stage in which the unity of the true nationalists was realized.
The other scenario observed within these 10 years was the drought. There was severe drought. The situation was very challenging for both the Eritrean people, the EPLF as well as for the Horn of Africa. However, the EPLF shouldered the task of alleviating and controlling these challenges; it set up camps and run programs to provide shelter and care for dislocated families and orphaned children and it eased the problem.
The other aspect worth mentioning during this stage was the political activity. From 1977 to 1987 rigorous political activities were conducted targeted at the population and the combatants. Conducting strategic withdrawal was by itself historical. The second aspect of the EPLF’s political work pertained to mass organizations. The fundamental policy was to organize the Eritrean masses on the basis of their social status into associations of workers, peasants, students, women as well as professionals. Empowering the people was a big task of the time. The strategy of the EPLF was to free the land and people stage by stage. In other words after liberating the land the task was enabling the population participate in political activities through forming resistance committees. The challenge was on how to materialize the then slogan of the EPLF: politicizing, organizing and arming the people. In the 1977-1987 periods the efforts made to promote the role of women were also of special interest. The EPLF gave special attention to women to ensure their participation in the struggle for independence. Hence, it was made possible that the Eritrean women become exemplary by heroically demonstrating their importance in the struggle.
The other aspect I would like to mention was the different attempts waged by the enemy quarters to foil the Eritrean revolution through means of arms, media and diplomatic maneuvers. However, the EPLF was able to conduct significant media and diplomatic activities reorganizing itself inside the country and abroad.
With the strategic withdrawal there were many who doubted the continuity of the revolution. There were also some which thought that was the end of the Eritrean revolution. The EPLF, however, continued the struggle employing sophisticated strategies and tactics and possessing superior consciousness and morale.
Hence, the period could be described as a period in which the EPLF came triumphant by foiling different offensives by the Derge regime. The EPLF is huge organization and it was a huge success for it to organize a formidable army we call EPLA.
We understand that the interference of the Soviet Union in 1977-78 was very trying time for the Eritrean revolution. But still the EPLF came out stronger; what was the secret behind it?
The secret is being Eritrean; the perseverance of the Eritrean people. In 1977 almost 95% of the land was liberated. 90% of it under direct administration of the EPLF and due to the massive Soviet interference the balance of power shifted in favor of the Derge regime and we were compelled to conduct strategic withdrawal.
Expectation for an external help had been always the culture of the successive Ethiopian regimes. The Haileselasie regime stayed in power during the Second World War because of direct assistance from the west. Eritrea was condemned to stay under Ethiopian rule because of unjust decision on the part of the west, especially of that of the US. Likewise, the Derge regime in 1977 realizing its defeat at the hands of the EPLF sought help from the Soviet Union. And it received massive military hardware and the military hardware was transported to Eritrea by cargo planes and ships.
With the circumstances on the ground the EPLF was compelled to withdraw from the 90% land which was under its administration. The strategic withdrawal did not mean taking a leap back to the base area. The basic elements of the strategic withdrawal were preserving human resources, conserving weapons, boasting morale of the combatants, inflicting human, material and morale loses on the enemy. That demonstrated the strong quality and far sight of its leadership. That was the secret of the EPLF and is documented in the annals of history. There was strong belief on the EPLF’s leadership, perseverance and firm stance.
The Eritrean revolution at the time did not have recognition from the two camps. It has been also said that “The Eritrean revolution is committing suicide”. What was that the two camps failed to see? What is the secret for the EPLF to emerge triumphant passing through such trying time?
Eritrea, in geo-political perspective, is located along the Red Sea and in the Horn of Africa. The area has geo-political importance. If you have the desire to control the Red Sea, the Horn of African and above all the Indian Ocean you have to occupy Eritrea. This is the core problem on the part of the world powers. It is a matter of interest. And the only power, in their eyes, that could guarantee their interest in the region is not the EPLF but the regime in Ethiopia. They first said that was the Haileselasie regime that could ensure their interest. The Haileselasie regime was overthrown by the military junta. Then they associated to with the junta believing that could safeguard their interest. On the other side the EPLF is the owner of the land and has strong and committed people ready to fight for their right. Frankly speaking thanks to the EPLF the Eritrean people reached to this stage.
The emergence of the EPLF as a power promoted geo-political interest of the Eritrean people. And I still believe that the geo-political interest of the Eritrean people will be further realized by the EPLF.
During that stage the Derge regime had one of the strongest armies in the region. And because the regime was conducting successive military invasions there was no breathing space. The EPLF was engaged in repulsing the enemy invasion on the front line as well as conducting different activities behind the front line including establishing peoples’ assemblies, empowering women, providing academic education to combatants, sports activities as well as political education. How do you explain this stage as political victory?
Military campaign is part of political process. To consolidate the political process we had to build a strong army. There was no other means and that was the core understanding of the occupation forces. Political works have also to be done within the combatants and people in the liberated areas. Regular political education was introduced to raise political consciousness of the combatants and the people and establishment of popular assemblies and mass organizations. That had to be conducted parallel with the military developments. The end result of all the political activities is to reinforce the combat capacity of the revolution.
The strategy pursued by the EPLF was to liberate the land and people stage by stage. To this end the EPLF set out and formulated clear military and political strategy. It was not an easy task. The period from 1977 to the liberation of Afabet was challenging. And the demise of Nadew Command and the liberation of Afabet was the sum total of all the undertakings I tried to explain.