The emergence of the EPLF as a political 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. Second part of the of the interview follows.
During that stage the Derge possessed a massive and seemingly inexhaustible military capacity, which enabled it to wage repeated offensives. Amid such situations there were defenses and counterof-fensives on one side and building up your own resources on the other. The EPLF was able to establish popular assemblies behind enemy lines; elevate the rights of Eritrean women to the highest standards; sensitize and raise the fighters’ awareness in academy, sport and politics. Mr. Alamin, how would you describe this stage in terms of a political victory?
Military is an aspect of politics. If we were to carry out political activities the only choice we had was to ensure our military strength. Peaceful demonstrations, telegrams, meetings etc. did not coincide with the views of those seeking control of this region.
Therefore, in line with the military campaigns, political awareness had also to be raised in Eritrea, which was the aim of the changes in the liberated areas that I have been mentioning: making sure that the general public participated in the political process by way of popular assemblies and other social forces, at home and abroad. It was a political phenomenon and the military activities served as its boosters. In such a way the geo-political interest of this region were able to be preserved. This was the cumulative political work. And in the end it evolved into a military dimension with the aim of gradually liberating Eritrean territory and reaching a definite political level.
This was referred to by some as a “worn strategy” as the concept of liberation of territory didn’t really work out in their minds. But the EPLF leadership had clear visions, objective calculations, and a distinct know-how of its military strategies and political maneuvers. It knew how to sensitize, organize and arm its people. But the struggle was not easy and that made this stage a difficult one. In terms of time, we can say from 1977 up to the demise of the Nadew Command. Therefore, the fall of the Nadew Front and the liberation of the town of Afabet were the outcome of everything I have been talking about and not some bonus from heaven or anywhere else.
In 1987 when the EPLF was in a better position, the Second and Unity Congress was conducted between the EPLF and ELF leadership. Politically, what was the importance of this to the struggle for independence? What did this signify?
In the first place, it confirmed the unity of the freedom fighters. Previously, unity was understood differently by different ELF factions. On our part, we [EPLF) believed that the unity of the fighters was more important than the unity of a few people in the circle of leadership. National Unity could be promoted through bottom-up approaches, and not through a top-down process. This was a strongly shared perspective on the part of EPLF. The other groups, however, placed more emphasis on a top-down process of ensuring unity. However, such a process was likely to be a futile one as foundation of unity had to be strengthened at the grassroots level. We endeavored a lot to ensure unity through a bottom-up process. This was the stand of the EPLF since the early days of its formation. This belief was shared by the different groups that later formed the EPLF. These groups themselves (PLF group one, PLF group 2 and PLF group 3) were also able to be eventually united through such a process. The first and second groups raised the awareness of the fighters with the intention of developing mutually shared understanding regarding the common good of the country and the importance of unity in fighting the common enemy. Unity was achieved progressively through such a process. Through a progressive manner, stage by stage the fighters started to eat together, to fight side by side in the battle field and to trust each other. When PLF group one and the other two were united in such a process, the EPLF conducted its First Congress in 1977.
The Second and Unity Congress of 1987 was the result of such a cumulative process. At that time, unity was achieved between the EPLF and one major ELF faction Sagim. The EPLF also did its best to have the different ELF factions that remained in the field after the disintegration of ELF integrated in the struggle for the independence of Eritrea. Through such efforts, those groups were being integrated not to the EPLF but they were being integrated to the common cause at large. While EPLF was an independent liberation movement with its independent political programs that enabled it to lead the struggle for independence, not only the EPLF but the Eritrean people at large had a burning desire for independence. That is why 99.8% of the people of Eritrea voted for independence during the referendum that was conducted after the liberation of Eritrea. Actually, this was envisioned by the EPLF and this indicates that the EPLF reflected the heart-felt aspirations of the Eritrean people. The people on the other hand shouldered the responsibility of implementing the strategies designed by the EPLF. Without conducting referendum, the Eritrean independence could not have been achieved. This indicates the farsightedness of the EPLF. The EPLF was a committed leadership with clear objectives and action plans.
In the 1980s, the EPLF had prepared a proposal regarding referendum. At that time, the proposal seemed to be not much acceptable. What was the reason behind preparing that proposal or considering referendum? Did this signify that the EPLF felt that it was weak or had some fears, or was it because the EPLF believed that it was the right thing to conduct referendum?
At that time, close ties had been established between the Ethiopian regime and the Sudanese government (the Numeri administration) through the mediation of Italy, Aden, Libya and others. Certain issues were being raised by the aforesaid groups and other actors regarding the need to consider the Eritrean case as internal affair of Ethiopia and accordingly solve it internally within Ethiopia. Such actors might naively talk about the said concerns. The real motives, however, were associated with the intention to promote the national interests of the United States of America and that of the Soviet Union through the green light that would be provided by the Megistu regime in Ethiopia.
This was engineered taking into account the geopolitical importance of Eritrea’s strategic location. So it was a conspiracy. Given this situation, what choice was available to us? As the EPLF used to confidently know the heartfelt needs of the Eritrean people, this was not a challenge for it. At that time, there were continuous meetings in Port Sudan, Khartoum and in the field. Finally, the EPLF leadership decided in Khartoum that referendum would be necessary for our case and that would enable us to challenge those who would provide us with different packages of a proposal. Hence, the need to conduct referendum was decided then. The issue of self-determination was not an issue of concern only for the EPLF; it was an issue of concern mainly for the Eritrean people at large. So the Eritrean people had to be consulted and heeded. Whether the people of Eritrea wanted to be part of Ethiopia, wanted to be entirely independent or wanted to be granted some sort of self administration, the people had to be given a chance to voice their heartfelt concerns. All the aforementioned actors were shocked when the decision to conduct referendum was officially announced in 1980. They did not expect such a level of political consciousness and maturity in the Horn of Africa. Hence, they were so surprised. This is one of the reasons or strengths why the EPLF has to be praised. It acted sensibly to promote the Eritrean cause. Implementing this decision ten years later was also one of the strengths of the EPLF. In relation to this issue, I strongly feel that the Eritrean people are lucky. In my view, if there were no EPLF, Eritrea would not exist as independent state and we would not talk about it proudly. It would be disintegrated and would exist in a different form. Stated differently, Eritrea would not be a united entity and it would not have an independent identity. This is the foundation of the state of Eritrea.
Let us proceed to another chapter in the Eritrean struggle for independence. When it was decided to destroy the ‘Nadew Command’, what were the factors that were considered to take that step? How was the capability of the army stationed in the area and how was the extent of the coverage of the front that was under the control of the enemy? And what was the reason behind the decision on the part of the EPLF, what convinced the EPLF that it can successful manage the military operation associated with destroying the said command? The EPLF unusually announced in a leadership meeting following its Second and Unity Congress that it would offensively attack the enemy. This encouraged the people very much. What enabled or caused the EPLF to officially say these things? Frustration? Eagerness to realize independence? Or were there objectively studied realities?
The Nakfa Front was initially established in 1979 with the intention to control Nakfa. It was hoped that controlling Nakfa would enable the Derge to destroy EPLF bases. This was engineered to finally liquidate the EPLF. Consequently, in 1977and 1987, there were many attempts to control Nakfa on the part of the enemy. The length of the front covered 165 kilometers. It extended from parts of the Red Sea coastal areas in the north to the parts of the Anseba region in the south. Its width was estimated to be 100 kilometers. It extended from Nakfa in the north to Meshalit in the south. The Eritrean fighters were also stationed accordingly in order to defend themselves effectively. This front was one of the demanding fronts. There were three large divisions of foot soldiers, one mechanized brigade, and ten artillery battalions. Overall there were about 20,000 enemy soldiers stationed at this front. But from 1st January 1987 onwards, the enemy was being weakened because the EPLF had previously started to repeatedly attack the enemy. For example, the EPLF had attacked the Derge soldiers stationed at the Nakfa, Anseba, Halhal, Qinafna, Areza, Karneshim fronts. Consequently, some 7,000 enemy soldiers were killed, around 5,000 soldiers were wounded, and there were 1400 commanders and private captive soldiers. All these were part of the preparation for eventually controlling the Nakfa front. At the mid of 1987, the commander of the Nadew Command was Brigadier General Tariku. Tariku was killed by Mengistu. Besides, the commander of the Mekit Command, Brigadier General Kebede Gashaw, was also killed in the same way, another important commander who was also a member of the central Derge leadership, General Regassa Jima, was jailed, another important commissioner; Shewargaw Bihunegn (a member of the central committee of the Derge party) was also fired from his post. When these actions are examined in terms of military standards, these were just the consequences of the battles that took place at the mentioned fronts. In other words, the Derge suffered considerable losses due to the repeated attacks of the EPLF. It was after such successes that the EPLF attacked the Derge forces stationed at the Nakfa Front (Nadew Command) on 17-19 March 1988. The command was controlled by the EPLF within 73 hours. This was a step towards the Fenkil Operation. The Fenkil Operation in turn was a stepping stone towards controlling Dekmehare and then Asmara. 1977-1978 was a strategic withdrawal and then 1987- 1988 was characterized by EPLF’S strategic attacks against the Derg regime.