Any news from Eritrea has never been good for a very long time now. The latest is, according to a usually reliable insider-source close to Assenna.com, the committed national patriot Haile Woldetinsae (DureE) or, sadly, 'Era-Ero Prisoner No. 4', died and was reportedly buried in the night of 25 January, 2018. The source also listed four names of prison guards who buried his body as Michael Worede, Tinsue Tewelde, Osman Omar and Medhanie Mehari. Assenna's source, known in the social media as 'Sactism', promised to come with more details in the coming weeks. If this is confirmed, Haile's body finally gave up struggle to see another day after spending painful 16 years, 4 months and 7 days in the deep darkness of a prison cell isolated from all living beings.
A few weeks before his arrest on 18 September 2001, Haile wrote that he was ready to pay even his life in the struggle to change Eritrea’s intolerable situation. Well, that has now come true, if the week's sad news are to be confirmed. And if so, we can only say Adieu Patriot Haile, and at the same time pledge our commitment to continue the struggle to realize his dreams and the dreams of all national patriots.
At this sad occasion, I selected two 'open letters' I addressed to Prisoner Haile Durue. The first was written in September 2005 and the second in September 2010 after learning more details about Era-Ero prisoners from an ex-prison guard, Eyob Bahta Habtemariam. The 2010 letter was entitled "draft" obituary and eulogy if he was dead or in the even of his likely death under the criminal regime's prison. The second letter was part of a series of my writings entitled "Bravo DuruE, AgenaE Seyoum". Both pieces can today amount to a tribute and a homage from me to my old friend Haile DuruE.
Good reading. And you will not regret reading or re-reading the few pages below because there are so many rare details in them, some seemingly infinitesimal, that essentially made up the Eritrean story built since the 1960s.
It has been nine months since the last eyewitness – the Era-Ero prison guard, Eyob Bahta Habtemariam - left you in January 2010 in a very shocking condition: your eye sight gone and your emaciated body lining in a long queue for the ghost of death to accompany it to eternity. You may be already dead, Haile, we have no way to know. Or you may still be alive, although your condition and that of your comrades, as narrated by Eyob, can hardly be described to be part of life.
Whatever your situation today, I wanted to draft this obituary and eulogy of sorts about you at this 9th anniversary of your incarceration with many others for having dared to call for a new struggle to complete the people’s cause for full freedom. This writing has two purposes:
- It can either serve as a briefing note for you on the first day of your freedom – if it ever occurs - so that you can understand in a few lines of what happened to your Eritrea since you were made to disappear on 18 September 2001; or
- It can be my goodbye, my Adieu message to you, if you are already gone, in the form of a reading about you intended mainly for the information of the members of the new generation who might not have had an access to the old anecdotes known to you and to me that I scribbled in September 2005, on the 4th anniversary of your imprisonment.
Before telling you about us today, let me say that our people have been remembering many things about you – e.g. the well-regarded messages you made public during 2000 and 2001. What you had to say in July 2000 in the PFDJ Festival in Frankfurt – and that I had the honour to be the first to write about it the internet - still ring in the hearts and minds of many Eritreans (except the few who willingly remained deceived by the distorted meaning of ‘teTelaQina’). It was then that you said Eritrea should not be a state without institutions and that it cannot afford to remain isolated from the world. Your 2001 interviews and statements also reiterated not only your firm old position against the Isaias-inculcated exclusionism and chauvinism, but also reminded Eritreans of the urgency of promoting reconciliation amongst themselves to build a new Eritrea in the post-border-conflict period.
Unfortunately, Haile, none of your wishes were achieved. We know you had no way of knowing the situation beyond the walls of your 3x4m Era-Ero cell, and it was good for you not to have known it. Today’s Eritrea is shamefully distinguished for and identified with the worst things on earth that I partly mention below.
A Briefing Note For You, Haile, If You Come Out of Era-Ero:
1. Our country is nowadays described as the most repressive state without the rule of law and functioning institutions. Many writers call it the North Korea of Africa.
2. Eritrea leads the record in number of imprisoned journalists, and stands as the only African state without private press.
3. The Eritrean Assembly met in February 2002 to rubber-stamp a condemnation against your G15. It never met again. Contrary to your last call for democracy, Isaias and his small clique of cronies are telling our people that Eritrea shall not see national elections for 40 and many more years to come.
4. Isaias Afeworki holds the dishonor of being called the 6th worst dictator in the world; and Eritrea ranks the 7th poorest country alongside a few other war-ravaged states of the globe.
5. Haile, the Algiers Peace Agreement that you signed is not yet implemented. To make matters worse, Isaias ordered another incursion into Djibouti, in addition to his sponsoring of terrorism in the region. As a result, Eritrea is now under African initiated and UN-adopted sanctions.
6. In spite of your wish at the 2000 Frankfurt speech for an end to Eritrea’s isolation, that isolation increased multiple times to the detriment of our people. Eritrea is a pariah state and fast approaching the horrible designation of a Failed State. UN agencies are no more functional in Eritrea and all NGOs have been pushed out of the country. You can now equate Eritrea to the Cambodia of Pol Pot and his hateful Khmer Rouge of the late 1970s.
7. The abuses under the open-ended ‘national service’ have been compounded by a new project created after your disappearance. The so called ‘Warsai-Yikealo project’ has dangerously wasted Eritrea’s young generation who had been deprived of proper education and the opportunities to help themselves and their families. With over 300,000 soldiers in meaningless war-trenches, Eritrea is still second only to North Korea in per capita of its population under arms.
8. The biggest tragedy unfolding in our homeland today is not only the blatant violation of human rights, with tens of thousands container-prisoners in 300+ Era-Eros, and the disastrous economic condition of our people, but also the en masse flight of refugees leaving the country on a daily basis. The refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia are once more full of tens of thousands of our young people; others are dying in the high seas and hot deserts while trying to reach a better safe haven outside their Eritrea that has become an earthly hell.
9. In my 4th open letter to you, Haile, five years ago this week, I said ‘you are not allowed to die’. Well, I would wish to repeat that phrase, but the available information does not let one say it again. You may not know it, but nearly 50% of your very prison inmates at Era-Ero, including Mahmoud Sherifo and Ogbe Abraha, have passed away in a matter of 9 years through a systematic killing project. I am also sure it is fresh news to you to learn that your and my old comrade-in-arms, Seyoum Ogbamichael, departed from this world five years back.
10. On our part, we are still trying to promote the reconciliation that you and Seyoum Harestay initiated in your different ways during the summer of 2001 (as told below). As a first step, we have shelved to historical archives the annals of Jebha and Shabia, and are reconciling these two mainstream entities in our liberation struggle that realized the Eritrean dream for independence. With continued steadfastness, we trust our people shall remedy the ills sown by Isaias Afeworki. We are at the same time determined to reverse within a short time possible the still ongoing winds of polarization, and consummate the noble objective of attaining full political liberation of our heroic people who deserve a better Eritrea.
(Below is the reading about DeruE/the main part of the draft eulogy/obituary of sorts).
Bravo Duru’e, Agena’e Seyoum (Part IV)
By Woldeyesus Ammar, Sep 16, 2005
To: Haile Woldetensae (Duru’e),
Location: Unknown [in 2005]
Eritrea, East Africa
Copy to: Seyoum Ogbamichael (Harestay)
18 September 2005: it is already four years since you have been unlawfully and unjustly jailed together with many other compatriots. Please convey words of encouragement and solidarity to all of them - men and women, young and old: all put behind bars under framed-up charges. And I trust you will not forget to pass the same message to Wedi Bashay (Tekleberhan Ghebresadiq) and Woldemariam Bahlbi who are languishing in the prisons of ‘new Eritrea’ since they were kidnapped from Kassala on 26 April 1992.
Haile: This photo of June 1965 [at Prince Makonnen in Asmara] is a gift for you. Can you see yourself between two persons wearing eye-classes [Habtom G/M and one of our teachers]? Abdurahman Mehri is immediately above you, keeping away from you in the dark Isayas and his current agriculture minister, Arefaine. Hope you recognize the rest of us. (About 10 of that year's 12th graders are missing in this photo, including Woldedawit Temesgen and Seyoum (who left to the field three months earlier); Mussie Tesfamichael, Michael Ghaber and others.) More photos when we meet. And make sure you stay alive!
It is of course a sacred duty of genuine Eritrean patriots to express profound solidarity with you prisoners at occasions like the one at hand. However, the economic, social, political, humanitarian and human condition in the country has degenerated to such a distressing level that the difference between your situation and the situation of the rest of the population is hard to distinguish. In fact it may end up being one and the same – if it is not already there. It may also be news to you that the nation is being emptied of its population at a fast rate. You know the old caseloads of refugees did not return home. Now, the entire youth is on the move to flee the country in order to escape death in prisons and detention camps, death in the trenches or forced labour camps, death of hunger, death of curable diseases in a land that is now without sufficient foodstuffs and medicines. Even many of those trying to escape untimely death are not succeeding: some are killed by frontier security, others die in the deserts and the high seas. To tell you the tragedy in a nutshell, Eritrea and Eritreans are under a very bad situation that must come to an end very soon; otherwise the consequence will be indescribable.
Dear Old Friend Haile,
You might have read Part I of the writing under this heading when it was posted on 7 August 2001 in Awate.com because you were still a free person in Asmara. But it is evident that you had no possibility of reading Part II in September 2002 or Part III in September 2003 that aimed to mark, with sadness, your first and second years in prison. Other than observing your 4th year in prison, today’s Part IV aims:-
1) To bring to mind what you, Haile, stood for, at least between July 2000 and September 2001.
2) Tries to remind how much you and your generation members were involved in the task of liberation struggle.
When it was posted only six weeks before your arrest, the optimistic Part-I [of my writing about you] wanted to inform that the much needed reconciliation in Eritrea was on its way. Taking note of your and Seyoum Harestay’s contributions for reconciliation during the first half of 2001, I tried to record what I thought was a historic trend, and had to put in these terms: “Whatever the past had them do and think in separate [ELF-EPLF] camps, Seyoum and Haile are today speaking the same language [of reconciliation] and seeking the same destiny for the nation. And as it was the case in the long past [when they were student activists], they are again at the forefront agitating for change of mind among Eritreans urging them to wake up to receive a new Eritrea, different from the one of the yesteryears.”
Unfortunately, Haile, the progress has been intolerably slow. In fact little has been done in the field of reconciliation since you left the scene. You might or you might not have heard that many of your old comrades distanced themselves, as you did, from the club of criminals - the PFDJ. Some of them joined the opposition camp and some went hiding. Also since September 2001, the old opposition has been joined by others, among them the perennial Hawileitos (to borrow the right word from Awate editorials) and fence-sitters. And unfortunately for the struggle to change and democratize Eritrea, all of the above chose to improvise their own nebulous movements, ‘third-waves’ and associations. In the end, all failed to help the opposition move any inch forward except increasing our chatter by a few more decibels.
Haile, your old comrades,…, like the rest of us [in ex-ELF], failed to work together. They already count several factions … a situation that pained the entire nation opposed to the dictatorship. (I hope your sojourn where you are today will not be that long to oblige me to tell you this depressing story in another instalment.)
Aside from that, I have a piece of good news for you related to the subject of reconciliation: people have forgiven you and your old comrades for the sins you committed or are perceived to have committed while serving the diabolic compatriot that misled you all throughout the years. In our camp, we have been trying to convince each other that there is no point to keep accusing others of past misdeeds and miscalculations once they decide to renounce the arrogant dictator and his exclusionist policies. To give you an example, no one in the past four years raised or commented about the foul language that you, Haile, used against the rest of us during the third congress of your organization after liberation. Instead, everyone in the opposition has been focused on your positive contributions, including the following:
Eritreans in the opposition camp did not want to forget that you, Haile Deru’e, won for yourself the honour of being the first insider to publicly challenge the dictatorship by your 15 July 2000 address at the PFDJ festival in Frankfurt when you told your submissive audience in a language similar to this: “We have been lying to you. You should have stopped us from lying to you all the time!!” (BTW, I was pleased to have had the opportunity of reporting your bold statement then, ironically in Dehai, when news of your new position [reached me] through secondary sources.)
People still recall your position in the autumn 2000 meetings of the PFDJ leadership. Others give you credit for encouraging some of our perennially timid intellectuals to protest and come out with a rare statement like the ‘Berlin Manifesto’ of G-13.
Webmasters have not stopped inviting Eritreans to continue tuning to video records of your 2000-2001 utterances.
Myself, I have not stopped re-reading the press interviews you gave during the short-lived ‘spring of free press’ in Asmara. In particular, I feel good while re-reading the monumental early August 2001 statement you released saying almost all what we the ‘old’ opposition had been saying and stand for. In that historic document, issued only five weeks before your incarceration, you said as follows, even though in slightly different words that had to suit your presence in a repressive environment:
1. Those of us in power have no right and no justification and no right to deny credit to all those who deserved it in the 50-year struggle, and Eritreans of all political colours must as of now have equal share in the fruits of victory and the burden of building our common future.
2. It is high time for those of us in temporary state control to accept Arabic and Tigrinia as the two official languages [as our compatriots in the several ELF offshoots have been calling for without fail].
3. It is time to be prepared to revisit the constitution in order to fill major missing issues and rectify faulty conclusions, including the issue of land ownership.
4. It is time to stop accusing Eritreans in the opposition of being “traitors” and “fifth columnists” before they are brought to a court of law....
5. In short, it is time to stop being exclusionist and instead give room to reconciliation, full participation and mutual respect in order to deliver freedom, justice and equality to all citizens and segments of our diverse society
People saw logic, truth, sincerity and hope in that language in mid-2001. It was the right language and the right position, and it is still crying for action in Eritrea which is bedeviled at all levels by the chauvinist politics of Isayas and his unrepentant disciples. The winds of polarization have been blowing with added strength from all corners in our land and communities. Today, it is becoming almost hard to say which group is more exclusionist and more chauvinist than the other. I see polarization everywhere. The only thing sensible Eritreans know for sure is that the one who is keeping you in prison is the ONLY source of all miseries in our land and that his exit will usher in an environment in which we will be able to work out the best solution suitable for our common destiny.
We Shall Reverse Polarization
I am sorry to repeat telling you that the process of polarization - instigated by the old exclusionist and chauvinist policies that you could not stop on time – has gone much deeper than expected in our body politic and the only worry one can have is that it may take quite a while to complete the reverse process - depolarization. The encouraging news today is that we are all getting conscious of the need of starting that reverse process now. And it will be only a matter of time before it is done successfully.
By the way, while discussing about these matters, I never fail to remember what you told newspaper people in the late 1980s. For instance, in one of his writings published in 1989, Lionel Cliff, a good friend of your organization at that time, quoted that your (Haile Deru’e’s) biggest worry after liberation was how to contain “Tigrigna chauvinism [prevalent] in the EPLF”. And I assume that what you meant was this: ‘it is not the fault of any membership of an organization to go wrong but the fault of the leadership that oriented its members in that direction and to that attitude’. I could also trust the writer to have quoted you correctly because I knew many instances of same language from you in the old good days, as I have tried to point out some in an earlier writing (see a few paragraphs of Part III of ‘Agena’e Seyoum, Brave Deru’e, annexed at the end of this article for ease of reference).
And You Are Not Allowed to Die, Haile!
A few weeks before your imprisonment, you said you were ready to pay even your life to change Eritrea’s unbearable situation under a home-grown dictator. While knowing that it is within the possibilities that they may kill you, I still refuse to accept the rumour that you might be already dead or you may die before the sun shines over the land again. I say you are not allowed to die before you take part in repairing the damage done to the very soul of this nation: to its once unshakeable confidence in itself, its old resolve to build a just and prosperous nation and the determination to work in unison and remain in one piece. Do not also forget that we will need some time together to revisit the small events of the old days. And although we did not meet for over three decades, still we will not lack topics for lively old age chats that I am proposing. For example:
- We must have time to talk about what we can, after 44 years, still remember and comment on the degree of our nascent nationalist awareness when we first met in grade 9 in September 1961 at Prince Makonnen Secondary School in Asmara while, coincidentally, the Giant Hamid Idris Awate was also doing a related thing at Mount Adal during that very September of 1961!
- We will talk of all the small things we did together in Asmara between September 1961 and June 1965, including all the demos that we, young boys and girls in that school, arranged for the rest of Asmara.
- For initiating a chat about our Addis days, I have photos of our Entoto meeting of November 1965 at which we created a quasi-association of ‘former Prince Makonnen students in Ethiopia’ as a cover for our ELF cells in the University.
- And I am sure you will remember the Gurage teashop in front of Berhanena Selam Printing Press in Addis where our cell met at 8 pm of every Tuesday.
- Do you still remember, as I do, the event and the name of the Gambian from the Brussels-based World Assembly of Youth who came to Addis for OAU meeting in 1966 at which, to the embarrassment of the Ethiopian officials and security, he distributed our 60 envelopes containing ELF statement to all OAU Heads of State and delegations? You are not allowed to forget that because it was a matter kept secret from the rest of the cell and handled only by two ELF gujile/cell members: you and I.
- I need not say much about the “things” that Ghilai Ghirmai promised to bring for two of us for a serious action that did not, anyhow, take place. Instead, let me mention your last day in Addis. It was Sunday, 4 December 1966 when you and Mussie Tesfamichael left to Asmara by bus on your way to ELF in the field after five or six of us spent the previous night in a hotel in Markato (I think the same Start Hotel where we spent with Isayas before seeing him off at the bus station six weekw earlier - on 17 October 1966.) I recall you were in charge of our cell’s research group and when departure hour came, you handed the documents to me, including a very important book taken out that night from the reserve shelf of the Haile Selassie I University library After 39 years, Spencer Trimingham’s book, Islam in Ethiopia, with valuable information on Eritrea, is still with me - and on it is written your and Mussie Tesfamichael’s departure day. I can give it back to you – nHalalka, or for returning it, with our compliments, to its rightful owner, the Addis Ababa University Library at the Sidist kilo campus.
Therefore, there is more than one reason for you to stay alive, Haile. And if the expected unity of internal and external opposition takes too much time to happen and rescue the nation, including you the prisoners, then it is up to you to think of other ways of escaping death, which you must. How about thinking of the heroic exploits of your old schoolmate Abdallah Hassan who conquered the high walls of prison in Asmara 35+ years ago? Or what about what heroic Saeed Saleh and Seyoum Ogbamichael planned from inside and outside the Adi Quala prison 30 years back to free 1,000 inmates, including you and Seyoum? Or what about doing what Semere Tekeste did very recently? Think about staying alive: you are not allowed to die.