Memories of Nakfa

Memories of Nakfa

Dawit Mesfin

London, 8 Jun 2017

The ethnic/confessional prejudice and posturing we are witnessing in this day and age is endangering our campaigns for justice, and besmirching the heroic history and comradeship of the Eritrean struggle for independence.  The aim of the sectarian and ethnocentric manoeuvre is to sow discord between groups, loosen our Ghedli-history that binds us together and then destroy the social fabric of our communities. The Agazian extremists think that religion and ethnicity provide them with the general model that they have of themselves and their world. Well, they are wrong because Nakfa proved them wrong time and time again. Allow me to clarify my point.

The aim of the so called Agazians, promoters of these prejudiced values, simply stated, is to change the course of our Ghedli experience in order to appropriate more manoeuvrability for their evil crusades. Moreover, take the Ghedli mind-set off the Eritrean identity then he/she will not stand on his dignity. This fanaticism, as far as they are concerned, is what will feed discord and division among us. And that is precisely why we must play an active role in opposing hate sermons and extremism that are being unpacked in our backyards.

The falsification of our history, through efforts exerted by these so called Agazians, pure racialists, is a disgrace, to say the least. The notions they have espoused and are advancing show that they have an obvious interest in a neo-Unionist position.  They do not realise that attacking the credibility of our historic memory will backfire on them.

I am in no doubt that we Eritreans know about and enamoured of our history. We know it is a history full of heroism.  Unfortunately, there is also another side to our victory.  In 1991, as we immersed ourselves in the exhilaration of Eritrean independence other forces went to work which would prevent us from achieving a true victory – that of democracy and pluralism.  Instead, those forces, under Isaias Afwerki’s leadership, short-changed us, ushering in the politics of the victorious.

The victorious, as it evolved out of the progressive Ghedli into PFDJ, transformed itself into an authoritarian political party that dominated the post-independence politics of Eritrea. It was not created around the need to win elections, but to consolidate power. Sadly, the bright future that was supposed to ensue after liberation grew dim. The victory narrative was based on fake promises. Now we find ourselves in a different era all together – an era which is eroding that numinous history.  Regrettably, the dark post-independence era that has dawned on Eritrea has so unsettled many of us it is making us forget how our prized success was achieved.  Alas, we are also seeing that some individuals who are angered by the disastrous developments in the country are beginning to challenge and refute some facts of our history.

I do not agree with those who totally blame the past for today’s pains. I believe that Eritrea’s future is rooted in its past. The reason I am exalting our pre-independence history – at least a good part of it - is due the fact it played a major role in the construction of my Eritrean identity.  Many Eritreans of my generation either played a part in, or lived through the painful 30-year war for independence. Many more supported the revolution and contributed towards its historic conclusion. Moreover, many of us have siblings, friends, relatives and loved ones who took part in that conflict. The majority of the fighters are still with us – some are still serving the current regime and others, unhappy with the way the Eritrean dream turned out under PFDJ’s leadership, have turned their back on the Government of Eritrea.

In these times of adversity I think of what Nakfa means to me. I am reminded of how Nakfa sustained a series of persistent attacks by the Ethiopian Army in the late 70s and 80s. In my mind’s eye I can still see our freedom fighters’ trench-line that was dug in around the Den-Den Mountain which was crucial in the defence of Nakfa.  I know the successive battles and counter offensives carried out to defend the Nakfa front came at a huge price – the costs simply defy imagination. What I can say is that Nakfa became the most potent symbol of resistance because the Ethiopians, even with the help of air power and massive support from the Soviet Union, could not break its defences for years.

When I think of Nakfa I think of Omar Sefaf, the veteran fighter who joined the independence struggle in 1966. During the Nadew offensive he was the Battalion Commander within the 13th Brigade, 61st Division. His fellow combatants tell stories of how he fell in Harat Harmaz, mountainous area of Sahel.  Again, when I think of Nakfa my mind goes back to the memories of wedi Naf'E who was full of youthful exuberance. He loved sports, and by far, the best runner in his unit. His friends say he was a brave warrior. In 1985 he fell in defence of the Nakfa front. His fellow-combatants still remember of the words he uttered before he took his last breath. Wedi Naf'E is survived by Keriya Hassan, his wife, fellow combatant, and their son who still remains attached to Nakfa through his father’s blood and burial ground.

We seem to be confused about many things these days, including our relationship with our own history. And I think that is to be expected as doubts and revisionist attitudes are corrupting the minds of those who lack self-confidence about the eventual success of our current campaigns.

To witness a characterless campaign by those who have taken pseudo-position is an embarrassment, to say the least.  It is strange to see them embark on endeavours to reshape history by belittling and repudiating past realities and by ignoring the essential facts of our nationalist struggle. 

How can one forget the voluntary forfeiture of one’s right to life in order to save fellow comrades? How can one forget the overwhelmingly austere conditions that engulfed the young fighters, the ululating female combatants who marched into battlefields so valiantly? The soulful music of resistance that moved our hearts, and most of all, the mothers who stood upright in the face of their children’s bitter martyrdom still resonate with us.

The spell of Nakfa will not, and cannot be broken by such distractions. As the detractors are horsing around with the Tigray-tigrigni aspiration, which is sterile in nature and a gift to PFDJ, any attempts to detoxify its proponents is a waste of time. This malformed phase of our struggle, like many false prophesies we have witnessed in the past, will fade away in due course. I am soaring self-confidently because Nakfa is beneath my wings. I can hear the ghosts of Nakfa chanting the mantra of unity - no to sectarianism and ethnocentrism!