He spent a major part of his adult life fighting for freedom and human dignity, in a passionate struggle on behalf of his people, the forgotten people of Eritrea. His struggle was frequently a lonely one under bitterly disappointing circumstances—under conditions of mortal danger to his life and amid continued betrayals. Friends and fellow Christian comrades, who had broken bread and worshipped with him to the same God, abandoned him. His fellow Christians accused him of betraying them in favour of Muslims, and Muslims suspected him of being a crypto-Unionist favouring union with Ethiopia. Yet he carried on in the struggle undaunted, advocating unity among his fellow Eritrean compatriots—Christians and Muslims—and holding the Liberty torch aloft preaching the “Gospel” of national self-determination and independence.

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There were very few actively engaged citizens who withstood the test of time and lived through Eritrea’s past struggles.  One of them was an elder by the name of Woldeab Woldemariam who passed away on 15 May, 1995.  This is his story.

In 1997, when Mrs Hillary Clinton began her nine-hour visit of Eritrea, the first thing she did was to acknowledge Eritrea’s martyrs in the independence struggle by laying a wreath near the grave of the great patriot Woldeab Woldemariam.

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Eritrea never had an exclusive history that would qualify its citizens to claim a common national or political identity, contrary to what they were made to believe. The Eritrean map and aspects of its identity were more or less shaped by the Italians. However, the gradual build-up to the nationalist struggle came about as a form of reaction to successive foreign occupations. In other words, Eritreans framed and formulated their national identity out of the abusive and unjust experiences they had withstood for decades. That aspect of the country’s history makes it a fascinating subject to examine. Exploring Woldeab Woldemariam’s mindset certainly sheds light on that very fascination.

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