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Dejazmatch Gebreyohannes Tesfamariam


Volume 5 Number 1
What Kept Me Alive
01 January 1992 SOURCE http://www.forachange.net/firstperson/2129.html

Dejazmatch Gebreyohannes Tesfamariam was a Minister of State under the Emperor of Ethiopia. He later became a senior Provincial Councillor in Eritrea.

Fifteen years ago, after a sleepless night, I took a decision with God that I would no longer be a diplomat and a courtier, but that I would speak the truth fearlessly even to the Emperor.

Shortly afterwards I was summoned to Addis Ababa to attend a meeting called by the Emperor. I arrived to find a full meeting of the Supreme Council including cabinet ministers and generals who were discussing how to crush the rebellion in Eritrea. They had already taken a decision that the army should be reinforced and that a big offensive with increased fire-power should be launched. I told the Emperor that this was not the way to win the hearts and minds of my people in Eritrea. I urged him instead to open negotiations for a peaceful settlement.

There was a pause and then the Emperor adjourned the meeting. But the decision for a military offensive had already been taken. My friends warned me privately that I would probably be put in prison for contradicting the Emperor. In fact I was not imprisoned, but the offensive was launched. Many lives were lost, the guerrillas were not defeated and the war continued.

Then came the revolution. The Emperor was overthrown and 32 of the ministers and generals of the old Ethiopia were executed, including the Governor-General of Eritrea. The next year leaders of the Revolutionary Council called a meeting and asked those present for their views on the solution to the problem of Eritrea. I gave them the same answer as I had given the Emperor. They said that they would consider my proposals. But a few days later I was arrested and imprisoned.

I was kept in prison for seven years. It was a hard and difficult time. We were allowed no books except for a Bible and some Marxist literature. The prison stopped feeding us but my family was allowed to bring me one meal a day.

Thanks to God, I was freed from bitterness and was able to forgive those who had a part in my imprisonment. God gave me a strength to care for the other men there, to settle quarrels and to listen to their problems. Several renewed their faith and were able to start life again without bitterness. This is what kept me alive.

My wife and I have been visiting America and Switzerland. Now we plan to go home to Ethiopia. Conditions will be tough but God is asking me to return to share the sufferings of my people. The war has gone on for 26 years. Both sides are beginning to realize that war only brings destruction and there is a suggestion that negotiations should be started.

It is my hope and prayer that I may be able to help in the process of a peaceful settlement.

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