The Issue of Eritrea at United Nations Assembly

Written by Winta Weldeyesus | PDF Print E-mail
About Eritrea - History & Culture

The people of Eritrea were happy about their question being brought before the UN Assembly for they believed that their right to decide their own fate would be protected. The Eritrean people were to learn soon that the UN was not particularly interested in their legitimate rights or questions.  Abdelkadir Kebire

Abdelkadir Kebire

In April 1945, all political parties in the country were allowed to send their representatives to the UN Assembly. Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan and Abdelkadir Kebire were elected from Al Rabita Al Islamya (Islamic League), but on the eve of the day they were supposed to depart for New York, Abdelkadir Kebire was murdered in Asmara by Ethiopian agents. Abdelkadir Kebire had struggled for Eritrean independence of the country since 1941, and had been working as the head of the Al Rabita Al Islamya. He was respected among his fellow nationals and many grieved for his death.

British and Italian Ploys against Eritrean Freedom

After their arrival in the United States, the representatives of all Eritrean political parties except that of Mahber Hibret (Unionist Party) told the UN Assembly that they want freedom.

Despite this fact however, Italian and British representatives to the UN Assembly hatched out a ploy to divide Eritrea into two different regions. The plan was to join the former regions of Barka, Sahel and Senhit with Sudan, and Kebesa, Semhar and Denkalia with Ethiopia. While nationalists like Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan strongly opposed the plan, the Ethiopian Imperialist government and the Mahber Hibret representative Tedla Bairu, accepted the proposed plan. Britain and Italy presented their proposal to the Assembly but the plan was rejected and Eritrea was spared from being divided in two. Although the Eritrean people were glad that such a plan was rejected it became clear to them that the UN was not particularly interested in their rights. Angered by the readiness of the Ethiopian rulers and Mahber Hibret to accept divided parts of the country, the Eritrean people realized the need for avoiding trivial divisions along ethnic, regional and religious lines and form a strong unity.

Hence, while they were still in New York, Shiekh Ibrahim Sultan and others like him took the initiative to form a united political party that encompasses all the pro-independence parties and called it the Eritrean Independence Block.   Meanwhile, the United Nations sent another fact-finding committee from five countries to review the desires and wishes of the Eritrean People.

Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra” (Eritrean Independence Block)

After the failed ploys maneuvered by Britain and Italy, leaders of Shara Italy (Pro-Italy), met with the leaders of a movement called “National Moslem Organization”, (Hagerawi Islamawi Mahber) and Mahber Ertra N’Ertrwyan(The Eritrea for Eritreans Movement) and decided to work jointly in order to liberate the country and overcome the ploys of the British and the government in Ethiopia. As a result they agreed to join the Ketsri N’Natsnet Ertra (the Eritrean Independence Block) and jointly fight for the country’s independent.

The news of this agreement among the leaders of the movements reached the Homeland and people accepted the agreement gladly, since there was no doubt that once the people were united, they can succeed in getting their independence. After the return of the representatives from US, the leaders of the organizations held a meeting in Dekemhare, and Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra, was established officially and Hanti Ertra or United Eritrea become the official mouthpiece newspaper of the movement. In the meeting, Ra'as Tessema Asmerom, an 80-year-old father said: “We are trying to build a united and independent Eritrea governed by intellectual nationals that are able to create a crime-free country”.

On February 10, 1950, another meeting was held in Dekemhare where Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra leaders of were elected. Ra'as Tessema was elected as the president and Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan as the general-secretary of the movement. Mr. Wolde'ab Weldemariam was elected as head of Hanti Ertra and vice-secretary general of the movement. In the meeting Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan called all Eritrean youth to participate in this movement and liberate the country.

In a speech he delivered at this meeting, the Secretary-general, Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan said: “All of you young people, if Eritrea gets its independence you will have a better life and if not you will be pursuing an atrocious life. To protect your dignity and legacy, I call on you to join this movement.”

Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan’s call to the youth to join the movement reached every part of the country and many people particularly youngsters joined the movement; some even changed membership from Mahber Hibret to Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra. The British administrators in Eritrea also accepted that 75% of the Eritrean people support Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra.

As a result of the campaign by Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra many members of Mahber Hibret joined the former by organizing themselves under a new movement called, Selfi N’natsnet Ertra or  Progressive Liberal Party.

After the ploys of Britain and Italy failed, the United Nations’ Assembly sent a fact- finding committee composed of members from five countries to Eritrea. The main aim of the committee was to find out the desires of the Eritrean people. The committee reached Asmara on November 9, 1950.

By the time that the fact-finding committee arrived in Asmara, the strength of the movement of the Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra was getting stronger and the government in Ethiopia and members of Mahber Hibret began to grow anxious as a result of this development and thus enhanced their ploys to weaken and destroy the movement. Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Abune Markos, declared that people against unity with Ethiopia would be expelled from the church and started banning those people from getting burial, baptism, Eucharist and worshipping services. They even resorted to threatening the people. Moreover, bandits and terrorists backed by the government in Ethiopia began killing and looting properties of the leaders of the liberation movements. On February 4, 1950 the bandits made a fourth attempt to assassinate Mr. Woldeab Weldmariam and there were several other attempts on other various individuals.

One of the major incidents maneuvered by the bandits and Mahber Hibret took place on February 2, 1950. On this particular day one of the leaders of Al Rabita Al Islamyia was murdered and to make things worse, at the funeral ceremony members of Mahber Hibret exploded bombs around the civilians. As a result, a number of Muslims gathered together and took counteractive measures against the atrocity committed by Mahber Hibret and this created chaos in the city that went on for six days. The unrest even escalated to a religious difference among the people and numerous people died and were wounded.

The fights that erupted among the Moslems and Christians of the country were put to a halt by initiatives taken by religious leaders from both faiths. They even promised themselves that they will never avenge each other, and put flowers at the graves of those who died in the chaos. There was a complete agreement and peace among the followers of both faiths.

Despite the ploys and support of the Ethiopian government, Mahber Hibret was a failure. However, British and Ethiopian governments kept on advocating that Moslems and Christians in Eritrea can't live peacefully together, citing the unrest in February as an evidence.

The Division of Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra

The primary objective of Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra was to work against the Ethiopian government and the British administration who were working towards dividing the country into two.

As a result, the British administration in the country began pressuring Al Rabita Al Islamyia (Islamic League), as a result of which the movement divided into two. Those supported by the British established a new movement known as Al Rabita Al Islamyia of Me'rabawi Kola (Islamic League of the Western Lowlands), claiming to fight for the liberation of Western Lowlands. Both the government of Ethiopia and Mahber Hibret supported the aim of the new movement.

And later the British administration in the country began working towards dividing Mahber Ertra N'Ertrawyan . The son of the president of the organization met with Emperor Haileselassie of Ethiopia and the Emperor agreed to respect Eritrea's freedom and promised to make Tigrinyia and Arabic the official languages of the country. The Emperor also promised to allow the society to keep its cultural and traditional norms. As a result, Dejazmat Abraha, Ra'as Tessema's son, and some of their followers believed the promise of the Ethiopian Emperor and left Mahber Ertra N'Ertrawyan or the Liberal Progressive Party and established a new party called Liberal Unionist Party and began advocating for unity with Ethiopia.

The British administration in the country and the government of Ethiopia together weakened Ketsri N’natsnet Ertra, but the desires of the people in the country didn’t change. The Eritrean people as always wanted freedom.