The Roads to Asmara: 1984 -1991
Book Review ||| All Roads Lead To Asmara & Total Liberation of #Eritrea
By Dr Tekeste Fekadu
Hdri Publisher, Asmara
Dr Tekeste Fekadu’s long-awaited book, The Roads to Asmara: 1984-1991, was launched in Asmara on June 10th, 2016, a couple of weeks after Eritrea’s 25th anniversary of independence. I had the great honor to give brief remarks at this book launch. This is the final book in his trilogy of the narrative of Eritrean revolutionary journey which started off with Journey From Nakfa to Nakfa (2002), covering the period 1976-1979; and the second volume, The Tenacity & Resilience of Eritrea (2008), continuing the narrative from 1979 – 1983.
All in all, the author has dedicated a total of 1,040 (one-thousand and forty) pages in this three-volume epic saga to narrate his journey within the great voyage of the Eritrean revolution under the vanguard leadership of the EPLF, covering a period of roughly the second half of the three-decades long struggle. And this in both English and Tigrinya— and hopefully Arabic translations will follow soon. This in itself is a heroic literary feat and great contribution to Eritrean studies by any standard in providing truthful and accurate first-hand account of the history of the Eritrean revolution. For this achievement, the author, Dr Tekeste Fekadu, ought to be rightfully saluted and praised.
In this last volume, as in the previous two volumes, the author has delved deep into his memory and the collective memory of his comrades-in-struggle, as well as referring to essential and rare archival documents of the Eritrean People’s Liberationist Front (EPLF), going back to the bitter-sweet past of the Struggle to salvage the Truth of Eritrea’s national liberation struggle. For, as Milan Kundera aptly put it, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” And tegadalai Dr. Tekeste Fekadu the freedom fighter has risen up to the occasion decades after the victorious fulfillment of that struggle, to bear witness and write an objective account of the Eritrean revolution, lest willful forgetfulness and Eurocentric hegemonic power distort the collective memory of a people.
The author modestly acknowledges the methodology he followed in writing these books—and the limitations therein—in the preface of the current volume:
“I wrote this book by bringing together my notes and memories. Thus, many statements, especially matters of detail, except those I witnessed myself, may only be just beliefs and assumptions that correspond to the rank and file or that of the middle cadre at the time that the events described took place, and/or as recorded in my diaries. Some may not correspond to what exactly happened. There is also the inevitable holding of military and political secrets related to weapons, ammunitions, casualties, etc. Moreover, to try to check every detail with EPLF documents and/or with those who witnessed this or that event would be impractical, cumbersome, and overly ambitious.”
Having acknowledged the shortcomings and difficulties of undertaking such a monumental task, though, what the author proceeded to provide in this and the previous volumes does not disappoint the objective reader and seeker of truth. Taken as a whole, Dr. Tekeste’s Eritrea trilogy provides a rare insight into the inner workings of the EPLF, and the secret of its success. Without a doubt, these books are authoritative primary sources for further research. In this regard, I feel it is noteworthy to quote what David Pool has said in the preface of his book, From Guerrillas to Government: The Eritrean People’s Liberation Movement, regarding the difficulties of undertaking such a task:
“There are many Eritreans and EPLF members who know far more and, eventually, different analyses that progress beyond this one [meaning his book] will appear in critical reaction to it. It is written with a modesty reinforced by a comment sincerely rather than critically made: ‘Only a handful of people know the whole story and organization of the EPLF; not many members do.’ One element is missing in this account: the scale of the personal tragedies involved in the long and bloody liberation struggle. The cold statistics of martyrs, disabled and refugees mask the brutality of death from war and famine, murder and rape, the disorientation resulting from constant uprootedness and the need to survive in alien surroundings and the impact on those who got to 1991 of the parents, children and comrades who did not.”
I believe that Dr. Tekeste’s The Roads to Asmara, and the two previous volumes, does indeed provide valuable insight in understanding “the whole story and organization of the EPLF.” The book goes into great length, providing details and personal narratives of the author, both in his capacity as a senior war surgeon/medical doctor, and also as senior cadre of the Front and the Party within—the clandestine and radical Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Party, founded in 1971, that operated as a Behind-the -scenes vanguard of the popular front until its complete merger into the larger EPLF in 1989. He is well qualified to provide such rare and in-depth account of the EPLF, both militarily and politically, for he was present at the forefront of the struggle in almost every major military engagement that the EPLF undertook during the various phases and stages of the struggle. The period covered in this book, 1984 – 1991, is the phase when the EPLF successfully broke out of the stalemate, and took the initiative and offensive to the enemy, stage by stage, as the EPLF’s strategy of “People’s War” had it: “Liberating the land and the people step by step” until final victory. The rough outlines of this step-by-step methodical march to victory are thus:
- – 1984, liberation of Tesseney, leading to demolition of the Northeastern Sahel Front
- – 1985, Barentu offensive, advance and retreat;
- – 1985, the enemies counteroffensive, Bahri Negash or 8th Offensive;
- – 1988, demolition of Nadew Ez/ Afabet;
- – 1988, May 13-23, Dergue’s “undeclared 9th Offensive” to recapture Afabet;
- – 1990, Operation Fenqil and the liberation of Massawa & its aftermath;
- – 1991, All Roads Lead to Asmara, and final liberation.
Throughout, the writer takes us with him and his comrades along this exciting journey, giving lively narrative of the final phase of the struggle. However, the book is not heavily weighted towards the military or “armed” aspect of the struggle, but rather takes a comprehensive view of what made the EPLF a successful liberation movement, exploring the political, social, cultural and economic aspects and dynamics of the struggle adequately. As Eqbal Ahmad pointed out in his book “Confronting Empire”:
“Armed struggle is less about arms and more about organization, that a successful armed struggle proceeds to out-administer the adversary and not out-fight him. And that task of out-administration was a task of out-legitimizing the enemy. Finally … this out-administration occurs when you identify the primary contradictions of your adversary and expose that contradiction not only to yourself, which you don’t need to do so much, but to the world at large, and more important, to the people of the adversary country itself.”
This aspect of out-administering, out-organizing and out-politicizing the enemy in all fields—an enemy numerically and materially far superior and considered then as the largest army in Black Africa— is what I believe eventually made the EPLF one of the uniquely successful national liberation movements in the world. And the book does cover the multifaceted aspects of the heroic struggle of the Eritrean people. Though filled with many nuggets of the day-to-day lives of the revolutionary fighters, Dr Tekeste’s book does not get bogged down in the details of these daily aspects of the long and bitter struggle at the expense of providing the bigger picture of the EPLF as a vanguard of the struggle of the Eritrean people. It strikes a good balance between the details/tactics and the bigger picture (strategy), and thus finally succeeds what other writers have not managed to do before.
For this much-needed contribution to the study of the Eritrean revolution, Dr Tekeste ought to be congratulated. I am sure, also, that with the completion of this final book, he must be feeling a tremendous sense of relief at having fulfilled his obligation to the fallen comrades by telling their stories in this epic tale of human struggle for liberation.
[Note: For Inquiries on how you can purchase the book go to ||| Hdri Publisher, Asmara]