Five Years on: Tribute to a Pioneering Journalist Print E-mail
By Events Monitor - Sep 22, 2006   
Eritreans who lived in Port Sudan in the second half of the 1970s and early 80s, especially those who attended Comboni School in that city, would remember Yousif Mohammed Ali. Slightly shy and serious looking, of medium height and fairly black complexion, Yousif was recognizable by his big afro and a smile that revealed a gold tooth. His other distinction was his football virtuosity. He was one of a number brilliant footballers including Mohammed Ibrahim, Abraha zaid, the late Ibrahim Idris and Ibrahim Yassin.
Raised in Asmara, Yousif had, as a teenager, joined the tens of thousands of Eritreans who trekked to Sudan. He ended up in Port Sudan where he immediately took to national politics by joining the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES), affiliated to the ELF. In 1978, he was elected to the leadership of the Port Sudan chapter of GUES of which he became the chairman the following year.
I remember him presiding over our weekly general meetings - his fingers unconsciously working his afro into little knots as he addressed the student body in his calm, rather slow, voice. Yousif was an embodiment of the dedicated student activist, wholly absorbed in the national cause, that was emblematic of the era. The student movement in those days was a major platform for young Eritreans to embrace the national struggle. Thousands eventually went to the field and many paid the ultimate price.
Naturally the student movement had its share of diverging views and disagreements on political or organizational matters. But, whether one agreed with Yousif?s views and leadership style or had differing views, one fact always remained undisputable: his decency and dedication to the national cause. Yousif was that kind of person who was incapable of staying indifferent when it came to public matters. He always cared.
And it was this predisposition to engagement in public affairs and commitment to the welfare of the Eritrean people that led him, after years of exile, to return to Eritrea in the mid-90s and embrace the then nascent independent press. He joined the editorial board of Tsigenai and soon became its chief editor. Given his deep conviction that a free press had a crucial role to play, it didn?t take him long to assert the paper?s independence and test the Regime?s fragile fa硤e of tolerance. When the Government?s censorship bureau (in the Ministry of Information) called to a meeting to give orders requiring advance submission of press-ready manuscripts by the private newspapers, Yousif was one of those who voiced their strong objection. He emphasized the concept of responsibility on the part the journalist as opposed to censorship by a higher authority.
Tsigenai?s major journalistic breakthrough, a significant milestone in the brief history of the independent press of 1998-2001, came when it published the first interview with one of the leaders of the reform movement ? the G-15. The interview with Mahmoud Sherifo opened the doors of the private media to the reformers and gave them a much-needed outlet to address the Eritrean public.
And ?, well, the rest is history.
Five years on, I pay tribute to all the pioneers who gave us a taste of what it is to be free in that luminous, albeit brief, ?spring? of Eritrean freedom. I salute the editors, reporters and writers of Mestyat, Keste Debena, Setit, Tsigenai, Admas, Meqalh, Zemen, and Wintana.

Last month I read the disturbing (though unconfirmed) news of the death of some of the prominent political prisoners, including some members of the G-15 as well as some journalists, among which the name of Yousif was listed.
I don?t rule out the possibility of such gruesome act from a vicious, sadistic and corrupt system. I just hope it is not true.
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