|Eritreans who lived in Port Sudan in the second half of the
1970s and early 80s, especially those who attended Comboni
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
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
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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