The Eritrean Revolution: Born of a Shifta father, produced a Shifta system [Part 1]
We are harvesting what we planted[Part 2]



The Eritrean armed struggle was launched on September 1, 1961 by a notorious shifta (bandit), Hamid Idris Awate. Hamid Idris Awate was from Gash Barka Region. He served in the Italian army but when the Italian army was defeated in 1941, he went back home to his village. Sooner in the 1940s he became a great shifta leader. During the British administration, banditry was wide spread in Eritrea resulting in unbearable atrocities and suffering on the people of Eritrea with Awate at the forefront.

I am compelled to write this article following the debate on the Eritrean websites regarding the history of Awate and what he represents as he has left conflicting legacies. His conflicting legacies have led to controversies as how to characterize Awate: a criminal shifta or a revolutionary national hero and Icon? This debate was triggered by the statement issued by the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunam (DMLEK) and posted in their website: on the occasion of the 51st anniversary of the launch of the Eritrean armed struggle.

The Kunama movement condemned the celebration of Awate as a national hero and icon by the main stream Eritreans claiming that he was a shifta leader who committed barbaric crimes against the kunama people. According to their narrative, awate was a criminal with the kunamas blood in his hands and a criminal should not be praised as a national hero and icon but must be condemned for the crimes he had committed hence awate does not represent their history.

On the other hand most of the self appointed nationalist and Islamic websites such as, and the likes and the nationalist and Islamic opposition political parties and movements have reacted with anger and outrage to the characterization of Awate as a criminal claiming that Awate is a national hero and symbol. They equate the narrative by the kunama movement to declaring war on the national symbol, Eritrean nationality, identity and to a blasphemy. They declared that any Eritrean or organisation that deviate from their narrative and does not accept Awate as a national hero and Icon is considered a criminal, an outlaw and an outcast hence should be excluded from the Eritrean society and coalitions of Eritrean organizations. Even some have gone to the extreme and called for retaliation by targeting those individuals and organizations that talk of Awate’s banditry legacy and do not respect Awate as a national hero and icon.

They are also engaged in an intensive and extensive campaign of political assassination alleging that the statement was authored and posted by DMLEK leader, qornelios Osman himself and that he has committed crimes against the kunama people. These people have never raised claims of the criminal records regarding Qornelious Osman before the posting of the statement. To the contrary, they formed an alliance with his organization and they have been working together to topple the Eritrean regime for more than a decade.  Then why did they decide to associate themselves with a criminal in the first place? How did a good fighter turn now a criminal for the sheer fact of issuing a statement? This is obvious for every reader and observer; these people are now engaged in defamation campaigns as retaliation for the statement. Many of them are intimidating and pressuring the DMLEK both in private and public to withdraw the statement and apologize. And these are the very forces that claim that they are fighting for democracy and justice including freedom of expression, speech, access to information…etc.

Now imagine what would happen, if these people are armed and operating in the Eritrean territory. As it had happened during the armed struggle era, they could have already declared war on the Kunama movement; and if they have the means and capability, by now they could have exterminated the Kunama movement even the kunama people.

Now let’s refer to the available documents at our disposal to shed light some facts about Awate. It is unfortunate due to the shifta regime in Eritrea we cannot access the available resources and archives to research and investigate the case so as to provide exhaustive information on the level of crimes Awate had committed. However, let’s for the time being limit ourselves to the available information about Awate. had in 2010 visited the archives of the British administration based now in London and posted some information.

These documents were scanned and posted but the quality is poor and creates inconvenience reading them in the form had posted. Thus I have reproduced them by typing them again so that the readers can read them easily and comfortably. These documents concern the public notice the British administration issued in January 1950 regarding the shiftas and criminals in Eritrea and the interview made between the police officer and shifta Ghebre Tesfazien.



No. 003 – Public Notice – Asmara, January 1950: Issued by Chief Secretary (Sgd) C.F.B pearce

Public Notice

  1. The normal life of the people of Eritrea is continually being disrupted and {???} by the activities of the shifta bands. They are well known to you and it is unnecessary to relate in detail what they have done. It is the administration’s intention to put an end to these bandits by the use of all forces, both military and police, available. In addition reinforcements are being called in. Everyone, however, must help.  It is the plain duty of every inhabitant to assist the administration in achieving its object by voluntarily and promptly giving information regarding the shifta movements to the military or police operating in his area. Those who do not co-operate with the administration are warned that the law provides for the punishment of individuals, or groups of individuals, who {aide???) shifta either directly by sheltering them, or indirectly by failing to communicate promptly information regarding their movements and activities to the nearest military, police or administrative authority.
  2. The rewards stated will be paid to those whose assistance leads to the capture, dead or alive, of the shifta whose names are given on the attached list. Appropriate rewards will also be paid to those giving information which may lead to the apprehension of the other shifta or of the persons carrying arms without authorization. Alternatively, in appropriate {cases???), rewards may take the form of presentation of an honorific weapon with permission to carry it during the continuance of the British  administration, subject to good behaviour and the continued rendering of the assistance to the administration.
  3. Other shifta, whose names do not appear on the attached list, will be granted a free pardon provided,

a)     They have not at any time been connected in crimes of murder;

b)    They have not, subsequent to the date of this notice, been engaged in any action against the forces of the administration nor committed any serious crime;

c)     They surrender themselves, with their arms, to the nearest public post; and

d)    They make a full disclosure of their association with shifta bands.

  1. The administration reserves to itself the right to withdraw this offer of amnesty at any time, subject to fourteen days’ notice being given.

Asmara, 7th January, 1950                            (Sgd) C.F. B Pearce,

Chief secretary, for chief administrator


Police Notice [this is attachment to the public notice)

The rewards mentioned below will be paid for information leading to the arrest of the following shifta or to the person producing their bodies, dead or alive.

Name of wanted man residence or tribe amount of rewards crime for which wanted
Hamed Idris Awate Antore £300 Already notified
Weldegebriel Mossazghi Berakit Abbai £200 Already notified
Berhe Mossazghi Berakit Abbai £200 Already notified
Hagos Temnewo Debri Adi Tsadek £150 Already notified
Assreskhenge Embaye Areza £100 Already notified
Oqbankiel Ijigu Shimanugus Tahtai £50 Already notified
Ghebre Tesfazien Deda £100 Murder
Debbassai Abraha Habela £25 Murder
Sebhatu Demsas Habela £20 Murder
Tekle Asfha Keranakudo £20 Murder
Kidane Demsas Habela £20 Murder
Teklehaimanot  Sereke Kerenakudo £20 Murder
Berhe Habtezghi Mekerka (Anseba) £30 Murder
Weldesellassie Adal Liban (Serae) £30 Murder
Abraha Zemariam Zigib £25 Murder
Grazmac Ilfai Asfha Keranakudo £35 Murder
Megisteab Seum Adi Qontsi £30 Murder
Bereketeab Andemikiel Deda £20 Murder
Tarake Werede Tigrai (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Andemariam Zere Debri (Liban) £20 Murder
Berhe Lijam Deki-Dashim £20 Murder
Medhin Kahssay Irob (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Abraha Suba Tigrai (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Girmazion (who was with Haile Abay) Tigrai (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Mebrahtu Teklenkiel Haben £20 Murder
Gheremedhin Kefela Adi Ewur £20 Murder
Omer Aluru {Asa Esan???} £20 Murder
Khalifa Omer {Sukuru Are???} £20 Murder
{???} Maleh Tigrai (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Issak Ali Tigrai £20 Murder
Ali Idris Hanzer £20 Murder
Ali Hudera Denkal £20 Murder
Khalifa Ali Hazu £20 Murder
Ali Omer Tigrai (Ethiopia) £20 Murder
Girmay Hailu Mog’o £20 Murder
Amare Embaye Areza £20 Murder
Idris {Achem???} Barya tribe £20 Murder
Gale anewri Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Shababi  Tana Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Osman Longi Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Abakair Gale Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Agaje Haitin Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Gale Ambi Kunama tribe £20 Murder
{Achti???} Buzu Kunama tribe £20 Murder
Tekle Gilagaber Deki-Shehai £20 Murder
Habte Gilagaber Deki-Shehai £20 Murder
Kidane Habtue Deki- Shehai £20 Murder
Kesete Tesfaldet Deki-Shehai £20 Murder
Fessehaye  Fessehazion Deki-Dashim £20 Murder
Melake Beyan Dek-Dashim £20 Murder
Kelete Gherezghiher Deki-Dashim £20 Murder


Asmara, 7th January, 1950                            (Sgd) T.W FITZPATRICK.

Commissioner of Police and Prisons,




No. 001 –  Eritrea Police Force – 1951:    Extracts from a discussion between Supt. of Police L.M. Braine and shifta leader Ghebry Tesfazien

Eritrea police Force

Ref: S/4/1/AS/RD/                                                Head quarters,

Date:22nd May,1951                                             rural district police,

Asmara & Hamassien


To:    Commissioner of Police,

Eritrea police Force


Supt. Of police,

Asmara and Hamassien


Subject:      extracts from a discussion between S/A.S.P. L.M. Brane and Shifta leader Ghebre Tesfazien, which took place on the 15th May, 1951, in the country near the village of ADI RASI.

G.T             I am very glad to see you; we have all heard so much about the work you are doing; when will you bring us the good news from the British administration that we are free?

Self             Nothing has been decided yet, but discussions are going on now. If you are given free pardon, will you come in?

G.T             Yes, of course, but I would not consider it a pardon, but my demobilization from the British army. I have always served the British because you gave us back our country.

Self             You did not serve the British when you killed a British officer at Amader recently.

G.T             I expected you to bring this up. If you had not done so, I would have done. Firstly, I must ask you to express my deepest regret to the family of this brave officer, also to commando Truppe in Asmara. Let me tell you what happened.

I, with my band of about 50 shifta, came to the village of Amader to pray. We were in the village and the priests were bringing out the cross for us to kiss.  There were four guards in the hills. Suddenly I heard firing and saw British troops moving towards us. I gave an order for my men to withdraw and not to engage unless absolutely necessary. If you need proof of this, the village of Amader will give it to you. I noticed your soldiers in their action were very young and unexperienced, much too slow in deploying. Their fieldcraft was very poor, not like the British soldiers in the Eritrean campaign.

Self             Were you in this campaign?

G.T             yes, I fought with the British right the way through. My corporal was from London, he had a flat nose like a borer. My company commander was lame from a first world war wound. I was in the battle of Metema – that was a bad spot. Before I came in with the British troops from Sudan, I was working as an agent in Eritrea for the British in Ethiopia. I was sent from Wolfakit with hundreds of small notes to distribute to the noted Eritreans telling them to fight against the Italians.

Self             How long have you been a shifta?

G.T             Fourteen years including my military service.

Self             What made you turn shift?

G.T             The Italians, in 1935, I was a cattle merchant. I drove 160 head of cattle which I had brought from Sudan up to Asmara to sell.

A certain Italian cattle merchant named Bartocchi saw my cattle were big and wanted to buy them. The price he offered I would not accept. He then said, the cattle were all sick. I asked a veterinary officer to look at them, and he said the cattle were healthy. Bartocchi was angry at this. Bartocchi had a son, who had a friend in the veterinary department. This friend of the Bartocchi’s son came to see my cattle and declared them all sick.

All my cattle, 160 head, were taken away from me and slaughtered. The meat was sold and I did not receive a penny. I was told that I could not take the case to the court because it was not possible for a black person to go in the same court with an Italian. You recall that there was fascist law in 1935 and there was little I could, except develop a great hatred for the Italians. As all my money was gone, I borrowed from various people to try and start up again. One sum I borrowed from a native, who is now dead, was 12,000 Lire. His name does not matter. My guarantor was Grazmac Fessehaie (still in Asmara). Grazmac Fessehaie then came and asked me for the money. I paid him 12,000 Lire – a witness who saw the money paid over by me {Casel???) Ghebresillasie Abraha of Deda.

I was then accused of not having paid the money. I was arrested and sent to court. The court would not allow me to call my witness. I was sentenced to 18 months in prison. I was then transferred from Asmara prison to Tessenei. I appealed against the sentence, but the appeal was never sent forward. After serving six months, I escaped from Tessenei and joined the British in Sudan. I was sent out as an agent to Ethiopia where I did the work already mentioned. On one occasion, I waited six days in ambush in western province to kill Gasperini – Gasperini did not come, but instead I shot the veterinary officer who had declared my cattle all sick. Unfortunately, I only broke his leg with a bullet from my rifle.

Self             How many Italians have you killed, Ghebre?

G.T             I have not kept account; they are not worth it.

Self             didn’t you kill an Italian woman in 1941 on the Keren road?

G.T             Yes, Italian women breed Fascists.

Self             Are still bitter towards Italians?

G.T             Now that the British has united Eritrea with the mother country, I will not kill any more, but I still want back the money the Italians stole from me. Let’s not talk any more about Italians because I am beginning to tremble.

Self             What do you want to talk about?

G.T             How is Field Marshal Montgomery?

Self             Well at the moment, I believe.

G.T             How old is he now?

Self             About 70 years, I believe.

G.T             Great tactician, Marshal Montgomery.

Self             Yes, he is.

G.T             So am I, he is a religious man, too, isn’t he?

Self             I believe he is.

G.T             So am I, I pray twice a day in village churches. I never go near women. If I am pardoned, I may become a priest or a hermit.

Self             If all shifta are pardoned, do you think they will all come in?

G.T             Yes, I think so. A few thieves may stay out, but we can deal with them. You should be much stricter with your district chiefs. They can help a lot if they want to.

Self             Do not commit any offences until you hear from the British administration.

G.T             That is easy, too easy, I will go to  Korea and fight with the British, if I am sent.


To be continued…. We are harvesting what we planted[Part 2]

Merhawi Kunfu