THE FATHER OF MARTYRS
(1902 – 1949)
The hero of this episode from the series ‗The Fertile Womb‘ is Abdul Kader Mohammed Saleh Kebire, whose name of fame is simply ‘Kebire’. The name ‗Kebire‘, Which means senior or great was the direct translation of his great grandfather, named “Abe’. The name ‗Abe‘ means great thus Kebir or affectionately, Kebire. A devout religious people, since the middle of the 19th. century, his family become known as the ‘Kebire‘ family. Abdul Kader Kebire was born in 1902. He was born in the Massawa area though some people say that he was actually born in his mother‘s village – somewhere in Dankalia. As a child, Kebire attended Khelwa (Quranic School) where he studied the Quran and Arabic. Later, he attended primary school and graduated from the fourth grade because under the Italian occupation, children were not allowed to have any further schooling than the fourth grade. Yet, he never stopped the pursuit of knowledge. Though mainly self-educated, Kebire benefited from his elders in his family and the exposure to the rich library that his family possessed.
At the age of 18, Kebire left for Egypt where he witnessed the revolution of Saad Zaqlul against the British, an incident that left its mark on him and shaped his rebellious character. A self-educated person, Kebire become more interested in politics and was determined to make a change in his country to improve the livelihood of his people.
When he was later hired by the Italians to work as an advisor and translator in the Italian Embassy in Yemen, it was a great opportunity for him to acquaint himself with notable politicians and intellectuals of the era. He become a respected socialite around the diplomatic circles in Yemen and gained many friends. His importance was noticeable to the extent that he participated in the team that was set to broker a peace deal between Saudi-Arabia and Yemen over a border disagreement between the two countries. The team included important personalities of the era: Sheikh Amin Al-Hussaini of Palestine (the leader/martyr of the famous Palestinian uprising); The notable writer Hashim Al-Atassi from Syria; and Prince Shakib Arselan of Lebanon. During his trips to Saudi Arabia to negotiate peace, he met and befriended the Saudi Prince, later King, Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz, who used to call him ‗Al Messewe‘e‘.
Upon his return to Eritrea, he briefly entered the business world and become a successful Businessman. He funded many charitable projects including one for the establishment of a technical school in Mai Dshto in Akria. Obsessed with encouraging education, Kebire become a controversy by calling for the education of women, something, which was a taboo in those days. He believed that only by education and unity can a people be masters of their own destiny. These messages were his vehicle to the world of politics.
In April 1941 (2nd WW) when the Italians were defeated, the victorious British Army maintained the Italian governing structure. Kebire was enraged that a ―liberating force‖ could still depend on the services of a system that oppressed Eritreans. He was aware of the risks that were facing Eritrea and raced against time to form a party that will struggle to safeguard the interest of Eritrea. To this end, together with his friend Gebremeskel Woldu, he found the Liberal Nationalist Party few months after the defeat of the Italians. Later, he organized the first ever public political demonstration in modern Eritrean history to oppose the continuation of the Italian beurocratic structure. Kebire‘s and his friend Gebremeskel Weldu demanded that all colonial Italian bureaucracy be removed from all administrative positions. He demanded that a committee composed of able Eritreans should be handed over the civilian aspects of the administration and be responsible for the affairs of their country. The British had different plans and refused to cooperate.
Kebire was determined to expand his power base; and towards this end, he met with notable politicians of the period to achieve that goal. This led to the formation of the Mahber Fiqri Hager (Love of the Nation Club) which Kebire was one of its founding members. He served as the party‘s vice chairman for five years.
In the forties, the Eritrean arena was full of political parties because all major power had a design for the future of Eritrea. Ethiopia intensified its bid and started to finance the Andnet party. Patriotic Eritreans also intensified their struggle to confront any decision that might endanger the welfare of their people and put the future of Eritrea at risk. In this atmosphere, the famous convention, known as ‗Waala Bet Ghiorgis‘, where all religious leaders, social notables and politicians of the time attended, was convened. Political parties left the convention divided along major lines: the type of relation with Ethiopia.
As consequences of the outcome of the Bet Ghiorgis convention and other concerns that Ibrahim Sultan espoused, the Islamic League (Rabita Al Islamiya) was formed in 1946. The president of the Party was AlSaid Bekri AlMurghani while Ibrahim Sultan was the Secretary General of the party. Kebire was elected as the Party‘s leader in Asmara and its surroundings. In realty, Ibrahim was the strategycian and visionary of the party while Kebire was the political dynamo behind the formidable force of the Islamic League.
In June 10, 1946, thousands of members of the Islamic league and other Eritreans gathered to listen to Kebire‘s political speech. As in previous times, in that speech, Kebire emphasized the importance of education, ―…I repeated the words ‘Freedom’ and ‘Independence’ excessively, but I didn‘t mention the means. That is because the means [to freedom and independence] is obvious and they have only one door: it is education. If we are truly demanding freedom and Independence, we have only one means to achieve that: education alone, education alone….‖, he said. After that long speech in which Kebire outlined his party‘s goals and demands, Kebire become the most admired and the most Charismatic leader of the age. His oratory skills and sound vision were confirmed.
Fluent in Arabic, Tigrigna, Tigre, Afar and Italian, Kebire was a trusted politician and an admired orator. He was known for his bravery and respectful character. His speeches were bold, yet diplomatic. His personality was expressed candidly is a song of the time: ―Kebire‘s mouth that drips words of honey‖ became a household jingle.
A letter dated Aug. 25, 1948, which Kebire wrote to his friend Sheikh Nur-Hussien who was residing in Somalia, characterizes his humble character. The letter was written to brief Sheikh Nur-Hussein about the developments in Eritrea. Though many considered Kebire one of the best leaders (if not the best), in that letter he wrote: ―…if only you were not far, you would be the right person to lead us dear brother. But they found me and I had to bear the responsibilities‖. Such was the nature of the humble man who was eager to serve his nation with honesty and dedication.
The Andnet party considered him one of the most dangerous men who could undermine their struggle for the unconditional union of Eritrea with Ethiopia. He was perceived as the thorn that stood on their way. He received many threatening lives and many tried to intimidate him. The Andnet thugs burned his farm in Ailet. His dairy farm in Merara was destroyed and armed men of the Andnet ‗shiftas‘ forcefully took all the cows in the farm. Nothing stopped him from struggling for the self-determination of Eritrea. He loudly said that he was only afraid of the Almighty and no one else. ―Cowards can take my life but they can never own my conviction and views‖, is the belief that Kebire so much practiced.
By March 1949, Kebire has become a mighty political figure and a real threat to the Andnet party. He was assigned the task of presenting Eritrea‘s case in the UN General Assembly. All Eritrean patriots counted on Kebire to present their case. The Islamic League was confident of his ability to win the debate and give a winning argument. The Andnet Party was threatened and had another plan.
On a Sunday night days before his expected departure to New York to present Eritrea‘s case in the General Assembly of the UN, a hired thug shoot Kebire with a pistol in a street in Asmara. After losing much blood, he was taken to hospital where doctors struggled to save him for two days and nights. On Tuesday, after stubbornly holding to life, Kebire was pronounced dead. His killer, a known thug in the streets of Asmara, was shipped to Harar in Ethiopia where he lived in fear until his death few years ago. Many old people of the time know the member of the Andnet party who was behind the hired thug who killed Kebire.
What would have been the outcome of his presentation if Kebire lived to present Eritrea‘s case to the UN, is left to pondering and imagination. Kebire out of the game, Aklilu HabteWeld team had to debate Ibrahim Sultan weakened and saddened team. Omar Qadi, another Eritrean independentist hero, a lawyer himself, commented on the absence of Kebire by saying that the ―Independentist Movement of Eritrea lost its brightest lawyer‖. Ibrahim Sultan used to say, ―I lost my right hand‖ in reference to the death of the great Kebire.
On a sad Wednesday of 1949, Kebire who was 47 years old was put to his final resting-place in Asmara. Thousands of Eritreans and foreign dignitaries walked behind Kebire‘s funeral—a procession that many claim was biggest in those days.
There went Kebire, the father of Martyrs.
Source: The Fertile Womb
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