Homage to a Sage: My Recollection of Michael Ghaber and Miscellaneous Issues

By Salah Ibrahim 25 May 2005

I completed Senior High School in the Sudan at a UNHCR Refugee School renowned for its high academic standard. As it is known to most Eritreans, the school was operated by dedicated, highly professional and patriotic Eritrean educationists like Mohamed Omar, Ghebremedhin Atsebaha, Mahmoud Ibrahim, Ghebru Gayem etc., just to name a few. Anyone educated at that school owes a debt of gratitude to those great teachers who devoted a lot of their valuable time and have tirelessly assisted us to excel academically, with the ultimate objective of ensuring for their students higher grades in the General Certificate of Education (GCE). These teachers endured enormous pressure between supporting their families and fulfilling their national duty. Their sacrifice must be admired and appreciated by every Eritrean. It can be argued that their effort produced generations of high calibre students, now enjoying a successful life in the diaspora, who are likely to be a significant force in future democratic Eritrea that we all dream of.

As it is also known to most of us, Michael Ghaber was the Headmaster/Principal of the school. I only studied there for three years (1985-88), and I was unfortunate not to have had Wad Ghaber as my history teacher, except of course for the few unplanned encounters when he had to step in for an absentee teacher. He was always a very interesting person to listen to even when he was not prepared to teach formally speaking. Basically, he can speak about any subject in the Social Sciences (politics, history, language, etc.) confidently and without any lesson plan. That was indicative of his enormous potential and ingenuity. Unfortunately, I have only brief recollection of Wad Ghaber because of my short period in the UNHCR School. Therefore, I call upon his close colleagues and similarly exhort talented writers to honour Michael Ghaber by writing a bibliography of this great Eritrean personality. Indeed, there should be a history book with profiles of all great Eritreans who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Eritrean national liberation.

Here are some of Wad Ghaber’s attributes, which are purely based on my personal observations:

  • Michael Ghaber was a brave man who spoke his mind freely despite knowing the danger of being harmed. It is sad Eritrea lost such an educated and iconic figure at the prime of his age. I am sure this enlightened figure would have enriched our knowledge of Eritrean history (bad and good), the current version of which is biased and full of misleading information.


  • Wad Ghaber was very supportive of the establishment of an independent Eritrean Students Association. Here I will describe my own discussion with him following my return in the late 1980s from Khartoum to Kassala after undertaking GCE Exam; I visited him at his home with a message from my colleagues at UNHCR and I explained our intension to establish an independent Eritrean Students Association, an idea that was initiated by an activist Eritrean student, Zaray (former ex-ELF manjos fighter), of Kamboni School, Khartoum. Wad Ghaber’s response was very encouraging and positive, but he warned me that without clear objectives and vision, we were never going to succeed. That is to say, Wad Ghaber believed in structured and carefully planned work that is not driven by emotion that peaks only during the honey moon when everyone is energetic and inspired, but which in due course collapses due to lack of vision and plan. He believed that a sustained effort is required to achieve objectives.


  • Finally and half-jokingly, Wad Ghaber had the habit of talking a lot but writing little in his lectures. He was erudite so much so that he can speak up to 15 minutes uninterruptedly and then would write/draw a dot in the middle of the board as summation of what he said. He used to repeat the process almost every quarter of an hour, so that at the end of the 45 minutes lecture, all the notes that a student can take were three dots that were drawn in the centre of the board. Remember, my recollection of Wad Ghaber is brief, so this last attribute may not be his typical way of teaching.


I was inspired by Wad Ammar’s article http://www.nharnet.com/May2005/WoldeyesusAmmar_May19.htm to make the above recount of Michael Ghaber. I am not a great writer like Saleh Younis or Salih Gadi or Semere Habtemariam, etc. to impress everyone, but I was so emotional remembering the contribution of Michael Ghaber for the Eritrean education sector, his suffering and pain after he was struck – at the hands of unknown assailants (his enemies perhaps) – with an iron bar and hospitalised for a long time. Colleagues from UNHCR School and myself visited him in the hospital, and I admired his determination to overcome the pain that was inflicted on him by the coward attack that almost claimed his life. More sadly, his untimely tragic death in kassala, the town he chose to live in despite many opportunities to immigrate to developed countries and enjoy a descent life, has left on-going consternation on all of us who intimately knew him.

Previously, Melbourne hosted great Eritrean figures such as Abdalla Idris, Mesfin Hagos, etc., and now I call upon my compatriots in Melbourne to make the meeting with Seyoum Ogbamichael and Woldeyesus Ammar a success for the sake of all Eritrean Martyrs. Afterall, these are Wad Ghaber’s comrades and hence represent a continuation of the line/ideal for which Wad Ghaber’s dedicated his life. We might disagree with the visitors’ political views in some areas, but this cannot justify boycotting the meeting or to show negative attitude towards them. I am one of those who are deeply disappointed by the split of the ELF-RC, as I expected that this relatively democratic organisation should have had conflict resolving procedures in place that could have averted the split. I believe most of you will agree with me that Mr Ogbamichael and Mr Ammar are prominent ELF figures, who sacrificed their youth for the Eritrean cause, and we have a lot to learn from them. It is possible to indulge in constructive discussions with these influential personalities for the betterment of the emerging democratic culture within the opposition camp, under the leadership of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance.

Only a united and strong opposition will force the totalitarian regime in Eritrea to sit to a negotiating table. If political settlement cannot be achieved due to lack of interest from the Eritrean regime, then the will and sprit of a united people will prevail over the unconstitutional, undemocratic, ruthless dictatorial and oppressive regime ruling over Eritrea. The regime, sooner or later, will be deposed ONLY if the opposition remains united and works together. Indeed, ONLY if they think forward and avoid NEGATIVISM, which has caused a lot of frustration and disappointment among the grassroots and killed the involvement and motivation of the people that in the past fiercely fought the various oppressive colonial powers. The opposition camp needs to forge the process of unity and cooperation which undoubtedly will expedite the removal of the ruling regime and its unjust policies, hence the end of the suffering of the Eritrean people. Political diversity and tolerance should forge and accelerate the establishment of a multi-party system government, strength national unity and create conducive environment for the implementation of innovative ideas that will lead to prosperity.

Finally, I wish the family of Sibhatu Redi and Michael Ghaber a happy wedding and a prosperous future for their son (Makeley) and daughter (Weini) respectively.

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