Today’s guest is Brigadier General Zewdie Kiros. She was born and raised in Tigray State Tenbey, Abiadi town. She was one of the combatants who made history by annihilating the Derg regime thereby unshackling the people of Ethiopia from the Yoke of the Derg regime paying all costs. She is on familiar terms with the inside out of military strategies which helped her and fellow combatants emerge victorious almost immediately. Given her talent,leadership knack and conviction, she has served the Ethiopia Defense Force in different capacities.
The Ethiopia Herald had a short stay with Brigadier General Zewdie with the purpose of affording readers a window into her personal and professional life .She has touched upon a number of striking issues revolving around the struggle of combatants to overthrow the Derg regime, a vampire, which had been sucking the blood of the general public for many years . Excerpts:
What inspired you to join the armed struggle?
To begin with, I got myself involved in the armed struggle at the age of fourteen. I was attending primary school at Tenbei Abadi, where Derg had built a camp on the school premise. For no apparent reasons, the regime’s soldiers were seriously thrashing us every so often while some of our compatriots were tortured to death. Corpses were left in the left, right and center of our locality every so often. It was not uncommon to hear heartbreaking wailing in our school more often than not in this regard. Even worse, over and over again students faced the same fate. We were time and again coerced to be members of the Derg regime.
Students had to be members despite they did not have a wee-drop of interest to be a member of the dictator regime, which was as cruel as death. We did not know the way out. Nor did we know what we had to do to rescue our people from the yoke of the Derg regime. The situation kept on going from the frying pan into the fire. Day and night, we were experiencing sad moments. One could surmise what such a tragic fate means for children’s mental growth.
Residents often were awash in tears. As a consequence, parents reached into a decision not to send their children to school. In due course, students made up their minds to join the armed struggle to unshackle the people of Ethiopia from the yoke of the Derg regime. I had seen many residents of the town crying their eyes out blessing off their beloved ones to guerrilla fighting. In due course, I made up my mind to join combatants with the intention of toppling the Derg regime.
What was the reaction of combatants’ parents at that point?
As a child, I was cherishing a dream of becoming the only female teacher in our vicinity though the situation of the time was not that easy to achieve my objective in the absence of peace.
The deplorable life people used to lead as well was tear-jerking .Thus I did not hesitate for a moment to join the armed struggle with determination. That was the only solution to liberate our compatriots from the trouble they were in.
Flipping back to the gist, parents were sending their children to the war-front with high spirit wishing farewells as though they did not feel pity for their children. Obviously that was a bitter pill to swallow. Most of them sent their children to the war-front wishing goodbyes with broken heart and contrite sigh. Their children might not had an inkling of idea about the exact feelings of their parents. Parents did the whole lot for the love of the oppressed.
Most mothers were in the habit of sending their children to the warfront saying “Fight tyrants and prove your heroism!” My mom did the same to me. All mothers had paid no less sacrifices by giving away their children to the armed struggle. They accepted as true that nobody would evade death wherever s/he may be. Our mothers were encouraging us with inspirational words.”Unchain as from the shackles of the diabolic regime!” That was why I felt on top of the world for joining the armed struggle.
From where did you get the inspiration to prove to be successful in the armed struggle?
As my parents were civil servants, relatively we were leading a good life. I was the first born female in the family.I was a bit free from domestic chores.
By my very nature, if I get myself engaged in a certain task, I do not backpedal prior to achieving the intended target. As such I made a determined combatant out of myself. The credit for this goes to my mother who taught me to be a disciplined person,determined public servant and combatant. Apart from giving priority to the safety of the general public, I had proved to be successful in the whole lot I got myself engaged in for the most part in the military life.
As I brought my mother’s conviction-packed pieces of advice into my day to day life, I proved to be successful in any mission I was deployed in. I have the nerve to say, my mother is the secret behind my success. In fact, several inspirational war songs which summoned youngsters to the armed struggle were chanted here and there. Furthermore, numerous leaflets carrying inspirational messages everyone to join the armed struggle were scattered all over the place.
You did not come of age then. Given your childhood, what was the outlook of the society?
At that point, many people were making fun of us guessing our age. We were even discouraged with pieces of advice to get back to our parents given that we cannot withstand thirst and hunger let alone carrying a gun. They did not vested hope on our stamina to pass through challenges. But as we tested to the full the bitterness of the blow inflicted on us by the oppression of the Derg regime, we did not shy away from doing what we had already decided to do. Turning a deaf ear, we joined the armed struggle. On the contrary, there were other groups who were patting us on the back us to join the armed struggle so that we could free the people of Ethiopia from the yoke of the Derg.
How did you pass through the warfront challenges?
At first, together with fellow combatants, I was dreaming of restoring peace and tranquility across the country in addition to defending the sovereignty of Ethiopia. In fact, I had passed through many twists and turns for the love of unshackling citizens from the chain of tyranny. The challenges in the battle field were too awful for words. Undaunted, I had fought in various engagements for seventeen years in various corners of Tigray and other battlefields. I did that fighting with courage and determination . I am happy that I had taken vengeance on the Derg regime at the end of the day.
As ill luck would have it, a lot of citizens nationwide were killed on the pretext of red terror. Even worse, parents were not allowed to take the bodies of their beloved ones and weep to give vent to their grief. Even shedding tears by mistake was impossible. There was a time that parents were asked to pay money for bullets Derg wasted to kill their children. If a mother saw her son’s body, she could not shed tears. She had to stomach the blow with an indifferent milieu. If she was found shedding tears, she could be thrown into prison.
How do you describe being a female combatant?
The enormity of challenge a female combatant could encounter is enormous. Yet, women can do anything that men can do though natural differences between the two genders is apparent. Nothing shall be impossible given that we are one and the same in determination. As far as I am concerned, gender cannot cripple one from involving in an armed struggle. It is possible to do all. The period we experience once a month cannot prevent us from making our dream become a reality.
During this time a woman may experience exhaustion. But nothing shall be impossible if we are committed. Seeing our determination people made a point on saying, “Go and demonstrate your military prowess in the armed struggle!” Breaking the outmoded mentality of citizens—women are feeble— was not that easy at that point. We proved ourselves tigresses of showdowns.
When we were on periods we were being helped in different ways.
In what ways do the combatants help?
If combatants figured out that we were on periods, they urged us to put down our weapons. Averse to this, we hide our feelings. We did not want to take a break for a moment or so no matter what happened. To our surprise, reading our faces,more often men combatants without difficulty knew that we were on period. On such occasions, they took care of us in various ways such as carrying our guns, giving us water, among others. To cut a long story short, they were treating us like princesses. Our Front had started fighting for women’s right while we were in the armed struggle. It had struggled a lot to unfetter women from the shackles of oppression. Quite a lot of tasks had been done with the intention of showering women with democratic rights.
What was your nickname in the armed struggle, if any? What was the part that you love more about the struggle?
We all had nicknames. My nickname was Adey Mariam which means “Our mother, immaculate Mary.” But I did not know that I was true to my name. the armed struggle was a special occasion for me. I really miss the time. Obviously, there are a lot of challenges in military life. We had passed through many harrowing times. In the military life we gave priority to others. We cared for one another. If part one must from this life,we wanted to depart this life before our compatriots. The battlefields make me reminisce where several combatants were martyred. In a few words, all and sundry cared for one another. As for me, nothing on earth could equal the then combatants.
What was the next move?
I accept as true that education could change a country. After the overthrow of the Derg regime, I attended high school at Ginbot 20 Secondary High School. After that, I joined the Civil Service University and earned my first degree in accounting. Furthermore, I got another degree from Admas University in Management. At this moment in time, I am studying Peace and Security at Addis Ababa University. I had as well taken various military courses. I am head of Finance at the Federal Defense Ministry Budget and Program currently.
When I was in the armed struggle, I had served in various positions. I as well had served as Head of Finance in a certain Command of the Defense Force in addition to serving as Head of Administrative Finance in the Defense Training bureau, head of procurement at the Defense Force, among others.At the moment, I am director of Budget and Program at the Defense Force.
I as well had served as Deputy Commander in Chief at Abyei UN peacekeeping Mission.
What were the criteria that allowed you to get this lofty position?
Abiye is a center where international peace keeping task is carried out. We were responsible for everything going on there. It is crystal clear that Ethiopia has so far sent peacekeeping soldiers to different parts of Africa and achieved the interned target within the shortest time possible. We were responsible for restoring peace and tranquility in the area between Sudan and South Sudan.
To return to the point, I got the chance of working in the aforementioned position fulfilling the necessary requirements. To get the position, one needs to pass exams set by the UN peacekeeping mission. To be deputy commander in chief one needs to pass through different challenges. The position is not simply given unless one successfully passes the exam. In fact, my leadership skill was tested at different times. The good thing is, we Ethiopians, cordial to the afflicted like refugees,by our very nature, know how to comfort a worried person. In such tasks,we do not face a lot of trouble. We know how to make the grieved outlive their bad experience. We are on familiar terms on how to bring the intended target within the shortest time possible. I had developed a lot of experiences.
Flipping back, a combatant means many things. It is a fighter, lifter, funeral undertaker, chef, runner and what not. To be successful in life one has to pass through various twists and turns. The military training I took had helped me pass through various challenges. It as well had helped me fulfill things expected of a combatant. Apart from fighting in different war fronts, we were in the habit of getting ourselves engaged in giving treatment, supplying logistics, burying bombs and other related aspects. Moreover, we partook in different community services such as harvesting crops, planting tree seedlings and other related aspects. We had really done a lot of works with the community parallel to the armed struggle.
What's the most incredible coincidence that ever happened to you?
To be honest, it is impossible to make one's dream become a reality unless one passes through many ups and downs. The thing was, once I was given a mission. As a combatant, you need to be a fast runner. When I made an effort to hide myself in a certain garrison with a bomb in my hand, my leg sank into a murky soil. It flew away I was entertaining fear that it would explode anytime. Luckily it did not get off. However, I pulled my leg out of the murky soil and embarked on hunting for the bomb. My blood trickling down my leg. At the end of the day, I found the bomb and held it tight. I felt that I was at death's door. I did not know how to evade the door.
The Derg soldiers were chasing us. I did not know what I had to do. As the saying goes a combatant does give up hope. I was running over and over again. I bumped into Derg soldiers. They were carrying a wounded soldier. I threw the bomb towards them as I could be a dead person if they saw me first. They buried their heads. They did not follow me. I pulled myself together and kept on running as fast as a lightning. As luck would have it, after running a little distance I found my friends.
As a final point, is there anything you would like to convey?
The peace that ensued in the country two decades back did not come out of the blue. A lot of sacrifices had been paid to achieve the desired goal. The youth should be able to struggle to sustain the existing peace.
The Ethiopian Defense Force has paid a lot of sacrifices to restore peace and tranquility across the country. Towards peace and development members of the Force are still ready to pay sacrifices no matter what the cost may be. They are still getting themselves engaged in the different development endeavor of the country apart from guarding the sovereignty of the country. They give priority to citizens. Serving the general public and the country is an honor. The general public should stand on the side of the Defense Force as it is impossible to achieve the intended target—the Renaissance of the country— precluding the participation of all citizens.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT