Today's guest is Memhir Yassin Rajue. There was no stone he left unturned in the struggle against wiping out the Derg regime once and for all from the face of the earth. He was on the side of Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) from its inception until it came to power. He had passed through many ups and downs with the ambition of making TPLF stand on its feet. The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Memhir Yassin Rajue with a view to familiarizing his feelings, ideas, and thoughts with the general public. He has touched upon a number of mesmerizing issues revolving around TPLF's success story. Excerpts:
Let us begin with introducing yourself to our esteemed readers.
I was born and raised in the heart of Axum-Tigray. My father was a driver while my mother a housewife. He was the only person who had possession of a driving license in the place where I was born and raised. As my dad knew the value of education, he was advising me to focus fully on my studies every so often. Most students did not attend school in view of the fact that they could end up changing their religion within the shortest time possible. This being the case, most of them were in the habit of selling eggs, needles and what not with the intention of making ends meet no matter what the cost may be. I was a very successful student at that point in time.
In the fullness of time, I successfully passed the then Ethiopian School Leaving certificate Examination. Despite this achievement, I did not know what the future holds in store for me. To my amazement, nobody expected that I would pass the exam for the reason that most of my focus was getting myself engaged in a range of sports activities. As chance would have it, I joined Haile Selassie University situated in Addis Ababa. My dream did not last long seeing that I returned to Asmara after a year following the unrest which was spreading like wildfire in every nook and cranny of Addis Ababa. When I went to Asmara, there was an entrance exam for the post of teacher/ administrator. After a little hesitation, I sat for the exam and passed it with no trouble though I did not have a first degree or a diploma. As I was one of the luckiest persons, I was assigned in the provincial education bureau of Asmara. Most of them were assigned in different parts of the country at that point in time. In due course, I began working as an English teacher.
What was the next move?
All of a sudden, the Derg brought all high school teachers to Addis Ababa and deployed them in different parts of Ethiopia once again. This time I said to a Derg official, “I would be forced to resign unless you assign me in Tigray. I have to live under the same roof with my wife. I cannot live estranged from my family. ”
Fortunately, as the Derg official himself was from the same place, he assigned all the teachers in Tigray almost immediately. I was assigned in Axum. At that point, Abay Woldu and Samora Yenus were my students. Having served my birthplace, I went back to Asmara and started working as Secondary School Administrator. At that point, the Derg security men were observing things on the top the school building with Kalashnikovs and machineguns. Tanks were ubiquitous. Student were almost learning at a gunpoint. The Derg officials knew that I was the lion of the school. Whenever something bad happened, the officials used to approach me to broker temporarily peace and restore order in the school compound within the shortest time possible. To everyone's surprise, nobody knew that I was covertly working for Tigray People Liberation Front.
How did you join TPLF?
I joined the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) at its embryonic stage. The great initiators were Abay Tsehay, Seyum Mesfin, Melese Zenawi, Sebat Nega and what have you? The idea was brewed up in the heart of Addis Ababa University. After these combatants had designed all the necessary strategies, they went to the battle field to wipe the Derg regime off the face of the earth. We really suffered a lot on account of the Derg regime's cruelty.
The entire Tigrians were on our side at that time. All were assisting us financially with their heart and soul. I was one of the TPLF members living in Asmara. In reality, we did not know one another for security purpose. The chain of the TPLF members was at the height of fashion. The discipline of TPLF/EPRDF was very special and different. If the Derg officials had discovered the reality on the ground, they would have thrown us into prison or executed us in a little while. There was a big war between the Eritrean front and the Ethiopian government at that specific juncture. We had created so many messes. But we were constantly achieving the intended target behind closed doors.
What was the reaction of the Derg government?
There were a lot of TPLF members acting as students in the school compound. During day time, they attended classes and discharged their mission in the evening. We worked everything hand in glove behind the curtain. Most of the Eritreans fighters were my students at that point. The situation in Asmara kept on falling from the frying pan into the fire in consequence of our determination and hard work. Slowly but surely, the focus of the Derg shifted to Tigrians. One fine day, the Derg security men took three members out of the school all of a sudden. They were struggling to weaken the regime in close collusion with TPLF.
Why did they take them?
I did not have the fainest idea concerning the reason. After a couple of days, they bodies were left on the street close to a certain church. Their corpses were surrounded by countless people. I did not know what I had to do. They turned out to be the talk of the entire city. We knew one another on account of our secret mission for the reason that we spoke about our mission every so often. We did everything in close association. I cried my eyes out.
When I headed to the school, everyone was projecting grief stricken face on account of the death of the three Tigrains. Even worse, the Derg officials did not want their body to be buried. They left them on the street for hyenas to devour them. When I was at a loss what to do, I came to a decision to take some kind of measures. But under my chain and channels, I instigated to stage a demonstration for a proper burial ceremony to be conducted for the three Tigrians. Thus, the students came out of the school compound hovering high placards requesting a ceremonious burial of the murdered.
The students were constantly chanting, “Our teachers are killed unlawfully. They were with us yesterday. We lost them today. They should be buried as custom dictates fit.” In a twinkle of an eye the Derg soldiers flooded the area with machine guns and tanks. No student backpedaled. At the end of the day, when the government was at a loss what to do, it gave them the go ahead. In the fullness of time, we buried their bodies in the presence of a great deal of people.
What was the reaction of the government?
When the Derg officials discovered the presence of TPLF members in Asmara, they got disturbed. They were in a confused state of mind. They almost immediately began hunting for Tigrians and take measure on them. The government security men who were working behind closed doors and unknowingly in good terms with me in our school hinted to me that the government was going to kill the members. They were around ten to fifteen in the school compound. I had to rescue them at any price. When I discovered the reality on the ground, I apprised them to clear off quick. They disappeared in next to no time. I felt as if a huge weight was off my body for saving their lives. One fine day, something unexpected came to pass.
The thing was, the government security men showed up all of a sudden. I never expected they could come. At that point, Dawit Gebre Egziyabre,a member of TPLF, was in the compound. I saved his life hiding at the school store. He is a millionaire now. He lives in Dubai at this moment in time. While we are on the subject, the guy under discussion had bought a bond worth a large amount of money for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Hence, Prime Minster Haile Mariam Dessalegna awarded him a medal. Be that as it may, some other day, I discovered that the government security men were going to kill me. I got shocked. I did not know what I had to do. I was going to lose my life earlier than making my dream come true. I had to do something before it was too late whatever the outcome maybe.
What did you do?
A relative of mine was going to get married in Axum. Hence, I headed straight to Kebele and asked them for permission on the pretext of attending the wedding ceremony. I got a license in a little while. That means I could go to Axum with no trouble. The vice director and director of the school as well gave me permission as they knew the secret behind. As there was scarcity of sugar in every part of Asmara all the Airport staffers ordered me to buy sugar from Tigray. This being the case, I collected close to 1000 Birr. As a teacher, my salary was 347 Birr. I was not spending more than 15 Birr at that point for the sake of the mission. Lastly, I left for Axum.
Who did you meet with?
First and foremost, I met someone in Axum. Then I headed straight to the center of TPLF. The instant I met Abay Tsehay and Seyum Mesfin, they gave me a piece of advice to be with them and fight the Derg regime till the end.
I said to them, “Instead of giving me rifle or Kalashnikov to fight in the war, please give me permission to go to the Middle East countries so that I can help TPLF financially and make our dream come true. After seeing eye to eye, Abay Tshehaye and Seyum Mesfin gave me the go ahead. Hence, as the TPLF office was located in Sudan, I headed straight there.
After I stayed for a couple of months with TPLF members, friends and relatives in Sudan, I went to Kuwait as there was no TPLF office there. Without exaggeration, I was the first man to organize TPLF office in Kuwait. Almost immediately, I collected some amount of money in a little while and sent the sum to Abadi Zemo. He was working in Khartoum TPLF office at that time. In fact, I discharged a lot of responsibilities. After I got everything ready, I headed straight to Jidda.
What happened then?
I came to Saudi Arabia. The TPLF leaders were going around the world with the intention of familiarizing their strategic plan with their members across the globe. They were working day and night with a view to making their dream become a reality. They were fighting with the Derg regime at different war-fronts every so often. Hence, Ato Seyoum Mesfin and Ato Sebhat Nega came for the mission under discussion.
During the meeting, they raised a number of issues. We were around 450 in number at that specific point. They explained how committed they were to wipe off the Derg regime from the face of the earth and make their dream come true. They as well beseeched them to be always on their side no matter what the cost may be. There was an office for TPLF in Jeddah though it was not well-organized. Everybody was fleeing to Jeddah for the sake of saving their lives from the brutal Derg.By the way Saudi Arabia was one of the undeveloped countries at that point in time.
To flip back to the gist, in the middle of the meeting, the attendees said, “We will help you destroy the Derg government no matter what the cost may be. We need a representative who would organize everything here. You have to send to us leaders who can organize everything in a little while!”
In this time interval, Seyum Mesfin said, “Do not worry there are brilliant people who can successfully discharge their duties and responsibites among us. They will do whatever you want.” At the end of the day, I was assigned a deputy chairman of the Jeddah branch and started carrying out my duties effectively. As the previous chairman resigned after a week, I grew to be the president.
What was the next challenge?
At that point in time, getting a resident permit was difficult unless you were from Eritrea or Somali. Most of them went to Saudi using Hajji/Humera or visiting visa. I was able to make a number of Tigrians get a resident permit almost immediately. Everything was a successful journey. I was constantly assisting TPLF by collecting money from our members. I worked with TPLF, until it came into power. I am not the government employee at this instant. I am helping the policy as a single man.
What did you feel when TPLF came to power?
I was the first person to come to Addis Ababa in 1983 EC. Words fail to express my feelings. To cut a long story short, I was infinitely happy. I was over the moon. We passed through many ups and downs to reach where we are today. We have made a lot of sacrifices. We did not achieve the intended target overnight. The fascist Derg members were slaying innocent civilians from time to time. When I came to Addis Ababa, I met my first friend named Tekalegn Kasasy. Then, we went to Mekelle to take part in the celebration following our success. It was a mammoth celebration that crowned our devotion and sacrifice for democracy and freedom with success. It is a source of delight to me to reflect the marginalized are equally enjoying the fruits of development and exercising their democratic right.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT