THE LATE BERHANE WOLDEGABRIEL, B.A., M.A. (1946-2020)
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the prominent Eritrean journalist, educator, political activist, organizer and humanitarian, Ato Berhane Woldegabriel. He died of illness peacefully at home in London on Monday, 26th October 2020.
The funeral arrangements and church service will be announced soon. Due to the Coved-19, those who wish to express their condolences may phone 0044 (0) 7506226599. They may also leave their messages below which will be compiled later with the obituary and distributed in hard copy.
His family and friends
Berhane Woldegabriel Woldeghiorghis, B.A., M.A.
Ato (Mr.) Berhane was born on January 7, 1946 in Adi Chigno, Woreda Kohayn, Southern Region of Eritrea from his late father Lt. Woldegabriel Woldeghiorghis of the Eritrean Police Force and his mother Woizera (Mrs) Teberh Adhane. Berhane (or as he liked to be called Wedi Halaw Wossen) grew up in the Sembel District of Asmara, and attended Godaif Elementary School and then Comboni College for his middle School, both in Asmara. He finished his eighth grade at the famous St George School in Mendefera. When he successfully passed his school leaving exam, he joined the then prestigious Prince Makonnen Secondary School (now the Asmara Comprehensive), which he attended for two years. Many of his school mates in the 1960s from Prince Makonnen later became prominent leaders in the Eritrean revolution and other fields.
On the completion of his 10th grade, Berhane joined the Debre Birhan Teacher’s Institute. After graduation, he was assigned to teach in Kaffa, south-western Ethiopia with his friend from Mendefera and Asmara, the late Yemane Assegehegn, who later became the President of the Eritrean Teachers’ Association. They both had an enjoyable time there for three years which they quite often remembered and talked about.
Then, Berhane moved to Addis Ababa and joined the Haile Sellassie I University, now Addis Ababa University, to study history and education for his B.A. degree.
He was later assigned to teach at the Agordat High School in western Eritrea, where he came into contact with units of the Eritrean Liberation Front. He soon discovered that his situation in Agordat was untenable due to his political involvement, and he left his job and moved to the Sudan.
He soon found a teaching job in a Catholic school in Port Sudan ran by Comboni Missionaries. From there, Berhane moved to Khartoum and joined Khartoum University to study economics for his M.A. degree. In the meantime, he got a job with the Sudan Now magazine where he worked for about seven years as a senior journalist. His work with the magazine was well acclaimed, and it was during that time that he became one of the most influential Eritrean intellectuals in Khartoum. His high post in the Sudanese media enabled him to meet many of the senior leaders of the Eritrean Liberation Front, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He also befriended many of the Sudanese senior politicians, military leaders and even security. This was facilitated in part by his good knowledge of Arabic. He also made acquaintance with many diplomats, international journalists and researchers based in Khartoum. However, due to the complaints of the Ethiopian government for siding with the Eritrean struggle, Berhane was removed from his post.
However, he was soon invited to work as a public relations officer and researcher by an aid organization that was running a number of big refugee camps mostly inhabited by Eritreans. In the course of his work, Berhane observed that a number of Eritreans were dying because of shortage of food. When he investigated the matter, he found out that much of the food that was supposed to go to the refugee camps was being diverted to the Sudanese military camps in Damazine. Berhane was outraged, and he wrote an article which he published in the Refugee Studies Journal of Oxford, England. That act was taken as a serious offence by the Sudanese government, and it landed Berhane in prison. To save him from the ordeal, his contacts in Britain arranged for him a scholarship, and with some pressure, he was soon released from prison and brought to Britain. He became a British citizen after a while.
Berhane submitted an interesting and unusual Ph.D. thesis proposal on how a skillful operator (a bandit/shifta) can start from scratch and subvert and capture state power. The bulk of the evidence for his research was to come mainly from the history of Eritrea and Ethiopia. But, he drew the seminal idea of his hypothesis from his observations of how the huge Eritrean refugee camps were being run in the Sudan and the way some of the officials there used the resources of the camps as leverage to gain wide influence and even power of subversion on the Sudanese body politic. On the strength of his thesis proposal, Berhane was admitted as a Ph.D. candidate at the Universities of Oxford and Leeds. However, he had other priorities and did not take up the offer.
Instead, Berhane secured a number of important positions around London and the South East – including translation. He also once had a leadership post with Human Rights Watch which took him to many countries around the world. He also taught Eritrean and Ethiopian languages and culture to diplomats and others for about ten years at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University. He was instrumental as a founding member of the Eritrean Education and Publication Trust in London in which he worked tirelessly to bring the Horn of Africa societies together. Amazingly, he once worked for several months in a Save the Children rescue ship in the Mediterranean which was involved in saving Eritreans and others from drowning at sea. He shared his experience with large audiences on Eritrean News TV of Assenna.com.
Berhane was a well-known activist in the Eritrean opposition along with his long-time friend, the late General Merkorios. He was the founding member and one of the key leaders of Our Voice-Eritrea. He participated in the Awasa Conference in Ethiopia and had a high post in one of the important Eritrean movements uniting several opposition political parties.
Berhane was a remarkable human being with a good and genuine heart. He not only understood the pain of people but tried to help in whatever way he could even at high cost to himself. He was also an exceedingly loyal friend. He was known all around the world not only among Eritreans, but also Ethiopians, Sudanese and others: politicians, diplomats, academics, businessmen, ordinary people – the lot. He constituted a social hub of extraordinary wide social network worldwide.
Berhane’s untimely passing away is a terrible loss not only to his family and friends but to all Eritreans, Ethiopians and others around the world. He had hoped that peace, justice and proper governance would prevail in Eritrea in time for him to be able to return to his native land and start a widely read influential journal. Sadly, that was not to be! So is his wish to write a book about his interesting experiences especially in Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan – and the various personalities he met and worked with in his life.
In our terrible loss and sadness, we anyway thank God for blessing us with such a wonderful and great human being whose memory will always be cherished and never forgotten.
Berhane was a family man with five children and two great grandchildren.
Farewell, Berhane, and may God rest your soul in peace!
Here is a tribute and message of condolence from Prof. Araya Debessay (USA) and GI – Global Initiative to Empower Eritrean Grassroots Movement
It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of great loss that we learned about the untimely passing away of Brother Berhane Woldegabriel. Ato Berhane was one of the founders of Global Initiative to Empower Eritrean Grassroots Movement. Ato Berhane and his colleague Dr Solomon Ghebreghiorghis and their team members, known as ‘Our Voice-Eritrea’ were the pioneers in advocating the need for Eritreans in the Diaspora to speak with one voice to contribute to the democratization of Eritrea. GI has benefitted from the various documents ‘Our Voice-Eritrea’ has produced, and have been strong advocates of the need for unity of Diaspora Eritreans to be effective in bringing about democratic changes in Eritrea. The recent initiative Ato Berhane took to bring unity among the various political entities was a remarkable achievement. His passing at such an early age before seeing the fruits of his hard work makes his passing more painful to all justice-seeking Eritreans.
May the Lord receive him in his Kingdom and may his family members be consoled by the legacy he has left fighting for justice in his homeland.
Task Force Leadership Team GI