May 29, 2011

Abdelkhadir Kebire: Tribute to an Unsung Hero

Written by Abdelkhadir Ahmed | History is littered with those who made great discoveries; performed great deeds or just changed the World, but whose names do not crop up in the ordinary course of events.

In fact, this tends to be an understatement, as often the role of those individuals is shrouded in the veils of the past. Heroes, upon closer inspection display many more qualities than those that are immediately apparent. They also endure much resistance, hardship, and danger than everyone else.

But there are other types of heroes that almost no one is aware of. In the poorest areas of the country, where mostly minorities and the marginalized live, they are to be found.

All their lives they’ve been expected to work harder and expected not succeed in life. But none the less, even if they had a normal upbringing, they shine eventually.

One such individual was Abdulkadir Mohammed Saleh Kebire, or better known as ‘Kebire’. A colossal figure in the turbulent 1940’s, he was born in 1902, went to Khelwa where he studied the Quran and Arabic. Later, he attended primary school and graduated from the fourth grade. Back then, under the law imposed by the fascist Italy, no indigenous native was allowed to continue education beyond the 4th grade.

What is so very striking about heroes is that they take themselves to be ordinary folks just doing any decent person would do. But something was obvious about Kebire from day one. First, not being able to continue education, he embarked upon autodidactic learning. His relatives have recollections of him reading through all the books in the shelves of his family. Perhaps as a display of his keen mind, he was fluent in Italian, Arabic as well as Tigrinya at such a young age.

When he turned 18, Kebire left for Egypt in persuit of education. Events unfolding there had profound effects upon his political outlook. Egypt English, 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.
After his return to Eritrea, Kebire was 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 that time. He become a respected socialite around the diplomatic circles in Yemen and acquired 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 such as Shiekh Amin Al-Hussaini of Palestine, writer Hashim AlAtassi from Syria and Prince Shekib 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 Mesewuee, translated to the Massawian.
On his return to Eritrea, he briefly entered the business world and become a successful businessman. He funded many charitable. Obsessed with encouraging education, Kebire become a controversy by calling for the education of women, something, that was unthinkable in a conservative society of those days. He believed that only by education and unity can a people be masters of their own destiny.
After the defeat of the Italians by the British in Eritrea, unlike what many expected, 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.
After a while, Kebire and his compatriots became 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 Fit. Gebremeskel Weldu, he founded 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 bureaucratic structure. Kebire’s and his friend Gebremeskel Weldu demanded that all colonial Italian bureaucrats 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.

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