And the ELF was not a saint, too
Although in my humble opinion, the ELF can pride itself that it was not a one-man show. It had a collective leadership, was much more democratic than the EPLF to the extent of chaos (by mid 70s some fighters even argued with their military leaders when they were about to go to battle) , had a much diversified base that entertained different political trends of nationalists, Baathist (Pan Arab Nationalists), Marxists, Islamists; yet it was not a saint, either. It had many failures and grave mistakes. Among those were:
- Its leadership was based outside Eritrea until 1969 and thus detached from the reality;
- It believed that the Eritrean revolution cannot accommodate more than one organization
- In 1965, it liquidated a small military unit of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM), at Ela Tzada in northern Sahel; one of its leaders Muhyedin Ali and 4 others were killed in that assault. That left much bitterness among many members of the ELM.
- Though dividing the ELF into military zones in 1965, (Zone 1 covering the Barka and Gash, Zone 2 Keren and Sahel, Zone 3 Akle Guzai and Seraye, Zone 4 Semhar and Dankalia, Zone 5 Hamassein) was in my opinion, the first attempt to manage Eritrean diversity. It was mismanaged and ended up marginalizing zones 3, 4 and 5 and resulted in splinter groups.
- Though there was a genuine reform movement within the ELF, there were others who felt it cannot be reformed and opted for forming new organizations
- Though the steps taken to unify the various zones under the General Command in 1969 was an important step to resolve the problems of the ELF, it could not prevent the splits within it. Three groups split: The Obel group mainly fighters from Barka who were opposed to the leftist trend in the ELF, PLF 1 mainly fighters from Semhar closely affiliated to Osman Sabbe and PLF 2 or Ala or Iasias group, few Christian highlanders. As the ELF then, was predominantly composed of Muslims efforts were made to bring the three factions back to the ELF but the Isaias group was handled carefully due to the claims of the group about Christian persecution in the ELF and the Ethiopian propaganda that labelled the ELF as Arab and Islamic. But, regarding the other two splinter groups the ELF felt it can do whatever it wanted to do with them, as they were predominantly Muslims, too.
- The ELF passed passed a resolution in its First National Congress, stating that ‘the Eritrean experience demonstrates that the Eritrean field can accommodate but one revolution, under one the leadership under one organization’. It condemned the leadership of both the Obel group and PLF one and called upon their fighters to re-join the ELF, within a specified period to be determined by the leadership. It also mandated the leadership to take all measures, including military ones to ensure the unity of the revolution and the organization if the fighters did not comply within the time frame given. Military measures were taken to that effect.
- Regarding Isaias Afworki, the Congress treated it in a different manner as it was regarded that it threatened national unity. It did not condemn him and appealed to him and his group to re-join the ELF and delegated the leadership to take necessary measures to resolve the problem without referring to military means. Military measure were taken against the group later when it joined the other groups.
- The ELF security services also committed torture, though of limited nature, in comparison to the practice in the EPLF, against those that were regarded as Baathists or Islamists. One of their victims was Ibrahim Idris Mohamed Adem, the son of Idris Mohamed Adem
- The ELF failed to manage the large influx of Christian highlanders to the front in the mid 1970s
- It eliminated a group of more than 10 ELF veteran fighters on 22.05.1978 when they landed in a place called Abbe in Dankalia. They were regarded as Islamists. One of them was Seid Hussein, who one of the founders of the ELF and a well known Fedayeen who participated in an operation at Asmara Airport in 1962 and in many other operations, including the one in Agordat. He was also a member of the Revolutionary Council of the organization.
- It remains as a very secretive organization, so far, as unlike in the case of the EPLF, no one has come out to speak about the clandestine Labour Party in the ELF.