Mr. Ali Said* Abdella, Eritreaâ€™s Foreign Minister, died on Sunday, August 28, 2005 at 6:00 AM Eritrean time. He is survived by his wife, Fitum Ahmed and his four children: Reem, Alewia, Abdella and Ahmed.
Ali Said Abdella was born in Harena, Denkalia in September 1949, to Abdalla Ali and Medina Nakuda. At the request of his paternal aunt, he moved to Hirgigo, where he attended elementary school beginning in 1955. The principal of the school was martyr Osman Saleh Sabbe and his school mates included Martyr Ibrahim Afa, Ahmed Baduri, Eritreaâ€™s representative to the UN, as well as the late poet Ahmed Saad. He excelled at school and had a reputation for intelligence, always ranking in the top three of his class. After completing middle school in Hirgigo, he transferred to Prince Mekonnen Secondary School in Adaga Beâ€™irai.
In 1962, when Ethiopia annexed Eritrea, Ali Said Abdella joined Eritreaâ€™s student movement to protest Ethiopiaâ€™s disbanding of the Eritrean Government and Parliament that followed the lowering of the Eritrean flag a few years earlier. After serving as an undercover urban activist, he joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966 when his cover was exposed.
At the time, the ELF, which had been established five years earlier, was going through an organizational crisis, with growing calls for reform. In 1968, he was sent to Yemen, Lebanon and Syria for military training. This was followed by commando training in Palestine.
Along with Mohammed Idris Telul, martyr Mohammed Said Berhatu (who was killed in 1968 at Rome airport when a bomb that was intended to be used for an operation against Ethiopian interests exploded in his hand), and martyr Hassen Humed Amir (who was killed in 1977 during the attack on the Naval Base in Abdul Kadir, Garaar), Ali Said was part of "Mejmouet Al Eqabâ€â€”the Punishment Group (see picture below)--which was organized by the late Osman Saleh Sabbe to avenge Ethiopiaâ€™s burning of tens of villages. The Al Eqab Group conducted minor military operations but it is best known for hijacking an Ethiopian plane and commandeering it to Karachi, Pakistan. When they were arrested, Seyoum Haregot, then representing Ethiopiaâ€™s government, traveled to Karachi to ask for their extradition to Ethiopia. The Pakistani authorities refused to hand over the prisoners, insisting that they would be punished in accordance with Pakistani law. They were sentenced to a one-year prison term, but they were released after six months and traveled to Beirut, thanks to mediation by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO.)
In addition to Ibrahim Afa and Ahmed Baduri, Ali Said had already gotten to know Ramadan Mohammed Nur and, upon returning to the Eritrean field, he joined PLF, one of the groups that splintered from ELF. PLF and other two splinter groups eventually became EPLF and later the PFDJ, Eritreaâ€™s current ruling party.
While with the EPLF, he had several responsibilities including as Commander of the Nakfa front in 1976, emerging triumphant over Ethiopiaâ€™s six-month offensive; and as chief of the notorious â€œHalewa Sewraâ€ (Revolutionary Guard), a secretive intelligence force that brutally enforced party discipline.
After Eritreaâ€™s independence, he was assigned to the role of Interior Minister a position that would eventually be eliminated when the ministry of local government was established. (That ministry has also been eliminate since.) He was rotated through several positions until he was named the Foreign Minister in 2001, the fifth since Eritreaâ€™s independence.
The previous four were Mohammed Said Bareh, Haile Weldensae (Derou), Petros Solomon and Mahmoud Sherifo. Excluding Mohammed Said Bareh, who served the transitional government, the other three were all casualties of the PFDJ reform movement and they have been in jail, without charges, since 2001.
Ali Saidâ€™s previous role as party disciplinarian would prove useful to the PFDJ which was going through an internal struggle, in 2000, following the conclusion of the war with Ethiopia. He, along with his brother-in-law, Alamin Mohammed Said, and a few officials in the presidentâ€™s office, were instrumental in shutting down the calls for reform.
His role in 2001 was foreshadowed in an interview he gave Hwyet magazine in 1996, where he seemed to miss the days of the revolution and lamented his new life as a civilian:
The field work was relatively easy because your agenda and your vision is one: the enemy. But now, the mission to reconstruct the demolished; to organize a large population; to deal with the individual who had high expectations and is faced with a diminished reality; to correct wrong attitudes--the transition is like the difference between a small lake to a wide river. It is a different life. Here, one cannot even have sovereignty over oneself. The current situation is difficult and stress-inducing. However, whether you like it or not, you have to live it. But life in the field was a different experience: there was a spirit of oneness. You are, simultaneously, a leader and a follower. You give orders; you take orders. Life is ordinary. And because you have had this life for a long portion of your life, it is hard.
Ali Said Abella was not immune to the sense of loss felt by Eritreans: the only picture on his desk was a picture of his childhood friend, Hassan Mohammed Amir Naib. He told Hwyet magazine that he is an optimist who dislikes people who give up easily: â€œA man must have an insoluble pebble from the river in his gut at all times,â€ he said.
It is this refusal to â€œgive upâ€ that his supporters found admirable. To his detractors, it was not perseverance, but evidence of stubborn refusal to changeâ€”even when this refusal was to the detriment of his party and his country.
His cousin, the late Ahmed Said Ali, the founding manager of Eritrean Development Bank, was found dead in his office in Asmara in 1998.
Ali Saidâ€™s last night alive was reportedly spent at a wedding party. It is fitting, because Ali Said, a student freedom fighter, an agitator, a military commander, an intelligence boss and a foreign minister loved to dance.
* "Ali Said" is his first name. "Said" is also spelled as "Seid", "Sayed", "Seyyid."
Editor's Correction (submitted by correspondent The Said in Ali Said actually applies to his father and not him. And to his children, the Said will be attached to Ali: for example, his son Ahmed will, per tradition, be called Ahmed Said Ali.