Last week I stopped in Chicago on my way back from Springfield, Illinois to California. I visited my good friends Dr. Nicole Saulsberry and Merhawie Woldezion. I interviewed Nicole for a short time. It must be recalled that I interviewed Nicole a while back. And here are some of the excerpts:
Issayas: First, thank you for your time. It is nice seeing you after all these years.
Dr. Saulsberry: Don’t mention it. It’s my pleasure.
Issayas: Can you briefly tell my readers about yourself?
Nicole: I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And then I went to Stanford University and got my Ph.D in history. After graduation, I moved back to Chicago, Illinois. Now I'm a Special Assistant to the President of Cook County. Cook county is the second largest in the country after Los Angeles County.
Issayas: Have you forgotten the fidel? Can you still read Tigrigna?
Nicole: No, I haven't forgotten to read ,but I need to speak the language frequently. Therefore, I need to practice the language with Eritrean people.
Issayas: How did you get interested in
Nicole: Well, when I first entered graduate school I wanted to study
In the summer of 1994, I went to
With respect to Woldeab Woldemariam, his name was just mentioned incidentally in the literature on
Issayas: What kind of resources did you use for your dissertation?
Nicole: There were tons of interviews at the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) in
Issayas: What kind of information were you able to find, especially in the British archives, about Aboi Woldeab?
Nicole: I found documents pertaining to his role in the political parties. The British made note of all of the political parties and their stand on Eritrean independence and domestic issues, who the leaders were, how various leaders from different parties felt about each other and their motives. There was mention of Woldeab specifically in some of the documents, but mainly I wanted to use the British archives to contextualize the period from 1941-1952.
Issayas: From your research on Aboi Woldeab, can one also understand
Nicole: Most definitely. The period of the 1940s was very tumultuous for
Issayas: I understand that there was a special Ethiopian intelligence/surveillance unit called “Mereb” whose assignment was to track down Aboi Woldeab, in places like
Nicole: Sure. Ethiopian authorities had their own intelligence unit called Mereb that infiltrated Eritrean organizations and spied on the whereabouts of Woldeab and other Eritrean nationalists. The intelligence unit even reported quarreling amongst Ibrahim Sultan, Idris Mohammed Adem and Woldeab Woldemariam in
The government’s repressive activities forced Woldeab and others to develop code names in Tigrinya for Eritrean nationalist exiles, Ethiopian authorities and their sympathizers, various cities and Ethiopian and Eritrean political parties. This tactic permitted effective communication amongst the Eritreans in exile. For example, the code name for Haile Selassie was teKula (the wolf); Tedla Bairu’s code name was wo’Ag (the monkey), Governor Asfaha Woldemichael, Hasema (the pig), etc. Woldeab’s code name was Letezghi, and Tsehaye Abraha, another Eritrean exile in
Issayas: Was he such a threat for
Nicole: Most definitely.
Issayas: Did you find any intelligence information (Ethiopian or otherwise) that would reveal about the assassination attempts on his life?
Nicole: In terms of assassination attempts, I found the evidence mainly in Woldeab’s interviews and in the British records. Woldeab was able to vividly recall what happened with each attempt. For example, after the fourth assassination attempt, he was relocated to the Milano Pensione in
Issayas: What can one learn from the life of Aboi Woldeab?
Nicole: By analyzing Woldeab’s life, one can trace the evolution of Eritrean protest politics. Woldeab was a pragmatic nationalist and one of the very few open-minded Eritreans who were prepared to try different political routes. This point shows that nationalists did not take a clear-cut line or linear road, and that the process of nation building is complicated and messy, oftentimes requiring compromises.
Furthermore, Woldeab is a fascinating figure because he served not only as a political figure, but also as a public intellectual who was interested in creating a new kind of Eritrean citizen. Woldeab is unique in that he is considered the Father of Eritrea, and yet he was not the leader of a political organization with significant power and control over international and local forces that were shaping
All in all, what made Woldeab Woldemariam a father figure was his dedication and perseverance to the Eritrean armed struggle, and his constant encouragement to Eritreans at home and abroad that left an indelible mark on the memory of so many Eritreans. Moreover, his impact as a teacher, his newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, and the seven assassination attempts he survived each played a crucial role in his reverence as a political figure.
Issayas: How can one get to read your dissertation?
Nicole: Well it is in the library at
Issayas: I hope you transform your dissertation into book format soon so that it will be more available to people who would like to know more about this extraordinary man. Nicole, again thank you for your time.
Nicole: You are quite welcome. And thank you.