This thesis on the The Eritrean Liberation Front: Social and Political Factors Shaping Its Emergence, Development and Demise, 1960-1981 was written for the University of Leiden by Michael Weldeghiorghis Tedla in 2014.

It is full of interesting material about the ELF’s early days, but also the events that led to the tragic Eritrean civil war, and the ELF’s demise.

You can read the full thesis here. The Eritrean Liberation Front’s early days

Below is an extract.

The increasing Ethiopian erosion of Eritrean self-administration was generating grievances and discontent among the general population. Being frustrated with the system many Eritreans formed secret organizations where they could discuss ‘what to do’ regarding the Eritrean issue. As it became quite difficult to organize and agitate inside Eritrea, the task of organizing a movement to promote the Eritrean cause fell on the Diaspora. As a result a new breed of Eritrean nationalists founded the underground Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) (Arabic: Harakat El Tahrir El Eritrya; Tigrinya: Mahber Shewate), in Port Sudan on November 2, 1958.

The founders were a group of young Eritrean refugees in the Sudan. They took the initiative of organizing political activities, aimed at terminating Ethiopian rule through a coup d’état. But before the ELM’s coup could be attempted, the Eritrean armed struggle was launched in 1961 under the auspices of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). After that the country lapsed into a cycle of  political disorder, violent conflict and human suffering in the three decades that  followed.

The ELM leaders were highly influenced by the Communist Party of Sudan; and Mohammed Said Nawid, the chairman of the ELM, was in fact a member of the party. To ensure the security of the people who were involved in the activities of the movement, they organized clandestine cells based on groups of seven individuals.

This cellular organizational method allowed each cell to function independently, though each of the cells shared familiar features and purposes with its sister cells. As a result of this organizational method the movement came to be known as Mahber Shewate (Association of seven) in Tigrinya in the highlands of Eritrea, while in the Sudan it was called as Harakat El Tahrir El Eritrea (Eritrean Liberation Movement). The ELM was able to spread very fast in the Eritrean towns political disorder, violent conflict and human suffering in the three decades that followed.

Key Forces and Their Role in the Formation of the ELF

There are three groups that played an important role at the initial stage of the Eritrean armed struggle for independence spearheaded by the ELF. These groups were found among Eritrean students in Cairo, Eritrean members of the Sudanese Army and Eritrean political refugees.

The Eritrean Students in Cairo

The pioneers who took the initiative to establish the Eritrean Liberation Front were mostly young Eritrean students of Al-Azhar University and other higher institutions of education in Cairo, Egypt. The Students formed the Eritrean Student Association (ESA) in 1951.




  1. The best book about the ELF was written by Ibrahim Toteel, a former leader of the ELF, who later joined the EPLF. He is probably in prison because of the book. A Tigrinya translation from the original Arabic version was smuggled from Eritrea and is widely available


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