Dear Professor Ghelawdewos,
I just read your review of the fascinating book �Tower in the Sky� by Hiwot Teffera.
Coincidentally, I came across the review right after I finished reading the book, which I acquired
just a few days ago.
Even though I am close to a decade behind you in school and possibly tertiary education, which I
attended and completed during the time of the military junta, I can somehow relate myself to the
mayhem and murder of that time that afflicted and ruined the lives of thousands. It seems its
legacy will continue to haunt us still for some time to come.
As a student of Woizero Siheen High School in Dessie, from which hailed those prominent
student movement leaders you mentioned (Walelign Mekonnen, Berhane-Meskel Redda, Meles
Tekle and many more others), my long standing aspirations and hopes during my elementary
school time were not matched by what we encountered during our stay at Woizero Siheen. In
those years of 1976/77, when I was a 10th and 11th grade student, teachers and students of the
school used to be killed and thrown on the streets like stray dogs knocked down by speeding
vehicles, as a result of which even attending classes was almost a luxury let alone experiencing
the old good and vibrant days of the school. The education quality in the school deteriorated at a
very tragic speed. Those wonderful clubs like literature, music, art, etc. disappeared like fog
under a rising sun.
When coming to the rampant killing of the time, we would not know with certainty who kills
whom. Sometimes, we used to be forced by kebeles to march on the streets littered by the blood
and dead bodies of young compatriots and denounce them as 'anarchists'. Dessie, known
otherwise for its cheerful life style, traditional love songs and the street marches of the famous
music band of Woizero Siheen High School in the old good days, was suddenly hit by grief and
sorrow hovering over its skies. Abyot Tebakis, militias and scary soldiers carrying pointed
machine guns became the common sight.
The last two years, 1978/79, at Woizero Siheen were relatively calmer. The killing has noticably
subsided. EPRP was hit to its core and knocked off. When we were through with the school in
1979 after four long distressing years of terror, it would not be exaggeration to state that we were
not even through with 70% of the syllabus. Despite this fact, we had to sit for ESLCE. Around
700 students sat for the exam. The best grade scored was 3.8 by a single student followed by a
handful others above 3.0. Barely 10% made it to colleges and universities.
When I returned home for the Kiremt vacation after attending my 1st year at AAU in 1979/80,
something very tragic happened in my beloved Dessie. There were two young boys I used to
know around the place I grew up and who were a year or two senior to me at school. One of
them was the only son raised by his mother, who used to sell Tela (local beer) to make ends
meet. The other was also the only son for his parents. His father used to work as a daily laborer,
loading and offloading sacks of grains with his shoulders to and from trucks in a big grains store.
Both of them had somehow managed to escape the killing spree of the previous years, came back
and surrendered in response to the government�s �mercy call� as I would later on come to know.
I had even a chance to see one of them walking in the streets of Dessie with his old friends in
those rainy days of the Kiremt. On the one hand, I was delighted to see him back safe, and on the
other, I felt sorry about his overall physical look: emaciated and kind of internally broken in his
berebaso shoes. I have to also admit that I felt somehow guilty that I was able to make it to the
university earlier than him, while he had to suffer so much. I didn�t have the opportunity to see
Solomon, the other returnee, who apparently arrived much later than Getachew.
Then, one early morning, around 5 am, we heard that dreadful sound of gunfire, which I have not
heard for quite some time since those years of 1976 to 1978. Many in my place were restless in
the early hours of the day about the gunfire we heard earlier. We came to learn later on during
the course of the day that a day or two after Solomon arrived in town, both were taken back for
'interrogation' and were killed cold blooded that morning. No explanation!
As much as many were happy to see those brilliant young boys just a few days earlier after years
of hiding, God knows where, this unexpected cruel act on these poor young men shocked the
entire town. Suffice to say, nobody has expected that this will ever happen to them who returned
trusting the government�s call. But it happened. It was heart breaking. This reminds me the
incident in 1985 in Kerchele, which Hiwot described in her book, when close to 40 hopeful
prisoners were executed cold blooded after languishing up to 8 years in prison. If I may use
Hiwot�s expression, this is one of the most sadistic measures one can imagine. Indeed, the Derg
was blood thirsty. At least, it was obvious that these boys were no more a threat to the
government at that time.
I always remember those young boys since this incident, as they used to come to play football to
our place in the good days preceding the red terror. They were really fantastic football players
doing it with zeal and passion and were excellent in their school activities as well. Having heard
of the 'mercy' offered by the regime, I was then hopeful to see them in the university shortly, as
they were some of the outstanding students of the time. I hoped, they would one day manage to
get their broken wings mended and start flying again to free themselves from the trauma, their
parents from destitution and help the society at large. It was all nightmare!
I have no idea what thereafter happened to their parents, whose hopes had been dashed cruelly
and forever. I guess, having lost their only children, they must have died of despair, hopelessness
and of the ever worsening living conditions.
So was our "revolution"! Was it really worth dying for? Was it not more loaded by sentiment
than by proper analysis and understanding of the objective reality prevailing in the country? Was
armed struggle a solution, after all, at that time and in cities and towns? Even if it was, was
confronting the merciless junta, armed up to its teeth, at its doorsteps with mere pistols and hand
grenades the best strategy? Why is dialogue both within and without not given a chance? Talking
of dialogue: does it have the same meaning in the Ethiopian politics as it has in standard
dictionaries? ...and so on and so forth�
These and similar other stories and the associated questions were in my mind as I read Hiwot's
Tower in the Sky, a book written beautifully and is a resourceful reference for those of us, who
were not of age in that era. I believe your positive review of the book is quite relevant and shall
serve as an encouragement to this brave sister and daughter of Ethiopia with the fitting name of
Hiwot, whose mysterious meaning is reflected on every page of her book.
Let me say good bye with the attached short poem, which I guess relates to most young
Ethiopian martyrs of that dreadful time who lost their lives in their blooming age as does a rose
cut off the main plant at the very beautiful age to dry up and become lifeless within a few days.
I hope my appreciation to Hiwot would also reach her, albeit indirectly. I am impressed and
educated by her wonderful work.
Associate Professor of Civil Engineering
Addis Ababa University
(Currently, Operations Manager, Gibb International, Nairobi, Kenya)