THE FOUNDERS AND THE PROFITEERS OF “ TERRENO DEMANIALE ” Part 7 (The RKPHA January 2002)
“ STATE LAND ”;
“ MERIET MENGSTI ”
“ AKUMATA LAGA “
After a long, careful and detailed research-work on the background history of the Kunama Land declared as “Terreno Demaniale” by the Italian colonial government, translated and transmitted by the British as “State Land” and followed on that line by the successive rulers in Eritrea, we Kunama have come up with the following piece of writing which we retain to be a document of fundamental importance for further research-work as regard to the very controversial issue of the “ State Land”.
Our research was primarily based on the oral accounts of the local elderly and prominent Kunama natives of the regions where even today, the damaging consequences of that “illegal and unjust” decree are affecting the daily lives of the local Kunama population.
We have also consulted the written material both by the Italian chronologists like, Signor Alberto Pollera, il Conte Rossini and other authors of minor but additional importance.
Though the written material we have collected and consulted does not always give us an objective and satisfactory explanation and evaluation of the reasons that had led the Italian colonial government to declare as “ State Land ” only the western lowland and not also the highland of Eritrea, we however believe that the chronicles of those foreign writers have provided us enough pieces of information on the consequences of that decree particularly on the activities of those non-Kunama people who had very much profited from the advantages offered them by the “ Terreno Demaniale ”.It does not seem to be totally unfounded to think that, perhaps those individuals too had co-operated and played their deciding role in concocting such evil a principle.
Apart from some Italian land-holders and agrarians, there were also some non-native Kunama individuals and families who, during the Italian colonial times, had occupied vast fertile parts of the Kunama Land after having confiscated and evicted the Kunama people from their ancestral land. That group of individuals have gradually turned themselves not only into the primary inhabitants but they have been also claiming to be the “natives” of those Kunama localities. As such they have always been and are treating the local Kunama population as second-class citizens as if these were strangers in their own home land.
Leaving aside, for the time being, the emotional but yet legitimate arguments to confront those intruders in our ancestral land, we shall be focusing our considerations only on the historical developments, the background motives that had led those strangers into the Kunama Land and the legal or illegal procedures those individuals had followed in order to appropriate for themselves large chunks of the Kunama Land. Those self-made land-lords, using the wealth accrued from the products of the Kunama Land as a spring-board, have been climbing the Eritrean social and political ladder and occupying important governmental posts.
As usual, we would like to inform, those people concerned in advance that, because of the seriousness of the matter and the negative effects such land issue is having on our Kunama people, we shall be not only describing the events in their chronological order but we shall also be revealing the names of those individuals, group of individuals or families who have been greatly co-operating in keeping till this day, the law of the “ Terreno Demaniale ” alive in order to avoid putting at stake their own territorial interests. They are also said to be the main supporters and promoters of this controversial law which the EPLF/PFDJ regime itself is very reluctant to reverse.
According to the information material we have gathered from many local elderly Kunama and from several Kunama inhabitants of the Tika region, the fertile areas along the Sona river and surroundings areas in the vicinity of the village of Ali-Gidir, have always attracted both the Italian agrarians as well as many non-native Kunama who, in order to ensure their permanent establishment in those areas and protect their territorial interests, are said to have always sought the support of the ruling authorities pleasing and working in tight collaboration with
every government in Eritrea starting from the Italians, the British, the Ethiopians and presently with the leadership of the EPLF/PFDJ regime. This in fact, is reported to have been the cycle of events that have characterised the land tenancy policy in those parts of the Kunama Land. The close relationship between the authorities and their lobbyists has always played a deciding role not only in matters of land but also in political decision-making processes in Eritrea. The struggle between those Eritreans who were opting for “ Andinnet ” (with Ethiopia) and those either voting “ pro-Italia ” or those daringly campaigning for the “ independence of Eritrea ”, had ended up in favour of the former where the great majority of the Eri-Tigrian Christian component played a deciding role partly backed up by the Ethiopian imperial government. The federation, ended in unity with Ethiopia, took place again following the collaboration of large number of the Eritrean parliament members (Assemblea) siding with and presumably manipulated and bribed by the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Sillasie.
Today the EPLF/PFDJ regime is financially very dependent on its lobbyists in Europe, USA, Canada and in many other parts of the world. These elements, on their part, are practically bribing the PFDJ leadership “ to dance to their music ” in the sense that, they are being compensated for by having their interests, at home, favoured, promoted and protected by it.
The land policy in Eritrea is one of the major areas where the present government’s lobbyists’ main interests lie. “ Il Terreno Demaniale ” has become the main battle-ground of interests in Eritrea today. The Italian colonial government, as we have very often stated in our previous articles, had primarily intended to turn Eritrea into “ una piccola Italia ” ( a little Italy ), to home firstly its poor citizens and their families mostly originating from “ l’Italia Meridionale e dalla Sicilia” ( from southern Italy and Sicily ).
Being those mainly rural Italians, their government had to find them a suitable place in Eritrea too which meant offering them ample opportunity to settle not only in the Eritrean cities and towns but also in small centres, villages and countryside. Due to that policy, the Kunama land had seen quite a number of Italians settled in small Kunama villages and engaged themselves also in the field of mineral extraction. The now defunct mineral extraction sites in Ashoshi, in the Sosona region, Dase in the Barka region and Ugaro in the Tika region were the three major gold mining sites. The Italian colonial authorities and some of its private citizens were said to have made a fortune out of those three mining sites in the Kunama Land.
Other Italians were engaged in the plantations of cotton, fruits and other land products.
As already and often mentioned, in matters of land distribution, ownership and distribution, contrary to the Kunama tradition of using land for:
1.- dwelling purposes;
2.- growing crops;
3.- grazing domestic animals and
4.- reserving it for ecological purposes and as a breeding place, growth and conservation of the wild-life, some non-Kunama individuals have been using and abusing the law on the “ State Land ” freely occupying, owning and administering large and fertile chunks of the Kunama Land ever since the Italian colonial times. The following individuals residents of the village of Ali-Gidir and their near-kin are known to be the pioneers in this practice:
1.- Blatta Jaber;
2.- Blatta Yassin;
3.- Blatta Melakin;
4.- Haj Mohammed Gladios;
5.- Haj Osman Gladios and
6.- Haj Mohammed Ahmed.
Added to these self-made land-lords, the Italian owned company “ SIA, Società Imprese Africane “ (Company on African Eterprises), a consortium of which the “ Cotonificio Barattolo ” with its seat in Asmara was the main share-holder, had occupied vast pieces of land for its cotton plantation and production.
Though the management apparently seems to have been in the hands of SIA’s employees in Asmara, the actual running of the cotton-fields and of the “ cotton-pickers ” was said to have been directed and dictated by the “ Ali-Gidir clan “. These were the people who would decide and control over the land tenancy fees and the revenue of the entire plantation. The gains accrued from such enterprise were believed to have been astronomical in proportion to the local market. It is not also to exclude the possibility that those individuals were perhaps having “ the lion’s share “ in the whole cotton plantation and marketing business.
Other groups and individuals of minor importance engaged in those areas, were said to have worked always in close collaboration with the above-mentioned people.
The whole attitude of those people indicated that they were acting as if they were the absolute and undisputed owners of the land they were administering. Considering themselves to be therefore not only the unique ones in their kind, but also the new natives of Ali-Gidir and of its surroundings, they handed over to their numerous children and family members their entire territorial patrimony. Today, each member of the “ Ali-Gidir clan ” presents him/herself as the native of that village as if a tiny village of that importance could prove one’s ethnic or tribal identity. Ali-Gidir is only a village within the vast Kunama Land and it remains as such.
According to our research-work, the story of those non-Kunama individuals goes almost as far back as the arrival and settlement of the Italians in the Kunama Land who created their principle of “ Terreno Demaniale ”. It is recorded that, sometime later, a certain Signor Gaspar (Gaspari/Gasparin/Gasparini) was appointed as the government administrator of the district of Tessenei. Signor Gaspari himself was said to have been a Jew with an Italian nationality. Following some disagreement and conflicts with his superiors at the main district administration office, presumably on land issue, Signor Gaspari was dismissed and forced to retire. He however, decided to remain and live in Tessenei until he began farming in the nearby village of Ali-Gidir where he had transferred himself to and was known to have been the first inhabitant of that village. “ ALI “ seems to have been in fact, a nickname given to Signor Gaspari by the later settlers. According to some reliable sources, the people who later followed, joined him and worked either as his employees or as individual land-owners were said to have come from various parts and of different ethnic or tribal backgrounds. In fact, the word “ GIDIR “, in Arabic means a “ pot “ and therefore “ ALI-GIDIR “, seems to mean the “ melting-pot of Ali “ thus reflecting the multiple demographic constellation of the inhabitants of that village which was well-known more for that particularity than for its size.
As already mentioned above, the first and the well-known non-Kunama individuals and families who, because of their good rapport with the local government administrators, had taken advantage of and profited from the decree of “ Terreno Demaniale ”, were the followings:
1.- Blatta Jaber, a Tigre/Beni-Amer, from the village of Ad-Sheik ( Agordat ), in the Barka
2.- Blatta Yassin, from the Bet-Juk tribe, from somewhere in the Sahel region;
3.- Blatta Melakin, from the Tigre/Mensa tribe, from the Senhit region;
4.- Haj Mohammed Gladios, of the Bet-Juk tribe, followed by his brother,
5.- Haj Osman Gladios;
6.- Haj Mohammed Ahmed, the founder of the village of Talattasher ( the 13th Kilometer ), was a Sudanese national, from the Jaali tribe in the Northern Sudan.
It is reported that, Haj Osman Gladios was an ex-policeman at the service of the Sudanese government who had first resided in the village of Gulluj.
After his retirement, he was said to have been invited by his brother Haj Mohammed Jaber to transfer himself to Ali-Gidir where he too was allotted a piece of land. This family and its members were considered the second prominent inhabitants of Ali-Gidir.
The profits those individuals and families made out of the land-farming and selling of the agricultural products were said to have been enormous and always increasing. Many people who personally knew those self-made natives of and land-lords in the Kunama Land, report that, they and their family-members grew extremely rich sending their children to the best schools and higher studies either in the Ethiopian or Sudanese universities.
A very good acquaintance of the “ Gladios family “, observed, perhaps a bit exceedingly, that, “out of the tiny and remote village of Ali-Gidir, had come out so many and highly educated individuals that the whole of Eritrea did not manage to produce in those days“.
A lot of the people interviewed repeat over and over again that, what characterises the Gladios family is their ability to adapt themselves to the political situations and demands of the times. It was in fact their quickness in taking advantage of the opportune times to tie good, friendly and lasting relations with the Italian colonial authorities ( see Signor Gaspari ) to occupy the most fertile parts of the Kunama Tika region. They followed an identical sympathetic and submissive politics also with the successive rulers in Eritrea: the British, the Ethiopian government and, at present, with the EPLF/PFDJ regime.
At the beginning, during the Eritrean Liberation Movement and until the early 1980s, the “ Gladios and all the group forming the Ali-Gidir-clan “, were said to have been the most active participants, particularly on the leadership level of the Eritrean Liberation Front ( ELF ). After the Jebha had been expelled from the Eritrean battle-fields by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front ( EPLF ), the Gladios & co. were said to have followed a sea-saw-like politics dwindling between the remaining various Jebha factions but, at the same time, diplomatically flirting with the ever-increasing military and political might of the EPLF.
Rumour has it that, after the dismantle of the ELF’s leadership, some Gladios family-members and others were accused of and said to have got away with a considerable sum of money stolen from the main budget of the ELF. Let this be only a rumour.
After the Eritrean independence, many members of the Gladios family were said to have been among the first ones to return back home, pledged their faithful obedience to the EPLF regime and managed to occupy important government ministerial posts as well as work in lower government quarters as civil servants or even as diplomatic personnel in various Eritrean embassies around the world. They are still greatly exercising their influence on the authorities.
The ability of the “ Gladios clan “ in accommodating their political stands is said to have always favoured their members’ political career and job opportunities. It would be interesting to observe what their next political move would be should the present PFDJ regime be somehow dismantled. Many bet that the Gladios would be still around flirting with and trying to captivate the sympathy and the favours of the new regime whoever it may be and whatever it may look like. Other people who know the Gladios’ family background still more deeply, attest that they have a multiple ethnic identity which drives them to follow and adopt also a many-façade political standard. The very fact that Haj Osman Gladios had served the Sudanese government as its policeman suggests a possible ethnic connection also with some of the Sudanes tribes. They are also said to be holders of multiple nationalities and passports. Among others, they are believed to possess, apart from the Eritrean ID-card and passport, also the Ethiopian, the Sudanese and the passports of some Arab and European countries, among them, the German pass too Some of their family-members in fact, keep shuttling from Europe to Asia ( Arab countries ), to Africa ( Eritrea, Ethiopia and The Sudan ) and back to Europe again. Surely their cleverness, astuteness and their political maneuvering are facilitating their social status, travelling opportunities and mobility around the globe.
We Kunama have defined and retain as “ profiteers of Terreno Demaniale “, the Gladios family and the rest of the Ali-Gidir clan who are now considering themselves as and claiming to be the natives of that part of the Kunama Land. We in fact, do not see them any different from the Italian colonial authorities, of Signor Gaspari’s like, who had conjured up that land policy and all those other strangers who had taken advantage of it, established themselves in those Kunama areas and are, up to these days, playing a crucial role in perpetuating the plights of our Kunama people. They too share their responsibility on the old principle of
“ Terreno Demaniale ). The Italians had promulgated it and others have profited and are profiting from it. Somebody knowingly sharing a stolen object is he/she him/herself a thief.
It has taken us a long and tedious research-work to come up with such details on the history of the village of Ali-Gidir and of its “ founders and profiteers“ of its fertile estates around it.
We simply declare that, whether the Ali-Gidir clan accepts and likes it or not, the whole of the western territory, extending as far as to the banks of the Tika-Suba (Takaze river) and to the Sudanese border areas is “ part and parcel “ of the Kunama Tika region. No one else can therefore claim equal territorial rights but only the native Kunama-Tika. All those non-Kunama elements who have thus far been availing themselves of the illegal proclamation of “Terreno Demaniale “ by the Italians to establish themselves in those areas, expropriating the Kunama of their ancestral land, have better revise their background history, ethnic identity and business activities in our land. They have to expect legal procedures to be applied and carried out in their due and opportune time. The colonial rules in Africa have their binding validity only concerning conflicts on border issues and between independent neighbouring countries but surely not interfering in the internal and traditional laws regulating land distribution, ownership and administrative systems of local or native ethnic groups.
Today, we Kunama have grown conscious and responsible enough to identify, know and claim our own territorial rights. If our forefathers had been known to be “ peaceful, peace-loving and conflict-avoiding people “ allowing any apparently peaceful stranger to settle in our land, those primarily welcomed-guests have turned out to be the causes of the whole social, political and territorial malice today afflicting our entire ethnic group.
Let us therefore remind the “ Gladios family and other non-Kunama residents of Ali-Gidir “ that they should be abusing no more of that good-willed gesture of our ancestors but stop illegally profiting from our land’s products, as they have been so far doing, at the cost of our Kunama people. Ejecting our fellow-native Kunama from their own land and declaring themselves as the natives of those areas is an illegal claim they should be keeping in mind.
The new generation of the Kunama people is studying, seeing, observing and considering those self-made land-lords and profiteers as example-setters of the new and aggressive influx of non-Kunama land-seekers today storming our territory and people.
Many EPLF/PFDJ supporters and lobbyists are said to be today spending fortunes to reserve for themselves a piece of land in the Kunama territory. It is an open market for them.
Let us remind them too and all those others who might be aspiring for such dreamy enterprises that the Kunama Land has got to stop being “NO-BODY’S LAND“ because it in fact belongs and has always belonged to somebody. Its vastness does not justify abusing of it.
Though the Italian government had declared “ Terreno Demaniale “ the whole of the western Eritrean lowland, ( Metahit ), those “ Blattas and Hajjies “ had not looked for land, found and settled in, within and around their own native regional borders but they had deliberately chosen to emigrate into the Kunama Land, forcefully settling there, unjustly expropriating land from the native Kunama and aggressively imposing their own land tenancy laws breaking all the local and the traditional ones. They had carried out their own plans regardless of the Kunama plights and, after 70/80 years, are claiming to be they and not the Kunama the natives of those areas. They are therefore expecting their children and grandchildren to bequeath the land property they had managed to steal from the local Kunama. Native or ethic laws and rights cannot and should not be trampled upon by the strangers, no matter how loose those laws might appear to the new comers
The above and the following “ Ali-Gidir clan and their descendants “ should remember that, their fathers and forefathers had amassed them wealth out of illegal land tenancy practices and transmitted it to them thus making them too illegal inheritors.
- Blatta Jaber, his children and grandchildren;
- Blatta Melakin, his children and grandchildren;
- Blatta Yassin, his children and grandchildren;
- Haj Mohammed Gladios, his children and grandchildren;
- Haj Osman Gladios, his children and grandchildren and
- Haj Mohammed Ahmed and his offspring are all the co-founders, profiteers and the inheritors of the principle of:
“ TERRENO DEMANIALE “;
“ STATE LAND “ AND
“ MERIET MENGSTI”.
The RKPHA ( January 2002 ).