Obituary: Lionel Cliffe

Professor Lionel Cliffe staunch supporter of Eritrean struggle (has) died:

This article was initially published in the Asmarino Independent

By Petros Tesfagioragis

During the long years of struggle Eritrea was blessed with internationalist support, political parties, film makers, researchers, academicians, trade and student unions, anti-colonial and human rights activists etc.  One of the many supporters was Professor Lionel Cliffe. 

Lionel Cliffe’s contribution to Eritrean was outstanding. For several years he made several visits to the liberated area of Eritrea studying emergency aid and development needs/projects. Such assessments were essential for funding from International NGOs. It has to be remembered that Eritrean Relief Association had the reputation of being the darling of humanitarian organisation for its extensive network all over the world and its efficiency as the donor agencies see the aids are implemented to the full. 

Lionel Cliffe and Basil Davidson edited a book “The long struggle of Eritrea for independence and constructive peace” published in 1988. I quote from the back cover of the book. “This book looks at the history of the Eritrean struggle, placing it in the wider history of north-eastern Africa. It scrutinizes the legal standing of Eritrea’s claim for independence; it analyses the character of the liberation movement, looks at the tasks it has set itself and evaluates its achievements.”

Lionel Cliffe together with his ex-wife   Doris was also founding members of the “Review of African Political Economy” a review which highlights and debates issues on African including that of Eritrea.  It is in this review that Lionel wrote an obituary a tribute of Basil Davidson a fellow activist on Africa and a close friend, on his death. A section of the tribute is titled “Basil and Eritrea”. It described Basil’s engagement with Eritrea. I quote “Basil did eventually made the arduous trip into what the Eritreans called the “Field” in 1988 and was able to witness the decisive battle of the liberation of Afabet, where the EPLF forces broke out of their 10 years of encirclement. He even broadcasted from the battlefield just after the victory direct to British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service in London on a line the EPLF had managed to set up, announcing ‘the most significant conventional battle in the Third World since the Vietnamese liberation forces defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu”. 

Lionel in his Sheffield home and at Leads University used to host some EPLF visitors. One of them was Alemseged Tesfai, the author of Tigrinya book “Aynefelale” and 2 weeks in a trench –. Alemseged is also a play writer. The beauty of his play writing was transpired in the popular drama “The other war”. Lionel invited Alemseged, a fellow writer, to promote his works and share the wealth of knowledge and documents in his possession.

Lionel was fond of Ermias Debesai (Papaya) member of the Central Committee of EPLF and head of European Desk for his amazing sense of humour and humility. I have enjoyed such revolutionary love and laughter in his house in the present of Doris and his step daughters of course the invitation was in honour of Papaya.  Unfortunately Papaya is languishing in PFDJ prisons symbolizing a profound moving sad story of most of EPLF leaders’ the G-15 ended  in jail representing an inhuman  dividend for serving all their life to liberate Eritrea. The only crime they did was to ask the implementation of the constitution and election to take place which the people of Eritrea were waiting for. 

Sadly after 1991 independence EPLF has suffered from many significant failings. One of the failing is to ignore those internationalists who carried out their own brand of struggle as international obligation and contributed a lot to win diplomatic, political and substantial financial and material support for Eritrea.  Those are Eritrean treasures which the people of Eritrea have to know about and appreciate.

He also served and participated in LUCAS (Leads University Centre for African Studies) 

By now it has become crystal clear that it is   essential to compile a data-base of all the names of friends of Eritrea because they are part of the history of the revolution.

Lionel Cliffe will be remembered as a treasure in the long years of the struggle for the right of self-determination of the people of Eritrea.

My condolence to his partner Margerita his family and his colleague at LUCAS.

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