A typical case of the benefits of peace: A story of how Eritrean national records helped an Ethiopian find long ‘lost’ father in Asmara.
Samson Berhane, an Ethiopian journalist was amongst many nationals who went in search of loved ones in neighbouring Eritrea after a peace deal was signed between leaders of both countries in July 2018.
Samson, editior-in-chief of the Ethiopian Business Review, went in search of his father, who he wasn’t sure was alive. He arrived in Asmara aboard the fifth Ethiopian flight after the resumption of air travel between Addis Ababa and Asmara.
He arrived in Asmara with only two details about his father: his full name and the area where he was trained in the town of Sawa.
I first went to the Ministry of Defence since all Eritreans above 80 are soldiers or out of the military. I asked where the base of the military office was located. I went there and gave them his full name, luckily they found him, where he works.
But as it turned out Eritrea’s national database which kept records of all its citizens turned out to be crucial in his search. He told Africanews in an exclusive interview that knowing that his father was alive was the happiest day of his life.
In response to our question about how he felt meeting his dad, Samson replied: “I never felt like that before. It is very difficult to explain here.
“But there is nothing that can make me happier than meeting my father after 21 years. Not only him, it was also a fantastic moment when I realized that I have siblings and met them,” he added.
Samson recounted to the BBC Africa service the crucial role that Eritreans continue to play when Ethiopians come looking for their long lost family and friends.
He told about how his father fortunately did not suffer forced repatriation when the war broke out but unfortunately had been locked up in Eritrea as he had returned home at the time the crisis broke out.
For good reason, the Ministry of Defence in Asmara was his first point of call when he got to Eritrea.
“I first went to the Ministry of Defence since all Eritreans above 80 are soldiers or out of the military. I asked where the base of the military office was located. I went there and gave them his full name, luckily they found him, where he works.
“So what I did was I went to his workplace, that is the Eritrea Ministry of Agriculture and it was at that moment that I found out that my father was alive.
“When we went to the Ministry of Agriculture, he actually was not working at the head (office) of the ministry, he was rather working at the regional office, so I asked the human resource department and they searched his name on the database and they found his whereabouts.
After several weak attempts to get information about his dad failed, Samson, like most nationals on both sides could only hope for a political / diplomatic miracle.
He says when Prime Minister Abiy promised to make peace it reminded him of similar appeals by his predecessors.
“Even when Abiy Ahmed, while swearing-in before the parliament, promised to normalize the relation between the two nations, I thought it is nothing but rhetoric. If there is a day I felt optimist about the peace, it was when the telephone service between the two countries resumed,” he stressed.
In the end, it took the Eritrean authorities to inform him that he had seven siblings. “They told me that he (my father) also has seven children. They told me that I have five sisters and two brothers.
“All the Eritrean people including the government officials who are working at the Ministry of Agriculture were very cooperative and helpful when I told them that I was looking for my dad.
Samson’s story is one of hundreds of nationals who had the almost unbelievable incidence of re-establishing long lost connections. Some unfortunately may not have had the happy result that Samson got.
One thing is however clear, that both peoples were not in support of the blockade that kept them so close yet very far away from one another, a point that Samson agreed with.
“Nothing could stop the two people from being united. They are a people that have been living together for centuries.
In the second part of this piece, we publish a full transcript of our interview with Samson, therein he discusses a myriad of issues ranging from the role of the media in the new found peace, how to consolidate gains so far and the tourism potentials of Asmara.