Friday, June 30, 2017

Professor Alem Habtu, 1944-2016

Professor Alem Habtu in earlier times

One of the extraordinary things about the story that I have been investigating for the last few years is that these dramatic events are not ancient, lost history but memories still living with survivors and veterans of the times I’m attempting to chronicle.

It just came to my attention that somebody I had hoped to interview for my research has passed on. Professor Alem Habtu was a key member of the leadership of the Ethiopian Students Union in North America in the early 1970s. He lived in Manhattan near City College with a number of other Ethiopian students, all of whom were recognized players in the transformation of the Ethiopian Student Movement into a political movement that helped spawn a revolution. I’m saddened at the passing of Professor Alem, and now regret that the questions I hoped to ask him will go unanswered. There’s a lesson there for those hoping to collect oral history.

Mesfin Habtu
Alem Habtu was the brother of Mesfin Habtu, an important figure in the early revolutionary Ethiopian Student Movement, who tragically committed suicide in New York in 1971. Mesfin was a leader in the wing of the ESM that would become the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, and his suicide came after his personal correspondence was uncovered and published by political opponents including Senay Likke and supporters of the clandestine network that would become the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (Meison).

From what I can gather, Alem Habtu did not return to Ethiopia along with other members of the diaspora upon the advent of the revolution in 1974, and ultimately became a harsh critic of both the EPRP and Meison, whom he blamed for provoking the violence that would consume so many lives during the period of the so-called “Red Terror.”

Professor Alem Habtu died of cancer. I'm lucky that he left a number of testimonies to his experiences on the internet: his accounts have been helpful to me in understanding some of the factional ins and outs of the movement at the time.

Rest in power!


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