Samsom Haile: A Victim of National Service

Samsom’s father Mr Haile and his mother Ms Zayd were both fighters during the Eritrean liberation struggle. Samsom was the only child of this young couple. Samson’s father lost his life during the struggle and his mother Zayd became his only parent.

After Eritrea won its independence, his mother, now a veteran (ex-fighter) moved to the capital city of Asmara. In Asmara, Zayd took the only job she could find, like many female veterans she took a job selling parking tickets in the streets of Asmara. Selling parking tickets in the streets is a very low wage job that the government offered to its female veterans. After the independence veterans got much lip service with little support from the government. The government they helped come to power.

Even this humble leaving was lost however when Zayd lost vision in one eye and was no longer able to work. Samsom had to become the bread winner and started taking care of his mother. That is until the government decided to take him away against his will to do the “National Service”(Slavery).

Like every Eritrean citizen, Samsom was conscripted under the guise of “National Service” which is supposed to include military training followed by un-paid work for a total of 18 months. Like everyone in Eritrea would tell you, his 18 months of “National Service” become permanent.

Samsom was assigned to the military camp at Klima area.The notorious camp of Klima is located about 40 kilometers from the port of Assab. It has extremely hot climate where temperatures soar to over 40 dgree C (100 degree F) most of the year.

The disgraceful life of conscripts at Klima was made worst by lack of food, clean water and other basic life amenities.This was too much for the 19 year old body of Samsom. He started to become weak, he fell ill with the symptoms of stomach bug and started to lose so much weight. His health deteriorated so much it reached a point when he had to struggle just to walk and move around.

One morning, sometime around the 16th of June 2006, his brigade commander, Yemane (known by his nick name “Dimu”), ordered Samsom to go out with the others to gather wood.  Samsom explained he is ill and cannot work. He pleaded with Yemane Dimu to leave him be until he feels better. Yemane Dimu refused to consider his illness and forced him to go with the others.

Because Samsom had difficulty walking his friends, including Yosief Gebrehiwet, had to take turns to support Samsom to walk. After some distance, they decided to sit Samsom down under the shade of a tree on the way so he can rest while they go gather wood.

That night after everyone was back from gathering wood they noticed that Samsom was not there in the camp. Worried as to his whereabouts they asked their commander Yemane Dimu where Samsom is. He replied carelessly that he doesn’t know.

After two days of worrying about the whereabouts of their friend, some of Samsom’s friends formed a search party and decided to go search for Samsom. Passing by the areawhere they went gathering wood three days earlier, they saw something at a distance, something that looks like an animal under a tree. Not sure what it was they decided to check it out. As they got closer they discovered it was the body of Samson. Lifeless, sitting down under the tree with his head between his legs.

The body was decaying and his body was all greased as if it was melting from the heat. His friends, shocked and crying, dug a grave nearby and buried him. His body was too dried and locked into position that they could not straighten him and buried him as he was. His body was too decayed that a piece of flesh from the back remained stack on the tree trunk when they were moving him.

After burying him, Yemane Dimu warned them not to mention of what they saw to anybody he threatened them that if word got out he would have them executed. He later forced them to sign a document promising not tell anyone. He threatened them if anyone knew of the story they would be risking the life of all four of his friends.

After few months of the incident, it was that time when families were told the death of those who died in the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. Families where told that their loved once were “martyrs” even though the reality is most those who died there were victims of the government itself. Due to the large number of deaths, many of those who died were buried in unmarked graves. Multitudes of human skeletal remains were collected on a large truck and moved to mass grave later.

Samsom’s mother Zayd, was however not told of her son’s death because nobody reported him. After not hearing from her son for so long, she decided to come to Klima with her sister to ask about her son. At this time, Zayd was also losing sight in her other eye. She had traveled for four days from Asmara in hope of seeing her son. At Klima she started asking around about her son. But no one was able to give her an answer.

Yosief, one of those who buried Samsom, remembers that when he saw her face and learned she was Samsom’s mother, he started shaking physically. They told her to ask his commander Yemane Dimu.

Zayd introduced herself as the mother of Samsom and asked Yemane Dimu about her son. Yemane Dimu answered her reluctantly, “You are the mother of that lazy rotten Samsom? He can’t even gather fire wood. He is buried under the tree, go find him.”

And that is how Zayd was told of her only son’s death. A vain and undignified death.

No mother deserves to lose a son because of the National Slavery. Samsom is speaking from his grave, so we can take action to save millions Eritrean youth like him died and continue till this day.  Let us demand justice for Eritrean youth and for those who have lost their loved ones.

Please join us and make a statement to stop death and suffering caused by the National Slavery.


Twitter: @StopSlaveryInEr