Afabet

Witnessing the Decisive Battle of the Eritrean War of Independence

In his final columns, Peter Worthington recalls the Eritrean war of independence in the 1980s, and ends with a characteristic Worthington flourish:

One battle in 1988 — the largest on the continent since the Second World War — was the turning point for victory: The Battle of Afabet (also known as Nadew).

It was one of the rare decisive battles that change the course of history. It is often compared with Dien Bien Phu that defeated the French in Indochina, and Kursk, the largest tank battle of WWII where the Russians beat the Germans.

Until reminded of Eritrean celebrations, I’d more or less forgotten that I was there for the battle of Afabet — walking among dead bodies, witnessing the pillaged Ethiopian army headquarters where Canadian food aid for refuges had been diverted to army kitchens for soldiers.

Coincidentally, Rob Roy (then of Stornoway Productions), and I were doing a TV documentary about the war in Eritrea. We were the only outside journalists at the front to document the Eritrean victory.

(As an aside, Google says there are no photos of the Afabet battle. In fact there are. I took them and most are now in Ottawa’s National Archives).