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Tribute to Cmnd. Zeleke Bogale

Commander Zeleke Bogale has passed away on this day last year, June 17, 2010. The following is a tribute by his former colleague Commander Assefa Seifu.

By Assefa Seifu

The first batch of Apprentice Cadets for the new Imperial Ethiopian Naval College were flown to Asmara from AA (after all assembled there from various parts of the country) on Meskerem 20 & 21 1948 on board Air Force Dakota planes. We were 47.( probaly the first time to fly for all!)

After about a month they were taken to Massawa (three of us went back to AA to help celebrate the Silver Jubilee of HIM’s Coronation.)In Massawa, we embarked on basic infantry and naval training, plus academic ones particularly in English, math & physics to prepare us for the proper launch into Imperial Ethiopian Naval College curriculum, as cadets. Needless to say there were attritions.

The remaining bulk were divided into three branches; The Executive, Supply(Logistics) and Engineering. Zelleke and I were in the first. So, we were not only course mates but also class mates. On graduation, Zeleke was given the first sword.

Thereafter, we, of the Executive Branch went to Norway for a year’s practical sea training and or another year to England for, what they called, Sub.Lieutenants’ Courses.

We returned to AA virtually on the eve of the Mengistu – Germame attempted revolution. Less than ten days after we returned home, we were ordered to proceed to Massawa to prepare for The Navy Days.
This was a bit tough for those that came from the provinces because they could not see their families after more than two years abroad.

The Navy Days were big celebrations of the graduating cadets, bordering on fanfare; which I need not go into. But one thing cannot be overlooked. Beginning on our graduation, history was made and repeated
yearly until HIM’s overthrow. Please bear the digression a bit for historical purposes.

For the first time since the Cold War, NATO & Warsaw Pact Naval Ships and others from neutral countries participated in a manoeuvre at our Navy Days. This Naval Review by HIM commanded by the Senior Admiral of whichever group broke the ice ‘of the cold war’ and there was a yearly vying which one will send a senior admiral as that would determine who would be the commander of the manoeuvres and the honour of having HIM on board. This was no mean diplomatic feat and political manoeuvre, by HIM and his Minister(s) of Foreign Affairs.

HIM reviewed the manoeuvres from the senior Admiral’s ship until he got his own Flag Ship HMS Ethiopia. Soon after the Navy days, we most of the officers of The Executive Branch, were sent to The US Naval Post Graduate School (USNPGS) at Monterrey California. Please forgive the slight digression, but I feel it is important for historical purposes how the Western Media & Press treat us!

Well after I had come out in exile Egypt copied our monumental achievements and the western press & media hailed it as an extraordinary achievement by Egypt to bring the two opposing Worlds’ war ships to participate in a manoeuvre. Needless to add that I reminded the BBC World Sevice & TV that they had reported this feat for years from Ethiopia. Adding surely they could not forget the time when The Princess Royal (Anne) was the guest of honouor at one of the Navy Days!

On graduation from the USNPGS we were met by officers of other branches and other ranks to sail her back from San Francisco/Diego via Hawaii and Japan to her new home. Zelleke, was of course, part of the of the officer-corps that brought HMS Ethiopia to her new home.

Thereafter, Zeleke was sent to England for further naval and academic education. While there, Zelleke had an unfortunate accident in the underground train where he had one leg partially disabled. All of us,
without exception, were shocked to hear this. Our boss, Commander Eskinder Dessta, was kindness itself. He made sure that Zelleke got the best treatment the country (UK) offered.

A lesser person would have had all his personality shattered. Not Zelleke!

After the revolution, Zelleke was promoted as Administrator of The Marine Department under the Ministry of Transport; later the department was given an autonomous status and became known as The Ethiopian Marine Transport Authority in charge of inland waterways and the seaports of Assab and Massawa.

He was virtually his own boss and there he showed what he was really made of a man of steel and determination in character, brilliance in administration and foresight in the implementation of his duties and responsibilities..

As I had had to leave in Oct 1975 what I relate hereafter is what I was happy to glean from colleagues at the time and now when the inevitable happened to share it with the EEDN family.

One friend (2nd Entry of the navy) that I asked said:

“As discussed, I never had the pleasure of working for/with Cdr. Zeleke. When one thinks of Zeleke, hard work, dependability and good character spring to mind. The story is told that in his capacity as the General Manager of the Marine Transport Authority, he was responsible for turning Assab Port into an oasis by giving incentives to all kinds of people including to several gardeners to look after the greening of not only the port but also the city of Assab too.”

I had to go into the root of this “oasis “as I had heard about it before. So my enquiry, of which I am very pleased, revealed, that the gardeners at Assab Port were so diligent that they did not stick to working hours even during the hottest season. Pleased with what he saw, Zelleke rewarded the chief Gardener and the assistants wit a hefty pay rise that caused fairly senior office staff to murmur. Not that Zelleke
would take any notice of such trivialities. The friend that reminded me of the “oasis” mentioned a biblical story which I looked up for our benefit. No doubt many of you will remember the story Our Lord told his
disciples about the kingdom of heaven and exemplifying it by a boss ‘hiring labourers at a penny a day early in the morning, later employing more and saying that he will pay them whatever is right; and finally,
he did likewise at the sixth, 9th & 11th hour. He paid them all a penny each and when those that had worked longer complained, the boss’s answer was, “Friend I do thee no wrong; didst though agree with me for a penny?” – Matt. 20/10)

That was not all that Zelleke did to look after his hard working employees. The Dergue had ordered no salary increments. The order did not exclude new employment; just not to increase salaries. The good man found a way out of this by creating various echelons. He created higher paying jobs and promoted the dserving thereby giving his staff the increment they were due. Ingenious and kind would you not agree? Let me add one more point on this thread, hope I am not boring anyone.

As most of you will remember the revolution was not just against the Emperor, his family and ministers but all the way down. The Navy was no exception. It was the non commissioned officers that, in effect, hired and fired.

Sadly, it was in the Navy too. A number of highly qualified, very decent, duty-minded officers were dismissed by these thugs for merely being duty conscious and disciplinarians. They were not only dismissed but also banned from any government employment.

When Zelleke was promoted to head the Marine Transport Authority, he needed qualified personnel. What a God sent opportunity! On top of desiring to help his unlawfully dismissed colleagues, some his course
and class mates that he knew were badly wronged. So there was only one solution and Zelleke took it. He went to Col. Mengistu himself and explained. The ban was lifted and he had his qualified personnel and
grateful colleagues to help him.

In the early 70s the insurgents had virtually taken over Eritrea save Asmara, that was surrounded and Massawa. Massawa was attacked heavily.

The service that was to guard the port was overwhelmed and the remnants were trying to come into the Naval Base.

The Captain of the Naval Base, Captain Mersha Girma, is reported to have famously, said to those that were approaching,

“It is not only their bullet that kills! another step in our direction you will taste our bullet. Stand your ground and fight!” ( something to this effect.

Zelleke was at the Port Massawa back then and wanted to join his colleagues at The Naval Base, but his staff prevailed upon him to save the vessels, and boats, leading the evacuation from Massawa towards
Dhalak and Port of Assab.

This is sheer Professionalism! If and when a unit or a force is overwhelmed by the enemy the last duty of the Commanding Officer is to retrieve what is retrievable and destroy what is not so that nothing falls into the enemy hands to enhance its activities.


This is not all that this gallant sailor did,I, besides totally renovating the ports and facilities of Massawa and Assab; he built air conditioned houses and apartments for port employees. He further built guest houses, clubs and recreational facilities at both Massawa and Assab ports to serve the employees and guests coming to the ports from elsewhere for business or work related matters.

Those in Assab, I am told, tried to refuse these facilities to truck drivers. On hearing this Zelleke is said to have fumed and asked them, his employees, that don’t they know that without these divers that crisscross the desert they will have no job? The truckers, gratefully, had an unlimited access and usage of the clubs.

Bear with me for just one more illustration of this brilliant guy. Whenever he entered a contract for new materials and machineries, one condition was never forgotten; the sellers were put under obligation to train his employees that will use/operate these machineries; thus saving the country an invaluable not just foreign currency to have experts to do whatever but to save time too. No one can accuse Zelleke that he has not used his Naval training to full use!

I was looking for an officer that has worked with Zelleke and I was told that there was one 2nd in taker that had high regards for him. I sought him out and here is what he said to me.

“I was saddened to hear of Commander Zelleke’s passing. I had met Commander Tessema a few weeks ago in Addis and he had told me that he saw Zelleke just before coming over and that he was in good mood. He also told me that Zelleke was taking treatment for Evidently Zelleke did not win this time and as usual he must have born his suffering in silence. I feel honoured to have known and worked with him closely on board H.M.S. Ethiopia as well as later at our Headquarters. His integrity, maturity, wisdom, quiet strength, constructive nature and streak of humour were beyond compare.”

Zelleke lived a solitary life for the last 18 years, not for the lack of friends. Far from it! He avoided almost everybody.I learnt from one close to him that his reason was:

“… he said because he felt all his generation including those in the armed forces have failed the country.”

A gallant officer to his last breath!

To conclude let me go the a tribute I heard on ‘Netsanet le Etiopia radio’ by members of ye petty officer Getachew… yewondimamamchina ehtmamamch mahber

“komander Zelleke be aleqochachew yetemesgenu be betachochachew yetewededuna yetekeberu neberu!”

I think the last is a testimony that any body can be proud of.

So, Neamin & Adnew, you had a father to be really proud of. I am confident that you will follow his footsteps to the last.

May the Lord rest His Soul and give you both and your families his solace.

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