the First Club of Eritrea
Rotary International District 9200
Part of our section on the History of Africa
THE BEGINNING (1957 >1979)

Stretching back to mid-Twentieth Century, Rotary has a long history in Eritrea. The first ever movement to organize a Club in Asmara, started soon after the first Club in the region, was established in Addis Ababa, in 1955.

On 9th May 1957, movement in Eritrea culminated in the founding of the Rotary Club of Asmara and on 18th December of the same year, it was chartered by the Rotary International. The Club had 30 charter Members, and was part of District 220.


The Club had adopted a banner with the design to suit the times: Rotary Wheel at the top center, with a then emblem of the Municipality of Asmara, printed between the wordings- ROTARY CLUB OF ASMARA ETHIOPIA- written in red; Trigrigna between the wheel and the emblem, and English below the emblem. The emblem of the Municipality itself, was having a Crown sitting on the heraldry Crest of sea and mountains with an image of the Lion of Juddah at the bottom. On each side of the Crown and the Crest, were branches of maize and berries. Green, yellow and red ribbons that represented the Ethiopian flag surrounded the banner printed on a white background.


The Club had its humble beginnings in 1957, at the C.I.A.A.O Hotel ( later Selam Hotel) and regularly held weekly meetings on Thursdays at 1:15 p.m. ( 13:15 hrs. ) with a three course sit-down luncheon.

In 1968, the venue of the meetings was shifted to the newly built Imperial Hotel ( later Amba Soira Hotel) and met on the same days and time.

Since Rotary in those days did not allow female gender to become members, from 1966 onwards the Club decided to hold last meeting of each month, for a dinner with ladies starting at 8:45 p.m. and the rest of the weekly meetings were held at usual times for lunch.

Such meetings with ladies, became quite popular with more than 100 people sitting down together for a dinner each month.


Twice a year, the Club organized gala dinner-dances, in a formal Black-Tie attire with live music band. Besides being entertaining, the purpose used to serve to raise some funds for the Club’s various projects through lotteries and auctions.

The President usually gave a speech on the Club’s achievements, but not other regular meeting features were carried out. Rotary dinner-dances used to be extremely popular and would usually end in the wee-hours of the morning.

It was recorded in the Club bulletin that the Dinner-Dance held at KAGNEW station in May 1966 had total attendance of 335 people and revelry went on till 3:30 in the morning.


From the modest membership of 30 in 1957, the Club grew rapidly. By early 1960s, it doubled to 60. In December 1965, it stood close to 100 and within next one year it surpassed 104.

The membership reached its pinnacle with 126 members in July 1973, the highest among 42 Clubs in District 220.

The Club had a good cross-section of all communities represented from the business and professional sectors and different nationalities. Italian nationals formed a majority membership with Eritreans following it.

Moreover, there were Americans, British, Indians, Greeks, French and Germans as well - that made the Club a truly international assemblage.

Owing to such a large membership, District 220 constantly persuaded the Club to split in two or more Rotary Clubs within the city of Asmara. The Club however, resisted such proposals. In 1973/74, the matter was put to the floor for a vote by the members and was overwhelmingly rejected.

Curiously enough from the statistical point of view, the global membership of RI in 1966, was 12,521 Clubs with 600,200 Rotarians in 133 countries. While by early 1974, there were 15,800 Clubs with 747,000 Rotarians in 150 countries.


One of the most distinguished speakers of the time, invited by the Club was the famous French marine explorer and inventor of the under-water ‘Aqualung’ gear, Monsieur Jacques Coustaux. He gave a fascinating speech on his research and exploration of the Red Sea marine life in 1968. Upon his invitation, Rotarians visited his famous ship ‘Calypso’ anchored in Massawa.

Among other speakers and programmes, the Club organized film and slide shows, painting exhibitions, concerts, outings to some industries and to the U.S. Base T.V station, children’s Christmas parties etc.


Little of the history of the Club survives to record all the humanitarian projects carried out by the Club in 20 years of its existence. I is however, well recorded in the surviving Club bulletins some of the projects carried out by the Club.

* Funds were given to Y.W.C.A., the Blinds School and the Children’s Home.

* Donations were made for the construction of Maereba School and doors/windows were provided to a school in Seraie.

* Contribution was made for the Blood Bank in Asmara. One blind person was sent to Italy at the Club’s expenses for an eye operation, while five children were sent to U.S.A. at Rotary’s expenses for correctional open-heart surgery.

* More than 8,000 U.S. Dollars worth contribution was mad for the Famine Relief in 1974.

* International Service Committee launched a project ‘Bounty of Knowledge’ importing library books from around the world, and donated to the libraries in Asmara.

* The Club invited a world-class pianist Prof. Julien Bern ( a professor of music from Cornel college, U.S.A.) and organized a Piano concert in Odeon cinema to raise fund for the benefit of the blind children of Eritrea. The event was a highlight of the time.


By about 1966/67, it was felt that the timing and climate was right to establish another Club in Eritrea. Thus, the rotary Club of Massawa was sponsored by the Asmara Club and was given charter by the RI.

The Club met at the Red Sea Hotel and held regular weekly meetings day other than Thursdays so that the Rotarians of both the clubs of Asmara and Massawa could ‘make-up’ their lost attendances in other Club.

No records are available to verify when exactly the Club was established and when it was closed down. It is presumed that Rotary Club of Massawa was abandoned around the same time the Club in Asmara was discontinued.


Due to atrocities that began by the Ethiopa’s Dergue regime, starting February 1975, the Club suffered loss of membership and intermittent cancellations of meetings. Remnant of members tried to continue the Club’s activities with its meagre resources. The Club as an entity was finally abandoned some time in 1977. The last President known to have presided was Rtn. Beyene Debessai. Owing to lack of information, RI struck-out the membership of the Rotary Club of Asmara, Ethiopia, from its registers and the Charter was withdrawn on March 31, 1979.

All that was done and achieved by the Club was wiped out. The Records and property of the Club were lost forever due to displacement of members and material. For the next 20 years, Rotary remained non-existent in Eritrea.


The rotary Club of Asmara, Eritrea, is indebted to members of the previous Club, Rtn. Kflemariam Zerom, Rtn. Beyene Debessai, Rtn. Embaie Ifter, Rtn. Yohannes Berhane, Rtn. Manue Premjee and many others who were the sources of information, based on which the history of the Totary Club of Asmara, Ethioia was pieced together.

The Club’s particular thanks go to Rtn. Kiflemariam Zerom and Rtn Manu Premjee, who steadfastly and relentlessly had a strong forsight keeping a number of former Club Bulletins, some photographs and other documents in their possession. For more than 20 years it was Rtn. Manu Psremjee’s intuitions and conviction that many lost items of the Club’s properties were recovered from what seemed to be a lost case.


After independence on May 28, 1992, a group of former Rotarians met at Amba Soira Hotel, discussed and agreed to revive the RCA. These were:
1. Ato Embaye Ifter, former President;
2. Ato Beyene Debessai, former President;
3. Dr. Yohannes Berhane, former Director “A”;
4. Kegn Gheremedhin Tesemma, former Director “C”;
5. Kegn Araya Hagos, former Chairman Membership Committee;
6. Ato Tesfai Woldemichael, former Chairman Public Relation Committee.
To this effect several contacts were made with the Rotary Clubs of Nairobi, Zurich and Rotary International till July 30, 1993.

Intensive correspondence was made between Ato Beyene Yifter representing the organizing committee for the formation of Rotary Club in Asmara and Ibrahim Ahmado chairman, Rotary club of Utumishi, Nairobi.

Ahmado was special representative for the formation of Rotary Club of Asmara appointed by DG Abdul Samji of District 9200 (1992 – 1993). Ahmado visited Asmara in April 1993 and had a couple of meetings with the ex-Rotarians whose names listed above including Ato Kiflemariam Zerom.

On March 6, 1996 Rotarian Stephen R. Brown, DG 5340 ( 1996 – 1997), having some information about the existence of a Rotary Club in Asmara long before liberation, wrote to Ato Kiflemariam Zerom asking him for some helpful information in order to establish the Club, including names and addresses of prospective members. On June 8, 1996 Rtn. Brown came to Asmara and held a meeting with some potential members at Ambassador Hotel.

All these combined efforts contributed to the return of Rotary to Eritrea.

The first Official Club Meeting to establish RCA was held on April 22, 1997 at Selam Hotel. At that time The Club Constitution was adopted and Charter Officers of the Club were elected as follows:
1. Berhe Tekie President
2. Girmay Haile Secretary
3. Omer Berhanu Treasurer
4. Beyene Debessai Director, CSA
5. Eyassu Asfah Director, VSC
6. Daniel Haile Director, CSC
7. Yohannes Berhane Director, ISC
8. Dawit Mahray Assistant Secretary

On April 30, 1997, the Board of Directors of RCA laid down all the legal and technical procedures required for the official recognition of the RCA by the Government of Eritrea.

The RCA was officially recognized by the Government on May 19, 1997 and by the Rotary International on August 11 the same year. RCA was admitted to Rotary International (RI) on Sept. 14, 1997 as number 157 in the RI register.

It was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Mombassa, Kenya.

On November 4, 1997 the Club by-laws were adopted. It was then that the weekly Club meeting time was changed from 12:30 to 7:00 P.M. On November 16, 1997 charter ceremony of RCA was held at the Sham-Rock Café with the presence of DG 9200, three PDGS, one DGN 9200, 15 members RC of Mombassa, visiting and RCA rotary Anns, government ministers, Lord Mayor of Asmara and other invited guests.

At this time the Club banner was also launched.


In may 1997, one of the former members, past Rotarian Manu Premjee returned to free Eritrea. He happened to be an active member of that Club from 1960 till 1975. He had served the former Club in various capacities; more than once as Director, as Chairman in different Committees, as an Assistant Secretary, twice as Secretary and once as Vice President during his 15 years of Club’s membership. He was also an initiator and editor of the monthly Club bulletin – ASMARA ROTOR.


In his personal capacity, Manu quietly initiated an inquiry with the Emba Soira Hotel’s management. He met the Manager and asked for his goodwill to allow him inspect various strange places of the hotel. It took several days of insistent coaxing to gain
entry to ‘staff only’ area of the hotel. Finally, Manu was led by the manager to the down stairs facilities.

The patient negotiations paid–off when he found ‘ROTARY MEETS HERE’ wall plague - out of all places, from the laundry room. The manager was now more cooperative and Manu more aggressive towards the cause.

He told the manager, “If one item is found all other items must be located from other stores”.

Further investigation revealed that a few years earlier, unwanted items of the hotel was shifted to Selam Hotel. The store keeper in charge of Selam Hotel was introduced but, he was reluctant to allow inspection by any outsiders.

It took a month to obtain his approval. Towards the end of July ’97, he accompanied Manu to Selam Hotel.

There, a small shack with two rooms located in the back-yard corner of the hotel was opened. Rooms were unlit and mish-mash of items heaped to the ceiling in disorderly manner, impossible to inspect.

Manu looked for a tell-tale sign for anything ROTARY and soon saw yellow/blue end of the RI drapery, partly hanging out of a carton.

Ten IR drapes ordered from USA in 1960s were found in excellent condition.

Another carton revealed some one hundred ‘dusty’ membership Badges – still with name tags of all Rotarians of the past.

Without lights and manpower needed to sift through the mess, further investigation was impossible. The store-keeper was least interested to allow further intrusion for a systematic scrutiny of the messy rooms.

The Rotary Club of Asmara continues to prosper to this day.

This history extracted from the Club's web site with appreciation to the members.

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