Friday, July 22, 2016

Open Letter to Prof. Asmerom Legesse

Posted as Press Release on behalf of EFND, EGS and ህዝባዊ ምልዕዓል on 17 July 2016

As fellow Eritreans who care deeply about the plight of our people, we welcome your call for educated Eritreans to do their part. However, being keenly aware of the total lack of rule of law in Eritrea, we believe our role should be more constructive than what you are proposing (1). We need to find ways to truly liberate our people from the fear and terror they have been subjected to under a government they call their own. These being the facts on the ground, which we believe you are well aware of as well, it was disappointing to see you joining the likes of Yemane Gebreab (Eritrea’s Goebbels) and Osman Saleh, in dressing up a criminal regime that has been shattering the dreams of our people like no enemy has before.

Contrary to the campaign of disinformation you have chosen to spread, the COIE (2) did not rule against Eritrea or the Eritrean people. It ruled in their favor and against the oppressive regime. There is a huge difference between the two. Unlike you, Lady Kinnock, guided by decency and our shared humanity, makes the critical distinction between a brutal regime and a brutalized population. She is not the enemy of the Eritrean people as you accuse her falsely. Rather, she is a good friend, who is standing up for them – now as before. Are you making this key distinction and standing up for your people?

You said you are starting new investigations to discredit COIE’s finding and to nullify the victims’ testimonies. We are saddened to see a person of your caliber going this far down to defend a criminal junta. What did the COIE uncover that we Eritreans, in our hearts, didn’t know already? Did you miss the eloquent message of our Catholic bishops (ሓውኻ ኣበይ ኣሎ?), full of grace and admirable moral leadership every Eritrean, especially the elderly and the educated like yourself, should be aspiring for?

When you wrote the Uprooted (4), you based it on testimonies of victims and victims ONLY. You did not go out of your way to expand the scope to include theoretical third-parties, as you are planning to do now. Why the glaring disconnect? Criticizing the COIE now for using the same research methodologies you used yourself does carry a stench of hypocrisy, wouldn’t you say? 

Your willful dismissal of the inhumane cruelties and incredible pain the victims went through, besides being devoid of reason and compassion, is deeply insulting. Please listen to Helen G/Amlak (3) and tell us why her voice and the voices of other victims are not a million times more relevant than your version of theoretical Eritreans who did not suffer these harrowing experiences. Helen and too many others have gone through hell already. The torture, the filth, the extreme temperatures in metal containers, and the utter disregard for human life Helen describes so eloquently are truths you are campaigning to bury. These are truths we believe you also know very well. Must Helen and your fellow citizens re-live their agonies again – this time at the hands of a highly educated grandfatherly figure who should be speaking on their behalf instead? ሰብ ኣቕሓ ኮይኑ ብኣጽንሓለይ ዝእሰረሉን ሓቒቑ ዝተርፈሉን ባይታ ዝፈጠረ ግዕዙይ ስርዓት እኮ' ዘሎና ፕሮፌሶር።

As one blessed with good education and old age, you could have chosen to spend your time in countless constructive ways. Yet, you chose to dim this new glimmer of hope by adopting the regime’s habitual disinformation campaign. What good is education and old age if it can’t speak truth to power?

As much as we abhor Naizghi Kiflu’s role, you know he was unfairly denied burial rights in his homeland, because the very person he served so well did not allow it. Isaias’s message was not to Naizghi’s corpse. It was to the living dead, essentially saying if I can do that to someone who served me so well, you don’t want to see what I can do to you. The disabled war veterans were massacred in 1994 to convey a similar message -- i.e. if disabled veterans are not safe, no one is. In this environment of fear and terror, loyalty does not buy you anything. All it takes is for one sadistic person to conclude you have outlived your usefulness. God help you when that day comes because loyalty and prior service are totally irrelevant. It is use-and-throw at its crudest -- the insanity so complete, the oppressive power so absolute and petty, even a corpse is not spared. This repulsive junta is what you have embraced and chosen to serve. Sadly, all at the expense of your own people.

Your claims of economic, social and cultural advances are simply laughable. Even if that were true -- and it is not -- your attempt to whitewash the regime's crimes with non-existent accomplishments is regrettable indeed. To an honest observer, there is no doubt Eritrea has gone backwards by decades and has been performing orders of magnitude below its potential. And there is no enemy preventing us from realizing this potential. Lady Kinnock, the COIE or the West did not close our only accredited university, they are not torturing our people, they did not make Eritrea a living hell for its citizens to cause the mass exodus of its youthful energy, they did not massacre our disabled war veterans, nor did they cause us national shame by picking a fight with a corpse. Our real enemy is within. That is what the COIE has identified and that is what Lady Kinnock is standing up against. Lack of honesty is preventing us from righting this wrong. We all need to take this necessary first step together. 

Although we disagree profoundly with what you have chosen to stand for, we also would like to invite you for a civilized dialog, if you are willing. We will be happy to schedule a meeting at your convenience. This is the time to stand together with our people; the history books will not be so kind otherwise.

Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue (EFND)
Eritrean Global Society (EGS)
People Movement of Eritreans for Justice in North America (ህዝባዊ ምልዕዓል ኤርትራውያን ንፍትሒ ሰሜን ኣሜሪካ)

Contact: Tewelde Stephanos

(2)   COIE: Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea
4)  Uprooted: Report on Eritreans deported from Ethiopia during 1998 war

Friday, July 8, 2016

Canada’s Nevsun Resources: Enabler of Crimes Against Humanity in Eritrea

Submitted as press release in under Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialog (EFND) and Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS)

Nevsun is a Canadian gold mining company operating in Eritrea – a country that has been ruled through fear and terror for the last 25 years.  And recent investigations by a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI), confirmed the ruling junta has been committing “crimes against humanity” against its own people (10).

In reaction to this UN report, Ms. Bronwyn Bruton from the Atlantic Council, downplayed the severity of these crimes in a piece titled “It's Bad in Eritrea, but Not That Bad” (9). She criticizes the COI of “selection bias” for not interviewing “Western diplomats or UN staff based in Eritrea”.

Money is the only reason Ms. Bruton is defending the regime. Here is why.

Nevsun’s contribution to Atlantic Council (Ms. Bruton’s employer) in 2015: $100,000 to $249,000 (1), (2)
Contribution by Eritrean victims to Atlantic Council:  $0

Not surprisingly, Nevsun’s VP of Social Responsibility (a terrible misnomer), also says the UN report is “biased and selective” because “it only included people from outside the country” (6).

This almost identical language is not coincidental and one should be forgiven to assume Nevsun’s money is talking through Ms. Bruton’s mouth.  Additionally, both Nevsun and Ms. Bruton are not being honest because COI’s numerous requests to visit Eritrea were repeatedly denied. Eritrea’s foreign minister says “we will not give them” visas (3).

To be fair, Ms. Bruton also says Eritrea’s indefinite military service does include “digging ditches for a mining company” (7) – which appears to be a direct reference to Nevsun and the nature of her “research trips” to Eritrea. In spite of that admirable admission, however, her attempts to whitewash the criminal role Nevsun’s money is playing in the continued subjugation of the Eritrean people is very cruel indeed.

To be clear, Nevsun is driven by profit motive -- which is perfectly fine.  But when it’s CEO, Cliff Davis, falsely claims “we are bringing an awful lot of good to this country” with “significant tangible benefits to the people of Eritrea” (6), he steps into a very important moral space he has willfully excluded himself from. Is Nevsun's presence benefiting the junta? No doubt. But there is also absolutely no doubt that Nevsun’s leaders have been and continue to be very prominent enablers of crimes against humanity the COI’s findings have finally exposed.

In her VOA interview of April 27, 2015 (7), Ms. Bruton says her sources of information are high government officials. She admits being “very impressed” by the president – the very criminal who is directly responsible for the disappearance of thousands. And, like Nevsun’s leadership, she continues to parrot the regime’s propaganda – falsely saying only 5% of the people in the indefinite national service have been there for more than 18 months -- for example.

Why accuse the COI of “selection bias” then – a lapse Nevsun and Ms. Bruton so abundantly exhibit themselves? 

In continuing to defend the regime, Ms. Bruton says the COI “discarded tens of thousands of testimonials from Eritreans defending the Isaias regime, claiming these were irrelevant or inauthentic”.

But the COI has very good reasons to discard these. First, there are tens of thousands of Eritreans in the Middle East and Africa who are at the mercy of the regime to have their passports renewed in order to continue working in those countries. These Eritreans are routinely blackmailed into doing whatever the regime wants them to do – hardly a case of free will. Secondly, Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian opposition group operating in Eritrea and financed by Eritrea’s junta has openly participated in signing petitions against the COI (4). These Ethiopians have absolutely no right to submit pro-regime petitions for COI’s consideration. Third, the COI did do its due diligence by calling a representative sample only to find out they were of boiler plate variety where, in some cases, the so called "submitters" were not even aware something was submitted in their name. 

In spite of these, Ms. Bruton says the U.N. Human Rights Council “should vote against” COI’s recommendations for “otherwise, it will only help prolong the repression it was set up to prevent.” And that is after saying “No doubt, the human rights situation there is frightful, and hundreds or thousands of cases of torture, rape or unjust imprisonment probably escaped the commission’s attention. “

This is like saying let’s not make an attempt to stop Hitler because we may anger him into committing more crimes. Luckily, reason prevailed and the U.N. Human Rights Council accepted COI’s recommendations.

In future trips, one hopes Ms. Bruton and others who enjoy full personal freedoms in their own countries – freedoms Eritreans also cherish and aspire for -- will conduct their “research” with a bit more respect for the truth and for the victims of criminal regimes.  Here are a couple of suggestions.

Be curious and expand the scope of your “research” beyond the junta’s inner circles. This is one of the most vicious criminal gangs on earth and its entire existence is based on covering up the truth. Just listen to its foreign minister’s interview (3). Such a brutal massacre of truth in a 7 minute interview is quite amazing.  On your next visit, ask this foreign minister (or any other official) to allow you to visit his former colleagues who have not been heard from for 15 long years. After all, he does say “they are in good hands”. Incidentally, one of those victims is a former foreign minister like himself.

b)  Explore why people are terrified of their own government (8). Why, in spite of severe housing shortages, does the regime bulldoze homes again and again? Consult with Eritrean civic leaders (5) before your trip to shake off residues of conscious or unconscious “selection bias” you might be harboring.

Over the last 25 years, just about every Eritrean family has experienced the regime’s excesses in one form or another. COI’s validation, although belated, is a welcome development for the victims and their families. But hired hands in the West – Ms.Bruton among them -- are also out in full force to mute the voices of justice and reason. Listen to Ms. Bruton and Nevsun’s leadership falsely painting a positive image of the criminal regime -- all at the expense of the Eritrean people (6,7,9).

The good news is the COI did a thorough job. To show their support and gratitude over ten thousand Eritreans marched in the streets of Geneva. There was a massive turnout in Israel as well. Using this new momentum, the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans around the globe, in collaboration with good people in our host countries, can raise our voices jointly to drown out the dwindling number of regime operatives and their highly paid lobbyists. Doing so, will in turn, boost the morale of justice seekers inside Eritrea -- where it matters most – to stand up and bring these criminals to justice.  Stronger together!

(5)    Kubrom Dafla, Elsa Chyrum, Selam Kidane, Dr. Daniel Rezene, EFND, EGS, Dr. Alganesh Fessaha, Meron Estifanos, Arbi Harnet, Father Mussie Zerai who was nominated for 2015 Nobel Peace Prize  …..

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Unfiltered Notes: There must be a better way to disagree

December 8, 2015            

Along with few friends, I make very modest monthly contributions to encourage the work is doing. I do this with the spirit of “if I cannot lead, at least I should support those who do”. And there is no doubt has been relentless in the fight against the regime that is oppressing the Eritrean people.

Overall, assenna is doing a necessary job and deserves the support of all justice seekers. And that is why I will continue my modest support. But I do have my disagreements with some of its approaches and I felt this recent article1, does not advance the cause of justice that itself has been a central part of. For me,
1)      Succumbing to mockery and inflammatory language disempowers us all. We have been doing this for over half a century now and it hasn’t worked in our collective favor at all. As a result, Eritrea has lost its best people fighting against itself than against any other enemy. Isn’t it time to overcome this destructive culture?
2)      Ruling each other out only provides comfort to the regime we all claim to be fighting against. Why would we need over 30 political parties otherwise? Some are even rumored to have single digit membership.
3)      The tone with which we express our disagreements is crucial. The wrong tone, encourages more divisions and discourages those sitting on the fence from joining the struggle for justice.

 “But what Amanuel said is the truth”, some may argue. As I heard someone wise say once though “if the truth is used as a sword”, what good is it? If we use “OUR truth” as a sword - and not as an instrument of enlightenment as it ought to be – all we will have left is a mess of bodies with severed limbs; unable to push off a feudal regime that should have been dead a long time ago.

Like many, I have my disappointments with those who cannot tame their unproductive egos. But I would much rather take my revenge with my vote later. For now, we need everyone to do their part – no matter how small – in ridding Eritrea of its worst enemy.

Some argue – plausibly - if we don’t weed out the bad apples now, what guarantees do we have they won’t come to power and mess things up again? If we continue to rule each other out with such speed as we have done so far, nothing. But hoping we have learned enough from half a century of petty infighting, there is a better way we can choose to adopt.

1)      Let’s cooperate now, even with those we don’t agree with, and make sure we vote later. This does not mean we don’t criticize each other now. But let’s do so without personalizing things or by resorting to inflammatory and condescending language as this piece did. Better to challenge ideas with better ideas.
2)      We have been shouting to point out the wrongs others are committing for over five decades. Unfortunately, that has not gotten us anywhere. We need to show why our way is better by example. If that is done consistently, people will hopefully remember it and cast their vote for you or buy your newspapers later.
3)      The objective should be to create a future Eritrea with leveled playing field where no one is above the law. If we truly stick to that, then it will be a battleground of ideas. That would be a huge success because people with better ideas will be more likely to win. If the ones with bad ideas win, it would have meant that we didn’t stand up against injustice together again. And history will have repeated itself, as it has for over half a century already. And the shame will be on all of us. Again.

Human life is the cheapest commodity in Eritrea today. Does such a country have a right to exist? Not until those who claim to be justice seekers start creating broad alliances that can speak with unified voice to transform Eritrea into a place where human life is the most precious commodity instead.

At times, our ignorance (or is it callousness) knows no limits. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Daniel Rezene recently. By far, I found him to be very  passionate about the cause of justice – intelligent, humble, articulate and uplifting. Yet, instead of embracing his inclusive message or presenting better ideas, it is sad to see some have succumbed to ugly ethnic divisiveness. For me, I can’t think of Eritrea without also thinking about Woldeab Woldemariam. Do we really not know our heritage? 

The point I am trying to make here is similar to this blog from a year and half ago2 where Medrek and assena where at odds then as now.  A year and half later, I was hoping we will have been wiser.

I hope, in its promised second piece, assenna's tone will be better than the first.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Unfiltered Notes: Saleh is way off base about EFND

We all have our good days and bad days. I can only hope Saleh Johar wrote this unhelpful article in on one of his bad days. Saleh’s broad brushes were too demeaning, short on facts and inconsistent with his admirable mission “to inform, inspire and embolden”.
I will be the first to admit EFND had its shortcomings but lack of effort to be inclusive is definitely NOT one it is guilty of. That much, I know. In fact, Dr. Aferworki, one of the main targets of Saleh’s article, was genuinely leading the reaching out effort for religious and gender inclusiveness. And initially the numbers did increase in encouraging ways - more so religiously vis-à-vis gender diversity. In spite of the initially promising trend, however, a diverse membership was not sustained over time. But due to lack of effort, it was not.
The meetings were through conference calls. Out of a regular group of 20 or so individuals, I only knew a couple of people personally and came to know the rest through their voices. I am glad I came to know them all, but it was amusing for me to discover that, somehow, I was part of a group of “relatives” or “village Uqqub club”. Is such mockery really necessary? I don’t know what drove Saleh to go as far as he did. But one thing is certain - there is nothing informative, inspiring or emboldening about such a contemptuous adventure. We are supposed to be members of this so-called justice seekers group. But as long as we continue to get the tone of our “disagreements” so recklessly wrong, PFDJ will continue to be the only beneficiary. With enemies like us, no wonder they are not in a hurry to make friends.
I have always disagreed with those who try to explain away Isaias’s crimes as willful acts against Eritrea and Eritreans because he is not Eritrean. The fact is, he has been nothing else but Eritrean. We just refuse to come to terms with the fact that some people are just evil. But that is no consolation either because the rest of us have so far proven ourselves to be incompetent beyond measure to stop that evil. And Saleh, in his article, has unintentionally perpetuated PFDJ’s exclusionary mindset - a mindset that paints those we don’t like or agree with, with hateful labels such as Islamist, Crusader, regionalist etc. I fail to see how Saleh’s liberally dismissive tone of decent people, who are trying to do the right thing the best way they know how, can help in advancing the cause of justice that we all proclaim to be fighting for.
But I suppose for those who are hell-bent to hold on to wrongly held beliefs, facts don’t matter. Similarly and unfortunately, Saleh’s broad brushes, denigrating EFND to the extent he did and stating it has done nothing to be inclusive is just plain wrong and way off base. 
To be clear, I am not saying EFND should not be criticized. Far from it.  But it is puzzling to see the boundless zeal we continue to bring to the table, mercilessly attacking each other along the way - often without merit or with heavily distorted facts. And I am not advocating we tolerate mediocrity when we see it either. We shouldn’t. But promoting falsehoods and stretching facts to go after each other with such venom is the furthest from the spirit of reconciliation we often claim to hold as a core value.
Now, I don’t know if Saleh had private discussions with certain individuals in EFND where bad words might have been exchanged. I am also aware some so-called Christians and Muslims do harbor hateful perspectives about each other, which Saleh so rightly objects to. However, I also know, in the many conference calls I attended, I never heard ““Crusaders” Branding Others, “Islamists””, as Saleh claims. So, why project the anger so broadly and so recklessly against people who have absolutely nothing to do with what got Saleh to react the way he did? Isn’t that a fishing expedition in search of non-existent enemies?
I believe Saleh when he says his life’s mission is “to inform, inspire and embolden”. But his article did not do justice to that lofty mission and it came across with absolutely the wrong tone and with the potential to alienate a whole lot of good people. As mentioned earlier, we all have bad days every now and then. One hopes the good days are more and, over time, the momentum of our struggle to be positive.
I also believe no matter how badly we behave sometimes, that moment can be turned into a good learning experience if we are so inclined. I hope we will collectively take this episode to be one of those moments. Hopefully, those wrongly accused will just ignore it and move on to pursue their worthy goals. And may God give those of us who still harbor the negative sentiments Saleh is rightly annoyed about, the wisdom to break out from that prison of hate.
And there was this bombshell from JH Ahmed in the comments section of Saleh’s article: “.. You have Mr. Tewolde Stephanos, an unapologetic bigot who along with Semere ? waged a barrage of anti-Muslims attacks when the Mejlis Ibrahim al-Mukhtar’s Covenant came out.”
There is probably nothing one can say or do to dissuade JH Ahmed from making such libelous accusations. But for the benefit of independent and fair minded folks who want to judge for themselves, here is the link to what I wrote some four years ago that JH Ahmed found objectionable ( In a fair game of criticism, JH Ahmed should have provided the link to give readers the proper context to make up their minds. He didn’t. Additionally, I only wrote a single article about the subject - which can hardly be called a barrage unless one is prone to exaggerations.
Assuming JH Ahmed had misunderstood what I wrote, here is an easy step he can take to re-examine things. Read the article again and mention one example – just one – that is bigoted. And if there are more, by all means, bring it on. That way, when things are put in proper perspective, fair minded and independent folks can see for themselves who the real bigot is.
For those who don’t have time to read the article, here is a sample to give you a flavor. It starts with: “….I found it to be a well-intentioned document worthy of everyone’s support.”; “The document invites everyone to imagine a better tomorrow and its emphasis on “emancipation of women” through education is particularly refreshing.”
And finishes with: “That is why The Covenant is a good place to start for reaching out and for cross education. Although it falls short in some of its analysis and diagnosis, it should be supported for its intended spirit. It should be shared and discussed widely. Hopefully, the authors will one day come out to promote it openly and actively.”
I also had few misgivings, which I tried my best to voice respectfully and truthfully.
Here is a thought: Wouldn't it be wonderful if the authors of the covenant and EFND get together to jointly define the way forward?
On a lighter note: I can’t close this without commenting on what was said about Adi Teklezan. It is my home town and I would like to imagine it, not as the place where the highlands and lowlands separate as some seem to see it, but as the perfect place where the two start to beautifully melt into each other, manifesting their shared humanity. It is equidistant from Keren and Asmara and that makes it the perfect town (smile) where highlanders and lowlanders equally feel at home with no urge to use denigrating labels against each other. Amen to that.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Unfiltered Notes: Are we losing the deeper message of Eritrea’s courageous Catholic Bishops?

By Tewelde Stephanos, June 14, 2014                    Email:

Many have commented on the exemplary moral leadership of the four Catholic Bishops articulated in the now famous document titled “Where is Your Brother?1,2.  Such courageous moral stand is truly uplifting anytime but especially so at this moment of Eritrea’s grim reality.

But I worry if we are losing the deeper lesson of the good Bishops already. Some of us are concluding as if the message only applies to the regime and its supporters. Yes, the lawless regime makes Italy’s apartheid era look good by comparison. The wanton plundering of Eritrea’s material and human resources and Isaias saying “no one gave me a contract” to create the oppressive and corrupt regime leaves no doubt he is the worst enemy the country has.

That is not the whole story, however. Could a one-man empire last this long if we had heeded the Bishops’ deeper lesson? Did we honestly stick with the spirit of their question - “where is my brother”? What was our response when the disabled veterans were mercilessly mowed down or when so many people were herded to prison, some never to be heard from again? Except for very few brave souls, like our Catholic Bishops, we have all failed to do the right thing and that is why the regime has thrived this long.

Let’s start with the most contentious. In 1991, Eritrea’s tegadelti were given boundless respect and admiration. Then tegadalai Bitwoded Abreha was jailed without due process of the law and the tegadelti did nothing to help his mother who, as the word of mouth reporting goes, was knocking on all doors to gain her son’s freedom. Because the tegadelti stopped asking “where is my brother” things only got worse from there. Then came the jailing of Muslim teachers in Keren, the massacre of the disabled veterans in Mai Habar; followed by one horrendous crime after another. And what did the tegadelti do? Nothing. Even the top leaders who ignored the pleas of Bitwoded’s mother have disappeared without a trace since. And because they did nothing, even tegadelti’s children are fleeing Eritrea confirming what they (the tegadelti) let happen has made Eritrea unfit for their own children. While all this mess is unfolding, Eritrean society wrongly took the back seat assuming the tegadelti are there to safeguard freedom only to find out freedom cannot survive unless it is guarded by all. As the tegadelti abandoned the spirit of freedom and justice they supposedly fought for, ordinary citizens (derisively referred to as gebar by tegadelti) also willingly accepted a second class citizenship role. And it all went downhill from there.

How about diaspora Eritreans and Eritrea’s so-called educated class who enjoy full personal freedoms provided by our host countries? Did we wish the same freedoms for our brothers and sisters inside Eritrea or try to speak truth to power? Not even close. The vast majority of us kept quiet (even as the regime closed the only University in the country), and the voices of few brave ones were continuously drowned out in favor of a corrupt regime that is still in power. The irony of ironies: we even mis-used the freedom of expression allowed in our host countries to demonstrate in favor of a regime that kills people demanding those very rights.

How about religious leadership? Except for the consistent and united moral leadership of the Catholic Bishops - both now and in 2001, there is not much to speak of here either. The Protestant Church has been extremely quiet; and one dares say complacent The Orthodox Church is severely divided and cleverly manipulated by the atheist regime. It can’t even rally in a united way to free the ailing Patriarch who was demoted by the regime and replaced by immoral “leaders” who continue to turn a blind eye as the regime brutalizes their brothers. The role of the Mosque is not that better. Forgetting they are our brothers and sisters, we have been dormant or complacent as the regime viciously attacked members of the smaller faith groups.

Predictably, the regime and its supporters have started playing the same old song that the Catholic Bishops were funded by Eritrea’s enemies. Of course it is a bankrupt argument because Eritrea’s enemies did not massacre the disabled veterans, closed the only University, nor convert Eritrea into a despotic state. We did. But let’s assume for a moment that an enemy did fund the Bishops to write the deep, thoughtful and caring document. A document that is full of practical advice on how to solve our problems, a document that awakens the soul to do the right thing, a document that arouses sympathy for a mistreated brother or sister. A document that appeals to our sensibilities to never do what we did to Bitwoded’s mother ever again. If there are enemies like that who help you accomplish such noble causes, I, for one, want as many of those enemies as I can find. I am sure many also feel the same way.

But let’s go back to the bigger picture. Segment it anyway we want – by gender, by age group, by religion etc., our collective behavior has not been that good. After all, the hated regime is still there doing what it does best – promoting backwardness, poverty, ignorance and destruction.

Collectively, we are all equally bad for letting things get this ugly. No group can claim virtue over any other. But now is our opportunity to right this wrong, to rise from the ashes, to heed the Catholic Bishops’ message to never stop asking “where is my brother?” again. Because as the saying goes, if I don’t stand up when they take away my brother, there won’t be anyone left when they come for me. This regime will surely go.  And good riddance! what a moment that will be. What we will allow to replace it, is the real test awaiting us. Are we now getting the deeper lesson outlined by the good Bishops? Are we going to allow another mother’s heart to be broken like what let happen to Bitwoded’s mother and the countless mothers like her?
I feel nothing but gratitude for the stand the Catholic Bishops took. And for that, I say, I am a Catholic today.

1,  June 6, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Unfiltered Notes: Justice Seeker’s Pledge – ‘be nice to other justice seekers’

By Tewelde Stephanos      Date: April 19, 2014       Email:

You probably heard the story of the two shoe salesmen returning from a barefoot nation. One reported there are no opportunities there because people don’t wear shoes. The other saw great opportunities for exactly the same reason - because people don’t wear shoes yet 

Such opposite views are prevalent in today’s Eritrea. For those focusing on negatives (camp A), partial truths are exaggerated to conclude Eritrea’s independence was a mistake. For camp A Eritrea was dead on arrival. It is a helpless (I can’t do anything) and hopeless (it can’t be done) mindset that simply stands by waiting for an “I told you so” moment.

The things camp A lists to reach its pessimistic conclusions may well be true. But it is definitely not the whole truth because Eritrea is more than its highland component. Ignoring Eritrea is more than its Muslim component, there is also camp A’s other half that wants to Arabize Eritrea. Fortunately, these two faces of camp A, although very vocal, are not representative of their respective communities. And that is why I still believe there is hope for Eritrea.

I love Ethiopia and look forward to the day relationships between the two countries are back to normal. But the entire Eritrea is the reality that needs to be addressed. That is why the position held by half of camp A that is eager to go back to Ethiopia is a non-starter. They don’t even belong to the part of Eritrea the old Ethiopia really wanted. So, in reality, they have nothing to offer. Besides, Ethiopia has moved on in rather impressive ways (at least in comparison to Eritrea). So, it is doubtful today’s Ethiopians are as obsessed with the same nostalgia Eritrea’s camp A seems to be burdened with.

At the opposite pole (camp B), we have the regime and its cult followers manufacturing their own ‘facts’. Here Eritrea is falsely projected as the model of Democracy and Justice - upheld by the corrupt PFDJ no less. In the land of infinite ironies, a killer is idolized as his victim’s guardian. For camp B, Eritrea is nothing more than the tyrant himself. Given the outrageous things Isaias says and his willingness to go so far to look so bad, no one makes Camp A’s point better than camp B.

Evaluating Isaias’ last “interview” (kolel, is more like it), Kubrom Dafla1 calls him Ewala (or is it a mental health issue?). For Isaias, the 360 Eritreans who perished in Lampadusa are “illegal African immigrants”. The masses of refugees he is the root cause of, are “thieves” he is glad to see “Eritrea be without”. No wonder camp A declares Eritrea’s independence a mistake.

In a way, camps A and B are aligned on the same end result. One says Eritrea should not have existed. The other spares no effort to ensure Eritrea becomes a failed state. What is the difference?

What is missing is camp C, a sane and honest middle that recognizes Eritrea for what it is in the here and now – a country in serious state of decay that needs to be normalized urgently. Not an easy task for sure. But if Rwanda and Ethiopia can do it, why not Eritrea? Given their difficult past (especially Rwanda’s), and seeing them doing well by comparison now, should be a source of inspiration. In the spirit of the second shoe salesman, since Eritrea is not completely dead yet, there is a chance to transform it into a place where its citizens feel safe and secure, free to pursue their dreams – all of their dreams.

Are we close?

The short and honest answer is no. However, there is progress. It is good to see Dr. Tewelde (wedi vacaro) doing an excellent job of refocusing people’s attention to the “urgency of now”. And it is time to go beyond producing “press releases”, as the tireless Selam Kidane2 aptly puts it.

But old habits that dwell on differences without substance continue to get in the way. Even with the benefit of decades-long hindsight, one of the latest entrants to the opposition camp, Forum for National Dialog (FND) – aka Medrek, is generating more anxiety than hope.

Listening to parties Medrek has dealt with - and Dr. Tewelde among them - it appears Medrek has burned some valuable bridges already. That can’t be good. That said, however, rejecting Medrek outright is a huge mistake. Sure, Medrek should be asked the tough questions in a way that challenges its members to be open and to do more; because they can do more. The capabilities they can bring to the table are obvious. The priority should, therefore, be to find ways how those capabilities can be brought to the forefront for the benefit of all. To be clear, I am not defending Medrek’s behavior. My concern is the dismissive tone and general intolerance we seem to exhibit so readily.

Let’s take an unlikely scenario to drive the point home. Say Ali Abdu openly declares that he is ready to put his energy and knowledge to dismantle the criminal regime he so shamelessly served. It would be foolish to dismiss him outright, as it has been our tendency to do. This does not mean, however, he will not have to account for his past - which is a legal matter beyond the scope of crowd justice. If justice is what we say we seek though, why deny anyone the opportunity to contribute towards the goal we all claim to be after? Watch him closely so he is not violating the rules of engagement by resorting to old habits – yes. But deny him the opportunity to help end PFDJ rule – no. We need to stop obsessing about intentions (hard to determine) and start using tangible actions as primary measuring sticks.

Another thing that needs serious re-consideration is how long one has been part of the “opposition” is not necessarily a merit. If there are no tangible accomplishments that can be attributed to that longevity, it actually becomes a liability. That is why “abey nerom” (where have they been) should not be part of a justice seeker’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, “abey nerom” are the first words so-called veterans and passive observers utter when a new comer enters the scene. We need to show some humility and honestly answer “entay afriye” (what have I accomplished) before asking “abey nerom” of others.

If that sense of humility is deeply rooted, a true justice seeker should have no problem pledging to never speak ill of anyone striving to end PFDJ rule. While challenging them to do more and to back words with deeds, of course.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Unfiltered Notes: The Day After

By Tewelde Stephanos (   Date: January 24, 2014

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” -- MLK

I remember the face of one compassionate Italian mayor - full of sadness for people she didn’t know - clearly showing her deeper humanity. This was last October when the world mourned the Lampadusa tragedy where over 360 Eritreans perished in the Mediterranean Sea. Predictably, Eritrea’s regime known for gross inhumanity against its own citizens, showed no such compassion. Knowing full well these were people who fled its forced labor programs, the regime first tried to disown them as “illegal African immigrants”. It later attempted to shift the blame to imaginary enemies and finally refused to allow burials to take place in Eritrea denying much needed closure to grieving families. 

One thing is certain. The longer this regime stays in power, the more destruction and destitution Eritreans can expect. The question is: do we have what it takes to free ourselves from this burden, sooner than later, and to face the challenges of the-day-after before things go the way of South Sudan and Somalia?

Although the sense of urgency is not quite there yet, there is definitely room for optimism we can do this. The growing calls for justice and freedom around the world, Dr. Tewelde’s (wedi vacaro) refreshingly clear and direct campaigns, the growing support for wedi Ali’s family, the massive demonstrations in Israel (albeit for a different but related reason), and continued defections away from the regime are good indicators things have crossed the point of no return. Bravely taking responsibility for one’s actions and publicly apologizing for past mistakes, as Dr. Tewelde did is also admirable and will, hopefully, become a new trend for others to emulate. As more people take such honorable steps, maybe good societal values that were so mercilessly trashed by the regime for decades, can be restored as well.

To add to the optimism, credible rumors are floating about that Haile Menkorios maybe in the opposition camp. If true, this is indeed good news because he has great connections that can be put to good use. Hopefully, he and his group will also take advantage of hind sight to think differently this time and start building a broader coalition that appeals to greater number of Eritreans than before. Perhaps then, people like Mr. Herman Cohen can also free themselves from the bondage of only seeing the rotten regime as their only potential partner and stop giving it legitimacy it does not deserve. Wouldn’t it also be nice if Haile’s group took public and concrete steps to approach Dr. Tewelde and others to show Eritreans can really work together after all?

 I have nothing but respect for what Dr. Tewelde is doing. But since no one is perfect, those close to him should advise him not to alienate anyone. This is the time we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life in the U.S. So, if we must judge, it should be based on nothing but “the content of their character”. We need to accept that everyone, deqi “ArbEa” or otherwise, are equally Eritrean. Period! The sooner we internalize this, the better chances Eritrea will have to heal its deep self-inflicted wounds.

Only through full and unreserved inclusiveness, will we be able to channel everyone’s skills and experience to take on the hard work ahead. Meles had a simple and beautiful vision to see the day when every Ethiopian has three meals a day. He identified poverty as public enemy number one and millions of Ethiopians are committed to that worthy goal now.

By contrast, Eritrea has no such vision, showing the poverty is really in our heads. In spite of 1000 Km of coastline, there is hardly any fish in town and malnutrition is widespread. With two deteriorating ports and unaccounted for gold revenues, Eritrea is poorer than ever before -- where life is sustained through remittances and people are unable to support themselves on honest local earnings. Eritrea could have been a middle income country by now if it were not managed so badly.

To reverse this, the younger generation from which future leaders will necessarily have to emerge, must shift the conversation away from the fruitless polemics of the past and re-focus it towards a more productive and hopeful future. As the saying goes, since the future cannot be predicted, you might as well invent it. So, if we can accept the simple fact that a working economy is a good pre-condition for a better future, then our conversation will have to change to what needs to be done now to get there. Much less weight should be given to ‘who did what to who during the ghedli years’ (less than 5% maybe), and much more to what environment we must create to attract the right technologies and people (local and global) to partner with to build a lasting economy.

Since productivity and efficiency are key drivers for a growing economy, we will then be forced to think about how we can keep our society healthy and come up with an equitable and efficient public health policy (sick or malnourished people can’t be fully productive even if the will is there). Education is another key contributor to economic health. And commitment to good education will, in turn, force us to shift our thinking to how we can free education from the grips of propaganda and re-focus its purpose to seek knowledge and truth -- as it is meant to be. The necessary planning for all these need to take place now before the-day-after arrives. Otherwise, simply waiting for the-day-after, as we seem to have done so far, will only increase the chances the vacuum it will surely bring along with it will be mismanaged too – leaving avoidable suffering for future generations.

If we manage to change the conversation with a strong bias towards the future, however, better choices will emerge -- brightening the future bit by bit. Some choices will be of the standard variety and some from way out in the fringes but no less exciting. Here is a good example from India ( Did you miss the part about starting democracy early and the 12 year old Prime Minister? Go back!