The 20th century is very much defined by the cold war that continued from 1947 to 1991. For Eritreans however, that period was not cold at all, it was a never-ending cycle of violence, bloodshed and social displacement. In 1991 the general mood was optimistic as the end of the cold war introduced alluring terms like globalization and liberalization of markets, but that turned out to be misnomers for the intensive activities of monopolizing of resources. In addition, it ushered wars fought in many countries that were led into destitution by the bad governance of tyrants and warlords: Afghanistan, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan. A little over ten-years later, the circle of fires expanded with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Soon, mayhem in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria followed; miraculously only Tunisia survived. Regrettably, the wars gave birth to the Islamic State-ISIS. Worse, the bloodshed and destruction didn’t stop: Yemen was relentlessly pushed into an insane violence and destitution. The Middle East and East Africa was left asking: is this any better than the cold war? Isn’t Russia resuscitating its blood-thirst by its militaristic postures in the old Soviet republics, for instance, in Crimea, and now is bombing the day light out of Syria?
For Eritreans, the cold war was always a bloody red-hot war; their 1991 only heralded a second phase of violence, repression, and destitution cause by a local tyrant.
Cold or hot, Eritrea always suffered from the repercussions and manifestations of the endless Israeli-Arab conflicts. It has been played by the two sides and continues to be. This time, the Eritrean misfortune is being fanned by men in their twilight years, unhinged men who pose as intellectuals when obviously they would snugly fit behind an Amsterdam glass window.
Eritreans have been struggling to rid their country of the ruthless rule of Isaias Afwerki, a man more suited to be a medieval warlord than a head of state. He has been treating Eritrea as his private property and plunging it in one battle after another. His insignificant lobbying trip to Saudi Arabia in April of last years took a life of its own; a drop of water was worked on tirelessly to make it a torrent. That torrent is the Isaias’ latest escapade, his involvement in the affairs of Yemen. The Saudis had finally opened the crack in their door and hired him as a mercenary, just like he lobbied to be a hired mercenary for George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, Eritreans will pay for his adventures long after he is gone.
As if what Eritreans are going through is not enough, many are dismayed by the recent PR-article written by Mr. Louis Mazel, the US Chief of Mission in Eritrea. It is unbecoming for a US official to follow on the footsteps of the discredited Iqbal Jhazbhay, the South African ambassador to Eritrea who acts more like a lobbyist for the Eritrean regime than a foreign diplomat. We hope the American diplomat would refrain from emboldening a repressive regime.
Eritrea continually stars in the narrations reflecting the Arab paranoia in one hand, and the narration of extremist Abyssinian-Israeli paranoia on the other; the boring and conflicting narrations are continuing in endless sequels.
In the sixties, Israel sided with Haile Sellassie’s Ethiopia to help him quash the Eritrean struggle for self-determination. After the overthrow of his regime, and the subsequent shift of the Ethiopian military junta to the Warsaw Pact, Israel’s presence was reduced but remained just below the surface. Throughout the seventies and eighties of the last century, and to this date with less intensity, Arab paranoia is still raging. While extremists like Herman Cohen peddle Arabphobia to Abyssinians, Arab extremists peddle an opposite narration. They claim that Israel maintains a military base in the red sea islands of Eritrean. One story even claims Israel has a communication base on top of Mt. Soira, the highest point in Eritrea. If Israel has anything on Mt. Soira, where the local shepherds take their goats to graze on its slopes, it must be manned by ghosts. As for the Islands, honest people who can do basic research would discover they are mostly uninhabitable, except the main culprit, Dahlak Island and two other islands, which can hardly sustain basic life. That lie of Israeli presence in Eritrean waters has been kept alive by Arabs who masquerade as political analysts. Lucky for them, they have their equivalent in pro-Israel Western “analysts.” First let’s see an Arab sample.
Dr. Abdella Al-Nefisi
For decades, Dr. Abdella Al-Nefisi of Kuwait has made a career peddling the story of Israeli presence in the Eritrean Red Sea islands. For instance, in June 11, 2011, with a straight face he told the following to AlArabia Television :
“Believe it or not, [he picks his notebook computer to show a map of the Red Sea and continues] here, there are 126 islands belonging to Eritrea—Isaias Afwerki—and he leased some of them to Israel … and Israel uses them as pastures for goats and the like. All the meat that Israel eats comes from these islands. But Iran, it leased a few islands, maybe three islands—out of the 126 islands—the [Iranian] revoluionary guards usethem as camps to train the [Yemeni] Houthis, and to train the shite youth from the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. And the revolutionary guards have offices in Asmara—three offices in Asmara—to manage this issue….”
Of course, there are quite a few who are equally inflicted with paranoia and believe the so-sure statement of Dr. Al-Nefisi. The YouTube world is full of his hallucinations and fantastic imaginations—some worse than the one quoted above. And such ill-intended rumors harm Eritrea as a country; the police state that Isaias created cannot defend the national interest of the country. The nature of the repressive, closed pariah state that Isaias lords over encourages such rumors that result in far reaching consequences.
Dr. Herman Cohen
Dr. Al-Nafisi found a colleague, someone to assist him gnaw at Eritrea—both are cynical, vindictive warmongers. Dr, A-lNefisi’s colleague is the American Herman Cohen, the man who loves tyrants and promotes injustices for a living.
A major achievement by the EPLF in 1991 absolves it of the many grievances Eritreans might have against the organization of the liberation struggle era. Cohen and his boss G. Bush never wanted Eritrea to be free and in fact at the London Conference, Cohen tried to stall the advance of the Eritrean forces towards Asmara in May 24, 1991. He tried to convince the leaders to leave the Derg’s Second Revolutionary Command intact, fully armed forces in the capital city. He wanted the Derg forces to remain in control while Eritrean forces to enter Asmara. He planned to delay their entry until the EPRDF forces control Addis Ababa—and that would have complicated and changed the dynamics that led to the declaration of Eritrean victory on May 24, 1991. The matter would have gone into blackmailing, threats, and endless negotiations to ensure that Eritrea remained under Ethiopian control. However, the Eritreans were alert of Cohen’s mischief and made a surprise entry into Asmara defeating the remaining Derg forces in Eritrea. It was a fait-accompli and Cohen had to deal with the reality that followed. Since then, Cohen was treated like a leper by both the victorious Ethiopian and the Eritrea governments. And for a man who claims in his professional bio that “he ended the Ethiopian civil war,” it’s not an easy slap.
Shamelessly, Cohen claims it was not the 60,000 people who sacrificed themselves for the independence of Eritrea who did it, not the decades long struggle did it. Cohen did it single-handedly!
In an article in his AlNahda column entitled “Mzungu Herman Cohen Witesplains Africa”, Saleh Younis wrote this about Cohen:
“… Cohen is a relic of the Cold War era. He comes from a period of time where American diplomats had no compulsion about advising an African country to annex another African country as he, admittedly, did in advising Senegal to annex The Gambia.”
In December 2013, Cohen authored an article entitled “Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold”. In no time, Isaias Afwerki whom Cohen wanted to be brought in from the cold mocked Cohen and boasted that Eritrea (which he equates with himself) was never in the cold to begin with. But Cohen, the President and CEO of “Cohen and Woods “international”, had to write that article, it is part of his assignment after the Eritrean regime hired him to lobby for it in the USA. He promised to use his network, his old mates, and bring Isaias in from the cold—never mind the millions of Eritreans whom Cohen condemns to stay in the cold.
In a letter he wrote to his government on January 2015, Berhane Gebrehiwot, the Eritrean Chargé D’affaires in Washington, DC, wrote:
“[Cohen] had also promised to publish an article similar to the previous one and was also tasked to assess the position of the State Department and, whenever he got the opportunity, to work and positively influence US policy on Eritrea.”
Indeed, the lobbyist would do anything for money, regardless of the suffering he causes Eritreans. And his strategy is built on besmirching the name of Ambassador Susan Rice claiming she is the cause of the rift between the USA and Eritrea, and whom he blames for leaving Isaias out in the cold.
Unfortunately, Eritrean justice seekers cannot afford to hire Cohen as a lobbyist. They can only appeal to the conscience of the world to at least stay neutral—if they cannot help them get rid of their tormentor whose regime is being investigated for possible crimes against humanity. Obviously, Cohen will try to trash the 484-page findings that the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea submitted to the UN security council a few months ago.
At long last, Cohen did write the article he promised to write, and recently he cried wolf: “The Red Sea Is Slipping into Total Arab Control.” And it is the sort of article that borders on racial incitment—all for money. Cohen started his article with a condescending attention grabber:
“Hey, all you Abyssinians out there. While you are wasting time squabbling with each other and not talking to each other, the governments of the Arabian Peninsula are eating your lunch.”
Hopefully Cohen knows what he is doing. Simply put—and racially speaking—Abyssinians are basically the Ethiopians of Tigray and Amhara regions—roughly 5 million and 20 million people respectively. However, what Cohen conveniently forgot is that the population of Ethiopia is about 100 million people. He consciously chose to play the historical Ethiophile race-card and addressed his audience, “Hey, Abyssinians.” He didn’t address the Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Afari, or other social groups who are almost three-quarters of Ethiopians. The same card that Haile Sellassie cleverly used to advance his hegemonic ambitions came handy. To give you more context, Cohen is addressing the Brown part of the rough map above; the green and yellow parts are disposable. It is that simple for him. Check here for a basic definition of Cohen’s Abyssinia.
For Eritreans, whose population comprises of roughly equal number of Abyssinian and non-Abyssinian sections, the message couldn’t be more evil. That kind of classification has other connotations; Cohen was certainly not addressing the Abyssinian Muslims, let alone the Muslims of other races in both countries. Would another Rwanda satiate his thirst?
At any rate, if anyone thinks the sectarian and racial divisions in the region are purely the making of its inhabitants, they can’t be any further than the truth. Between Dr. Al-Nefisi and Dr. Cohen’s, the attempt to keep Eritreans and Ethiopians in perpetual disarray and mistrust is mischievously being advanced in technicolor.
Based on the above, there is still a dilemma: do you believe Dr. Al-Nafisi who claims Eritrea is under the wings of Israel, or believe Cohen who claims it is under the wings of the Arabs? And is that even humanly possible, or doable at all?
If Eritreans are able to pull out that trick and stay safely snug between the two mortal enemies, then they should be allowed to run Israel and Palestine and bring the debilitating crisis in the region to an end. But then, wouldn’t the two doctors be out of business?
The historical Christian-Jew conflict of the past centuries is no more—Christians have done untold, and possibly unrepeatable, atrocities against the Jews, capping it with the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazis. Thanks to the “modern” configuration, guilty-ridden Christians are now the sugar-daddies of Israel, no more its monstrous enemies. At the end of WW2, Christian Europe tried to remedy its atrocious past by getting rid of European and Russian Jews and helped them establish the state Israel, far away from Europe. Since then, the conflict has basically become a conflict between Zionists and Arabs. And the duo (Al-Nafisi’s and Cohen) want to export that conflict to yet another spot: Eritrea. How would that play in a volatile region plagued with the many colors of sanctioned and entrepreneurial terrorism and extremism?
An answer to that would help the Dr. Al-Nefisi’s and Dr. Cohen’s of the world to make peace with themselves and with the helpless people. It will also provide the mad ruler of Eritrea less fuel to perpetuate his cruelty against Eritreans.