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Fathi Osman and His New Book

Recently Fathi Osman (ፈትሒ – فتحي) published a book entitled, “Eritrea: From A Dream of Independence to the Nightmare of Dictatorship.” The book, written in Arabic, is composed of one hundred twenty-two page; Fathi has plans to translate it into English.

How did Eritreans, after they sacrificed so many lives and shed so much blood to be free, end up living in a dark tunnel under a one man dictatorship for over twenty years? How did the sacrifices of Eritreans produce the current situation?

Many Eritreans are asking the same questions in so many ways, and the author, Fathi, starts his book with a similar question. He then attempts to answer the question in twenty chapters–each an independent, yet, part of a series of articles that attempt to explain and answer the great Eritrean question: How did we end up in our present situation?

The author diligently digs into history and geography, and analyses the beginnings of the Eritrean armed struggle, goes through the intellectual and psychological inspirations of the two main struggle-era organizations, touches on the tribulations, the military feats, the sad and crippling moments, and critical mistakes that Eritreans committed on themselves.

The tone of the book, though calm and composed, at times, seems to push the reader into resignation, but it doesn’t. One expects to read nationalist bravado, but there is none. Instead, what the reader finds is plain, simple, dispassionate expression of the author’s views and his attempt to find answer to the grand Eritrean question: how did we end up in our present situation?

The author writes about the disappointments in a way that makes one feel nothing is insurmountable for Eritreans who went through ages of injustices, couldn’t take it anymore, and finally revolted and triumphed in 1991. However, overtaken by the euphoria of independence, they didn’t realize they had only accomplished half the job they set out to accomplish, and the dedication on the book sheds light on the part of the goal, freedom, that was not accomplished; the book is dedicated “to the noble Eritreans behind bars!”

The first parts of the book are analysis of the topographical and environment of Eritrea, and how the mode of economic subsistence, and geography, shapes the many characters of Eritreans differently. Fathi contends that “understanding the political phenomena should be based on an introductory study of the geopolitical realities.” Only then it’s possible to, “successfully present a structured analysis.

The analysis leads to an explanation of the manifestations, of what transpired from the differences, resulting in the development of varying outlooks that the elite of the struggle era espoused, and which led the Eritrean organizations, and steered the struggle to the outcome that we see today. Though the author doesn’t believe that the diverse outlook was the only reason for the present state of Eritrea, he argues that the main difference is found in the background and the different source of inspirations of the cadres of the ELF and PLF. That difference has widened the gap between the elite of the two organization and then spread to the rest of Eritreans.

While those who led the ELF were mainly inspired by the events in the wider region surrounding Eritrea, the EPLF elite were mostly a product of the Haile Sellassie university, whose ranks was later augmented by the influx of people who joined them from the West beginning in the mid-seventies, responding to the less-talked-about call that Isaias made to Eritreans to join the EPLF to, “save what remains to be saved.”

The author concludes that the present crisis in Eritrea has its source in the nature of the PFDJ that was structured as a military organization where discipline, secrecy and hierarchical obedience ruled supreme. It had created a gigantic war machine devoid of a parallel development of a political institution. After independence, the militarized-mentality of the PFDJ failed in coping with the political requirements of nation building with all its complexities.

“Looking back at the history of the EPLF from the seventies until Independence Day, it was politically ascetic and militarily colossal. It began walking on two legs: one a lively, a fully developed muscular military leg, while the other leg an atrophy, not totally paralyzed but can be described as a crippled leg.”

The book contains ample veneration of the military feats of the EPLF, describing it as, “bold and daring [feats] whose loud-noise echoed inside and outside Eritrea, but in comparison, its political activities were bashful and introvert. That nature of the organization extended to the post-independence phase; and its result is the current crisis of the organization.”

To elaborate and solidify that argument, the author poses a question: “what is the political equivalent of Nadew Iz that the British historian Basil Davidson likened with dien bian phu, the mystical [Vietnamese] battle of 1958?”

Of course, the PFDJ doesn’t have an awe-inspiring political achievement equal to the victory over the Ethiopian army at Nadew Iz.

Generally, the military is always subservient to the political administration; in the case of the PFDJ it is not. The author demonstrates the result of that weakness by citing an example from the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia when, “the president gave his orders to the army to retreat on the face of the Ethiopian invasion that resulted in the fall of Tessenei, Barentu and Senafe, while Osman Saleh, the commander of the Assab sector disobeyed the order,” and defended the region from the attacks of the Ethiopian army. The author emphasizes on these events to shows that the fire of the organization’s military might was still alive while its political weakness was evident.

He further explains: from 1994 to 2000, the PFDJ turned the saying of Clausewitz, the famous strategic thinker, that states, “war is an extension of politics,” upside down. Thus, it seemed to believe, “politics is an extension of wars.” In short, the EPLF created a military elite capable of great achievements, but it didn’t produce an equally talented political elite. And that, the author argues, is the hindrance, the inability of the organization to deal with the political requirement of nation building.

During the nation building stage, Fathi writes, the EPLF immersed itself in, “an attempt to produce the conditions of its historical existence” that prevailed in the seventies. And he likens that to a servant who gives birth to her master, or to a snake that swallows its tail. He writes, the organization found itself face to face with the tasks of building a state, tasks and challenges for which it was ill prepared, except an armament in the form of a slogan: “we are able to achieve the miracle of development just like we were able to achieve the miracle of independence.”

But before long it was surprised when it discovered it didn’t have the political, institutional and conceptual structure to face the challenges of state building. At the same time, other observers of the situations discovered that the PFDJ didn’t have the “Will” to build state institutions—and that should not be mistaken with the building of huge bureaucratic establishments, but genuine intentions to expand the political participation in the task of nation building. The absence of this kind of intention is what is clearly evident after twenty years of independence.

The author gives a vivid example of the top-down developmental attempts: “in Sedoha Ella I saw classrooms that have become shades for goats because there were no students there.” He explains this as a result of misplaced priorities, ill assigned roles, and mis-allocated resources—aspects of leadership in which the PFDJ failed.

In the past, after years of peaceful struggle, Eritreans were convinced that, “a right that’s not backed by the gun, is a lost right.” And in 1961, they raised their guns to assert their right to self-determination. That struggle was not an end in itself, but a higher and noble vision to pursue the goal of a dignified life. Unfortunately, in the hands of the PFDJ, the gun has become both a means and an end. And that’s why all the confrontations with Eritrea’s neighbors are, “PFDJ’s empty and deadly attempt to produce the conditions for its existence, and its old military superiority.”

A good portion of the book addresses the issue of secularism as espoused by the PFDJ. Fathi delves into “civic religiosity” that the West venerates; the high secular values, such as liberty, equality and fraternity, which provided the ground for the establishment of democratic consensus that represented the pillars for a liberal society, which has become the foundations of Western Democracy. He believes that the PFDJ doesn’t approve of such a democracy or its African duplicates, as a complete or just democracy, thus espousing social democracy over political democracy. It believes that political democracy is the last manifestations of social democracy, and that is why the leaders of the PFDJ repeat the president’s line: “we do not believe in the democracy of ballot box.”

Social justice, the author explains, is a manifestation of democracy and it is the acceptance of the natural rights of human beings. It’s based on the recognition of the rights of others, the conviction that there should be an equitable distribution of rights and obligations, resources and opportunities—a conviction that was never espoused by the PFDJ. The only equality the PFDJ achieved for the components of the Eritrean people is the equal distribution of opportunities to face the bullet of the enemy, and the equality of dying.

PFDJ’s claimed national secularism didn’t produce civic religiosity that the values of the nation requires, and which is the genuine concept to establish secularism. Instead, its secularism is superficial, a surface-only phenomenon, shallow, because its requirements are difficult for the PFDJ to attain. The author explains this with an Arabic saying, “keifa yesteqeemu a’ zil wel Oudu a’aweju?” How can a crooked stick cast a straight shadow? He adds, “Secularism requires the separation of religious from state institutions, but there is no state institutions in Eritrea from which one can separate the religious institutions from it.”

The author delves into other thorny Eritrean issues: the “national service”, the destruction of Asmara University and how the students are scattered all over Eritrea with the pretext of spreading education, and how that represents the severing of the multi-layered relations between the youth and the PFDJ whose representatives are roaming the world to attract the youth to what is known as YPFDJ. He explains how the multi-layered relational crisis between the PFDJ and the people is the cause of the “Political Gangrene of the organization, a disease that denies the supply of blood to its dried up limbs which now have no cure except amputation.”

Fathi doesn’t have any kind words for the Eritrean president either, and writes, “Isaias doesn’t resemble any of the tyrants [who lived] through the ages except Emperor Nero who tuned his guitar strings to the sound of the raging flames, when he burned Rome.” The author describes Isaias as a man who is driven by a typical selfish attitude, a man who lives by the maxim of tyrants: “après moi le déluge.”

After every few pages, we find a description of Isaias’ character and an analysis of the mechanism he used to climb to the helm of power in today’s Eritrea. A chapter entitled A Legacy of Tyranny and Hopelessness reads as follows:

“After twenty years of independence, how can the state of affairs in Eritrea be described under tyranny? Had the Eritrean womb known that it will give birth to a handicap like Isaias Afwerki, it would have certainly hoped it was barren to avoid that birth. Is this a cruel statement against the man? Absolutely not.

It is cruel to the extent of cruelty that he showed in his long journey, since he joined the revolution, and the cracks he created among the youth and continuing when he has approached seventy. It is a phase in which the road of the journey rolled to get him to the reign of power where he produced an absolutist rule that neither the old generation of Eritreans nor the new ever imagined.”

In another part he writes, “Everyone knows the driver and his reckless driving record and the cliff that the country is running into. Let’s look at the surroundings in which the Eritrean vehicle is running towards a cliff: there is no one who would regret it if Eritrea loses its independence except the Eritrean people…. When Eritrea lost a quarter of its territories in the war with Ethiopia, who among the neighboring countries stood with it or supported it? And if that scenario is repeated today, who will stand beside it when it is more isolated than the previous time?… today Eritrea doesn’t have a real friend who worries about its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and those who spuriously smile for Isaias in Khartoum are at the same time wishing his end comes sooner than later. The scenario of disaster is there… and that should be the concern of every Eritrean who loves his country.”

Fathi conclude a chapter with a statement that reads more like an appeal: “…any citizen can identify a component of the [present] crisis because it is a multi-dimensional crisis… at the end, [the nature of the crisis] presents a legitimate pretext to end the PFD’s rule in Eritrea.”


Fathi Osman is had a degree from Kuwait University, English Literature; Higher diploma in Diplomatic Studies from the The National Center for Diplomatic Sudies, Khartoum; Diploma in Peace and Development Studies from Juba University; also Master’s Degree in Peace and Development Studies from the University of Juba

Work History:

Eritrea AlHaditha, Eritrea: Journalist (1994-1996)
Hanish Islands Commission, Eritrea: Manager, research unit (1996-1998)
Legal Adviser’s Office, Presidential Office, Eritrea: Manager research unit (1998-2003
Eritrean Embassy, Islamabad: Manager, political affairs (2003-2004)
Eritrean Embassy, Riyadh: Manager, political affairs (2004-2012)


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  • AMEN

    Mr. Hameed has made a big mistake here !
    Issayas is a product of EPLF
    not EPLF a product of Issayas.
    If you believe so (what you said you are not a believer
    of Eritrean peoples freedom and struggle ad neither
    ELF nor EPLF because both are the true Eritrean
    representatives not Issayas/ Tplf / or PFDJ.
    I think that is why you uploades your opinion on Avatar
    to would rather post as a guest. May be chifra ? or Woyane ?

  • Hameed

    well articulated work, thank you Mr. Fathi. EPLF and PFDJ are a true copy of Isaias character.

  • geltam

    23 years of asking questions :S

  • haileTG

    Congrats Brother ፈትሒ, upon completion of what must have been a tough job to do given our current situation (divided in the face of a dead beat regime taking our country with it). Keep up the good job and wish you much success. A small request, if you don’t mind is to translate few important pages from here and there in the book and make an article sized presentation her at AT (to give a taste to non-Arabic speakers).

    Best Regards

  • Bereket

    I wish I could read Arabic.
    As a fresh graduate from Uni of Asmara – I worked in the same office with Fathi for almost two years. A multilingual calm gentleman full of humor and an avid reader. I always wondered what would fair people like Fathi say.

    Congratulations brother FatHi.
    Looking forward for the English / Tigrigna translation

  • AMAN

    Bravo Fathi
    It looks like you have given good lessons to the woyanes/Tplf s
    they are admiring you finally whether they mean it or not !
    they were acting so extremist and bragging few days ago !
    God Bless Eritrea !
    and Fathi !!

  • tes

    Dear Awatistas and Dear brother Fatih

    Thnak you for the book summary and very much thank yoy Fatih for such very short and very well briefed search you did to find an answer for the most basic and essential question in dismantling the PFDJ regime, “How did we end
    up in our present situation?”

    I love the search and I really appreciate the the points covered.

    One of the book summary that dissolved my attention reads as follows;

    “The author concludes that the present crisis in Eritrea has its source in the nature of the PFDJ that was structured as a military organization where discipline, secrecy and hierarchical obedience ruled supreme. It had created a gigantic war machine devoid of a parallel development of a political institution. After independence, the militarized-mentality of the PFDJ failed in coping with the political requirements of nation building with all its complexities.”

    This is the true nature of PFDJ system and it shows the failure at the hands of its own employer, In addition, I appreciate the way he remarked PFDJ’S SOCIAL JUSTICE perspective. Plus, in this 4 page summary, I read how easily can understand the nature of PFDJ FUNCTIONING.

    More than that, his conclusion, ‘“…any citizen can identify a component of the [present] crisis because it is a multi-dimensional crisis, at the end, [the nature of the crisis] presents a legitimate pretext to end the PFD’s rule in Eritrea.” is very remarkable.

    I give due respect for his intellectual contribution.


    • Solomon Seyum

      The word metastasized comes to mind. How could he, Mr. Osman FaTHi, have been influenced by: (to use the same quote or read that has “dissolved” you tes)

      “The author concludes that the present crisis in Eritrea has its source in the nature of the PFDJ that was
      structured as a military organization where discipline, secrecy and hierarchical obedience ruled supreme. It
      had created a gigantic war machine devoid of a parallel development of a political institution. After
      independence, the militarized-mentality of the PFDJ failed in coping with the political requirements of nation
      building with all its complexities.”

      Is his recent departure of the rule that needs to end soon an indication that IT has metastasized? That is to say there is no ground for him to end IT from within as it seems to have longevity in its discipline due to both long ago acquired skills set and perhaps some it may have grown into of recent. I am speaking of military vs. governance.

      could his abandoning the ship at this stage be an indication that he saw no foreseeable end to IT? One would think that if it has failed and is failing and ending, why not wait till tomorrow in your same position. This is the reason for the desire to read the entire translated book.

      What lead me to speculate so much prematurely is to point out to tes ytsneHalka your:

      “presents a legitimate pretext to end the PFD’s rule in Eritrea.” is very remarkable.” Because ending is relative…

  • SA

    Thank you Awate Team for the book report. And congratulations to Fathi Osman on publishing his book, and thank you for writing the book which I hope will provide a valuable contribution to our discourse. His book written from an insider’s perspective is encouraging because it means that PFDJ’s propaganda is being replaced by a new and convincing narrative from its former members. One thing I noticed about the book report is that there is not even a hint that Ethiopia contributed to PFDJ’s failure or to the country’s terrible state.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Awate Staff,

    Thank you for the good summary of the book or “book report.” It highlights the strength and weakness of our ghedli. We will revere for its “military strength” and will always reminded for its political and diplomatic weakness. It sounds a good accounts. I hope the author “Mr. Fathi Osman” will translate it in to English for those of us who don’t read Arabic. Good reading.

  • Solomon Seyum

    I noticed he is recently separate from a long career with the regime and government of Isayas Afeworki. Only two years ago, could even be as little as less than a year and a half, he held this position: “Eritrean Embassy, Riyadh: Manager, political affairs (2004-2012)”

    Now reading the entire translated book would be an asset considerning Fathi’s insider insight. Speaking of insider trading, Can this book be considered as phase one with regards to the change from the inside folks. Well tiss the season’s to be jolly falla la la la… i.e. It is 5/24 season and indeed this year is promising to be giving. The next generation is stepping up. Coupled with Dejen the Bombaddeer interview, and FatHi’s release of this book: Should I start to sing: On the 10th day of Christmass my true love gave to me??? The point is I somehow am getting this good feeling that the days or era of stale analysis from those who squash annoying ants is coming to an end.
    “They sting like a bee, but they do not float like a butterfly. They just suck your blood and at some point, you have to squash the annoying ants.” and
    “staring at the mirror and imagining a giant when there is only a reflection of a dwarf”
    They will move on and if you have been good boy’s and girls on the 24th the eve of your Christmas in May you shall find plenty of gifts wrapped beautifully just for you.
    AmEritrean GiTsaTse

    • Bayan Nagash

      Selam Solomon,

      Excellent observation and the connections you make on the
      potential projection to a pattern of sorts that could as well be in the offing vis-à-vis
      finding ways in untangling our highly complicated web that have been tangled-up
      for far too long. We need individuals like FatHi who, not only have been
      insiders of the regime, but who seem to have the ability to step back and
      proffer their objective analysis of sorts.

      Incidentally, I have submitted an article yesterday prior to
      reading the notable note that the AT has given us, which is a real treat. One
      hopes that the kinds of ideas AT is advancing would get us to think along the
      lines of what FatHi’s book seems to be addressing, at least, partially. AT’s
      note on Fathi’s book will definitely be in line with what I have tried to assert,
      vis-à-vis, to borrow your apt phrase, “stale analysis” of yester year.

      Our inability to separate the pre and post independent era politics has added to
      the mess we find ourselves in.

      Well said brother!

      • Solomon Seyum

        Selam Beyan,
        I shall click on your’s submission as soon as I see it. I very much enjoyed fishing out some poignant truth in your earlier articles. I am rather distressed on the silence of Ali Salim. His U Turn, though subject to ridicule by same “yester year” analysts and pseudo satirist, has much content of another “insiders” depth of knowledge. I am hoping that he is not disheartened by the blind receptions from the old vanguard thus far, rather that he has amassed some heavy artillery to demand a U Turn as opposed to merely suggesting it. I have a feeling we are in for a treat from the great Ali Salim in the next couple of days. I am printing out my Ali n Hafash T shirts. Yes yes… in case you missed it: as Awate is to Awet n Hafash we shall be heralding the age of Ali n Hafash! He will deliver as I am sure Mr. FatHi Osman will be a great analyst.

        • Bayan Nagash

          merHaba Solomon,

          Thanks for the speedy reply. One of the things I hate of being part-time participant in Eritrean matters is its natural corollary, which is this: the articles, ideas, regrets and the ability to demand a U-Turn are some of the things I have learned to live in deprivation of. The latter was one whose ideas and writings I followed neither before the U-Turn nor after – all that at the expense of how malnourished I just now felt – idea-wise – when you brought forth how Ali Salem was an insider much as Mr. Osman and many others have been. Therefore, my knowledge of his work is second hand at best and spotty at its worst. I gather he is a prolific writer and was rather combative during his heydays, and I now hear has become subdued in the way he sees Eritrean sociopolitical matters…Well, it maybe time that I assign myself a self-imposed homework to keep abreast of his work.

          • Solomon Seyum

            Beyan,You are wise beyond your years. You say:”the articles, ideas, regrets and the ability to demand a U-Turn are some of the things I have learned to live in deprivation of.” It is not difficult for me to put you in the line of, msrE, Ali Salim. “Ask and you shall receive” puts you NOT with those that are living in deprivation. A hungry man directs you to where there shall be a feast AND only when your stubborn head nags you into thinking that where I have been I shall not return with the erroneous rational of thinking that IT remained stagnant while you were static. This attitude of “weeding out” and destroying what has thus far been toiled for with blood and sweat without thanks to reinvent the wheel where you posses no prior experience is delusional at best. What and who are the INSIDERS that are DEMANDING A U TURN is where rational thinking begins. Oh Ali Salim or Ali Salim where art thou???

            “all that at the expense of how malnourished I just now felt” I say haTar gobez ikha Mr. Negash. daHan kemti bahlina AND in this Eritrea’s Independence weekend, as an homage to OUR HEROS: ab kebid bret wey mechanized brgied iyu gantakha. i.e You are a HEAVY HITTER BROTHER. I too shall give myself a self-imposed home work. natey gn agar ms gebar iyu gantay mesleni. Looking forward to you article.

          • Bayan Nagash


            One of the thing that I would love to have done had I the
            time is delve deeply into American culture through its films; I fancy myself at
            times, and had created a blog that I have been working on for several years,
            off and on, more the former than the latter; thusly, it is in its emaciated state,
            which is why I am keeping it shelved in my archives, but of course, hoping
            against hope I still hope to unearth it someday. I share this to illustrate
            that when I read your seemingly simple statement “Ali Salim where art thou” reveals
            to me that you are someone who is deeply immersed in the world of lit or in films or
            both, because my mind raced immediately to the former first (Homer’s …Odessey); and then the latter in its popular cultural reference that the Coen brothers who turned literati on its head as they brilliantly satirized with some memorable social commentaries in the movie
            O Brother, Where Art Thou? Particularly memorable for me personally is the scene in which the hooded KKKs dancing which says more than any other possible way to capture such unbecoming notions of America’s darkest history. Both clips are no more than 4 minutes, check it out:

            & (

            So, we may someday come to that point where we will freely
            be able to poke fun in our dark sociopolitical history – with sufficient
            mileage behind us (i.e., time-wise) – we should indeed resort to humor that has
            a healing power like no other and Ethan and Joel Coen (brothers) seem to be not
            only cognizant of this but are masters at it.

            Kbret yhaballay ezi Hawway. May the 23rd anniversary of our independence be the pivotal moment we all have been longing for. Happy Independence Day to All as hard and as harsh that might sound to one’s ears, given the horrible predicament that young and old Eritreans find themselves in – ezi wun kHallf eyyu. I look forward to hearing from you soon as I hope my piece will be published soon.


  • Amde

    very interesting. thanks for the summary.

    • haileTG

      hey Amde, can you say a bit more or is that all? 😉 (kidding)

      • Amde

        Hi HaileTG,

        I can wax poetic, but what is the point 😉 I can say this book report basically vindicates what I have been saying, namely EPLF was no more than a fine military and repressive instrument, and its deformed nature has naturally transitioned into the PFDJ which now shows itself to be the village idiot of governing parties in the world.

        Unfortunately you’d be fixated on a formula in your mind that says EPLF = Ghedli, and then we’d be stuck with you saying ghedli zeraf zeraf..

        I wish I could read it in English though.


  • Bayan Nagash

    Thanks AT for offering your readers a window to a budding
    and joyful read. It appears Mr. Osman has gotten it right that Eritrea’s
    liberators – the so called leadership that is misgoverning the nation – when he
    states that how structurally flawed its institutions have been and still are.
    Indeed, the likes of Isayas do not seem to know the difference between the map
    and the territory in that the former is a representation of the latter and there
    is no vice versa here. The likes of Mr. Osman are what Eritreans need now
    vis-a-vis the realms of analysis, ones who may device analytic tools, models,
    and theoretical concepts that of which we seem to sorely lack. A reassuring
    voice you are Mr. Osman, thank you for sticking your neck out to enlighten the
    Eritrean mass, those of us in Diaspora who seem to be struggling in finding the
    right sociopolitical path toward unseating the menace at the helm of Eritrea’s emaciated
    political power structure. One hope the English version of your book will come
    out sooner than later, for this kind of conceptually driven writing is in short
    supply in Eritrean circles.