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Pm Abiy and the Rehabilitation of Dictators

Just as Eritreans were reeling from the bizarre remarks Isaias Afeworki made during his visit to Ethiopia on July 14, they were stunned by another man who claims to be a prophet, a healer, and an exorcist ranting about how the Gospel will be victorious, in front of the Asmara Palace Hotel, upon his arrival to Asmara from Addis Ababa, aboard the first Ethiopian Airlines flight that landed there after a 20-year absence.

In the middle of the state receptions, the always reticent Isaias Afeworki revealed words that confirmed what many of his opponents long suspected of his attitude towards Ethiopia. He had stated, “anyone who does not think the Eritrean and Ethiopian people are one does not know history… borders do not mean anything”. At the Millennium Hall, he hurled more insult to Eritreans when he emphatically told PM Abiy, “I am not saying this to flatter you … I am sincerely asking you to lead us as I have given you full authority to do so”.  Isaias’ childish behavior during that visit, was unbecoming of a head of state. It was an embarrassment even to his ardent supporters who were bewildered, while everyone else wondered about what he said.

Over the last twenty years, many Eritreans have been pointing out at Isaias’ erratic behavior. But during his last visit to Addis Ababa, the whole world witnessed his strange behavior, leaving them scratching their heads and putting his psychological state of mind in question. This is Isaias, the man that US Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen described in a Wikileaks telegram as an “unhinged dictator”. Perhaps, coming out of the dark after 20 years of isolation into relevance and attention, it could have been his euphoric excitement.

As if that shock was not enough, a controversial preacher, who calls himself Prophet Suraphel Demisse, took to the street of Asmara in a rally, unhindered by the Eritrean security forces that do not even allow a private religious congregation of those who share Suraphel’s faith, in a private home. It is worth noting that the first and last time Eritreans demonstrated was in November 2017, when they faced Isaias’ security forces who fired live ammunition at them. The board and students of the AlDiaa private school had protested the government’s interference in their own independent, private school. In a meeting presided by the late Hajji Musa, as has been customary among Muslims the world over for a millennium, the attendants closed their meeting by shouting Allahu Akbar. That was considered an extremist slogan and resulted in the arrest of Hajji Musa, members of the AlDiaa school board, and parents and students, including the underage. In response to that, the staff, students and their parents, and the public demonstrated in the streets of Asmara. They were met with bullets and hundreds were arrested. In April, after almost five months in jail, the nonagenarian Hajji Musa died in prison. At his funeral, the security forces provoked the mourners with their heavy presence and eventually arrested hundreds of the funeral attendants; the whereabouts of most of them is still unknown while a few were released silently.

A few months later, a flamboyant pastor, a charlatan who exploits gullible followers with his riveting,  and often hyperbolic, fiery sermons appeared in Asmara. The charlatan is also known for his theatrics, as a man exhorts people to crawl like snakes (as shown here), and thereafter claims he turned them into humans again, after ejecting evil spells that lived in their guts in the form of a snake and thus claims to have freed their possessed bodies. Such practices belong to the ancient times. In the past, people didn’t have explanations for unknown mental and physiological maladies and resorted to witchcraft and exorcism to ward off evil spirits, in what was known as the “Buda” phenomenon. Now, this charlatan and many others like him who burgeoned in Ethiopia in the last 27 years, are practicing witchcraft assisted by modern gadgets, such as television, sound effects, camera tricks and collaboration of cruel actors, or gullible ignoramus audience.

Such imposters are simply copycatting the USA televangelist phenomena of 1980’s and 90’s, who virtually disappeared after many of their prominent leaders were embroiled in financial and sexual scandals. They ultimately fell out of grace and some of them ended up in prison.

It only Takes Few Bad Apples

Last year, the pastor in question mocked attendants of the Oromo’s Irreecha cultural-festival near the city of Debre Zeit, by calling them worshipers of a river. He was roundly criticized by the Oromo religious and civic leaders.

We are apprehensive of the guy who thinks other people of faith, particularly the Orthodox Christians, are not genuine and have to become Christians again. We know that the “Ancient Orthodox Christianity” has not produced modern-day flashy entrepreneurs of televangelism with gaudy suits who mesmerize audiences and air their skits on television, but it’s traditionally homegrown, a spiritual and a genuine faith, and it has more history and gospels than the rest of the world.

Last April,  a certain evangelical denomination known as the Ethiopian and Eritrean Church Fellowship held a conference in Oslo. The conference was attended by Eritrean and Ethiopian evangelists living in Europe.  The pastor joined hands with others in the opening prayer which was led by Dani Belay, a self- described pastor, who said: “our forefathers chose to unite with Ethiopia so as not to be dominated by Muslims”. He later tried to walk it back by issuing an apology but dug a deeper hole for himself by claiming that people misunderstood what he said while there is nothing unclear of what he said in the video.  Rather than praying and calling for the release of the imprisoned Eritrean evangelicals, the attendees praised PM Abi Ahmed and prayed for Isaias Afwerki, the jailer of many evangelicals. Worse, while they discussed and hoped for a good relationship in the future of the two countries, there was no mention of the religious persecution or the presence of prisoners of conscience that are so prevalent in Eritrea.

Just like all other religions, devoted evangelical Christians have their share of religious imposters who present themselves as miracle healers to swindle poor people. All religions, with no exception, suffers from the action of a few of their own followers who give them a bad name. History is replete with those who hide bad behavior and corrupt politics behind their religious veil. We are well within our rights to oppose any form of prejudice, bigotry, and denial of rights of others by any individual or organization, religious or otherwise, that hides under the cloak of religion to prop up a dictator. At the same time, we are heartened to see many of our patriotic evangelicals denouncing such ugly behavior by issuing a ‘not in my name’ statements.

Religious freedom and freedom of expression are sacrosanct to Eritreans who pursue goals of justice and freedom. However, the politics of divide-and-rule is infringing on that noble idea that is held by all freedom-loving human beings. Eritreans have suffered a lot, and are still suffering from Ethiopian interference in their internal affairs. The political cracks they penetrated through were, unfortunately, opened by some Eritreans. The current situation is not different from the experience that Eritrea went through sixty-years ago, and it’s worrisome that such an act is being repeated today.

Allowing Suraphel to hold a rally in Asmara is a reckless act that calls for a civil strife, and religious provocations that would engulf the entire region, just like imprisoning the faithful; and the PFDJ government is a reckless entity and certainly takes the blame for anything that might ensue due to that.

The Moral Litmus Test

There are several questions that arose concerning Suraphel’s rant in Asmara: was all of that coincidental, or was he given a prior license to carry out his evangelism on the streets of Asmara where no other religious group is allowed to demonstrate? Under the PFDJ rule, Asmara is not known to accommodate any religious expression outside of prayer houses, particularly the Pentecostals, whose Eritrean preachers are languishing in jail, and the sect is banned from any public expression of their faith. How would anyone who is supposed to know the state of affairs in Eritrea to be bold enough to fly in aboard the first flight to be received by crowds who seemingly were notified of his arrival? That was not coincidental, and it is difficult to think the security forces did not know about it. Or, was it a deceptive show of tolerance to cheating the world that Eritrea respects religious freedoms? Perhaps, the relaxing of the security regiment was a gesture to appease the current Ethiopian prime ministers who is an evangelist! In addition, Hailemariam Desalegn, the former Ethiopian Prime minister, who is also an evangelist, was in the same flight and warmly greeted Suraphel on the airport tarmac. Incidentally, the seemingly calm and humble ex-prime minister was last sent to Harare, to meet Mengistu Hailemariam, the ex-Ethiopian dictator who lives in Zimbabwe since he was granted asylum by Mugabe. It is worth remembering that Mengistu is wanted by the Ethiopian courts that tried him in absentia for the crimes he committed on Eritreans and Ethiopians.

Hailemariam Desalegn was infatuated when he met Isaias, heaping praise and describing him as a modest person. He didn’t make such absurd pronouncements regarding Mengistu Hailemariam when he met him in Harare, instead, he posted a photo he took with the ex-dictator in a sort of on your face disrespect to the victims of the bloody dictator, the head of the overthrown (and defeated) Derg regime. It seems he couldn’t take the heat of criticism and condemnation that he faced, he had taken the picture off a few days later. For those who are busy trying to rewrite history (the recent history at that), the defeat of the Derg came at a very high cost to Eritrea and Ethiopia. Many of the Derg’s victims are boiling with rage due to the statements and cozying up with the new Ethiopian prime minister with past and present dictators. He is in a rehabilitating drive, polishing dictators, emboldening hegemonic aspirations of some groups, and pushing anti-peace elements of the region to the fore.

Suraphel had expressed his plan to continue preaching his inflammatory messages across Eritrea as he does in Ethiopia. He also indicated he had an appointment to meet with the Eritrean government officials and was planning to meet with other evangelist leaders in Asmara. But it seems, according to his own testimony (on YouTube), he was stranded in his hotel room for three days awaiting the next flight back to Addis Ababa. Why was he locked in his hotel? Was he ordered to stay there, or it was on his own choice?  Judging from his earlier enthusiasm upon arrival in Asmara, we suspect the former.

There are also important points that need answers: Would Ethiopians visiting Eritrea be able to hold rallies and demonstrations in support of their persecuted fellow Christians or Muslims? Would Eritreans in Ethiopia be able to peacefully oppose the Isaias regime in the streets of Ethiopia? How about the close to 200,000 Eritrean refugees who, according to  UNHCR live in camps in northern Ethiopia? Would PM Abiy Ahmed recognize them as refugees and allow them to stay in Ethiopia? If he does, would he truly understand the reasons why they escaped the very dictator he calls my brother, and for whose longevity he prays? If he does not, would he go against the international law and expel them to appease Isaias? And how would the regional government of Tigrai react to any change of policy? Will Ethiopians tourists enjoy the beaches of Massawa, as PM Abiy has promised them? Would Isaias allow Eritrean parents to travel to the refugee camps in Ethiopia to see their underage children?

In one of his recent emotional remarks which some described as a drunken blabber, Isaias stated that now he could travel throughout Ethiopia without requiring a permit from PM Abiy, whom he invited to travel throughout Eritrea freely. Would the visiting Ethiopians require travel permits to travel outside Asmara, as is the case for all foreigners, including diplomats?

The coming few weeks will reveal whether the secret peace agreement reached between Isaias and Abiy would withstand its first test and live up to the UAE crown prince’s playbook in his pastime game of chess in the region? Do the two leaders understand Mohammed Bin Zayed’s goals to beat another petrodollar rival Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also was vying for bragging rights in the region by bankrolling Isaias by replacing  Gaddafi who was Isaias’ former patron until the Arab Spring? Would PM Abiy and Isaias live up to the promise they made to end hate, discrimination, and division?

Many Eritreans are skeptical and apprehensive of the entire deal. Firstly, they do not appreciate anyone who tries to rehabilitate their tormentor while they are still being tormented. Thus, Abiy’s flowery rhetoric of love, peace, and forgiveness rings hollow to Eritreans, especially the relatives, colleagues, and friends of those who have been languishing in jail for decades without a trial. Or the tens of thousands who are forced to live for five-decades in the refugee camps of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Yemen… including the hundreds of thousands of exiles living scattered all over the world, who cannot visit their birth country, and even their remains are not allowed to be buried there. Secondly, after the independence of the country, the Eritrean ruling party signed many unannounced agreements with Ethiopia. But less than five years later, even the strategic alliance and close relationship between the two ruling parties, (Eritrean EPLF and Ethiopian TPLF) did not prevent the outbreak of the devastating border war of 1998-2000.

About Awate Team

The PENCIL is's editorial and it reflects the combined opinions of the Awate Team and not the individual opinion of team members.

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  • bardavidi

    Hi……..That is a hell of a Rant……..Obviously you have a deep seated Unsettling feeling for a faith of Christianity in particular and how one should Worship in General……….Again that is a Freedom of choice whether one believes in Excercising demons or throw his Holly water at them, that is all Embeded in the Faith he has and should be left alone………You are Aligning yourself with the likes of Isaias and his Cronies by Implying that a certain form of Religious practice is allowed and accepted others are not………One Wisdom the Old Emperor of Ethiopia said should not be taken very lightly………..Faith is a Private thing between you and God………and a nation is common for all………. Democracy is all about choice and Individual Rights, ,so let us leave them alone………………Selah

  • Berhe Y

    Dear Saay,

    When I use to argue with some of my hardcore supporters of IA cousins with regards to his policy and the HR condition, they give me all reasons why, and because of weyane etc.

    I use to say to them, I really wonder if all the PFDJ supporting gangs actually like IA or not. I use to really wonder, how on earth the supports and including the “advisors” do actually advice him for what he does.

    The truth of the matter is, I think they have no clue, they just go along. For example, I have met Yemane Ghebreab with a group, attended his meetings, and he is really smart guy. Even if you search any evidence, at least from his seminars or interviews, there is nothing that one can find that would incrimate him. I think based on Ismail A said of the FM, I can say the same thing.

    What I think is, like most people they are saying from deep inside “thank God this nightmare is over and we lived to see this”.


  • Simon Kaleab

    Selam abdulworld,

    I am not sure how much scientific research background you have, but I can see you are not very attentive.

    When you quote a research source, you need to quote in FULL, including the CAVEATS. This is a scientific culture, which has nothing to do with being feudal, which seems to be your obsession.

  • Hameed Al-Arabi

    Salam abdulworld,

    You are funny now and I am sure you will slowly swallow it. Just focus and learn, specially pay attention to honesty. Be proud of your Ethiopian identity; Ethiopians are good people. But I think you were not brought up properly. Lastly, do not veil yourself with Eritreanism, leave Eritrea for Eritreans and make your whole concern about your MAMA only.

  • Simon Kaleab

    I do not know what experience you have in scientific research, and you do not seem to have much.

    What I am saying is that you need to quote your source in FULL including CAVEATS, That is the scientific culture, not feudal mindset which is your obsession.

    • Simon Kaleab


      A thousand apologies.

  • Simon Kaleab

    Selam abdulworld,

    I do not know what experience you have in scientific research. What I am saying is that you need to quote your source in FULL including CAVEATS, That is the scientific culture.

  • Mitiku Melesse


    A thief father can support his family lavishly. His children if their corrupted upbringing influenced them they dont even care how the wealth is coming they just simply enjoy life. They even can boast about their wealth except they dont hang the old picture of their father. The father could use his money to buy power to silence the people he was looting. The beggar greedy father once enjoyed so huge money without working it is difficult for him to limit his desire for more. But deep deep in his soul he knows one day it would all these will cease to exist.

    Finally when he is stopped to loot i cant imagine how he terrified. Imagine his children worry. How can they continue their lavish life, how can even live in peace with rest of their neighbors. But on the opposite side the people who were looted get happy. Not only that the looting is stopped but the satisfaction of sending that scumbag thief to prison, and the hope of getting back their looted wealth.

    I understand why you defend tplf but sorry buddy tplf looting policy wont happen in Ethiopia ever. We are happy follow the liberated ETV.

  • Teodros Alem

    Selam girmay
    Good question
    1, he said looting, looting millions times as if tigrai is not dirt poor after all this looting(topical tplf)
    2, his nonsense ness .(topical tplf)
    3, arrogance is amazing.(topical tplf)
    4, he even want to pull Saleh J to his level( that is also the sign of tplf)
    5, if u listen what he said sarcastically u will love him.

  • Abraham H.

    Selam Now inc., soon the Ethiopian guys, Oromos, Amharas, etc, are going to start impregnating the Eritrean girls and women; there you have it, it is the re-engineering of the Eritrean society, as if the society has not been under enormous stress for the last 27 years since the coming to power of the pfdj junta.

    • Teodros Alem

      Selam abraham
      U said “It is the re-engineering of the eri society by ethio guys impregnating eri womens” no .
      Actually the attempt was and still is to agmaz eri, so that tigrai no longer sing “bob marley” song that say ” o what a …race, this is human ….”

    • Now inc.

      Asmarino ladies will surely fall for some suave talking Ethios and reproduce. Some will do so for financial benefits, others for other reasons – just like any other society. But it will not be to the extent it affects the make up of the population. The languages will be affected more than anything else. The under 25 generation will be influenced the most since this is new to them. They were raised hearing pfdj media bad mouthing Ethiopia now they’re being told we are one and the same. They’ll be confused at first but they will be upto speed quickly.

    • Mez

      Hi Abraham,

      Are only male Ethiopians eager to visit Asmara?


    • Selam Abraham H.,

      So, who impregnates eritrean girls and women is going to be the new problem for eritrea, after the peace deal and normalization? Do you think that this is going to happen for the first time in the history of both peoples? Do you have the same problem if it were not amharas, oromos, etc (ethiopians in general), and they are for example, arabs, italians, sudanese, etc.

      Can people ever be free to lead their life their own way in eritrea, be it the pfdj regime or somebody else in power? From social engineering by the pfdj regime over half century, going to genetic engineering, to produce the pristine and the aryan eritrean race, and nobody knows what the future may bring, is simply mixing up the priorities.

      • Abraham H.

        Selam Horizon, “So, who impregnates eritrean girls and women is going to be the new problem for eritrea, after the peace deal and normalization?” I never said or implied so, btw, the so called peace and friendship agreement is a fake deal that is put in place to solidify the power of the Eritrean dictator and his new friends in Arat kilo. You cannot have a relationship which is only one way; a relationship that creates an invasion of the Eritrean society by the Ethiopians. A relationship that makes Eritreans second class citizens in their own land. At a time when there has been a net loss of Eritrean youth to be exiled for years, most of them young boys and men, then what would be the consequence when people from Ethiopia flood Eritrea?
        In short what I’m saying is this new relationship is not normal; it is a lopsided and weird one that benefits the Ethiopians more than the Eritreans in their own country. I’m not a racist and never implying any racial purity, as you alluded to.

    • Berhe Y

      Dear Abraham,

      It’s quite understandable if you don’t see the recent development in positive ways. But to go this far “the Ethiopians are coming to Eritrea to impregnate the women” is going too far. I don’t think Ethiopians need to travel 1000 km so that to impegrnate Eritrean women. And we are making huge assumption, that these women have no value that they hold dear and can’t make a decision for themselves and know what’s right and wrong, that they need our protections?

      I don’t think those people who were expressing their opinions are just acting, but telling their true feelings.

      It’s best sometimes to see things from other people point of view rather than make our biases assumptions.

      Halafi Mengedi I think gave the best example life of a solidiers in the boarder, only way to understand that is to live it. I have no such experience but he reminded me of a movie “Enemy at the gate”.

      I think it’s better to see where things are and find ways to make it work for the advantage of the people, rather than trying to fight a situation that we have no control of.


      • Abraham H.

        Selam Berhe, you can be as much naive as you want but I for one reject to be in your company of naive Eritreans. What I’m saying has happened before in Eritrea and else where; it is not a new phenomenon; esp. when there is a force within Eritrea with evil intentions towards the Eritrean people.

        • Berhe Y

          Dear Abraham,

          It’s ok if you think I am naive. It’s one way to win an argument. But if you think you know or care more than the people expressing their opinions while living inside in hell, where as people like us, prescribe this or that from the comforts of our homes, sounds a little selfish to me.

          In fact, I think you judgements are clouded and you are not being rational to change your views or plans considering how things have turned around.


    • Blink

      Dear Abraham
      You seems to have experience with such kind in your family tree. What i am not sure is ,if it is close one or related to you personally. Eritrean women ? You are accusing Eritrea Women of prostitution while their men are alive , ahm what kind of environment you grow up seems to suggest a place with no value .

      • Abraham H.

        No I’m not a son of Tor Serawit like you. Folks like you aka algefif from here and there, have been the main catastrophe for Eritrea, starting from the main culprit at the helm, the Tembienay DIA. A woman doesn’t necessarily have a husband, dumbass!

        • Blink

          Dear Abraham
          What I know in our case is a woman is a married or widow one and a girl is unmarried but since you seem to lack everything of it here you are making outlandish claims of accusing Eritrean women of prostitution which can be a normal thing on your side . Tor serawit kkkkk really?

  • Saleh Johar

    I will, I know catching such things is neither easy nor fun. It’s all your task now. See! It rhymes 🙂

  • Simon Kaleab

    Selam abdulworld,

    Do you by any chance have any reference to the genetic evidence linking the Tutsi to the Oromo?

    • abdulworld,_Tutsi_and_Twa

      “The subclade was of the M293 variety, which suggests that the ancestors of Tutsis in this area may have assimilated some South Cushitic pastoralists.”
      The Borana people are the most southern cushitic group… and speak Oromo language..

      • Simon Kaleab

        Selam abdulworld,

        You need to quote more fully.

        “Modern-day genetic studies of the Y-chromosome generally indicate that the Tutsi, like the Hutu, are largely of Bantu extraction (60% E1b1a, 20% B, 4% E3). Paternal genetic influences associated with the Horn of Africa and North Africa are few (under 3% E1b1b), and are ascribed to much earlier inhabitants who were assimilated. However, the Tutsi have considerably more haplogroup B paternal lineages (14.9% B) than do the Hutu (4.3% B).[1]

        “Trombetta et al. (2015) found 22.2% of E1b1b in a small sample of Tutsis from Burundi, but no bearers of the haplogroup among the local Hutu and Twa populations.[6] The subclade was of the M293 variety, which suggests that the ancestors of Tutsis in this area may have assimilated some South Cushitic pastoralists.[7]

        “In general, the Tutsi appear to share a close genetic kinship with neighboring Bantu populations, particularly the Hutu. However, it is unclear whether this similarity is primarily due to extensive genetic exchanges between these communities through intermarriage or whether it ultimately stems from common origins.”

      • Simon Kaleab

        Selam abdulworld,

        I am not sure how much scientific research background you have, but I can see you are not very attentive.

        When you quote a research source, you need to quote in FULL, including any CAVEATS. This is a scientific culture, which has nothing to do with being feudal, which seems to be your obsession.

  • Nitricc

    Hi All, here you have it what religion can do to you. lol what do call this?

    • abdulworld

      Hello Nitricc,
      Human beings will do anything to justify anything.. I don’t know what this is doing on Awate really?
      Religion can make a person from Indonesia call an Eritrean person a brother.. just because of common faith…
      The pyramids were built by ancient egyptian and most work was part of their faith in after world.
      Religious organization built some best universities in the world..
      Religion is human tool.. and just like hammer you can use to build home or hit someone with it..

    • Blink

      Dear Nitricc
      Religion and religious people have been in this mess for over 2000 years and what’s more surprising is we have apologists people who try to show the unthinkable. The Abrahamic religion suffers from thieves more than its false promises. I mean the Christians have been under horror of this this rich people can meet their hallow god until 16 century and the Muslims are suffering from the lack of truth yet waiting for Jena while enjoying the death of their own people. Here the pente are a scamming game of our century. Their lies are border less.

  • Mitiku Melesse

    The 27 years Tigray first in Ethiopia is abolished. Debreshiber fra Mekele said if we cant continue looting Ethiopia then we dismantle Ethiopia.
    He is trying his best using his puppet Somalikilil president. This will make the tplf liberating Tigray quick.

    The devil tplf removal is celebrated by homecoming of bishops, politicians, activists and today Imams. Arent you happy all these people come home while tplf too went home. What a coincidence.