19300 69th Pl W Lynnwood WA 98036 info@salaamurbanvillage.org 206.841.1328

Eritrea: Returning ‘The Gaze’

The gaze on Eritrea by outside media and allegedly-credible agency reporters, is often an act of manipulative and subtle aggression.
The gaze on Eritrea by outside media and allegedly-credible agency reporters, is often an act of manipulative and subtle aggression.

The world that long turned a blind eye to the ruthless and illegitimate violation of Eritrean sovereignty now focuses its gaze on this country. The gaze is perhaps worse than the blind eye. The blind eye to the plight of Eritrea compelled its people to find the deep strength and resiliency that would win Independence against all odds.

Decades after Independence, inaccurate representations of Eritrea in western mainstream media and certain international reports, serve to shape a distorted narrative on this country. The gaze has been a fundamental aspect of legitimizing illegal and unjust sanctions that harm the people of Eritrea and contribute to the East African refugee crisis.

It is important to understand the gaze on Eritrea in a historical, socio-political, and socio-linguistic context. The gaze on Eritrea is a worthy area of research as an illustration of how hegemony is perpetrated and power-over maintained in international relations. We look first at this larger context of the gaze before considering the case of Eritrea and suggesting a different way for the international community to be in relationship with African and other countries that are charting their own course in a post-colonial era.

To gaze is to stare fixedly at something out of curiosity or self-interest. *1 For decades, much of Africa was subject to the colonial gaze of a world that was ignorantly and predatorily curious about the peoples it was dominating and the continent it was exploiting. The National Geographic Magazine and other publications shared glimpses of African peoples that turned into the gaze of westerners fascinated by the ways and cultural traditions of communities and nations they knew nothing about. But, the gaze is about more than idle curiosity. For countries in Africa, the post-colonial gaze can be more insidious and deadly than the colonial gaze.

The gaze is about dominance and control. It creates a subject-object relationship between the gazer and the object of the gaze. Jean Paul Sartre introduces the notion of the gaze. *2   Michael Foucault expands our understanding of the gaze as a relationship of power-over. *3   Surveillance, through the use of technologies such as drones, is a mechanism by which dominant Western powers perpetuate and globalize the gaze. This hegemonic gaze, through the lens of the drone, is both domineering and deadly. There are no national boundaries respected in the hegemonic alliance’s surveillance through satellites and drones, of identified so-called troubled regions of the world.

The stakes are high for those who are the objects of the hegemonic gaze. The outcomes today of the gaze are indeed deadly. Those who are victims of the hegemonic gaze may be subject to deadly drone attacks and systems of torture. Children playing in the roadways of countries like Yemen can be subject to immediate death and destruction if they happen to fall within the gaze of a surveillance drone.

What does the gaze on the Country of Eritrea look like? The gaze on the Country of Eritrea takes shape in misrepresentative media reports in ‘respected’ western media constructed on clearly biased reporting, such as that by the UN Special Rapporteur–Sheila B. Keetharuth. The outcome of this deadly gaze is the perpetrating of illegitimate sanctions against Eritrea, economic hardships for the Eritrean people and aggravation of the tragic flow of refugees from the Horn of Africa. If we were to accept the easily refutable representation that the people of Eritrea live in a ‘perpetual state of fear’ it is arguably less associated with the actions of an allegedly repressive government and more associated with the brazen distortions perpetuated by the gaze of those bent on discrediting the successes of the Eritrean people or subverting their path to self-reliance.

The notion of the post-colonial gaze is clearly articulated by Edward Said and others. *4 Outsiders seek to define a country and people in terms of their observer’s values, self-interests and the lens of privilege and dominance.   The gaze on Eritrea and other countries in Africa serves to both affirm the ‘rightness’ of Western self-identity and privilege and justify and maintain the subjugation of countries seeking to chart their own course. The gaze serves to delegitimize and is an attempt to shape outcomes. *5 The gaze is an attempt to construct an outsider narrative that is self-serving and designed to maintain dominance-over.

What is the self-interest of mainstream media outlets like The Guardian and a handful of power brokers at the United Nations who turn their gaze to the Country of Eritrea to which they long turned a blind eye? There was no gaze on Eritrea in the face of vicious aggression against a people seeking nothing more than the right to self-determination. The present-day gaze on Eritrea serves to legitimize hegemonic power-over and delegitimize the aspirations and increasingly successful efforts of the Eritrean people toward self-defining a sustainable future.

There are great risks in allowing the gaze on Eritrea to shape international and regional policy. The gaze of clearly biased parties is not a good basis for a reasoned analysis of events in the Horn of Africa. The gaze distorts clear thinking and unified action on critical issues such as addressing a refugee crisis of historic proportions or responding to regional challenges such as food shortages in the Horn of Africa. Perpetuating the long-discredited narrative that Eritrea once supported extremist groups in the region, preempts our ability to respond humanely and intelligently to unfolding events in the region.

Accepting the distorted narrative that grows from the gaze on Eritrea and its neighbors, minimizes our ability to understand regional complexities and dynamics in the region including in countries like Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. The gaze on Eritrea by outsiders, without accurate and first-hand information, is a detriment to the cause of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

The gaze of those who have an agenda against Eritrea results in distorted media reporting and blatantly inaccurate ‘fact-finding’ by the UN Special Rapporteur.  It results in intentionally misrepresentative ‘Reports on Eritrea’ which have deadly consequences. In the interest of peace, justice and sustainable development, we cannot afford to take at face value the dominant discourse on Eritrea that grows from the gaze.

It is incumbent on a discerning public to question the motives of those who ‘report’ about Eritrea. What is the self-interest and value system of someone like former U.N. Ambassador Hermann Cohen who comes forward to outline his ‘solution’ to the tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia? What are the insidious motives of the Special Rapporteur–Sheila Keetharuth– who does ‘fact-finding’ about Eritrea by interviewing those who have a clearly anti-Eritrea agenda?   This gaze on the Country of Eritrea is often an act of manipulative and subtle aggression.

The way in which Eritrea responds to the gaze is a component of what makes this country the exception to the rule. Eritrea is returning the gaze of a world that long held little care about what happened in this region of the world. The emerging narrative about Eritrea will be written by the Eritrean people. It will be affirmed by the countries that are increasingly forging respectful diplomatic relationships, are visiting Eritrea to see for themselves, and countries and corporations that are forming strategic partnerships based on mutual respect and benefit.

The next chapters for Eritrea, as it celebrates Independence and a progressive course toward self-determination, will not be written by those who gaze in critically from the outside. The challenges that Eritrea faces are real, and they are Eritrea’s challenges. Engagement with the Eritrean people, must be based on global relational presence that is shaped from journeying with the Eritrean people and not gazing upon them from the outside.

To those who gaze on Eritrea and then pontificate on their own interpretations and agenda, it is time to say: “Stop staring!” Celebrate with Eritrea her hard-won Independence. Learn about Eritrea from a source other than the reports of those who gaze in from the outside. Visit the capital city of Asmara. Walk her streets. Sit in her tea shops. Visit with her peace-loving people. Look into the eyes of an Eritrean people who have gazed into the face of death, overcome adversity, and moved forward with dignity and determination toward defining their own future.

We will learn more from and about the Eritrean people by walking with them for a kilometer, than we will ever learn from journalists, Special Rapporteurs, or others who gaze at Eritrea from the outside without ever visiting the country or being in relationship with her people.

Stop staring. Start caring. The cause of self-determination for the Eritrean people is a just cause. The Eritrean people– like all countries and people–have the right to design their own future.



*1. Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gaze.

*2. Jean Paul Sartre (2001), Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology.   New York: Citadel Press.

*3. Foucault, Michel (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York: Random             House.

*4 Said, Edward (1978). Orientalism. Vintage Books.

*5. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.   Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 94, 103.


Dr. Samuel Mahaffy was born and raised in Eritrea and resides in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He hopes to return to Eritrea this summer to participate in the International Conference on Eritrean Scholarship. The purpose will be not to ‘gaze’ at the Eritrean people, but to listen and learn about the narrative being shaped by the Eritrean people themselves. Samuel Mahaffy is engaged in research based on A Meta-Analysis of the Discourse Structure of Competing Narratives about Eritrea. He may be contacted about this research through his website www.samuelmahaffy.com. Scholarship on Eritrea–by Eritreans–is one of the many ways in which Eritrea is ‘returning the gaze’ that often distorts the Eritrean narrative.


Eritrea and Ethiopia: A Response to Herman Cohen

Cohen's suggestion that Eritrea's engagement with Arab countries in the region is a step toward "Sharia Law in the Horn of Africa" respectfully borders on the ludicrous.
Cohen’s suggestion that Eritrea’s engagement with Arab countries in the region is a step toward “Sharia Law in the Horn of Africa” respectfully borders on the ludicrous.

Post by Samuel Mahaffy, PhD. Herman Cohen’s post on Eritrea – Ethiopia (“The Red Sea Is Slipping into Total Arab Control” December 28, 2015 ) deserves a thoughtful response. In the face of deliberate mis-information campaigns against Eritrea, Cohen has had the courage to invite the world to consider positive engagement with Eritrea. His premise, that the ending of sanctions against Eritrea serve the cause of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, is accurate. There is merit in his highlighting the importance of normalizing relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. At the same time, Cohen’s broad-stroked commentary with ideas for peace between the two countries contain significant deficiencies that cry for response. Cohen’s is an important voice that must be respected. It deserves more than the sometimes caustic response it has received. The dialogue about Eritrea must be deepened in the interests of peace and justice.

Cohen’s suggestion that Eritrea’s engagement with Arab countries in the region is a step toward “Sharia Law in the Horn of Africa” respectfully borders on the ludicrous. Eritrea has historically respected a diversity of religions while disallowing fundamentalist extremism. In the Capital of Asmara, people of faith from Moslem, Christian and Jewish traditions worship in close proximity to each other. Cohen’s fear of Sharia Law overshadowing Eritrea because of its engagement with Arabic countries in the region, borders on the ludicrous. It sadly echoes anti-Islamic rhetoric that is rampant in the West and particularly in the United States. Perpetrating fear of Islam simply does not serve the cause of combating extremism perpetrated in the name of religion. The Islamic faith will always be respected in Eritrea as are other faith traditions. Recently published Civil and Penal Codes of Eritrea respect customary laws and local traditions. Eritrea’s dual respect for the religious traditions of Islam and its rejection of fundamentalist extremism is a note-worthy model for other countries.

Cohen’s analysis is glaringly missing mention of rampant violation of free speech and human rights in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s oppression of its own people is a conundrum for the U.S. which has long had a propensity for supporting ‘strong-men’ and dictators in African countries. This dilemma is pointed out cogently in Cohen’s own significant work, The Mind of the African Strongman. In this work, Cohen asks: “How do we cope with the human rights atrocities committed by our best friends?” “Such is the dilemma of US policy in Africa” (p. 51). The suppression of Oromo protests by Ethiopia simply cannot be ignored in any conversation about peace in the Horn of Africa. It was nearly a year ago that I traveled to the office of a U.S. Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee as a private citizen to ask this question: “How can the U.S. turn a blind eye on Ethiopia’s emerging suppression of its own people, while continuing support for sanctions against Eritrea?”

There is indeed momentum for normalization of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. I grew up close to the border between the two countries. I have deep friendships with both Eritreans and Ethiopians in leadership positions who I respect. Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia would cause my heart to sing. Indeed, this is an active and organic conversation in Diaspora communities in the U.S.   Despite horrible conflicts in the past, Eritreans and Ethiopians have enduring historic social, cultural, and religious connections. Respect for the integrity of Eritrea’s internationally recognized borders and the ending of sanctions against Eritrea, must set the context for peaceful engagement.

Finally, Cohen’s post fails to acknowledge the emerging food security crisis in Ethiopia. Peace initiatives will not endure where children are starving. The world must respond with compassion to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, while simultaneously asking where our foreign aid and development models have failed us. The Eritrean model that supports self-reliance, rather than dependency, should inform Western engagement in the Horn of Africa.

The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia are the parties that must lead the conversation about peace and sustainable economic development in the Horn of Africa. The natural resources and assets of Eritrea and Ethiopia are not prizes to be divided up, but the inheritance of the peoples of the region. It is time for the world to be better informed about the Horn of Africa. Foreign policy, in the West, must be shaped around supporting peace, security and self-determination. We ignore the Horn of Africa to our great detriment. At the same time, no country in Africa is a prize to be divided up. It is time for constructive and respectful engagement with both Eritrea and Ethiopia that supports peace and stability in the region.


This post is by Dr. Samuel Mahaffy, Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association (SUVA). The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent those of SUVA. We invite your comments and response on this website. Samuel Mahaffy writes regularly about Africa, peacemaking and relational practices on his website at www.samuelmahaffy.com. Samuel Mahaffy was born and raised in Eritrea and earned his PhD from Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

“The Mind of the African Strongman” by Herman Cohen

We will do well, if Cohen's voice contributes to shaping US foreign policy toward Africa in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
We will do well, if Cohen’s voice contributes to shaping US foreign policy toward Africa in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

“How do we cope with the human rights atrocities committed by our best friends?” “Such is the dilemma of US policy in Africa” (p. 51). Herman Cohen brings forward a refreshingly honest account of US foreign policy in Africa. This is a surprisingly candid account of Cohen’s encounter with ‘post-colonial’ African leaders over his 38 years in the US Foreign Service.

US engagement with African nations has been a mixture of manipulation to support our self-interests and outright ignorance of African cultures and contexts. Cohen’s work affirms that the US has long had an affinity for friendship with strongman dictators who will do our bidding on the African continent. “Why does the CIA destabilize countries all over the world?” The question asked by Gaddafi, the late leader of Libya, receives an astonishingly honest–if somewhat facetious–answer from Cohen: “Leader, we are a superpower. That is what we do” (p. 120).

Cohen’s work dispels any myth that US involvement on the African continent has prioritized the aspirations of African people for freedom and self-determination. The US has willingly sided with sometimes brutal African leaders enriching themselves, when it perceives that to be in its economic and political self-interest. Cohen’s work tells us as much about the mind of Western power brokers on the African continent as it does about the “mind of the African strongman.”

Cohen shares significant wisdom that could shape a more just involvement of Western countries with the nations of Africa. “The absence of diplomatic relations guarantees zero communications” (p. 121). Cohen’s work anticipates the recent discovery of the US that isolating countries with which we do not disagree may be an unproductive, if not dangerous strategy. US engagement with Iran and with Cuba are signposts of hope. Consistent with his premise that isolationism does not work, Cohen has courageously raised a voice that engagement with the Country of Eritrea is appropriate and necessary arguing that it is time to bring Eritrea in from the cold.

It is perhaps a credit to Eritrea, that this small East African country is barely mentioned in Cohen’s description of African dictators that have enriched themselves at the expense of their people. Eritrea is a clear exception to the rule. Eritrea has focused on education, health care and local economic development rather than enrichment of a few. The small and efficient hydro dam projects commended in Cohen’s work, are a successful marker of how Eritrea is feeding its people in a drought-stricken region of the African continent.

Cohen’s work raises what should be compelling questions. Will the US prioritize siding with corporations willing to exploit Africa for its coveted resources? Or will the US choose to stand with the just aspirations of African people for economic and political self-determination? Is corruption and authoritarian rule inevitable in the African model of the constitutional one-party state? Is the Western multiparty democratic system “incompatible with African culture?” (p. 54). What right do we have to impose Western style democracy on African people?

The US maintains a giant military footprint across the African continent. It controls and manipulates African military forces for its own perceived self-interests. In our relationships with African nations, the US has cared more about its own interests than those of the African people. It is easy to be cynical in regard to US involvement in Africa.

Cohen’s work brings forward a glimmer of hope for a more positive and just engagement with African nations. Cohen is an experienced elder statesman. We would do well to listen to Cohen’s voice in regard to Africa and African affairs. There is no shortcut to the personal relations that must be developed if we are to have any credible involvement with the African people. Our actions speak louder than our words in African affairs. Will our African involvement be about exploitation of resources or empowerment of African people?

Cohen’s work concludes with a hopeful perspective on African leadership. “…there are promising signs among some of the younger leaders who understand technology, who listen to the people, and who wake up in the morning determined to do good. The international community needs to identify these promising leaders and concentrate their development assistance on helping them succeed” (p. 186).

We are a long way from Western nations having “relationships of equals” (p. 39) with African nations and peoples. In regard to Africa, we need to speak less and listen more. Cohen’s work is a valuable resource for learning about the culture, context and aspirations of African people. We will do well, if Cohen’s voice contributes to shaping US foreign policy toward Africa in the second decade of the twenty-first century.


“The Mind of the African Strongman: Conversations with Dictators, Statesmen, and Father Figures” (2015) is written by Herman J. Cohen and published by New Academia Publishing in Washington, DC. Available from Amazon or from New Academia Publishing. Dr. Samuel Mahaffy was born and raised in Eritrea, East Africa. He writes frequently about Africa on his personal website at www.samuelmahaffy.com. The opinions in this review are his own.

Story Robbers: The Distorters of the Eritrea Narrative

Every person, every tribe, every nation has its own story.  Story robbers are worse than grave robbers.
Every person, every tribe, every nation has its own story. Story robbers are worse than grave robbers.

Guest Post by Samuel Mahaffy., PhD. Story robbers are worse than grave robbers. Grave robbers disrespect the remains of those who have passed. Story robbers desecrate the living narrative of a people.

Every person, every tribe, every nation has its own story. Eritrea is no exception. The ancient story of Eritrea encompasses legendary chapters such as the account of the Aksumite Civilization. The modern story of Eritrea is written in the lives of those who struggle today to create prosperity, opportunity and education for a people, instead of wealth for a ruling class. The recent story of Eritrea is written in the blood of the martyrs who sacrificed everything so their country could be free and independent.

So who are those faceless few who seek to corrupt the narrative of Eritrea? I wonder how narratives that misrepresent Eritrea can gain so much traction in the Western media. How are the organic and lived narratives of a people deliberately misconstrued and misrepresented? The question intrigues me as one who cares about Eritrea and the right of every people to have their story respected, honored and accurately recounted.

My background as a social scientist with experience in narrative and linguistic analysis, leads me to this investigation. What structural differences will I find when I compare misrepresentative narratives about Eritrea or other peoples and cultures with accurate ones?

For my investigation I compare the language and structure of two narratives. One is Andre Vltchek’s account of his visit to Eritrea (http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/12/african-ideological-ebola-for-imperialists/).  The other is what is represented to be a “news” story about Eritrea published in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/13/un-fears-eu-secret-eritrea-deals-close-border.) Even a brief contrast of the two articles shows very different slants. Andre Vltchek is a respected international writer who has visited Eritrea and writes about that experience reflectively and passionately. The Guardian article reflects an equal passion for Eritrea bashing.

I study the Guardian narrative to understand the constructs of a deliberately inaccurate and disruptive narrative. I contrast this article with Vltchek’s account of Eritrea. The Guardian article uses inflammatory and unaccredited references to Eritrea that reveal clear bias. The Guardian headlines Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea.” The ignorance of the comparison is clear to anyone with even an elemental knowledge of the history, politics and cultures of the two countries. The reference is not attributed. Clearly, it originated from a deliberate misinformation campaign against Eritrea perpetrated by outside interests. It sets the tone that the Guardian reporting will be clearly of the nature of propaganda, rather than seeking of accurate information.

The Guardian narrative relies on a UN report, with the suggestion that it is credible, but the caution that “it had been written without access to the country.” Disruptive and inaccurate narratives, like those of the Guardian, always speak from outside the lived narrative of the Eritrean people. The account of Vltchek stands in sharp contrast. Vltchek’s is a story from on the ground in Eritrea. His account of Eritrea grows from long days and nights spent talking to the Eritrean people. Vltchek notes that his interaction with the people of Eritrea is “totally interactive…nothing is staged, everything spontaneous.”

The Guardian’s narrative on Eritrea confines itself to a very limited time sequence. The Guardian report rips the narrative of Eritrea outside of its historical context. It covers the narrow time frame of recent immigration from Eritrea and the EU’s response to that exodus. There is no reference to the fuller chapters of the Eritrean narrative or the larger context that would lend understanding to the complex causes and circumstances that lead people to leave Eritrea for the European Union (EU).

The Vltchek article stands in sharp contrast. It includes descriptions of pre and post-liberation Eritrea. It references the larger context of China’s involvement in Africa and the western agenda of development on the African continent. It refers to what is happening in “other governments in Africa.” It notes Eritrea’s progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. All together, Vltchek’s writing gives us a rich context for understanding what is happening in Eritrea today. It shares a picture of Eritrea from the lives of the Eritrean people. The Guardian writing on Eritrea provides no historical context. In fact, the Guardian must radically decontextualize the story of Eritrea to promote their bias in describing Eritrea.

Analysis of the Guardian ‘journalism’ on Eritrea is informative for understanding how the living and organic story of a people can be deliberately misrepresented. What are the tools of these story robbers? How are deliberately misleading stories constructed? How can we as readers, recognize the signs of a narrative that is being deliberately distorted?

First, story robbers must de-contextualize the narrative. Secondly, their ‘reporting’ is from an outside perspective rather than the rich narrative of those who are actually living the story. Thirdly, story robbers use unsubstantiated, unattributed and inflammatory descriptors.

The Guardian writing on Eritrea exemplifies each of these tactics. Their reporting on Eritrea is de-contextualized. It does not contrast pre-independence and post-independence Eritrea. Nor does it find meaning in comparing what is happening in Eritrea with events in neighboring countries. The descriptors of Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea” are unattributed and unexplained. Similarly inflammatory, is their description of the Eritrean government as the “repressive and murderous regime of President Isaias Afwerki.”

The reference to Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea” is particularly inflammatory and outside the province of anything that would look like responsible journalism. One might well accuse the Guardian of “North Korea-like journalism” in its reporting on Eritrea. Just as North Korea carefully scripts and controls accounts of events in its own country for its political purposes, the Guardian carefully scripts its reporting on Eritrea to promote its own biased lens.

The writing of the Guardian about Eritrea is better characterized as propaganda rather than news. Even a cursory reading of Guardian reporting on Eritrea, suggests that their accounts of Eritrea can simply not be trusted. Intelligent readers of distorted stories, such as those published in the Guardian, will ask these sort of questions:
• What is the larger social and economic context of people leaving Eritrea for the EU? How does the situation of Eritrean’s leaving their country differ from the situation of those leaving neighboring countries?
• What have been the impacts of sanctions against Eritrea? Have sanctions created hardships that have aggravated the situation of Eritreans leaving their country for better economic opportunities? Where does the inflammatory language that compares Eritrea to North Korea come from? In what ways–if any– is Eritrea similar to North Korea?  In what ways is Eritrea different from North Korea?
• Has the reporter on Eritrea ever visited the country? Have they had real conversations that extend ‘long into the night’ with the people of Eritrea?
• What is the perspective of the Eritrean people on conditions within their own country?
• How trustworthy are reports on Eritrea that have been “written without access to the country”? Was access denied or did the reporters simply choose not to gain first-hand perspective?

Reporting on Eritrea that is deliberately misleading and inflammatory relies on the ignorance of readers about the country and the region. The Guardian, in their ‘reporting’ on Eritrea, underestimate the intelligence of its readers and their ability to ask critical questions. It is incumbent on those who represent themselves to be journalists to maintain some semblance of accuracy in their reporting.

It is also incumbent on us as readers to discern the difference between accurate reporting and deliberately misrepresenting accounts. When we step into the lived story of a people with integrity, the outcome will always be a multi-voiced and richly textured narrative. Accurate narratives present different perspectives based on interrogation of the present situation and the historical context. Such narratives are often full of paradoxes and complexities that are not easily explained. Our true narratives are as complex as the lives we live. Deliberately distorted narratives simply seek to sweep aside such complexity in the interest of supporting an agenda.

The Guardian steps into the story of Eritrea with a clear bias toward an unstated agenda. The Guardian reporting lacks the eyes, ears, heart and integrity to listen to the rich stories of the Eritrean people. The loss is theirs and ours. The Guardians simplistic and inaccurate reporting on Eritrea diminishes the complexities of the lives of both Eritreans living in the country and those who have left.

The deliberate distorting of the story of a people–such as the people of Eritrea–is unconscionable. The robbers of the story of a people are indeed worse than grave robbers.

The story of a people should never be co-opted. The story of Eritrea will be written by the Eritrean people and not outsiders with a subversive agenda. The story of Eritrea is an enduring and rich story. It is a story still being written. It will surely be a story full of
achievements and setbacks and both joys and hardships. The effort to rob the living story of Eritrea of its complexity, dynamism, and historical context, must never be allowed to succeed.

This guest post is by Samuel Mahaffy, PhD who serves as a Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association (SUVA). The opinions expressed are his own and not necessarily those of SUVA. Follow Samuel Mahaffy on Twitter @samuelmahaffy or visit his website at www.samuelmahaffy.com.

Celebrating Eritrea

Eritrea deserves to celebrate.  Celebrate also the cause of self-determination and the right of a people and nation to chart their own course.
Eritrea deserves to celebrate. Celebrate also the cause of self-determination and the right of a people and nation to chart their own course.

Guest Post by Dr. Samuel Mahaffy. On May 24, 2015, Eritreans around the world will celebrate the 24th Anniversary of Independence Day.

Eritrea deserves to celebrate.  The struggle for Independence came at great cost and sacrifice.  There is hardly a family in Eritrea that has not lost a loved one as a martyr for the cause of freedom.

But, the struggle for Eritrean Independence did not end on the day the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) moved into Asmara declaring a free Eritrea.  In the ensuing decades Eritrea has needed to be vigilant in the face of great opposition from a consortium of nations seeking to undermine the hard-won freedom of Eritrea.  Unjust economic sanctions, invasion of Eritrea’s borders, and a calculated campaign of misinformation in Western media were the weapons of choice—still used—in an effort to undermine the aspirations of the Eritrean people for self-determination.

The Eritrean people have persisted against all odds.  The sacrifice of the Eritrean people in the cause of freedom continues.  Economic hardships endure because of unjust sanctions.  Young people have, until recently, endured more years of national service in defense of Independence, than any people should have to bear.

The tide is turning.  The efforts to undermine Eritrean Independence and the dire predictions of its imminent demise have come to nothing.  The Eritrean path to self-determination is yielding promising outcomes in education, health care and governance.  Just this week, Eritrea is publishing civil and criminal codes reflecting the rule of law structured in a way to reflect the cultural and historical values of its people.

The world is taking notice.  Embassies and diplomatic missions from other nations are opening in Asmara, Eritrea.  Former detractors of Eritrea in the West and especially the European Union are coming to recognize that the cause of Eritrea is just.  The mythology that Eritrea is a supporter of religious extremism in the Horn of Africa has long been debunked.  In fact, Eritrea has been a bulwark against extremism in the region. In the Country of Eritrea major religions co-exist peacefully and extremism in the name of religion has not gained a foothold.

Eritrean Independence Day 2015 would be a good time for the United States to join the global community that is forging respectful relationships with Eritrea.  Herman Cohen, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs stated in 2013 that it is “time to bring Eritrea in from the cold.”  It is in fact, the United States that will be ‘left out in the cold’ if it fails to move away from supporting dictatorial regimes in the Horn of Africa while ignoring the emergence of Eritrea as a signpost of hope for an Africa that charts its own post-colonial course.

Our experiment with constitutional democracy in the United States is still unfolding and maturing after 239 years of our own battle for Independence.  It was only 50 years ago—nearly two hundred years after the war for Independence– that all citizens in the United States were given the legal right to vote.  The struggle for economic justice and racial harmony is ongoing.  In a nation that brags—with historical inaccuracy—to being the ‘world’s oldest constitutional democracy’—we still struggle for all people to be free to participate in democratic processes and have the right to vote honored.

In defending its sovereignty and its right to self-determination, Eritrea has made mistakes. The pathway to Independence has been strewn with metaphorical landmines—not unlike the real landmines that were once sown in the war for Independence. A search for better economic opportunities has precipitated an exodus of many from not only Eritrea, but other countries in the region.

Eritrea is going through many course corrections. To anyone making the effort to journey with the Eritrean people, it will be self-evident that the country is purposeful toward caring for its people.  The well-being of its people—along with the defense of its Independence–is the predominant national agenda that defines Eritrea.

We would do well to respect that the Eritrean journey of Independence is only 24 years old.  On Independence Day 2015, we celebrate the significant gains that have been made in a relatively short period of time.  Women in Eritrea have more rights guaranteed under the law, than do women in the United States.  The sacrifice made by the women of Eritrea to gain Independence coincidentally won unprecedented respect for the rights of women.

Wherever you are in the world, join the great celebrations that will rock cities and villages across Eritrea.  Dance in the streets to celebrate the hard-won Independence of Eritrea. But dance—and march–in the streets also for the rightness of the cause of all people who seek to chart their own course without being dominated or oppressed by others.

Join the celebration.  For one day–on Eritrean Independence Day 2015–all those who believe in the cause of self-determination and the right of a people and nation to chart their own course, are Eritreans!


Dr. Samuel Mahaffy is a U.S. Citizen, born and raised in the country of Eritrea.  He serves as a Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association  and is a founder of the East Africa Institute.  Follow his writing on Africa, Eritrea, conflict transformation and peace making at www.samuelmahaffy.com and follow him at Samuel Mahaffy Twitter.  The views expressed in this guest post are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Salaam Urban Village Association.