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Eritrea through the eyes of foreigners

Eritrea through the eyes of foreigners

With the release of hundreds of thousands U.S. Cables by Wikileaks, people got a taste of American diplomats' candid opinions of foreign governments. Although initially much hype was given to Wikileaks and was deemed as the "9-11" of U.S. diplomacy, yet even with these doom and gloom predictions, the end result of their release ultimately served U.S. interest and embarrassed other foreign governments that spoke too candidly to American diplomats.

In quoting wikileaks, most western reporters failed to inform their readers that the vast majority of cables released by Wikileaks can hardly be regarded a "secret", as it didn't reveal any valuable new information that wasn't publicly known, nor was the majority of information of importance. Additionally, nearly all the cables were just really mundane and biased opinions of low level U.S. officials. Yet even with these obvious facts, much importance were given to them by western reporters because it had the "secret" element associated with it and since it was "leaked", this gave it tremendous importance and legitimacy. Even normally skiptical and credible news agency went along with the frenzy in reporting about what U.S. officials "really" thought of other nations and in doing so, unintentionally demonized nations and politicians in the media with extreme biased and often rude opinions of U.S. officials.

The problem with Wikileaks

When something is revealed that was supposed to be kept a secret, it makes that information being leaked appear important and true. For example, If the U.S. Government had said something publicly critical about China, the international media will generally be skeptical and shrug it off as being biased U.S. propaganda. But if that same information of U.S. opinion was written and leaked to the press, then that "secret" U.S. official's critical opinion carries more weight and becomes more believable, especially if the U.S. Government condemns its release. So that's the great dilemma with wikileaks, although it shows us their unedited biased opinions of other countries, it also serves their interest, since the material were not supposed to be made public, these biased opinions become less scrutinized by the press and end up being a great tool of self-serving misinformation.

Unfortunately for Eritrea, not even China, Russia, or North Korea can even say they've gotten such a brutal and blatantly negative Wikileaks opinions to the degree Eritrea has gotten by Ronald McMullen, who was the former U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea. Mr. McMullen left no stone unturned and even hinted of violence for Eritrea's president, by suggesting Eritrea's Government was "one bullet away from implosion" - as if no other persons or governments weren't "one bullet away from implosions" themselves. He also insults American citizens of Eritrean origin and refers to them as the "American Mafia" and writes extensively about his unhinged obsession with Eritrea's president.

In one cable, Mr. McMullen attempts to degrade Isaias Afwerki by detailing the president's childhood. In one such cable he says Isaias Afwerki was teased as child and called to the Tigrinya equivalent of "Beer Pot," boy because his mother made "sewa" (most Eritrean mothers make this light beer) and sold it in Asmara for profit.

"The Early Years of Little Beer Pot: Isaias' father, Afwerki, comes from the village of Tselot, which is perched on the lip of a 7,000' escarpment four miles southeast of Asmara. When Isaias was a boy Afwerki reportedly spent much of his time in Tigray, where he owned a coffee farm that was later nationalized by the Derg. With Afwerki largely absent, Isaias lived with his mother (rumored to have family roots in Tigray) in a working class neighborhood in eastern Asmara near the train depot and the Lutheran church. Isaias' mother made and sold a traditional beer called sewa. By some accounts, Isaias was nicknamed the Tigrinya equivalent of "Beer Pot," after the ceramic jug from which sewa is
dispensed.  Wikileaks of McMullen

Side Note: Again, it must be stressed that just because this information was "leaked", it does not mean it is true. These false rumors of Isaias Afwerki's mother possibly being from Tigray were created in the late 1970s by political opponents. With the age of the internet, this false rumor took a leg of its own and now has become a fact to many individuals. Even today, people still believe Hitler was "half Jewish", when the fact of the matter is he was Roman Catholic from both his parents. Same goes for Obama, political opponents challenge his loyalty to America by suggesting he wasn't born in America, therefore, isn't qualified to be an American president. All these false rumors were created and perpetuated by political opponents looking to undermine them. In Isaias Afwerki's case, he's Eritrean from both parents and was born in Asmara, Eritrea on February 2, 1946.

Most of McMullen's cables read like if he was a biased, unauthorized autobiography of Isaias Afwerki. He seems to be obsessed with Eritrea's president, even going as far as having his staff searching for his father's tombstone in a small village. In the following cable, Mr. McMullen writes his U.S. Embassy Officials in Asmara went looking for Isaias Afwerki's father's grave in his home town of Tselot:

In November 2008 emboffs (U.S. embassy officials) visited Tselot and saw no indication that the village has received any special favor from Isaias. Like most Eritrean villages, it has electricity but no running water or sewer system. ...........Afwerki is said to be buried in the village cemetery, but emboffs could not locate his grave Wikileaks of McMullen

Imagine a group U.S. officials secretly walking around in a cemetery in the middle of the night, in search of a grave that belongs to the Eritrean president's father. The whole idea comes off like a bizarre Scooby Doo  episode. It also raises questions as to what objective would be accomplished having U.S. Embassy Staff tip-toeing around cemeteries at nights?  The most troubling thing about McMullen's cables isn't his bizarre infatuation with Isaias Afwerki, it's his sinister ideas he suggest the United States Government should do in order to curb support the Government of Eritrea receives from the diaspora.

In a scathing cable titled "Engaging the Eritrean Diaspora", or as one Eritrean from New York called it, the "Brainwashing the Eritrean Diaspora", the former ambassador to Eritrea suggests  funding NGOs “to encourage critical analysis of the GSE (Eritrean Government),”  and “Working with non-political groups” to ensure “credibility and will not immediately be dismissed as having a political motive,” “a panel discussion on religious freedom in Eritrea” that should be led by Eritreans,” and  giving youth alternative platform to counter YPFDJ, which is “the primary outlet for young Eritreans in the Diaspora to express pride in their culture.”

Eritreans have always speculated but never had hard evidence aside from U.S.' infamous track record in sabotaging and destroying nations for their own shortsighted benefits, one can start to look back at how many "non political group" organization and NGOs U.S. officials may have funded to target Eritrea, including many of the current news circulating about a non-existing drought and famine in Eritrea, despite the fact over 220,000 Eritreans from the diaspora visiting home this summer and seeing for themselves Eritrea's remarkable food security. Thanks to McMullen's wikileaks cables, Eritreans worldwide are seeing the sinister and disastrous role junior U.S. diplomats have been playing behind the scenes, especially through paying NGOs, media outlets and non-political organizations to state false and negative news about Eritrea to attempt to sway Eritreans away from their government for their own selfish short-term interest.

When one of McMullen's cables described Eritrea as being something short of a hellhole, an American citizen named Andrew Cowie, who has been living and teaching in Eritrea for about three years, took notice with this biased description of Eritrea and decided to write an article that challenges his politically motivated claims. In an article titled "We need to talk to Eritrea", Mr. Andrew Cowie wrote about his extensive experience of Eritrea that puts into question of McMullen's description.

Last week, Wikileaks revealed what US Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen really thinks about Eritrea.  You’re forgiven if you missed it – amidst the chatter and gossip about Iran, China and our own political class the Eritreans never really stood a chance.  But, for me, it was fascinating. You see I lived in Eritrea for nearly three years, from September 2007 until February 2010.  His vision was of a dystopian hellhole – "Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant."  My experiences of the country were a little more nuanced and, I think, to be fair to Eritreans we should try to understand the reality of their lives. – Andrew Cowie

Throughout the article, Mr. Cowie paints a description of Asmara being an extremely safe city and one that many foreigners and Eritreans truly enjoy. Indeed, this is something well documented by international observers. Eritrea is blessed with peace and tranquility.

And after dinner, a walk back home. Through well-lit and extremely safe streets. One of the things every Eritrean will tell you is that Eritrea is a relatively crime free society.  It’s strangely true.  Andrew Cowie
In regards to his teaching profession, Mr. Cowie expressed his appreciation to the Government of Eritrea on encouraging privately owned schools to develop. In Eritrea, all education from pre-school to the university level are free and for those who can afford it, they are provided with an option of paying for private schools, as Mr. Cowie explains below.

The Eritrean Ministry of Education were happy with the fact that there was an independent school, outside of the State system, providing those parents who could afford it with a choice. These were privileged children, no question, but they were allowed – indeed encouraged – to be so.  Within the state education system there was also choice: One tier of education that was absolutely free and another that cost a small, termly fee. – Andrew Cowie

Moreover, some of his colleagues who came to teach in Eritrea wanted to continue living in Eritrea, even when they were granted exit visas. Many Eritreans living in western Europe and the United States often send their kids to continue to grow up in Eritrea, as they deemed the western nations they came from as being too dangerous and harmful to their children.

Why should we go some place else’, they said, ‘we like it here’.  So did a lot of the parents who brought their children back from the West to attend our school.  ‘They need to grow up in Eritrea’, they said.  ‘It is too dangerous, too harmful in the West’.  They meant, mostly, the USA and parts of Europe. – Andrew Cowie 

When Cowie went on to described his American neighbors, he stated that "neither of them had armed guards protecting their houses.",(A.C.)  however, he adds, at the U.S. Embassy itself, he describes it as a place that has "an embarrassment of militia and weaponry surrounding it." (A.C.)  and describes it as the "The only Embassy, incidentally, which does." - It seems the U.S. Embassy in Asmara's paranoia with Eritrea is not felt by other nations and having an "embarrassment" amount of armed milita proctecting a building in arguably the world's safest city makes no sense to a neutral observer who has lived in Eritrea longer than McMullen.

This atmosphere of distrust and paranoia that McMullen created wasn't just noticeable to neutral western observers who lived in Eritrea, it was experienced by American citizens who wanted to visit Eritrea and had to subsequently get in contact with U.S. Embassy in Asmara, where McMullen went on to play a counter-productive role in serving American citizens due to his nasty and hostile attitudes he held for Eritrea's leadership.

One such example is when an American citizen named Henri made plans to teach in Eritrea, he contacted the Embassy in Asmara in 2009, where Mr. McMullen warned him that 83% of Americans who applied for visas to Eritrea were rejected (a false claim), and his other predictably strange reasons on why he shouldn't live and teach in Eritrea is because of travel advisory for Americans for Eritrea due to the bombings in Uganda, a country hundreds of miles away and a nation that shares no borders with Eritrea. That's like discouraging European visitors from visiting the United States because nations of El Salvador and Honduras have some of the highest crime rates worldwide. Luckily for this American citizen, he didn't let this discourage him and did go on to teach music in Eritrea. After teaching and living in Eritrea for over a year and returning back to his Santa Monica home in California, he described his experience of Eritrea as being very safe, contrary to McMullen's claims of safety concerns.

"...yet seeing how safe Asmara is as a city, where you can walk late at night anywhere and not worry at all about being in danger. I felt much more unsafe walking around Santa Monica at night. A lot of that has to do with the Eritrean people themselves who take pride in their lawfulness.  Henri's experience living in Eritrea

So is everything fine and wonderful in Eritrea?

Eritrea, like every nation, including the United States, has a lot of things it can and should improve upon, like strengthening its institutions and its laws. It can also do a lot to improve its almost non-existent domestic and online media presence, something Ethiopia and other hostile elements have been capitalizing on to demonize Eritrea. Government officials in Eritrea should also do a better job of being more accountable to its citizens.

That being said, Eritrea in just 20 years of independence has accomplished a lot. With a 66 year average, Eritrea now has the highest life expectancy in sub-Sahara Africa. In comparison, life expectancy in Ethiopia is still just 54. Eritrea has an excellent school and health system, where every citizen is given free education and health services, something many American citizens would love to have. Currently, Eritrea has the world's fastest growing economy with a 17% growth rate. Although never given credit, Asmara's nearly "crime free" reputation has a lot to do with excellent government policies put in place, as much as it does with the cultured hospitality of Eritreans. So there's a tremendous amount of accomplishments done by the Government and one can make a great case and state the Government of Eritrea, in the last 20 years, has been the most efficient government in sub-Sahara Africa, even with all the external challenges it has and continues to face. Just look at the data presented below to see some of its accomplishments.

Eritrea Facts2011 or latest DataCommentary 
Population6 million168,000 Eritreans are born annually
Life Expectancy66 Year AverageLeads Sub-Sahara Africa
Economic GDP Growth17% GDP Growth for 2011World's Fastest Growing Economy
Literacy Rate67% Literacy RateDoubled Since Independence
HIV Prevalence Rate0.8% or 25,000 with HIVNearly Declined by 50% 
Child Mortality Under 555 deaths per 1000 births2nd Lowest in Sub-Sahara Africa
Maternal Mortality Rate280 deaths per 100,000 births3rd Lowest In Sub-Sahara Africa

This extremely false and one-sided claims McMullen dished out behind the scenes was unwarranted and counter-productive to U.S. interest, considering Eritrea and the U.S. interest coincide in the Horn of Africa.   In fact, the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was, and to some degree, still is, one of the most powerful and most influential political leaders in America's modern history acknowledged the United States can learn a lot about battling terrorism from Eritrea, since it was Eritrea that fought Osama Bin Laden long before any government considered him a threat. So it's very dubious to have a few junior U.S. diplomats, like McMullen coming along a few years later and stating without evidence that Eritrea supports Al-Shabab, a group that regularly threatens Eritrea with war. This 9-11 hysteria, where everything is seen in relations to "Al-Qaeda" is partly to blame. Other aspects have to do with the fact that Eritrea's media presences online is simply awful, leaving plenty of rumors that are largely created by the hostile Ethiopian regime to circulate and gain traction, which eventually allow paranoid and often ignorant diplomats to connect dots based on heresy, circumstantial evidence and internet rumors to base their final conclusions on.

Perhaps Thomas Keneally, the author of “Schindler’s List”, was really right all along when he eloquently described Eritrea's situation of western nations being hostile to Eritrea is simply built on Eritrea challenging the status quo, and following a path of self-reliance, a concept all western nations had adopted to be where they are themselves, yet demonize Eritrea when they too follow this path. Colonialism might have ended in Africa a few decades ago, but racism and neo-colonialism continues to thrive. This is why quotes made by Thmoas Keneally and Gary Brecher about Eritrea's self-reliance policy resonates with Eritreans so well, it's because you can never be wrong when you rely on yourself to get things done and no U.S. official can say otherwise on this time-tested fact.

‘These guys [Eritreans] are astounding! Running all this. And you know what? The world hates ‘em for it! The world hooked into the idea of ‘the helpless Africans!”

“You know what I think? They are brave to the point of folly and they’re clever to the point of being dumb. No one absolutely no one, from Washington to Moscow, wants them to succeed. No one. … God’s even taken the rain away from them, for Christ’s sake. Even he thinks they’re wrong-headed. The sin of pride … the sin of being sharp when no one wants them to be.” – Thomas Keneally

Eritrea is like Prussia: a tiny state of hard people who’ll take on anybody. The Eritreans rebuilt an entire railroad with their bare hands. Imagine what that must’ve looked like: hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, whole families, digging rock and hammering track for no pay, out there in some of the hottest, driest, nastiest landscape in the world. And it wasn’t because the authorities terrorized them into it: it was for the good of the nation. Think what kind of soldiers those people must be! If there were a few more Eritreans, they’d probably march across the whole continent: “Greater Eritrea (formerly known as ‘Africa’).”– Gary Brecher

                                                          [Click on the image to see larger quality]

I am Eritrean and proud 

In the first 3:30 of this video below, Rachel Maddow pretty much covers the problem with Wikileaks and how it has become a great tool of disinformation for the U.S. Government.

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Eritrea through the eyes of foreigners Reviewed by Admin on 5:34 PM Rating: 5


  1. A great and very informative article, I loved reading it


  3. greaaaaat article can't believe I'm just reading it now


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