Issayas Afewerki's Eritreanness
Myth vs. Realty
By Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu
Ethiopia Review, October 2001
Isayas Afewerki's father is called Ato Afewerq Abraha. His mother's name is Woz. Adanech Berhe. Their children are: Ato Amare Afewerq (Afewerki intended to camouflage Eritreaness); Ato Isayas Afewerq (Afewerki); Ato Amanuel Afewerq; Ato Ermias Afewrq; Ato Yonas Afewerq; Woz. Tsigereda Afewerq; Woz. Arian Afewerq(ki).
Family background of the Eritrean president
Isayas's father, Ato Afewerq/ki is from Adi Tanqua-Milash/Tembien and they trace their roots to Agame Awraja of Tigray in Ethiopia.
Isayas's father used to work in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Province. Isayas's father used to work at the Ministry of Land Reform until his retirement. Until he died, those who knew him in Tigray used to identify him as "the man who wears a black suit, a black "cravat"/neck tie and a black hat."
Isayas's Mother Woz. Adanech Berhe is from Adwa in Tigray. This is also the birthplace of the father of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.
Isayas's uncles (via his father) are: Dejazmatch Solomon Abraha, Captain Mekonnen Abraha, Ato Hagos Abraha.
Dejazmatch Solomon Abraha (Isayas's cousin) was the Enderassie/Governor of Wollo province in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haileselassie. In 1964 (E.C.), ae Tigray cultural group based in Mekele visited Dessie, the Capital City of Wollo after their tour to Asmara. The Governor of Wollo at the time, Dejazmatch Solomon Abraha, (the Eritrean President's uncle), in a special dinner, organised in their honour expressed his pleasure and gratitude to the Cultural Group for their initiative of popularising the Tigrean folklore music and dances and he told them that he was a Tigrean himself.
Dejazmatch Solomon Abraha revealed to them that his own mother was from Agame Awraja in Beganta-Afeshum Woreda (sub-district) in a village called Qil-a-at" in Tigray, Ethiopia. He also told them that his father was from Tenbien in Tigray.
Navy Captain Mekonnen Abraha was "married" to the daughter of Dejazmatch Ghebray, who was a student at Empress Menen School in Addis Ababa and he is believed to have children from her.
Ato Hagos Abraha was a student at Teferi Mekonnen School in Addis Ababa in the mid 1940s. He discontinued his studies due to ill health and later died when he was working at the National Bank in Addis Ababa.
Isayas Afewerki's other relatives
Isayas's grandmother (on his mother's side) is called Woz. Medhin "Berad" and she is from Adwa in Tigray. She is the brother of Fitawrari Kidane Mesel.
It is also alleged that Fitawrari Kidane is the father of either Ato Kassahun or Ato Yemane Kidane (otherwise known as "Jamaica") of the TPLF/EPRDF ruling group of Ethiopia. If this is true, it implies that Ato "Jamaica" and Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea are in a sense brothers by our Eritrean/Ethiopian definition but a cousin in Western sense. It is also said that some of the closest people around Isayas Afewerki also have a Tigrean blood. In short, many of those who are fanatic anti-Ethiopia in Asmara are mainly Tigreans/Ethiopians by origin and those who have had strong links and connections with Tigray, in particular, and Ethiopia, in general.
Isayas's aunt (the sister of Isayas's mother) is called Woz. Hana. She is the wife of Ato Belay. Both Woz. Hana and Ato Belay are from Adwa. It is alleged that their children are living in Sweden.
Isayas's uncle (on his mother's side) is married to a woman from Adwa and has a daughter named Woz. Zewdi, who is now said to be living in Germany.
From the above information, the only "Eritreanness" of Isayas Afewerki is that he was born in Eritrean soil and he is married to Woz. Saba Haile of Shimezana of Eritrea.
This is a shocking story to the blind supporters of this brutal dictator. We are sure that Eritreans whose families have sacrificed their loved ones as well as other Eritreans who have in good faith made material and other forms of sacrifices for the last 30 years would describe Isayas's lie and actions as the most shameful and extra-ordinary betrayals of truth of the century, as far as Eritreans are concerned. Those Eritreans whose families have sacrificed in the last 30 years to keep this evil man in power and who sincerely and have blindly supported his pseudo Eritrean national identity would find these revelations as a tragic shock.
We like to stress that those who have forwarded us this information are said to be well informed and have an inside information about Isayas Afewerki's family and relatives. For those who have any doubts about this, we take this opportunity to appeal all Eritreans to make their own investigations and arrive at their own conclusions.
Embarasing dilema for blind Isayas loyalists
Some fanatic Isayas loyalist Eritreans see and regard Ethiopians as our enemies. They argue that they do not have anything to do with what they unashamedly call as "the Agames/Ugums or the poor and uncivilized Ethiopians." These "civilized" Eritrean elements living in either Asmara or as immigrants in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world delude themselves as "rich, affluent, modern and civilized" and treat the Agames from Tigray as "inferior human beings." Some of them even go as far as saying that any one who is not an Eritrean may not have the right to live and work in Eritrea (except for doing jobs that Eritreans are not willing to do) let alone to see a Tigrean/Ethiopian as the President of Eritrea. These Eritreans (Isayas loyalists) would now find themselves shocked and embarrassed to learn that their leader is, strictly speaking, not an Eritrean but a Tigrean/Ethiopian and hence should not have been a leader in the first place.
The truth now is that the man to whom the future of Eritreans and Eritrea was entrusted is not an Eritrean after all, but a Tigrean/Ethiopian by origin, whose parents were new comers from Tigray who happen to settle in Adi Tselot. Thus, strictly speaking, the leader of Eritrea, Isayas Afewerki, has neither the firm blood and family roots in Eritrea, nor the legitimacy to be the leader of the people of Eritrea, as defined by "civilized" Isayas loyalists Eritreans.
If one strictly applies the ethnic and tribal criteria of TPLF/EPLF in Eritrea to expel non-Eritreans from Eritrean soil, as it is done now, then Isayas himself has no business in Eritrea and ought to have been expelled with the rest of what they call "Agames" and others who by the way have lived more years in Eritrean soil than Isayas himself.
However, since we have a good understanding of the state of the world, the nature of mobility and immigration of people around the world (including Eritreans living outside Eritrea itself) and taking into account the intertwined relationship and inseparable destiny between our two brotherly peoples, we do not share sectarian, racist, tribalist and exclusionist policies of some of these Isayas loyalist Eritreans. Nor do we share and support the extremist, narrow nationalist, fascistic ideas and views of Isayas loyalists who are living in comfort in the West and still advocate of creating an isolated and poor Eritrea.
If we push the reasoning of some of these narrow nationalist and sectarian Isayas loyalists and some few other Eritreans to the limit, we would have a problem in determining who is and is not strictly a real and an authentic Eritrean, because many of them, particularly those who are from Eritrean highlands, know very well that they have some roots with Tigray or Ethiopia either that originates in the last 60 years or in some distant past. It must be stressed that Eritreans are not a special species that originate from another planet. We have common roots with Ethiopians (as the English, Scottish and Walish have with each other) that we cannot ignore and we must also be proud to accept and we see no reason why anti-Ethiopianism should be a criteria or identity of Eritreanness.
As far as we are concerned some of those sectarian and extremist elements of Isayas loyalist Eritreans could after all be non-Eritreans by origin or they may have dubious family backgrounds and personal track record that they want to hide and who want to appear more catholic than the pope himself. That is why they sometimes appear to be more Eritreans than the true and authentic Eritreans themselves.
In light of the above, it is legitimate to ask at least the following questions:
While the President of Eritrea knows that he is of Tigrean/Ethiopian extraction, why has he been anti-Ethiopia, in general, and anti-Tigray, in particular, and decided to wage war against the country of his mother and father?
Why has he lied and denied his Tigrean/Ethiopian family background for too long until it is discovered by others and appeared to be a fanatic Eritrean than many other genuine Eritreans?
Why should Isayas, a Tigrean/Ethiopian, allow the Eritrean and Ethiopian people to engage in mutual killings and annihilation when he ought to have been a bridge of peace and reconciliation between our peoples who happen to be artificially divided by former Italian colonialists?
Why has he been so much ashamed of his Tigrean/Ethiopian background that have a glorious history against colonialism and foreign domination who have managed to keep their country independent while the rest of Africa was under colonial rule?
Why has he decided to disown his roots? And why should Eritreans needlessly sacrifice so much for 30 years if the net benefit is only to one man and the misery and suffering of our people is what we see now?
Why has he shed so many Eritrean and Ethiopian lives when they could have created a type of relationship based on dignity, equality and mutual respect for each other?
Why has he used divide-and-rule policies between our people while he should have forged to strengthen and promote all-round relationship between our brotherly peoples?
Why have the families and relatives of Isayas kept amazingly silent about the truth of their roots?
Why should Isayas's family get shamed to identify themselves with the people of Tigray/Ethiopia?
Why did Isayas and his family rejected the glory of Axumite Kingdom and the proud history and tradition of the people of ancient and modern Tigray as well as the rest of Ethiopia?
Why did many Eritreans decide to make supreme sacrifices to fight against Ethiopia for 30 years, and particularly since 1991 while their future prosperity also very much depend on having a good brotherly cooperation with Ethiopia?
Why doesn't this generation of Eritreans prefer to invest its time and life to improve the quality and standard of living of the Eritrean people and find a good answer to a question of what is it that they have benefited from this bloody war of brothers?
Reasons why Isayas should be removed
Isayas's track record show beyond any reasonable doubt that the man is only obsessed with power than solving the socio-economic problems of the Eritrean people. His power and empire was built on anti-Ethiopia, anti-Amara and now anti-Tigrean agenda.
Isayas Afewerki has been, for all intents and purposes, a heartless dictator since he first became a leader of EPLF 30 years ago. Now, we have found out that he has also been a professional liar with no sense of personal integrity throughout his life.
In the last 30 years, Eritreans have not seen peace, democracy and meaningful development. They have not seen what the real benefits genuine peace and reconciliation can bring about.
Isayas and his one-man dominated EPLF/PFDJ did not only betray the trust and confidence of many Eritreans, but have permanently ruined the lives of the vast majority of Eritreans and Ethiopians. He quarrelled with Djibouti and Sudan and went to war with Yemen. He has sacrificed the lives of so many Eritreans to prove himself to be seen as the leader of the region. Moreover, he has made Eritrea a graveyard for a half a million people.
Isayas pretended to be an Eritrean while both of his parents are from Tigray/Ethiopia. He mobilized the vast majority of Eritreans to go to senseless and needless war against our Ethiopian brothers with whom we have inseparable future.
The President of Eritrea and his other Tigrean or half Eritrean clique around him have mislead and brain washed the innocent Eritrean people to make ultimate sacrifices under the guise of the so- called "the defence of Eritrea's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national independence" while the only objective of the sacrifice has been to keep themselves in power.
Even after the cessation of hostilities was signed in Algiers on 18 June 2000, the Isayas regime was lying that Ethiopia is preparing to fight another war to control Asmara and Assab and spreading many false alarms about imminent Ethiopian invasion solely intended to divert the attention of the mind of Eritreans from getting the time to reflect and to squarely blame and remove their leader for their suffering.
Our view has been clear all along. There was no reason or justification for Eritreans to go to war and sacrifice more lives, particularly in post 1991. The war instigated by Isayas was predominantly a power struggle to dominate the region, and has nothing to do either to improve the standard of living or the quality of life of our people. It has only brought death and destruction and collective sadness and grief as well as trauma for all of us.
However, the vast majority of Eritreans have been indoctrinated to believe that Ethiopia and Ethiopians are their number one enemy. Unfortunately Isayas has created enormous fear of Ethiopia or Ethiopians in order to keep himself in power. To go to war against Ethiopia (after Eritreans got what they have fought for 30 years) is absolute insanity. Much to our regret, not many Eritreans condemned him for exposing his own people to so much suffering and misery.
Many innocent, misguided and misinformed Eritreans argue that "even Isayas knows that this is a stupid war." The question they have not been able to answer is why Isayas himself decided to invade his own country and his own people and declare war against his own roots?
His blind loyalists do not think he was the invader when there is every evidence to show to the contrary. For them the issue has become a religion than a question of facts and truth. After this revelation of his family roots, we hope that his blind loyalists will now find him a source of embarrassment.
When Eritreans and Ethiopians one day take a deep breath and start to stop and think, the strategy of mutual annihilation that had happened in the last 30 years, in general, and the senseless war instigated by Isayas in 1998 and its devastating consequences this has brought about on the present and future generation of Eritreans, Isayas will have no where to hide.
We must also confess one reason why Isayas failed the people of Eritrea is because many Eritreans, particularly those in diaspora, put total trust on a man whose only obsession power. Many Eritreans in diaspora knew that Eritrea was a trustship territory of one man and not an independent country since 1991. But it turned out to be the worst type of trustship where Eritreans within Eritrea who sacrificed to be free and independent ended up being a hostage of a brutal dictator who exposed the Eritrean people to wars that brought them only misery, suffering and humiliation.
In the last two years alone, he has brought about a humiliating defeat of his army. He needlessly sacrificed 200,000 innocent Eritrean lives, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. He has squandered substantial financial resources of the country that ought to have been spent to save lives and for development. Above all, he has brought about a deep wound and scar between our brotherly peoples.
The main reasons why we condemn Isayas and some others around him are also for hiding their true origins, for their manifest lack of integrity, and for their inhuman behavior, as well as for instigating a needless and senseless war that does not benefit our people and whose consequences are death, destruction, misery and humiliation.
Isayas is a symbol of war, suffering, humiliation, and betrayal of ones own roots, history and culture. Instead of building bridges of peace and reconciliation, he brought about tremendous suffering for Eritreans and Ethiopians.
In Eritrea, there is also plenty of dehumanizing state of affairs. Many Eritreans within Eritrea are suffering. Those who have been to Eritrea now admit that prices of basic needs have gone up to unacceptable levels. Many Eritreans have gone to the war front. Many Eritrean families are suffering from three decades of bereavement. They cannot speak due to fear and terror. There is a silent anger and disillusionment by those who have lost their loved ones and by those soldiers, "warsay" and conscripts who have been betrayed by Isayas.
Urgent need for a new leadership
As long as Isayas and his clique are in power, there cannot be a lasting peace, stability and prosperity in Eritrea. Only by a new leadership that is committed to a policy of wholehearted cooperation than confrontation with our neighbours can the future of Eritreans have an opportunity to improve. Only when there is a new regime that is genuinely committed to put the interest of the Eritrean people and promoting all round economic, trade and other cooperation and by integrating with these two giant states (i.e., Ethiopia and Sudan) that have a great deal of potential and by entering into mutually beneficial economic cooperation and political associations that does not in any way undermine the deep rooted aspirations of Eritreans can Eritrea have a future.
It should be stressed that the coming to power of Gorbachev have brought about fundamental change to Russia, Eastern Europe, US-Soviet relations as well as in the rest of the world. Despite many years of European peace movements and prayers by European churches, it can be said it was when Gorbachev came to power that brought about more or less the end of the Cold War, although prayers might also have helped to bring about such changes. Similarly, the situation of Serbia is more peaceful under the new, more democratic regime rather than under Milosovic.
Any one who denies his roots, as Isayas did for the whole of his life, is unfit to be worthy of assuming any public functions and responsibilities. It should be stressed that we opposed Isayas and his brutal and sectarian policies for the last 25 years long before we ever knew about his Tigrean/Ethiopian family background.
As long as it benefits our people to bring about peace, stability and Prosperity in deeds, we do not mind if any one originating from any of our indigenous family of nations within Eritrea and/or Ethiopia who has the vision, commitment and good leadership qualities is given the opportunity and the benefit of the doubt to lead, govern, administer and help our people to bring about peace based on genuine reconciliation as well as stability and prosperity that can be seen in deeds.
Similarly, if all is well there is no reason why an Eritrean by origin who has the above qualities cannot also become the leader of Ethiopia. As far as we are concerned, this is also one of the important guarantees and assurances of a relationship based on equality, dignity and on mutual respect. That is also our understanding of our new sense of Ethio-Eritrean brotherhood and sisterhood, and not domination by one ethnic group over other brotherly peoples.
Those who know our stand on the most important issues on Ethio-Eritrean relations know it very well that we do not support the ethnic politics of TPLF/EPRDF because its disadvantages are greater than its advantages. If their policy of ethnic politics is introduced in Eritrea, then there will never be Eritrea. That is why we are still critical to ethnic policies of TPLF/EPRDF, on one hand, and the exclusionist and sectarian anti-Tigrean/Ethiopia policies and actions of Isayas Afewerki, on the other. This also confirms that we have a staggering stance on issues that matter to our people and their future.
We have no doubt in our minds that things would definitely improve if Isayas is removed and TPLF/EPRDF abandons its ethnic politics and the Ethiopian people embark in a genuine fraternal all round negotiations with the people of Eritrea or their representatives to redefine their relations based on equality and mutual respect for each other. But first and foremost, Isayas has to be removed from power. This is an absolute condition for any new beginning.
We have always argued that the Mereb River should not be the permanent physical dividing line between our big families of brotherly nations. This is even truer today in the era of globalisation and when we are heading towards a borderless world.
We have consistently advocated that we should find a peaceful, well-thought mechanism of all round cooperation and political association with our Ethiopian brothers that would give a guarantee for Eritreans a true and genuine sense of equality, freedom, justice that creates equal opportunity that would help our brotherly peoples to jointly prosper and develop together.
We have always said and advocated that our common enemies were and still are poverty, ignorance and technological and other forms of underdevelopment.
Much to our regret, instead of promoting tolerance and a civilized dialogue to find ways and means of solving our differences, we were condemned, persecuted, alienated, and blackmailed for no less than 25 years for upholding the truth and for exercising our fundamental and God given mind to accept what we think is right and to reject Isayas's fabricated version of history, and his brutal policies and to speak our mind when miscarriage of justice are committed. Based on our experience, we are not convinced that many Eritreans are fully aware where their vested long-term interests lie.
The other tragic irony is that many Eritreans who live in Western democratic countries where there is no scarcity of information, tolerance and democratic values have in the last 25 years refused to listen to our humble and repeated plea for peace and reconciliation within our society.
The biggest tragedy is that many Eritreans did not know that the enemy of Eritreans is Isayas himself. What the leader of Eritrea has done is against the interest of the present and future generation of Eritreans as well as Ethiopians.
It should also be stressed that some of the core group around Isayas in Asmara are of mixed blood from the people of Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. Why Isayas's empire and Isayas's Eritrea is built on anti- Ethiopian and anti Amara and lately anti-Tigrean agenda is something Eritreans should seriously reflect and rethink.
We also want Eritreans and Ethiopians as well as the rest of the world to know that the post 1991 Ethio-Eritrean conflict is nothing but a life and death struggle for power and domination of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa between primarily two armed groups lead and dominated by Tigreans by origin who happen to have power both in Eritrea and Ethiopia. This is precisely one reason why we think that this war is a war between groups obsessed with power rather than a war between our two brotherly peoples because our people have nothing to benefit but lost a great deal from such cruel and senseless war of brothers.
What we want the present and future generation of Eritreans to know and realize is that truth, justice, positive thinking, peace and compassion for one another have been manifestly absent among Eritreans. The main reason why the Eritrean people have suffered over the years is because there had been neither truth nor justice, as well as respect for the opinion of others. Despite the ten years of Eritrean liberation and so called glory, Eritrea is being ruled by a man and his government whose definition of liberation is only known to themselves and not to the Eritrean people. After ten years, there is neither freedom nor respect for human rights. It may be a liberation for them, but certainly, it has been slavery for the Eritrean people.
Now a day of truth and reckoning has arrived. Let all Eritreans and other concerned who have a sense of truth and justice as well as good intentions for our people take a deep breath and ask some fundamental questions of what rights and freedoms they now enjoy in reality.
Some hard choices left for Eritreans to decide
If Eritreans still continue to portray this evil man who have needlessly sacrificed the lives 200,000 Eritrean and internally displaced 750,000 in two years, then their suffering will not stop and we would be justified to conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong with this generation of Eritreans. It will also constitute another grave mistake in the life of the history of Eritrean struggle from dictatorship to democracy.
We just hope Eritreans would get a good lesson from this bloody and painful experience of the last 25 years. It is NEVER too late to learn from ones own mistakes and to make a new and right beginning in the 21st century and find lasting solutions that put the interest of our people and their future first.
Eritreans within and outside Eritrea now have to make a hard decision to either continue to blindly support Isayas and continue to be cheated about his temporary peace deal, or to make a new beginning in the 21st century towards creating a genuine and a lasting peace.
We like to stress that the objective of removing Isayas from power and replacing him by a better alternative with a clear vision cannot be realised and achieved without the establishment of a credible, viable, durable and effective Eritrean democratic opposition with a vision that fully understands the domestic circumstances and regional and the fundamental changes that has taken place in the world. Even then, the regroupment of other democratic and patriotic Eritreans of Reason and Vision within the Eritrean opposition groups inside and outside Eritrea is an essential precondition to get rid of Isayas and his inner circle.
We also believe that eventually, we need the support and cooperation of the other patriotic and democratic elements of the Eritrean armed forces, as well as some of the sensible and responsible elements of EPLF/PFDJ. Only a combination of all of the above can remove the tyrant and take some fundamental steps that will bring about the formation of an Eritrean Transitional Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. Only then will we be able to lay the foundation for the establishment of a democratic Eritrea that genuinely reflects the collective will of the Eritrean people free from blind hatred, lies, brutality deceit, vendettas, and focus the minds and energies of our people to development. Only such a new vision and abandonment of hate politics, sectarianism and isolation will ensure a new hope and a new beginning for the people of Eritrea in the 21st century.
The above piece, condensed for space, is one in a series of articles prepared by Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu & Associates. Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu, Ph.D., resides in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.