“Against all odds” – Dan Connell’s seminal book on the Eritrean revolution, now updated and reappraised

Against All OddsThis book – as relevant today as it was in 1993 when it was first written – is by one of the few outsiders who can claim to really know those who fought for Eritrea’s freedom.

That long struggle, which began in 1961 and ended 30 years later with the ecstatic capture of Asmara, was known to very few who were not Eritreans. Dan Connell was one of them.

It is with great pain and sadness that he therefore writes an update and reappraisal of these events. Today Eritrea is possibly the worst dictatorship in the world and many of Dan’s contacts and friends languish in its dungeons.

He sums up this dilemma in his preface to the new edition.

“The liberation front’s remarkable discipline and organisation and its fierce commitment to self-reliance help explain its success against extraordinary odds. But the same qualities made for problems when it can to state-building in a less easily controlled political environment. Perhaps, then, it was was inevitable that the front would revert to what it knew best: a permanent war-footing with its nation-building project under strict military command, albeit in civilian clothing, as if it were still a guerilla army defending its besieged base area from existential threats on all sides. Was there ever really another way? The question is an idle one, though it preoccupies many in the diaspora.” 

Dan considers why Eritreans have behaved with such utter disregard for their enemies and for civilians in the current war in Tigray.

This he puts down to the problem of “cult-formation” with conscripts indoctrinated into believing that their country is facing an overwhelming threat, which only a inspired leader can save the nation. The young men and women are isolated from the rest of the world and have absolute obedience enforced upon them.

Little surprise then that they have slaughtered men and abused and killed women without humanity. “Once initiated in the fever of killing, plunder, rape and destruction, there was no turning back; they had been turned into monsters.”

How right Dan is. Eritreans have been transformed and deformed by decades of dictatorship.

Changing the country into the humane democracy that the EPLF fought for over so many years will take years of healing and re-education.

You can buy the book directly from Africa World Press



  1. Romanticizing anything, let alone a revolution, requires a distance that provides one a view bereft of its ugly details and mist in between that soften the realty on the ground. That is why the most romanticized books written about Eritrea such as “Against All Odds” and “Even the Stones Are Burning” had to be necessarily written by foreigners. They had to be distanced twice, both in mind and body, to get it perfectly wrong.

    Shaebia is as brutal and as evil then as now—it has always been the Khmer Rouge of Africa. The blueprint for all horrors that it has been committing in Tigray comes directly from Sahel. No amount of romanticizing could change that fact.

    As many leftists were denying the horrors that took place in Cambodia under Pol Pot, so have these romanticizers when it comes to the horrors of the Eritrean revolution.

    I prefer a writer like Alemseged Tesfay, still a die-hard Shaebia serving the regime in Asmara, but a gifted and prolific writer (both in literature and history), who has wisely shied away from writing anything substantive about the history of the revolution. He has been intimately close to it to know in reality that it would be impossible to romanticize it.

    1. I can’t square the comment “Almeseged T … a gifted prolific writer … who has wisely shied away from writing anything substantive …” How can someone who is a prolific writer be one who also shies away from writing?

      I have not read Dan’s latest book and unfortunately can’t comment. However, I have read every single book Dan has written on Eritrea over the last 40 years. There are areas I of course do not agree with Dan, but I have never for a single moment doubted his commitment for the good of the Eritrean people. In my book it is irrelevant that Dan is not an Eritrean by birth. He has done more to help the Eritrean people than most Eritreans, myself included.

      I think it is unfair demonised the whole Shaebia (EPLF) movement – our martyrs have given the ultimate. I, however, agree with your criticism of the EPLF leaders who created the Monster. Not only did they create him but packaged and presented him to the innocent Eritrea people as a saint. I blame them for the suffering our people have endured over the last 30 years as much as I blame Isaias.

      However, blaming each other is not going to take us anywhere. Instead we should hold our hands together and find a way to remove this cancer from our midst. That should be our focus and nothing else.

  2. Malcolm Caldwell, a left-wing professor from Scotland, was among a few who supported the Khmer Rouge. Unlike Connell, Caldwell was an ardent leftist who supported a communist utopia, including North Korea’s. Unlike Connell, the ideology he espoused made him credulous and prevented him from scrutinizing Pol Pot and his clique. Although he did not apologize fully, he made a half-hearted admission to his open backing of the architects of genocide. The author of the book: Against All Odds, however, was a liberal journalist and far from being a fanatic believer in communism. And yet, decades after the horrors in independent Eritrea and present-day Tigray, Connell has failed miserably to examine the monstrosity of the Eritrean State.

  3. Correction: There was a confusion made about two professors earlier. Ben Kiernan was the one, who made a sort of confession. On the other hand, Malcolm Caldwell had been killed by unknown assailants, within the Khmer Rouge.

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