This 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