So what is his secret?

It is this: Dawit has an illustrious father. Indeed, his dad, Mesfen Tesfaye could be called the father of Eritrea’s favourite sport: cycling.

Mesfen competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne – representing Ethiopia, of which Eritrea was then a part. It was the first occasion on which Ethiopia participated in the Olympics and Mesfen competed in both the individual and team events. They were the first black African team ever to participate in the Olympic Games.

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ንሕና፡ ኣስማትና ኣብ ታሕቲ ኣስፊርና ዘለና ውልቀ-ሰባት፡ በዚ ሃገርና ኣትያቶ ዘላ መጻብቦ ብምግዳስ፡ ኵነታት ሃገርና ንምግምጋምን ብቑዕ መፍትሐ ንምእማምን ተኣኪብና ንምምይያጥ ተሰማማዕና። ኰይኑ ድማ፡ እንሆ ሃገርና ናጽነታ ንኽትረክብ ዝተጻወትካዮ ተራን፡ ንመጻኢ ጊዜ’ውን ከም መራሕ ሃገር ዝጽበየካ ዕማማት ብምግንዛብን፡ እዛ መልእኽቲ’ዚኣ ግምት ሂብካ ስጉምቲ ንኽትወስደላ ንልእከልካ።

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ጠንቂ-ስደት ሃሳዪ ምዃኑ ሰፊሕ ሓተታ ኣየድልዮን። ይዅን’ምበር፡ ክውንነት-ስደት ከመይ’ሉ ኣብ ሕብረተ-ሰብና ከም ዝሰረጸን ሕጂ ኸኣ ናብ ንቡር ከም ዝተለወጠን ክንሓስበሉን ክንመሃረሉን ይግባእ። ንምዃኑ፡ ዕላማ ናይ’ዚ መልእኽቲ’ዚ ሕልና ንምፍታሽን ኣብ ሓሳባትና ጦብላሕ ዝብሉ ሕቶታት ንምስማዕን ’ምበር መልስታት ንምድህስስ ኣይኰነን።

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I have a friend who served as a British soldier during WWII whose stories I find quite fascinating. In fact, I have made it a habit of meeting him every other day during my coffee breaks at the British Library in London. Listening to the stories of his youth, when he was deployed to Kenya and Egypt and his stopovers along the Red Sea, help me to understand what the situation of that time was like for young recruits as well as how the British Empire functioned. Ken, who has recently celebrated his 88th birthday, loves to reflect on the bumpy journeys of his life as well as numerous other experiences. Currently, he is rushing against time to finish his 3rd or 4th book on the history of medieval England. He is a self-taught intellectual with an acute sense of the pitfalls of modern times and the ‘futile escapades’ of the young, so to speak. I admire him for the way he maintains a steady balance of his old values by juxtaposing himself to modern times and the lives of his children and grandchildren.

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The ethnic/confessional prejudice and posturing we are witnessing in this day and age is endangering our campaigns for justice, and besmirching the heroic history and comradeship of the Eritrean struggle for independence. The aim of the sectarian and ethnocentric manoeuvre is to sow discord between groups, loosen our Ghedli-history that binds us together and then destroy the social fabric of our communities. The Agazian extremists think that religion and ethnicity provide them with the general model that they have of themselves and their world. Well, they are wrong because Nakfa proved them wrong time and time again. Allow me to clarify my point. The aim of the so called Agazians, promoters of these prejudiced values, simply stated, is to change the course of our Ghedli experience in order to appropriate more mano

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The story of the music with which Eritreans mostly readily identify starts with the Ethiopian occupation. After centuries of rule by the Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians and British, a UN resolution to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia went into effect in 1952. Almost immediately, however, Eritrea’s autonomous rights were violated, sparking an armed struggle against the Ethiopian masters which lasted until Eritrea won independence in 1993. During those long decades, music assumed a special meaning to Eritreans. It was used to inspire the youth to join the struggle and to raise the political consciousness of the civilian population; to revive patriotism and shape identity.

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Thirteen Eritrean professionals and scholars met in a hotel in Berlin in late September 2000 to brainstorm about the Eritrean reality. At the conclusion of their session, the 13 Eritreans sent a private letter to the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, itemizing the shortcomings of his leadership style, his administration and the role of the intelligentsia and suggested ways to disentangle Eritrea from the mess it is in. Within days, the letter was leaked and brouhaha ensued in the Eritrean cyber media: the letter was termed the ‘Berlin Manifesto’ and the group labeled ‘G-13’. The president responded by inviting the G-13 to a meeting at a mutually convenient time and place which ended up being either November 23rd or November 24th in Asmara, Eritrea. 11 members of the ‘G-13’ attended the meeting: one has publicly disavowed her association with the group and the other, although supportive and still a member could not attend the meeting.

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We would like to begin by expressing our unreserved support for our government in its defense of our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our admiration for the Eritrean defense forces and the entire Eritrean population for their role in foiling the Ethiopian aggression. But it is our firm belief that the military threat posed by Ethiopia cannot be dealt with separately from the political and economic challenges that confront us as a new nation. We are aware that the great promise of peaceful reconstruction and development has been shelved by considerations of national survival. However, we are also convinced that we can meet the present danger and future challenges if we unite our efforts and correct our past mistakes. The current crisis presents an opportunity to those ends.

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Democratic governance and respect for human rights are the foundations for political and social stability and economic progress. They are also intrinsic to the goal of development. Today, in Africa, the struggle for democracy and human rights continues. As in the past, international support can play an important role. African victories in recent decades in overcoming colonial rule and other Cold War era forms of dictatorship, notably military dictatorships and one-party political systems, have marked important progress and empowered Africans to a certain extent. While democratic advances have been made across the continent, serious challenges still remain. As is the case everywhere, we can safely state that democracy in Africa is a work in progress. In Eritrea, although it is a country which finds itself at a crucial political juncture, the work has not started yet.

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The question many are asking is: what went wrong in Eritrea?

The first thing to look at is its history. The sacrifice that was made to liberate Eritrea from the Ethiopian occupation, which lasted three decades, cannot be described in simple terms. The tug of war that was played out between the attacks of the liberation forces and the Ethiopian counteroffensives still draws raw emotions. Eritreans, young and old, inside and outside the country, supported the revolution.

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The ‘preventable tragedy’ Mr Ban Ki-Moon referred to was the stark reality that on 7 April, 1994 the international community stood on the side-lines as death began to descend on Rwanda. The perpetrators were Rwandan armed forces and extremist Hutu militias who went on a killing spree after the assassination of the then president, Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu. As the international community shuffled paperwork, bickered over roles and wrote press releases to condemn the killings, the world quietly witnessed the ugly reality of the Rwanda genocide.

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After the long independence struggle came to an end, we unquestioningly supported the new government as it tottered like a new-born foal while taking its first steps. We immersed ourselves in the surge of optimistic idealism, a promise of a new kind of future for Eritreans. Unfortunately, it did not take long for our optimism to evaporate due to sluggish pace of change. Gradually the government began to show its true colours. Even then, sometimes I wonder why that era made us such stern and uncompromising individuals or impractical dreamers.

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The story of Eritrea is a mixture of joy and sorrow. This is not an account of oppression, resistance and the valour of Eritrea’s liberation fighters. Nor is this about the magnitude of sacrifice that was made and the amount of blood that was shed to liberate Eritrea. It goes without saying that those who went through an armed liberation struggle would know the dynamics of warfare. It suffices to mention that the anguish Eritrea went through was immense, the clamour of the victims is still heard, and the sounds of the silenced guns still reverberate in the minds of those who lived through the conflict in general; the ex-fighters in particular. The scars of the conflict are seen not only on the bodies and souls of the fighters, but also the whole of that generation. In short, the fields, mountains and valleys of Eritrea bear testimony to the severity of the conflict that consumed tens of thousands of Eritrean nationals.

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Eleven Members of Parliament and Eritrean government officials were illegally arrested in Asmara, Eritrea on 18th and 19th September 2001 in violation of Eritrean laws and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In May 2001, the detainees, in an effort to bring about an open dialogue that was designed to usher in democracy and constitutional governance, wrote an open letter which criticised government policies. Their letter called upon all People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) members in particular and Eritrean people in general to express their opinion through legal and democratic means and to give their support to the goals and principles they considered just. The government subsequently announced that the fifteen individuals were acting illegally and were posing a threat to national security.

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How often on the continent of Africa and elsewhere have we seen successful democratic revolutions lead to failed political experiments where the revolutionary government is scarcely distinguishable from the original dictatorship? The problem is so common, and so tragic, that it scarcely receives mention anymore. This is the greatest danger for the people of Eritrea in particular and Africa in general. If the problem is viewed as intractable, the western world is ever more likely to turn its back on Africa completely. With nation upon nation embroiled in civil war, with rampant disease and malnutrition, failed and pillaged agrarian economies and the preoccupation with the AIDS and the Ebola epidemic, political prisoners across the continent – and their families - receive virtually no attention.

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The G-15

  1. The 15 members of the group are former fighters who were instrumental figures in the liberation of Eritrea.
  2. The group were all members of the Central Council of the Ruling Party, People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ);
  3. Seven were former Cabinet Ministers;
  4. Eleven of the G-15 have been held incommunicado without charge for 13 years;
  5. Four escaped arrest;
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The story Dr Bereket Habte Selassie presents in his latest book is about the tumultuous era during which I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I can say that I found it, partly, the story of my youth, reminding me of how the bright and dark shades of the 1970s shaped my attitude and the positions I took in my personal life. The account took me back to an era I had stepped out of long ago and have tried to dismiss from my memory. But the vivid portrayal of that era readily conjured the image up and I came to realise that the characters, and the story itself, touched a nerve within me.

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Martin Plaut's book, 'Understanding Eritrea', is a timely and crucial read. The book provides an important account of the distinctive aspects and nature of rogue nations. Focusing on the historical metamorphosis of Eritrea, which Plaut has actively followed since the mid-seventies, the book delves into the discussion of how Eritrea betrayed its own citizens.

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Borderlines is Michela Wrong’s first novel and it tells the story of North Darrar (ND), a fictional country Eritreans will immediately recognise as very like their own. It is a thoroughly researched, legally mesmerising and philosophically challenging account, which keeps the reader in suspense from start to finish.

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