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Ethiopian Extremists and President Isaias Afeworki: A Love Story

By Bayelegne Yirgu
Tigrai Online Nov. 29, 2012

The competition of “who is more close to Isaias” is very intense among the diaspora politicians.

Sileshi Tilahun [EPPF], Isaias Afwerki, and Elias Kifle (Photo credit Ethiopian Review)
Sileshi Tilahun of eppf, Isaias Afwerki the President-for-life of Eritrea and Elias Kifle.

Ethiopian Review’s adoration of Isaias Afeworki has reached a new height. Last week, the website compared the megalomaniac dictator to Nelson Mandela and George Washington.

The notoriety of Ethiopian Review is known to many. Its owner Elias Kifle is convicted of terrorism charges in Ethiopian courts and found guilty of libel in British courts. Still, he is an “innocent” “democracy activist” “blogger” for CPJ.

The website is despised by the diasporas for the frequent boycott and smear-campaigns it launches on diaspora entrepreneurs and artists working in America. Ethiopian Review is a loyal mouthpiece of the Eritrean dictator Isaias Afeworki. The dictator’s supporters like and regularly visit his website for lessons on how to smear Ethiopia’s democracy, development and its leaders.

Ethiopian Review is an expert in that regard, no ink is spared to insult friends of Ethiopia from America to South East Asia, from Gulf to South Africa. It has no respect or mercy for religious leaders, the elderly, the deceased and for individual’s privacy.

Ethiopian Review fabricates stories and fake photos routinely. The site kills and resurrects people with no regard to media ethics. British court fined it some 4-5 million Birr for one of such conducts last year.

Ethiopian Review’s owner, Elias Kifle, like other diaspora politicians, often travels to Asmara to receive guidance and finance. But Eritrea is a poor country and its President is a deranged maniac. To keep the money flowing, Ethiopian Review has to compete with other diaspora opposition groupings and media outlets by displaying affection and adoration for Isaias Afeworki and disseminating extreme nonsense about Ethiopia.

The competition of “who is more close to Isaias” is very intense among the diaspora politicians. Many of them receive orders from lower officials of Isaias without getting the chance to talk to him or they have to make two or three travels all the way to Asmara to get an appointment.

So, Elias Kifle was so proud to have a photo with Isaias Afeworki in front of Asmara Palace, he published it online. The message to other diaspora opposition was that he and his website are dearer to the Eritrean dictator and can mess up their relation with Asmara.

It is no surprise that the diaspora opposition fear Ethiopian Review and do not denounce even when it attacks respected and politically neutral public personalities like Aster Awoke. 

Many of the extremists show their reverence for Isaias one way or another. They never publicly say Isaias is a dictator or Eritrea is undemocratic. They admire Isaias by saying he is smarter than Ethiopian leaders and claim he masterminded EPRDF. They also claim Isaias’s army and war strategy has always been superior to EPRDF’s.

Even after Eritrea’s army received a humiliating defeat by Ethiopian forces in 2000, they continue saying the two armies are equivalent and Ethiopia lost more soldiers than Eritrea. (In self-contradiction, these same people claim EPRDF should occupy Asmara and Asab port by military force.) We don’t know if they get down on their knees or bend to kiss his forehands when they privately meet Isaias Afeworki.

Ethiopian Review broke the record in this competition of “who is close to Isaias” by announcing Isaias “Person of the Year” in 2009. Ethiopian Review claimed, Isaias “have contributed the most to the betterment of Ethiopia” in the preceding 12 months.

The list of “contributions” Isaias made to Ethiopia, described on the website, was funny if the whole thing was not sad. According to Ethiopian Review:

  • “The person who is leading and putting the resources of his government behind the effort to create friendship and lasting peace among not only Eritreans and Ethiopians, but all people of the Horn of Africa is Isaias Afeworki”.
  • ”The humiliating defeat of Ethiopia in Somalia — brilliantly masterminded by Isaias Afeworki — is a major step toward that goal.”
  • “Under the sponsorship of the Eritrean government, EriTV and Eritrean Radio are aggressively promoting Ethiopian unity. Isaias Afeworki has also authorized a publication named ‘One Ethiopia’ for the purpose of countering Woyanne’s anti-Ethiopia propaganda.”

Ethiopian Review went as far as to shower praise on Eritrea as paradise for Ethiopians in the following words:

“Under President Isaias’ leadership, Eritrea has opened up its doors to Ethiopians. There is no country in the world, perhaps with the exception of the U.S., where the rights and freedom of Ethiopian refugees have been fully respected and protected as much as Eritrea.

Freedom fighters such as EPPF, OLF, ONLF, TPDM and others are given shelters in Eritrea so that their wounded receive treatments and their leaders hold meetings unmolested, thanks to President Isaias.”

However, in 2010, Ethiopian Review suddenly started calling for an “inquiry” of the condition of Ethiopians in Eritrea. It started constantly reporting the execution of some officials of EPPF (Ethiopian People's Patriotic Front) as well as the arrest and forced disappearance of several more including OLF leaders.

It claimed Eritrean officials are attending opposition party’s meetings, dictating their decisions and even writing their press statements.

Ethiopian Review’s news of executions, arrests, disappearances and interferences could be true, but are not new. Even foreigner researchers have long confirmed OLF and other Eritrea based insurgent groups cannot make peace with Ethiopia government unless Isaias permits them to.

The real reason why the status of Eritrea was changed from a “paradise” to a hell on Ethiopian Review was because Elias Kifle was dismissed from the leadership of EPPF. Elias claimed he was ousted because of Eritrean officials, but other EPPF officials responded his dismissal was “procedural”.

Although Ethiopian Review made grave accusations of summary executions, arrest, disappearances and interferences on Eritrea, the news and commentaries at the same time included an implicit appeal for Elias to be taken back. The accusations pointed sometimes generally to “Eritrea” or “some Eritrea officials”, at other times directly to Colonel Fitsum who bosses “Ethiopian oppositions in Eritrea”.

At the same time, Ethiopian Review was asking for “inquiry” to be conducted by the “Eritrea government” and crying some officials are trying to ruin the relationship between the “Eritrea government” and the Ethiopian opposition. When Ethiopian Review says Eritrea government, it is talking about Isaias Afeworki. That is a correct one: Isaias is the state, the state is Isaias.

Ethiopian Review was being careful not to cut its lifeline, which the money from Asmara. It had to be careful because other opposition media outlets were in rush to take its place by publishing news and press releases contradicting its claim of executions and disappearances. They even interviewed Eritrean officials. This was normally a privilege reserved for Ethiopian Review.

After a month or two, Ethiopian Review stopped the shout. It appeared to have found a new ticket. It started trumpeting about the plan to overthrow the government of Ethiopia by Ginbot-7 party; another pro-Eritrea armed group led by Berhanu Nega. It was also advertising an alliance of pro-Eritrean armed groups and Ginbot-7 formed in Asmara. Apparently, the beloved dictator found a new job for Ethiopian Review and its owner.

The new job was not successful, nonetheless. The government in Ethiopia is still intact, while Elias Kifle received a life sentence on charges of terrorism. The court news states:

Elias Kifle, who was tried in absentia, is convicted for financing, recruiting and leading a terror plot. The court found the other defendants guilty for participating in the conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors charged the defendants in September 2011 accusing them of a plot to carry out acts of terror on telephone, electricity and fiber optic lines stretching from Addis Ababa to six parts of the country and with money laundering charges. They are also accused of having links with the Eritrean government and designated terrorist groups including Ginbot 7.

Now, Ginbot-7 is losing steam and divided. There is no news of that Alliance which Ethiopian Review used to talk about.

The Eritrean dictator was on hospital bed in Qatar for most of the past year. But now he seems to be spending more time in Asmara (or in secret safe houses in Keren or Mitswa or Sawa – nobody knows for sure).

So, it must have been a while since Elias Kifle met the dictator in person and received guidance for Ethiopian Review.

The recent accolade to Isaias Afeworki, from Ethiopian Review, comparing him with the American founding father George Washington and the Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela must be a reminder to Asmara that the website is at their service.

The Eritrean dictator has a soft spot for Ethiopian Review, which is the only Ethiopian media it ‘honored’ with an excluysive interviewed in the last 14 years.

So, it is expected Isaias Afeworki will soon summon Elias Kifle to impress him with a lecture on regional and global problems and solutions. And also to unveil the role of Ethiopian Review in a whatever new plot he “brilliant masterminded” to havoc the region.

The Eritrean dictator trusts Ethiopian Review will carry out the tasks no questions asked. The website will certainly present the plot as an “effort to create friendship and lasting peace among not only Eritreans and Ethiopians, but all people of the Horn of Africa”.

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