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Herman Cohen: Unethical lobbyist for Eritrean despot

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, July 14, 2015

Herman Cohen: Unethical lobbyist for Eritrean despot
Herman Cohen former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is simply hoodwinking the Eritrean diplomat Berhane Gebrehiwet to get what he wants.

Eritreans are enduring monumental hardship perpetuated by the brutal dictatorial regime that came to power in 1991 after 30 years of gruesome conflict. It consumed 65,000 lives, disabled 10,000 people and made 90,000 children orphans. Faith based persecution in the former province of Ethiopia is at an all time high; according to Open Doors,  US based charity serving persecuted Christians worldwide, over 3000 Eritreans have been incarcerated in various containers due to their religious convictions.

Eritrea’s record on human rights is abysmal; the people are tightly controlled and they have to seek permission to venture within their own country. No free press and freedom of expression is simply prohibited. In 2013, Amnesty International reported the presence of 10,000 political prisoners locked up in atrocious prisons in many inhospitable parts of the country. Their families have no knowledge of their whereabouts and in most cases they never hear from them again. So, what else is absent and in short supply in ‘Singapore’?

Basic utilities are in short supply and at times the people have to stand in long queues for hours to fetch a bucket of water. Electricity is intermittently available and continuous outages have prevented the dilapidated and bare hospitals from treating their patients of all ages. After 30 years of war, the Eritrean tyrant could not even provide this vital service to his own people that went through three decades of unspeakable misery. Whatever happened to wishful dream of making Eritrea the ‘Singapore’ of East Africa? As it turned out, the country has only fared marginally better than lawless Somalia.

Living in Eritrea has become unbearable and to escape Shabiya’s repression, an alarming exodus to neighbouring countries and beyond has become the reality. Hundreds and thousands of Eritreans have been risking their lives to reach the coasts of Italy and Greece to avoid persecution and military conscriptions. Unfortunately many including children have drowned before they reached their intended destinations where they were hoping to start a peaceful life. According to various reports compiled by broad-sheet newspapers such as The UK Guardian, Eritreans are behind Syria, where a civil war has been waging since 2011, in terms of boat arrivals carrying people to the shores of Italy.

To stop the subjugation and halt the tide of asylum seekers heading to Europe, the self-appointed leader of Eritrea has to be dislodged from power as a matter of utmost urgency. But it is disquieting to note the EU’s unjustified decision to provide aid to the leader of a dying authoritarian regime currently being investigated by the UN for crimes against humanity. The European Union must note that supporting the dictator will certainly intensify the clampdown and repression that begun soon after the fall of the Dergue. It is totally erroneous to believe that development aid would curb mass flights but doing away with the source of the problem would deliver instant resolution.

Help to ensure the despot’s longevity has also come from another source as stated in Berhane Gebrehiwet’s letter, Eritrea’s Charge’ d’affaires to the US, which was posted on Asmarino an Eritrean opposition website. The leaked letter divulged the Eritrean diplomat’s secret rendezvous with Herman Cohen, the former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, to discuss lifting UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea in 2009 for arming and financing outlawed terrorist organisations.

To achieve this objective, the ex-US diplomat has been paid by Eritrea to lobby receptive influential figures within the State Department and to sideline Susan Rice, National Security Adviser, who has vehemently opposed to the idea of removing the hefty punishments slapped on Eritrea. Berhane’s letter also  exposed that Herman Cohen was financially rewarded for writing an article in December 2013 titled ’ Time to Bring Eritrea In From the Cold.’ The Eritrean diplomat has instructed the lobbyist to write additional ‘disingenuous’ letter that would sway influential figures within the state department, the press and congress for a further blood stained money.

It’s outside the realms of comprehension how the previous condescending American state department official that used to lecture Africa on the virtues of democracy and human rights has chosen to engage himself in promoting a dictator who has been brutalising his own people for over 20 years. Cohen is simply unethical lobbyist and would do anything including repairing the image of the North Korean leader to inflate his coffers.  Mr Cohen is not only a money grabber but a racist as well with scant respect for high officials of African-American origin in the White House. This was what he said about Susan Rice the seasoned and experienced diplomat and National Security Adviser---‘’ ....although she considers herself an African expert, her approach is domination and suppression and her decision making is based on whom she likes and hates. Because she is driven by personal animus, she is not one that is fit for diplomacy.’

What is most surprising is the Eritrean diplomat’s utter naivety. Cohen is a shrewd and calculating operator and knows how tickle Berhane and his boss in Asmara.  Among the things Cohen told the diplomat was that Eritrea is the only stable country in the Horn region and that it can play an important role in the fight against terrorism. This is laughable indeed. If this is the case, how come hundreds and thousands of Eritreans are abandoning their homeland under very difficult circumstances? Is Mr Cohen not aware that nearly 2000 Eritreans have drowned trying to reach the costs of Italy? The ex-diplomat also forgot UN’s Resolution 1907 that was adapted by the Security Council in 2009 as a result of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shebab. Come on Mr Cohen, how is it feasible that the sponsor of terror groups can participate in the tussle against terrorism? Next time Mr Cohen will tell us that it is possible for a Sunni imam to preach in a Shea mosque in Iraqi.

We know Mr Cohen is simply hoodwinking the Eritrean diplomat to get what he wants. Mr Cohen knows full well that Ethiopia is in fact the Horn’s stable country, and if in any doubt, he should consider consulting Heineken, Diageo and BGI who have spent a fortune in the steady economic hub of East Africa. It may also help to note the huge involvements of the Chinese, Turkish, Korean, Indian and the eagerness of potential American multinational investors that have expressed an interest and are on their way to Ethiopia with President Obama.

Mr Cohen, why would these investors flock to Ethiopia with millions of dollars if the country was not stable? At present 7000 delegates which include Heads of State, Ministers of Finance & Foreign Affairs, non-governmental organisations and business sector entities have gathered in Addis Ababa to attend the third international conference on financing for development. Need we say more, Mr Cohen?   

One important point that needs to be brought to the attention of the readers of this article is that Mr Cohen participated as an observer in the Angolan election of 1992 where the outcome was hotly disputed by UNITA, other observers and human rights organisations but Mr Cohen who was the Secretary of State at that time concluded the election was free and fair. In 1993, the diplomat resigned and became a lobbyist for the winning MPLA led Angolan government. After this, he left for Zimbabwe to work as a lobbyist for President Mugabe.    

Now let us change focus and move on to Ethiopia which is reaching places it has never been before. What would the impact be on Ethiopia if Mr Cohen was to succeed with his efforts to breathe life into the dying regime? No doubt, Esayass will continue with a renewed vigour to fulfil his wishes of creating chaos and bloodshed hoping to bring the collapse of Ethiopia.

The Eritrean leader would not get involved directly as he has been severely punished during the border war but will continue to use surrogate terrorist entities such as G-7 and Al-shebab. Ethiopia has also been utilising Eritrean opposition groups, but so far, Esayass has been successful with his endeavours. It is now time to disengage from supporting his opponents as they have not been able to deliver the tyrant’s scalp after having received tremendous support to facilitate this. So, what is the way forward?

Full fledge war is not in Ethiopia’s interest as this will definitely prevent the country from continuing with its efforts to register further achievements in the economic, social and political fields. Furthermore, once at war, the situation could be stretched by the intervention of foreign enemies that would benefit from its involvement in a protracted conflict. Iran and Iraq never thought for one minute that the war they commenced in 1980 would last for 8 bloody years.

Casualties on both sides were immense; Iran lost between 200,000 -600,000 combatants and Iraq’s was 250,000-500,000. The economic loss for Iran was estimated to be US$ 627 billion and Iraq squandered US$ 561 billion; and after all these financial and human losses, the war ended in 1988 in a stalemate. On the ground Ethiopia appears to be much stronger than Eritrea and can obliterate it in no time but an all out war should only be considered as a last resort. To start a war is easy but no one can predict its outcome with absolute certainty. In any case, there is no need for a full scale war as the Eritrean leader is almost on his way out as a result of the no war, no peace, state and his departure can be expedited with minimum efforts.

Instead, Ethiopia ought to work harder to ensure UN sanctions remain in place   as it is badly hurting Eritrea and could prompt the people to rise against the tyrant. The French and the UK governments have reservations according to Cohen and it is imperative to keep the United States on side as this would prevent the ex-diplomat from succeeding in his efforts to let Eritrea off the hook. In addition, action needs to be taken to qualitatively improve the political climate and tackle bad governance, poverty and corruption in order to deny the likes of G-7 the opportunity to incite violence on behalf of the Eritrean dictator. It is also imperative to ensure that Shabiya agents do not enter Tigray mingled with genuine refugees to cause havoc from within.

But the biggest change has to be Ethiopia’s reaction to the frequent lootings and military incursions into Tigray by the so-called TPDM and G-7/Arbegnoch Ginbar. For every action taken by these messengers, strong retaliatory measures that can act as deterrents must be taken swiftly. And these can include the destruction of economic targets, electrical installations, communication centers, water reservoirs and military command and transport points.

Further strategies will also have to be devised to create internal crisis and quicken his elimination. Among them being the infiltration of Sawa to incite mutiny among the conscripts that have been frog-marched to the concentration camp to pre-empt youth uprisings against the dictatorial regime. This option would have to be seriously considered as it would not only lead to a rebellion in Sawa but also in other parts of Eritrea by friends and family resulting in a’ colour revolution’ witnessed in many parts of the world. It is also possible to kick start the rebellion by intensive ariel bombardments of the peripheries of Sawa ; as Ethiopia had previously entered deep inside Eritrea and attacked targets on many occasions, this critical measure should not pose too much problems.


But the Ethiopian government would have to be ready for a regime change in order to prevent lawlessness similar to Somalia after Esayass’ exit. It is also in Ethiopia’s interest to play an active and decisive role in the instalment of a friendly administration in Eritrea. For this to have a realistic chance of success, the Eritrean people would have to be brought on board otherwise their strong nationalist fervour could complicate matters.  Thanks to ‘Woyane ‘s’efforts in welcoming Eritreans fleeing repression, their views towards Ethiopia has immensely changed. The skilful move has also placed a huge wedge between Esayass and his people as they have now realised who their actual enemy is. And frequently we are witnessing Eritreans escaping to Ethiopia and elsewhere in search of peace and a better life.

At present the despot’s position does not seem to be under threat as a result of the weak internal opposition and there is no need for him to spend time and resources to protect his precarious rule. Consequently, the tyrant has been left with ample spells to engineer attacks on Ethiopia’s northern border and the metropolis. Allowing the status quo to remain as it is now could hamper Ethiopia’s ambition to defeat poverty and place the country at the top of Africa’s economic ladder. The Ethiopian authorities can no longer fold their hands and wait for Esayass to fall; the moment has definitely arrived for his elimination.

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