Monday, August 31, 2015

The Role of Literacy in a National Liberation Movement

Check out my latest entry on:

For the detailed finding aid of the Leslie Gottesman papers:

Friday, August 7, 2015

From Eritrea's Photo Archives

All photos are courtesy of the Research and Documentation Center, Eritrea

Pictures from the Italian Period (1890-1941)

click on the pictures for larger images

Sycamore tree at Mai Wukirti


    The construction of Victor Immanuel Park, Asmara.

Assab, Eritrea

Massawa, Eritrea

Keren, Eritrea

Rock painting at Adi Alawti, Qohaito.

Agave harvesting. The fiber of agave is used for housing and the nectar is also used for drinks  such as Tequila.

Growing sisal agave. The commercial values of the fiber of sisal agave include rope, paper, twine, cloth and carpet.

                                                                              Ila Bered



Palm dum harvesting in Aqordat and Keren. Dum is used to make buttons. In my interview with Emilio De Luigi, he mentioned that he had lived in Agordat for many years and dum is mentioned in his poem about Aqordat. Check out my interview with Emilio on this blog.

For the Ancient Egyptians, like myrrh and incense (check out my interview with Dr. Nate Dominy on this blog on the "Land of Punt"), the seed of the palm dum was considered a sacred and was used for  rituals. Seeds of the palm dum were found in the tombs of many pharaohs including the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (popularly known as King Tut).

One of the lessons for Eritrea  is to investigate the various scientific researches and data collected by the various Italian  universities during their administration (especially in the field of botany, zoology, and etc.) and explore their commercial applicability today.

Merenge Glass Factory Co. and its products. Glass is made from liquid sand and Eritrea has lots of sand. Of course, first, it needs very high temperature!

If my memory serves me right, I was told that, during the British Administration,  three Eritrean glass makers (experts) were taken to Kenya to teach there. I heard the story in a different context, however, anyone with any information on this subject would be very much appreciated!

Below is one of my favorite pictures.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Professor David D. Laitin Donates His Collection

Professor David D. Laitin Donates His Collection to the Hoover Institution Archives.

The collection deals with Somalia in particular and the Horn of Africa in general. For the general information and contents of the collection : click on  the links below.
 (*contents in the pdf section)

A 1978 issue of Halgan: A periodical published by WSLF

                                       Author signed copy of "The Principles of Somali" by
                                       Solomon Warsama and Major R.C. Abraham, 1951

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eritrea: the Oldest Young Nation.

Recently, someone told  me that I should post the brief speech that I gave at the Eritrean flag raising ceremony in San Jose, California in 2014. As a result, I am posting the speech below.

Council-member Sam Liccardo, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening,

In the west, people start a speech with a joke, in Asia, with an apology and in Africa with a libation or remembrance.

As Eritrean-Americans we do both. Since we had the remembrance earlier, I will save the joke for later.

The Eritrean Community of San Jose is thrilled that their city is raising the Eritrean Flag in honor of Eritrean Independence Day which takes place on May 24, 2014.

Firstly, a few points about the flag:

The green represents development.
The red represents the huge sacrifice made to achieve independence.
The blue represents the marine wealth.
The yellow  represents the mineral wealth. The wreath and olive branch were adopted (the color was changed from green to yellow) from the Eritrean flag of the Federal Period (1952-1962).

Secondly, by way of an introduction, Eritrea is the oldest young nation*. The land, culture, languages, script, rock painting, etc. are very old.Its archeological discoveries rank second in Africa.

You might ask, how could one be old and young at the same time?

Let’s start with the old part, first:

It is old because all paleontological and archeological evidences suggest that Eritrean history is as old as humanity**.  A one-million year old fossil was found in Buia, Eritrea and they are still finding more as we speak. Beside human fossils, a twenty-seven million year old elephant missing link and a one-million year old bull fossils were also found. The archeologist from Spain who constructed the bull from two hundred pieces joked that bull fighting must have started in Eritrea and the first matador must have been from Eritrea.

It is old because researchers from the University of Santa Cruz have found out that what the ancient Egyptians called “the Land of Punt” or “the Land of Gods” was actually located in Eritrea.

It is old because Christianity and Islam were adopted without force during the 4th and 7th centuries, respectively.

As you can see, I am coming from Before the Common Era (BCE) to the Common Era (CE).

From 15th to 18th century, Eritrea was colonized by various forces including the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. Italy officially created Eritrea on January 1st 1890 and ruled it until 1941 when it was replaced by Great Britain. After ten years of British rule, Eritrea was forced to federate with Ethiopia under the auspices of the United Nations, however, in 1962 Ethiopia unilaterally annexed Eritrea. A year earlier, the Eritreans had started an armed struggle which lasted thirty years.

Eritrea is new because on May 24, 1991 Eritrean forces entered the capital city Asmara and declared Eritrea finally independent. Therefore, tomorrow will be Eritrea’s 23rd anniversary. Since independence, Eritrea has achieved a great deal and is one of the only four African countries that have achieved United Nation’s Millennium Goals.

I dare suggest to you that Eritrea is getting younger as it gets older. Or as my speech suggests Eritrea started old and is getting younger every day.

One of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, F. Scott Fitzgerald, must have been thinking of Eritrea when he wrote his short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Speaking of young people, San Jose has a growing number of second generation Eritrean-Americans.

Let me introduce you to one of them, Ginbar Ketema.

Thank you

Note:  Since that speech Council-member Sam Liccardo has become the mayor of San Jose.

* In 2007, I created a 10 minutes promotional video for the Eritrea Development Foundation (EDF) entitled  "Eritrea: the Oldest New Nation".  After South Sudan's independence in 2011, I changed the words to "Eritrea: the Oldest Young Nation".

** Tsegai Medhin , an Eritrean PhD archeology student in Spain, came up with the sentence.
See his interview on my blog.


Call for Abstracts

International Conference on Eritrean Studies

Eritrean Studies: The Way Forward
July 20 - 22, 2016, Asmara, Eritrea

This conference aims to revive scholarly discussions on Eritrea and sketch ways of strengthening academic interest and activities related to the country by engaging scholars from inside and outside Eritrea. The event will offer an opportunity to scholars working on Eritrea to present their work to a larger academic gathering in Asmara. It will also provide a forum for local, Eritrean Diaspora, and international scholars to create and develop links with research and academic institutions and public stakeholders inside the country. This conference is expected to lay foundations for a sustained commitment on the part of the different participants to Eritrean studies. Scholars working on other African countries are also welcome. Their involvement will allow Eritrean studies scholars to establish pan-African networks and connections, providing opportunities to raise issues and share experiences on the manifold challenges of development from different perspectives.

There will be panels from invited guests around the following areas: ensuring sustainability of academic discussions on Eritrean studies; migration and human trafficking; environment, climate change, and sustainable development; peace building and conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region.

Organizers of the conference invite proposals for panel, paper, and poster presentations around the following areas:


Comparative state-formations in Africa
*Migration and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa
*Economic cooperation between China and Africa
*Perspectives on South-South cooperation


*Eritrea and emerging challenges in the Nile basin, Rift Valley and Red Sea region
*Foreign relations and diplomacy
*Governance and justice systems
*Historiography and state reproduction
*Archaeological and anthropological studies
*Agriculture and natural resources
*Economy, health, and education
*Alternative development models
*Equity, diversity, identity (language policy, gender parity, etc.)
*Language, literature, visual, and performing arts
*Climate change and sustainable development
*Urbanization and cultural heritage
*Rural, pastoral, and nomadic livelihoods
*Science, technology, and development
*Diaspora issues

This list of areas is not exhaustive and proposals on related fields and on cross-cutting or interdisciplinary issues are welcome.


*Deadline for proposals: October 15, 2015
*Notification of results: November 30, 2015
*Full paper submission: March 30, 2016

Panel, individual and poster presentation proposals:

Abstract proposals must be in Word document format. Abstracts should not exceed 300 words for individual papers and 1,200 words  for panel presentations, including abstracts of each paper in a panel. Formatting and style guidelines for full paper submissions will be provided.

Travel support:

There will be travel and accommodations support for some panel and individual paper presenters from outside the country based on the number
of applicants and available funds.

Organizing institutions:

*National Commission for Higher Education, Asmara, Eritrea
*Eritrean Centre for Strategic Studies, Asmara, Eritrea
*Research and Documentation Centre, Asmara, Eritrea

Contact details:

Submit electronic copies of abstracts to: and

For further information, contact:
1. Prof. Zemenfes Tsige, Chair of Organizing Committee
Director, Bureau of Higher Education Administration and International Linkage
National Commission for Higher Education, P. O. Box 1220, Asmara, Eritrea
Telephone: 00291-1-162133 Email:

2. Yonas Mesfun, member, Organizing Committee, Email:

3. Senai Woldeab, member, Organizing Committee, Email:

4. Saleh Mahmud, member, Organizing Committee, Email:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Conversation with Merhawie Woldetzion: An Update

Issayas: Merhawie, the last time that I had a conversation with you for my blog was in Chicago. It was a while back. Since then you are back in the Bay Area and have graduated from Santa Clara University Law School and passed the bar. Congratulations on two points: on passing the California Bar and on your new Tigrigna app for Apple I phone 6. Would you tell us about both?

Merhawie: I came back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Chicago in 2010. While in Chicago and before law school in California, I worked as a structural engineer  primarily designed buildings. It was when I was developed tools to ease my engineering efforts that I became interested in the law, particularly intellectual  property law. Ultimately I applied to law school and decided to focus my interest in intellectual property, in particularly patents. (Patents are a license, granted by government with the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling, etc. an invention)

Issayas: You have an interesting blog with a timeline, etc. tell me about your blog.

Merhawie: I've been maintaining my blog for the better part of a decade. I'm really interested in Eritrean history and have been trying array information in articles and otherwise for readers so that it is easy to consume. Its important as we move forward presenting Eritrean history, that people can easily consume that information, otherwise friction and distraction will prevent people from learning about our history.

Many compositions of Eritrean history describe events in long, dry (but factual) prose which is difficult to consume. Some writers try to maintain themes through this writing which causes them to jump back and forth in history. For clarity, I developed a small historical timeline


that starts Before the Common Era and ends in the present day. At this point the historical timeline
provides an overview of history but contain references to books where further information can be found.
As for the Tigrinya app - well that has been a project that I have long been interested. Since college I have been really interested in the tremendous bias on the internet and in technical circles for English. Part of the difficulty in addressing the situation is both economic and technical. I personally cannot
address the economic problem, but I can do my part to alleviate the technical problem. Today, the technical problem is not one primarily of standards but of tools. To remediate that problem I have been working for years to build tools to make it easier to use Ge'ez  based languages online. To that end ,I've tried to provide tools for people to use Ge'ez online.

Tigre-iPhone 6 Screenshot

Tigrigna-iPhone 6 Screenshot

iOS, the operating system for Apple mobile devices (the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad), has not provided an easy way to to use Ge'ez based languages. With the larger user-base, I thought it would be great if we finally could. To do that I created a combination of apps which enable the use of particular languages Tigrinya, Tigre, and Amharic. As I mentioned before, there is also a third, free app that allows people the ability to read Ge'ez (Geezr for iOS app) on the iPhone but not write, the ability to write is a premium feature (requires either the Tigrinya/Tigre for iOS app or Amharic for iOS app). Also, the app works on al iOS devices, not just the iPhone 6 (e.g. iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, and the iPod Touch 5G). The Tigrinya app actually contains two keyboards, one that supports Tigrinya and another that supports Tigre. There is a second app which supports only Amharic (

Issayas: Thank you

Merhawie: Thank you.

To purchase the app for US $4.99, please go to:

Monday, June 29, 2015

MTN-Qhubeka Cyling Team

This coming weekend, Africa based MTN-Qhubeka Cycling Team will be the first African team to participate in the Tour de France. It is been a long time coming!  Nine cyclists, two Eritreans among them: Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merahwie Kudus, will represent the African continent. Merhawie Kudus will be the youngest rider. Another Eritrean rider, Natnael Berhane,  is one of the reservist for the team. History in the making for Africa in general and Eritrea in particular!

Good Luck for the team.

Check out the following pictures:

Pictures of Tour d' Eritrea 2009 (by Panos)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Guest Writers

Reflections on the Western U.S.A. Eritrea Festival 2014

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy

I came to the Western U.S.A. Eritrea Festival 2014 as an invited guest.  I left as a family member being in the company of sisters and brothers from Eritrea, our shared distant homeland. The invitation to present as a speaker at the Festival surprised and delighted me. Yes, I have been public in my deep
appreciation of the Eritrean people and culture.  And, I have been relentless in maintaining that the invisiblization of Eritrea in the West—especially in the U.S.—is ill-conceived and unjust.  Still, I came to the Festival as one of ‘The Other Eritreans.’  I was joined by Emilio DeLuigi, a delightful and distinguished Canadian-Italian gentleman and author of the book Ninety-Three Days: A Journey to Freedom.  Between us on the panel, like a rose between two old thorns was Emilio’s articulate granddaughter, Elena. Our panel was moderated by Issayas Tesfamariam. Issayas’ remarks in a post-Festival communication to both Emilio and I mark the warmth of the relationships we deepened with Eritreans in Oakland.  He notes that we are now accepted as The Other Eritreans with
‘no parenthesis.’ There was no bracketing of our experience of Eritrea because of our different heritage. It is reflective of the beautiful inclusiveness of Eritreans and their exquisite ability to warmly welcome others. We were fully accepted as part of the Eritrean family.  I share here—in addition to my deep appreciation of this experience—what I learned at the Festival about Eritrea—its past and its future.

                                              Mr. Emilio De Luigi, Dr. Samuel Mahaffy and Elena De Luigi.

Eritrea is often spoken of in terms of three distinct historical periods—pre-liberation, the struggle for Independence, and post-liberation.  This differentiation unfortunately tends to minimize what has been consistently true of Eritrea and the Eritrean people over the decades and centuries.

From his first-hand experience of escaping out of Ethiopia through Eritrea, escorted and assisted by Eritrean liberation fighters, Emilio De Luigi expresses well that the post-liberation Eritrea was already being shaped and built during the struggle for Independence. The battle for liberation and the evolving re-birth of a free and independent Eritrea charting its own course were one and the same struggle.

De Luigi notes that the organization of the Eritrean liberation fighters was not the recruitment of a military or mercenary force. It was an organic movement. This was a compelling call answered by the people of Eritrea to free their country from outside dominance. It reflected the yearning of a people for freedom,  independence and a promising future.

It occurs to me that this is, in fact, the most significant aspect of the way in which the United States and some other Western governments miscalculate in regard to Eritrea. Eritrea is here to stay precisely because it is not first a military organization now ruling a country. It is first of all a people fiercely independent and determined to build their own future. The Eritrea that never kneeled down to oppressors and against all odds won its costly struggle for independence is the same Eritrea that will never kneel down before an outside hegemonic agenda of dominance over its own development priorities.

“The legacy of the Eritrean freedom fighters was equality", De Luigi spoke this from his first-hand experience of traveling in the company of Eritrean liberation  fighters on nighttime trails twisting through the highland mountains of Eritrea.  He recalls a captured Ethiopian soldier joining him and the Eritrean liberation fighters in eating from a common dish. Rations of food were shared equally among the liberation fighters, their captured opposition fighter and their escorted  guest.

Eritrea was already being shaped as a future society through the struggle for liberation. That shaping encompassed a vision for equality and respect for differences. Eritrean people of the Moslem faith and the Orthodox Christian faith, who once fought side-by-side for independence, now have houses of worship in the capital city of Asmara standing in sight of each other. Within a distance of less than two kilometers can be found a Moslem mosque, an Orthodox Christian church, a Catholic church, a Jewish synagogue and an Evangelical Lutheran church.

Many years after the struggle for Independence, the celebration of that great achievement still resonates and vibrates through the Western U.S.A. Eritrean Festival.  It is a shared story that crosses generational lines and defines a spirit of both resiliency and joy so evident at the Festival. There is also evidence of a cautious guardedness. The struggle for liberation received little support from the outside world. The invisiblization of Eritrea and the unwillingness of other countries to embrace its hard-earned independence has left wounded relationships. The healing of these relationships will surely require mutual respect and patience.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Conservation with Dr. Samuel Mahaffy


Dr. Samuel Mahaffy

Issayas:  Would you tell us about yourself?

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: I was born in Asmara, Eritrea and grew up in the town of Senafe.  My family lived in Eritrea for around 27 years.  I have four brothers and two sisters, all born and raised in Eritrea.  I moved to the United States in 1966. The transition to life in the United States was very challenging for me. I still consider Eritrea my homeland. I have stayed connected to my Eritrean roots through being involved in nonprofit work with immigrant and refugee communities from Eritrea and other East African countries.  Sharing my heritage from Eritrea has always been important to me.  I reconnected in the U.S. with a wise Eritrean woman who taught me how to make injera when I was little.  After lots of struggles, I became a bit proficient at fixing injera and the
traditional  foods from Eritrea.  I taught my three beautiful children to make injera. To honor the Eritrean people who have meant so much to me and to help correct misconceptions about Eritrea, I published a book called Eritrean Cooking:  Rich Relationships and Recipes from East Africa.

I have been  a nonprofit consultant most of my life and have worked with more than five hundred nonprofits and NGOs including a number in Africa.  I value especially  my relationship with Salaam Urban Village Association in Seattle, a nonprofit started by Eritreans and serving immigrant and refugee families. As part of my work with Salaam Urban Village, I hope to be part of a delegation visiting Eritrea in the months ahead.  I earned my Master of Arts in Linguistics from the University of Michigan.  My deep appreciation for language comes from my years in Eritrea. I received my PhD from Tilburg University in the Netherlands through the Taos Institute of which I am now an Associate. I have become a relentless advocate for sharing accurate information about Eritrea in the face of much mis-information.

Issayas: Why do you think there is mis-information about Eritrea? Or put differently, why is it important to tell "accurate information" about Eritrea?

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: Ignorance about Eritrea in the U.S., is in large part endemic of an educational system here that has been ethno-centric and interpreted world history through the lens of predominate/dominate and Indo-European culture.We are sadly ignorant of the rich history, cultures and languages of the African continent. Beyond that, I concur with scholars such as Noam Chomsky that see a deliberate intent to either 'invisiblize' or inaccurately represent countries like Eritrea that do not fall into line with the U.S. and corporate economic, development and political agenda.  There has been little tolerance for countries charting their own course. Eritrea has done so, since liberation, to a greater extent than most African countries and has paid a price in terms of  isolation.

It is important to present accurate information about Eritrea in the interests of truth and in fairness to the people and Country of Eritrea.  For there to be peace in the world, there must be dialogues across cultures and languages that are respectful and the dynamic of having 'power-over' others must change. I am convinced that Eritrea can be an important participant in creating peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

I take personally misinformation about Eritrea, because Eritrea is very much part of who I am today.

Issayas:  Would you tell us more about Salaam Urban Village Association?

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: ​​Salaam Urban Village Association is a nonprofit started in Seattle, Washington nearly seven years ago. It was founded by my Eritrean friend, Amanuel and several other Eritreans.  The original motivation was a  negative reaction of the Seattle community to a few young people from Eritrea and other East African countries who were getting into trouble in the City.  There was a sense that both young people from African immigrant families needed more support and community connection to transit to life in the United States and that there were many misperceptions around the African community. SUVA has focused on supporting services for migrant/refugee families.

My involvement with SUVA started by writing successful grant applications for program services.  We saw that, like many nonprofits, SUVA needed a more sustainable funding paradigm. Through a visioning process we called REIMAGINE SUVA we are reshaping the nonprofit to be a 'portal to Africa' supporting immigrant/refugee communities across the United States while still focusing on services in Seattle.

Issayas: You mentioned that you want "to honor the Eritrean people who have meant so much to me". Would you elaborate? What did they mean to you? Do they still mean so much to you now? Why?

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: ​​My relationships with the Eritrean people has shaped who I am today. I have lived in two worlds--that of the village of Senafe in Eritrea and large urban centers in the United States. I am struck that the Western world in which I now live is very driven by 'agendas.'  This culture sets agendas of achieving certain levels of wealth, status, education. The agenda may be saving for retirement. As a culture, there has been an American agenda to be 'second to none' in the world in terms of economic prosperity and power. These are agendas that, when they are our priority, do not bring happiness in our lives.

Arlena Mahaffy (Dr. Samuel's mother) serves coffee
in Senafe, Eritrea many years ago.

The Eritrean culture that I know and that is part of who I am, prioritizes relationships over agenda.  Eritrea, like many countries outside the United States has a much more relational culture. It is this relational spirit that causes many 'outsiders' who meet Eritreans, to deeply appreciate the people of Eritrea.  I know the people of Eritrea to be a generous people. I cannot count the times that I have been invited to share a meal in an Eritrean restaurant or home. This is a spirit of sharing that I see as being critical if we are to survive and thrive as a global community. I call it "eating from a common dish." When we share a meal, break injera together, or exchange stories over tea, we are equals and honoring of that which makes us all human.

I believe the Western world has much to learn from the more relational cultures of Africa. In my peace making and conflict resolution work, I often pull on this wisdom from Africa generally and Eritrea in particular. I write regularly on these topics on my blog.

Beyond this broad perspective, there are so many Eritreans who have meant so much to me. There are the kids I played soccer with--many of my childhood friends lost in the costly war that Eritrea fought for liberation. A great teacher for me, was a wise Eritrean woman named Abrahet. I learned to make injera as a young child at her feet. I remember her care for me, the songs she sang to me in Tigrinya.  I am happy that my twin daughters, at the age of six, had the opportunity to meet Abrahet in the United States, before she passed away.

I trust my Eritrean friends.  I would trust my children to them in a minute.

Abrahet, who taught Samuel how to make injera, 
with Dr. Samuel's twin daughters when they were little.

Issayas:  You also mentioned that " to help correct misperceptions (misconceptions) about Eritrea, I published a book called Eritrean Cooking:  Rich Relationships and Recipes from East Africa. Has the book done that? How do you measure that? For example, did people tell you, etc.?

I have always wanted to leave the story of my families experience in Eritrea as a legacy for my children.  It helps them to understand who I am.  My cookbook was a way to do that.  It is also my way to present stories that reflect what the Eritrean people mean to me.  While it provides just my
families tradition of fixing Eritrean food, the real 'recipes' are the stories about living a more relational and connected life.  The book was only published last year, but has been well received.  It has actually been nominated for a cookbook award this year.  I am sure it will go through a number of revisions. Such is the way of both stories and recipes!

Issayas: Do your siblings feel the same way as you do about Eritrea?

​Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: I believe my siblings all carry ​a deep care for the Eritrean people and culture.  I am the only one who has actively pursued a conversation about Eritrea in a public forum. My younger brother, Peter, is a chemist at a University in Canada.  He has visited Eritrea more than once and at one point consulted with Asmara University about the potential for developing herbal remedies. My oldest two brothers grew up speaking some Saho, a language my father was proficient in. The siblings closest to me grew up speaking some Tigrinya.  I am currently hoping to study Tigrinya  and remember some of the language and also study the Ge'ez language.


Dr. Samuel and his son, Sylvan

Issayas:  Do you have final comments?

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy: I know there are many opinions about Eritrea, even among Eritreans.  It is my hope that there will be an inclusive conversation about Eritrea among Eritreans living in Eritrea and around the world that will explore the dreams and aspirations of the Eritrean people without getting lost in politics. There are so many capable Eritreans in communities in the U.S., Europe and many other places. I continue to be hopeful and positive about the future of Eritrea as a country setting its own course, guarding what is most precious and still finding a way to connect with the global community.

Issayas: Dr. Samuel, thank you for your time. Much appreciated!
To follow up on the activities of Dr. Samuel Mahaffy:

Forthcoming Book: Relational Presence:  Discovering Sacred Space in Decision Making

Personal Website:

Professional Profile:


Twitter: twitter@samuelmahaffy