[Dehai-WN] Theeastafrican.co.ke: Leaks reveal US envoy's caustic view of Isaias

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sat Sep 10 2011 - 18:39:00 EDT

Leaks reveal US envoy's caustic view of Isaias

By KEVIN J. KELLEY ( <javascript:void(0);> email the author)

Posted Saturday, September 10 2011 at 18:11

In a 2009 confidential cable recently posted by WikiLeaks, the then-US
ambassador to Eritrea draws a caustic comparison between President Isaias
Afewerki and Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.

The message to the State Department from ambassador Ronald McMullen was
inspired by President Afewerki's "surprise appearance" at a reception hosted
by the Chinese embassy in Eritrea's capital, Asmara.

Mr McMullen, who served as US envoy to Eritrea from 2007 to 2010, notes that
Afewerki ate little during the 60th anniversary celebration of communist
rule in China. But the Eritrean leader "drank almost a whole bottle of
high-proof moutai [a Chinese liquor], becoming visibly inebriated and
sentimental as the evening drew on."

The president "remarked repeatedly on his admiration of Chairman Mao,"
Ambassador McMullen reports. "Ten times during the evening," the cable
continues, "President Isaias mentioned his '42-year-long relationship with
China,' dating from his 1967 training as a political commissar during Mao's
Cultural Revolution."

"On a monthly basis," the US diplomat adds, "the Chinese ambassador's chef
gets a request from Isaias to send over a Chinese meal.. Now 63 years old,
President Isaias still plays a mean game of ping pong, according to some
observers, when his chronic lower back pain permits." The leaked cable dated
October 20, 2009, suggests that President Afewerki has much in common with
Mao, who ruled China for 27 years until his death in 1976. Despite the
cable's generally mordant tone, the US ambassador's comparison does contain
hints of admiration for President Afewerki.

"A young man of humble origins who through ruthless determination rose to
the top of a revolutionary army and defeated a stronger foe, led his country
against foreign domination and launched a wrenching social revolution,
Isaias probably sees many parallels between his life and Mao's," Mr McMullen

"Isaias's closure of Eritrea's only university mirrors Mao's
anti-intelligentsia campaigns of the mid-1960s," the assessment continues.
"His nationalisation of the economy and the wholesale conscription of
Eritrean youth into a 'national service' of military duty and forced labour
resemble some aspects of Mao's early rule."

"Isaias eschews a blatant cult of personality (unlike his hero)," Mr
McMullen writes, "but brooks no opposition and entertains no notions of

"While Mao's China fought India, sent 'volunteers' to Korea and tangled with
the Soviet Union over their border, Isaias has fought Ethiopia, Djibouti and
Yemen to establish his bona fides as a regional power.

"While Chinese today allow that Mao was '70 per cent correct,' the cable
concludes, "Isaias seems to have adopted many of his policies from the other
30 per cent."


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