On October 18th, 2019 Eritrean activist Vanessa Tsehaye quote tweeted an article from Bolivian activist Jhanisse Vaca Daza published on the Human Rights Foundation page, encouraging the overthrow of socialist leader Evo Morales.
“If democracy and human rights are further compromised, Bolivia could become the next Venezuela. The presidential election on October 20 is a critical opportunity to remove Morales from power and restore justice in Bolivia. Our planet cannot afford another authoritarian leader who remains in power at the expense of the natural world.”
A few weeks later in Bolivia, the world witnessed a successful coup by the fascist junta and the ousting of Evo Morales, leaving him in exile, humiliated, and targeted.
The new regime immediately went on a killing rampage, murdering dozens, massacring Indigenous protesters, and overturning all economic and political gains made by the socialist government. The coup advanced Washington’s foreign policy that has been consistent from Latin America to Africa in targeting socialist leaders or any non-compliant state.
Who is Vanessa Tsehaye, and why is an Eritrean activist so close with a Bolivian regime change activist?
The connection is the Human Rights Foundation, where Jhanisse V. Daza is the manager of the Freedom Fellowships, a program they selected Vanessa to be a part of on May 21, 2019. Jhanisse revealed on the announcement of the fellowship program : “Anyone running a non-profit or civil society organization or start-up needs help and guidance with personal leadership, movement building, marketing and media strategy, fundraising, and digital security. My own experience was transformative, and I’m looking forward to bringing world-class expertise in each of these areas to 10 new Fellows.”
What is her experience and who are the “world-class experts”?
A more detailed examination of Jhanisse Vaca Daza’s connections and working relationships reveal that she guides an international network of Washington-backed regime change operations from Bolivia, Hong Kong and other strategic regions.
As first reported by Wyatt Reed and Ben Norton from the GrayZone, Daza is linked to Venezuelan figures Leopoldo Lopez, and Thor Halvorssen, the founder and CEO of the Human Rights Foundation. They are both connected to the right-wing and racist oligarchy who have been waging a long campaign of destabilizing Venezuela with the support of Washington.
Furthermore, Daza is associated with Srdja Popovic, the former organizer with the group Otpor which had substantial financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Otpor group was one of many decades-long sophisticated operations to target socialist Yugoslavia and break it apart.
As per the investigative report by The GrayZon revealed:
“CANVAS had been funded largely through the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA cut-out that functions as the US government’s main arm of promoting regime change.”
According to internal emails from Stratfor, an intelligence firm known as the “shadow CIA,” CANVAS “may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”
CANVAS grew out of the Otpor! movement, a US-backed cadre of youth activists that brought down Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was targeted for overthrow by NATO for being insufficiently compliant.
An email by a Stratfor staffer boasts: “the kids who ran OTPOR grew up, got suits and designed CANVAS… or in other words a ‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions. They are still hooked into U.S. funding and basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that U.S. does not like ;).”
Stratfor revealed that CANVAS “turned its attention to Venezuela” in 2005, after cultivating opposition movements that led pro-NATO regime-change operations across Eastern Europe. Among those trained by CANVAS were the leaders of Venezuela’s coup attempt this year, including Juan Guaido, Leopoldo Lopez, and scores of figures associated with the US-supported Popular Will party.”
Bolivian anti-Evo Morales activist Jhanissa Vaca Daza (center) with Otpor leader and CANVAS founder Srdja Popovic (right)
On July 19th, 2019, Vanessa also tweeted in support of Srdja Popovic: “We can only succeed by learning from the ones who fought similar before us”.
Meron Estefanos is another Eritrean activist that is also associated with Human Rights Foundation and connected with Srdja as seen by the tweet below in May of 2015. Both Meron and Vanessa’s Twitter accounts are verified and are always centered on all news developments to give the impression of representing an impartial Eritrean voice, despite their connection to shadowy elements and aims for the state.Vanessa Tsehaye was also nominated for the Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Award in 2016:
“Index on Censorship continues to function today, posing as an organisation that promotes freedom of expression across the world. But a cursory glance at its major donors sets alarm bells ringing.As well as the aforementioned Ford Foundation, it is funded by Open Society Foundations, Open Democracy and the shady soft power organisation the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)”
What can we infer about the active harm on the state of Bolivia and Eritrea from Vanessa in the Eritrean diaspora spaces, and her links with Jhanisse Vaca Daza/Human Rights Foundation? Her emergence is part of many counter-revolutionary aims over the years to defang the Eritrean revolution of its socialist roots, demoralize the Eritrean people’s sense of revolutionary nationalism, and weaken the state. The strategy of Washington has been multi-faceted and sophisticated in its deployment and execution in the diaspora since 2007, as stated in WikiLeaks cables from former Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen.The Impeccable achievement of the Eritrean revolution under the guidance of ELM, ELF initially and then EPLF, which had a socialist foundational aim after independence, was a threatening example for Africa. Therefore, Eritrea has been a victim of imperialist design and destruction for decades:
- 1890-1945-Survived and resisted Italian colonialism without the influence of Italian culture, language, and the racist period of the fascist era.
- 1945-1960 Survived and resisted British colonialism objectives in partitioning Eritrea and dividing its people.
- 1961-1991 Survived and resisted US/UK/USSR supported Ethiopian colonialism and brutal occupation.
- 1991-1998 Peace and transition.
- 1998-2000 Survived western supported invasion of Eritrea by Washington backed TPLF just like it did years later in Somalia.
- 1998-2018 Survived and resisted Washington aggression and support of the Ethiopian regime aims at state collapse, destabilization, and economic sabotage to make the people revolt and submit.
- 2009-2018 Survived debilitating UN sanctions against the state, defense capability, and collective punishment of the people.
The prevailing emergence of neoliberal diaspora activism currently led by Vanessa/OneDaySeyoum is operated on individual issues in a celebrity-like consideration over the community and collective struggle. This is why it is social media-driven with no serious offline popular legitimacy with the Eritrean community, as the aim is not unity but to sow discord, political fragmentation and externalize all of the actual problems in Eritrea. Neoliberal diaspora activism is directed by Twitter likes, metrics and online drama, like the dogpiling of comedian Tiffany Haddish who visited Eritrea on a personal narrative and wanting to publicize her father’s country. It must be understood Tiffany Haddish was viscously targeted, when she was not a political voice at all. Vanessa purposely used the social media bullying of Tiffany to publicize her organization and use that public stunt toward centering her organization and profile.
OneDaySeyoum/Vanessa Tsehaye did not oppose the Susan Rice lobbied sanctions on the state of Eritrea from 2009 to 2018 and was silent on the 18-year war of aggression from Washington backed regime in Addis Ababa. Most of the Gen Z diaspora youths who support her on Twitter are being misled into an imperialist undertaking, filled with superficial campaign and PR with no serious impact on the Eritrean people nor the state. The social media campaign only helps to build the “activists brand” and their profile, it doesn’t materially address the problems of the Eritrean people. They politically exploit the serious problem of Eritrean refugees in Libya to blame the state only, with no mention of the role of imperialism in destabilizing Libya and the aggression on Eritrea. This is likened to being an arsonist at night but performing like firefighters in daylight. What does supporting sanctions, economic/military destabilization of the Eritrean state have to do with advocating for refugees? Additionally, Vanessa gained notoriety and social media capital off Ciham’s misfortune in Eritrea. We must move away from single issues social media campaigns as that itself is liberalism, and truly engage in a high-level approach to supporting the Eritrean people beyond PFDJ by not selling out to imperialism. Advocating for Ciham’s freedom is the right thing to do, but there is no reason to engage in liberalism and align the campaign with Vanessa Tsehaye, who is funded by the Human Rights Foundation. The social media campaign around Ciham and its performative spectacle only benefited the career profile of Vanessa Tsehaye. As Ivan Marovic, one of the founders of Otpor stated: “It’s not cool. Normal people hate politics . . . but . . . you need normal people if you’re gonna make change. To do that, you need to make politics sexy. Make it cool. Make it hip. REVOLUTION as a FASHION LINE”
In Defense Of Eritrean Leftist Commentary
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”-Amilcar Cabral,
Over the years there has been an external push toward a neoliberal flavored type of activism that aims to reverse the legacy of the elder generation of Eritreans with leftist politics and a sense of revolutionary nationalism. The revolutionary nationalism itself is being targeted, although it must be clear that PFDJ has been failing Eritrea and the diaspora to be a vanguard in the same spirit as the true socialist vanguard EPLF. The elder Eritrean generation who were active in the late 1980s and 1990s with revolutionary nationalism, built up the diaspora communities and developed a long-lasting movement to help Eritrea. The rise of Vanessa/OneDaySeyoum opposes the rich history of the community-owned activism and bottom-up grass-roots that was prevalent in the 1980/90s and early 2000s in the diaspora, originally shaped by the true socialist vanguard EPLF. The neoliberal diaspora activists are running counter to the history of Eritrean organizers, who stood for solidarity, anti-imperialism, and collective struggle building that united Eritreans and defended the state and revolution. Unfortunately, Isaias Afewerki and PFDJ have not been able to maintain that legacy and now we have youth who are vulnerable to grifters and counter-revolutionary warfare. The fear of critical leftist narratives against both PFDJ and the pro State Department elements like Vanessa is serious, and the counter-response is to spew ad hominem attacks and discredit any leftist criticism.
For example below, in the past few months, I have been targeted by Vanessa Tsehaye/OneDaySeyoum by spreading misinformation and gaslighting my commentary, dismissing me as a man who is misogynistic, sexist, and targeting Eritrean women for publicly condemning her ties to imperialist hands and her support of the coup in Bolivia. The below tweet of mine is addressing imperialism and Vanessa Tsehaye responded by falsey proclaiming that I’m misogynist:
(By the way, her name was Vanessa Berhe on all articles in the past, Al Jazeera interviews and that was the name I used before she changed her name, I was not aware she changed her name but I have now updated as to respect her choice)
Is legitimate public criticism of a hyper-visible activist misogynist or sexist? If that is the case I have no problem being self-corrected, but this is motivated with aims to smear my political criticism.
Equally important, the individual’s account associated with Vanessa has sent direct messages to popular black leftists with large followings, by proclaiming with no public independent investigation, that I’m targeting Eritrean women when that is not true. My personal address has been doxxed by one of the vocal members of OneDaySeyoum with threats to do me harm offline, plus other Youtube comments threatening to call my family and publishing the name of my partner. Moreover, the individuals associated with Vanessa Tsehay/OneDaySeyoum have targeted the organization I’m a member of by continuously aiming to send their associates to monitor our activities, and to penetrate and sabotage our efforts. The HOA-PALS(Horn of Africa-Pan Africanist for Liberation and Solidarity is aiming to build an alternative leftist space that is multi-generational,women-led, and LGBTQ+ welcoming. Fallacious claims of me targeting Eritrean women are flawed, considering I am a member of a women-led organization where we have had various internal dialogue on how this was a political hit job to discard my commentary. My commentary is direct, blunt, and has no aim to harm marginalized communities, but to question reactionary elements, whether it is the activists or the cadres of PFDJ or Eritrean officials. I have been blocked by the Eritrean ambassador to Japan for criticizing his anti-Cuba/USSR/Marxist views, I have been blocked by WHO Director, Tedros Adhanom for his time as Foreign Minister under TPLF, I have been blocked by US ambassador in Djibouti, MC Hammer for support Selassie/Menliek and have had more issues with reactionary men in our community than women.
As a cis Eritrean man, I understand the optics of publicly criticizing women and have been doing more to be careful in the language I use, reading Queer Marxist feminist works to better stamp out my internalized patriarchy to do better with my approach, while maintaining the guiding principles of anti-imperialists, and highlighting the problems of Washington foreign policy in the Horn of Africa.
To be a revolutionary Eritrean in the diaspora demands one not be associated with the Washington State Department on the one hand, or uncritically support Isaias Afewerki on the other. There is a transformative approach to transitioning Eritrea beyond Isaias Afewerki and it won’t work by being in collusion with the State Department/Human Rights Watch/Amnesty and activist(OneDaySeyoum). Eritreans have a right to defend the state and we should not be intimidated and gaslighted to work with imperialists and their lackeys. No Eritrean with revolutionary potential believing in our collective struggle is my enemy, whether they operate within PFDJ or in the opposition, as we must maintain a united frontline.
Kwame Ture spoke on the differences between mobilization and organization. He says, mobilization usually leads to reform action, not to revolutionary action. “Those of us who are revolutionary are not concerned with issues, we are concerned with the system.” Mobilization of the masses on a bigger scale will require radical approaches through organizations focused on collective struggle rather than individual issues and social media spectacles.
The young diaspora Eritrean youths and non-Eritreans drawn by the emotionally targeted propaganda campaign on Twitter are innocent in that they don’t recognize they are being pulled into something dangerous for Eritrea and the region. This sophisticated campaign targets diaspora youths and individuals with large followings, who are unfamiliar with Eritrea.
One can engage in deconstructing the role of imperialism in how Eritrean refugees are displaced in Libya and facing grave threats, without excusing the internal failures of Isias Afewerki to reduce harm and destructive policies . One can be leftists without supporting PFDJ.
People’s class positioning in the diaspora reflects in their politics for the Horn of Africa. Class perspectives and analysis have been buried by diaspora neoliberal oriented activism towards single issues that deflect emotions and spectacles instead of historical analysis and deeper investigation.
Do you want freedom for your people? From what class positioning? We black leftists are duty-bound to be media savvy and well versed in informational warfare targeting Black America and Africa. Oftentimes people with liberal politics don’t understand piercing’ criticism and ideological persuasion. Do we have malicious intent by bringing to light the harmful political positioning of Eritrean elements from the pro-State Department accounts and pro-Isaias Afewerki accounts? No. The intent is to push the conversation to the left away from reactionaries via PFDJ or a few opposition accounts.
We have a problem with the rampant anti-socialist sentiment within the neoliberal Eritrean activist spaces and their continued online surveillance campaign with support of shadowy backers. Eritrean leftists are being targeted and harassed for their critical commentary and views. The Black global left needs to understand that elements like those in this article who want to discredit Eritrean leftist viewpoints and that those leftists who organize online, must be clear to investigate who they interact with and their shadowy associations.
As to discredit the Eritrean leftist position, any defense of the state or revolution is intentionally equated with the support of Isaias Afewerki and his failures. This is how pro-State Department Eritrean activists rationalize demonizing any defense of the state by deflecting to Isias/PFDJ. Defending Bolivia, Venezuela, Iran, China from western aggression does not mean one agrees with the internal politics or head of state just like Eritrea, but we are guided by the principles of anti-imperialism and a non-interventionist line.
In the spirit of Pan Africanism, the Black Radical Tradition, and anti-imperialism, the Eritrean leftist commentary and the Eritrean revolution must be defended beyond hyper-nationalism, neoliberal diaspora activism, and rightward tendencies.