About Dan Connell
Dan was born in New Orleans in 1944. He grew up in Chicago and New York; married in 1965 while still in college; and lived in Buffalo, N.Y.; Berkeley, Calif.; Warwick, Mass.; Portland, Ore.; Halifax, N.S.; and Cambridge, Mass., before the marriage broke up in 1973. Today, he lives in Gloucester, Mass., with his wife of 23 years (as of 2018), freelance graphic designer and photographer Debbie Hird. His two children—Joanie (b. 1965) and Laura (b. 1968)—live with their families in California and Florida.
After earning a master's degree in literature at the University at Buffalo in 1968, Dan worked as a carpenter's apprentice, an art & music librarian, a farm-hand, a house painter, an inner-city science teacher, an alternative-high-school administrator, a book seller and a copy writer—exploring the social landscape and participating in a range of social and political movements whose common threads with an egalitarian ethos and a commitment to right old wrongs and promote social justice. In 1975, after a year as a single parent in an alternating custody arrangement, he set out for Africa with a backpack, a notebook, and a burning curiosity about people’s struggles for liberation and democracy and a drive to write about them.
He made his way to Addis Ababa via Cairo and Khartoum to observe Ethiopia's self-described "socialist" revolution, still at that time supported by the United States, but he soon re-focused on the largely unreported struggle for independence in Eritrea, a former Italian colony that Ethiopia had forcibly annexed in the early 1960s only to become bogged down in a brutal counterinsurgency war.
Hitchhiking on a government convoy, he crossed guerrilla lines to reach the besieged Eritrean capital, Asmara. There he witnessed the assassination of a high-ranking Ethiopian official and its bloody aftermath: the execution of dozens of civilians. His report on this massacre appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. It is also the basis for the opening chapter of his first book, Against All Odds.
Next, he arranged to visit guerrilla-held areas of Eritrea via Sudan and spent five weeks in the war zone. Over the next five years, he returned frequently, writing for The Post, the New York-based Guardian, the BBC, AP, Reuters and other print and broadcast media, often as the only one covering the conflict and efforts to transform the society while fighting to win its freedom. Eritrea has remained a central focus of his work ever since, though he has written on social and political issues elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, Central America and the Philippines.
In 1983, after a stint with Oxfam America in Lebanon [see "Lessons from Lebanon 1982-83" on the Articles page of this website], Dan founded and directed the Boston-based development agency Grassroots International to provide humanitarian aid to social movements in Eritrea, Lebanon, Palestine, South Africa and other conflict areas and to channel information to the media, policymakers and the public.
In 1990, he left Grassroots to write a narrative account of Eritrea’s independence war, Against All Odds. Next came an investigation into post-cold-war social and political movements in Eritrea, South Africa, Palestine and Nicaragua for Rethinking Revolution: New Strategies for Democracy & Social Justice. This project was supported by a research & writing grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the first of two such grants.
After Eritrea went back to war with Ethiopia over unresolved border issues in 1998-2000, Dan produced a country handbook on Eritrea for the Ministry of Information but clashed with the regime over its increasingly repressive policies toward dissent. He was ousted from Eritrea in 2002. Afterward, he published "Enough! A critique of Eritrea's post-liberation politics" and Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners, a collection of interviews with the president's jailed critics.
From 2002 to 2014, Dan was a senior lecturer in journalism and African politics at Simmons College in Boston. While there, he wrote on Eritrea's slide into despotism, and he took student groups to South Africa to write about human rights there, drawing on contacts he'd made during the anti-Apartheid struggle. In 2012 he began a series of investigations into Eritrea's growing refugee population that took him to camps and communities in North America, Europe, Israel, South and Central America, and East and South Africa. He continues to research and write about these issues.
Dan is the author or editor of ten books:
- Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (1993, 1997).
- Rethinking Revolution: New Strategies for Democracy & Social Justice (2002).
- Eritrea: A Handbook (2002).
- The Proceedings of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the National Union of Eritrean Women (2002).
- Taking on the Superpowers: 1976-1982 (2003)
- Building a New Nation: 1984-2002 (2004).
- Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners (2004).
- Women to Women: Young Americans in South Africa (2006).
- Old Wrongs, New Rights: Student Views of the New South Africa (2008).
- Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2010), coauthored with Tom Killion.
- A 3rd edition of the Historical Dictionary of Eritrea, to be published in 2019.
He is today a Visiting Scholar at Boston University's African Studies Center.
Updated December 2018
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