About Dan Connell

Dan Connell was born in New Orleans in 1944 and lived in Chicago and New York before settling in New England in the 1970s. Since 1995, he has lived on Cape Ann with his wife, graphic designer Debbie Hird. His two children—Joanie (b. 1965) and Laura (b. 1968)—live with their families in California and Florida.

After earning a masters in English at the University at Buffalo in 1968, Dan worked as a carpenter, art & music librarian, farm-hand, house painter, inner-city science teacher, alternative-high-school administrator, book seller and copy writer—exploring the social landscape and participating in a range of organizing campaigns and political movements.

In 1975, on the heels of a divorce whose terms included alternating custody of the children for a year at a time, he set out for Africa with a backpack, a notebook, a few hundred dollars, and a burning curiosity about people’s struggles for liberation and democracy—and the U.S. role in them—arising from his experiences in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements.

He made his way to Addis Ababa via Cairo and Khartoum and set out to study Ethiopia's self-described "socialist" revolution, then supported by the U.S. But he soon re-focused on the largely unreported fight for independence in Eritrea, a former Italian colony that Ethiopia annexed after World War 2, which the "revolutionary" regime was attempting to crush with renewed intensity.  Hitchhiking into the war zone 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 Against All Odds.

Next, he flew to Sudan and traveled into Eritrea with both the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). Over the next five years, he returned frequently, writing not only for The Post, but for the New York-based Guardian, the BBC, AP, Reuters and more than a dozen other print and broadcast media in Europe and North America—often as the only reporter covering the conflict. Eritrea has remained a central focus of his work ever since, though he has also written on the civil wars in Sudan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and post-apartheid rights issues, and the social and political movements in Nicaragua and the Philippines.

In 1983, after a stint with Oxfam America in Lebanon, Dan founded and directed the Boston-based development agency Grassroots International, first to provide material aid to social movements in Eritrea, Lebanon, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and later to work in South Africa and the Philippines.

In the 1990s, he left Grassroots to write a narrative of Eritrea’s liberation, Against All Odds. Next came an investigation into post-cold war social and political movements in Eritrea, South Africa, Palestine and Nicaragua that led to his second book, Rethinking Revolution: New Strategies for Democracy & Social Justice. He also consulted for international development agencies and researched the arms trade in Sudan for Human Rights Watch, during which he toured rebel-held areas and debriefed defectors from Sudan’s armed forces and from Osama bin Laden’s emerging terrorist network.

With the renewal of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998-2000, Dan worked with Eritrea’s Ministry of Information to write a country handbook and train journalists in the public and private press. However, when President Isaias Afwerki squelched debate over the conflict and the slow pace of democratization by arresting former comrades and shutting down the independent press, Dan turned critic and was ousted from the country. Afterward, he published "Enough! A critique of Eritrea's post-liberation politics."

From 2002 to 2014, Dan was a Senior Lecturer in journalism and African politics at Simmons College in Boston, Mass. During this period, he wrote extensively on Eritrea's slide into despotism and the new country's belligerent behavior in the Horn of Africa. He also took student groups to South Africa to study human rights and published two collections of their articles. In 2012 he toured Eritrean refugee camps in northern Ethiopia to assess conditions there and to investigate the sources of their flight from Eritrea. In January 2013 he traveled to Israel to research the refugee experience there; that June he went to the Sinai and to Sudan to research human trafficking there. He continues to research and write about these issues.

Dan is the author or editor of ten books:

Shortly after 9/11, Dan founded the Cape Ann Forum in Gloucester, Mass., which he chairs. He also remains involved with Grassroots International and Middle East Report, for which he is a contributing editor, and he is a Visiting Scholar at Boston University's African Studies Center. He continues to write and speak frequently on the Horn of Africa.