The Reality of Eritrea v the Campaign of Defamation
Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences
5 August 2017
Eritrean children in Assab
“The unpopular truth” which the world never wants – or is hardly ever permitted – to hear about Eritrea is often drowned out by the loud campaign of defamation based on lies. The reality of Eritrea has often been tarnished by the amplified fabrications authored by falsifiers and traitors. The aim of this article is to show that Eritrea has another side to see than the image presented by falsifiers and traitors, and it will help to make known the decent news about Eritrea.
For many years, Eritrea was deliberately portrayed as an isolated and closed country. According to the Atlantic Council, however, some 50 foreign journalists were permitted to enter and report on the country between May 2015 and May 2016, and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was permitted to tour and observe the prison conditions in Eritrea. The discrepancy between many reports on Eritrea and realities on the ground was well witnessed and articulated by the BBC's Mary Harper. She was one among the many western journalists that stayed in Eritrea to report and document about Eritrea, went to many cities and rural villages freely, and stated that “Eritrea is a totally unique experience for me…it is the only country of which, what is told of on social networks, is much different from its reality.”
The various reports released and repeated ad nauseum by individuals and organizations have smeared the image of Eritrea for long. It is important to once again point to Mary Harper’s important observations: “According to reports, Eritrea is a place empty of its youth, where its people are tortured and are all in prison…[Its] people being forbidden to think let alone to speak. So when I came here I realized that of course Eritrea has its own problems but it has many more stories that could be told outside all of the negativity…I have not been restricted in terms of who, when and where to speak to; I have been both in rural and urban areas, and in a way, I would say that Eritrea has its own way of doing things in determination and resilience.” Quite clearly, these observations directly contradict what we are often told about Eritrea, and they come from someone who has visited the country, not someone basing their report on what they’ve seen on social media or hearsay.
The falsifiers and traitors have failed in their attempt to bury the truth in the grave of mendacity while the determination and resilience of Eritrean people celebrate victory. For the people of Eritrea, truth has been its vital feature since ancient times. The many proverbs, fairy tales, and stories that abound within Eritrean society in honor of truth are key indications as the significance of truth in Eritrea. In Eritrea, there is no tradition of campaigning to sell a story that does not really exist. In fact, our culture of modesty makes it difficult for us to proclaim or boast about what has been done.
Harper, after her observations on the collective behavior of the people of Eritrea, suggested that it would be more effective that the story of Eritrea be told in its most original form by Eritreans. The experienced BBC journalist further stated that “Eritrea has a serious image problem, but if you work in the best of your abilities, beyond your humble and modest tradition of not bragging on your own, you will definitely be able to portray.”
Today Eritrea is in a better position than ever before. The real image is getting clearer by the determination and resilience of Eritrean people. The power of the people of Eritrea has begun to make a wind of truth to come and go. The wall of isolation has started to crumble and a voice of truth has risen to challenge the previously unimpeded defamatory news. “The wall that the Ethiopians had carefully erected has frankly crumbled,” said Martin Plaut, the author of Understanding Eritrea
. “Everybody seems to be queuing up to love them,” he added. Eritrea has shown, especially in recent years, a willingness to work with countries and organizations that treat it with respect and not as a target of “help” said Seth Kaplan, the author of Eritrea: Economy, Ideology and Opportunity
. Bronwyn Bruton, in her article “Eritrea: Coming In from the Cold” stated that “A number of surprising developments have recently occurred in Eritrea, suggesting that the country is determined to throw off isolation for positive engagement in its foreign policy since the sanctions were applied.”
The unpleasant narratives of Eritrea in mainstream media however continue to smear and undermine the significant achievements registered by the country. The good thing is that the assessment of more objective observers has gained momentum to shock falsifiers and traitors. According to Seth Kaplan, “As a result of this system of government, Eritrea shows no signs of the violent ethnic conflict that has battered other countries in the Horn of Africa.” Moreover, Mr. John Ging, Director of Operations, Coordination and Response at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), after observing the health and educational services available in Eritrea - in venues constructed by development workers that others branded as “forced labor”, “slavery” and the like - applauded the effort Eritrea is exerting on the basis of self-reliance and in partnership with stakeholders. In the discussion forum hosted on strengthening partnerships among development partners of Eritrea, Ms. Christine Umutoni, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Eritrea said, “Eritrea has shown commendable commitment to its development agenda.” It is known that Eritrea has certainly made more progress on the Millennium Development Goals than most of the African countries that are regularly praised by western world as “democracies” and “fastest growing countries.”
The regional and global foes of Eritrea have remained committed to overlooking these positive developments and continue to criticize and single out the country. Bronwyn Bruton throws a word of advice to the US, a country with decades of misguided policy in the Horn of Africa, stating “If the United States can encourage Eritrea on a trajectory of re-engagement, it should. But to do that, Washington must drop outdated notions about the threat that Eritrea poses.” Eritreans were probably among the first people to suffer the pain from the misguided policy of US. As long as this negative fixation of the US towards Eritrea remains, Eritreans will encounter challenges in realizing their dreams. The US-led western world has been using the mantra of human rights as a means to legitimize their assault against confident and independent countries elsewhere.
Eritrea is singled out for attacks on human rights. No one can say Eritrea is without challenges in terms of human rights; in fact, no country anywhere in the world is without challenges. However, the historical reality is that the birth of the Eritrean state was closely associated with the struggle for human rights. Ms. Christine Umutoni, in her speech delivered on Human Rights Day in 2016, stated, “The existence of Eritrea as a nation is based on the quest for human rights; therefore the UN and partners will continue to accompany the country and the people of Eritrea as they strengthen and enhance their human rights obligations.” Certainly Eritrea has problems and the government has always said “our achievements are modest, fall far short of our aspirations; and we have a long way to go.” The unfortunate thing is that the long time foes of Eritrea are drawing the sword of human rights to derail and obstruct the country from its own development path. If they were truly humanitarian sympathizers, Eritrea would not be singled out for special treatment, as we have seen in last couple of years. Anyone who is interested with the human rights condition of Eritrean people must push for the implementation of the EEBC. Seth Kaplan said “international attempts to improve the living conditions of Eritreans are more likely to succeed . . . through engagement that starts with where the country is now, not where outside actors think it ought to be.”
The final and binding nature of EEBC’s verdict given in 2002 did nothing and for the past fifteen years, Ethiopian troops have been permitted to occupy Eritrean territory. Bronwyn Bruton has a say on the consequence of international silence on Ethiopian defiance to conform to international law. She said “the border between the two countries is heavily militarized and skirmishes occasionally claim lives. And Eritrea has been trapped in a painful stasis known as ‘no peace, no war.’” She further suggests that Ethiopia’s refusal to comply with the firm and final ruling of the Boundary Commission is a major source of instability in East Africa. Ms. Bruton has warned the US administration that the short term benefits that US can gain from supporting Ethiopia would create risks. Finally, let me conclude with Bronwyn Bruton’s insightful statement: “Over the years, US rhetoric has helped to establish a fictional dichotomy between the ‘good’ Ethiopia and the ‘spoiler’ Eritrea…The dichotomy is not supported by facts on the ground, and thus has a detrimental effect on US credibility.”