Journalists have Reporters without Borders; who do we citizens have to protect us from journalists with no credibility?

Western Media only report on African disastersIt was bad enough that Mr. Issa Sikiti da Silva would write an article that purports such a serious allegation against the Government of Eritrea, saying that it supplied rebels of the Central African Republic with weapons. But to have followed up that article in the a crass and unprofessional way  in which he did, citing Eritrean citizens as spies and hit men for asking him to write with credibility, was way out of line.

Does being an “award-winning” author gives someone impunity to spread serious allegations against a nation, with no evidence whatsoever, and to reduce a country’s citizens as “unknown”? Is it now okay for journalists to reduce concerned citizens to spies and hit men just for asking them to provide the sources of his/her information?

Apparently, Mr. Issa thinks that the Reporters without Borders (RSF, its French acronym) World Press Freedom Index is his free-pass to write lies and defame those who call him to account (the same RSF that was unmasked by Counter Punch for calling anti-imperialist Cuba “the world’s biggest prison for journalists” and in another research, asking how RSF could rank Eritrea below Iraq and Somalia with only 2 journalists being reported murdered, compared to 157 and 159 respectively). I couldn’t help to wonder from which decade Mr. Issa is from to even go on to say “the media, as society’s watchdog, should be free and left alone to do their job.” Nobody had asked him not to do his job; in fact people have called him to do it—write your article based on facts and research. Moreover, at a time when people have enough access to information about what the media really does (i.e. promotes the interest of its financiers—i.e. fat-cat capitalists), who is he trying to fool by inciting that his media channel is a watchdog for the Eritrean society? But enough about this wacko “journalist”; this blog post is not about him. He’s already received too much attention to which he doesn’t deserve. No, this blog is about a very dangerous precedent being witnessed when it comes to foreign media channels hell bent on writing about Eritrea without making any effort to seek out the truth.

The common excuse they make is that no one from the government or no one from inside Eritrea is available for comment. As an Eritrean tax-payer, I really do not expect my government to respond or react to all of the allegations made against Eritrea; besides the fact that it gets really boring to respond to it all, I think the government has much bigger concerns on its hands than to respond to all the absurd lies.  But what we are seeing today is that even when the government does respond, the responses are reduced to false denial of the allegations at hand. The government responded to the unprecedented claims of supplying arms to Seleke rebels in the Central African Republic with a press release. The government responded to false allegations of supplying arms to Somali rebels. The government has responded time and again about false allegations that it attempted to bomb an AU Summit, while its own delegation was participating there, which again was proven false by wikileaks. Even the absurd allegations that Eritrea hosts military bases for BOTH Israel and Iran got a response (can you think of any country in the world that could get away with such an absurd undertaking, let alone a poor small country like Eritrea?) Apparently, all of these responses are not jive enough to be given their due attention. Indeed, lazy journalists find it more convenient to copy and paste other journalists instead of taking the time to look for facts. This is exactly what happened around the 21st of January 2013, when one day Asmara was held under siege and then the next day, all was calm—when “rogue mutineers” from the army were then found to have gone back to their barracks without any hassle. No less than 20 different newspapers repeated the exact same words.

It’s one thing to decide to defame a government when indeed they respond to the allegations, but this blog post of mine is not aimed at defending the Eritrean government. Instead, it is aimed at defending the Eritrean nationals who call for media channels to write about the truth instead of taking part in a never-ending campaign to defame their country.

In Eritrea, we don’t have a culture for tabloid news. I’m always reminded about what a young student asked me when I had given a seminar at the Eritrean Institute of Technology on “Combating Negative Stereotyping against the Horn of Africa through Citizen Journalism”. After explaining to them how Western media stereotypes the Horn of Africa as only being about war and famine, and how it stereotypes Eritrean youth into a certain category as well, she wasn’t convinced at all with the reasons I put forward as to why we should try to combat this through citizen journalism, particularly in regards to Eritrea. In response to Eritreans abroad (i.e. so-called opposition) fanning the flames of this constant defamation of Eritrea, she asked “Why should we waste our time responding to them when we can better use our time doing our own programs? They live out there and have no direct influence on anything inside Eritrea, and they can’t stop us from shaping our own destiny.”

She was absolutely right to come to this conclusion. However, especially the way that the defamation campaign is conducted towards Eritrea, in the medium and long term it can have devastating affects as ill-wishers push for the Eritrean people to be sanctioned under completely false allegations. Especially after the days following 21 January 2013, supposedly ‘objective journalists’ and ‘political analysts’ (of course these ‘experts’ on Eritrea are white, non-Eritreans) called for the newly emerging mining industry, the life line to developing a strong economy in Eritrea, to be sanctioned.

How and when can normal Eritrean citizens defend themselves against these lies? As an active advocate for citizen journalism, I’m starting to really have my doubts as to whether we can make an impact. Even the most well researched, well-cited articles written by Eritrean citizens are attacked. After writing an article about human trafficking in Eritrea with 134 sources quoted, the author Simon Tesfamariam was shocked when the “so-called opposition” managed to get both of his Twitter accounts shut down within a couple of days after the article was posted on Black Agenda Report. Despite the fact that I live and work in Eritrea, I have to deal with non-sense banter and threats to my security for every tweet I make, especially as I quote actual events that happen (or don’t happen) in Eritrea.

Certainly, concerned Eritrean citizens comment against the anti-Eritrea articles that spring up all over the web, sometimes in bad taste with name-calling and what have you. But despite all of the name-calling, character defamation, death threats and lies being spread by the so-called ‘opposition’ who are hell bent on destroying Eritrea’s image (all you have to do is say one ‘positive’ thing about Eritrea—tweet about Asmara’s weather—and they pounce on you with threats), they are the ones penetrating the media channels with bullshit. And get this: all of those who are being given this attention have never lived in Eritrea! After having visited Eritrea once or twice in their entire lives, last time being more than a decade ago, they are the ones who are considered the experts on the Eritrean situation! There’s even a guy who wrote a book called “The Eritreans” and maintains a blog under the same name who has never once stepped a single foot in Eritrea , and yet he’s an expert on the Eritrean people?!

Recently there was an article that came out on the imaginary “Freedom Friday (Arbi Harnet)” movement. Titled “Eritrea: ‘Freedom Friday’ Movement Challenges ‘North Korea of Africa’”, it claims that a movement similar to the Arab Springs is taking root in Eritrea. By sheer coincidence, as I was coming to work Friday morning, the day after this article came out, the taxi driver mentioned how he had received one of their robo-calls calling for people to go out into the streets against the Eritrean government. He thought it was the biggest joke ever. Don’t get me wrong; surely Eritrea’s youth will like to see changes and reform in their society. The joke is on those who call youth inside Eritrea to go out in the streets as they themselves live abroad. I don’t know if the taxi driver knows anything about the two women quoted in the article; I didn’t bother telling him that BOTH of them are known to frequent Ethiopia to organize, in cooperation with the Ethiopian government, the arch enemy of the Eritrean people, to violently overthrow the Eritrean government. That would have turned his laughter into something else. For him, it was stupid enough that they would make such calls knowing well that not a single young person will or has adhered to it. His final statement before I got off the taxi: “Let them come to Eritrea and do service before they can even begin to talk about how the youth should bring about change.” Enough said.

I’m not sure if the author of that article understood the lie he was drawn into, but this is the exact trap the so called ‘human rights activists’ (i.e. propagandists for pre-emptive war and apologists for empire) set up towards all western media channels they approach. Having a political interest and receiving incentive to actively defame Eritrea, while supporting the political interests of Ethiopia, is exactly what these type of ‘human rights activists’ do. Oddly enough, the cardinal sin of Eritrean politics is siding in the interests of Ethiopia, especially as they still occupy sovereign Eritrean territory 11 years after the final and binding border ruling was issued. Somebody in Eritrea could absolutely hate the government, but they would never seek the counsel or side with those who mobilize youth to take up arms against their brothers and sisters in support and for the interests of Ethiopia. Period.

Last Friday evening, I learned that Gianluca Mezzofiore, the author of the previously mentioned article, had a sort of ‘follow up’ article posted on storify, posting some of the tweets he had received in response to his initial article. As flattering as it is, he thought that my tweet to him was the most notable one, and with great laughter I did take notice to how we thought my single tweet to him was an angry one. Was it really the wording (it’s difficult getting in all I’d like to say with only 140 characters), or was he running with a certain stereotype he has towards Eritreans, that they respond with anger? Why weren’t the twitter responses to my tweet—by nameless, faceless Twitter accounts—not considered angry when indeed ALL of them had nothing to do with the subject, and ALL of them attempt to try to embarrass or defame me into silence?

Either way, as I’m always advocating against the stereotyping of peoples, it is starting to become very obvious that foreign media is indeed perpetuating a very certain type of stereotype towards my own people. As much as they shed crocodile tears about the lack of freedom of expression in Eritrea, with the stroke of the same pen they would label Eritreans who do express themselves as ‘spies’ and ‘hit men’.

But you know what…They did the same thing in the late 80s, denying that Eritrea’s independence was possible as Eritrean freedom fighters were approaching Asmara.

Hiji w’n MEKETE! A luta continua!!

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Comments
  1. Seble Ephrem says:

    Rahel,

    Regarding the Moon of the South who reported the allegation that Eritrea was supplying arms to Seleka rebels, note that Journal de Brazza (South African) had actually posted the allegation prior to the Moon of the South. Link: http://www.journaldebrazza.com/article.php?aid=2876 . The Journal has not bothered to respond to our request for substantial evidence to their gross allegations.

    In their second article, “Eritrean spies, hitmen”, which was their response to our demand for evidence, Moon of the South’s response have only added insult to injury.

    Both Journal de Brazza, Journal de Bangui and Moon of the South all have French connections.

    Later Leonard Vincent (based in France) entered the following in his blog http://erythreens.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/derniers-echos-du-bagne/

    Watch the space…Vincent’s ugly head is reappearing from the back, and is still smarting after his “Forto 21 Jan” reporting was a total failure..

    Our struggle to reveal the originator of the latest maligning of Eritrea continues. We will not let them make this a pastime for their fetish.

  2. […] Eritrean Spies and Hit Men: When Foreign Media perpetuates the Stereotyping of Eritreans […]

  3. […] past, basically calling the Freedom Friday movement/robot call campaign on its bluff. Here is a blog post I’ve written in response to some media channels accusing concerned Eritrean citizens of being […]

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