A Peek into the Discursive Struggle around Eritrea: Some context into my last blog post and what happened that evening

Posted: October 12, 2015 in Postcolonialism/Postcolonial literature, Uncategorized, [Social] Media
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dear readers, especially the followers of my blog,

I know this particular blog post comes late, and I apologize. I apologize for not blogging as much as I use to; I’ve been a bit busy with graduate school and trying to improve my academic writing skills, both of which has made it difficult for me to go back to just good old blogging. I believe I have found a way to get around this, as well as way to develop more interesting blog posts, so please stay tuned!

My last blog post, written on 16 June 2015, titled “Context is Everything in the Case of Eritrea“, was a compilation of what I thought would be discussed and/or relevant information for those seeking to inquire more on the discourse on Eritrea, during and after the running of The Stream episode that I was part of later that evening. The episode titled “UN Accuses Eritrea of possible ‘Crimes Against Humanity‘” did a good job at displaying how passionate Eritreans can be about challenging the hegemonic discourse surrounding their country, but more importantly calls for a more nuanced understanding about the production of this discourse as well as knowledge production on Eritrea. I will not go too much into this in this particular blog post but I will do so in future ones.


The above video might cause one to generalize and think that Eritreans only argue with each other, and therefore are not able to reconcile among themselves. What might not be easily understood by s/he who does not have a nuanced understanding of the hegemonic discourse surrounding Eritrea is that the above episode of The Stream is one of the very few occasions where Eritreans who do not chose to make a career out of demonizing the Eritrean government have had a chance to speak about the reality in Eritrea. Saleh Johar, who is also in the above episode, has made a career out of demonizing the Eritrean government, especially because it was established after the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) liberated Eritrea in 1991. What many people might not know is that he has not even set foot in Eritrea in decades. In the episode, he says that he fought for his country; his animosity towards the current front (the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – PFDJ) has roots in the fact that he was a member of the other front (the Eritrean Liberation Front – ELF) that was driven out of Eritrea in the early 1980s.

Another thing that might not become apparent to those not familiar with the details of this discourse production is that there are a lot of Ethiopians, especially those from the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray, who participate in this discourse production with the sole intention of trying to make Eritrea seem as isolated as possible. Just check out the article written about The Stream Episode; all three tweets that are posted there because they back the COI report on Eritrea (i.e. posted under the phrase “But others backed the UN position”) are most obviously from Ethiopian-promoting Twitter accounts. Tigray Legend? ThatEthioBoy? Does it need to be more obvious? This is a very sad phenomena; there are plenty of Eritreans out there who do not support the current government, and yet they are not given a voice on such platforms. I do imagine that there could be Ethiopians who are genuinely concerned for Eritreans, but I can confidently say that the below Twitter accounts are NOT, especially after experiencing their banal Twitter trolling.

Ethiopians dominating discourse on Eritrea

In the article, there is also mention of the so-called “Freedom Friday” movement. When reports and articles started to emerge about this movement doing things within Eritrea, I had written THIS BLOG POST while I was in Eritrea, living in Eritrea. This phantom movement and the attention it has received illustrates the tragedy of the Eritrean situation where all agency is being stripped away from the Eritrean people by western media AGAIN! Only this time, instead of just completely denying agency, certain actors are now imagining scenarios of how the neo-imperial west would like people to demonstrate their agency, presenting pure fantasy as real, and major media channels are taking the bait. This fake revolution not only undermines the agency of Eritrean people inside the country, but also the intelligence of a people who brought about their own liberation (i.e. with no major backing from any other country, and where both world powers at the time – the USA and the Soviet Union – had both supported Ethiopia’s federalization of Eritrea to Ethiopia) with so much sacrifice.

Saleh Johar admiting being coached by Selam Kidane and Feruz KaisseyThere is a part in The Stream episode that, as I’ve observed on several forums and tweets, has confused many. Between the 18:34th minute and the 18:44th minute, Saleh Johar flashes his iPhone and says he has his Jordan sneakers, therefore he is not a refugee who has just arrived in the United States. To his own confession, he made that statement after being coached to do so by Selam Kidane and Feruz Kaissey. The background behind that comment is the first time I was on The Stream (which actually inspired me to create this blog) and how a comment I made about how Eritrean youth are like other youth around the world (i.e. exposed to the products of globalization), was taken out of context. In that episode I said that something along the line of ‘we (here I would like to emphasize the ‘we’) in Eritrea enjoy Hollywood movies, iPods, iPads, and Air Jordans’ (although I didn’t have an iPad at the time and have never worn a pair of Air Jordans in my life). My statement was misinterpreted as saying that people become refugees for such commodities, and I was accused of being insensitive. This is what happens when there is a single narrative, a narrative that purports that all Eritreans leaving Eritrea are only refugees. It does not say anything about the hundreds of thousands of youth (NB. Eritrea’s population is roughly 5 to 6 million) who are still in Eritrea, nor does it say anything about the thousands of youth who were exempted/released from national service but had to put their lives in the hands of human traffickers simply because there were no legal ways for them to travel to the west, nor does it say anything about the hundreds (if not thousands) who left Eritrea within the last decade and now travel back-and-forth to Eritrea, nor does it say anything about the many that dream of the day they do go back to their country after finding out that the life of a migrant in the west is very difficult. That single narrative also denies the fact that there are thousands of Eritrean people who are still refugees in the Sudan since before Eritrea’s independence, a single narrative that has kept such people hostage to subaltern status. You never hear the voices of such people in the mainstream media… unless of course their situation is presented in a way that further perpetuates this single narrative for the benefit of political actors working very hard to make Eritrea look justifiably isolated.

The last point I would like to make about this particular episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream is to point out some nuance in the only other ‘Supporting-COI-report’ tweet mentioned in the AJ Stream article written right after the show, a tweet from Selam Kidane’s Twitter account.

Selam Kidane tweet on AJ Stream article

The irony of the above tweet is that it purports that the COI report says what every Eritrean already knew. Saleh Johar says the same thing during the AJStream episode. It is true that such actors already knew the report’s contents because they played a very active role in writing the report. Since this particular issue deserves a proper analysis, I will get into more detail about this in another blog post. For now, I would just like to point out that Selam Kidane has been active in threatening Eritreans, who have applied for asylum in Europe, from participating in any Eritrean events that are not organized by the opposition. This includes non-political events like festivals and music concerts. The irony behind this scenario is that Selam Kidane herself had sought asylum in the UK some time in the late 1980s saying that she was fleeing Ethiopian forced conscription, when indeed the Ethiopian government did not conscript females at all. To summarize what the below screen shot says, in the Tigrinya language, Selam Kidane is warning Eritrean asylum seekers in Europe to not participate in a peaceful demonstration that took place on the 22nd of June this year in Geneva, protesting against the COI report. The whole message is not included in the below screen shot but warnings like this were disseminated throughout Eritrean-related Facebook groups by those who support (and even helped to write the report WITHOUT having ever lived in Eritrea post-independence, never serving a day in the Eritrean national service program), claiming that if asylum seekers are identified in pictures of the demonstration, action would be taken to get them deported out of Europe. This fear-mongering is all but a small example of what many in the opposition are doing to further deny agency to those that do not support their single narrative.

So, I’ve touched on a lot of issues in this blog post, but in the future I promise to get into more detail about the current discursive struggle taking place among Eritrean communities around the world. Stay tuned!


  1. Very interesting blog with a lot of information!!! Looking forward to more information soon about Eritera!!

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