By Petros Tesfagherghis
Limits on Research and Reporting: The Implication for peace and rights: Panel Discussion with Michela Wrong, Dr John Campbell, Dr Sarah Ogbay, Dawit Mesfin and Dr Laura Hammond (chair). Dated 17 March 2014
The Panel Discussion, represented the last session of “TALKING Eritrea”. Other than awareness creation the events had brought together those who oppose the policies of the government and the young supporters of PFDJ to discuss and listen to each other’s views. Such engagements have taken place in the student lounge over coffee, tea and biscuits. To see the two opposing groups sit together and discuss was unprecedented and ground breaking. (More on part 3). For that I reiterate my thanks to Africa Justice that is what Eritreans need to be tolerant and listen to the views of others.
Limits on Research and Reporting:
Dr Sarah has explained the difficulties of researching in Eritrea. She said the University lacked an academic environment where research can be done freely. She summarised her presentation as follows, “Western writers and scholars failed to see the undemocratic culture of the Fronts. Eritrean Elites were blinded by nationalism and did not consider what post EPLF Eritrea will be. Research is highly controlled by the Government especially if it is policy related to development and welfare. Data is inaccessible in most cases. Some scholars who support the Government externalize Eritrean problems and claim Ethiopia poses existential threat. Scholars have the moral and (professional obligation) to do research that bring about understanding of how Eritrean society is divided along social and political fault lines. And what can be done to accommodate these identities within the Eritrean society. Scholars have problems of affiliation to academic institutions and lack of funds in many cases.
Dr Sarah was forced to flee Eritrea in pursuit of her academic carriers. She is a civil society activist and is a founding member of network of Eritrean women in the UK. Dr Sara raised a very important point “PFDJ externalizing Eritrean problem”. This has served PFDJ as a strategic weapon to hold hostage the people of Eritrea and made them to remain silent when they are subjected to gross human rights violations. The scapegoat is “threat of Weyane Invasion”. TV-ERE keeps on and on demonizing the Ethiopian Government so much so any Eritrean who stood up for justice, rule of law and respect for human rights is branded as “Weyane”.
Michela wrong discussed limits of getting information for reporting and research from her own perspective. Before she started she observed one YPFDJ sitting at the front line desk making ready his mobile to take pictures. Michela was unperturbed, she is no non-sense lady she is very confident and independent in her undertaking as a writer and journalist. She said, “Is that for twitter, I know you are going to use it against me. Go ahead do it. ”She said the behaviour of such people in this series of talks is an example of Eritrean Government’s policy: storm of vitriol on face book and Twitter before each talk, and attempt to disrupt them while they are underway.
She goes, “Why does the Government do this? What is its aim? What does it achieve? One can only assume it doesn’t let journalists in to the country because it knows that while they are there, yes, they will report about sanctions and Badme, but they will also ask inconvenient questions about where the G-15 are and assess the public’s views on National Service.
But the point is that if you keep journalists out of the country, they will still report. They report the stories they do have access to: which is the refugee story, people drowning off Lampedusa/Italy or being held hostage in the Sinai/Egypt, and the National Service story. Both extremely damaging stories for the government.
The great irony is that the government wastes its energies bad-mouthing vilifying in extremely personal terms the few international journalists who are really interested in the violations of international law and who have visited Badme: “Junky old man”” for Dan Connell, “arch-enemy of Eritrea” for Martin Plaut and “neo-colonial call girl for me.”
Eritrea clearly has a case under international law regarding Badme, it may well have a convincing case to make about sanctions, but the government’s determination to close down debate clearly undermines any attempt to win sympathy of international community. It is shooting itself in the foot. Why?
What the YPFDJ seems to be ignorant is that she supports the Government in the Badme argument- She said I quote “the Badme handling is clearly unfair and under-reported. There are strategic reasons for that – Ethiopia, as a key Western ally, gets more sympathy for its position than small Eritrea. But Eritrea’s press relations strategy is self-defeating.
Dr. John R. Campbell is the author of a book titled “Nationalism, Law and Statelessness: Grand Illusion in the Horn of Africa.
Dr John discussed the plight of those who found themselves stateless deported from Ethiopia and came to Europe. Their possession, their house, their belongings lost, every value destroyed. It was human tragedy little known by the outside world.” Dr John also has worked like Pro. Gaim Kibreab with the home office as an expert witness for Eritrean Asylum seekers in their application. He views the condition of these refugees wisely and with compassion. “
His book examines the events which led up to the war, between Eritrea and Ethiopia, documents the expulsions and de-nationalisations that took place and follows the flight of these stateless Ethiopians of Eritrean origin out of the Horn into Europe.
Similar research was done in Asmara, Eritrea by the anthropologist Professor Asmarom Largesse – Director of research of CPE (Citizens for Peace in Eritrea) at the time when the war was raging. He came out with a document tiled “The Uprooted” I quote “ Since the outbreak of hostilities in May 1998 Eritrean and Ethiopian of Eritrean origin were being deported at the rate of about 7000 people per month to Eritrea that totalled more than 70,000. Thousands were put in UNHCR provided tents the photo of a woman and her children in part 1 was taken in the camp in Mendefera – Seraye- South of Asmara by CPE members. Tents were erected in many parts of Eritrea. It was a human tragedy real people destined to be homeless accommodated in tents.
Dawit Mesfin: Wrong Attitudes towards History: He put aside what he was supposed to talk concerning problems of research and shifted on how PFDJ handled the history of the armed struggle and its heroes. He was not prepared for that, he slowly built up his arguments. Dawit Mesfin said “history is written by the winners; The EPLF is a victorious army – why isn’t it writing its own history like all victorious armies?
He goes, “My argument stated that the EPLF cannot write its own history because many of those who contributed towards that history are either killed, side-lined, in exile or in jail. If the EPLF tries to release the documents in its archives that depict the true nature of all the battles that eventually led towards the fall of Asmara then it will have to disclose the names of the heroes – military leaders, who led the battles. Unfortunately the likes of General Uqbe Abreha, who was the commander in chief in the decisive battle that led to the defeat of the famous Wiqaw Ezz (stationed in North Eastern Sahel front), will not be part of the history.”
It talk was moving as he narrated with calm and even the Young PFDJ who are supposed to be confrontational seemed to be absorbed in deep thinking. Silence pervaded the hall.
North Easter Sahel is one of the front line where trench war fare took place for years. The Ethiopian army and the EPLF confront each other 24 hours a day. Its fall must have been very significant as to merit a commemoration on March 2014 that took place in that part of Sahel- a place called Mahmimet 30 years ago.
The total defeat of Wuqaw Ez resulted the surrender of the highest number of soldiers that raised the number of (Prisoners of War) POW to more than 2000 soldiers. In 1986 they were given amnesty announced amid a celebration of their freedom announced by Ali Said Abdella the then chief of security of EPLF. .
Brigadier General Mebrahtu Tekleab (Vainak), Brigadier General Amaniel Haile (Hangema) and Desu Tesfazion, ex-manager of Red Sea Corporation were killed in a car accident on their way to participate in the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Eritrean People Liberation Front’s (EPLF) victory over the Ethiopian “Wukaw Command” (wukaw iz) of 1984.
He also mentioned Mesfin Hagos: In 1991 EPLF has encircled the town of Dekemare 30 kilometres South of Asmara before they move to the final destination – Asmara. The EPLF failed in its first attempt to capture it. Mesfin Hagos as one of the best and experienced battle strategists was assigned to lead the offensive. Dekemare fall easily to the hands of EPLF. There was no need to capture Asmara through a battle because the Ethiopian army found it impossible to fight back and those stationed in Asmara surrendered peacefully. His name would not be mentioned in any celebration.
He explained how PFDJ robbed the freedom fighters of their history. It means the authentic history of the popular struggle of Eritrea is yet to be written.
Dawit Mesfin’s presentation was extremely moving, people were silent overwhelmed with sadness of the history of those heroes the PFDJ scared to death to mention. They are non-person. They never existed.
Meron Estifanos: In this article I was supposed to cover Meron’s talk of 3 March 2014 as part of TALKING ERITREA EVENTS at SOAS as well. However on 13-03-2014 a very good article on Meron appeared at Asmarino.Com. It was by Suzette Martiney, titled “Close torture houses in Sinai and Egypt. I quote, “We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of hostages, and many of them have died,” said Estifanos, who co-authored The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond.
For thousands of Eritreans, her radio program is their only lifeline, a glimmer of hope. Estifanos, a human rights activist, travels globally to speak before international and government institutions, seeking policy changes to end the ongoing nightmare of trafficking and torture of Eritrean refugees.
I have nothing more to add except that she was impressive in her talk at SOAS especially in the question answer part of it. The article has described the courage of the woman in Meron and her work. It has to be acknowledged that the commitment, dedication and achievements of the Eritrean women is simply remarkable. It is unmatched by Eritrean men who are conspicuously absent in practical activities. Can they be an inspiration in the process of creating a just and democratic society in future Eritrea? And would they see to it that their rights is guaranteed?
To be continued on part3.