The media may be our only source of information on conflicts happening far away but it’s by far the most unreliable. When discussing Eritrea, tragically sandwiched between two formidable African nations, much is said about its “dictatorial regime.” But what exactly constitutes a dictatorial regime in the opinion of a mainstream media that absolves the crimes of the wealthier nations while exaggerating those of its victims?
Over the years we’ve seen imperialist powers wage unnecessary wars across the wider Middle East and unleash untold misery on local populations, only to be told that this murderous campaign of bombing, starvation and displacement was for the people’s own benefit. African nations were and continue to be goaded into fratricidal conflicts that fuel the criminal arms or diamond industries that profit from the death of the African man and woman, while never bestowing them with any benefit. And so, yet again, we are told that the young nation of Eritrea is governed in a brutal manner and that any dissenting voices are neutralized. So what to make of a country that is barely mentioned in a complicit Western media only to be portrayed negatively?
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In early September, the Malcolm X Movement (London, England) organized a political and cultural event showcasing the country. Attendants were treated to beautiful poetry, delicious coffee and breads and the most enthralling talks from Eritrea’s inspiring intellectual elite. Former Ethiopian diplomat and anti-imperialist activist, Mohamed Hassan, delivered an impassioned defense of Eritrea and its importance on the African and wider international stage. One of the few multi-ethnic and multi-religious states in the continent, harmonious co-existence is the bed rock of its identity.
When imperialist nations wanted to expel its Muslims inhabitants to Muslim-majority Sudan and ensure the remainder would be annexed into Christian-majority Ethiopia, Eritreans refused, arguing that the two religions could not and should not be separated. Contrasting the more feudal societies of Ethiopia still dominated by class system that hinders progress, Eritrea has a constitution that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens regardless of ethnicity of religion. As such, despite the turmoil and constant attacks by its neighbor Ethiopia, national unity in the face of constant aggression has remained.
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Yet, reading the mainstream media would suggest otherwise. Western nations have decided to support with funds and weaponry Ethiopia in this unnecessary war, going as far as devoting over $400m in 1990 to its war effort while disguising this sum as aid to the starving millions. This staggering sum was used to support constant attacks on Eritrea and ensure the region never fully recovers. While the class system in Ethiopia is deeply unfair, Addis Ababa is sold to western audiences as a rapidly growing modern city with matching levels of growth. Eritrea however continues to be described as the North Korea of the continent, undeserving of support, friendship or even trade agreements.
As a result, the smaller Horn of Africa nation continues to suffer from crippling sanctions. This in turn, according to Hassan, is forcing thousands into forced migration. This Machiavellian plan is constantly played out whenever Western imperialist nations decide to “punish” a non-compliant state and label it dictatorial or authoritarian.
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The nation is placed under embargo. This in turn forces the economy to slow down which gradually leads to a crisis followed by an inevitable brain drain. Scores of young Eritreans are consequently driven to seek employment and income elsewhere, which is no longer available in their home countries. It is of course a sure and tested method which not only re-enforces the image of “failing states” but places them in the international psyche as countries in constant need of “western benevolence.”
Despite all that, Asmara continues to stand tall. Thanks to its natural resources and bountiful coast line, the country is weathering the storm. It’s a difficult battle but its intellectual and patriotic activists both in and outside the nation are working to extract their homeland from the vicious cycle of war and poverty. Should they succeed, Eritreans might prove to be a worrying example for the imperialists keen to view the continent through the prism of dictatorship, war, misery and Western meddling to bring problems – it generated – to an end.
The corrupt and increasingly discredited mainstream media is waiting for Eritrea to fail; fortunately, Eritreans are standing up to it and showing the world that it won’t.
By Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion,
In previous articles, I have discussed the external obsession with “pinning down Eritrea.” How or why does a country like Eritrea – low-income, developing, African – merit so much (misguided) attention, particularly from the media? There are straightforward principles and dynamics at work; simply, the main problem is that Eritrea remains independent of external designs for the African continent, refuses to prostrate itself before foreign, manipulative agendas, and because the country firmly and unconditionally believes that the primary beneficiaries of its resources must be Eritreans – not exploitative multinational corporations (a la Chomsky’s radical nationalism). Eritrea does not represent a military threat, but an ideological one based on self-reliance, radical nationalism, true independence, and the notion that Africans can do.
Accordingly, the approach towards Eritrea isn’t outright physical destruction (although that is always an option), but rather isolation, demoralization, and delegitimation. The goal is to absolutely and wholly destroy any semblance of credibility for any political or ideological alternative. As described by the internationally renowned scholar, activist, and public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, “when a mafia don makes his neighborhood rounds and collects his payments, he also makes it a point to show everyone that payment is the only option.”
Part of the psychological and ideological strategy is based on the understanding that, “the human being has his most critical point in his mind. Once his mind has been reached, the political animal has been defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets.” That is partly why the corporate media often churns out sensationalism, cursory analyses, and mindless drivel, rather than offering context, truth, or rational analysis. Quite apt here is Orwell’s seemingly timeless Nineteen Eighty-Four, which describes “doublethink” – the act of holding two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and believing in both simultaneously and absolutely. If you’re not careful, war becomes peace, freedom becomes slavery, and ignorance becomes strength. Likewise, during his visit to the Oxford Union in the 1960s, the Black revolutionary leader Malcolm X exposed how, “the powers that be use the press to give the devil an angelic image and give the image of the devil to the one who’s really angelic…[or] they’ll take a person who is a victim of the crime and make it appear he’s the criminal, and they’ll take the criminal and make it appear that he’s the victim of the crime.”
Although the narrative on Eritrea is often misguided, cursory, or lacking in context, challenges to the mainstream perspective of the country can be found. Today, we are privileged to have an insightful contribution by Hafsa Kara-Mustapha, an accomplished and highly respected international journalist and political analyst. Kara-Mustapha is a regular contributor and commentator on a variety of media outlets (written, radio, and television), including RT, PressTV, and former British MP George Galloway’s popular international political talk show, Sputnik. Below, Kara-Mustapha touches on Eritrea’s struggle for independent development, the global media, and a range of other geopolitical topics.