By Organization of Eritrean-Americans,
Dear Ms. Vaughan:
Hope you are well. This letter is written on the behalf of the Organization of Eritrean-Americans (OEA), and several Eritrean Diaspora organizations located across Europe and Canada.
The OEA, in particular, is a non-profit, grass-roots organization based in Washington, D.C., and it has evolved into one of the primary sources of information to the general public, various U.S. and international institutions, and the mass media. We would like to share some thoughts and offer considerations to you, primarily as a result of having read several of your recent articles featured on Reliefweb and the AFP, including:
1) “The good, the bad and the very ugly” (August 19, 2013)
2) “Eritrea’s Minerals: Blessing or Curse?” (August 20, 2013)
3) “Eritrea Dreams of Ending Isolation, Boosting Development” (August 20, 2013)
4) “Eritrea’s Unique Architecture Under Threat” (August 21, 2013)
5) “Eritrean Cyclists Pedal Country onto World Stage” (August 22, 2013)
First, while your effort to report on Eritrea, in all its complexities and varied dimensions, is appreciated, we feel that many areas of the piece, “The good, the bad and the very ugly,” lacked contextual understanding, appropriate objectivity, or were downright inaccurate and incorrect. To briefly outline, the following points require reconsideration on your part, although there were several more:
* It is important to reiterate that Eritrea is fully governed by its constitution, ratified in 1997. Full implementation has only been delayed due to the continued illegal occupation of Eritrean land by Ethiopian military forces, in direct violation of international law and the EEBC’s final and binding verdict.[i]
* The president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, was in fact elected by the National Assembly in 1993, and not “un-elected” as you suggest.
* Several of us were in Asmara, Eritrea on the day that your interview subject, Asmelash Abraha, was purported to have read demands by the renegades. There was in fact nothing read on air. Rather than attempting to make it appear as if he denied reading it, it would have been more appropriate for you to disprove him by producing some sort of evidence of what you claimed he read. Moreover, your claim of “55 soldiers” is unsubstantiated, and it is the first time that any such figure has been claimed. At the least, it would be expected of you to explain that there are many opposing views to the “55 soldiers” narrative.
* The reference to “…head of economic affairs for the only political party” is incorrect. Eritrea is not led by a political party; rather, the country is governed by a popular organization, the PFDJ, which continues to steer the nation and development through adversity and until full maturation of political process.
* At times, your use of terms is questionable. You contrast “positive government rhetoric” with “reports from exiled opposition groups.” This is troubling since, in fact, many of the alleged “reports” have actually been later found to be inaccurate or outrightly wrong, thus not worth being deemed as reports.
In the article, “The good, the bad and the very ugly,” it was quite unfortunate that you quickly glossed over the many achievements made in terms of development, health, education, and nation building. By expressing at length the supposed restriction of human rights while glossing over tremendous progress made in regards to socio-economic, health, and development sectors, you do your readership a disservice. These areas, within themselves, constitute internationally recognized human rights, and Eritrea’s record within these areas is repeatedly overlooked. Notably, Eritrea has long remained committed to ensuring their realization by all Eritrean citizens. As just one example, in regard to health, in a 2011 report, the Overseas Development Institute noted that:
“Eritrea is one of the few countries expected to achieve the UN MDGs in health, in child health in particular. Infant and child mortality rates have reduced dramatically; immunization coverage has rocketed; malaria mortality and morbidity have plummeted; and HIV prevalence has almost halved in a very short period…This can be attributed to the high prioritization of health and education and a strong commitment to development among Eritreans.”[ii] and [ii]
Below is a summary of Eritrea’s progress for each of the UN MDGs:
1. MDG1: not achieved
3. MDG3: on track [iv]
4. MDG4: on track [v]
5. MDG5: on track [vi]
6. MDG6: on track [vii] and [vii]
7. MDG7: on track [viii] and [viii]
8. MDG8: not enough data to yet assess progress
As part of your stay in the country, it may have been both useful and beneficial to your readership to consider how a country facing sanctions, occupation, and unfair media attacks and perceptions continues to achieve so much progress in an array of sectors. However, the multitude of errors, as well as the article potentially appearing biased illustrate that the piece may draw questions regarding its “humanitarianism” or “informing the public.”
The article, “Eritrea’s Minerals: Blessing or Curse?” also holds several points deserving of further consideration. Specifically, you reference a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the mining sector; however, it is important to note that the methodology and formulation of the report drew significant criticism. As you note, close to 2000 Eritreans are employed at the mine, and several hundred more have been in the past. In that context, the report’s reliance on a select handful of interviewees who left the country arouses questions of reliability and sampling. Further, in discussing the concept of the “resource curse” it may have been especially beneficial to consider long held Eritrean national policies of equality, development, sustainability, and the country’s historically positive record in terms of anti-corruption.[ix]
Undoubtedly, Eritrea faces immense challenges. Conversely, it is also often misunderstood. One of the best ways to move the country forward, then, is to engage in clear dialogue and conversation, avoiding extremes or biases. We certainly appreciate your efforts in attempting to provide analysis of the country. At the same time, however, we hope that your work in future will take some of these points into consideration, since without them, your portrayal of Eritrea does your readers a disservice. With that said, we ask you to author another article that more accurately reflects the on the ground realities within Eritrea, and provides a more contextual reading of the tremendous challenges in the region.
The Eritrean-American community, Eritreans around the world, and citizens within Eritrea, remain committed to nation building, peace, cooperation, and positive relationships with all. We write this letter not only to share our thoughts, but to also reiterate that we refuse to stand for misrepresentations or inaccurate depictions of the country.
We thank you for your time, and if you have any concerns, questions, comments or would like to discuss any of these topics in future, please contact us at your convenience.
Organization of Eritrean-Americans
Collaborating Eritrean Partner Organizations in Europe