The late Samuel Mahaffy once wrote that “the effort to invisibilise countries like Eritrea grows from an international strategy to main power and control over others. It perpetuates hegemonic discourse, which is of course is not really discourse at all”. He lived long enough to see the misrepresentation of Eritrea. Historian Michel Rolph Trouillot in his book “Silencing the Past” writes about how narratives are created and how entire histories of peoples can be distorted. He said “the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means for such production”. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the prevailing narratives on Eritrea. The pain and suffering during the armed struggle for independence, and the assaults on Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were not just a result of Ethiopia’s barbaric acts, but because of the international community’s deliberate silencing of Eritrea.
The liberation struggle was silenced. No outsiders were to tell about the gallant people and their plight under Ethiopian occupation. Eritrea was not to be mentioned in the mainstream media, who, unlike today with the internet, had a monopoly on information and news. And if there was any mention, the stories had to defend Ethiopia’s right to “squelch the insurgency”, its fight against “the rebellion in its northern most region”, while Eritrea’s brave freedom fighters were labelled insurgents, rebels, secessionists, etc. and not as they were-the liberators… beloved sons and daughters, who had won the hearts and minds of their own people, and garnered their shield and support. The Eritreans were silenced…
Established in the 1890s, long before the Ethiopia known today was constituted in 1907, Eritrea was labeled a “transitional area” and Eritrea’s history was dubbed “tendentious mythology” by the likes of Paul Henze, and other Ethiophyles that contributed to the silencing of Eritrea for over 5 decades. When the powers of the day colluded to “federate” Eritrea with Ethiopia, the voices of the Eritrean people and their representatives were silenced. When the federation Act was violated by Ethiopia and Eritrea was annexed, the United Nations and those that brokered the Federation Resolution remained silent. The silencing of Eritrea was in full force and continued throughout the armed struggle for independence.
Post-independence Eritrea was not immune to the silencing. From barring Eritrea from participating in international forums to being accused of creating an “Eritrean narrative of Ethiopian aggression and international conspiracy”, the attempts to silence Eritrea took many forms. Eritrean citizens were labeled “PFDJ loyalists”, “close to the regime”, “supporters of the regime” etc. etc. in order to undermine their voices, prevent them from being heard. Eritrea’s leadership were also silenced, prevented from sharing their vast experiences. Suffice it to mention a few examples:
Ethiopia and the US-led international community, have in the past prevented Eritrea from participating in international conferences, meetings, military and counter-terrorism campaigns etc. US officials used demarches to call on Europeans and others to “dis-invite” Eritrea and also took every opportunity in their visits to the region to malign Eritrea and discourage engagement with Eritrea.
Eritrea offered its views on Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria and others, but the US led international community chose to ignore Eritrea’s positions and in the case of Somalia, even sanctioned Eritrea for not joining the fray. Suffice it to mention examples of how the US-led international community and Ethiopia worked to isolate Eritrea:
1. A 20 August 2009 cable, “Demarche: Egypt Invitation to Eritrea for Bright Star”, authored by AF Phillip Carter is clear of its intentions. The Department was requesting assistance from the US Embassy in Cairo to convince the Government of Egypt NOT to invite the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) as an observer to the BRIGHT STAR military exercise.
The State Department cable said:
“…Embassy Cairo is requested to communicate with Egypt’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the highest appropriate level to urge Egypt to remove Eritrea from the list of invited observers to the BRIGHT STAR military exercise. Due to the time sensitive nature of DOD preparations for the exercise, immediate action is appreciated…The U.S. has strong objections to inviting Eritrea to participate in the BRIGHT STAR exercise as an observer…”
2. US position on Eritrea is clearly spelled out in the 2 December 2009 cable, “Response: Pres. Kikwete Tells Rep. Payne That Tanzania & Turkey Will Co-host Somali Talks”. The US State Department had received information that the Government of Tanzania (GOT) had expressed interest in partnering with Turkey to bring the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Somali opposition factions together for talks. Once again, the US prevented Eritrea’s to participation saying:
“…We are specifically concerned about the suggestion that Eritrea would be invited to the table. There have been similar proposals from Qatar and Egypt…”
Alas…Eritrea’s invaluable insights and opportunity to learn from an astute and mature leadership with deep knowledge of the region and its dynamics were squandered…
Eritrea and her people have indeed seen how narratives on Eritrea were used to silence Eritrea. The well-financed campaign by states and non-state actors, the mainstream media, a variety of NGOs and individuals produced volumes, by way of articles, reports, “research”, books, videos etc. to malign and undermine the young nation, its leadership and people. Those who set out to silence Eritrea used distortions and even outright lies and fabrications to create the prevailing narrative on Eritrea. The vocal minority enjoyed unfettered access and forum to spew and litter academic institutions, think tanks, media and halls of government with carefully crafted narratives that sought to silence Eritrea.
The attempts to invisibilize and silence Eritrea’s hardworking men increased during the Barack Obama Administration. Just a year into his presidency, in 2009, the Obama Administration, through Susan E. Rice, then US Ambassador to the United, using the minority regime in Ethiopia, engineered a sanctions regime based on fabrications and lies about Eritrea’s role in Somalia. Today, 7 years later, despite reports by the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) that clearly state it had found no evidence to support the allegations of Eritrea’s support for Al Shabbab, the sanctions continue. To add insult to injury, the US also adopted new sanctions against Eritrea recently, once again, based on Ethiopia’s lies and fabrications. The sanctions were instituted to silence Eritrea. To give reprieve to the minority regime in Ethiopia and divert attention away from its lawless and belligerent behavior in Somalia.
Eritrea’s enemies went to great lengths to silence the young nation and its people. The 15 yearlong campaign culminated in the charade at the UN Human Rights Council, where once again, the United States and Ethiopia colluded to appoint a Special Rapporteur and then a Commission of Inquiry. Despite the outrageous allegations and assault on Eritrea’s rich cultures and traditions found in the voluminous reports prepared by individuals and groups financed by US and European agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the George Soros Open Society, there was NEVER any verifiable evidence produced to support the preposterous accusations. Although the Commission of Inquiry was disbanded and its recommendations rejected, the scars remain-the silencing continues. Ethiopia, its handlers and surrogates continue to use the discredited reports to malign and silence Eritrea.
The attempts to silence Eritrea have now moved to Eritrean Communities in the Diaspora. Groups and individuals emboldened by the anti-Eritrea rhetoric in the media and in halls of government are now resorting to harassment, intimidations and even violence to advance their political agendas. Today, emboldened by the diplomatic, political and military support and shield provided by its patrons, the minority regime in Ethiopia and its surrogates in the Eritrean Quislings League have directed their ire against the vast Eritrean Diaspora. Over the years they have disrupted Diaspora gatherings, attacked festival goers, burned down Eritrean community Centers, vandalized property belonging to Eritreans, lied to the FBI and other law enforcement about the activities of Eritrean Communities, accused them of being “terrorists”, occupied and vandalized Eritrean Embassies and more.
Most recently in Holland, Miriam Van Reisen, a Dutch academic, led an aggressive and violent campaign to silence Eritrean youth from the Diaspora who were in Holland for the 13th Annual Young Peoples’ Front for Democracy and Justice (Y-PFDJ) conference. Determined to stop the Conference from taking place, the Dutch academic and her surrogates conducted and aggressive campaign through social media and the Dutch media and it culminated in the violent protests she helped organize and lead. Van Reisen and her ilk had no qualms about fueling the xenophobia and racism in Dutch society, or of using fratricide to advance their warped political agendas. The rights of Eritrean youth from across Europe and the United States were violated. While the UN called for respect for “Freedom of Expression” and “Freedom of Association”-those rights were denied to law abiding citizens of Eritrean origin.
In hindsight, it is apparent that the silencing of Eritrea began right after independence and although the forces at play were exposed over time, unfortunately, the narratives on Eritrea have tarnished Eritrea’s reputation and emboldened her enemies.
The minority regime in Ethiopia continues to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories in violation of international law and the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commissions final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions. It’s attempts to misrepresent the EEBC’s decisions and bombastic saber-rattling continues. The 8 month long Emergency Decree instituted to squelch the popular protests across the country and the drought and famine stalking Ethiopia are a recipe for disaster and are a serious threat to the peace, stability and security of the Horn region.
In a few weeks, the people of Eritrea will be celebrating Eritrea’s 26th Independence Anniversary and true to form, the annual anti-Eritrea campaigns will saturate cyberspace-the silencing zone. As in the past, these attempts to silence Eritrea will fail, and Eritrea’s voice will resonate even louder, as no one can muzzle the voice of truth and justice forever…