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Eritrean Regime’s Addiction To Lies & Coverups: The Case Of Denkalia

It is a given that politicians have a very heightened awareness of the importance of information and they try to manage it as much as they can. Politicians want to determine what kind of information is available to the public, when the information is made available, and how best to package it—spin it—so it provides maximum advantage to the politician. In free and democratic countries, journalists, working in the public interest, attempt to disrupt the machinations of politicians by providing timely and accurate information to the public—on the theory that democracy requires an informed populace to make informed decisions about its choices. One of the definining features of totalitarian regimes like the one in Eritrea is that they lie—even when they accrue no benefit by lying. In essence, lying becomes second nature to them and, reflexively, they reach out for it. This is exactly what happened with the Eritrean regime as it tried to manage the information about the volcano that erupted in the Denkalia region on June 12, 2011.

On Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 9:00 PM, the Nabro Volcano in the Denkalia region erupted. The eruption followed a series of earthquakes. Plumes of ash were spread throughout the neighboring nations, resulting in cancellation of flights.

The next day, June 13, 2011, Eritrea’s so-called “Cabinet of Ministers” was having one of its irregular meetings. The reportage of the ministers’ meeting does not mention the volcano or its impact on the Eritrean people. The same evening, the state media made a brief mention of the volcano and indicated that there was no damage to property or injury to people, as it reported.

On June 13, the website of the Eritrean Ministry of Information, shabait.com, had this to say:

“The Southern regional Administration disclosed that the Government has moved the inhabitants in the area to a safe place, in addition to providing them with the necessary care. No damage has so far been inflicted to human life , the Administration added.”

When disasters, particularly natural disasters, strike, there is an outpouring of compassion for the victims and the human instinct is to help. But from the standpoint of the Eritrean regime, the motivation is always to show that (a) there is no problem in the country and (b) if there is a problem, the government will take care of it. One of the disclosures in wikileaks was that when the whole world was expressing concern about the famine in Eritrea, and the Eritrean regime was denying it loudly while mocking the way UNICEF calculates malnutrition, while it was telling Eritreans to skip breakfast and stop acting so spoiled, it was quietly telling  UNICEF that there is famine in Eritrea, and they do need help:

“In a surprising departure from his public pronouncements on the non-existence of hunger in Eritrea, President Isaias admitted to visiting UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson that there is famine in the country and UNICEF´s help is needed. Johnson briefed Western diplomats on her November 17-18 visit to Eritrea and her lengthy meeting with Isaias. She said Isaias promised UNICEF total access to the country for the purposes of conducting a nutrition survey and providing blanket supplementary feeding.”

After a week of saying that there was no damage from the volcano to human life, shabait.com updated its report a week later to include the following:

“…according to reports, 7 people have died while 3 people have sustained injuries due to the eruption. The inhabitants of the area have been moved to safer locations while at the same time they’re given basic provisions.”

It is not clear from the shabait.com report who its sources are for its “…according to reports.”  In other words, shabait seems unclear about the number of people who died or sustained injuries, but it is very sure that the people were moved and were being given attention and care by their government.

The next day, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), an Eritrean opposition organization based in the Afar area, issued a press release announcing that the volcano had killed 7 people, injured many others and displaced thousands, and appealed to the International community to intervene with humanitarian aid. RSADO claimed that the Eritrean regime had “evacuated hundreds of its soldiers from the area one day ahead of the eruption however [they did not give] advanced notice to the inhabitants nor did [the government] evacuate them to safety.” (bracketed comments in original report.)

The shabait.com reference to the 7 people who died and the 3 people who were injured appears to be something it has no knowledge of: there is no specificity to the report, they do not have names, gender or age. We expect RSADO to issue the follow-up to its report, as it appears it has more information about people, while the Eritrean regime seems to be certain of one thing and one thing only: that the government is helping the people. It seems as if the the Eritrean regimes source is RSADO’s statement, and it would not admit to that openly.

But even on the matter of who is resettled and who isn’t, the Eritrean regime seems to be uncertain as today’s report shows:

Reports indicated that a number of displaced nationals have opted to settle in the administrative areas of Alale and Wadie , South Denkalia sub-zone , as well as the Afambo administrative area in Central Denkalia.

Conclusion

Like all totalitarian regimes, the Eritrean regime has a strong affinity to lying. It lies when it claims there are no political prisoners in Eritrea; it lies when it claims there is freedom of speech in Eritrea; it lies when it claims that the government is supported by nearly everyone; it lies when it invents reasons and justifications to hold people in detention forever. It lies about wars it is losing, and peace it is not winning. It lies about the malnutrition and famine rates in Eritrea. None of these are surprising because they are self-serving lies. What is unclear is why the regime would lie or withhold information about natural disasters for which it bears no responsibility.

awateteam@awate.com

About Awate Team

The Awate Team is a group of individuals who collaborate in preparing editorial contents that mainly appear under the PENCIL signature and other columns that carry the Awate Team signature. It represents the collective team's view.

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  • When I lived in Edmonton – Canada , An Ethiopian friend asked me,..” while “all” your fellow Eritreans are bent on hating Ethiopians, but you,…. while admitting your Eritrean”ism”, you do not have curtain of hate” ? ….” I responded, “Well, if my hatred towards my Ethiopian brothers,could build Universities, dams,industries…in my Eritrea …I would even started by hating you..” . He was touched by my attitude & “intelligence”,…Knowing that I take tablets for mental illness..ie. Depression & deep anxiety..yet , I am the happiest person in any crowd,and joke about my illness..he said ” እናንተ ኣገር፣ ከተማረው ሰው ፣ ያበደው ይሻላል ልበል…translation…It appears with the diaspora Eritreans ,….that a looney/crazy person is wiser, than the intellectuals”…..Off course..I loved the “complement” he gave me.
    When ,I made a “technical withdrawal” from Asmara qebelie /ቀበሌ, and stayed few monthes with my aunt in DeqemHare-D´mbezan I encountered so many peasants, that had way superior logic to that of “SHAIBIYA “.Some times one does not have to be highly educated ,to come with LOGIC !!!!!! exhibit “A” …I/me/Buqli/HIMAM LIBBI !!!!!
    Thank you, ladies & Gentlemen of the Ertrean Jury .

  • Saleh AA Younis

    buqli:

    In September 2009, Isaias Afwerki was telling a reporter for financial times that there is no famine in Eritrea.

    FT: But I’ve spoken to people who say they have relatives in rural areas who are struggling to feed themselves.

    IA: You will have to go and see that. People can tell you stories. I have heard a number of things in this town but it’s not true at all because there is a distribution mechanism, a distribution mechanism that does not allow for famine.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/35b8905c-a44b-11de-92d4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1RRwBrmI9

    This is the interview where Isaias makes the declaration that people should skip eating breakfast so the nation can concentrate on building roads….and the interview is really fully of cringe-inducing moments. I wouldn’t recommend that you go back and read it because it is just too painful.

    Two months later, according to wikileaks, Isaias was admitting to UNICEF that there was indeed famine in Eritrea:

    “President Isaias admitted to visiting UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson that there is famine in the country and UNICEF´s help is needed. Johnson briefed Western diplomats on her November 17-18 visit to Eritrea and her lengthy meeting with Isaias. She said Isaias promised UNICEF total access to the country for the purposes of conducting a nutrition survey and providing blanket supplementary feeding.”

    http://www.aftenposten.no/spesial/wikileaksdokumenter/article4152503.ece

    Lie, obfuscate, stall, but always find a way to compliment yourself seems to be the mantra of Aboy Fekadu (PFDJ.)

  • Well, from what I read, Eritrean “govt”…stated “no serious health problems in DENKALIA , some habitants of the area had some itching…”,just itching !!!! ….and for the whole world,the daily required calories are 1800,Wedi Afom,the leader,the doctor,the nutritionist….etc..in his “wisdom” calculated an Eritrean Adult.. needs only 900 calories !!!! NO QUESTIONS ASKED !!! 2 white buns – contain 550 calories,2 medium sized baked potatoes – 322 ,a 12 oz. Bass ale / suwa…less than a “wancha milelikh”- 160 calories.In other words,after one of my peasant cousin works 8-10 hrs on the field.He can have 2 medium size dry baked potatoes with no oil ,2 buns /unlevened bread/, and home made suwa 360 m.liters …and will have surpassed, his daily required calories ie. 550+322+160, equals 1032 , …. after playing racquetball, for 30 minutes one loses about 300 calories. Only in Eritrea ! Ladies & Gentlemen of the Eritrean jury !!!!!!!!!!!!!