A conference organized by Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE) was held on Jan 9, 2010. As usual participants came very late and the conference was opened about half an hour later than scheduled. Though this is typical of any Eritrean gatherings I had high expectation given its high publicity and the academic nature of it. The majority of the participants knew each other and it was like a family gathering. Apart from the tone and insults of Ali Salim the participants, panellists and speakers were all repeating what he has been saying for the last few months. The essence of this article, however, is regarding the report made by Michael Abraha (MA) /CDRiE about the conference3.
The conference was advertised widely in the internet and leaflet was distributed electronically through email3. In it, the advertised speakers were: Senait Yohannes, Hassan Salman, Dr Abdulkadir Dawood, Habtom Yohannes, Ahmad Suleiman, Dr Yebyo Woldemariam, and Prof Gaim Kibreab. The first three couldn’t make it for different reasons. Their papers, however, were presented in the conference.
The issues discussed were: State and Religion, Land issues, Official Language, Eritrean Refugees, Ethnic Diversity and National Unity. The news report by MA about the conference mentioned all the speakers and the paper they presented except Hassen Salman and Dr Abdulkadir Dawood. He even reported the paper prepared by Senait Yohannes even though she wasn’t present in the conference. It is not clear whether this is an innocent mistake or a well orchestrated and an emerging trend of biased reporting. It is also not clear why CDRiE decided to feed him the information rather than reporting it themselves. Was the news report a news item or propaganda?
It is hard to conclude. In order to answer that question we need to look at the track records and the trends in his reporting of news. Now, let’s see the facts and observe if there are any trends.
Firstly, a quick googling of MA’s written material on the internet reveals an interesting trend. MA has written about 36 articles in total between Nov 28, 2008 and Jan 16, 20104. Of the 36 articles about 20 were interviews; one article by Yosief Gebrehiwet and the rest were general about Eritrea and the horn. Of the 20 interviews 8 (42%) were with Eritrean Peoples’s Party (EPP) (Woldeyesus Ammar, Tesfay Woldemichael and Mohamed Adem Artaa); 5 (26%) were with BC “task force”(CDRiE) (Daniel Mokonen, Selam Kidane, Suleman Hussien and Abdurahman Sayyid) and 2 interviews each with Seyom Tesfay and Saleh Johar. Clearly his interviews are biased towards EPP/CDRiE. 68% of his interviews were made with EPP/CDRiE!
Secondly, in his recent article MA accused Saleh Johar (SJ) and Awate foundation as having “extremist ideology”. The chain of events and details is found in the link below5. In it, Habtom Yohannes (HY) reveals the motives of MA: “he has an exe to grind about Awate.com and especially about Saleh [Gadi] Johar and the pen name Ali Salim”. Incidentally, the article against SJ is still available in Eritrean and international media in spite of his “apology”6. Is AS and his articles the main motive for MA to publicly attack SJ and Awate.com?
The third evidence tells us different. AS first appeared on May 16, 20097 but MA emailed SJ privately his protest entitled “Ali Salim’s opinions” on Oct 26, 20098 which was five months later. He went public against SJ and Awate.com on Dec 20, 20096 after he was exposed and fell out with HY, which is 6 months after AS had appeared on the internet. This timing and circumstance of his “protest” against Awate.com don’t suggest the real motive of MA was because he has an “exe to grind about Awate.com….” as pointed out by HY. What could be his actual motive then? The answer may be found on the fourth evidence.
MA’s CDRiE conference report omitted an important speaker who was highly anticipated by many Eritreans including his supporters and detractors. There was neither mention of HS nor his paper which was presented in the conference. While representatives of Eritrean Democratic People’s Party, who didn’t present a paper, were mentioned by their party name but the rest were reported as “religious and ethnic based groups and parties”. Representatives of many different political parties/fronts were present in the conference.
Ironically, Hassan Salman, leader of Eritrean Islamic Congress, was introduced in the conference as a “reformist” and his paper was read in Arabic and Tigrigna. It is mindboggling to see CDRiE invite HS but don’t report to the public what he presented in the conference. The public now know only one part of the State and Religion argument presented by HY. HY argued for the separation of Religion and State while HS argued for the existence of religion-based parties similar to Justice and Development Party of Turkey9 without having laws based on religion. I applauded CDRiE when I saw the diversity of speakers and the issues discussed. CDRiE critics have always argued that it is not independent and non-partisan organization. Is this true?
There isn’t enough evidence at this stage. The above facts, however, support the suspicion of CDRiE critics. The vast majority of interviews (68%) made by MA were with EPP/CDRiE. In the past, Nharnet.com, media arm of EPP, hosted many articles similar to questions asked by MA with his interviewee. Some CDRiE members10 have also expressed their views in the past which coincides with MA’s and Nharnet.com’s. Some also accuse CDRiE of not inviting other nationalist, religious and ethnic based parties and groups who have entirely different views including Tedamun and Salvation.
In sum, there seems to be a campaign to change the image of the Opposition and present it to international body especially the West as secular and nationalist political body. The effort by some political parties to that effect is understandable. But the use of journalists and civic movements as a propaganda tool to achieve the goal will jeopardize Eritrean democracy. Failure to implement this through mutual understanding and with full assurance to and the involvement of all stakeholders may damage the Opposition and Eritrea beyond repair.