Embarrassed Isaias Blames His Ambassador to Nairobi

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Last Thursday Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki appeared in a press briefing with his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto. He seemed out of place in the Kenyan press setting, which he is not used to. For a man who handpicks his interviewers from the Eritrean state media which he controls, he was noticeably uneasy with the questions the reporters asked him in Nairobi.

The reporters asked Isaias several questions including the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray region; why he denied their presence for five months after they entered; how many Eritrean troops were killed in the war; and if he has a plan for transition of power or elections. He skirted around the questions.

Isaias despises reporters and the press in general. In September 2001 when the world was preoccupied with the 911 attack on the United States, he shut down the budding Eritrean free press and arrested scores of editors and reporters. They were not formally accused, tried, or sentenced. Two decades later, their whereabouts is still unknown, even their families do not know if they are dead or alive.

Once a reporter asked him about Fessehaye Yohannes (Joshua), Isaias denied he knew Joshua, a journalist he jailed in 2001, and replied, “I don’t know him… if I don’t know him, how would I know where he might be!” [20:19 mark]

Joshua is a well a known poet, playwright, circus performer, 2002 International Press Freedom Award recipient, publisher, editor, and co-owner of Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, Setit. Joshua was a household name and Isaias has met him several times. A colleague of Joshua told Gedab News, “If there were hundreds of reporters, it is possible that Isaias didn’t remember Joshua.” Eritrea has not seen free press since the end of WW2 and had only very few reporters, “it’s unthinkable that Isaias could forget Joshua.”

According to sources close to the Eritrean government, Isaias was enraged by the Kenyan incident and blamed Beyene Re’esom, his ambassador to Kenya, for incompetency and for not preventing or finding out enough about “the scandalous press briefing.”

Ambassadors are usually involved in planning the program of their visiting officials, particularly when it’s a head of state. They are supposed to meticulously look into details of the event: set up appointments for people they will meet, be prepared for emergent medical need, and, the type of meals they eat, in coordination with the authorities of the host country.

The source added,  “Isaias thinks Beyene Re’esom failed to collect intelligence about the reporters. If he did, the live embarrassing questions would have been avoided.

That is how it’s done in Eritrea: Isaias gets the questions ahead of time, then he either accept or rejects them, or demands the questions be rephrased. That is why “Isaias thinks he was ambushed in Kenya, probably the CIA officers at Langley or their lackeys wanted to embarrass him.”

In his rare interviews with Eritrean government media, timid reporters ask Isaias one question after which he embarks on a long-winded monologue. Interviewers do not interrupt him or ask follow-up questions; challenges are not allowed.He must have been surprised Nairobi was not another Asmara, but a city endowed with a vibrant free press and conducive environment.


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