(Published in Africa is A Country; March 6, 2017)

Eritrea has expelled all international correspondents and banned local private newspapers since 2001. One consequence is that Western media have had to play up their “unique” or “rare” access to “the North Korea of Africa.”

Over the last two years, some leading media–having gone through endless bureaucratic hassles and rejections–such as the BBC, France 24,  The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times  have covered Eritrea. Some independent journalists have (dis)covered Eritrea too. For many of us who lived our entire lives in the country, of course nothing is nearly revealing apart from their “sensational” stories.  (An exception was the The New Yorker’s coverage in December of a mass defection by members of the Eritrean national team.)

Reporting on Eritrea has reduced into a standard template: it starts with description of how clean and peaceful the capital city, Asmara is (there is also emphasis on its Italian colonial legacy, here reduced to architecture and café culture), inhabited by friendly people. This is usually followed by long descriptions of the palm-tree-lined streets of the capital; disproportionate part on the capital’s art-deco and futuristic buildings; some confused and contradictory notes on the overcrowded cafes (with a note of the recent mass-exodus), visits to the remnants of war tanks near Asmara (linking it with the bloody war of independence) and at last interviewing the usual suspects, media-friendly officials such as Yemane Ghebreab, the ruling party’s political affairs and presidential advisor and the minister of information, Yemane Gebremeskel. The latter two get to dole out their regular scripts of “we are in emergency state and the international community should pressure Ethiopia to demarcate the borders.” Click here to continue

(Published in Amnesty International Magazine No. 88; March 2017)

Via Google translate

Perpetual escaped

Eritrea practices the most fierce media censorship in the world. For eight years, the country has occupied the queue of Reporters Without Borders rankings after North Korea. The repression is such that even journalists working for the state media live in constant fear of being arrested. Many journalists have preferred exile to prison. Abraham is one of them.

During his studies at the University of Asmara, he worked as an independent journalist for various private newspapers, until they were banned by order of the president. “At the time, although the media was limited, we could freely express our ideas, we were not governed by terror. In 2001, everything changed. “On 18 September this year, 15 senior government officials were arrested for denouncing the dictatorial drift of the president. The newspapers that have published their opinions are closed. “My country suddenly plunged into darkness, the army was everywhere. Arbitrary detention became the norm, prisoners were held in detention without trial or indictment for years. “According to Amnesty International’s investigations, At least 10,000 people are currently detained on political grounds in 360 detention centers. According to the United Nations, 5,000 individuals leave the country each month.>Click here to read the article via translation>

(Published in Global Journalist: Project Exile; February 2nd, 2017)

In Eritrea, even being part of the East African nation’s tame state media is no protection. That was the conclusion Abraham Zere reached after years of working as a columnist for the government newspaper Hadas Erta and later for the ruling party’s magazine.

All independent media outlets in the country of 6 million were closed in 2001 amid a massive crackdown on internal dissent following the country’s disastrous two-year border-war with Ethiopia. More than a dozen prominent journalists were jailed – and to this day it’s not known how many are still alive.

But as Abraham has written, for state media workers Eritrea became a Kafka-esque world of uncertainty and seemingly random detentions by security forces.

In 2006, security forces detained 10 state media journalists who worked at the Ministry of Information without any apparent rhyme or reason–keeping some in custody for weeks. In 2009, the military raided a state educational station called Radio Bana, arresting at least 40 reporters and media workers for reasons that are still unclear. Some were held in prison until 2015.

Abraham had his own difficulties in 2009 after publishing a column in the ruling party’s Hidri magazine highlighting the disaffection of Eritrean youth. That led to an immediate rebuke from Eritrea’s powerful Minister of Information Ali Abdu (himself now an asylum seeker in Australia after fleeing in 2013) – who published his own column in the state newspaper labeling Abraham’s work “irresponsible and dangerous.” Click here to read more.

(Published in Sabotage Reviews Nov. 21, 2016)

The collection portrays the “orgasm of crime”, following themes of shattered dreams; the bond between a father behind barbed wire and his waiting family; the atrophied and docile body; and mechanisms of torture and fear. The poet, “translator of pain and humiliation”, graphically portrays physical torture and psychological torment in which victims are “skinned alive” to confess to crimes they never committed. The long, mostly unpunctuated poems are loud cries of abuses and read as hallucinatory notes. Ultimately, the form becomes the message: these poems embody bold defiance against injustice.

The poems written in prison or immediately after Laâbi’s release do not fall into conventional sound rhymes or meters: he expresses collective maltreatment through free verse, capturing the suffering that he describes as “inferno of solitude”. The poem ‘Letter to My Friends Overseas’ explains why he might deflect traditional poetic forms: Click here to read more.

(Published in online journal of African Studies Quarterly Vol. 16, Issue 3-4)

Flaws and oversights resulting from such disregard of readily available scholarly material written by Eritreans are evident throughout the text. Although the book seeks to explore modern architecture in colonial Eritrea, the author, if one did not know any better, seems to be writing about a literally empty space. It’s difficult to see how one can write about distinct buildings and their history, without mentioning the human element. The book ignores the interactions, relationships, and acts of conscription, dislocation, and nationalization of land that played such crucial roles during the Italian colonial period. By ignoring these ignominious hallmarks of Italian colonial rule, and instead gazing at the Eritrean historic spaces through the eyes of the colonizer, the book reads more like an homage to the latter.

The book uses leading scholars in the field of architecture to substantiate its theories and conclusions. It provides a thorough look at the Italian colonists’ justifications and perspectives during the early colonial period in Eritrea, through travelogues of the early settlers and diaries from colonial missions. Employing theoretical abstractions and overusing minute details at the expense of rendering a bigger picture, the book avoids any meaningful treatment of the excessive use of lethal force and brutality exercised by the Italian colonizers. Furthermore, the author, by omitting discussion of these sensitive but relevant areas and quoting texts that appear to justify the colonial occupation, exacerbates, ignores, and/or misrepresents the rarely discussed Italian colonial “color bar” (racial hierarchy). For example, the book cites a text that glosses over the Italian color bar (later infamously adopted in Apartheid South Africa), casually observing: “Sons of Europeans mingle and play freely with native boys” (p.173) Click here to read the review (pp-179-180)


ብሓቂ ድዩ ኣዛራቢ ጉዳይ ኰይኑስ ብዛዕባ ህሉዊ ተርእዮታት “ተስፋጽዮን”ን ካልኦት ብነብሰ-በታኽነት ዝሕመሉ ዘለዉ ክጽሕፍ ኢለ ደጋጊመ ሓሲበ። ኣብ መጨረሽታ ግን ኣመጻጽኣ ዶናልድ ትራምፕ፡ ኣወጻጽኣ ብሪጣንያ ካብ ኤውሮጳዊ ሕብረትን ኣፈላልቓ ሓደገኛታት መራሕቲ ዓለምና ከም እኒ ሂትለር ብዓቢኡ፣ ኢሳያስ ኣፍወርቂ ድማ ብደረጃ መዐቀኒ ብልቃጥ ዘኪረስ ሓሳባተይ ክገልጽ ተደፋፊአ።

ክቱር ነድሪ ውጽኢት ነዊሕ ዝኸደ ዓመጽ፡ መወዳእታ ዘይብሉ ቀንፈዘው ስደት (እቲ ዝኸፍአ ድማ ኣብ መዕረፊየይ በጺሐ ኣብ እትብለሉ እዋን ምዃኑ)ን “ተሓታትነት” ዘይብሉ ኣገባባት ማሕበራዊ መራኸቢታት ተደሚሩዎን ብዙሕ ሰብ (ነብሰይ ሓዊስካ) ዕርቃኑ ክወጻእ ተቐሲቡ ኣሎ። ስለዚ ድማ’ዩ፡ ሎሚ ኣብ ዓንኬላት ማሕበራዊ መራኸቢታት ኤርትራ ዝዀነ ኣቓልቦ ዝሰኣነ ብሓንቲ ለይቲ ዝና ንኽረክብ ዕድል ገይሩ። ሰማእታት ዝጸርፍ፡ ባንዴራ ዘቃጽል፡ ንቓልሲ ዘከሻምሽ… ከከም ግዜኦምን ኵነታቶምን–ንሳቶም’ውን ብዝዀነስ ይዅን ጥራይ ኣዛራቢ ኣርእስቲ ንፍጠር ብዝመስል ተበግሶ–ኣቓልቦ ንኽጥምዝዙ ባይታ ተጸሪጉሎም። ብዘይ ዝዀነ ርጡብ ሓሳባትን ብዘይካ ጥሪፍሪፍ ዝብላ ዘለፋ ንሓንቲ ደቒቕ’ውን ክኸይድ ዘይክእል ምጕት ሒዝካ ኣቓልቦ ክትስሕበሉ እትኽእል ምቹእ ሃዋሁ ስለ ዘሎ ከኣ ንብዙሓት “ኣህቢቡዎም”። እቲ ህቡብነት ግን ግድን ንሓደ ጽቡቕ ኣንፈት ኣብነት ዘይክኸውን ይኽእል’ዩ። [ንኣብነት እኳ ኣቓልቦ ክስሕቡን ኣብ መራኸቢ-ብዙሃን ክዝረበሎምን ኢሎም ጥራይ ኣብ ግብረ-ሽበራዊ መጥቃዕቲ ዝዋፈሩ መንእሰያት ኣመና ብዙሓት’ዮም። ብሕልፊ ኣብ ሃገራት ምዕራብ፡ እዚ ዝመስል ተርእዮ ብተደጋጋሚ  ኣብ ኣብያተ-ትምህርቲ ህጻናት ብምቕታል ክፍጸም ይርአ።]

ምናልባት ግን ብዝሒ ድምጺ፡ ድጋፍን በጻሕቲን ማሕበራዊ መራኸቢታት ንደረጃ ሓሳባት ዝገልጽ ዘይምዃኑ ኣከራኻሪ ኣይኰነን። ካልእስ ይትረፍ ስእሊ ሓደ ሓዊ ዝነድድ ዘሎ ቈልዓ ብምጥቃዕ፡ “ኣምላኽ ምሕረቱ ከውርደሉ ‘ኣሜን’ ጸሓፉ” ብምባል ጥራይ ልዕሊ ሚልዮን ዝኸይድ ድጋፍ ምርካብ ኣሸጋሪ ኣይከውንን።Continue reading

(Published in Carniege Council for Ethics in International Affairs; December 30, 206)

In addition to groups that primarily serve as platforms for political debates, there are also other important social media groups for the thousands of young migrants. Most Eritreans take the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route to get to Europe. They use social media, particularly Facebook, Whatsapp, and Viber, to navigate the routes, exchange information, and support each other. As the journey entails terrible risks, starting with leaving the country and then dealing with multiple smugglers and human traffickers along the way, shared information is crucial and Eritrean social media platforms frequently contain posts about safe routes from the Sudan to Libya and from Libya to Europe. If certain routes are particularly risky, those who have survived and are safely in Europe will quickly share their experiences and advise others to avoid them. Posting photos, names, and contact details of malicious smugglers, accompanied with detailed descriptions of their misdoings is also very common, so that others can stay away from them. Although the possibilities of false allegations are inevitable, this kind of information-sharing is literally life-saving.

Hundreds of Eritreans have been dying each year along the Mediterranean and Sahara routes and social media platforms are often used to make public appeals to save endangered or trapped groups or to get support for families of the deceased. Since Eritrea is a highly communal and interdependent society, responses to such appeals have been very encouraging and crowd-funding targets are quickly not only met, but surpassed.

After reaching their destinations, mainly in Europe, many Eritreans also share information about the policies of the host countries on social media. Either in closed groups or publicly, it is very common to read messages of communal support and tips on how incoming brothers and sisters can use available resources or reach the relatively better countries in Europe. Information may include the conditions of political asylum each country accepts or the offers/challenges available in the most common destinations Click here to read the article from Carniege Council

(Published in The Athens News; Nov. 23, 2016)

The global surge of populist leaders foreshadowed the rise of Donald Trump. In seemingly bold defiance against establishments, many countries have been lining up behind populist leaders with their false albeit seductive promises.

They include India’s Narendra Modi who proposes to tackle climate change through yoga; Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkeywith his recent crackdown on the news media, educational establishment and the military, among other social institutions; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines who publicly said, “EU, f**k you”; and the populist Brexiter Nigel Farage.

There are plenty of examples of populist leaders creating political chaos. Check the media tycoon and convicted tax-fraudster who led Italy as prime minister for nine meddled years, the controversial Silvio Berlusconi. He used to claim he did not need to work as he is rich, but he was serving out of love for Italy to save it from the left. Or how about Muammar Gaddafi of Libya who argued in his manifesto, The Green Book, that “soccer is not democratic enough as it is not fair for thousands of spectators to watch only 22 players.”

And then we have Saddam Hussein of Iraq who claimed to have transcribed the Qu’ran with seven gallons of his own blood. Click here to read the article

(Published in The Guardian; Sept. 18, 2016)

Today marks a bleak date in the country’s history, when a paranoid elite began a brutal campaign to cement its grip on power


Exactly 15 years ago, Eritrea’s hard-won independence was hijacked by a paranoid political elite who have clung to power ever since.

It was on this day in 2001 that President Isaias Afwerki jailed 11 top government officials and banned seven independent newspapers. So started the insidious takeover that has seen the country become a military state, prompting the exodus of Eritreans to Europe we are witnessing today.

State security agents then rounded up and jailed 12 journalists. To this day, none of the detainees have been tried in a court of law, and they remain incommunicado in secret prisons. Their families don’t know if they are alive.

Many civilian posts were taken over by military commanders. The army was stationed in all major towns and cities, and anyone working in the public sector was instructed to report to them. Click here to read the whole story from The Guardian

(Originally published in Index on Censorship; Sept. 16, 2016)

It initially sounded like a joke; gradually it got serious and then tragic. A decade and a half later, it is catastrophe.


Fifteen years ago on 18 September, 2001, fellow students of University of Asmara and I were confined in two labour camps, GelAlo and Wi’A, for defying a requirement of unpaid summer work. We were kept in the camps, under harsh, atrocious living conditions and open to the weather that normally reaches 45 C (113 F) for about five weeks. As we were preparing to return home, we learned the government had banned seven private newspapers and imprisoned 11 top government officials.

The day after our homecoming, beaten down and demoralised, I went to meet Amanuel Asrat, chief editor of Zemen newspaper. About 10 days before that, he had received an article, in which I detailed our living conditions, that I had managed to get smuggled out of the prison camp. My piece was published in the last issue of the newspaper. Click here to read the original article from Index on Censorship