News of Eritrea

Eritrean News Summary

compiled by Barry Hillenbrand

The Gold Rush (Continued)

We love the story about gold mining in Eritrea, as readers of the HERALD may have noticed. Mostly we love it because gold mining is a rare example of the government and private business actually releasing reliable information about Eritrea. So late last year we told you that the first gold was smelted and produced at Bisha, the mining operation run by Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd. Now comes news that Australia’s Chalice Gold Mines was granted licenses for two new exploration sites covering 830 square kilometres in Eritrea.  The story has all sorts of numbers — real numbers — in it. The Aussie project is said to hold 1 million ounces of gold.  See for the Reuters story. And be assured we will run more stories about gold.

Wikileaks on Eritrea — Part I

As someone whose career as a journalist has benefited from being on the receiving end of leaks, I usually have a fair amount of sympathy for leakers. But the recent massive leaks of State Department cables by Wikileaks seems problematic to me. When a leaker targets an abuse of government or an issue which the pubic should better understand, I’m all for publishing information from classified documents. But the Wikileaks release of thousands of documents was so undifferentiated and massive — and often reckless in its compromising innocent people — that it falls in a whole new category and raises serious questions. But that said (and the HERALD is not the place to debate the issue), the cables make interesting and often fascinating reading. The folks at American embassies do a professional and thorough job of reporting. And for those of us interested in Eritrea, the reports are a treasure trove since we get so little reporting out of Asmara. Several cables from Asmara make particularly interesting reading:

One purloined cable is a report of a the arrest and interrogation of an Eritrean who was clearly known to the Embassy officials who made the report. This Wikileak release edited out names and other key material which might have  identify sources. The arrested Eritrean told Embassy officials that he “was placed in a cell approximately 40 feet x 38 feet with about 600 other prisoners. He stated the conditions were so cramped, it was not possible to lie down and barely possible to sit. He was held there for one month before being interrogated. He was interrogated on two separate occasions by members of the Eritrean National Security Organization (ENSO). On both occasions the interrogator beat him.”

The Eritrean reported that “After the two interrogations, he was not questioned again, but returned to the crowded holding room. Prisoners were fed 2 pieces of bread three times a day and allowed to use the toilet twice a day. A bucket in the middle of the room served as a toilet between escorted bathroom breaks, but it constantly spilled and contaminated the room with urine and feces. Many prisoners could not talk due to the lack of water, their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths from thirst. He said prisoners believed ENSO had placed informers in the prison cell to gain additional information. Family members and friends were allowed to bring food to prisoners. One of his friends smuggled in a notebook and pen with a tray of food, and he chronicled his experience in two versions, one for the Embassy official and another for the Ambassador. He smuggled the diaries out also using the food trays.”

This Eritrean said that “the ENSO personnel regularly tortured prisoners. His cellmates were Eritreans who tried to flee the country, military deserters, common criminals, and Protestants (presumably of unregistered denominations). He stated they could hear the screams of people being tortured and he witnessed ENSO staff bringing back badly bruised and bleeding detainees to the holding room. On one occasion, he observed ENSO officials beating a man with a rubber hose on his bare feet. Another time, when he was allowed out to use the bathroom, he passed a shipping container and saw a man sitting with his arms tied and raised behind his back. His feet were tied together and a wooden pole was placed beneath his knees.”

As if this were not disturbing enough, the Eritrean told the Embassy that “for a few days, approximately 35 boys, aged 8–13, were confined with him. Asked why they were arrested, the boys said they had crossed into Ethiopia, but Ethiopian soldiers caught them, and, after feeding them and giving them new clothes, sent them back to Eritrea, telling them they were too young to cross by themselves. Upon returning to Eritrea, the boys were arrested and taken to [prison name redacted] and later to another prison. He said ENSO personnel also beat the boys and told the adult prisoners not to talk to the boys or to each other about why they were in prison or about their beatings.”

This Eritrean was released after five months with no explanation for his release or detention. Said the Embassy cable: [he] “was angry and nearly broke into tears a of number of times [when talking to the Embassy official.] He said although the physical abuse and deprivations took a toll on his body, it was the psychological abuse of being packed in with so many other people, not knowing when the next beatings would come, and believing he could be killed, that was the most damaging.”

Wikileaks on Eritrea–Part II

President Isaias: Casual autocrat

A 2008 cable from then U.S.Ambassador Ronald McMullen to Washington offers some fascinating tidbits of information, gossip, and reporting about the personality of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.  The cable was not  a full-blown bio of Isaias, but merely a collection of facts, some worthy of an “Entertainment Tonight” segment, others more mundane. The best of them:

Why Isaias hates Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles
“Isaias and Meles, brothers in arms during the 1980s, are now blood enemies. Why? In 1996, while returning from a vacation in Kenya, Isaias, his family, and his inner entourage stopped in Addis, where Meles offered to fly them back to Asmara in one of his aircraft. Isaias accepted the offer; en route the aircraft caught fire, but managed to turn back and land safely in Addis. According to someone who was on the aircraft, an infuriated Isaias accused Meles to his face of trying to kill him and his family. Isaias has not trusted Meles since.”

Holy than Mao
“Isaias has berated the Chinese ambassador in Asmara for China’s embrace of market capitalism. Isaias was sent to China by the Eritrean Liberation Front for political commissar training in the 1960s, where, according to the Chinese ambassador, ‘he learned all the wrong things.’ Isaias was turned off by the cult of personality surrounding Mao, but apparently internalized Maoist ideology.”

Hot temper
“At a January 2008 dinner he hosted for [an American Congressional delegation] and embassy officials, Isaias became involved in a heated discussion with his Amcit [American citizen] legal advisor about some tomato seedlings the legal advisor provided to Isaias’ wife. Isaias complained that despite tender care by his wife, the plants produced only tiny tomatoes. When the legal advisor explained that they were cherry tomatoes and were supposed to be small, Isaias lost his temper and stormed out of the venue, much to the surprise of everyone, including his security detail.”

Thin skinned
“Isaias asked to be named the patron of the World Bank-funded Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project (CARP). When individuals involved with CARP published the book ‘Asmara: Africa’s Secret Modernist City,’ it failed to include a note of thanks to CARP’s patron. Isaias was miffed and shut down CARP.”

The casual autocrat
“In November 2008 U.S. Embassy officials] visited Tselot, [Isaias’ home village] and saw no indication that the village has received any special favor from Isaias. Like most Eritrean villages, it has electricity but no running water or sewer system. Gaunt cattle and untended donkeys roam the village. Afwerki, [Isaias’ father] is said to be buried in the village cemetery, but officials could not locate his grave. Isaias’ immediate family is rarely featured in the state-run media and keeps a low profile. Although his portrait adorns many shops in Asmara, there is no cult of personality in Eritrea. Isaias often appears in the media clad casually in slacks, jacket, open-necked shirt, and sandals or loafers. He rarely travels in a motorcade.”

But he is careful about security
“Isaias has an aversion to talking on the telephone and frequently sleeps in different locations to foil a coup or assassination attempt. During the winter months he spends most of his time in Massawa rather than in Asmara. When dining in restaurants, Isaias will often switch plates with a subordinate, apparently to avoid being poisoned, according to the Qatari ambassador.”

2 responses to “News of Eritrea

  1. Worse than being a megalomania, Afwerki is also a bonehead.

  2. O U O U OU OU
    Be alert all Eritreans who love your country and Martyries. the final goal of Isayas afwerki is to Distengrate Eritrea and its People and to combine with Etiopia tigray tigrini. Dont belive isayas and his followers as well as oppenents of Isayas in Adis abeba
    all have the same ideas.
    All eritrean Gedaim Tegadelti NAY Meda Fetewti siwiatina Hager Adhinu. Aytitalelu. Enegurekum aloku. ab Pentagon USA eye ziserih. Isayas Meles sileya America n Israel eyom. their objective is to achieve Peace and stability for Israel not for writrea and ethiopia
    both had meeting in washington
    hadera hadera nikah

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