Eritrea: Information is Ammunition

News Opinions Sophia Tesfamariam

The first casualty of a propaganda war is the Truth. In today’s politicized media landscape, it is not far-fetched to imagine that information is in fact used as ammunition against targeted states, and not necessarily to inform the public or tell the truth. It does not matter that the information being disseminated is categorically false, as long as it serves its purpose.

By Sophia Tesfamariam,

Christopher John Fox in his 1983 book, “INFORMATION AND MISINFORMATION – An Investigation of the Notions of Information, Misinformation, Informing, and Misinforming” wrote the following about “information”:

“… Information seems to be everywhere. We talk of its being encoded in the genes, so it must be carried in every living cell of every living thing. We say that it is disseminated by media of communication, so it must be transmitted around the world by wire, microwave, laser light, and radio wave, broadcast by television and radio, and printed in newspapers, magazines, journals, and so on. We say that information is exchanged in conversation, so it must be present in billions of the utterances occurring every day. Information is also said to be contained in all sorts of things, including books, letters, telegrams, films, tapes, computers, and minds… Libraries are overflowing with it, institutions are bogged down by it, and people are over- loaded with it… Information, then, is as ubiquitous as air, or heat, or water. But it differs from these latter things in having a far more mysterious nature. For although we can say quite exactly what air, heat, and water are, no one seems to know exactly what information is… ” 

No one disputes the importance of information, but the question for today is, how is information being used by the media, and what does truth have to do with information that is being shared?

According to the famous Canadian Journalists for Free Expression campaign from which the subject and title for today’s piece is being borrowed, “Information is Ammunition”. Not at all what this author would have imagined news reporting to be about. Unfortunately, in today’s politicized media landscape, it is not farfetched to imagine that information is in fact, used as ammunition against targeted states, and not necessarily to inform the public or tell the truth. It does not matter that the information being disseminated is categorically false, as long as it serves its purpose.

Eritreans in the Diaspora have, for the last 50 years or so, experienced two extremes when it comes to news coverage about Eritrea, her people and government. These two extremes, from complete blockage or gag order on any news about Eritrea, to a decade of outright lies and fabrications, have not only distorted world view on this nation and its people, it has also caused unnecessary pain and suffering.

For Eritreans in the Diaspora, it has been an interesting week for prevailing narratives on Eritrea. Long before the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) was established, there were some narratives that were propagated by the mainstream media and the NGO community, with some “Eritrean Faces” in tow. The one that garnered the most attention was the National Service Program (NSP). The youth in the NSP were labeled “slaves” and Eritrea’s mining sector was viciously targeted.

With global monopoly on the news, mainstream media had a field day disseminating lies about Eritrea and propagating deliberately constructed narratives in a decade long, orchestrated, defamation and vilification campaign. For Eritreans, journalism lost its luster. Libelous, insulting, and false statements about Eritrea became the daily norm. “Cut and Paste” articles about the young nation were produced by individuals that never ever set foot in the country. But the misinformation was not just on the part of the journalists, soon members of the NGO networks and even anthropologists and other social scientists that had opportunities to learn about the young nation, its people and its cultures and traditions, became party to the illicit politically motivated campaigns.

The campaign was wide and far reaching as this excerpt from a letter that attempted to justify their activities shows (

“…We are among an international group of researchers – social scientists, historians, legal scholars and journalists – with decades of experience working on the Horn of Africa country of Eritrea and/or the Eritrean diaspora. We are citizens and/or residents of many countries: Eritrea, Canada, the US, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Germany, and the UK…”

These “scholars” did not deny their engagement in anti-Eritrea activities, using the cover of their professions and unabashedly state the following:

“… While it is true that some of us have interfaced with international human rights organizations, stated positions on sanctions and arms embargoes on Eritrea from a critical human rights perspective, or have engaged with officials in various governments about the problems in Eritrea…these are matters of our own conscience and we each take nuanced positions rooted in careful research and years of understanding of the Eritrean situation. Scholars who study Eritrea indeed disagree among ourselves about the merits of these positions and whether these are the best methods for applying our empirical knowledge…”

But it is precisely the information gathered by these very individuals that are found in the Commission of Inquiry reports. It is the ammunition that was used to “strengthen” UN sanctions against Eritrea. It is the ammunition that was used to compel the UN Human Rights Council to appoint the Special Rapporteur and the “Commission of Inquiry”.

When the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea produced its “cut and paste” Report filled with unsubstantiated allegations, Eritreans expected experienced and seasoned journalists to pick through the voluminous report and expose the inconsistencies and outright lies, but instead, the mainstream media decided to use the “UN” Report as ammunition to advance the anti-Eritrea campaign. Even though the Commission relied on the testimonies of faceless and nameless individuals and reports prepared by the above mentioned “scholars”, no journalists questioned the COI’s questionable modus operandi – or its obvious and documented political motives. For the lazy journalists, the “UN Report” became another ammunition to use against the State of Eritrea and its leadership.

It should be recalled that it was Human Rights Watch (HRW) that first accused Eritrea of using “conscripted labour” in Eritrea’s mining sector. Its findings were based on information gathered by an Eritrean Human Rights Group funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). For $80,230 the NED commissioned this “NGO” to:

“… increase awareness of the human rights struggle in Eritrea, HRC-Eritrea will advocate with key international and regional human rights bodies, raise awareness on international mining companies and forced labor used at mining sites in Eritrea, and push for the cessation of the two percent tax levied on Eritrean diaspora…”

So the HRC-Eritrea and the above mentioned “scholars” and “activists” in their coterie set out to do as instructed and the laundered information was then used to compile the Commission of Inquiry’s Report on Eritrea, and the information contained in that “UN” report was then used as ammunition by journalists and others against the State of Eritrea. One such journalist is Martin Plaut of the BBC who has milked the Commission of Inquiry’s report dry. In one of his posts writing about operations at the Bisha, Plaut said:

“…The Canadian Mining group, Nevsun, has been under intense pressure after the UN’s Commission of Inquiry found evidence that it was employing Eritrean conscripts. The National Service personnel, working through a South African subcontractor, were using the conscripts in slave-like conditions. As the UN report put it: “Eritreans are subject to systems of national service and forced labour that effectively abuse, exploit and enslave them for indefinite periods of time …”

Plaut did not bother to mention the findings found in the report, “Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Bisha Mine in Eritrea: Audit 2015”, commissioned by Nevsun which stated the following:

“…The HRIA auditing activities at Segen Construction and Transhorn Trucking have uncovered no evidence of national service workers at the Bisha Mine… that it is highly unlikely that forced labour is being used at present, or will be used in the future, by state-owned subcontractors at the Bisha mine…”

A deadly web of deceit …

Statements and responses by the Government of Eritrea were summarily discarded and anyone who challenged the media and NGO narratives on Eritrea was berated, insulted, intimidated and harassed. Eritreans who defended their country were labeled “government loyalists” and “apologists for the regime in Eritrea”. But that was not the only result of the misinformation campaigns, the false information propagated by the mainstream media caused tangible harm-they unnecessarily alarmed people and caused irreparable damage. It unnecessarily compromised the lives of thousands of young Eritreans who were influenced by such distorted and politically motivated reports.

But it is facts, not lies, that are said to be stubborn, and today, the true facts about Eritrea’s National Service Program and Eritrea’s mining sector are slowly emerging. Not that Eritreans need the validation of Louis Mazel, the American Charge D’Affaires in Eritrea, but it seems he has been able to see for himself and bear witness of the operations at the Bisha mines, and tell about it.

Louis Mazel wrote the following after a visit to the Bisha mines.

“…I had the opportunity November 21-22 to visit the Bisha Mine …I have been wanting to visit the mine for some time as it is the only mine currently operating in the country (although the Zara Mine should come on line soon) and is a major contributor to the Eritrean economy. I was joined on the trip by diplomats from Canada, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations…. For me, the visit was a real eye-opener. The Bisha Mine is a modern, well-run facility that currently employs 1400 people, of whom 90 percent are Eritrean. Twenty percent of the employees are women and the Bisha facility is creating employment opportunities for people in neighboring towns and villages, who otherwise would never have opportunities to work in the wage economy.…In sum, I saw a Western mining company that is creating jobs, investing in local people, mining responsibly, respecting human rights, acting as a good neighbor, and contributing to national development in Eritrea. I hope this will become a model for future mines operating in the country…”

Hope the good diplomat will not suffer the wrath of Martin Plaut and his ilk who had carefully crafted the narrative on Eritrea and even managed to hoodwink UN mandated bodies to use the information in compiling their reports. Hope he will not be harassed and intimidated for telling the truth and shattering the ugly narrative propagated by Eritrea’s internal and external enemies.

It is a miracle that Eritrea has been able to dodge the deadly ammunition used by the media and the NGO networks to undermine Eritrea’s development, but Eritrea, (armed with the truth lasting ammunition), has not just weathered the ugly storm, but survived and thrived…and once again…prevailed.

Information is ammunition…let us continue to show and tell the Eritrean story!