News / Africa

Short-lived Takeover of Eritrea’s State Media Not a Coup Attempt, Says Journalist

Ashenafi Abedje
Eritrean-born journalist Tewolde Tesfagabir says the brief seizure of the Information Ministry and state media in Asmara Monday was an effort by dissident soldiers to focus government attention on issues of concern to many Eritreans.

Political Prisoners  
The release of political prisoners is one of the demands issued by the dissident soldiers. Tewolde, who works for the VOA’s Horn of Africa service, says civil society and the Eritrean government do not agree on who is considered a political prisoner.

“In a country where the constitution is not effectively implemented, political movements can be considered as paramount to treason,” he says. “In a democratically-elected government where the term of the president in limited by the constitution, it’s another issue.”

Freedom of Speech

Human rights and media watchdog groups have long documented what they see as the lack of press freedom and freedom of assembly in Eritrea. Tewolde concurs that private media is non-existent, but explains what surprised him during his recent trip to Eritrea.

“In Asmara cafes, I was amazed to hear people criticize the government. I also see people criticize the government in state media,” he says. “But again, I haven’t noticed a self-organized group of people or associations discussing politics.”

The Eritrean-born journalist says even where people appear to freely express their political views, they do so in the company of those they know well and feel comfortable with.


Eritrea became officially independent in 1993 and has had only one president, Issayas Afeworki. Based on his interviews with the long-time president, Tewolde sees the prospects for democratic elections close to nill.

“According to the president, 20 years is very short. And he seems to understand that it should take 100 years (to hold elections.) He cites as a new country, Eritrea is not ready for democracy,” says Tewolde.

And when elections do take place, Tewolde adds, “the type of democracy President Issayas wants to implement is different in its description and meaning from what we know here,” he says.

Listen to interview with Tewolde Tesfagabir
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Comment Sorting
by: EritreanAmerican from: Columbus, Ohio
February 08, 2013 6:56 PM
Tewolde T is trying to be fair and honest. He knows deeply that Eritrea is headed in the right direction as a nation. He should never bow down to the western ideology of Democracy. Democracy is measured by the majority in one country and be it in Eritrea or the Eritrean diaspora across the globe it has been indicated over and over again the VAST majority subscribe to the point of view of the President. The President and Eritrea would rather build democracy for a long term rather than appease those who did nothing for Eritrea during it's struggle years.
No western journalists or for that matter policy maker sitting on Capitol Hill, White House or EU working along with sellouts can separate the relationship that the Eritrean people enjoy with their leaders. Demonizing the President and working hard to alienate him from the people will only help garner more support for him because he is the symbol of the Eritrean nation. Today he has also become the symbol for the oppressed people of the horn of Africa, which indicates that Eritrea is also becoming the same.
In order to understand Eritrea VOA must and should continue to engage it and accept that it is a unique nation built on TRUST. Like the US Marine Motto in the ERITREA the people are a few compared to some big nations but PROUD! and they are real ERITREANS! Peace loving and god fearing.

by: eritreanin exile from: canada
January 28, 2013 7:21 PM
Absolutely the demand that was made on the only national tv and radio that prisoners to be released and constitution to be implemented is the request of any Eritrean with sense. we stand for peace reconciliation and rule of law. Enough of the lunatic dictator who is responsible for all of Eritrean people's suffering.

by: Alex from: Nairobi
January 24, 2013 12:52 AM

by: Mulugheta from: Seattle
January 23, 2013 7:55 PM
Tewolde seems to be a very reasonable journalists who doesn't seem to have ulterior motives or hatred against the government in Eritrea. To many Wetsern Journalists, not having an election is like not having a religion. What they forget is building a country, institutions, ethnic harmony and culture that can sustain elections without violence is a huge Task that Eritrean government understands and will take a long time. It it also impossible to talk about meaningful election when the country can not even feed itself. So, in that respect Eritreans are well aware of what the government is doing. There are some other issues that the people and government are not on the same page. The hardship that people have to endure to be self sufficient is getting too much for the young and the government needs to look at ways to ease the pain in this area. Unlimited service is impossible and people can simply not tolerate it. A balanced approach is needed. But one thing is sure, we must work harder and smarter in order to catch up with the rest of the world. The world resources is not enough for everyone. Rich countries will have to keep others poor in order to sustain the level of consumption they are used to. THEREFORE WE CAN NOT TAKE ADVICE FROM THE WEST ON HOW TO LEAD OUR COUNTRY> that should be our business, point!!!
In Response

by: Mesfin from: UK
January 24, 2013 5:21 PM
Eritrea does not even have a constituition! The current generation of youth lost 20 years of their life! Only slavery in the dark times beats the hardship that the eritrean youth are in. It is very patronising of the government to say that the Eritrean people don't need democracy, we have the right to choose our own leaders for a simple reason - they should serve the people not the otherway round! If they are not performing, they get removed by the people. Their removal is long overdue - president has blood on his hands. He is a criminal and must face justice!

by: Ghezae Hagos from: Winnipeg, Canada
January 23, 2013 4:22 PM
Eritrea has been ruled by one-man, one-party rule for two decades. No dissent is allowed. It has consistently referred as the North Korea of Africa, as the country with as many as 5 000-10, 000 political prisoners, as the the country with no free media, as a country with the biggest number of journalists in prison, as severe persecutor of Pentecostals and Jehova Witnesses and as one of the top refugee producing countries in the world. There is no amount of white-washing to cleanse the record sheet of Issayas regime. The constitution which was ratified in May 1997 has yet to see a light of day. The sad thing is when people are jailed, they don't get access to defend themeslves. They will just rot in underground and other prisons, indefintely. Disappearances are common. Eritrea as a country could be young. Eritrean government is old, especially if one person has led a nation for more than two decades. There is only one defintion of democracy; rule by the people under the law. What type of other 'democracy' are there, alluded by Mr. Tewelde?

Ghezae Hagos
Winnipeg, Canada

by: yohannes from: boston
January 23, 2013 3:43 PM
I have to be naive to believe any thing real happened, it was just a fabricated coup that was staged by the government to check how the information minster react to it after the of the information Minster, Boss, Ali Abdu left the regime. the result, many information minster employee will end up in jail.

by: IKM from: USA
January 23, 2013 2:29 PM
Very precise report....I'm sure this report resonates well with most Eritreans and those who know Eritrea very well.
In Response

by: IAI from: Arlington
January 23, 2013 3:28 PM
The comment of the so called Eritrean journalist seems to lack some of pivot points. As such the question of election and democracy. I am sure Tewelde misunderstood the point that HE the president of Eritrea was trying to register.

Democracy can not be given like a bread and implement it overnight. It has means and ways on how to come to complete democracy. Eritrea's situation is different than that of anyother country. So, Eritrea will adopt its own democracy the way that fits its needs and may require 100 of years until it is fully mature and complete democracy. He also mentioned do you think what is going on in US is a Democracy? How come someone say we have democracy while can not go for health checkup unless he is insured and have money.
How could you claim to have democracy when schools are not free to all with out any numerations linked to.

That is what the president of Eritrea was trying to tell Tewelde. I think Tewelde has a problem understanding Tigringa and have some difficulties translating his thinking to English.

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