Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point: Debates: African
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Eritrea: Is the repression justified?
The Eritrean authorities are clamping down on dissent.

Last week, 11 former government officials who had openly criticised the Afewerki regime were arrested.

The private press was closed down because the government said it had put the unity of the country at risk.

Are the authorities overreacting? What lies behind the clampdown? Is the Eritrean government under threat?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Repression will plunge the country into yet another meaningless war

Tedros Amanuel, Sweden
With the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) patrolling its boundaries, the Eritrean government's justification of repression based on `national security´ is but rhetoric used to camouflage cohesive and undemocratic policies. Repression will plunge the country into yet another meaningless war generating a new wave of refugees and human catastrophe.
Tedros Amanuel, Sweden

I don't think that most African leaders understand the purpose of their office. Mr Isaisas has taken so many unwise actions and it's so sad to see the people, especially those who live abroad, blindly support him. I think it's about time that these leaders had some lessons in what it means to be a leader.
Wubeshet Mehari, Ethiopia

President Isaisas has a responsibility to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. All in all he is doing a good job.
Kiflu Berhane, USA

There is nothing wrong in losing a war to a larger enemy

Memhir Bereket, Eritrean/Canada
Eritrea is a land of proud people. But too much of pride itself is not good. In fact it could tarnish one's character. Our pride was threatened by an inevitable enemy, and we have been quick to point our fingers. The culprit in question and standing alone is President Issayas Afeworki. The rest of them, his followers and those who gave the stirring nationalistic public speeches across North America are now quick to wash their hands and hand him over to the avenging Eritrean public. Who are you to do such a back-stabbing heinous act?

Tell me, and please convince me, are you just politicians trying to clean yourself from an unforeseen crime? There is nothing wrong in losing a war to a larger enemy. I know you will end up saying this has nothing to do with the war! But the fact of the matter is it does. It is in fact at the core of it. If we had not lost to Ethiopia, you would not have asked for more. You should have spoken way back when you were entrusted with your posts and duties, way back in '92, '93 and '94. You are too late - or as they say "crying wolf".
Memhir Bereket, Eritrean/Canada

By the time the Eritreans learn the whole truth about their president, they will find out that they have been had. The current situation is consistent with the regime's desire to stay in power at any cost. His supporters, who feel that they had been betrayed will be his worst critics and the most determined to do away with him. Since they feel responsible for supporting him all the time, they will assume the responsibility of removing him from power. I am one of them, and I fully intend to take any part, work with any Eritrean to make sure that the days of the Issayas dictatorship are over. Enough is enough!
Goitom Haile, USA

It is interesting to note the similarities between leaders all over Africa - a continent with a reputation for long serving rulers. It seems to me the Eritrean leader bears a strong resemblance to Uganda's Museveni, Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Zaire's Mobutu, Ivory Coast's Houphouet Boigny, Ghana's Rawlings and many others. All came to fame in the struggle to liberate their countries from colonialism or oppression and were initially very good rulers, revered by their countrymen for their positive effect on freedom and development.

However there seems to be a time, around about the ten-year mark when these leaders just lose the plot. Suddenly they are more caught up in their own self-importance and longevity than on making any difference to the lives of their supporters. Only Rawlings has so far proved himself man enough to step down when the time was right. Let's hope Eritrea can follow his example.
Justin Archer, UK

I think the government of Eritrea is doing what is best for the country

Wediere, USA
I think the government of Eritrea is doing what is best for the country. The president is not money or power hungry like the G-15 who are putting the country at risk. I agree that he is not perfect and has made mistakes in implementing the constitution but there is no better person for Eritrea at this time. The country needs a little more time to recover and stabilise before creating a multi-party government system. The people of Eritrea are always united and that strength will keep the country moving forward.
Wediere, USA

I was very disappointed when the Eritrean government decided to fight with Ethiopia when things could be resolved on the table. This regime believes in power not in democracy. Eritrea will never come out of the messy political chaos as long as Isaias is in power. I had a dream but my dream is fading - God save Eritrea.
Ali Mohammed

The recent clampdown on private newspapers and the arrest of 11 dissenters is not justified. It is simply a desperate means of maintaining control by a leadership in crisis. The individuals concerned face potential charges of jeopardising national security and sovereignty. They have a long history of contributing immeasurably to the struggle for independence. It is difficult to believe they would ever do anything to jeopardise national security, sovereignty, or align themselves with extremist organisations
E. Gebreyesus, USA

I think our president is doing a good job

Robel Yemane, Mai-Temenay, Asmara
I think our president is doing a good job, he is not over reacting. I think some people are forgetting the golden rule, "If you don't have anything good to say then don't say anything".
Robel Yemane, Mai-Temenay, Asmara

The Eritrean government has to face reality - no dictatorship will last for ever. Isaias Afewerki has to admit that it is the people of Eritrea who have to rule the country, not him. In the late eighties and early nineties, we witnessed how one-party system countries collapsed one after the other. The massive arrest of the Eritrean intellectuals will not stop the people from achieving their democratic rights, freedom of expression, multi-party systems etc. If Afewerki continues with his dictatorial rule, his downfall is only a matter of time..
Ahmed Kayed, USA

Eritreans need a leader who thinks beyond conflict. It is a problem for many leaders in Africa to make the transition from leading an army to multi-party democratic leadership. The earlier he is forced out of office the better for the country.
Dr E. Hailu, UK

What makes this so sad is that the leader Isaias Afewerki arguably has, or had, until the events of last week a reservoir of goodwill among the majority of Eritreans, both for his service to the nation during the liberation struggle and since independence. And it was an incontrovertible fact that, prior to these past weeks events, had he stood for a contested real democratic election, (one was planned for December of this year) he would have probably easily won.

His party the PFDJ is the most organized and the only one with a base throughout the country. It would take years for any opposition party to build a similar base. Even more reason why the actions of the government in recent days is sad and irrational. Unless of course you are of the mindset that says that allowing for a loyal opposition, enabling free and open criticism, and for a free press is a sign of weakness. No, Mr. Afewerki, it's a sign of strength.
Ali, U.S.A.

If the constitution is adhered to, there is no need for repression

Amanuel Melles, Canada
Repression of any sort for any cause in any country breeds injustice and further unrest. Eritrea is coming of age. Eritreans have a constitution that could help them address the current challenges. If the constitution is adhered to, there is no need for repression. May Providence guide the leaders during this dire moment in the history of the country.
Amanuel Melles, Canada

The opinion on open debate concerning current Eritrean situation is split into two camps. While the older generation would like to solve the problem with Ethiopia first (border demarcation, war reparation etc.) the younger generation supports the reformers who want to have open debate and change in leadership now. I believe last week's action of arresting the reformers and shutting down the private press was wrong, but in the minds of those who oppose open debate, it was inevitable.
Negusse, Norway

There are those who restlessly strive to reverse the independence of Eritrea, and to this effect they look for any crack in the institution of the Government of Eritrea. The Eritrean government's action to foil any thing that threatens the integrity of Eritrea therefore is justifiable. The United States can be cited as an example when it frantically runs every where to detain the terrorists that can disturb the well being of the peace loving Americans.
D.S., Eritrean/Virginia beach

The repression is not justified. Isaias and his cronies are taking this action to avoid answering the question that everyone is asking: who is responsible for the disaster that the country is in? It is clear to most Eritreans that Isaias is a liability who is not fit to lead any society in the modern era. His leadership style is out of step with the information age of our times. Even the Chinese have abandoned Maoism but Isaias does know any better and he has too much blood in his hand to leave his post graciously. He is frightened and is reacting like any creature would.
G Ghebreziabher, Canada

What is taking place in my country did not take me by surprise. What do you expect from a regime with a very short-sighted and archaic ideology? What is being done is geared up to cover up the regime's blunder with the war and to prolong its stay in power. Here is my prediction: as much as they try to save their face and stay in power, they will lose their grip of power and will hasten their inevitable fall. History is repeating itself, remember the former military junta of Ethiopia with Mengistu as its leader.
Gidey, USA

President Issayas has yet to show convincingly the evidence for the alleged crimes of the 11 arrested men. A vague accusation with little proof has been provided, but we have yet to see conclusive proof. We all await the fair trial for his critics.
Kerim Ali, UK

The recent events in Eritrea have only publicly revealed what many have already known

Daniel, Virginia, USA
The recent events in Eritrea have only publicly revealed what many have already known. Mr Isaias' government is now acting against the interests of its people by refusing to even hear them. Eritrea is showing no signs of changing its ways in light of the treatment it has suffered in the past under the rule of Italy or Ethiopia. The dreams of the many who had fought for the country's independence look to be fading and goes to show that the country is truly the fulfilment of one man's ego.
Daniel, Virginia, USA

It is not an overreaction at all. Restrictive measures were necessary to maintain peace and order and to assure the orderly and normal function of our society, well in accordance with the mandate of our nation.
M. Filli A, USA

Isaias has always been a despot, so his overreaction to someone questioning his totalitarian regime is not surprising. I only hope that Eritreans who worship Isaias as the all-knowing, all-good fatherly figure will open their eyes to how their trust and sacrifice for liberty has been severely abused.
Blain, USA

The government is entrusted by the people of Eritrea to protect our hard won freedom

Amnual Tekle Tsion, Eritrean/USA
Our government's stand on combating corruption and lawlessness cannot be mixed with repression. The recent news on the western media about the arrest of those few individuals who threatened to disrupt the peace in Eritrea is seen as a sign of repression by the government. On the contrary, for many of us "Eritreans" this news is seen as a major victory to the masses from these few evil power-thirsty individuals who want to drag the country to a religion and ethnic civil war. The government is entrusted by the people of Eritrea to protect our hard won freedom and the arrest of these individuals is, in my opinion, justifiable.
Amnual Tekle Tsion, Eritrean/USA

Isaias Afewerki has proved to be a tyrant time and again! He has provoked many military conflicts in the region although his last adventure backfired. I only hope that he realises what he has been doing before a backlash happens.
Johny Daniel, USA

He is right to be scared

Zekarias, USA
I think President Isaias will lose his power if public discussion is conducted as he has to answer so many and important questions from the Eritrean people. Where is the promised fruit of independence - democracy, accountability, freedom and economy prosperity? Yes, the people have a lot of questions. He is right to be scared.
Zekarias, USA

Of course Isaias Afewerki is overreacting but isn't that the nature not only of him but of many other autocratic, corrupt, dictatorial leaders right across the continent? Until Africa gets leaders who are wholly committed to democracy, this story will just be repeated over and over again and will go largely unnoticed.
Tewodros Sile, Ethio-Eritrean in UK

This is not an overreaction. Mr Isayas has always behaved in such a manner when the question is that of his survival in power. It is a familiar African process which will continue until the point where the president will be forcefully ousted.
Demissie, Germany

The ruling class in the Eritrean government is acting in the interests of power. The opposition is only asking for transparency and the application of the constitution. President Isayas and his clique have correctly figured out that the application of the constitution will only expose their true undemocratic colours and accelerate their demise.
Girma W. Selassie, Washington DC, USA

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Africa
Concern over Eritrea detainees
18 Sep 01 | Africa
Eritrea silences critics
05 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more African stories