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Article Review: Conor Gaffey's "U.S. Should Fight Terror With Eritrea, Accused of Sponsoring Al-Qaeda Affiliate, GOP Congressman Says"


By New Africa Institute

Summary

On August 7, 2017, Newsweek Magazine published Conor Gaffey's article, "U.S. Should Fight Terror With Eritrea, Accused of Sponsoring Al-Qaeda Affiliate, GOP Congressman Says." Produced in the wake of recent efforts by the United States legislators to positively engage the State of Eritrea, the article promotes misunderstanding about the African nation and misleads readers to shun engagement in favor of continuing the type of frosty relations that have proven counterproductive towards forwarding both US and Eritrean interests in the Horn of Africa. For this reason, the article warrants an article review by New Africa Institute.

The notable claims made by Gaffey are as follows:
  1. The government of Eritrea may be supporting terrorist in Somalia;
  2. The government of Eritrea may be an exceptional abuser of human rights; and
  3. The state of journalism in Eritrea is comparable to that in North Korea.
Many of Gaffey's points are made indirectly through innuendo rather than direct assertion, presenting an unassuming veneer of journalistic neutrality that bears greater potential to mislead. Allegations against the Eritrean government are presented without questioning, without context and in a one-sided manner, essentially sullying the name of the State of Eritrea, encouraging the curtailment of US-Eritrea engagement and promoting protracted conflict. As such, the article is dangerous towards longer term peace, prosperity and progress in the Horn of Africa region.

Analysis

Gaffey's Newsweek article follows three days after an August 4, 2017 article published by Voice of America, which he refers to, detailing recent efforts by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California's 48th district to introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prompt Defense Secretary James Mattis to open negotiations with Eritrea on fighting terrorism.

Absent from Gaffey's article is the notable fact that Rohrabacher served as a leading congressional advocate for a change of failed US policies in the Horn of Africa region, which has sought to support Ethiopia's current ruling regime against the wishes and interests of the people and nations in the region. He has taken on efforts to advocate for Ethiopian human rights and promote peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

From the very title of his article, Gaffey makes clear some level of concern within himself or other's with Rohrabacher's efforts to promote US negotiations with Eritrea.

These concerns arise from the fact that "since 2009, Eritrea has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions for allegedly supporting Al-Shabab rebels in Somalia. Al-Shabab, which has formal ties to Al-Qaeda, is waging an insurgency against the Western-backed federal government in Mogadishu."

Unfortunately, no context is provided and nothing is said about veracity of this allegation, which is presented without question. One is left to believe that the allegation is true simply because the Security Council supported sanctions against Eritrea on the basis of this allegation, which is a clear argumentum ad verecundiam fallacy that accepts a conclusion as true simply because an authority says it is true.

The reality is that this allegation has yet to be substantiated. In fact, the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group, which visited Eritrea multiple times with the mandate by the UN Security Council to monitor Eritrea's fidelity to the terms of the sanctions, stated in five consecutive annual reports that it could not find any evidence suggesting Eritrean support of Al-Shabab. This allegation seems all the more extraordinary when one considers that Al-Shabab in October 2009, two months before Eritrea was sanctioned, declared that it would attack the State of Eritrea ("Somalia: Al-Shabab says they will attack Asmara", Mohammed Omar Hussein, Somaliweyn Media Center, October 31, 2009.).

The American Forces Press Service, a publication of the US Department of Defense, explained in a December 10, 2002 article unambiguously entitled "Eritrea Could Teach U.S. Much to Combat Terror" that "Eritrea has cooperated in the war of terror and has offered facilities, intelligence, and other help such as overflight and mooring permissions to the United States and other members of the worldwide coalition." The article highlighted the visit of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who said that Eritrea "'has considerably more experience than we [in America] do over a sustained period of time' in battling terrorism. He said the United States can benefit from that experience."

Thus, at the very minimum, one must question if not be skeptical of the allegation that Eritrea supports terrorists in Somalia. Gaffey fails to do this, leading readers to believe that Eritrea would be an unreliable partner in fighting terrorism.

Gaffey goes on to state, "Human rights groups have long criticized Eritrea’s government as authoritarian and repressive, while the country’s crackdown on independent media has drawn comparisons with North Korea."

What human rights groups is he talking about, exactly? No groups or their allegations are explicitly named. Much like his mention of unsubstantiated allegations of Eritrea supporting Al-Shabab, his mere mention of allegations of human rights abuses without question serve to legitimate their credibility and, thus, newsworthiness. For what reason would he mention them other than the reason that he seeks his readers to believe that the human rights concerns are legitimate?

Regarding his claim that Eritrea can be compared to North Korea, a hyperlink is provided to another article by the Gaffey wherein he calls Eritrea "a land with no journalists." It is simply not true that Eritrea is totally devoid of journalism. Though journalism in Eritrea may not be to his liking and standard, there are indeed journalists in the country, who have written from the public and private sector.

Unlike Gaffey, who has not visited Eritrea in recent years and cannot speak about the country from experience, BBC Africa Editor Mary Harper, following a recent visit to the country, expressed the following sentiment during a speech at Birkbeck University on February 25, 2017:

Before I went [to Eritrea], I really tried to do my homework. I watched everything I could. Read as much as I could. I spoke to lots of people. But, I think, never before in my time reporting on Africa and I've reported on pretty much every country there I have never, never ever had an experience of getting to the place and thinking, 'this is another country compared with the image I've been given principally by the media.' And that's absolutely not to say that Eritrea is some sort of paradise. Though it is demonized in the Western media and various organizations. The image of Eritrea is incredibly limited.

It is the belief of New Africa Institute that Gaffey, unwittingly or wittingly, is taking part in this demonization which has prevented diplomatic progress between the US and Eritrea. Regarding the claim that Eritrea resembles North Korea, AFP reporter Jenny Vaughn, who visited Eritrea in 2013, explained that “Eritrea is not the ‘open air’ prison or the ‘North Korea of Africa,’ as it has been crudely labeled in the past by its enemies.” She suggests that those who label Eritrea as another North Korea are perhaps taking the role of an “enemy.” Though this may not be the case with Gaffey, his promotion of this label in conjunction with hyperbolic claims about “no journalists ” in Eritrea do not help with his neutrality as a journalist.

Conclusion

Gaffey's article suffers not from a lack of accuracy but rather from bias and the decontextualized presentation of facts. It is not enough to merely claim that some given government is allegedly guilty of various crimes. Questioning and context must be provided. No such effort is made with his article on Eritrea. 

At a time when the world is combating the most extreme and highly-developed forms of international terrorism, Gaffey's article promotes non-cooperation on global security and anti-terrorism efforts by citing unsubstantiated allegations against Eritrea, putting the Horn of Africa and global community at risk. For this reason, his article is uniquely dangerous and must be questioned for its timing and intent.


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Article Review: Conor Gaffey's "U.S. Should Fight Terror With Eritrea, Accused of Sponsoring Al-Qaeda Affiliate, GOP Congressman Says" Reviewed by Admin on 12:02 AM Rating: 5

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