In a flat country a hillock thinks itself a mountain
… There is an Amharic saying that goes…: ‘sew tira bilut rasu meta…!’, the typical scenario is when you turn to someone and ask them to go get an assistance (implying that theirs isn’t adequate) and the person rushes out and rushes back in with only himself on tow… implying he is the assistance… there is a similar one in Tigrigna that is prejudiced at best and downright racist at worst… and doesn’t convey the exact same message (despite the similarities in terminology)… does anyone else think I might make a living out of analysing Tigrigna and Amharic phrases? (don’t worry…neither do I!)
… but anyway there was a perfect opportunity for us all to roll our eyes and grunt ‘sew tira bilut rasu meta…!’ last week ( when I first started writing this)… over the days that followed International press Freedom Day the world has been learning the dire situation of freedom of press in Eritrea through the various editorials and items filed by freedom loving journalists across the globe… needless to say the engine behind all this are our friends at CPJ… (Committee to Protect Journalists)…their evidence is the fact that millions of Eritreans in Eritrea are denied information independently sourced… thousands of potentially talented young people are denied the ability to practice a trade independently of censorship and tens of independent journalists from Eritrea’s five-minute-long golden era, have been taken to prisons named and unnamed and their fledgling news papers were shut by an arbitrary decree that is now over ten years old … CPJ along with the rest of us have been calling the PFDJ to restore this most basic of rights to Eritreans continually pointing out to the fact that their colleagues have been incarcerated unjustly for over ten years and the total information black hole that Eritrea has become…. Meanwhile Eritrea kept sinking progressively to the bottom of the Press Freedom Index and when it finally hit rock bottom CPJ alerted the world… and to our utter amazement Thomas Mountain came in huffing and puffing… claiming to be the Messiah of Eritrea’s press freedom… (excuse me while I go roll my eyes and exclaim… Sew Tira Bilut Erasu meTa!!)…
Dear Mr Mountain,
you can hold any number of titles you so wish to hold, but the one thing you can absolutely not claim at the moment is Independent Journalist… Independent as in offering constructive criticism, by presenting level-headed, detached analysis of events to the people, who will then be able to form educated opinions based on such appraisal. Let the readers or listeners do the praising or condemning (definition borrowed from Julian Samboma )…
Now I am neither a journalist nor independent… but I am not going to call Mr Mountain non-independent simply for sporting Issias Afwerki t-shirt like all the YPFDJ kids who depend on Issias Afworki for affirmation of their worth…(I will put that down to bad fashion sense…! Maybe he didn’t do his laundry that day and rummaged through his closet to only come up with the poxy t-shirt that he had never worn before or after that day!)…and I am not going to call him unlevel-headed for being silly enough to declare that I have never set foot in Eritrea…I will just put down that gaff to spending far too much time in DMB (no it doesn’t read dumb… there is no U…don’t be smart aleck!)
…I will instead look at a few of his writings and see if he comes across level-headed or independent….
Most people in Africa spend most of their income on food. With food prices rising by over 50%, drought is not the only cause of hunger in the Horn of Africa. While southern Ethiopia, home to half of Ethiopia’s 80 million people, is suffering under its worst drought and famine in 60 years, residents in the northern capital of Addis Ababa are feeling the pinch of hunger due to near record high food prices.
Yet next door to Ethiopia, in Eritrea, where we have been living since 2006, there exists an island of food security where grain prices have fallen by half and hunger has become a thing of the past (that was Mountain on 7th of Aug 2011).
An independent journalist would quote an independent source… say an interview from the streets of Asmara… and compare these with the hunger index… or maybe even comparison of the standard of living based on figures from previous years… but what does Mr Mountain do? Quote himself! Why?
Because ….It seems the western media and its handlers are having a hard time swallowing another fact about Eritrea-they cannot fathom that there is NO famine in Eritrea, whilst its neighbors, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all experiencing drought and famine (words and accompanying disgust at all other media outlets courtesy of Sophie Tesfamariam…. a perturbed expression…writer’s own!)
Meanwhile the world was concerned about what the weather monitoring reports and hunger index data was showing, as the government denied all this and nearly all aid agencies had been expelled from the country and UN agencies had their operations severely curtailed too… (leaving our Mr Mountain to be the only ‘ independent’ something or another in the country!)
Independent my foot!... but let’s move on…
…on 17th of May 2011 Mr Mountain wrote…
‘In early February of this year, 2011, a six man squad of British mercenaries were caught red handed in the midst of preparing an attempt to assassinate the top leadership of the Eritrean government in the port city of Massawa on the Red Sea….These professional killers were discovered almost by accident by a woman taking a shortcut home through an adjacent out-of-service salt flat. The woman noticed, as all good Eritreans should, that sa’ada, white people, were taking photos (with telephoto lenses) somewhere they were not allowed. These Brit “diplomats” took their sweet time scoping out their firing points and parameters of their potential killing field for their discoverer had to walk almost a mile to the nearest police station to report this and then the police had to drive the roundabout route to the spot in question’ .
Those of us who followed the events that Mountain is talking about know how all this ended…not a single person was charged with anything let alone espionage of the dimention that Mountain led us to believe… the GOE actually referred all questions regarding this to the Qatari government (maybe in Eritrea we have outsourced everything… official stand to the Qatari government…independent stand to the last white person left stranded in the country!... citizen’s stand to members of the YPFDJ who reside in the country for 2.5 weeks in any given year and much of that nursing a hangover!)… any Independent Journalist would have probed this further or would have checked their facts before going to press… if Mr Mountain had any independent streak he should have challenged the government’s version of events and told Eritreans and the world at large why the government of Eritrea was letting ‘a six man squad of British mercenaries/diplomats’ off scot free even after they (according to him) were caught red handed trying to murder the President…!!
As Independent as the regular YPFDJ (maybe!)
On October 4, 2011 Thomas C. Mountain wrote…
’It is not very often that a long serving African President is given a hero’s welcome by his people in New York City but on Sunday, September 25, over 5,000 Eritreans from all over the eastern USA and Canada converged on Manhattan to do just that for Eritrean President Issias Aferworki…’ the true ‘idenpendent journalist he is he even told us… ‘Don’t take my word for it go to eastafro.com and see for yourself…’ However the said coverage was as independent as he was… as it was none other than the Ministry of Information itself…through Eri TV this time!
But the litmus test for Mountain’s... Independent Journalism lies a few lines below in the same article… he writes: ‘…And all the while, a couple dozen rather forlorn looking anti-Eritrean demonstrators held banners across the street. The utter bankruptcy of the so-called Eritrean “opposition” was there for all to see, for with such a prime opportunity to show their condemnation, all they could muster was a couple dozen people?’ …
Anti Eritrean? Really Mountain??! If he stopped for a second he would know that in that crowd of protestors were former freedom fighters and children of martyred and imprisoned freedom fighters…young people who served their country gallantly both in the defense force and the national service…Eritreans who gave their all for the country that he now claims as his own... and takes the liberty to labeling the natives ‘Anti-Eritrea’…!
I am sorry but in my books Mr Thomas C Mountain is nothing but an opportunistic-go-getter who has made a living out of buttressing a brutal dictatorship! And his journalistic prowess pales when contrasted against the young Independent Journalists that PFDJ has buried alive as their Independence (unlike his) was a throne on the side of dictatorship!
… if I were a betting woman and Mountain was a horse (I am doing quite a bit of hypothetical betting these days!) I would bet anything on the fact that when change does come to Eritrea Mr Mountain will either become an ‘Independent Journalist’ with a different tune…or from under a different rock!