In writing about Eritrea – indeed, in writing about the Horn of Africa as a whole – every author and journalist has to be on their guard against the disinformation spread by the Eritrean regime.
This systematic propaganda system is known by the term that was coined during Eritrea’s thirty year fight for independence (1961 – 1991). This is “Zero Three.”
When Isaias wanted to remove his enemies inside the Eritrean liberation movement he sometimes had them executed.
It would then be suggested that they had “committed suicide.”
One of EPLF’s liquidation tactics was “suicide,” which were never announced officially—but passed through “Bado Seleste” (Zero Three), the radio frequency for the party’s rumour mill.
As the BBC’s correspondent in Asmara, Alex Last wrote during the tragic border war with Ethiopia in 2000, Zero Three was spreading misinformation in an attempt to bolster Eritrean morale as its troops were in full retreat.
The news of the fall of Barentu has had a devastating effect on the mood in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
It was announced on Eritrean TV late on Wednesday evening,
“I don’t think anyone slept last night” said one Eritrean businesswoman. The city remains calm, but people are very depressed.
For many Eritreans, the news had came as a shock. The local rumour mill, known as “Bado Seleste” meaning “03” – a reference to the unofficial news during the war of liberation – had been full of stories of counter-attacks and the recapture of villages right up until Wednesday night.
As with most countries which are facing an overwhelming invader, the rumours tend to be what people want to hear, not necessarily the truth.
When President Isaias faced real dissent after his disastrous handling of the border war and was challenged by some of his closest allies – the ‘G15’ – he reacted by locking them up.
The president also closed all independent media and arrested journalists.
Ever since there has been no free media inside Eritrea – none whatsoever.
Propaganda across the world
The Eritrean diaspora is under constant surveillance by the regime.
Sometimes this is done through the structures of the only legal party – the PFDJ.
Sometimes it is done through the Eritrean embassy.
Sometimes it is done by thugs who use brute force.
Every Eritrean living abroad knows that he or she are being monitored from Asmara. It hampers their lives, limits their ability to use democratic structures to resist the regime.
This article highlights some of these measures.
Dissent is managed partly by force, and partly by a rumour mill, known as Bado Seleste — Zero Three — a reference to a wartime propaganda service. The government has let it be known that there is an informant in every house, and that every phone is tapped.
Zero Three extends into the diaspora. Refugees refuse to speak on the record or be photographed for fear of reprisals against them or their families. Those that do put their heads above the parapet are targeted. Activists in London report being followed, having their tyres slashed and receiving late night phone calls.
Every independent journalist needs to be aware of this network of misinformation and repression.
It needs to be constantly guarded against, while ignoring the social media attacks by these state agents, and establishing reliable sources of information.