Censorship and lack of press freedom in Eritrea:
In my previous blog posts, I’ve discussed patterns of democratic erosion in different cases. In this blog post, I would like to delve into the case of Eritrea where the country has a democratic constitution, but the practices of the regime are far from democratic. It is interesting to see how even if democratic institutions are in place, they can be totally ignored by incumbents. I want to explore this difference between laws and practice in Eritrea especially in terms of freedom of speech and possibly come to a conclusion about where the ruler’s legitimacy comes from in this case. Currently, Eritrea has some of the highest degrees of press suppression and censorship in the world. According to Newsweek, Eritrea is less open than Pyongyang. The reason why levels of censorship in Eritrea are considered worse than North Korea’s is because the Eritrean government has unparalleled restrictions on smartphone ownership.
President Isaias Afewerki has terrorized all privately owned forms of media which has resulted in them either fleeing the country or remaining in Eritrea but in a constant fear of arrest which in turn leads to self-censorship. According to the U.N. International Telecommunications Union, less than 1 percent of Eritrean residents go online which is an incredibly low percentage of Internet penetration in our world today. President Afewerki has limited media coverage to span only state-owned media that is obviously extremely biased. Eritrea also has the highest number of jailed journalists in Africa. Even reporters who work for state-run media outlets live in fear of arrest, according to the New York Times.
Definition of democracy
It is important to first understand what definition of democracy this post is operating under. Dah’s maximalist definition of democracy requires that people be able to formulate their preferences, signify those preferences and have their preferences equally weighted in conduct of government.  In order for this definition of democracy to be fulfilled, a list of what he calls ‘institutional guarantees’ is required. This includes: freedom of expression, alternative sources of information and free and fair elections. By the Dahl-ian maximalist definition, Eritrea is far from a functioning democracy, even if its constitution says otherwise. In terms of free and fair elections, Eritrea has never had a national election let alone one that wasn’t free and fair.
What about the constitution?
All of the aforementioned conditions create an environment that is inhospitable for foreign or private media outlets. The Eritrean constitution has been ratified by the legislature when Eritrea gained independence in the 1990’s, but has never been implemented. It established Eritrea as a multiparty system with adequate separation of power between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. It also protects freedom of speech; something President Afewerki has directly gone against. Eritrean laws are contradictory. The 1996 Press Law prohibits the establishment of private media outlets and requires all journalists to be licensed. This gives the government the ability to reject license applications and continue their monopoly on media information.
Censorship as a tool worldwide + the implications
Censorship is a tool used by authoritarian governments to limit oppositional forces. In Afewerki’s case, he is limiting any forms of information that do not come from the state. He has a monopoly on truth and can put out biased information to mislead his constituents. This raises the question of how authoritarian leaders use media oppression and propaganda to not just suppress the truth, but to create an alternate truth.
Using force to scare independent journalists to leave the country or self-censor creates an environment where the incumbents dictate truth and untruth. Incumbents have an incentive to misconstrue the truth in order to sway people to vote for them in subsequent elections or to get constituent support for policy decisions. Is his legitimacy coming from the monopoly on media? Is legitimacy by coercion even considered legitimacy?
Looking to the 2016 elections in the United States, the issue of ‘fake news’ emerged in a country with a free media and press. An Ohio State University study we read for class showed that fake news did have a significant impact on the vote in the 2016 Election.  Fake News
It is impossible for people to make informed voting decisions without access to different forms of media and ones that aren’t controlled by the government.
We can see here that the relationship between truth and untruth can be easily manipulated even when the government respects and encourages the free press. This is detrimental to democracy, as people cannot make informed decisions without unbiased sources of information. In Eritrea, that issue is taken a step further when people aren’t even able to express their opinions because there hasn’t been a national election since Eritrea gained independence.
Hope for Eritrea
There is, however, hope for Eritrea. There have been unprecedented moves in the right direction after a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea was drafted. The border between the two countries was opened in early September 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45475876?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cen5x5l99w1t/ethiopia-and-eritrea-peace-agreement&link_location=live-reporting-story
Many Eritreans see this as a sign that their government might be changing its authoritarian ways. They are hoping for a freer press, free, fair and consistent elections and properly established term limits.
 Dahl, R. A. (2007). Polyarchy: Participation and opposition. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
 Gunther, Beck, Nisbet, Fake News Did Have a Significant Impact on the Vote in the 2016 Election: Original Full-Length Version with Methodological Appendix. Ohio State University. 2017