The story of this ?attempted coup? began last Monday morning, January?21 in a small garrison base south of here when three disgruntled?officers told their command that they were being transferred to the?capital Asmara to guard the Ministry of Information. Excited to be?leaving their remote location for life in the capital the citizen?soldiers in the command packed their bags, loaded their two tanks on?to their trailers, saddled up and headed for the big city.
Several hours later the unit arrived at the unguarded gates of the?Eritrean Ministry of Information, unloaded their tanks and, according?to neighbors, proceeded to engage in boisterous horseplay on and?around their equipment.
In the meantime the three miscreant officers barged their way into the?television studios of Eritrean TV and waving a pistol around demanded?a political screed be read over the air.
A quick thinking technician in the broadcast system quickly cut of the?signal and their plan was suddenly still born.
In the meantime the youngsters in their command outside began to get?wind that something was wrong, and when they found out what was going?on inside the EriTV studios they ?mutinied?, as in stopped obeying?their commanding officers orders which eventually included a command?for them to open fire on their fellow Eritreans.
Seeing that the jig was up the three ?mutineers? absconded on foot?from the Ministry escaping down the cliffs behind the old ?Forto?,?once the headquarters for the Italian Colonial Army in Eritrea.
All?s well that ends well and the three ?mutinous? officers ?were duly?found and arrested. The ?mutinous? national service citizen soldiers?were taken out to a very tasty dinner at the Malobar restaurant (quite?a treat for troops used to a diet of sorghum, chick peas and lentils),?spent the night in the daKorea apartments were they enjoyed hot?showers, clean sheets and comfortable beds for a change. The next day?they and their tanks returned to their base with a well deserved?thanks from the countries leaders.
The moral of the story is that the reality on the ground here in?Eritrea is that the military is composed of citizen soldiers, not the??professional? ie mercenary armies found in most of the rest of?Africa. Our youth are all required to participate in the National?Service program and are paid a very small salary for their services.?In other words, they see their national service, no matter the?difficult conditions or seemingly endless term of service as their?patriotic duty.
Being that the Ethiopian army launched division scale attacks (a?division is made up of some 5,000 soldiers) at least three times in?2012 alone their families here in Eritrea really need them to keep us?safe from invasion by the notoriously brutal Ethiopian military camped?out 500,000 strong on our borders.
The whole description of this ?incident, what I have described as ?a?tempest in a teapot?, as an attempted ?coup? by some of the truth?challenged western media is made moot when anyone familiar with the?streets of Asmara will tell you that to get to the hill top Ministry?of Information one first has to drive past the Office of the?President.
To most Eritreans, 90% or more, and especially so amongst the youth?doing their national service, Eritrean President Issias Aferworki is?Eritrea?s George Washington, as in ?first in war, first in peace and?first in the hearts of his countrymen?.
You don’t have to take my word for this, all you have to do is visit?Eritrea during the carnival week leading up to Independence Day?celebrations in May (like award winning producer Afshin Rattansi and?his film crew did in 2012) and see for yourself the 100,000 and more?young people partying in the streets, almost all of who are doing?their national service duty. Not a firearm in sight, not a fight to be?seen, and the President himself walking down the middle of the street?at the height of the party surrounded by tens of thousands of his?country?s youth.
I don’t think any Eritrean familiar with the reality here, especially?amongst the youth, would ever imagine a coup being possible. Even if a?group of officers were to try such they would quickly find that the?citizen soldiers in the Eritrean military would quickly ?mutiny? as?was the case in the ?tempest in a teapot? on Jan. 21, the coup that?never happened.
Thomas C. Mountain is the most widely distributed independent?journalist in Africa, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. He?can be reached at thomascmountain_at_yahoo_dot_