10 June 2019
Open Letter to the Eritrean Head of State
Your Excellency, President Isaias Afewerki:
We write to convey our most sincere congratulations upon your country’s normalization of diplomatic relations with Ethiopia. This is a development much appreciated by all Africans of goodwill.
We write to you in our capacity as citizens of Africa to pledge our unequivocal solidarity with all the people of Eritrea. This includes the many Eritreans we see enduring all manner of risk and suffering in search of a better life outside their homeland. We acknowledge that we too hail from nations with varying governance and developmental challenges. We write to you, in the spirit of Pan-African solidarity, to seek common solutions to our shared problems.
Africa’s many disparate nation states have undergone significant and diverse changes over the course of the last two decades. [Today, many more Africans live in freedom than under repression]. Importantly, those African countries that have made the most progress – including attracting investment and tourism – over the last 25 years have been those whose citizens enjoy greater freedom of expression, press and movement, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and political pluralism.
Sadly, in these critical areas, Eritrea has not kept pace with the changes seen elsewhere. Over the past two decades Eritrea has been described as the most closed society on our continent, an unfortunate situation for a country with such rich human capital and potential, with so much to offer not only Africa but also the world.
We trust that by opening this channel of communication with Your Excellency, we may be afforded the opportunity to work with you to restore your country and the great people of Eritrea to their rightful place in the family of African nations.
Of particular concern to us is the fate of several journalists and activists who have been imprisoned for prolonged periods of time in Eritrea, many of whom have reportedly been denied regular visits from their families and loved ones.
Equally, we are disheartened by the plight of the many thousands of Africans, including some Eritreans, who feel compelled to flee their home countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families, risking life and limb and enduring inhumane deprivations and indignities across deserts and oceans.
Too many of these fellow Africans have found themselves in the rapacious hands of modern day slave traders and people traffickers even causing some to end up in slave markets in places such as Libya. Too many of these migrants and refugees have perished at sea in their quest for a better life.
We Africans are blessed with too much in our home countries to have our citizens suffer and be devalued this way. This gloomy picture needs to change, and it is in this spirit that we address this message of solidarity to you, Your Excellency.
We respectfully call upon Your Excellency to allow a delegation of the signatories hereunder to visit Eritrea, and to afford us the opportunity to meet with you and your government as well as with ordinary citizens, including journalists, writers, and other persons currently in prison.
As with the bold step you have taken to normalize relations with Ethiopia, we believe a gesture of this kind would go a long way towards ending Eritrea’s isolation from the larger African family and could help usher in a new era of prosperity and freedom for your people.
It would be an honour to furnish you with any additional information you might require of us and we eagerly await your response.
Prof. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, Nobel Laureate
2. Rafael Marques de Morais, Angola, leading anti-corruption campaigner and award winning investigative journalist
3. John Githongo, Kenya, publisher, leading anti-corruption campaigner and award winning anti-corruption activist
4. Kwasi H. Prempeh, Ghana, Executive Director of Center for Democratic Development
5. Farida Nabourema, Togo, Executive Director of Togolese Civil League
6. Leyla Hussein, Somalia, Women’s Rights & Health Campaigner, psychotherapist, writer and founder of the Dahlia Project
7. Maina Kiai, Kenya, founder of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association
8. Maaza Mengiste, Ethiopia, award-winning writer of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze
9. Iva Cabral, Cape Verde, Chancellor of Lusófona [Lusophone] University and daughter of Amílcar Cabral
10. Belabbès Benkredda, Algeria, CEO and Founder of the Munathara Initiative, the Arab world’s largest online and television debate forum highlighting voices of youth, women and marginalized communities.
11. Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Uganda, a leading LGBT rights activist, founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organization Freedom & Roam Uganda, 2011 recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders
12. Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, Uganda, musician, member of parliament and youth leader recognized throughout East Africa
13. Tundu Lissu, Tanzania, lawyer, CHADEMA politician, member of parliament and former president of the Tanganyika Law Society
14. Amr Waked, Egypt, award winning actor, best known for his role in Syriana
15. José Eduardo Agualusa, Angola, award winning writer, finalist in the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for his seminal work A General Theory of Oblivion
16. Nasser Weddady, Mauritania, leading civil rights activist, consultant and co-editor of Arab Spring Dreams.
17. Chiké Frankie Edozien, Nigeria, writer and professor of journalism at New York University
18. Emmanuel Iduma, Nigeria, author
19. Mona Eltahawy, Egypt, author and journalist
20. Mireille Tushiminina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gender & Equality advocate
21. Felix Agbor Nkhongo, Cameroon, Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) and leading human rights defender
22. Boniface Mwangi, Kenya, democracy activist, Ukweli political party founder, photographer and artist
23. Adeyanju Deji, Nigeria, leading democracy activist and human rights defender
24. Alieu Bah, The Gambia, leading democracy activist and human rights defender
25. Tutu Alicante, Equatorial Guinea, leading democracy activist and Executive Director of Equatorial Guinea Justice (EG Justice)
26. Andrea Ngombet Malewa, Congo Republic, Global Coordinator of the Sassoufit Collective
27. Roukaya Kasenally, Mauritius, CEO of African Media Initiative
28. Abdelrahman Mansour, Egypt, Executive Director of Open Transformation Lab, leading human rights defender and journalist
29. Reem Abbas, Sudan, journalist and leading human rights defender
30. Moussa Kondo, Mali, journalist, CEO and founder of the weekly L’Express de Bamako, anti-corruption crusader, Country Director of Accountability Lab Mali, 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, 2018 Obama Foundation Fellow.
31. Ericino de Salema, Mozambique, Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), academic, lawyer and journalist
32. Jestina Mukoko, Zimbabwe, leading human rights activist and Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Initiative
33. William Amanzuru, Uganda, environmental rights defender, founder of Friends of Zoka, winner of the EU Human Rights Defenders’ Award 2019
34. Miguel de Barros, Guinea-Bissau, sociologist and Executive Director of the environmental NGO Tiniguena
35. Bheki Makhubu, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland), Editor of the Nation Magazine and leading democracy defender
36. Edson da Luz aka Azagaia, Mozambique, rapper and leading activist
37. Charles Onyango-Obbo, Uganda, leading publisher and columnist
38. Rodney Sieh, Liberia, leading newspaper editor of FrontPage Africa and democracy activist
39. Oludotun Babayemi, Nigeria, democracy activist and monitoring and evaluation expert,
40. Akin Olaniyan, Nigeria
41. Chanda Chisala, Zambia, founder and president of Zambia Online
42. Dany Ayida, Togo, Resident, Country Director, National Democratic Institute (DRC)
43. George Sarpong, Ghana
44. Rosemary Mwakitwange, Tanzania, Chief of Party, Freedom House
45. James Smart, Kenya, leading journalist and news anchor
46. Abdulrazaq Alkali, Nigeria, Executive Director Organisation for Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN) Nigeria
47. Mathatha Tsedu, South Africa, Adjunct professor of journalism, Wits University and Acting Executive Director of the National Editors Forum (SANEF)
48. Brenda Zulu, Zambia, journalist and ICT specialist
49. Emanuel Saffa Abdulai, Sierra Leone, Executive Director of Society for Democracy Initiatives
50. Zecharias Berhe, Ethiopia, Senior Fellow, African Good Governance Network
51. Sylvia Amiani, Kenya, counseling and psychosocial practitioner focused on refugees in Germany
52. Lamii Kpargoi, Liberia, journalist, democracy activist and lawyer
53. Dr. George Ayittey, Ghana, economist, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation, Washington DC
54. Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwe, pastor and democracy activist, founder of #ThisFlag movement
55. Zineb El Rhazoui, Morocco, journalist and human rights advocate
56. Marc Ona Essangui, Gabon, environmentalist, Executive Secretary of Brainforest
57. Fred Bauma, Democratic Republic of Congo, democracy and youth activist, leader of the Lucha Social Movement
58. Dr. Justin Pearce, South Africa, Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University
59. Asma Khalifa, Libya, activist, cofounder of Tamazight Women Movement
60. Violet Gonda, Zimbabwe, journalist and President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)
61. Fatoumata Camara, The Gambia, journalist, CEO/Founder of the Fatu Network
62. Jelili Atiku, Nigeria, human rights artist
63. Fred Muvunyi, Rwanda, editor at Deutsche Welle, Op-Ed contributor for Washington Post and a consultant for Freedom House
64. Aimable Manikrakiza, Burundi, CEO of the Centre for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes
65. Houssem Aoudi, Tunisia, CEO/Founder of Wasabi and Cogite – co-working Space, entrepeneur and activist
66. Chouchou Namegabe, Democratic Republic of Congo, journalist and human rights activist, CEO & Founder Anzafrika
67. Thulani Maseko, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland), leading human rights lawyer
68. Samba Dialimpa Badji, Senegal, journalist
69. Mariama Camara, Guinea, fashion designer and humanitarian, Founder/President of Mariama Fashion Production and the There is No Limit Foundation
70. Olívio Diogo, São Tomé, sociologist and media commentator, coordinator of the Civil Society Network
71. Adeola Fayehun, Nigeria, journalist/producer, Keeping it Real with Adeola
72. Mohamed Soltan, Egypt, Executive Director, the Freedom Initiative
73. Memory Banda, Malawi, children’s rights activist
74. Ali Amar, Morocco, veteran journalist, co-founder and director of online news outlet Le Desk
75. Ahmed Gatnash, Libya, co-founder & VP Operations, Kawaakibi Foundation
76. Mohamed Keita, Mali, Pan African rights advocate
77. Norman Tjombe, Namibia, human rights lawyer and activist
78. Uyapo Ndadi, Botswana, human rights lawyer, activist, and founder of the Ndadi Law Firm
79. Phil ya Nangoloh, Namibia, human rights activist, monitor and Executive Director of NamRights Inc
80. Jacqueline Moudeina, Chad, prominent award-winning lawyer and human rights activist
81. Rosmon Zokoue, Central African Republic, journalist, blogger and activist
82. Ahmed Gatnash, Libya, co-founder & VP of Operations, Kawaakibi Foundation
83. Anas Aramayew Anas, Ghana, Africa’s leading investigative journalist and private investigator
84. Boubacar Dialo, Niger, Editor, Liberation newspaper
85. Abdourahman Waberi, Djibouti, acclaimed novelist, essayist, academic and short story writer, human rights activist, professor of literature at George Washington University
86. Doudou Dia, Senegal, Executive Director, Goree Institute, Center for Democracy, Development and Culture in Africa
87. Alain Mabanckou, Congo, novelist, journalist, poet and academic
88. Francis Kpatindé, Benin, journalist, former editor-in-chief of the newsweekly Jeune Afrique and former spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
89. Mustafa Haji Abdinur, Somalia, award-winning journalist
90. Thembo Kash, Democratic Republic of Congo, award-winning cartoonist
91. Damien Glez, Burkina Faso, award-winning editorial cartoonist
92. Ahmed Abdallah, Comoros, journalist
93. Anton Harber, South Africa, former journalist with the Rand Daily Mail until its closure by the apartheid government, co-founder and editor of the Weekly Mail (now The Mail & Guardian) and Professor of Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand
94. John-Allan Namu, Kenya, award-winning investigative journalist, co-founder of Africa Uncensored, 2017 Desmond Tutu Fellow
95. Alice Nkom, Cameroon, leading human rights lawyer, defender of rights of the LGBT community
96. Mouctar Bah, Guinea, veteran journalist
97. Andrew Feinstein, South Africa, former ANC MP, Executive Director of Corruption Watch UK, author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade
98. William Rasoanaivo, Madagascar, award-winning political cartoonist
99. Claudia Gastrow, South Africa, anthropologist, Univeristy of Johannesburg
100. Motlatsi Thabane, Lesotho, professor of History, University of e-Swatini
101. Cyriac Gbogou, Ivory Coast, blogger, co-founder of O’Village and key actor in the new technology sector in the country
102. Canon Clement Hilary Janda, South Sudan, Pan African Ecumenist
103. Ola Diab, Sudan, journalist and activist
This article has been updated 10 June 2019, 10.27 p.m.