At around 10am on 21 January a contingent of Eritrean troops stormed the state television station. They rounded up the staff – all employees of the Ministry of Information – and forced the director of Eritrea TV, Asmellash Abraha Woldu, to read a statement calling for:
the freeing of all prisoners of conscience
the implementation of the Eritrean constitution
and stating that the ministry of information was under their control.
Almost immediately the television broadcast was interrupted, and remained off the air for several hours, before resuming its broadcasts with pre-recorded material. This is about all that is clear.
The small country in the horn of Africa remains isolated and is often described as repressed.
With thousands of political prisoners, a constitution that remains in limbo, and a president who has failed to keep promises of reform, analysts say more challenges are inevitable.
The BBC has more reporting, while Think Africa Press takes a look at Eritrea’s present and its possible future. Jay Ufelder, meanwhile, reminds us that there’s more to events like these than the equation “poverty+repression=coups.”
South Sudan has denied to the BBC that the dismissal of more than 30 top army officers has anything to do with a rumour about a coup attempt.
The country’s information minister said the changes were been made to bring younger people into top positions.
On Monday, all six deputy chiefs of staff were removed and 29 major generals were dismissed.
It is the biggest shake-up of the military since South Sudan became independent in July 2011.
More here and here is the official document from the Government of South Sudan, via their website.
What do you make of these events?
Coup attempt or not, the words “shake-up”, “military” and “South Sudan” in the same sentence are not reassuring to say the least.
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I started to write a comment, but it turned into a dissertation, so I ended up just writing a blog post on it so as not to be rude!
The short answer to what I make of the officer reshuffling in South Sudan is that to the best of my knowledge, it’s been in the works for several months. When I was in Juba in August, I was told that this happens every two years (perhaps due to limits on command assignments?) and the last round occurred in October 2010. People I spoke with anticipated that this round of promotions and retirements might be postponed due to the oil and security negotiations with Sudan, which could be why this process is occurring 3 months late. It’s hard to say whether this has anything to do with coup plot allegations because I don’t know the officers affected, what their background are, or how they perceive these changes. What I now know, having been in South Sudan a few weeks after the last alleged coup plot, is that many people there don’t believe there was ever a coup plot in early August. That said, by the time I got there, there was a concrete roadblock near the president’s residence that would only allow one car to get through the intersection at a time. I was told that it mysteriously appeared right after coup plot rumors started flying. What I’ve said about this all along is “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” so going back to the reshuffling, who was retired or reassigned could easily have to do with an actual or perceived threat by Kiir of some SPLA officers.
In 1969, the Civilian and democratically-elected somali government planned major reshuffle of the army brass. Few months late, the president was shot dead and the government overthrown, thus starting the road to hell for Somalia since then.
In the case of South Sudan, who was the genius who saw the need of over 200, 000 soldiers?
And coming back to Somalia, why even consider lifting the arms embargo prematurely? Last thing we need is heavily-militarized coersive forces.
And for Eritrea: unless afawerke dies on his bed, he will eventually be overthrown violently.
There’s also some possibility that there was just a planned replacement in the South Sudanese military but when rumors started flying around for whatever reason the government panicked.
Personally I still find it odd that so many would be replaced at the same time.