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I hesitate to blog again on Eritrea, given some of the vitriol that greeted a post last year. For some, Reuters was an apologist and mouthpiece for Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, simply for interviewing him in May 2008. For others, we were doing the CIA’s work by taking some awkward lines of questioning to Asmara.
The passion on both sides reminded me of the torrent of deeply felt responses I used to receive when reporting on Fidel Castro from Cuba between 1998 and 2002.
Yet here I am again in Asmara, in May 2009, fresh from another lengthy interview with Eritrea’s ever-controversial leader. Whereas last year, he was quite formal with me, this time he was much more relaxed as we sat down for several hours in the colonial-era presidential palace, even poking fun before the interview at my old-fashioned tape-recorder.
We politely discussed hiking before getting down to business.
I questioned the president closely on plenty of issues, including Eritrea’s economic prospects and his views on various hot issues around the region. I was also able to discuss some of President Isaias’ life philosophy and thoughts on the past and future. Before I mentioned them, he anticipated inevitable questions on human rights and his own political longevity, saying he was used to visiting journalists raising such questions due to ‘misinformation’ from outside.