Food or morals? This Brecht quote and dilemma underlies the discussion about the freedom of speech and other human rights: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Will the respect for human rights increase automatically as a result of a flourishing economy? Or, do human rights such as education, rule of law, and a fair allocation of resources need to be in place first—and then the economic boom will follow suit? This may seem to be an academic question reserved for university seminars, but it isn’t. It is about which policy that paves the way for democratic rule.
The question is somewhat skewed, with regard to some parts of the world that are in and out of the media spotlight: the countries on the horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In 1993, after the war, when a referendum held by the UN showed that a majority of the people in Eritrea wanted independence, there were high hopes of a development towards democracy in the country. This inspired the writer Dawit Isaak, at that time living in Sweden, to return to his native country to take part in the establishment of a free press. This endeavour came to a tragic end in 2001 when the politicians clamped down on those who had demanded democratic reform and on the journalists who had reported about it. Those who are not yet deceased are still imprisoned—among them Dawit Isaak. Eritrea has, since then, become one of the world’s most isolated countries with a mass-emigration of educated citizens and an economy on the downfall. Reporters Without Borders rank the country as having the worst oppression of the press in the whole world—it has position 180 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders index.