SaharaReporters has found that reports that the Eritrean government issued a decree requiring all men to marry two women, or face imprisonment, are false. This story was published by several African media organizations, including SaharaReporters, following two days of intense interest on news websites and social media.
According to conversations SaharaReporters had with experts and Eritrean government representatives on Wednesday, the report is now understood to be a rumor originating on social media that later became extremely popular. The rumor later found its way to news websites in Nigeria and across Africa.
On Wednesday morning, a SaharaReporters correspondent spoke with a Eritrean government representative attached to the Eritrean Mission at the United Nations in New York. The source flatly denied the rumor, and expressed frustration that hoax had gained the traction it had.
Also speaking to a SaharaReporters correspondent on Wednesday morning, Eritrean expert Awet Weldemichael, an Assistant Professor at Queen’s University in Canada, stated that he believed the reports were fictitious and “started as a joke” online.
Mr. Weldemichael added that “I have not seen, read, or heard anything credible which would confirm the story.”
“I think it [such a decree] is in the realm of the improbable or impossible,” Mr. Weldemichael said.
According to the false reports, the primary justification for the mandatory marriage was intended to fill the population gap in the country following the Eritrean war for independence in 1991 and the Eritrean-Ethiopian war between 1998 and 2000.
Mr. Weldemichael, however, dismissed the notion that the Eritrean government would solve this supposed “population gap” with a decree forcing all Eritreans to engage in polygamy. In fact, the academic argued, the population of Eritrea has actually increased substantially since the war.
Mr. Weldemichael also stated “if you read [the reports] closely they have no basis in Eritrean tradition, which is almost half-Muslim and half-Christian” and that Eritreans are cognizant of the diverse “belief systems which do not always allow multiple wives.”
The Eritrean government has not published an official statement addressing these rumors at the time of publication.