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Eritrea: can a despot become exponent of democracy and rule of law?

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, August 3, 2018

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and President Isaias Afwerki
What did President Isaias Afwerki contribute to the betterment of Ethiopian and Eritrean people to be crowned like a King?


The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to end bringing peace to the citizens of both countries who have been yearning for this moment for nearly two decades. With peace come economic development, stability, improved regional security and bilateral co-operation in tread and other equally pertinent sectors.

As a dividend of peace, Eritreans expect changes to the repressive and monolithic political scenery in their country as a matter of utmost urgency. The way things have been evolving since the détente; amicable resolution of the border dispute seems to be highly likely. Consequently, the Eritrean President, who has been in power since 1991, would have no reason to hamper democratic transitions which he completely ruled out citing the unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia.

Innately, Isaias is intolerant, brutal and would not survive in an open society. He loathes free expression of views and unrestricted political activities. And those who dared to challenge him have ended up in shipping containers scattered in remote and climatically harsh parts of the country with no end in sight. Some say there are around 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea at the present time but many observers including human rights organisations believe the figure to be much higher than this. Among these include the cream of the EPLF who played indispensable part in the 30 years long struggle for liberation.

In 2010, Isaias had an interview with a Swedish journalist, Donald Bostrom, and when asked about democracy in Eritrea, he retorted ’’ may happen in two or three generation’s time…..’’ Obviously, whilst the President is still in charge, the political milieu will certainly linger as suppressive as it has always been making the prospects of democratic advancement and release of political detainees nay impossible. It is time for Eritreans to engage in a peaceful revolution in order to remove the self-appointed leader, and to dismantle the oppressive structural tools he put in place to ensure his political endurance. To simply expect the President to readily institute political, social and economic changes in a country that he has been ruling with an iron fist since 1991 would be tantamount to permitting him to extend his brutal regime.

In any case, why would a dictator entertain genuine shifts to occur knowing full well that at the end of the day he would be prosecuted for all the atrocities he perpetrated on his own people? Is he not responsible for nearly three decades of reign of terror that caused hundreds and thousands of Eritreans to flee to Ethiopia, Sudan and Europe? In Tigrai alone, there are over 200,000 refugees and similar numbers have also been residing in Sudanese refugee camps for a number of years. In 2016, the UN called for the Eritrean President to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity including rape, torture, murder and enslavement of between 300,000 to 400,000 young people in Sawa concentration camp.

Another worrisome development for Eritreans is the speeches made by their President in the presence of PM Abiy in Asmara and Addis Ababa. In broad day light, Isaias appointed PM Abiy, a non-Eritrean, to be the leader of the Red Sea State. This is in addition to the edicts that no border exists between the two countries and the peoples on both sides of the divide are one and the same. Eritreans fought for 30 years to secede from Ethiopia leaving over 100,000 people dead and hundreds and thousands combatants with severe disabilities. The long and bloody struggle came to a conclusion in 1991, a new nation was born, and the country became independent in 1993.

The rallying cause for the armed struggle, which commenced on 1 September 1961, was that ‘’Eritrea was a colony of Ethiopia’ ; and having suffered for three decades to split from the ‘coloniser’, they have now been told by their leader that Eritreans and Ethiopians are one and the same with no  frontiers dividing the two nations. Since independence, there has been no competitive elections in Eritrea, this being the case, how on earth can Mr Isaias Afewerki, who does not have a mandate from his own citizens, endanger the sovereignty of the country that had been realised at significant costs?

Similarly, Isaias ordered the invasion of Badme in 1998 resulting in 150,000 fatalities on both sides but the recent truce with Ethiopia came about without his usual demand for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from the ‘occupied ‘areas which was in complete divergence from his stance of the last 18 years. After all the sacrifices, the illustrious barren land has now been relegated to the bottom of the President’s priority list, and this evidently indicates his autocratic disposition and complete absence of culpability to his own people.


Peace with Eritrea has to be long lasting, and this can only be achieved if all Eritreans irrespective of their political persuasions are fully engaged. Isaias does own Eritrea and the Ethiopian leader must not be overtaken by events and sign accords that could precipitate serious and calamitous conflicts in the future. A comprehensive pact acceptable to all is paramount and has to include compensation to 150,000 Tigrians who were deported from Eritrea in 1991 leaving their businesses and properties behind. Eritrean expellees have been allowed to return to Ethiopia to reclaim their properties and businesses, why not Ethiopians? Likewise, Ethiopian owned goods consignments that were in Assab and confiscated soon after the break out of the border conflict must now be returned to their right-full owners or paid proportionate reparations.

President Isaias is not trustworthy and copious amount of caution is indispensable when dealing with a duplicitous person who betrayed thousands of Tigrians that perished in Sahel to save his army from total extinction. TigraiFirst!!!!!


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