Isaias Afwerki

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Isaias Afwerki
Isaias Afwerki in 2002.jpg
President of Eritrea
Assumed office
27 April 1991
Preceded by Position established
President of the National Assembly
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Preceded by Tedla Bairu
Leader of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice
Assumed office
15 June 1994
Preceded by Position established
Leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
In office
4 October 1978 – 15 June 1994
Preceded by Romodan Mohammed Nur
Succeeded by Sebhat Ephrem
Personal details
Born (1946-02-02) 2 February 1946 (age 68)
Asmara, Eritrea
Political party People's Front for Democracy and Justice
Spouse(s) Saba Haile[1]
Alma mater Addis Ababa University
Religion Eritrean Orthodox[1]

Isaias Afwerki (some have erroneously spelled the last name as Afewerki; Tigrinya: ኢሳያስ ኣፍወርቂ?) (born February 2, 1946), is the first President of the State of Eritrea, a position he has held since its independence in 1993. He led the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) to victory in May 1991, thus ending the 30-year-old armed liberation struggle that the Eritrean people refer to as "Gedli". The EPLF adopted a new political party name, People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) to reflect its new responsibilities. The PFDJ, with Afwerki as its leader, still rules Eritrea.

Personal life and education[edit]

Isaias Afwerki was born in 1946 in Asmara to Eritrean parents Afwerki Abraha and Adanesh Berhe. Afwerki grew up in Asmara, graduating from Prince Makonnen High School in good standing in 1965. His good grades allowed him to obtain admittance to the highly competitive Haile Selassie I University (now called Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, he interrupted and decided to join the Eritrean liberation struggle a year later.

Afwerki is married to Saba Haile and has two sons and one daughter.

Eritrean War of Independence[edit]

The 30-year Eritrean War of Independence was an armed liberation struggle that lasted from 1961 to 1991 and is referred to by the Eritrean people as "Gedli".[2] Afwerki became a part of the struggle in 1966, when he abandoned his engineering studies in Addis Ababa and left for Kassala, Sudan, joining the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in exile. In early 1967, Afwerki, along with Ramadan Mohammed Nour, was sent China for military training. There they spent almost two years studying political ideologies and guerrilla warfare.[3] Upon Afwerki's return, he was appointed political commissar of the ELF.

In 1969, ideological and tactical disagreements within the ELF led to three factions splitting from the ELF. One faction took refuge in the mountains of Sahel. Another group under Abraham Tewelde's command (which Afwerki joined them after some months) , numbering less than a dozen, left for Eritrea's eastern escarpment. The third group headed off to Aden and returned by boat to Eritrea, landing south of Assab. These three groups would eventually join to become one and went by the name of the Eritrean Liberation Front-People's Liberation Front (ELF-PLF). When they formally merged in 1973, they changed their name to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF).

Eritrean People's Liberation Front[edit]

The EPLF was one of many armed groups struggling against the Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Hailemariam. Afwerki was elected leader of the EPLF in 1975. After becoming one of the leaders of the EPLF in 1973, Afwerki wrote a manifesto called Our Struggle and its Goals. This manifesto placed strong emphasis on overcoming ethnic and religious differences and on launching a revolutionary struggle during the independence war. In 1975, Afwerki became chairman of the EPLF military committee. In 1977, under EPLF's first congress, he was elected vice secretary-general of the EPLF. By this time there was a political struggle within the fight for independence between the predominately Christian EPLF and the mainly Muslim ELF. One civil war had already been fought between the two fronts between 1972 and 1974. Fighting began in February 1972 and spread through the lowlands, particularly the Red Sea coast. Eventually, this conflict spread further into the highlands until in 1974, calls for the conflict to stop were finally heeded. These calls for peace came from local villagers at a time when the independence movement was close to victory over Ethiopia.

By 1979, another civil war had begun. The EPLF under Afwerki executed an offensive against the ELF in a bid to protect the EPLF's flanks under tremendous pressure from a resurgent Ethiopia. In 1980, the ELF had entered into secret negotiations with the Soviet Union to end the war. Furthermore, on defence of the Sahel stronghold of the EPLF, ELF units withdrew from the lines in August of the same year. This created tremendous friction between the fronts, which eventually led to the resumption of conflict. By this point the ELF had been drained during the Ethiopian resurgence after Soviet assistance was leveraged, and were eventually defeated by a joint force of the EPLF and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), led by current Ethiopian president, Meles Zenawi, in 1981. The ELF were pushed across the border into the Sudan.[4]

The alliance between the EPLF and the TPLF eventually brought the forces of both movements into Addis Ababa and Asmara, toppling the Derg regime in 1991 and achieving de facto Eritrean independence.

After independence[edit]

In April 1993, a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence was held, and the following month Eritrea achieved de jure independence. Afwerki was declared the first head of state, a position he has held ever since the end of the war for independence.

During the first few years of Afwerki's administration, the institutions of governance were structured and put in place. This included a top-to-bottom restructuring of the structures of governance by provision of an elected local judicial system, as well as an expansion of the educational system into as many regions as possible.[citation needed] The EPLF renamed itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) on February 1994 as part of its transition to a political party[citation needed].

During the war for independence, Afwerki was friends with Meles Zenawi, head of the TPLF and subsequent Prime Minister of Ethopia. However, his once-firm friendship with the new Ethiopian government quickly deteriorated just seven years after independence into a fierce border and economic dispute that turned into a long and bloody border war with Ethiopia, lasting from 1998 to 2000. Armed conflict with Ethiopia claimed more than 70,000 lives from both sides and ended with the signing of the Algiers Agreement on December 12, 2000. Because of this, the drafted Eritrean Constitution and its implementation were put on hold; it is yet to be implemented.


  1. ^ a b "Isaias Afwerki's Biography". News. 12 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "Perspective". VKP/KAM. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  3. ^ Dan Connell (1993). Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution : with a New Foreword on the Postwar Transition. The Red Sea Press. ISBN 978-1-56902-046-3. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Tekeste Negash (1 September 1997). Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal Experience. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56000-992-4. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica – Eritrea

External links[edit]

Political offices
New office President of Eritrea