|President of Eritrea|
27 April 1991
|Preceded by||Position established|
|President of the National Assembly|
24 May 1993
|Preceded by||Tedla Bairu|
|Leader of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice|
15 June 1994
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front|
4 October 1978 – 15 June 1994
|Preceded by||Romodan Mohammed Nur|
|Succeeded by||Sebhat Ephrem|
2 February 1946 |
|Political party||People's Front for Democracy and Justice|
|Alma mater||Addis Ababa University|
Isaias Afwerki (Tigrinya: ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቅ; born February 2, 1946) is the first President of Eritrea, a position he has held since 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". Two years later, he became President following an independence referendum. He is the head of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice.
Afwerki was born in Asmara, Eritrea, and attended Haile Selassie University before dropping out join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). During this period, he spent time in China studying politics and military training. Afwerki would later part ways with the ELF and co-found the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, one of three groups that split off to participate in the civil war before the conflict stalled in 1974. Afwerki became the chairman of the EPLF military committee in 1975 and the vice secretary-general in 1977. When another Eritrean civil war began in 1979, Afwerki and the EPLF opposed the ELF alongside the Tigray People's Liberation Front, eventually toppling the Derg regime in 1991 and gaining official Eritrean independence by referendum two years later.
The EPLF was one of many armed groups struggling against the Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Isaias was elected Leader of the EPLF in 1975. He has been the chairperson of both the EPLF and the PFDJ since the PFDJ assumed power at the end of the Eritrean War for Independence in 1991. He has been President of Eritrea ever since the country was liberated from Ethiopia in 1991 and then elected by the National Assembly after achieving de jure independence in 1993.
Background and education 
Isaias was born in Asmara, Eritrea. His father was from the village of Tselot, Eritrea and his mother Adanesh Berhe from Senafe, Eritrea. When Isaias was a boy, his father was largely absent. Isaias lived with his mother in a working-class neighborhood in eastern Asmara near the train depot and the Lutheran church. He graduated in 1965 from the elite Prince Makonnen High School in Asmara.
Between 1965 and 1966 he attended Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa (now known as Addis Ababa University) to study engineering. During this time, he left Addis Ababa to join the Eritrean Liberation Front.
Struggle for Independence ("Gedli") 
In late 1966, he abandoned his engineering studies in Addis Ababa and left for Kassala, Sudan, where he joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in exile. In early 1967, Isaias, along with another Eritrean patriot, Romadan, was sent to China for military training. They spent that year and most of the next year in China studying political ideologies and guerilla warfare. Upon his return, he was appointed a political commissar.
In 1970, ideological and tactical disagreements within the ELF led to three factions leaving the ELF into three separate groups. One faction took refuge in the mountains of Sahel. Another group under Isaias' command, numbering less than a dozen, left for Eritrea's eastern escarpment. While the third group headed off to Aden and returned by sea 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 Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF).
Eritrean People's Liberation Front 
Isaias wrote a manifesto called "Our Struggle and its Goals" in 1971. This manifesto placed strong emphasis on overcoming ethnic and religious differences and on launching revolutionary struggle during the independence war. In 1975, Isaias became chairman of the EPLF military committee. In 1977, under EPLF's first congress, he was elected to be vice secretary-general of the EPLF. 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 began. The EPLF under Isaias Afwerki executed an offensive against the ELF in a bid to protect the flanks of the Front 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 Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) led by former Ethiopian president, Meles Zenawi in 1981. The ELF were pushed across the border into the Sudan. That mutually beneficial alliance eventually brought the forces of both movements into Addis Ababa and Asmara toppling the Derg regime in 1991 and achieving Eritrean independence by referendum two years later.
After independence 
Eritrean independence was achieved de facto in 1991. In April 1993, a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence was held, and the following month Eritrea achieved de jure independence. Isaias Afwerki was declared the first head of state. During the first years of his administration in this new state government, the institutions of governance were structured and put in place. The EPLF renamed itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) on February 1994 as part of its preparation to usher itself as a political party in a democratic Eritrea.
However, his once-firm friendship with the new Ethiopian government and Meles Zenawi 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, 1998–2000. 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.
Domestic policy 
Isaias Afwerki's People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is the current ruling political movement in Eritrea. It is the successor to the formerly Marxist-Leninist and African socialist Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). Currently it is the only legal political entity existing in Eritrea. Presidential elections, planned for 1997, never materialised. Isaias Afewerki has therefore been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on its critics and has closed the private press. The Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, has ranked Eritrea as a country with the least freedom of press for five consecutive years since 2007 followed by North Korea.
Single-party state 
Before independence was achieved, the EPLF had already underlined its commitment to create a multi-party system in Eritrea. Isaias Afwerki is quoted as saying: "a one-party system wills neither enhances national security or stability nor accelerates economic development. In fact a one party system could be a major threat to the very existence of our country. For these reasons we will have to avoid these malaises in tomorrow's Eritrea". Shortly after the referendum, the PFDJ became an interim government for four years, until a constitution could be drafted, and elections held in 1997. This interim arrangement was accepted by the public. A year after the formation of the interim government in April 1994, a Constitutional Commission was formed to draft the Eritrean constitution. It was ratified on May 23, 1997 but to this day has not been implemented. The general election, which should have been held in the summer of 1998, was postponed because of the outbreak of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in May 1998.
Following the Algiers Agreement in July 2000, the Constitutional Commission, senior government officials and the public raised the issue of the implementation of the constitution and election. Thereafter the National Assembly promised to hold elections before the end of 2001. Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo, the Vice President of Eritrea and Minister of Local Government, was appointed Chair of the Committee to Draft Electoral Law. The elections never occurred. Instead public attention was diverted from focusing on any election by the arrest of 12 senior reformist members of the Central Council (legislative body of PFDJ) and the National Council. The Central Office of the PFDJ believes that they share "...a common guilt: at the minimum, abdication of responsibility during Eritrea's difficult hours, at the maximum, grave conspiracy."
Since the crackdown on the reformist movement, the PFDJ ruling party has been accused of suppressing critics of the ruling elite and depriving them of fundamental rights. Eritrea remains a single-party state, with virtually no opposition.
National Development 
Isaias Afwerki and the PFDJ government is involved in a program of investments in economic, education, health, and transportation related infrastructure. The Government’s development policy is to improve the economy of the country that is widely distributed and shared among the various groups of Eritrea. The Government has attempted to expand the well-being of the people by narrowing down gender, region, and income related gaps. The Government, with its limited resource, has so far successfully built various social and physical infrastructure throughout the country. These include Massawa International Airport, Orotta Medical School, the Asmara-Filfil-Massawa Highway, the Eritrean Institute of Science and Technology at Mai Nefhi, Sawa Defence Training Centre, and many other projects.
The National Development program was first known as the Wefri Warsay Yika'alo (WWY) or Warsay Yika'alo Program. It is an ambitious project of post-war recovery after the 30 year long Eritrean War for Independence. It is similar to other economic recovery programs, and is often compared to the Marshall Plan. These investments are typically made by a mixture of grants and loans from international organizations and from the Government of Eritrea.
Administrative division reform 
At the time of Independence in 1993 Eritrea was arranged into 8 provinces: Akele Guzay, Barka, Denkalia, Hamasien, Sahel, Semhar, Senhit and Seraye. These provinces were similar to the eight provinces operating during the colonial period (Barka and Gash-Setit were one larger Barka province; Asmara was part of Hamasien province). In 1996, these were consolidated into six regions (zobas): Maekel Region, Debub Region, Gash-Barka Region, Anseba Region, Northern Red Sea Region and Southern Red Sea Region. The boundaries of these new regions are based on catchment basins. Critics of this policy contend that the Government of Eritrea was erasing the historical fabric of Eritrea while proponents believe that these new Regional boundaries would ease historical land disputes. Furthermore proponents of this policy argue that basing boundaries on an important natural resource would ease the planning of its use.
The region system introduced by Isaias Afewerki has allowed a broader geographic distribution of the national infrastructure. Many accomplishments have taken place across the six administrative regions. Areas which were virtually neglected by previous governments like the modern-day Anseba and Gash Barka regions. The Anseba region has seen major increases of up to 672% for the number of educational institutions ranging from kindergarten to secondary level. In these regions the number of health institutions has also increased by 414%. The Gash Barka region has seen the construction of over 150 water reservoirs and catchments and more than 118 ponds. Other remote areas originally deprived of such opportunity have had schools and health clinics built in their respective vicinities.
In Eritrea 48% of religious adherents follow the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, 47% are adherents of Sunni Islam, 5% are adherents of Roman Catholicism, 1% are Protestants and 1% are adherents of other Christian denominations or other religions. Since May 2002, the government has only authorised four religions to exist in Eritrea: Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Sunni Islam. All other churches are banned with at least 12 groups awaiting official registration. Although some groups reportedly complied with all registration requirements, the Department of Religious Affairs refused to give a date for official recognition. This includes several Protestant and Pentecostal evangelical denominations, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Baha’i. The Jehovah Witnesses were not offered the opportunity to register. In October 1994, President Issayas Afwerki issued a directive, which effectively denied all members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses their basic civil, political, economic and social rights. In March 1995, the Minister of Internal Affairs confirmed and reiterated the ban: "The Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their right to citizenship because they refused to accept the Government of Eritrea and the laws." He accused them of not fighting in the liberation struggle, refusing to vote in the independence referendum and refusing to do national service.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented serious violations of the right to freedom of religion. They report disruption of private worship, mass arrests of participants at religious weddings, prayer meetings, and other gatherings. In 2004 the U.S. Secretary of State designated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Eritrea currently ranks among the top Christian persecuting countries. Different sources estimate more than 2,000 members of unregistered minority religions, including Pentecostal and evangelical denominations are indefinitely held in incommunicado detention without charge or trial. The Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, was arrested early 2006 and remains in secret detention, reportedly for criticizing government intervention in church affairs and the detention of three Orthodox priests. However, the government denies all accusations of religious persecution and continues to support its statement issued in May 2003 that "no groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion."
Isaias Afewerki's government strongly asserts their sentiment that foreign assistance breeds a culture of dependency that shackles African countries into a cycle of poverty. His government vows not to lead another "spoon-fed" African country and promotes the policy of self-reliance. Relying on its meager budget and the conscription of about 800,000 of the country's citizens, the government claims the policy has shown promising results. Measured on a variety of U.N. health indicators, including life expectancy, immunizations and malaria prevention, Eritrea scores as high, and often higher, than its neighbors, including Ethiopia and Kenya.
The self-reliance policy seem to have gained special momentum since 2005. In 2005, the government stopped requesting any financial assistance from the United States. In 2006, the Eritrean government adopted a new NGO registration process which shut down the majority of third party NGOs operating in the country. In 2007 alone, Eritrea walked away from more than $200 million in aid, including food from the United Nations, development loans from the World Bank and grants from international charities to build roads and deliver healthcare. According to the U.S. Department of State, Office of Foreign Assistance, Eritrea is the only African nation that has not requested US aid for the fiscal year of 2011.
The government's self-reliance attitudes are criticized by some humanitarian agencies for restricting humanitarian assistance and for leading the country further into self isolation from the international community.
G-15 is a name given to a group in Eritrea that opposes the policy of President Isaias Afewerki postponing elections and their failure in implementing the constitution. The membership of this group consists of former members of the President's ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) which has ruled the country since its independence in 1993. In May 2001 the group issued an open letter raising criticism against Isayas Afeworki's actions calling them "illegal and unconstitutional." Of the 15 members of the group, 11 are imprisoned, three are now living in the United States and the last, Muhammad Berhan Belata, had left the group and rejoined the government. The 11 members who are imprisoned are thought to be charged with treason. The Central Office of the PFDJ believes that they share, "...a common guilt: at the minimum, abdication of responsibility during Eritrea's difficult hours, at the maximum, grave conspiracy." Amnesty International named the imprisoned 11 prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate release.
Foreign policies 
||It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article titled Eritrea–Ethiopia relations. (Discuss) Proposed since March 2013.|
The EPLF led by Isaias Afewerki and the TPLF led by Meles Zenawi were close allies during the Eritrean War for Independence and the Ethiopian Civil War. The TPLF had been from its modest beginnings in the early 1970s, had been a protégé and close ally of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1988 a secret agreement between the two had decided that, once the Derg regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam had been overthrown, the TPLF would assume power in Addis Ababa and accept a referendum on independence in Eritrea. The EPLF therefore marched and fought their way with the TPLF to Addis Ababa to overthrow the Derg. At the same time, the TPLF assisted the EPLF against the large Derg army stationed in Eritrean territory. In 1991 the Derg were defeated and the TPLF now called the EPRDF was running Ethiopia. The agreement was renewed after the broadening of the TPLF into the multi-ethnic EPRDF coalition in 1989 and in 1991 it was perfectly adhered to. The referendum was held in Eritrea in 1993 and the new Ethiopian regime immediately recognized the independence of its former province.
Good commercial, diplomatic and personal relations were maintained between the two parties after independence. In July 1993, a cooperation agreement was signed between Isaias Afewerki and Meles Zenawi. The two countries agreed to utilize their resources jointly, cooperate in the energy, education, transport, defense and security sectors, and allow the free movement of people. Ethiopia became Eritrea's main trading partner. Isaias Afewerki allowed Ethiopia to use the port of Assab almost to the same extent that Eritrea used it. Ethiopian forces of the Tigray Region were believed to have operated in collaboration with Eritrean forces to invade the Afar region on the border between the two states. The objective of the operation was reportedly to push the Afar people and Ugugumo militia towards the desert area beyond the demarcation line defining the regions. Joint armed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia against the ARDUF rebels continued into 1996. ARDUF claimed that armed clashes had taken place between Ethiopian security forces, the Eritrean Militia against Afar militias and civilians in the border zone. The Eritrean and Tigrean forces invaded the Afar regions of both countries in 1996.
Isaias Afewerki and Meles Zenawi's government on political and military coordination on regional issues was close and actually amounted to an alliance. When the Sudanese government based in Khartoum began to use the ethnic and religious problems in both Eritrea and Ethiopia to subvert the new governments, they both reacted in coordinated fashion to counter this threat. They gave political support to the Sudanese National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella organization of Sudanese opposition movements, and military help to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting in the South. Further afield both Addis Ababa and Asmara supported Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s uprising in the Congo in September 1996.
Incidents started to occur between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 6 May 1998 in the Badme border area in Eritrea's Gash-Barka Region and Ethiopia's Tigray Region. A bilateral Ethio-Eritrean commission had been set up in November 1997 after tensions rose between the two nations. They met regularly either in Asmara or in Addis Ababa. Therefore the incidents were not taken particularly seriously at first. But while bilateral contacts were resumed, Eritrea massed large amounts of troops, with their accompanying weaponry, and invaded the Badme area on 12 May. The first outside mediation effort started on 17 May when Rwanda’s Vice-President Paul Kagame came to Addis Ababa, soon followed by US Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice. Their mediation efforts were not welcomed by either side, but there was a lull in the fighting. The war quickly resumed and tens of thousands of people were killed in a two year border war known as the Eritrean-Ethiopian War. The war ended after a ceasefire. Most of the disputed territory was awarded to Eritrea in the end of the war.
On April 2002 The Commission released its decision (with a clarification in 2003). Disagreements following the war have resulted in stalemate punctuated by periods of elevated tension and renewed threats of war. Since these decisions Ethiopia has refused to permit the physical demarcation of the border while Eritrea insists the border must be demarcated as defined by the Commission. Consequently, the Boundary Commission ruled boundary as virtually demarcated and effective. Eritrea maintains a military force on its border with Ethiopia roughly equal in size to Ethiopia's force, which has required a general mobilization of a significant portion of the population. Eritrea has viewed this border dispute as an existential threat to itself in particular and the African Union in general, because it deals with the supremacy of colonial boundaries in Africa. Since the border conflict Ethiopia no longer uses Eritrean ports for its trade. During the border conflict and since, Ethiopia has fostered militants against Eritrea (including ethnic separatists and religiously based organizations). Eritrea has retaliated by hosting militant groups against Ethiopia as well. The United Nations Security Council argues that Eritrea and Ethiopia have expanded their dispute to a second theater, Somalia.
Personal life 
Isaias is married to Saba Haile and has three children—Abraham, Elsa and Berhane. He is an adherent of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Isaias has (had) five brothers—Amare, Erimias, Amanuel, Ephrem, Paulos—and four sisters—Nardos, Tsigereda and Ariam).
In late April 2012, the government denied rumours that Isaias was dead, stating that he was in "robust health". Information Minister Ali Abdu said the rumours were started by opposition groups. The rumours were proven false after the president made an appearance on Eritrean National Television. He said that those spreading the rumours were "sick" and wanted to "disturb" the people.
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- Official website of the Ministry of Information of Eritrea
- Official website of the Ministry of Education of Eritrea
- Isaias Afewerki's Biography With Rare Photos of His early Childhood
- New Internationalist feature on Isaias Afewerki
- Afewerki is a longtime fixture on Parade Magazine's annual list "The World's Worst Dictators"
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