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Isaias Afwerki

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Isaias Afwerki
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in the Eritrean city of Massawa (cropped).JPG
Afwerki in 2013
President of Eritrea
Assumed office
19 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
President of the National Assembly
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
Chairperson of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice
Assumed office
24 May 1990
Preceded byPosition established
Secretary-general of the Provisional Government of Eritrea
In office
9 June 1991 – 24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
In office
12 January 1987 – 15 June 1994
Preceded byRomodan Mohammed Nur
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Born (1946-02-02) 2 February 1946 (age 74)
Asmara, Ethiopia (present-day Eritrea)
Political partyPeople's Front for Democracy and Justice
Spouse(s)Saba Haile
Children3 Abraham Afwerki Elsa Afwerki Berhane Afwerki

Isaias Afwerki (Tigrinya: ኢሳይያስ ኣፍወርቂ [isajas afwɐrkʼi];[1] born 2 February 1946) is an Eritrean politician who has been the first and current president of Eritrea, a position he has held since after the Eritrean War of Independence in 1993. He led the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) to victory in May 1991, ending the 30-year-old war for independence.

Isaias is the leader of Eritrea's sole legal political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). He has been cited for human rights violations by the United Nations and Amnesty International. In 2015, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea under the government of Afwerki last in its Press Freedom Index for the eighth year running.

Early and personal life

Isaias Afwerki was born in the Aba Shi'Aul district of Asmara, Eritrea[2][3]

Isaias attended Prince Makonnen High School (PMSS). In the early 1960s, he joined the nationalist Eritrean student movement.[4] In 1965, he began his studies at the College of Engineering at Haile Selassie I University (now called Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[4] Isaias is a cousin of the former Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi.[5][6]

Isaias met his wife, Saba Haile, in a village called Nakfa in the summer of 1981. They have three children: Abraham, Elsa and Berhane.[7][8][9]

Shortly before Eritrea declared independence, Isaias contracted cerebral malaria and was flown to Israel for treatment.[10] Arriving in a coma, he was treated at Sheba Medical Center, where his life was saved.[11]

Eritrean independence movement

In September 1966, Isaias left the university where he was studying and travelled to Kassala, Sudan, via Asmara to join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). In 1967, the Chinese government donated light weapons and a small amount of cash to cover the cost of transportation and provided training to ELF combatants. Isaias was among the first group that went to China in 1967. There, he received intensive military training. Upon his return, he was appointed as a political commissioner of the ELF's Zone 5 in the Hamasen region.[12]

Isaias played a key role in the grass-roots movement which rapidly gathered momentum and brought about the demise of the zonal divisions of the liberation army. Further he played a vital role in the Tripartite Union, which challenged the ELF's leadership, the Supreme Council (Cairo) and the Revolutionary Command (Kassala). Soon after the commencement of sectarian violence in the early 1970s against members of the reform movement, those who were in the central highlands, including Isaias, withdrew to an isolated locality, Ala in northeastern AkkeleGuzay near Dekemhare. Here, they joined Abraham Tewolde, the former commander of the defunct Zone 5. Isaias became the leader after Abraham Tewolde died from natural causes.

Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)

In August 1971, a group of younger ELF members held a meeting at Tekli (northern Red Sea) and founded the Selfi Natsinet, what was commonly known as the Peoples Liberation Force (PLF). The group elected five leaders, including Isaias. Less than two months later, in October 1971, the group formed a committee to draft and issue a highly polemical document, “Nihnan Elamanan” (“We and Our Goals”), in which they explained in detail the rationales for their decision to create a separate political organization instead of working within the ELF.[12]

In 1977, EPLF held its first congress, at which Isaias was elected vice-secretary general. During the second congress of the EPLF in 1987, he was elevated to the status of secretary-general of the organization and in May 1991 became secretary-general of the Provisional Government of Eritrea. In April 1993, after the national referendum, he was elected as the President of the State of Eritrea by the National Assembly. In February 1994, the EPLF held its third congress, and Isaias was elected secretary-general of the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) by an overwhelming majority of votes.


President Isaias Afwerki with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, December 2002

In April 1993, a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence was held, and the following month Eritrea achieved de jure independence. Isaias was declared the first head of state, a position he has held ever since the end of the war for independence.[13]

During the first few years of Isais' administration, the institutions of governance were structured and put in place. This included the 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) in February 1994 as part of its transition to a political party.[citation needed] He was hailed as a new type of African President. Then-US President Bill Clinton referred to him as a "renaissance African leader".[13]

In this sense, he strongly advocates the necessity for the development of indigenous political and economic institutions, while maintaining that Eritrea must pursue a development strategy which suits its internal conditions and available resources.[14] The key element of such a policy includes ambitious infrastructure development campaigns both in terms of power, transport and telecommunications, as well as with basic healthcare and educational facilities.[15]

Isais oversaw an unexpected transformation of Eritrea's relations with Ethiopia in 2018. In June 2018, Ethiopia's newly elected prime minister Abiy Ahmed negotiated an end to the border war between the countries, including reciprocal visits by Isaias and Abiy in July 2018. Diplomatic and commercial ties between Ethiopia and Eritrea were re-established, and on July 9 the two leaders signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship that ended the state of war between their countries,[16] and enunciated a framework of bilateral cooperation in the political, cultural, economic and security fields. This was widely acknowledged by numerous world leaders with the UAE Government awarding Isaias Afwerki the Order of Zayed (First Class) in recognition of his efforts to end the conflict.[17]


In June 2015, a United Nations panel accused Isaias of leading a totalitarian government responsible for systematic human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.[18] Amnesty International believes that the government of President Isaias Afwerki has imprisoned at least 10,000 political prisoners. Amnesty also claims that torture—for punishment, interrogation and coercion—is widespread.[19]

The government of Eritrea denies the allegations and in turn accuses Amnesty International of supporting a political agenda of "regime change".

Although Isaias criticized other leaders during the African Unity summit in Cairo in 1993 for staying in power too long, and rejected a cult of personality, his former comrade Andebrhan Welde Giorgis says Isaias went on to personalise power, and "having personalised power he abused it to the maximum".[13]


  1. ^ "President: Isaias Afwerki". BBC News. The BBC. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Isaias Afwerki". 2015-07-02. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  3. ^ Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2nd ed.). Scarecrow Press. 14 October 2010. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-810-87505-0.
  4. ^ a b Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong; Steven J. Niven (2 February 2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP, US. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  5. ^ Gillan, Audrey (1999-07-13). "Brothers divided by war". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  6. ^ Sevenzo, Farai (2014-09-26). "Letter from Africa: Emptying Eritrea". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2014-09-28. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  7. ^ "Biography of Isaias Afwerki". Madote. 2010.
  8. ^ Hillary Rodham Clinton (2003), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography. Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743222253.
  9. ^ Michela Wrong (2005), I Didn't Do it for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation. Fourth Estate, ISBN 9780007150960.
  10. ^ Eritrea's 'ice bucket' bid to oust Isaias Afwerki
  11. ^ Melman, Yossi (2020-11-20). "Israel, help us overthrow this autocratic regime]". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18.
  12. ^ a b Akyeampong, Emmanuel Kwaku (2012). Dictionary of African Biography. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195382075.
  13. ^ a b c "Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki 'both charismatic and brutal'". BBC News. July 13, 2018. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18.
  14. ^ "FACTBOX - Key quotes from Eritrean president". Reuters. October 21, 2009.
  15. ^ "TimesInterview with Eritrea's Isaias Afewerki". Financial Times. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  16. ^ "Isaias Afwerki". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  17. ^ "UAE President awards Order of Zayed to Eritrean President, Ethiopian Prime Minister". Emirates News Agency. 2018-07-24.
  18. ^ "Torture and Other Rights Abuses Are Widespread in Eritrea, U.N. Panel Says". New York Times. New York Times. 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2019-03-30. has imposed a reign of fear through systematic and extreme abuses of the population that may amount to crimes against humanity
  19. ^ "Eritrea: Rampant repression 20 years after independence", Amnesty International, London, 9 May 2013. Retrieved on 30 March 2019.

External links

Political offices
New office President of Eritrea