Isaias Afwerki

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Isaias Afwerki
ኢሳይያስ ኣፍኣርቂ
Isaias Afwerki in 2002.jpg
Isaias Afwerki in 2002
President of Eritrea
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
President of the National Assembly
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
Chairman 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 75)
Asmara, British Military Administration in Eritrea
(now Eritrea)
Political partyPeople's Front for Democracy and Justice
Spouse(s)Saba Haile
  • Abraham
  • Elsa
  • Berhane
Isaias Afwerki

Isaias Afwerki (Tigrinya: ኢሳይያስ ኣፍወርቂ [isajas afwɐrkʼi];[1] born 2 February 1946) became the first President of Eritrea after the Eritrean War of Independence in 1993 and has remained in office ever since. He led the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) to victory in May 1991, ending the 30-year-old war for independence from Ethiopia.[2]

Isaias is the chairperson of Eritrea's sole legal political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

He has faced accusations of totalitarianism and been cited for human rights violations by the United Nations and Amnesty International.[3][4] In 2021, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea, under the government of Isaias, last[5] out of 180 countries in its Press Freedom Index.

Early and personal life[edit]

Isaias Afwerki was born in the Aba Shi'Aul district of Asmara, Eritrea.[6][7]

Isaias attended Prince Makonnen High School (PMSS). In the early 1960s, he joined the nationalist Eritrean student movement.[8] 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.[8] Isaias is a cousin of the former Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi.[9][10]

Isaias met his wife, Saba Haile, in a village called Nakfa in the summer of 1981. They have three children: Abraham, Elsa and Berhane.[11][12][13]

Shortly before Eritrea declared independence, Isaias contracted cerebral malaria and was flown to Israel for treatment.[14] Arriving in a coma, he was treated at Sheba Medical Center, where his life was saved.[15]

Eritrean independence movement[edit]

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 transport and provided training to ELF combatants. Isaias was among the first group that went to China in 1967 where 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.[16]

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.[citation needed]

Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)[edit]

In August 1971, a group of younger ELF members held a meeting at Tekli (northern Red Sea) and founded Selfi Natsinet, 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.[16]

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 a 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.[citation needed]


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.[17]

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".[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

Isaias 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 9 July 2018 the two leaders signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship that ended the state of war between their countries,[20] 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.[21] As part of closer ties between the two countries, the Ethiopian and Eritrean intelligence agencies started close cooperation after July 2018, which worried Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa, some of whom were temporarily detained for three weeks during the Tigray War, acquitted by Ethiopian courts, and only released two weeks after their acquittal.[22]

Tigray War[edit]

During the Tigray War, that started on 4 November 2020 with a surprise and unexpected attack of the Northern Command of Ethiopian Army by the TPLF soldiers, there was widely acknowledged close cooperation between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF).[23] The war began after the TPLF, Tigray ruling party, attacked the camps of ENDF in Tigray and pushed them to Eritrea. The Eritrean forces joined hands with the ENDF and allegedly with the help of UAE armed drones counter-attacked the TPLF forces. There was alleged looting in Tigray Region, including systematic, wide-scale looting in Aksum following the Aksum massacre in late November 2020.[24]

After several weeks of denial by the Ethiopian government on the presence of Eritrean troops on in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Prime Minister admitted to the presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia and agreed to withdraw them. Under international pressure, on the 26 March 2021 and after a meeting between the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki it was announced that Eritrean troops will withdraw from the Tigray Region.As at 30th June 2021 the Eritrean forces had yet to withdraw from Tigray.[25][26]


In June 2015, a United Nations panel accused Isaias of leading a totalitarian government responsible for systematic human rights violations in Eritrea that may amount to crimes against humanity.[3] 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.[4]

The government of Eritrea denies the allegations and in turn accuses Amnesty International of supporting a political agenda of "regime change".[27]

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".[17]


  1. ^ "President: Isaias Afwerki". BBC News. The BBC. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  2. ^ Perlez, Jane (16 June 1991). "Eritreans, Fresh From Victory, Must Now Govern". New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Torture and Other Rights Abuses Are Widespread in Eritrea, U.N. Panel Says". The 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
  4. ^ a b "Eritrea: Rampant repression 20 years after independence", Amnesty International, London, 9 May 2013. Retrieved on 30 March 2019.
  5. ^ "2021 World Press Freedom Index". RSF - Reporters without borders. 20 April 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Isaias Afwerki". 2015-07-02. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  7. ^ Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2nd ed.). Scarecrow Press. 14 October 2010. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-810-87505-0.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Gillan, Audrey (1999-07-13). "Brothers divided by war". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-01-18. ...even the prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, are cousins.
  10. ^ Sevenzo, Farai (2014-09-26). "Letter from Africa: Emptying Eritrea". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2014-09-28. Retrieved 2021-01-18. Eritreans ... talk of the kinship between nations, of how Mr Isais and the late Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi were in fact cousins.
  11. ^ "Biography of Isaias Afwerki". Madote. 2010.
  12. ^ Hillary Rodham Clinton (2003), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography. Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743222253.
  13. ^ Michela Wrong (2005), I Didn't Do it for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation. Fourth Estate, ISBN 9780007150960.
  14. ^ "Eritrea's 'ice bucket' bid to oust Isaias Afwerki". June 12, 2019 – via
  15. ^ Melman, Yossi (2020-11-20). "Israel, help us overthrow this autocratic regime]". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18.
  16. ^ a b Akyeampong, Emmanuel Kwaku (2012). Dictionary of African Biography. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195382075.
  17. ^ a b c "Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki 'both charismatic and brutal'". BBC News. July 13, 2018. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18.
  18. ^ "FACTBOX - Key quotes from Eritrean president". Reuters. October 21, 2009.
  19. ^ "TimesInterview with Eritrea's Isaias Afewerki". Financial Times. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  20. ^ "Isaias Afwerki". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  21. ^ "UAE President awards Order of Zayed to Eritrean President, Ethiopian Prime Minister". Emirates News Agency. 2018-07-24.
  22. ^ "Eritreans in Ethiopia Fear for Their Safety". Awate. 2021-02-19. Archived from the original on 2021-02-24. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  23. ^ Tigray crisis: Eritrea's role in Ethiopian conflict, retrieved December 28, 2020
  24. ^ "The massacre in Axum". Amnesty International. 2021-02-26. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  25. ^ AP and AFP (26 March 2021). "Ethiopian PM: Eritrean troops to leave Tigray". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Ethiopia: Eritrean troops' massacre of hundreds of Axum civilians may amount to crime against humanity". Amnesty International. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 5 April 2021. On 19 November 2020, Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces took control of Axum in a large-scale offensive, killing and displacing civilians with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In the nine days that followed, the Eritrean military engaged in widespread looting of civilian property and extrajudicial executions. Witnesses could easily identify the Eritrean forces. They drove vehicles with Eritrean license plates, wore distinctive camouflage and footwear used by the Eritrean army and spoke Arabic or a dialect of Tigrinya not spoken in Ethiopia. Some bore the ritual facial scars of the Ben Amir, an ethnic group absent from Ethiopia. Finally, some of the soldiers made no secret of their identity; they openly told residents they were Eritrean.
  27. ^[bare URL]

External links[edit]

Political offices
New office President of Eritrea