Peace Deal Strengthened Isaias Afewerki

Isaias-Afewerki-Abiy-AhmedJanuary 6, 2019 ( - To many people, Isaias Afewerki’s regime was totally forgotten in recent years before Abiy Ahmed arrived for him and his economically crippled country. On the 5th of June 2018, Ethiopia announced it would abide by the year 2000 Algiers peace agreement that brought the border war with Ethiopia to a halt.

The peace deal awarded several disputed territories to Eritrea, including the hotly contested town of Badme.

For a long time, Ethiopia refused to withdraw its troops from these territories, hence making border demarcation virtually impossible. But the peace agreement marked a new beginning moving forward.

Since the signing of the peace deal, not much has changed in Eritrea, apart from the opening of the border crossing which was recently closed temporarily, according to reports.

The human rights watch also reports that Afewerki’s repressive tactics continue despite the recent diplomatic engagements.

So, as Eritrea enjoys the limelight in the global space once again, let me offer some insights into what the country looked like and where it is after the peace deal, despite the optimistic reports by the media about imminent political changes.

The real Eritrea:

Eritrea is a one-party state and many have harbored hopes that Isaias Afewerki will one day institute the much needed political reforms.

Mr. Isaias Afewerki has led the country since attaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993. He was hugely influenced by Marxist thought during his early political life, and unlike other leaders in the continent, he has resisted external pressure to allow multiparty democracy.

The country has never had an election, and there are no opposition parties. In fact, the president enjoys absolute power. But, to his credit and unlike others, he does not try to hide the fact that he has an absolute power and wield power openly.

Because of his subversive activities in the region, Eritrea has been under world sanctions for decades, resulting in a crippled economy during much of his rule.

The legally recognized party –the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) - assume a central styled committee where 75 members automatically qualify for national assembly seats, whereas another 75 are selected from elected regional assemblies.

Eritrea’s constitution was drafted and ratified in 1997 when the country was still gripped with the joy of independence. However, it was shelved when the war started with Ethiopia.

Exiled Eritrean activists say Mr. Isaias Afewerki should release political prisoners as a first step in achieving the reforms needed in the country, and as a gesture of reconciliation with warring groups. In Ethiopia, the prime minister released thousands of detainees as a sign of good faith.

Introduced in 1995, the national service is compulsory to all Eritreans. In the beginning, you were required to serve for 18 months - six being the training period. The argument was the country was under threat from Ethiopia.

Prior to the peace agreement, Eritrea’s government blamed Ethiopia and the international community for its problems. Isaias Afewerki refused to take responsibility for the grave situation the country faced.

In a 2017 report presented to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Eritrea tried to lay blame on its failures and actions on the war with Ethiopia, and the consequent belligerencies and external intimidations against.

Furthermore, Eritrea has one of the worst records in media freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks it 179 in the World Press Freedom Index, only one point above North Korea. In 2001, the state shut down all private media houses to suppress dissenting voices that advocated for multiparty democracy.

Isaias Afewerki’s regime claimed these private media entities were financed by foreign countries with a hidden agenda of distorting Eritrea’s political environment. Some of its journalists were also arrested and detained with claims they didn’t perform the mandatory national service.

After the peace agreement:

The truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea was welcomed by many, except perhaps the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that received the developments rather cautiously.

The deal that ended decades of hostility between the two neighbors has encouraged economic and political implications that can benefit the whole region. On the political aspect, it has the capacity to provide regional peace dividend because the perennial military stand-off has destabilized the horn of Africa region.

With peace, prevailing economic activities and development can commence in this part of the continent. Economic implications include improved logistics between the two countries and port development in the region.

Isaias Afewerki’s regime is strengthened:

Everyone has been keeping tabs on the developments in the horn of Africa. People expected Afwerki would announce an end to the indefinite military service after re-establishing diplomatic ties with Ethiopia, but that’s not the case.

Six months after signing the peace deal, Eritreans are still waiting to hear when the service will end.

In less than a month after the border was opened on the 11th of September, thousands of Eritreans crossed into Ethiopia. Many voiced their concerns about the details of the still unknown peace deal.
The silence was too much for Eritreans who understands the ills committed by Afwerki’s regime that are not likely to end anytime soon. They argue the only hope they have lies in seeking asylum in Ethiopia. Furthermore, many choose to leave to avoid the mandatory military service and reunite with their family members.

President Isaias Afwerki, who was isolated and ignored in the global arena now enjoys attention from global powers. He’s in an advantageous position in that he can benefit from the region’s power plays. Eritrea is located on the Maritime Silk Road that is key to China's initiatives, and across the red sea from the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s perennial war with Yemen. And with its long coastline, it is likely a foreign military may consider establishing another base in the area.

Both Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki have received praises from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their expected inputs in the ongoing war in Yemen. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if this courtship would involve sending personnel to help fight the wars in the Middle East.

Isaias Afewerki’s dynasty:

President Afwerki has been shy to bring his family to the political limelight, but that has changed.

In October, his eldest son Abraham Isaias Afwerki started following him in public events. He was also part of the delegation that visited Saudi Arabia.

It is likely that he’s is being prepared to take over from his father. That won’t be news since Isaias Afewerki enjoys ‘personalized’ power in Eritrea.

Final thoughts:

The peace deal with Ethiopia helped strengthen Afwerki’s grip on power. It is likely his leadership style won’t change anytime soon because he has secured regional and global allies who turn a blind eye on the state of the country.

The world is not doing Eritreans a favor by overlooking the regime’s human rights violations and a crackdown on dissenting voices while others languish in jail. Afwerki’s regime must institute reforms that can make Eritrea better. Praising its diplomatic engagements and welcoming it to top bodies like the Human Rights Commission is not enough.

By Solomon O. for Ezega News



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