Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Horn of Africa Week: Meet Isaias Afewerki

You know, I hadn't actually intended to blog about the escalating violence in the Horn of Africa all week, but honestly, the renewed conflict between Eritrean strongman Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi is too compelling for anyone with an interest in dictators to ignore. I wrote about the tensions leading up to this conflict yesterday, but what I haven't done is talk about the men themselves, or what they've done to their respective nations.

I'll start with Isaias Afewerki, because quite frankly, he's the more authoritarian of the two. Under Afewerki's rule, the newest country in Africa has also become the most paranoid country in Africa. Under his rule, Eritrea has turned into one of the most totalitarian states in Africa, which is no mean feat when you consider the competition for that title.

As the old adage goes, one man, one vote, one time. Afewerki was elected just once after Eritrea's independence in 1993, and has stayed put ever since. A cautious man, he's decided that Eritrea's newfound independence was too fragile to risk multiple political parties or a privately owned press and has banned both. When foreign journalists in Eritrea started using the word "dictatorship", Afewerki simply kicked them out of the country.

"What is a free press? There is no free press anywhere."
- Isaias Afewerki

How bad is it for reporters in Eritrea? Bad. Scandalously so, in fact. The international journalist watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea's press freedom as the third worst on earth in 2006, behind only North Korea and Turkmenistan. The situation becomes even worse when you consider that Eritrea will be going down yet another notch to the second worst on earth, because Turkmenistan's rating can only improve after Saparmurat Niazov kicked the bucket. Eritrean information minister Ali Abdou provided a pithy summary of Eritrea's attitude towards freedom of speech and information when he quipped, "it's up to us what, why, when and where we do things." Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the government has noted with classic understatement that Eritrea's tourism industry "isn't living up to its potential".

As if the complete and suppression of political freedoms in Eritrea weren't enough, Afewerki has found a remarkably efficient way to expand the size and scope of his government on the cheap. The government has done this by mandating a compulsory (and often indefinite) "government service" scheme that pays people around $45 a month to work as government employees, whether in an office or providing manual labor. Those not inclined to give up their former jobs that actually provided enough money to support their families were given another option: prison without trial. Afewerki's scheme ran into snags when young Eritreans started fleeing to Sudan to avoid indentured servitude to their dictator. Undeterred, Afewerki ingeniously tackled the problem by simply jailing the families of people leaving the country to escape his state mandated poverty.

Finally, how could I fail to mention the state sponsored persecution of religious minorities in Eritrea? Or the country's appalling record on human rights? It's completely superfluous to note that rights and freedoms he's denied to his people isn't exactly keeping Isaias Afewerki awake at night. If there's any personal or political force motivating Afewerki's actions beyond his apparently intractable hatred for Ethiopia, it has yet to manifest itself any discernible fashion. I don't know if it's safe to presume that Afewerki will survive this latest round of badger baiting with Ethiopia, or if his decision to provide money and weapons to anti-Ethiopian militant groups will wind up backfiring on him.

Perhaps the only thing it is safe to say about Isaias Afewerki is that he won't be stepping down, holding multiparty elections, or going back to the negotiating table with Ethiopia anytime soon. We have a natural inclination to root for the underdog, which Eritrea clearly is in relation to Ethiopia. As long as Afewerki is in charge however, this inclination should be put permanently on hold, effective immediately. And speaking of Ethiopia, stay tuned, dear readers! I'll be taking a look at the other combatant in the Somali proxy war tomorrow; Isaias Afewerki's sworn enemy, Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

really good post
keep up the good work

(and let's pray that this man will be stopt one day)

Anonymous said...

I see you only post of the negative. Why not also shed light on all the good he has done as president? Also, is there really freedom of speech? All western media is always controlled by someone. Take a look at the Russia and Georgia issue at hand. Has the western media really exposed the truth? In general I like to hear both sides of any discussion, and only bring up one side does not make it a complete argument in my books.

Have a great day

Anonymous said...

i personaly think ISAIAS AFEWEKI is a dictator. i just hope someone will get to him soon or ME, i would LOVE to get a hold of HIM. I promise you (PPL)the 2nd week of 2009 ISAIAS AFEWERKI (BITCH) IS GONE/DEID I'LL C TO THAT

Anonymous said...

Amen! to the last comment

Anonymous said...

and... "shut the hell up!" to the comment about "WHY NOT SHED LIGHT ON ALL THE GOOD HE HAS DONE AS PRESIDENT" what good might that be?????? I'd really like to know.
U sure ur talking about the same isaias afewerki here??

Hope the nigga drops dead. Soon.

Anonymous said...

If you compare his "good" things with the bad things he has done then you will see that he is one of the biggest dictator in this time!!!!
Thaz so easy

Anonymous said...

Adolf Hitler also built the whole highway system in Germany::))

brhan oakland ca said...

man fuc all yall eritreans on this site cryin to the white man bout your problems we have a great president whose taking care of business, shit aint always gon be easy but stop hatin on mah nigga

Anonymous said...

is he really that bad???

Anonymous said...

you fukin eritreans lets solve our problem by our selves don't cry to white people

Anonymous said...

This is utterly pathetic, I'm Eritrean and I know what's going on in my country like the back of my hand. So don't try to tell me my country is controlled by a dictator when the real dictators are of the west, what about them? how come no one talks about what they're doing and actually have people doing something about it? Atleast in eritrea we know our rights and duties clearly unlike the west where I live now we know our "rights" that don't even exist.
this is bullshit

Anonymous said...

Did someone just wrote about "Rights" In Eritrea and the West, its funny , who eva wrote that shit is living in the West Claiming Public Funds, eyo man thats your right , go to eritrean and claim your 45 naks a month brotha!!!!!

Anonymous said...

all of this is very TRUE......i just fled the country.......i LOVE my country...but the pain n torture was unbearable for me......i spent a year in wea........trust me when i say u DONT KNO SHIT about what goes on there!!!! i saw sucide right infront of my eyes out of frustration....this changed my life forever.......he is giving out about what eritreans truly are .....we were an exaple of bravery and honor......one man destroyed it all......and to those who say he has done good........for how long are u gonna keep lying to urselfs?? seriously....we all kno the truth......we just dont want it to happen to us....because we are a proud country and we thought we were unbreakable! well sometimes the enemy is from within......I really hate this man......he stole a promise from the true eritreans ...from those who died to avoid ppl like us being in this situation....lets remebver those r the heroes of the past present and future!!! by the way there is no freedom of speech at all......the very fact that any of us actually posted comments saying we r anony,os prooves how much of a scare his powers have put on the citizens.........ONE DAY WE WILL RISE.........n if u disagree wit me while u live outside eri.......shut the fuck up! u dont knoew anything.......i saw n experienced it first hand......i can proove it....u cant!!

Anonymous said...

if you look at eritrea its safe for your children to play outside if you look at other african countries you see hunger you beg for aid 24/7 you see people betray eachother for dollars and i can go on about africa but look at eritrea we are stable we dont have conflict within the countries we live and work together. africa cannot have democracy yet we are not ready look at kenya they treid now they are all starving and they just fell apart if we look at UK they had no democracy along time ago it took them hundreds of years to develop it so before you run your mouth know your shit!!

Anonymous said...

to all those who r saying his "good" must be mentioned aswell....ok.....he led us to liberation.......ok....he did a good job at maitaning progrees in the 90's.......r u gonna still stick to that until he is dead......?......u r living in the past ...n all those who support him live in the past aswell.....thats y we havent progressed....because our pride wont let us admit that we have failed to take care a country we have spent 30 yrs n much blood fighting for......failure is part of life.....we have to admit that he is a bad leader and move on to progress! im a proud eritrean n will always will be....n isayas does not represent "eritrea"....our brotheres died so we can live....yet hundreds of thousnds flee everyday.. me being one of them..........how do u explain that......??? let accept our mistake n rebuild whats rightfully ours...!! AWET NIHAFASH!

segem said...

what is his name? I JUST REMEMBER afewerki ob sorry my mistake afenahas.

Anonymous said...

Just a minor correction about the president's name; it is Isaias. Afewerki was his father's name: this is the custom in Eritrea, and any children of Isaias' will have Isaias as their second name.
President Isaias certainly is a 'strong' leader and, at present, there is no opposition party in Eritrea. The accreditation of the press is certainly controlled by the government and the accreditation does not extend to the press controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
As for freedom of speech, I remember an 82-year-old heckler in a UK Labour Party conference when anti-war protestor Walter Wolfgang (a former member of Labour Action for Peace) was arrested under the anti-terrorism laws for disagreeing with Jack Straw. This event did not occur in Asmara, but in Brighton in the UK.
On my recent visits to Eritrea (2008 and 2009) I have found a peaceful country, gradually becoming less nervous about the possibility of being invaded by Ethiopia, with young people there beginning to feel that even the requirement to obtain permission to travel (which is really a restriction only imposed on foreign diplomats and members of foreign NGOs as all others obtain permission automatically)will be significantly eased.
Given the choice between the current Eritrean government rule, and that offered by the vast majority of post-colonial governments in Africa, what one finds in Eritrea is infinitely preferable. The government is composed mostly of former freedom fighters, who would not tarnish the memory of their 30000+ fallen comrades by not adhering to what they see as building a nation.
Having spent the 1950s in Eritrea, I am aware of the level of poverty and illiteracy that existed then. This was exacerbated by a long and protracted war of liberation (the seeds of which were sewn by the UN imposing a federation with Ethiopia in 1953, when Isaias was 7 years old). Now we find that schools are being built (albeit with 54 children in each classroom) a free national health service has been established (albeit with relatively limited resources)and irrigation damns are being built to provide the possibility of a self-sustaining system of agriculture which does not rely on external aid to feed the population.
There are problems, but Isaias is not one of them. In his way and that of the people who govern with him, he is attempting to tackle the problems, and will, I believe, eventually and gradually move towards a relaxation of the restrictions that exist at present.
What ever happens in the future, one thing is certain, that Eritrean smile, which simultaneously indicates that the Eritreans are diffident, resilient, generous and immensely proud, will continue to enchant any visitor to the country.

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Anonymous said...

Most fans of the dictator live abroad and never face the brunt of his dictatorship, this is a man who created wars with all his neighbours so that he could use it as an excuse to oppress his people in the name of security, nothing matter for this dictator except power, Power at an expense.

Anonymous said...

alright! Isias is sentimental outlow he always believe power to make his own dream alive. he always fight for no one..he is drama queen..he has a manner to make things worse ..the only thing makes him alive is because he is phobic to change.

Anonymous said...

hehheheeh what some funny comments i'm seeing here
One of the comments says "Issyas is gone be killed or dieed in 2009" what non sense you are talking about. You are not God to judge or to talk about people life.
Long live President Issyas Afeworki
Haters talk as much as you want you won't reach any where heheheheh

Anonymous said...

I can see some Ethiopian are crying - ofcourse isaias is a leader who make Eritrean Dream come true-i asure you if there was a justce and A hero weight measurement equipment undisputedly he will be number one and our planet would have been benefited allot – he single handedly beat the well equipped and fully supported by west and east millitary Derg i can understand why now the losers cry. When it comes to nation building he did it – according to World Bank Eritrea is the fastest economic growth of 2011. It is not government propaganda but World Bank. Some of you failed to understand him because he is well in front of time and speak clear and what you see - what you get. You can check his Speech at 66th United Nation - General Assembly
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wvgNix0GLk&feature=related
Eritreans are proud of him also the our planet should proud of him – after all he teach our entire planet everything is possible he is a great example despite all the hate propaganda and military challenges he march a head – a man of self-reliance and resilience.
If you want to hate him - hate him but only because you don’t have a value to great man.

Anonymous said...

i was so proud to be eritrean because of one man i am not proud anymore his last day is going to be like Gadafi eritreans open ur eyes

Anonymous said...

eritreans open ur eyes when r u going to walk up i pray one day eriteans will got up from the coma give isaias afewerki Gadafis day it will come very soon MY PEOPLE LOVES ME Eritreans people never lvs u scared of u like a monster

Anonymous said...

i can not belive if eritrean not open ur eyes u do not care about ur sisters and brothers suffiring we r suffering we want freedom we want justice

Anonymous said...

hahaha are u telling us ur dream or what isaias afewrki is our father our brother he is every thing for us u call him dicator ecause he dose not bow down to wastern like u do no that dose not work with us we belive African is for Africans that is why the wastern hate our father isais and dont forget we are all isais afewerki thanks lord that he is our leader

Anonymous said...

I am so much surprised by some Eritreans saying outragious and shameful things which do not exist in reality. Let me mention some of them:
1. We were examples of bravery and honour.
2. Heros of the past, present and the future.
3. Some Ethiopians are crying as the Derg was defeated and they are losers to Isaias who is a leader who makes the Eritrean Dream come true. If there is a hero weight measurement equipment, undisputedly he will be number one and our planet would have been benefited a lot.

Before you take up your position to an imaginary level which doesnot exist in real terms, I would like to forward my kind advises to all eritreans the following hard facts about the new Eritrea.
1. Asmara was built up by the Italians, not Eritreans.What the new government does is destruction instead of innovation.
2. During the period of Italian colony, Eritreans were servants of the Italians, illiterate, and didnot learn above grade 4 elementary school.
3. It was after the fedration ennexture of Eritrea that Emperor Haileselassie opened high schools and later on the univeristy of asmara which has been finally crashed out/closed by the brutal leader Isaias afewerki.
4. How do you think Ethiopians were standing on the side of Derg when Derg was killing both Ethiopians and Eritreans? This is crazy thinking.
5. What did Isaias contribute to the world to be umber one hero who benefits to the world? Did he invent anything like the famous scientits Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. I assure you he is number one for nothing, he is useless and will be useless until he dies.
6. Eritrea is the worst place and an open prison for a human being; its economy is more on a death spiral now; more than 30% of its economy depends on foreign remittance; two-third of the people are malnourished; it is impossible to know what is going on there - no body can report about anything - the worst place for a journalist; Eritrea stands at rank 224, almost last in GDP per capita. Amazingly, for a man to get a mobile phone sim card, he has to be cerified for serving the national military force, this doesn't exist anywhere in the planet, even in other satellites.
7. You must understand that all Ethiopians do not worry about the re-union of Eritrea to Ethiopia. We Ethiopians want to and must achieve one and only one goal, that is to get back the ASSAB PORT to the motherland. We lost Assab port for unsound reasons against the truth historically as well as politically. Italians invaded Ethiopia the second time in 1935/36after being defeated at Adwa by violating the treaty of Wuchale which demarcated the Mereb river as a boundary b/n Eritrea and Ethiopia. They had trespassed the boundary limits and therefore Assab being for Eritrea is unsound and not acceptable; and we struggle for it and hope we will achieve it very soon.
Regards

AJM said...

The aftermath of the Eritrean Independence:

1.Eritrea is the worst place and an large open prison for a human being on earth.
2. The illusion of being "the Africal Dubai or Singapore" has turned into dictator and brutal regime, poverty, malnutrition, prion for its nation.
3. Seeing Eritrea on the world map as a new country with its flag which most Eritreans are proud of.
4. Lack of education and destruction of the existing higher education institutes like the Asmara university, which was the only university in the country.
5. Migration of the young generation to neighbour countries and suffering diseases, death and complicated encounters.
6. War with all neighbour countries
7. Allocation of the country's largest proportion of the poorest economy for military forces.
8. No press freedom at all, there is only one media owned by gov't which is chasing the foot steps of the brutal leader.
9. Do you know that an Eritrea who has bachelor degree is paid only 500 Nakfa which is enough to buy only one small/thin chicken. I am surprised how the people are surviving, it must be by some magic.

It is time for all Eritreans now to regret for the past historic mistakes they commited in the struggle for independence, which has not resulted in sweet fruits they have dreamed for. It is instead a stiffened barrier they have been facing over the next decades. You will continue to regret forever, because you have already lost your right track.

Anonymous said...

Isaias Afewerki--the Kim Jong-il of Africa! Why are all these Eritreans ragging on the West and yet living here? GO BACK TO YOUR PARADISE! You know in your heart what a terrible place it is, but like the Chongryon in Japan, it's easy to think about nationalist causes exclusively when you're free and happy and your brethren get to sweat it out and starve back in the motherland.

He is a coward and one of the most delusional leaders on the planet.

Anonymous said...

I love Eritrea, but hate THE dictator. Our brothers And sisters are dying in sinai, drowning trying To reach italy or sleeping in THE streets of tel aviv. THE indefinite militairy service, luck of political freedoms, no opposition parties And religious persecution is crazy in my beloved Eritrea. THE ones in THE diaspora who love this brutal dictator are betraying their own people. My grandfather gave his life for à free eritra During THE war, not for à private Toy FOr THE most brutal dictator. Fuck u isayas for ruining my country. One day i hope To SEe à free eritra without this horific dictator And puppets like ali abdu. Fuck you Ali abdu And Fuck shabia