Isiais Afwerki used wars and the environment of wars as a weapon to crown himself an Emperor for life
By Petros Tesfagherghis
On 2 November 2022, The Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Regional Government of Tigray signed a cessation of hostilities agreement under the auspices of the African Union in in Pretoria, South Africa. This is a significant milestone in the history of the Horn of Africa that should be applauded and welcomed by all peace loving people across the globe. It is the beginning of the process of swinging the pendulum back toward sanity and decency so the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea live in peace and harmony.
Although Eritrea has been heavily involved in the conflict from the outset at huge sacrifice of our people, it is not directly mentioned in the accord. This is a matter of grave concern and raises some challenging issues for the long-suffering Eritrean people. In his article an “Eritrean Reaction to Ethiopia’s Cessation of Hostilities” Habte Hagos, the chairman of Eritrea Focus, highlights the risks for the Eritrean peoples. He writes “even if the peace accord between the key warring factions holds, the butchery of the Eritrean people will continue as long as Isaias is in power.”
In late October, as the conflict continues with ongoing shelling and bombing of civilians and militarised starvation, Bloomberg interviewed Harry Verhoeven, a professor and an expert on Eritrea at Columbia University. Drawing a profile of Afwerki. Verhoeven, describes Isaias “as a politician [although Isaias is no politician but an outright dictator] [who is] used to taking “extraordinary” risks and not caring about international isolation”. A Kenyan-based activist added “the way for Isaias to stay involved in Ethiopia’s politics is war and as long as the TPLF remains a force, peace will not be an option for him.”
These statements are absolutely right. However, they did not go deep and far enough to expose the real motive of Isaias’s wars. There is a slick horror story behind it:
On 24 May 1991, the 2nd Ethiopian division based in Asmara surrendered to the EPLF. The Ethiopian administration in Eritrea crumbled. On 29 May 1991, Isaias in a London press conference announced a provisional Government for Eritrea until the 1993 referendum in which 99.8 % Eritreans voted for independence. The country subsequently became a new member of the United Nations and the process of forming a government started in earnest. An Eritrean assembly, composed of people elected from various regions of the country, was hastily formed. A committee chaired by Dr Bereket Habte Selassie, a well-known lawyer, was formed to draft a constitution. The constitution was approved by the National Assembly in 1997 and Nationwide elections to form a government were planned.
The process of nationwide election was delayed by Isaias. Looking at it in retrospect it is plausible Isaias delayed it deliberately in order to sabotage the country’s democratic process for him to stay in power. When the boundary commission found out that it was Eritrea that started the Ethio-Eritrean senseless war on May 24,1998, the news was kept secret from the people so they would not rise up against him.
On 12 December 2000, in Algeria, PM Meles Zenawi and President Isaias Afwerki signed to end the war. Shortly after that the PFDJ central committee met and agreed to carry out evaluation of the Government performance since independence and to plan the way forward. Some senior Members of the leadership felt they were duty bound to call for the delayed nationwide election to take place as soon as possible. Isaias welcomed it and nominated Vice-president Mahmood Sherifo to chair a committee that prepares bylaws for registering political parties in order to participate in the election. This was a tactic of deceit he played to buy himself time.
Isaias did not want the election to take place. He realised that those who advocated for election would be an obstacle to his plan and systematically planned to get rid of them. He assigned this task to EPLF low status officials who were loyal to him, including: Yamane Gebreab (Presidential Advisor), Hagos Gebrihiwot (Kisha – head of the economy), Abdella Jabber and few others such as Yemane Gebremeskel (Minister of Information) and Osman Saleh (Foreign minister). Most of them where based in the office of PFDJ and were the Government in waiting. The Eritrean Assembly would die a slow death. Those who wanted election to be held were top EPLF leaders among them; Mahmood Sherifo (Vice President), Petros Solomon (Head of Military Intelligence), Haile Woldetensae (Foreign Minister during the Badme war), General Ogbe Abraha, Mesfun Hagos (Minister of Defence), and Haile Menkerious (Eritrean Ambassador to the United Nations). While driving to his office Mahmud Sherifo was stopped by 2 security men who asked him to “Get out of the car” and told him “you can’t go back to your office, you are fired.” Later on a journalist from one of the private papers interviewed Sherifo and asked him why Isaias fired him? He said “Isaias is becoming an obstacle to build democracy in this country “
Those advocating for election believed they will win their case if people understand what they were up too. But they did not anticipate that Isaias would betray them and undertake a silent quo d’état not only against them but also on their vision to build a democratic and prosperous country at peace with itself and its neighbours. Instead, Yamane Gebreab and Alamin Mohamed Said, the secretary general of EPLF, organised a conference of high level cadres to character assassinate them.
Yemane Gebreab spoke in the first meeting and Alamin Mohamed said in the second meeting. In their presentation they said that top leaders of EPLF had passed secrets to the Ethiopian Government that enabled them to have an upper hand in the Badme war. Then the PFDJ-03 rumour mill did the dirty work of spreading rumours against the senior EPLF officials. Isaias used these rumours to isolate them from the top cadres of EPLF. They were not prepared for that; they wrote an open letter to the Eritrean public. They made it clear that they wanted the election to take place in order to give power to the people by electing the government of their choice The letter brought into focus what is at stake. 15 people signed the letter and were nicknamed G-15. Isaias succeeded to stop the election.
One 18 September 2001, the security forces arrested 11 of the G-15 members never been heard or seen again. The remaining 4 were abroad. However, Isaias was concerned that eventually the public will know the real motive of imprisoning members of the G-15 and will protest. He would not let this to happen and a few days after the arrest of G-15, he imprisoned the editors of the vibrant private newspapers, ending Freedom of expression. This was the beginning of a long war of repression against the population. In 2016 the UN Inquiry Commission on Eritrea reported that “Since 1991 Crime against humanity has been committed by the Eritrean authorities” and referred it to ICC. But the UN did not take action. The UN let down the people of Eritrea. In a sense Isaias became the Emperor with an absolute power and acts as if he owns the country and the people in it live or die at his discretion.
Despite the outwardly show of strength, Isaias was fearful of the people, particularly the High School and University students. He introduced a system in which all student who finished 11th grade do their school leaving year (the 12th grade) in a remote place away from towns. This was and still is a military camp – Sawa. It has become very convenient for Isaias to indoctrinate the students to hate the TPLF and the people of Tigray. The only TV in Eritrea ERI-TV ‘s main mission is to demonize the TPLF saying “there is a threat of TPLF (Weyane ) invasion of Eritrea” He successfully created an environment of war over two decades and this was part of his agenda to keep people away from opposing him, and to systematically brutalise the people. Isaias used the threat of war to justify not to call a nationwide election. In other words, he used wars and fears to crown himself an Emperor for life. The consequences of his action on Eritreans has been incalculable costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people to satisfy his vanity ego. It resulted the influx of over a million people to exile, particularly the youth who and the middle class who are the engine of economic growth. Today the people of Eritrea suffer from extreme poverty.
In November 2020, when Isaias invaded Tigray, the Eritrean troops felt no remorse in killings civilian, raping women and looting properties in Tigray because they had been indoctrinated and brainwashed by Isaias for years. As a resulted, they exported, in an industrial scale, to Tigray the human rights violation they so well refined on our people for years at the pleasure of their ruthless leader. By demonizing TPLF for more than 20 years Isias managed to export his crime as if it is committed by the TPLF.
But Isaias’ influence does not end in Eritrea, Isaias’ hate campaign against to TPLF has impacted the justice seekers in Diaspora too, splitting them in two camps. Those who sympathise with Tigray and those who support the invasion of Tigray forgetting so many of their youth are perishing in their tens of thousands in someone else’s war.
The November 2022 peace accord, brings challenges of its own although the peace agreement should be welcomed and that in most parts of Tigray the war appears to have been stopped. However, and especially in Northern Tigray, Eritrean troops in collusion with Amhara militias and Amhara youth movement, FANO, are using artillery to bomb Tigrayan towns and are killing civilians, destroying properties and burning crops. It is unlikely he will pull out his troops from Tigray unless forced.
The reason for this madness is that he used wars and the threat of war as a weapon to stay in power. It worked for him so much so he internalized this system and it is very difficult for him to willingly agree to pull Eritreans troops out of Tigray. Countries after countries are asking Isaias to pull his troops out of Tigray /Ethiopia particularly the Americans. Unless he is forced it is unlikely that he will pull Eritreans troops out Tigray willingly. What is difficult to understand is why not Abiy ask his friend Isaias to leave Tigray/Ethiopia.
So far, Eritreans in diaspora have been fragmented and have failed to robustly challenge PFDJ but the Tigray war may have changed this status quo. This time the Eritrean youth in diaspora are getting united as was exemplified by the “Stop PFDJ Summer 2022 Festivals” campaign. There is now a big push to working together in order to bring peace to the country and shape its destiny. Beside it is peace that our people wants all these years. We should be their voice. Look at the picture of the 2 people Tigreans and Eritreans met on the border when it opened for a short period- kissing and embracing each other as tears of happiness run down their cheeks. Time to say “GIVE PEACE A CHANCE”
As we know from our bitter history and struggle for independence, “freedom is not free”, and we need to join hands in our fight to remove the evil from our country once and for all. It is not easy but absolutely doable. at least
This is a dangerous situation, and we Eritreans need to find solutions to the real problem. At least we have to seize this peace momentum to organise all out demonstrations supporting the peace and asking Eritrean troops out. Besides we have to engage with those foreign powers who are pushing for peace in Ethiopia. We have to be voice of the voiceless people inside Eritrea.
In history there are incidents of people who internalize the system that is oppressing them This has become the case in Eritrea. Fear factor plays a big role as well. Therefore, the diaspora united can play a role in shaping the destiny of Eritrea. Peace is a saver for the people of Eritrea, Amhara, Tigray, Oromo and the rest of the nationalities in Ethiopia. . Cry my beloved Eritrea.
——————————– ENDS ———————————