(The New Yorker; By  August 2, 2018)

Some think his new embrace of peace is motivated by self-interest. Unrest has grown in Eritrea over the last year, and Afwerki may see peace with Ethiopia as the surest way to maintain power. Eritrean exiles question whether he has actually changed. “In his last speech, he did not mention the most awaited issue: military service,” Abraham Zere, an Eritrean journalist and the director of pen Eritrea, told me. “Afwerki is probably buying time to make small adjustments, that might seem semblance of changes such as opening trade and allow free movement within the country, but I doubt he is ready to make any fundamental policy changes such as ending the indefinite military service or releasing all political prisoners.” Click here

(Published in African Arguments; July 18th, 2018)

In barely the blink of an eye, Eritrea’s unpredictable president has completely reversed his rhetoric of the past two decades.

Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki at an official dinner in Asmara. Credit: Yemane Gebremeskel, Minister of Information, Eritrea.

Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki at an official dinner in Asmara. Credit: Yemane Gebremeskel, Minister of Information, Eritrea.

In just a few weeks, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have not just shifted dramatically but – in many ways – turned upside down.

For two decades, President Isaias Afwerki had demonised Ethiopia, seeing it as an existential threat. He used the supposed Ethiopian menace as a pretext to establish one of the world’s most repressive regimes, ban widespread freedoms, and impose indefinite military conscription. Some of the only bits of music to get official approval from Asmara were toxic war songs that reinforced this all-encompassing enmity on which the nation’s identity was based.

Now, this could not have flipped more completely. In the past month, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias have embraced warmly in both Asmara and Addis Ababa, greeted by huge doting crowds. Eritrean praise-singers have literally changed their tunes to praise peace in Amharic and Tigrinya. Today, the first flight between the two countries in 20 years landed in Asmara, carrying a fully-booked plane that included Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

In barely the blink of an eye, full-throated enmity seems to have turned into whole-hearted love – to the extent that hopeful Eritreans, whose lives have long been determined by the mood of one man, are starting to worry.

Given the opaque way in which the regime governs, Eritreans are used to following Isaias’ words and actions carefully in search of any hints. But for even those unaccustomed to observing him, his recent performance in Ethiopia was startlingly. He appeared out of character, praising the leader of his long-time foe excessively, and proclaiming that the two nation’s populations are “one people”. He then remarkably told Abiy “you are our leader” and announced happily to the crowd: “I’ve given him all responsibility of leadership and power”. Click here

(Published in Africa is A Country; July 15, 2018)

The pace of rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, longtime foes who have been in deadlock for the last 20 years, changes quickly. It is hard to keep up. By the time this is published, it could be old news.

To recap: On June 5th, Ethiopia declared it was fully implementing the Algiers Peace Treaty signed between the two countries in 2000. This was followed by a long silence on the Eritrean side. Then, suddenly, two weeks later, Eritrea not only accepted the peace offer, but took a step further and sent a delegation to Ethiopia. Shortly after, Ethiopia’s prime minister visited Eritrea. The two leaders signed a joint Declaration of Peace; telephone service between the two countries immediately resumed after 20 years; Ethiopian Airlines will start regular flights to Asmara (a direct flight between the two countries would take an hour; it currently can take up to a day); and roads are about to be opened between the two countries, etcetera. On 14 July, Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki visited Ethiopia for three days. The Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa is expected to be re-opened during Afwerki’s visit in Ethiopia. Click here

(Published in Al Jazeera English; July 9, 2018)

Despite officially welcoming Ethiopia’s peace efforts, the Eritrean regime is keeping its people in the dark.

In this grab taken from video provided by ERITV, Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed is welcomed by Erirea's President Afwerki as he disembarks the plane, in Asmara, Eritrea, Sunday, July 8, 2018 [ERITV via AP]
In this grab taken from video provided by ERITV, Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed is welcomed by Erirea’s President Afwerki as he disembarks the plane, in Asmara, Eritrea, Sunday, July 8, 2018 [ERITV via AP]

Ever since Ethiopia announced in early June that it will fully accept the terms of a 2000 peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea, the pace of normalisation of relations between the two countries has been truly stunning.

First, a high-level Eritrean delegation made a visit to Addis Ababa on June 26 and kickstarted the talks on ending the decades-long conflict. Only a couple of weeks later, Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a landmark visit to Asmara and met the Eritrean president face-to-face.

As the convoy carrying Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki – who personally greeted his guest at the Asmara airport – travelled across the city, people waved the twinned flags of Ethiopiaand Eritrea and threw flowers and corn. Portraits of Abiy and large Ethiopian flags could be seen on public buildings around the city.

At a state dinner Isaias hosted in honour of Abiy, the two leaders took turns in praising each other. In a televised speech, Isaias said he was “grateful” for the peace efforts of the Ethiopian prime minister. He said that the two countries have already made up for most of what was lost in the past 20 years of conflict. Click here


(እዚ መዘከር ሓተታዊ ቃና ከይህሉዎ ዝከኣለኒ ፈቲነ ዝተዓወትኩ ግን ኣይመሰለንን’ሞ ምስናይ ይቕረታኡ።)

ብዕለት 5 ሰነ ገዛኢ ሰልፊ ኢትዮጵያ–ኢህወደግ–ንዘተ ሰላም ስምምዕ ኣልጀርስ ምሉእ ብምሉእ ከም ዝተቐበሎን ንትግባረኡ ድሉዊ ምህላዉን ድሕሪ ምሕባሩ᎓ እቶም ፊስካ ክንፍሓሎም’ሞ ናብ ዝተመልከተሎም ኣንፈት ክነብሑ ዝጽበዩ ተጣበቕቲ ጭቆና ገዲፍና᎓ እቲ ንፍትሒ ዝቃለስን ዝጣበቕን ወገን ማዕረ ጽንብል ናጽነት ብዝቃረብ ደስታ’ዩ ተቐቢሉዎ።

ልዕሊ ክልተ ሰሙን ሓሊፉ ብዘይ ዝዀነ ወግዓዊ መልሲ ብወገን ኣስመራ ስቕ ምስ ተባህለ ድማ ብዙሓት ንኤርትራ ኣመልኪተን ዝዓያ መራኸቢ ብዙሃን (ብቐንዲ ከኣ ሓይሊ ተቓውሞ) ነቲ ዘይምኽኑይ ስቕታ ኣትሪሩ ኰኒኑዎ። ኰኒኑዎ ጥራይ ዘይኰነ ከኣ ሰላም’ውን ንኢሳይያስ ውጽኢታዊ ዘይምዃኑን ከም ዘይምነዮን ብዙሕ ተጻሒፉን ተዘሪቡን። (ብወገነይ እኳ ኢሳይያስ ንሰላም ፍጹም ቅሩብ ዘይምዃኑ ኣምልኪተ ክልተ ዓንቀጻት እዚእዚን ጽሒፈ።)

ልክዕ ኣብ ክልተ ሰሙኑ᎓ ብምኽንያት ዝኽሪ መዓልቲ ሰማእታት ኣመልኪቱ ኣብ ዝሃቦ መደረ ግን ፕረሲደንት ኢሳይያስ ንጻውዒት ሰላም ኢትዮጵያ ከም ዝተቐበሎ ጥራይ ዘይኰነስ ብኣካል ንምዝርራብ ልኡኽ ክሰድድ ኣብ ምድላው ከም ዘሎ ጠቒሱ። በዛ መደረ’ዚኣ እቶም ሓበሬታ ደንጒዩዎም ከቕለልዉ ዝጸንሑ ደገፍቲ ኣንፈት ስለ ዝተሓበሮም ከም ወትሩ ክነብሑ ከለዉ᎓ ንሓያሎ ዘገረመ ግን እቶም ተሓለቕቲ ሰላም ምዃንና ክንምድር ዝጸናሕና ኣስቂጥና ጥራይ ዘይኰነስ᎓ ራዕዲ ዝኣተወና’ውን መሲልና።

ኣብ ውሽጢ ሰዓታት “ኢሳይያስ ኣይእመንን’ዩ”፣ “ቅሉዕ ደብዳበ ናብ ቀዳማይ ሚኒስተር ኣብይ”፣ “መን’ዮም ዝውክሉና?” ወዘተ. ግን ከኣ ብኽቱር እስትሕቃርን ናይ ዳእላ ቃናን ግብረ-መልሲ ክውሕዝ ጀሚሩ።

ብወገናይ ኣብ መደረ ፕረሲደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣመና ዘቖጥዓኒ ቃና ነይሩ። ንኣብነት᎓ ኣብዚ ናይ ዘተ ጕዳይ ወሳኒ ተራ ክጻውት ምዃኑ ዘይዝንጋዕን ቀንዲ መሻርኽቲ ምዃኑ ዘይተርፍን ንገዛኢ ሰልፊ ክልል ትግራይ ህውሓት ምንሻው ሓላፍነታዊ ኣይነበረን ጥራይ ዘይኰነስ ንሕማቕ ኣንፈት ዘርኢ ዝተክል’ዩ። ብቐንዱ ሃንደስቲን ኣተግበርቲን እዚ ህይወት ኣሽሓት ዝወሰደ ኲናት ክልተ ናይ ቀረባ ውድባት ህውሓትን ህግደፍን ኣብ ክንዲ ጌጋኻ ኣሚንካን ንህዝቢ ብቕኑዕ ልቢ ይቕረ ምሕታት᎓ ሕጂ ከኣ ካልእ ተዃታዂ ቋንቋ ምዝውታር ዝገደደ ሳዕቤን ክህሉዎ’ዩ። እቲ ዝኸፍአ ድማ እቶም ነባሖ ካብታ መደረ እናጨራረሙ ከጋውሑ ምዃኖምን ምህላዎምን’ዩ።Continue reading

Despite all the difficulties, Eritreans and Ethiopians are hopeful that lasting peace will be concluded soon.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomes Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 26, 2018 [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomes Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 26, 2018 [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters] 

On June 26, a high-level Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for talks on ending the decades-long conflict between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had extended an olive branch to his country’s longtime enemy by stating that Ethiopia is finally ready to fully accept and implement the terms of an 18-year-old peace agreement between the two countries. Last week, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki acknowledged his Ethiopian counterpart’s peace offer.

The Eritrean delegation arrived in Ethiopia only yesterday, but significant progress has already been made – Ahmed announced that Ethiopian Airlines would restart flights to Eritrea for the first time since 1998. Click here

(Published in Al Jazeera English; June 11, 2018)

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki cannot afford to ignore Ethiopia’s peace offer.

Isaias Afwerki has been Eritrea's president since 1993 [Reuters/James Akena]

On June 5, Ethiopia announced it would fully accept and implement the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord that ended its border war with Eritrea. It also said it would accept a 2002 ruling by the UN-backed Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), which awarded several disputed territories, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea. Ethiopia had been ignoring the commission’s ruling and refusing to withdraw its troops from these territories for the past 16 years, making the demarcation of the border practically impossible.

Adis Ababa’s announcement last week was welcomed as a major step towards permanently calming the deadly tensions between the two warring neighbours. Click here

(Published in Al Jazeera English; May 24, 2018)

On the 27th anniversary of Eritrea’s independence, Isaias Afwerki should remember what he once said about democracy.

Isaias Afwerki is the first President of Eritrea, a position he has held since its independence in 1993 [Reuters]
Isaias Afwerki is the first President of Eritrea, a position he has held since its independence in 1993 [Reuters] 

Today marks the 27th anniversary of Eritrea’s independence, hard-won after a 30-year war withEthiopia. On this day, as we rightfully celebrate, we should also reflect on the overall state of the country. To do this, there is no better way than looking back to a landmark speech Eritrea’s first and only president, Isaias Afwerki, gave over two decades ago.

On September 8, 1997, in a public address at the Walton Park Conference in West Sussex, England, President Afwerki delivered profound remarks on democracy and the rule of law in a speech titled “Democracy in Africa: an African view.” 

In this address, the president listed six fundamental principles that he believes are the most essential pillars of a modern democracy, particularly in Africa:

Click here

(Published in Africa is A Country; May 24, 2018)

Recycling old images and tired ideas is also at the heart of what Eritrean state media does. Unless covering President Isaias Afwerki (since 1993), the state media continuously re-use the footage and stories of the 30-year old independence war. Flimsy development projects are disproportionately hyped. Newsworthy events are routinely ignored unless they get out control, and then the Minister of Information only responds in a tweet.The Eritrean government attempts to control its narrative in two ways: outright denial and widespread policing, which promotes fear and extends to the diaspora. Whether in the news media or asylum offices of the West, the Eritrean narrative has been reduced to the bare minimum.

Here I want to challenge this stale narrative by using personal testimonies and small incidents that paint a clearer and more detailed picture of life in Eritrea. Personal testimonies make the elites nervous and agitated. Recounting small incidents is like taking snapshots from different angles. And as the viewer and reader, I rely on you to interpret and to create a coherent narrative.

Here there is no script. Click here

(Published in Africa is A Country; March 29, 2018)

In mid-February 2018, rapper Nipsey Hussle released his first studio album, Victory Lap, a paean to his complicated relationship with Los Angeles gang life. While making the rounds on American hip hop radio stations and podcasts, if he wasn’t breaking down gang codes or marketing his various businesses, Nipsey kept returning to his roots beyond his South Central, Los Angeles neighborhood: that of his Eritrean immigrant background.

Ermias Asghedom’s father had fled the ongoing war and settled in US. By celebrating his father’s background (his mother is African-American), Nipsey was partly reflecting what Boima Tucker described elsewhere on this site as “a resurgence of an unbridled enthusiasm for Africa in black America.” In recent times, American artists of African immigrant background have openly made connections to their parents’ homelands public and explicit. Issa Rae has done so on television, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya on film and Wale and French Montana have done so in music. The comedian Tiffany Haddish, another LA native, also has recently foregrounded her Eritrean background. Haddish recently traveled to Eritrea then wore a traditional outfit to the The Oscars. It is obvious that Haddish’s new found connection to Eritrea, has added to her confidence as a public figure. This is in contrast to a generation ago when the children of African immigrants to the US downplayed their family connections in fear of attracting ridicule.

In 2004, when he turned 18, Nipsey traveled with his father and brother, Samiel “Black Sam” Asghedom, to Asmara, the Eritrean capital and stayed three months. This trip would have a profound influence on him. Beyond just a celebration of his African heritage, it would become part of his personal mythology. It appears as inspiration for his brand of capitalism.

He admits that at first it wasn’t so easy arriving for the first time in his father’s home country: Click here to continue