(Published in Al Jazeera English; Nov. 19, 2018)

Having gotten rid of international sanctions, the Eritrean regime is unlikely to change its repressive ways at home.

Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki talks to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during the ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, 2018 [File: Reuters]
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki talks to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during the ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, 2018 [File: Reuters]

 

On November 14, the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to lift the sanctions it had imposed on Eritrea with Resolution 1907.The measure, which included an international arms embargo, travel bans and the freezing of assets of high-profile Eritrean officials, had been in effect since 2009, when the UN accused Eritrea of supporting armed groups in Somalia – something the regime in Asmara always denied.

East African nations and the international community welcomed the UNSC’s decision, which came on the back of a landmark peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

While the withdrawal of sanctions is a major diplomatic win for Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, it is unlikely to change much for ordinary Eritreans. In fact, the regime continues to maintain its own form of crippling “sanctions” on the general population, limiting its rights and freedoms. And there are no serious signs that these sanctions are going anywhere. Click here

(Published in Al Jazeera English; Oct. 12, 2018)

If anything, it has actually strengthened his regime.Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hold hands as they wave at the crowds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Sunday July 15, 2018 [Mulugeta Ayene/AP]

After signing an historic peace deal with Ethiopia, and receiving unprecedented levels of positive media coverage, Eritrea applied for a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

With strong support from the likes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this Horn of Africa country which has repeatedly been classified as “not free” by Freedom House, easily managed to secure an unchallenged slate in the African group’s candidate list. This means the upcoming “election” is nothing but a formality and Eritrea will inevitably join the UNHRC at the UN General Assembly’s next meeting on October 12. 

As a member of the UNHRC, Eritrea will have the right to vote on UN’s human rights resolutions, including the ones that are about its own abuses, for a period of three years. Click here

(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

 

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