Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Who is Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s Enigmatic Dictator?

Eritrea has become Africa's most repressive country since independence from Ethiopia.

 this extract from Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa’s Most Repressive State, author Martin Plaut reflects on Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. The president led his people through most of the 30-year war with Ethiopia that culminated in independence in 1993. But the country has never held an election: President Isaias is an absolute ruler without a democratic mandate.
Note: Eritreans are known by their first names, so Isaias Afwerki is known as President Isaias on second reference.
How was it that Eritrea, which won its freedom at such a price, has sunk so far in just over two decades? Once hailed as a beacon of hope for the Horn of Africa, it is now mired in poverty, repression and bitter recriminations with almost all its neighbors. Thousands flee the country every month, braving the Sahara desert and drowning in the Mediterranean, to seek sanctuary on European soil.
The answer can be traced, in good measure, to the personality and policies of one man: Isaias Afwerki. At 70, he has been both the towering figure who led his people to independence and the dictator who now holds them in servitude. Yet, whatever his faults, Isaias has done little to encourage a cult of personality.
Asmara, the Eritrean capital, is not a city littered by his portrait or dominated by North Korean style statues of the "great leader" of the kind that can be found in other African capitals. But Isaias has made such an indelible imprint on his nation that it is impossible to understand Eritrea without grasping something about its president.

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