Open main menu

Isaias Afwerki (also spelled "Afewerki"[1], Tigrinya: ኢሳያስ ኣፍወርቂ [isajas afwɐrkʼi]; born 2 February 1946) is the first President of Eritrea, a position he has held since its independence in 1993. He led the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) to victory in May 1991, thus ending the 30-year-old Eritrean War of Independence. Isaias is the leader of the country's sole legal political party, People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). He has been cited for human's rights violations by the United Nations and Amnesty International. In 2015, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea under the government of President Isaias Afewerki last in its press-freedom index for the eighth year running.

Isaias Afwerki
Isaias Afwerki in 2002.jpg
1st President of Eritrea
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Acting: 27 April 1991 – 24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
President of the National Assembly
Assumed office
24 May 1993
Preceded byPosition established
Leader of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice
Assumed office
15 June 1994
Preceded byPosition established
Leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
In office
4 October 1978 – 15 June 1994
Preceded byRomodan Mohammed Nur
Succeeded bySebhat Ephrem
Personal details
Born (1946-02-02) 2 February 1946 (age 72)
Asmara, British Military Administration (Eritrea)
Political partyPeople's Front for Democracy and Justice
Spouse(s)Saba Haile
Children3 (Abraham, Berhane, Elsa)
Alma materAddis Ababa University


Personal life and educationEdit

Isaias Afwerki was born on 2 February 1946 in the Aba Shi'Aul district of Asmara, Eritrea.[2][3] His father was Afwerki Abraha and mother was Adanesh Berhe.[citation needed] His father, a native of Tselot village, just outside Asmara, was a minor functionary in the state Tobacco Monopoly.[2][3] His mother was descended from Tigrayan immigrants from the Enderta area.[2][3] Isaias has four sisters (including Nardos, Tsigereda, and Ariam) and five brothers (Amare, Erimias, Amanuel, Ephrem and Paulos).[2].[4][5]

Isaias was educated at the Prince Makonnen High School (PMSS). In the early 1960s, he joined the nationalist Eritrean student movement.[6] In 1965, he began his studies at the College of Engineering at Haile Selassie I University (now called Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[6]

Isaias is married to Saba Haile[7] and has two sons (Abraham and Berhane) and one daughter (Elsa).[citation needed]

Eritrean independence movementEdit

Isaias became a part of the struggle for independence in September 1966, when he left the university for Kassala, Sudan, joining the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in exile.[6] In 1967, Isaias, went to China for military training and he studied political ideologies. Upon Isaias' return, he was appointed political commissar of the ELF.[6][8]

In 1969, ideological and tactical disagreements within the ELF led to three factions splitting from the ELF, one of which came to be led by Isaias after the death of Abraham Tewolde. These three groups would eventually join. When they formally merged in 1973, they changed their name to the Eritrean People's Revolutionary Party. In the process, Isaias put down a reform movement led by former university students.[6]

In the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)Edit

While a member of the ELF leadership, Isaias Afwerki joined with others to author an EPLF manifesto in October 1971 entitled Nhnan Elamanan, meaning "We and Our Goals". This manifesto explained the decision to create a separate political organization from ELF to bring about change.[6] In 1975, Isaias became chairman of the EPLF military committee. In 1977, under EPLF's first congress, he was elected vice secretary-general of the EPLF. He was elected secretary-general in 1987.[5][not in citation given]

By May 1991, the EPLF, under Isaias' leadership, was able to control all of Eritrea and some of its units entered the capital city Asmara. In essence, Eritrea became a de facto independent country on 24 May 1991.


President Isaias Afwerki with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, December 2002

In April 1993, a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence was held, and the following month Eritrea achieved de jure independence. Isaias was declared the first head of state, a position he has held ever since the end of the war for independence.[5]

During the first few years of Isaias' administration, the institutions of governance were structured and put in place. This included the provision of an elected local judicial system, as well as an expansion of the educational system into as many regions as possible.[citation needed] The EPLF renamed itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) in February 1994 as part of its transition to a political party.[citation needed]


In June 2015 a United Nations panel accused Isaias Afwerki of human rights abuses by stating that he "has imposed a reign of fear through systematic and extreme abuses of the population that may amount to crimes against humanity"[9]Amnesty International believes that the government of President Isaias Afwerki has imprisoned at least 10,000 political prisoners. Amnesty also claims that torture—for punishment, interrogation and coercion—is widespread.[10]

In 2015, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea under the government of President Isaias Afewerki last in its press-freedom index for the eighth year running.[11]


  1. ^ "President: Isaias Afewerki". BBC News. The BBC. 1 May 2014. US diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks in December 2010 offer an unflattering view of Mr Afewerki's rule: Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant." Is the country "on the brink of disaster?" asked the American ambassador Ronald McMullen. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d "Isaias Afwerki". Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2nd ed.). Scarecrow Press. 14 October 2010. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-810-87505-0.
  4. ^ "Brothers divided by war". The Guardian. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "Letter from Africa: Emptying Eritrea". BBC. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong; Steven J. Niven (2 February 2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP, US. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  7. ^ Hillary Rodham Clinton (April 19, 2004). Living History. Simon and Schuster. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-7432-2225-9.
  8. ^ Dan Connell (1993). Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution : with a New Foreword on the Postwar Transition. The Red Sea Press. ISBN 978-1-56902-046-3. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  9. ^ "Torture and Other Rights Abuses Are Widespread in Eritrea, U.N. Panel Says". New York Times. New York Times. 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2015-12-06. has imposed a reign of fear through systematic and extreme abuses of the population that may amount to crimes against humanity"
  10. ^ "Eritrea: Rampant repression 20 years after independence", Amnesty International, London, 9 May 2013. Retrieved on 23 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Eritrea – last in the World Press Freedom Index for the past eight years". Reporters Without Borders. 2015-06-12. Retrieved 2015-06-13. Eritrea has been ranked last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for the past eight years.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit