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Eritrea’s King Isaias Afwerki Judges The World

Recall that in Part 1 of the interview with Eritrean state media (EriTV), President Isaias Afwerki addressed domestic issues and essentially said there is nothing wrong in Eritrea that a little more controlling and louder commanding couldn’t fix.  Alnahda’s commentary on that can be found here.  In part 2 of his interview last month, our unelected president and demi-god, Isaias Afwerki, passed judgment on the world.   He was asked about Saudi Arabian coalition against terrorism; the alleged Sunni-Shia race for influence in the Muslim world; military interventionism and international law; defeating the New World Order; Eritrea in the Hood; Ethiopia’s Millenium (GERD) Dam; Eritrea’s isolation and, finally, how he assesses Eritrea’s progress in the last 25 years.

Here is the short version: World, Isaias Afwerki is very disappointed in you: timeout is in order for you!

Here is the longer version: get on board as Al Nahda takes you on a scenic route of The Mind of Isaias Afwerki.

1. The Saudi-Islamic Coalition Against Terror

On December 15, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told the world that Saudi Arabia has formed a Riyadh-based “Islamic military alliance” against terror. This alliance has 34 countries, he said, and it has “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreck death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent.”

Whenever countries declare war on “terrorism”, they have a very expansive definition of what it is (Exhibit A: Refer to Ethiopia’s “Anti Terrorism Proclamation”) and Saudi Arabia is no exception.  Well, maybe it is.  After all, in Saudi Arabia, according to its proclamation on terrorism, atheism is a form of terrorism. Women who tried to drive cars in Saudi Arabia were tried in court using the anti-terrorism law. Anyone who advocates for a form of Islam different from the Selefi version advocated by the Saudis is a terrorist. And, oh, the Houthis in Yemen are terrorists.

So, Mr. President, why has Eritrea joined this coalition “without reservations”, asked the journalist, who was given the question so the President can give a 26 minute answer to one question. I swear.   Wait. I think swearing is a form of terrorism.

The short version is: dude, there are anti-terrorism coalitions all over the world, some led by the US, some by Russia, and it makes sense for us to join one which is from our region. He did use one of my favorite Arabic phrases that a dear friend uses—men Haba wa Daba—so that made the torture of listening to 26 minutes worth…no it wasn’t worth it.

2. The Sunni-Shia Divide

I have no idea why this question was asked: world-wide, there is no Sunni-Shia race for dominance; there is a Saudi-Iran competition for domination. Really, because, ummm, Eritrea is not a Muslim country and Isaias is not a religious authority, at least officially. Eritrea, as we keep saying without the benefit of a census in 25 years, is a country that is half Muslim half Christian.  Within the Muslim community, the Sunni-Shia divide has no relevance to Eritrea because the country is 99.99% Sunni. Maybe 100%.  Again, no census.   If you forced me to find a reason for the question, it is because His Excellency wanted to showcase his knowledge about the issue.  But in the process, he told us that religious orientation, and sects have no impact in people’s daily lives which can only be said by communists and progressive types but which is so very wrong. When you got nothing—no stake in governance, no stake in country and the State does everything to alienate and disenfranchise you—all that is left is religion and if he weren’t a Maoist, he would understand that and would make some effort to understand why so many of his own countrymen have gone deep-diving in the Selefi version of Islam that considers Shia Muslim apostates.

I didn’t even get a good phrase from him, other than his over-used vertical polarization.

And, oh, remember the aforementioned Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir who announced Saudi Arabia’s anti terrorism coalition? The Iranians (Shiites) tried to assassinate him a few years back: I wonder if he considers them terrorists and if we (without reservation) do too?

3. Eritrea Has A Long-Standing Policy Against Taking Sides and Coalitions: Why Did You Support the Saudi Coalition?

Well, good on you MoI employee who read a question from a list! This is where the prez makes the distinction that Eritrea has joined a Saudi INITIATIVE and not COALITION.   Now, in all the domestic affairs stuff interview (Part 1), you will remember that Auditor General Isaias Afwerki was critiquing the work of President Isaias Afwerki. Here, the prez takes full ownership of Eritrea’s policy to support the Saudi coalition without reservation.   ብኣኣ እየ እታ ኣዋጅ ኣውጺኤያ: that’s why I released the announcement. I, not we.   This confirms, again, that the whole show is Isaias Afwerki’s: sometimes using the MoI letterhead, sometimes Office of the President letterhead, and sometimes using the MoFA letterhead, but it is all from his head.

4. Military Interventionism vs International Law

Well. Well. Well, well, well.   This is the part where every Eritrean, anywhere in the world, will nod his head in agreement with President Isaias Afwerki and say, damn, I hate that guy but when he is right, he is right.

If you scan the world, the UN has created tons of “peace keepers” that never keep peace but find a way to perpetuate their existence (“…will remain seized of the matter” is what the UN loves to say).  Here’s what the world has now:

UNIFIL (since 1978!!!)


The president says that the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) was going to be one of those things, (ከምዚ ዝኣመሰለ ውድብ ምስ ኣተወ ኣይወጽእን እዩ) and, in five years, these five thousand “peacekeeping group” had a budget of 200 million per year and would never have left and “we reached a decision that it has to be evicted and we evicted it, notwithstanding its ramification.” You got to give the devil his due: UNMEE is the only UN “peacekeeping” group in the world whose life has been abruptly ended.

But. There are some inconvenient facts. And they are public records. One: Eritrea was a very eager participant in the “Coaliton of the Willing” in the war against Iraq when the entire African Union was against it. Two: I can’t find it, but one of you (A.Osman?) will: Eritrea not only supported the US war against Iraq, it (Isaias Afwerki) actually said that the mistake the US made was NOT in going to war in Iraq but in seeking UN resolution for its war against Iraq: it should have unilaterally declared war.   Third: For three years (2002-2004), Isaias Afwerki and his minions were pitching Eritrea as a US base for the “war against terror.”  How many speeches to that effect did then-Eritrea ambassador to the US, Girma Asmerom, make pushing that?   In fact, isn’t Isaias Afwerki on record saying that US presence in the Horn of Africa (particularly in Djibouti) is a stabilizing factor?  His words were: “it sounds colonialist but….” US presence is necessary.  Of course, everybody can change his mind now and then, but here Isaias statements are presented as long standing Eritrean policy when in fact Eritrea was a cheer-leader for the uni-polar world.

5. So, That Unipolar World, How Is It Going To Be Defeated?

This is the part where Isaias talks about global resistance to the unipolar world and refers to Africa in the third person—as if Eritrea is not part of Africa—and considers Africa’s call for permanent membership in the UN Security council as inadequate call for “reform” when what is required is “sur neqel”—uprooting—the whole rotten infrastructure because the world can no longer take ከምዚ ብድዐ: ከምዚ ላግጫ (such arrogance and such scorn.)

It sounds a lot like the discussions we have here on what the Eritrean people should do with PFDJ–reform or uproot– doesn’t it?

So, basically, how Isaias Afwerki feels about the World Order is how we feel about the Isaias’ Eritrea Order. But Isaias Afwerki is blissfully unself-conscious.

6. Eritrea’s Place In The Neighborhood

There is no choice, none, to Eritrea considering itself a member of IGAD (localized affiliation), Horn of Africa, Greater Horn (an expanded regional affiliations), the Red Sea Nations, the Nile Basin, the Arab Gulf nations, he said. All of these identities are complementary, says Isaias Afwerki. But of course, all identities require prioritizing and this may be one of the reasons that our Southern neighbors are conflicted about us because they can’t relate to Eritrea embracing its identity as a Red Sea nation and an affiliate of the Arab Gulf nations.  Not just our Southern neighbors who give us occasional lectures on how we want to be Arabs but many Eritreans say that as well. Its like they have never seen Eritrea on global map.  They should be punished by having Isaias Afwerki as their tutor.

7. Ethiopia’s Millennium Dam (GERD)

I really can’t think of any reason why the journalist would ask this question unless he was told to ask. Before we go into Isaias Afwerki ‘s long rant, the short version, which has a lot of resonance in Africa, is this: the “Africa Rising” narrative–built on a lot of white elephant projects funded by Africa Development Bank–may give us a sense of pride but it does nothing to improve the quality of life of the average African.

But there is no short version with Isaias Afwerki, it is kolel so here it goes.  He assumes a natural role for him, that of the Ethiopian opposition, and talks trash of Ethiopia’s Millenium (ሺሓዊ) Dam because, he says,ባዕለይ ዝተወኣሳእክሉ ስለ ዝኾነ: I personally had a role to play in it.   This is very odd and extremely unusual for him because he never talks of unpersons and people he has declared enemies of the State.  Anyway, he says, the genesis for GERD was that Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, went about it for totally emotional reasons: he, despite wise counsel from wise Isaias, approached Egyptians with the subject in 1993 and they (particularly Hosni Mubarek’s VP, Omar Suleiman) asked him: who do you think you are? This so offended the PM, says Isaias Afwerki, that despite his advice to him that this is not a priority, the PM pledged, “I will show them (Egypt and Sudan) just like Turkey made Syria and Iraq buckle under.”

Isaias Afwerki then goes into a comprehensive (what the late PM Meles once called “final exam paper”) list of questions to demonstrate that the Millenium Dam has not been sufficiently studied to determine its benefits to Ethiopia and its potential hydroelectric power customers, nor has a proper risk analysis been done (earthquake!)  In short, there was no cost-benefit-risk analysis.   There is stuff about transmission, distribution, megawatts, KWH for fuel-generated energy vs hydropower-generated energy down to the pennies, and how Eritrea started the Setit initiative and that it was set aside and “I have been following this closely”, and it is all PR.

It is a truly strange narration: you would think he was the former Governor of Wollo or an Ethiopian Minister of Mines and Energy who resigned his post in protest due to disagreement with his bosses.

8. On Isolation & Reengagement

The world is a strange and contradictory place, he says. In the Hanish Islands settlement, for example, we were told that the islands belong to Yemen but Eritrea can fish in Yemeni waters. How is that possible? I mean, I am not a lawyer and international law doesn’t make sense to me, he seems to be saying. Then don’t try to be a lawyer: hire some to explain it to you.

Then he dragged poor Colin Powel (again!) waving the vials that supposedly show that Iraq has chemical and nuclear weapons to say that placing Eritrea under sanctions is a continuation of those kinds of lies.  Not mistakes, but lies.   And nobody with a conscience can say that Eritrea deserved to be placed under sanctions in 2009, he says.  Really? Does anyone remember what 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 were like? I certainly do.  I think placing Eritrea under TARGETED sanctions was the most logical outcome of Isaias Afwerki’s adventurism in Somalia and Djibouti and, yes, I have a conscience.   So, yeah, the world’s decision to engage with us has little to do with our campaigns to challenge it because we did very little of that, he says, breaking the heart of everyone who thought they were making a difference by waving placards with Nehna Nsu and playing word games with UN (UNfair, UNjust, etc).   It is just that, he says, over time, truth has prevailed. Camels march and dogs bark and all these challenges have made us stronger, he says. Stronger…  

Then I think Kanye West came and sang “N-n-n-n-n-n–now that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger: I need you to hurry up now: harder, better, faster, stronger.”  Sorry, my notes say: I got bored and dozed off with music in my headphone.

When I woke up:

We all know we lost 65,000 lives to bring about Eritrea’s independence.   And how many did we lose to protect its independence in the border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000? Well, referring to leaked martyrs’ database, had said it was approximately 20,000. So did, on June 20 the subsequent year, the Government of Eritrea.  Now,  Isaias Afwerki contradicts us and contradicts his own reports and everything he told the world by saying that those who died were “half” of the 65,000 (which would make the number of those killed in the border war 32,500 making the total, according to him bout 100,000. Yeah Eritrean lives are just rounding errors to him.


9. The Dawn of 2016

So, 2016 is ነጥቢ መቀይሮ (point of departure) for bigger and better things, he says. And all you mekete types are invited to increase your productivity (so you can be told next year that your contributions were minimal.)

But from everything he said, 2016 will remain the same delusional year: one where we blame the US for instigating the Hanish Crisis; for instigating the 1998 border war with Ethiopia; and with Djibouti–so as to paint us as war-mongers.  It is not our fault and we take no responsibility.  One which refuses to recognize why Eritrea got only 1 vote in its push to join the African Union’s African Peace & Security Council this week; one which continues its self-isolation and doesn’t attend the AU’s session of Head of States last week (again).  I couldn’t reach the banana but it was wrotten anyway, said the monkey.  One which doesn’t prioritize which one of its identities–IGAD, HoA, Arab Gulf, Nile Basin–is most important and strategic and has to be constantly shifting directions South, East, West. One where we join crazy coalitions (which are not coalitions but initiatives), “without reservation” and without any debate, of a country, Saudi Arabia, which is the ideological and financial arm of Jihadism and least qualified to lead a war against terror  (it has not hit Al Qaeda bases in Yemen but is all over Houthis and thousands of Yemeni civilians) and has crazy ideas of what terrorism is and isn’t.  One where we forget that Eritrea was one of the few African countries that went against African Union position and joined the Coalition of the Willing and spent all 2002 and 2003 hiring American lobbyists at $50,000 a month to make Eritrea a US base, and then, when rejected, bragged that Eritrea is not for sale.   One where the two most important topics of 2015–the defection of Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition TPDM, and the allegations that Emirates has a base in Asab–are off limits for debate and not to be asked by journalists.  One when our government said that US is essential to Africa’s stability but now calls it a unipolar nation set for world domination that must be challenged.   One that refuses to dislodge itself from Ethiopia’s internal affairs. In short, a country that is a mirror image of Isaias Afwerki’s gigantic ego and delusion.

No wonder, Isaias Afwerki’s mouthpiece didn’t even bother to present a reportage on part 2 of the interview: the two Yemanes are embarrassed: they don’t want the world to know what their boss truly thinks of them.

About Salyounis

Saleh Younis (SAAY) has been writing about Eritrea since 1994 when he published "Eritrean Exponent", a quarterly print journal. His writing has been published in several media outlets including Dehai, Eritrean Studies Review, Visafric, Asmarino and, of course, Awate where his column has appeared since the launch of the website in 2000. Focusing on political, economic, educational policies, he approaches his writing from the perspective of the individual citizens' civil liberties and how collectivist governments and overbearing organizations trample all over it in pursuit of their interests. SAAY is the president and CEO of a college with a focus in sound arts and video games and his writing often veers to music critique. He has an MBA from Golden Gate University and a BA from St Mary's College.

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  • Ahmed Idris

    When Isaias Afewegi has good relationship , with Iran bragging use to discrib the by sky limit relationship. .all of a sudden he decided that the relationship with Saudi Arabia. .which is the arach of Iran is more feasible politically. .

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Dear Saay & All Awatistas,

    Below is a Canadian documentary that gives a good picture about the relationship of GoE with Alshebab and the slave labour in the Bish gold mining. Saay, this documentary fully supports to the argument you made for the cause of sanction to the government of Eritrea. episodes/2015-2016/nevsun-in- eritrea-dealing-with-a- dictator

    Amanuel Hidrat

  • Abi

    HI Gud
    I’m busy with family. I will try to come back later.
    Borders? I’m not sure if it exists now except in your imagination as everything else.

  • Abi

    Your mint tea on the way!

  • Abi

    Gud! Gud! Gud! Gud eko new !
    Now bemote nigeregn who needs to wake up?
    UN or Gudegnaw Gud ? Whose angebgabi Guday is this? UN? Really? We been there since it’s inception as The League of Nations where the King of Kings was reduced to a nobody.
    60 years later you are still expecting UN to wake up. Gud metsiyu!
    How do you like your coffee?

  • PTS

    For transaction anove 3000 nakfa, cash has been outlawed in Eritrea. The regime is tightening the noose on the economy. How in the world is the Eritrean people supposed to setup bank accounts and learn and use checks in lightening speed? Oh man!

  • Hayat Adem

    Guad Gud,
    I think you have already heard what you you needed to hear from me. But if you need more, read what Abi wrote below.

    • Gud

      Ayte Hayat,

      Indeed you said more than enough. Actually you been saying it for years. All junk material and is sent straight to the sewage. Sorry

      Abi ? ah, now, that guy is cool. Whatever he writes here cracked me up. Sometimes, sehak kirtim ! Very cool guy, Besides he hides neither his nationality nor his gender, unlike some weird individuals (Wink, wink 🙂

  • Abi

    Hi Gud
    What is zeraf zeraf? Ere goraw? Ere denu?
    You started by saying ” you smacked Ethiopia “, you finished by saying ” weyane is still squaring on your land”.
    Why don’t you just smack the daylight out of them them ? How are you going to celebrate your 25th birthday while woyane is eating half the cake?
    Moya belib new. Besides, leave Hayat the leopard alone. She is so quick, so agile, so elegant, so lovely, so courageous, so gifted, above all she is a proud Eritrean. Did I mention she is so beautiful? Wait, she is pretty!

    • Gud


      Not zeraf or ere goraw. Nothing like that Just talking in a language your leper…I mean leopard, understands :). At first I thought it was a typo on your end, and I said DD must be on chicken break 🙂

      That smacking thing is actually a fact. What else do you call destroying that humongous Derg army? Pleas remember also if you love your current government, you owe that to us. Remember we carried the ungrateful woyanie from hayat’s land of dedebit all the way to Arat Kilo. Sure they look and act different now, but you know….

      By the way, this is you second strange testimony. The first one hates he is Eritrean, the one is purely yagerh lij. Please lock her (Him, it or whatever) in a proper leper’s den or leopard’s zoo

      They say One’s leper is another’s leopard.

      • Abi

        Guad Gud
        Anta gidef hasot atzareb, Eway!!!
        Let’s be honest here. You didn’t win against Ethiopia. Never. You won against a corrupted derg that cut its right hand with its left. You know how the generals sold the army. In one of his interviews Meles said, one of his biggest expenses was paying college tuition for derg officials’ children.
        However, I owe you big for you the independence you brought us from you. Yeqenyeley.
        I’m smacking my lips because this netsanet you brought us is so sweet I stopped buying sweet stuff. I even put it in my coffee and tea. The good thing is it never ends and it tastes better and better every passing day.
        They say one’s netsanet is another’s never ending netsanet!
        May 24 lezelalem yikeber!!!
        This time your 25th netsanet anniversary birthday cake has only 10 candle while weyane cake has 15 more candles one for each year they are ruling badume.
        Gud, do I need a helmet and bulletproof vest?

        • Kim Hanna

          Selam Abi,
          Wow it is interesting that Meles was bragging about the DERG generals he was bribing, I thought it was George Bush as a CIA head of the time. I never heard of it.
          Mengistu, of course, was executing other generals in the middle of battle, wasn’t he? That aside, Abi, I have a statement or I should say a hypothetical theory about the Eritrean leopard Hayat’s approach and personality.
          I want you to give me your considered opinion. No emotions.
          It is this.
          { Isn’t it fortunate for us that most Eritreans are not like Hayat. If they were I would say most Ethiopians would be carrying water for them and not only that do almost everything they asked at a substantial cost borne by our country.
          Alas, we dodged another catastrophe because they don’t get her.
          I gather, of course, people on both side of the fence will try to spin it as a win win formula while still others as a disaster.}
          I look forward to your reply. I wonder how your buddy Eyob is doing these days, I hope he is busy making a lot of money.
          Mr. K.H

          • Abi

            Hi Mr Kim
            First, Eyobe is on yearly ” gimgema ” at dedebit. I hope he will come back with some kind of shumet unless he is assigned as governor of Badime.
            EPRDF paying derg officials was talk of the nation. A general’s son who lived in my neighborhood used to drive a government issued Mitsubishi Pajero when he was 2nd year student at AAU. These people were corrupted to their bones. His father was a very high ranking General. I can go on and on. Unfortunately, It is the same now.
            Regarding Hayat yene Emebet, I have to get back to you after Valentines Day. It is time for love .

          • Kim Hanna

            Selam Abi,
            Fair enough, thanks for the info on Eyob’s political career and the history lesson of our Generals.
            Mr. K.H

  • Hayat Adem

    why are you “we” and who gave you the power to speak on behalf of Eritrea? Speak for IA/PFDJ, and all will be well.

  • Hayat Adem

    yes ghedli was bad. going back is not the only option but playing that option as a scary monster is not helping your hate-them slogan any longer. you have to be free to see your options and pick the best ones. eritrea can go back to ethiopia; ethiopia can come to eritrea; ethiopia and eritrea can meet half-way or at any part between a and b; ethiopia and eritrea can remain separate and tune to selective strategic modes of cooperation that expands to maximum or shrinks to minimum dynamics of commonness. on the other hand, what choice does your “always hate them” attitude offer us with? nothing positive. you have a bad heart and mind that offers options to the left of zero.

  • Naod Samiel

    Rulers make mistakes, change their minds and they spin everything into a narrative that favors them. It’s nothing new, but when you observe it up close, the cynicism of it is stunning.

  • Ayneta

    For Heaven’s sake, what you wrote earlier to SAAY was a good joke? Really? That has been joked and re-joked to a level it is not even cited as a joke anymore, apparently except by you- the hapless. You don’t only lack commonsense, but also the faintest sense of humor. Too bad of a combination. Shenka dekis!

  • Amanuel Hidrat


    We have families like you guys. What is this fear, if you have a conviction for the well being of your people and your nation? We can not expect a change to come if we are overwhelmed with fears. Change requires sacrifice of all sorts including the fear in your mind which is”retaliation” by your adversary or enemy. When our Ghedli was fighting, it didn’t stop its mission because the enemy will retaliate against our civilian people. Many innocent civilians were murdered and many villages and properties were destroyed by the derg regime in retaliation to their lose in the battles. So Hope and your likes, without being ready for all possibilities of lose for the “purpose ” you are waging for, including the ultimate sacrifice, change will not come by miracle. So please do no give us this lame excuses “fear of retaliation.” The Eritrean people should be emancipated from the this cruel regime. If you do not have the stamina for that, just stop discouraging people.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Hi KH,
    Allow me to interject a question on the opinion you shared with Ayneta. If you believe on governmental transparency and accountability, and I hope you do so, then how does the public be informed without inistitutional structure of free press?


    • Kim Hanna

      Selam Amanuel Hidrat,
      Good question. I don’t know the answer.
      Mr. SAAY said that a man has to know his limitations, he got it from Clint Eastwood. As you know, saay is not a shy person.
      My gut feeling is our own …working enlightened people in the field… have to participate to come up with a way to convince, cajole and convert the mindset of the ruling class to buy into whatever system or model likely to work in our own individual countries.
      In my opinion, attempts to copy a foreign model, however good it sounds did not work in the past. The public, that is the masses in another lingo, the people in polite company a word used to agitate and pander a pie in the sky method did not work in the past and is unlikely to work in the future.
      Mr. K.H