The ailment is reported to be liver disease which has manifested itself on his eyes, his face and his stomach. Isaias Afwerki has lost weight; his stomach is bloated; his eyes jaundiced and he has liver spots all over.
In late January, he had abruptly left for Qatar and stayed there for about two weeks until rumors of his sickness and medical travel to Qatar started to spread. He had to return to Eritrea to show his face the night before the three-day celebration of the 21st anniversary of Operation Fenkil which he always presides over. The celebrations commenced on February 14.
The most common cause of liver disease is alcohol abuse and Isaias Afwerki has a well-earned reputation for being a heavy drinker.
The effort to maintain total secrecy on Isaias Afwerki’s health status is due to the fact that there is no known line of succession in Eritrea. Since the arrest of Mahmoud Sherifo who, prior to his arrest and disappearance in September 18, 2001 functioned as the de facto vice president, Eritrea has had no vice president. There are persistent rumors that Isaias Afwerki is grooming his son, the young Abraham, to take over the helm of the country when he is good and ready.
That must be a long term project because according to reports released by wikileaks, Isaias Afwerki, then 62 years old, told a visiting German parliamentarian in late 2008 that he is “healthy and expects to live another 40 or 50 years.”And just as another dictator, Egypt’s 82-year old despot, Hosni Mubarek, clung to a long-gone youth by dying his hair pitch black, Isaias Afwerki frequents hair cuts (the so-called “Jon-Tra”, short for John Travolta) most closely associated with young men in their 20s.
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the ruling party, Alamin Mohammed Seid, another ailing figure of the regime who had been seeking medical treatment in the Gulf for years, returned to Eritrea for Operation Fenkil celebrations. In an interview posted on February 11, 2011 at the ruling party’s website, shaebia.org, Alamin stated that he has recovered and is fully capable of carrying out his job duties—which, curiously, is the exact message he gave a year earlier (February 4, 2010) to the government website, shabait.com. Meanwhile, nothing was heard of Alamin between Operation Fenkil celebration 2010 and 2011.
Operation Fenkil celebrates the successful 1990 campaign which was waged to liberate the port city of Massawa from Ethiopian occupation.