Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki arrives at the Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu, Somalia December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
June 17, 2019
It was the peace deal nobody saw coming. In July of last year Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki stepped off a plane in Ethiopia and was greeted with a warm hug from that country's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after almost two decades of hostility between the horn of Africa neighbours.
Isaias, analysts said, had been caught off guard when Abiy, a new and reform-minded leader for Ethiopia, extended an olive branch. Still, the Eritreans responded in kind as Abiy promised Ethiopia would finally accept the terms of a UN-brokered agreement that ended a 1998 - 2000 border conflict, which had killed more than 80,000 people and left the two nations in an effective state of cold war.
Almost a year later, though, Eritrean opposition activists say there has been no peace dividend. Isaias, a former rebel commander, came to power in 1993 -- and no elections have been held since. Rights groups report that journalists and dissenting politicians have been rounded up and imprisoned without trial. Eritreans must obtain an exit visa to leave the country. There is forced conscription.
Eritrea has long said such measures are necessary to protect it from attack or sabotage from its much bigger neighbour. But activists are now asking, with the new accord inked, how much longer that argument can hold. This month, a group of 100 leading African journalists, politicians and activists signed an open letter to Isaias urging him to embark on political reform. Eritrean Diaspora youth are stepping up the pressure, too, launching vibrant social media campaigns such as #Yiakl - or Enough - and #HappyBirthdayCiham.