Essayas Afeworki

       Biography of Isaias Afwerki

Isaias Afwerki as a child with his brothers in Asmara -1956

# Isaias Afwerki       Detailed  Information
NameIsaias AfwerkiAfwerki literally means 'mouth of gold'
AgeFebruary 2, 1946 (67)Born in Asmara, Eritrea to Eritrean parents 
WifeSaba Haile Saba was a former freedom fighter for EPLF
ChildrenTwo boys & one girlAbraham (28), Berhane (17) and Elsa (19) 
ReligionOrthodox ChristianEritrean Orthodox is among the world's oldest faiths
Height6'3" tall (190.5cm)One of the tallest African Head of State
EducationAddis Ababa Uni.Former engineering student before joining ELF

Isaias Afwerki was born on February 2, 1946 in Asmara, Eritrea[1]. He was sent to the elite prince Makonnen secondary high school in Asmara, where he graduated in 1965.[2] He went on to attend Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa to study engineering from 1965-66.[2]  In late 1966, he abandoned his engineering studies and headed for Kassala, Sudan, where he joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in exile.[2]

Recalling these early times,  Isaias described Eritrean students' political thoughts and sentiments to the historian and author Don Connel as:

"Most of the active students were organized in clandestine groups. Emotionally and sentimentally, everyone was with the ELF. You never knew who was from what tribe or from what religion because there was not even a hint of that kind of thinking."
Against all odds: a chronicle of the Eritrean revolution, by Dan Connell, p. 79

However, after entering the Sudan, his sentiments towards the ELF leadership changed.

"Before I went to Sudan, the ELF was something like a magic organization to me - maybe some kind of fairy tale - but the first day I arrived I became frustrated. People began telling me about the ugly nature of the ELF, and Kassala became a nightmare for me. For some reason we were ostracized, even accused of being agents for the Ethiopians. Very narrow considerations of clan, tribe and religion were the basis for surviving or not surviving. We were living in an atmosphere of terror, where we had to go in groups, especially at dusk, to look after each other. It was definitely an akward situation after all those years of fighting for this organization."
Against all odds: a chronicle of the Eritrean revolution, by Dan Connell, p.79

Despite his critical opinions of the ELF leadership, Isaias stayed committed to the group and even still carries a tattooed letter "E" on his right shoulder as a symbol of his youthful exuberance which in those days symbolized the ELF[2]. In early 1967,  Isaias and Romadan Mohammed Nur were selected to study military training course in China. They spent nearly two years in China studying political ideologies and gurrelia warfare.[2] Isaias described these early times with the following quote:
Isaias Afwerki in the early 1970s

"I remember when we got back from China," said Isaias later. "It was the peak of politics within the ELF. The talk of reform was everywhere. Everyone trained in Syria and elsewhere joined hands. There were all sorts of revolutionary ideas. We had high hopes in those days. The reform movement was so strong that I wouldn't have imagined it could be frustrated in a few months, but it was infiltrated, and survival was not possible."
Against all odds: a chronicle of the Eritrean revolution, by Dan Connell, p.80

Many of Isaias closest friends describe him as an intelligent, and fiercely guarded man with a no nonsense attitude. One of Isaias' foreign critics described him as, "Imposingly tall, fiercely intelligent, naturally austere, he had chosen his path early in life, rebelling against a father who was a committed Unionist.".[3]

In 1970, disagreements within ELF led to three factions leaving the ELF into three separate groups. One faction took refuge in the mountains of Sahel. Another group under Isaias' command, numbering less than a dozen, left for Eritrea's eastern escarpment. While the third group headed off to Aden and returned by boat to Eritrea, landing south of Assab. These three groups would eventually join to become one and went by the name of the Eritrean Liberation Front-People's Liberation Front (ELF-PLF). When they formally merged in 1973, they changed their name to the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front.

Under ELF-PLF and EPLF
In 1971, using a type writer, Isaias wrote a manifesto called "Our Struggle and its Goals"[2]. This manifesto placed strong emphasis on overcoming ethnic and religious differences and on launching revolutionary struggle during the independence war.[2] In 1975, Isaias became chairman of the EPLF military committee. In 1977, under EPLF's first congress, he was elected to be vice secretary-general of the EPLF. A decade later in 1987, he became the secretary-general of the EPLF. From 1989 to 1993, Isaias had served as the secretary-general of the Provisional Government of Eritrea. In 1993, after achieving de-jure independence, Isaias was elected by the Eritrean assembly to be president.

Isaias being treated for malaria at an Israeli hospital in 1993
On January 7, 1993, just a few months before referendum for independence were to take place, Iasias went into a coma and almost lost his life when he was stricken with a severe case of cerebral malaria. He was immediately flown by the US Air Force to Israel for treatment[4]. The treatment was remarkably effective.

Recalling her visit to Eritrea in 1997 as the former first lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton in her book titled: Living history, states the following about Isaias and his wife Saba:

Hillary Clinton wearing Zuria in Asmara, Eritrea

 The president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, and his wife, Saba Haile, a former freedom fighter, lived in their own small house, but they recived me at the Presidential Palace. As we watched folk dancers perform in a courtyard built by the Italians during their colonial occupation, I asked President Afwerki, who had given up his university studies to fight in the resistance, if he had ever found time to dance during their long war. "Of course," he replied. "We had to dance to remind ourselves of a world without war."
Living History By Hillary Rodham Clinton, p. 405

Isaias met his wife, Saba Haile, during the struggle to liberate Eritrea. Like him, she was a freedom fighter and met in Nakfa in the summer of 1981. Together they have three children: Abraham, Elsa and Berhane.

The following are pictures of Isaias Afwerki and pictures related with his brief biography. Click on the images to see larger quality.

Side by side photo of Isaias in 1956 and Isaias in 1993

Isaias Afwerki as a rebel fighter
Isaias Afwerki with the Chinese leader

Isaias being greeted in a small village

Photo of Isaias' wife named Saba Haile receiving an award in UAE

Isaias Afwerki with Eritrean youths from Sweden

Isaias Afwerki with his teenage daughter at Sawa festival

Isaias Afwerki wearing traditional Eritrean clothing

Hillary Clinton wearing traditional Eritrean clothing in Asmara.


[1]Clements' encyclopedia of world governments, Volume 16, John Clements, pg. 136
[2]Against all odds: a chronicle of the Eritrean revolution, Dan Connell, pg. 79-80
[3]I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, Michela Wrong
[4]Africa Contemporary Record: 1992-94: Volume 24, Colin Legum, pg. 317
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President Isaias Afwerki's Biography Reviewed by Admin on 2:54 AM Rating: 5

Isaias Afwerki[1][2] (Tigrinya: ኢሳይያስ 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 Armed Struggle for Independence that the Eritrean people refer to simply as "Gedli (Tigrinya: ገድሊ; "struggle"). The EPLF adopted a new political party name, People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), to reflect its new responsibilities. The PFDJ, with Isaias as its leader, remains the sole legal party of Eritrea today.

Personal life and education[edit]

Isaias Afwerki was born in 1946 in the Aba Sha'ul district in Asmara, Eritrea,[3] to parents Afwerki Abraha and Adanesh Berhe. His father, Ato Afwerki, a native of Tselot village, just outside Asmara, was a low-ranking official working at a state-owned company, Tobacco Monopoly. His mother is Woizero Adanesh.[4] Afwerki hails from the Biher-Tigrinya ethnic group.[5]

Isaias grew up in Asmara and graduated from Prince Makonnen High School (PMSS) in 1965 scoring high in the General School Leaving Certificate Exams. Thus he was able to be admitted to the highly competitive College of Engineering at Haile Selassie I University (now called Addis Ababa University) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, a year later in September 1966, he decided to join the forces engaged in the Eritrean Armed Struggle for Independence.[6]

Isaias is married to Saba Haile and has two sons and one daughter.

Eritrean independence movement[edit]

Eritrea's armed struggle for independence lasted from 1961 to 1991 and is referred to by the Eritrean people as "Gedli"[ገድሊ], which means struggle in the Eritrean Tigrinya language.[7] Isaias became a part of the Gedli in 1966, when he abandoned his engineering studies in Addis Ababa and left for Kassala, Sudan, joining the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in exile. In early 1967, Isaias, along with Ramadan Mohammed Nour (later to be EPLF's Secretary General), was one of the first group of Tegadelti [ተጋደልቲ = liberation fighters] sent to China for military training. There they spent almost two years studying political ideologies and guerrilla warfare.[8] Upon Isaias' return, he was appointed political commissar of the ELF.

In 1969, ideological and tactical disagreements within the ELF led to three factions splitting from the ELF. One faction took refuge in the mountains of Sahel. Another group under the command of Isaias and numbering less than a dozen left for Eritrea's eastern escarpment. The third group headed off to Aden to later return by boat to Eritrea, landing south of Assab. These three groups would eventually join to become one under the name of the Eritrean Liberation Front-People's Liberation Front (ELF-PLF). When they formally merged in 1973, they changed their name to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF).

In the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)[edit]

While a member of the EPLF leadership, Isaias Afewerki, Mesfin Hagos,Tewelde Eyob, Major General Asmerom Gerezgiher, and Solomon Woldemariam distinguished themselves by authoring an important EPLF manifesto in 1970 titled "Our Struggle and its Goals". This manifesto placed strong emphasis on overcoming ethnic and religious differences and on launching a revolutionary struggle in the war for independence. 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.[3]

By May 1991, the EPLF, under Isaias' leadership, was able to control all of Eritrea and some its units entered the capital city Asmara— thus crowning the 30 years of armed struggle for Liberation of the Eritrean people with victory. In essence, Eritrea became a de facto independent country on May 24, 1991.


See also: Politics of Eritrea

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.[3]

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 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 Afewerki 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]


External links[edit]

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

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