Eritrea, Africa’s gulag state, is on the march
President Issaias Afwerki is fanning war and undermining democracy across the region
(Economist)–It is an unlikely pairing. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, is young, charismatic and says he is committed to democracy in Africa’s second-most-populous country. Until war erupted in November in Tigray, a northern region, he was a darling of the world. In 2019 he won the Nobel peace prize for ending a war with Eritrea. Yet he is now knee-deep in blood alongside Eritrea’s president, Issaias Afwerki, an ageing dictator who locks up dissidents in shipping crates in the desert.
When the two leaders met to sign a peace deal in 2018, many hoped their reconciliation would reshape the region. Abiy was liberalising Ethiopia, releasing political prisoners and freeing the press. Some thought Issaias might learn from his new friend. Outsiders rushed to encourage the thaw. The un lifted an arms embargo (imposed because of Eritrea’s support for jihadists in Somalia). Western donors poured in cash. Eritrea’s decades of isolation seemed about to end. “Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks,” declared Abiy on his first visit to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital.