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Everyone in Eritrea is desperate to flee, including the President’s son

POLITICS Everyone in Eritrea is desperate to flee, including the President’s son OCTOBER 11, 2017 by ABRAHAM T. ZERE0 Image Credit: Joseph Bautista via Flickr Creative Commons In today’s Eritrea, there is no difference between the jailer and the jailed. The political culture is so violent and


Everyone in Eritrea is desperate to flee, including the President’s son


Image Credit: Joseph Bautista via Flickr Creative Commons

In today’s Eritrea, there is no difference between the jailer and the jailed. The political culture is so violent and desperate that the president’s own son attempted to escape the country.

President Isaias Afwerki’s erratic and mercurial temperament – he has been the head of a one-party dictatorship since independence in 1993 – has culminated in a profoundly dysfunctional nation. A “hit and run” style has replaced any thoughtful long-term planning. Not being able to count on any stable or secure future, many public servants place their energy into amassing as much capital as possible, by any available means.

The distinctive political culture of Eritrea suffers from an unclear boundary between the abuser and the victim. A guard can switch places with his/her captive at any moment. Some of the most notorious prison commanders and security chiefs who terrorized the nation with unchecked power end up in the harshest dungeons; many of them in prison facilities they have had commanded. Such perilous uncertainty enables the president to keep his subordinates guessing.

In the current Eritrean political landscape, officials are usually promoted to key posts only after being humiliated and pacified through an intricate web of control designed by Afwerki.

For example, Brigadier Gen. Eyob “Halibay” Fessahaye was among the first of the army’s command officers to be incarcerated for alleged corruption in the early 1990s. President Afwerki announced and read the charges against Halibay in a public seminar. Halibay was a sacrificial lamb and his incarceration a warning to the other officers. Shocked at this severe reversal of fortune just as he was preparing to take a new post as internal security chief, Halibay attempted to commit suicide twice while in jail. Later, after his release, in a bizarre twist Afwerki gave him an important post as head of a commission in charge of privatizing government houses.

Having gone through the compulsory dehumanization process, Halibay now commands the Special Forces, the elite commandos. Friends who visited him during his incarceration were later rewarded bountifully after he gained power. Of course, Halibay still has no freedom; he was denied an exit visa for a medical checkup in 2016.

Nesredin Bekhit is another example of the president’s tactic of cutting a rising official down to size and then rehabilitating them as a way to secure his fear-based loyalty. In the mid-1990s, Bekhit was imprisoned on corruption charges that were publicized in the national media. In 2014, after his degradation and release, he became the minister of trade and industry.

Unlike other ministers, Bekhit spends his time now on the border with the Sudan, Ali-ghider, where he runs the ruling party’s contraband business. While all imports have been outlawed to regular citizens since 2003, Mr. Bekhit can grant import permits to his close associates and former inmates. He has turned some of his friends into overnight millionaires.

Corruption among select high-ranking officials, mainly in the army, is not only allowed but encouraged. The president can use knowledge of their corrupt activities as leverage, to ensure their loyalty. With the implicit support of Afwerki, army commanders are protected in their corruption, including involvement in the complex racket of human trafficking, as long as they remain loyal.

Among others, General Filipos Woldeyohannes, the chief of staff and de facto minister of defense, and others such as Brigadier Gen. Tekle “Manjus” Kiflay have the green light from the president to pursue personal gain.

Most organs of the ruling party and the government collaborate in organized corruption, mainly by using intimidation and bankruptcy to control and ruin businesspeople. Yet it’s not easy to keep track of when exactly someone runs out of favor with the president. That happened recently to Mr. Yemane Tesfai, the former manager of the Commercial Bank of Eritrea, who ended up in jail for enabling various forms of corruption.

Another way that President Afwerki maintains and wields power is by fomenting feuds among his subordinates. He keeps close watch on any animosity between military commanders as a primary means of fortifying his own position. It’s no secret among observant citizens that all the top military commanders and most influential government ministers bear deep animosity against one another.

A grievous misreading of the president’s psyche cost Ms. Luel Ghebreab, the former chair of the National Union of Eritrean Women, her job. She mistakenly assumed it was safe to mediate a life-long feud between her husband, Major Gen. Teklai Habteselassie and the late Major Gen. Gebregziabher “Wuchu” Andemariam, when General Wuchu was bed-ridden. After Ms. Ghebreab mediated the dispute, the news quickly reached the president. He called and intimidated her, asking who had delegated her this responsibility. Then he instructed her to immediately conduct congress and vacate her post. Of course, nobody would question such orders from the head of state. Having gone through this public humiliation and left jobless for more than three years, this past July was Ghebreab reinstated as minister of labor and human welfare.

The president’s application of fear and terror are manifested in different forms. He verbally and physically abuses most of his subordinates including ministers and celebrities. For example, in 2010 Afwerki granted a rare interview with Al-Jazeera English. The presenter, the South African Jane Dutton, proceeded to openly challenge Afwerki about state abuses and authoritarianism in Eritrea. Irritated by her questions, the president called the journalist “insane.” (Watch) Post-interview Afwerki struck his information minister, Ali Abdu, who had arranged the interview, in front of his staff. Abdu was once Afwerki’s mentee, whom the president treated like his son. Among the most privileged and close associates of the president, he in turn terrorized the nation’s art community and state news media into abject compliance for a decade. Yet, despite closely following Afwerki’s template of terror and repression in the Ministry of Information, he decided in 2012 that he had to flee for his own safety and sought political asylum in Australia.

As a management practice, Afwerki employs physical assault to derail confidence and instill insecurity in top government officials. This practice can become life threatening at times. About a year before his imprisonment with an alleged role in the January 2013 military mutiny, Abdella Jabir, the former head of Organizational Affairs and one of the top five executives of the ruling party (People’s Front for Democracy and Justice), was violently ambushed in the capital, Asmara, by supposedly “unidentified” assailants. Never publicized, this assault was neither a robbery nor an attack by political dissidents. Having recovered from his assault, Jabir continued his normal functions in the party until his eventual arrest.

The president treats family members as he treats his subordinates. He routinely belittles and ridicules his eldest son, Abraham, and reportedly has stopped communications with his youngest son, Berhane, over the last four years. Frustrated with the dysfunctional, corrupt system and his father’s abusive treatment, Berhane Isaias Afwerki attempted to flee the country illegally in 2015. He was intercepted by border patrols while preparing to be smuggled out from the border town of Tessenei. Initially the border security who discovered him were not aware that he was the president’s son.

It is this complex and enigmatic nature of President Afwerki that has rendered de facto the political culture of today’s Eritrea. The long-term consequences of a new nation with such political culture is not difficult to guess.

* Editors’ note: Sources for this post have not been named for their protection.

Review overview
  • Nahon October 13, 2017

    The subordinates of Mr. Iseyas cannot escape responsiblity by claiming they too suffered under his dictatorship.
    They are committing horrible crimes against their own people for self interest. For them the dictatorship has offered opportunity to get rich by competing among themselves to turn power delegated to them by Iseyas into privileges and boundless brutality.
    Maybe one day we will hear someone saying “poor Iseyas, no body seem to be obeying him !!”.
    People know very well that they are as criminals as their boss.

  • Meretse October 13, 2017

    Before we go too far let us try to discover the life style of world’s cruelest dictators and their families: Edi Amin, in Uganda, Csstro, in Cuba, Assad in Syria, Ghedafi in Libya, Sadam in Iraq, the Um family in Nk, ….are enough to name some.
    Now, the question is how many sons or daughters do we find who raised their against their Monister Dads. I think the answer is none. Even if they had a chance to escape like Alina Fernandez 1993) either they attend the most expensive school or continue to enjoy a privileged in their host country. In fact, despite the political hicups, what we find is: most children of dictators become exactly photo copy of their parents.
    Unless the mini heads generals paved the way for him or his brother to leave the country/ to prepare a luxury home for his family it is hard to believe the news otherwise.

    • Mez October 15, 2017

      Dear Meseret,

      You know almost nothing about these countries you mentiobed. What you said is absolute nonsense.

      Instead, please focus on what you surely know someting. Namely the local burning issue.


      • Meretse October 16, 2017

        Dear Mez,
        What prompted u to sugest that I do know nothing about Brazil, Southern Venezula and Australia?
        My comment was directed at types of life in isolated areas (by choice).
        Other than that i have nothing bad to say about the people.

  • Meretse October 13, 2017

    Please insert:
    …..raised their arm against
    ….life aftet privileged

  • k.tewolde October 13, 2017

    I wouldn’t mystify this sinister character more than he is. he was molded by the society who brought him to the throne.In order to see him look no farther than the mirror.He wouldn’t be here today doing what he does,if he was not given the cart Blanche by those who followed him from the beginning.This dehumanizing tactics,sheer terror,and blackmailing of his close musketeers is not new,it is recorded during second world war in memoirs of a young boy named Haan Kesner when Germany was divide into two and the Russian tanks roared over the Rhine river bridge.He has been reading those books in the caves of Denden.

    • Ginda October 15, 2017

      Issaias is a reflection of our al Sawra. The Jebha Shaebia leaders were trying to be like Sadam, Gadafi and the Hafezes and their family as they were bending to beg and imitate to them. These are all the fruits of our al Sawra.

      • ቆራጽ ተሳኢኑ October 21, 2017

        ኣንታ ክቡር ሐው Ginda ከመይ ዝበሉኻ መቃለሊ ኢኻ። ኣብ ኣዘራርባኻ ገለ ሕቡእ መልእኽቲ ናይ ቅብጸት ዝዐይነቱ ጸቢብ ኣታሐሳስባ ዘለካ ኢኻ ኢለ ክዝንጥለካ ተዘይደፈርኩ፣ ዘረባኻ ናብኡዮ ዘምርሕ። ኢዚ ደቂ ኢሳያስ ዝወረ ዘሎ፣ ናይ ሐሶት ንደቂ ገርሂ ልባ መዝሐል ልቢ እዮ። ኣብዚ ነገር ከምቲ ብዙሐት የሕዋት ዝገልጽዎ ዘለዉ፣ ብልሐት ኢዮ። ውይድማ ኣሸበሸብ ነገር ከፊኡ ከምቲ ልሙድ፣ መዐልቲ ይነውሕ ዳምበር መን ምስነበረ መርገጽቲ ኢሳያስ ክነብር፣ ኣብመወዳእታ ተሃደሙ፣ ንሶምውን ግዳይ ከምዝነበሩ ከምስሉ ዝገብርዎ ኢዮ። እንዳቦይ ኣምሰሉ ዛምኖም የሎን። እንተ ንስኻ ድማ ነዚ ኩነታት ንኻልእ መልእኽትኻ ክትጥቀመሉ ዝደለኻ ትመስል። ሰውራና ከተቃልል፣ ዐድና ከተነአእስ መሰል የብልካን። እቲ ደም የሕዋትና ኢትይ ኢቲ ሰውራ፣ ንሱ ድማ ቅኑዕን ኣስደናቒና ኣገራምን ብውሕሉል ተወፋይነቶም ሉኡላውነት ኣረኪቦሙና ኢዮም። ወደን ከይሐምያስ ሰይተርደን ይሐምያ ይብሉ ወለድና፣ ንሕና ተቐቢልና ብግቡእ ዝይምዕቃብና፣ ናተይን ናትካን ድንቁርናንን ናይ ነብስና ምፍታው ስ ስዔ ምስ ምስቲ ዕዉት ሰውራና ርክብ የብሉን። በጃኻ ስንፍናኻ ክትሐብእ ሽም ክቡራት ስውአትና ኣይተቃልል። ከምቲ ሰሎሞን ዝበሎ ንኹኑ ጊዜ ኣለዎ፣ ክርስቲኣን ተስፋ ኣይቆርጽን ኢዮ። ኣምላኽ ይድንጉይ እምበር ኣይቅደምን ዝብል ተጻሒፋ ኣሎ። ዘልአለማዊ ዝኽሪ ናሰማእታትና።

  • Meretse October 13, 2017

    If you also had a chance to read
    “Children of Monsters” by Jay Modlinger is: there is amlmost no son or daughter who raise his/her arm against their father. As a matter of fact, in diaspora they fight against the nation for the wealth that was stolen in years. They claim this my money, this is my gold, this my mansion, this is my…..
    Look how Saif al-Islam legally fighting in the courts for the billions of dollars which was deposited on his name. Imagine what would have happened had Uday and Usay lived todsy. The International Court would have been busy with endless trail.
    Lawyers only care about money and courts wish their doors stay open.
    Unless thre is a cospiracy by nsu and his dogs Abrham could not have a dream to leave the country.
    He is what he is. A son who was raised and groomed to replace his father’s power could not change his mind overnight.

  • Ironfist October 14, 2017

    ቅሩብ ጸኒሕናስ እንታይ ክንሰምዕ ኢና ወዲ ኣፍ ጨርቂ ዘጋታት ኣደስኪሉስ ንስድርኡ ኣድስኪሉ ንስድርአ ኣደስኪሉ ንባዕሉ ደስኪሉ ዘጋታት ሃጽ ኢሎም ከምዝስደዱ ገሩ ሕጅ ድማ እታ ስደት ናብ ደቁ መጽያ ዘገርም እዩ ሃገር ብሳጥናአል ክትመሓደር ከላ ብሓቂ ትልሚ ንዘርኢ ክርዳድ ዝበልዎ እዚ እዩ።

  • Nahon October 14, 2017

    The story that Iseyas’ young son tried to escape and that he doesn’t approve his father’s rule of the country is not new.
    There is an attempt on the part of some people, to tell Eritreans, that even Iseyas’ family is suffering.
    Is this to say it’s ok for Iseyas’ family to have a normal life in the country once his gone ?. Probably they are preparing the public for that and a lot more.

    • Danilo October 14, 2017

      We should not expect from abnormal behaviour any more. Of course , he may be ( called the son of president xegibu !!! exactly ljke others . I think it is made ready for propaganda

  • Ginda October 15, 2017

    ኣንቱም እንታይ ዓይነት ኤርትራ ድያ ሓራ ወጺኣ እትብሉና? ወዲ ኢሳያስ ዝጸልኣ ፤ ወለዶ ዋርሳይ ዝጠንጠንዋ ፤ ኤርትራውያን ብሃገራዊ ባርነት ዝላደዩላ ፤ ብዓል ተረፍ መረፍ ንቋንቋታቶም ትግረ ትግርኛ ዝፈንፈኑላ ፤ ብዓል መን ምዃኖም ዘይፈልጡ ታሪኽና ዘዘንትዉልና: ካን ኣኺሉ ተሪፉ እዚኣ ድያ ኮይና እዛና ኤርትራና ?

    • Nahon October 15, 2017

      Ginda aka Teklay (a Tigreyan with 100 plus nicknames)

      Please solve your problems with Oromo and Amhara instead of insulting Eritrea and Eritreans. Many of you born to Torserawit enemy soldiers, as long as you hate to be Eritreans you will never be its citizens.
      One rootless who is giving us hard time is enough. Go to your mama Ethiopia.

      • Asmerom October 16, 2017

        Nahon aka alem, andom, amanuel, Sol, Kalighe, Kidane, Asmara Eritrea, Negusse, Yohannes, Wedi Hagher. Keshi Mars, Hamid Ibrahim, Aba thimmer, and so on……
        In short, a rootless mushmush nomad saHab gimel stinking Saho whore snake, Abdurobo, Wedi Halima asshole and comedian Iraqi Ali posing as an “Eritrean” but actually an illegal immigrant evil muslim Yemeni who was dumped by Ethiopians into Eritrea and has been waging his savage vicious Islamic jihadi war to get an Arabic/Islamic Eritrea with the stinking evil Arabic flag and identity. Wedi Halima just rot in your vicious Islam’s hell where you truly belong and come from muslim scum bag.

    • Asmerom October 16, 2017

      Brother GindaE, very well said brother as usual, I couldn’t agree more just continue with your usual positive contributions and inputs. Deki Halima savage evil muslim Arab dogs would soon be kicked out of our beautiful Christian Habesha Eritrea and Agazi new Nation. These vicious Islam’s cancerous Arab dogs already know that their stinking days are very numbered indeed.

      • Kalighe October 16, 2017

        Asmerom you exposed yourself.

        You thought you used first GindaE nickname, so you wanted to show that someone called Asmerom is supporting you.

        Your cheap, stupid tactics are not cheating anyone .

  • alem October 16, 2017

    Do not believe the story is true. They are ofcourse 100% with their father. We used to hear a lot about his wife which was all made up propoganda to give us the impression that she equally suffers like ordinary eritrean. Now we know that not only herself but even Her relatives are in competition with kisha and filipos family to amass wealth. This is nothing but a desperate attempt to decrease the hatered and anger of eritreans toward iseyas and his family.

  • Kaleb ketema October 18, 2017

    This article shows how the old man kept an entire people at bay to continue stay in power ( his life long ambition, goal and purpose in life)).. Any human with a slight of concience would find this repulsive. But, hey for this old tembenai such filthy and creepy life is the standard.

    by the way don’t by that side story about the son.

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