Is Eritrea Heading Toward A Military Coup?

Is Eritrea Heading Toward A Military Coup?

From martinplaut

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was his usual uncompromising self when interviewed on national television earlier this month. Only “daydreamers” believe in alternatives to the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), said the man who has run this Red Sea state for 23 years without a national election. Anyone hoping for multiparty democracy, he added, can “go to the moon.”

Isaias slapped down suggestions that the time was ripe for negotiations with neighboring Ethiopia, with which Eritrea has been locked in a no-peace, no-war standoff since a two-year border conflict in the late 1990s left Ethiopian forces illegally occupying swathes of Eritrean land. As for the notion, recently voiced by a bevy of former U.S. policymakers andambassadors, that strained relations with Washington could and should be improved: “This is like chasing the wind!”

The dogged intransigence on display in the interview, staged during celebrations to mark his former rebel movement’s 1990 capture of the strategic port of Massawa, was typical of the man who once led the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) to victory — but who has since moved, in many of his own citizens’ eyes, from heroic liberator to iron-fisted saboteur of Eritrean independence. “He never hesitates when it comes to pouring cold water on expectations,” says Gaim Kibreab, a professor at London South Bank University and the author of four books on his native country. “Every time people hope for change, he comes out and says, ‘You must be kidding.’”

Isaias’s obduracy also sends an inadvertent message: If change in Eritrea cannot be achieved either peacefully or gradually, it must come about through violence. There have been nearly 13 years of lockdown in Eritrea, a period in which the country routinely dubbed “Africa’s North Korea” for its militarism and defiant isolationism has virtually disappeared from global headlines. Isaias’s support for fundamentalist groups like Somalia’s al-Shabab — one of the reasons for eroding relations with Washington — has led the United Nations to impose sanctions on the country.

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