Eritrean resistance steps up pressure on President Isaias Afewerki

Two opposition members tell the Guardian how Eritreans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the repressive regime Eritrea is the most closed and repressive country in Africa, routinely denying access to the international media. No foreign journalists

Two opposition members tell the Guardian how Eritreans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the repressive regime

Eritrea is the most closed and repressive country in Africa, routinely denying access to the international media. No foreign journalists are based in the country and there is no independent local press. However, in a rare and courageous breach of the wall of silence, members of the internal opposition spoke to the Guardian and Radio France International last weekend.

Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 Eritrea has been ruled by as a one-party state by President Isaias Afewerki, who brooks no opposition.

Two members of the Eritrean resistance, speaking via a secure connection, described conditions inside the country. “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared,” they said. Food is so expensive that even middle-class families find it difficult to find enough to eat.

They said tension in the capital, Asmara, is high, with reports of trucks filled with Ethiopian “mercenaries” – from the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), known locally as Demhit, which Eritrea supports – ringing the city. The last round of compulsory military service failed, with only around 50 of the expected 400 conscripts reporting for duty. “We think it is highly likely that Demhit will carry out a door to door sweep to round up recruits,” said Sami (not his real name).

The TPDM, drawn from the ethnic group that now rules Ethiopia, has been given sanctuary, arms and training by Afewerki. Eritrea and Ethiopia have a long-standing border dispute, which has resulted in tens of thousands of troops confronting one another in the bleak, mountainous border region. Supporting Demhit is Eritrea’s means of maintaining pressure on the Ethiopian government.

A UN report published this month estimated that some 20,000 TPDM fighters are based in Eritrea, bolstering the president’s security. The report described them as having “a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afewerki regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as Afewerki, are seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have been questioned by the president in recent years.”

Since a failed army mutiny against the Eritrean regime in January 2013, the TPDM has become central to Afewerki’s survival. This reliance on foreign forces is deeply resented by the Eritrean population. “They demanded the identity documents of a friend of mine and I,” Sami said. “When this happened earlier this year there was a riot. People really hate them.”

Despite the intense security, the resistance is finding new ways of getting its message across. The group, which began over two years ago, started by helping organise phone calls from the diaspora abroad to Eritreans back home.

The resistance told the Guardian how it evaded tight security to put up posters protesting against conscription. “We lay on the streets, pretending to be homeless people,” said Sami. “It was freezing cold, but the security officials walked right over us. When they had gone we could put up our posters.

A smuggled video of “Freedom Friday”, now on YouTube, shows people in Asmara crowding round to read the posters.

Sami described the growing contempt for the regime. “In coffee bars you hear people talking – even high-ranking officials complain openly about the regime.” The government led the struggle for Eritrean independence, and for years relied on its legitimacy to demand the population’s support. “The movement was treated like a religion then, like the Bible or the Koran, and followed unquestioningly,” said Sami’s colleague, Temasgen. “Slowly, this has fallen away – and now it is gone.”

Both men know the risk they are taking in speaking to the international media. “I am willing to pay with my life,” Sami declared. “In history I would rather be remembered as someone who made the ultimate sacrifice rather than just sit and complain to my neighbours.”

They appealed for international pressure to be maintained on Afewerki: “Listen to our agony. We thank you for giving shelter to Eritrean refugees abroad, but if you are a decision-maker we beg you to keep up the pressure on the Eritrean regime.”

The opposition’s growing confidence and the fragility of the regime comes at a time when discussions are taking place about relaxing the sanctions against the Eritrean government. There are suggestions that the European Union is thinking about a new approach towards Asmara, and offering aid worth €200m (£158m) as a carrot for improved human rights.

Previous attempts by the former EU development commissioner Louis Michel to negotiate the release of the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak in return for aid resulted in empty promises. Neither Dawit nor other political prisoners were freed. Instead, repression intensified, resulting in anexodus of refugees, who find their way across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to arrive at Calais in their hundreds.

The Guardian

Review overview
  • dan October 29, 2014

    Isaias sadist and the saveg leader

  • Tamrat Tamrat October 29, 2014

    Some times i have to pinch myself what ever is happning in Eritrea and Ethiopia is real.

    Dont tplf and eplf sacrificed millions ethio-eri just to what have had now?

    Havnt we sacrificed more than half a million tigrians just to make Eritrea independent?

    And now Demhit which is tigrians opposition Group opposing tplf and helping eplf to suppress the independent People.

    Do we expect any sane man to sacrifice for ethiopia or Eritrea after what we have experienced in the last 24 years?

    What do Our People need?

    How come such horrible sacrifice of million People end up in helping leader parties or individual to stay Power?

    Must the average People make a dramatic Cultural an beheverial change and do all the craps Our leaders and their cadres do for the sake of unfair Power and walth distribution? That is Anarchy which is the exact opposite of Our silent cultured polite People is used to?

    Oh eplf and tplf what hell brought over us?

    I think there is no Place for Our old fashioned geniune way of living. We have to change and do like the ‘modern’ People do. If a moron supports pfdj and gets all the luxery he ever dreamed of then how it is easy for a professor to milk the pfdj. How can we put the morons to their right Place?

  • tsigereda October 29, 2014

    Those of us who cannot be there in person, in Eritrea to help you carry out the mission of saving our people from the brutal and savage ways of the self appointed, illegitimate president isayas, are, there with you in the spirit of prayer, at every waking hours of our lives. We will prevail, brutal dictators like isayas in Africa have proven their own demise, so will this one. The souls of the many lives lost, the abundant blood shed are crying for justice. They are working with us, their spirit is present.

  • Mic October 29, 2014

    I accept that what isayas done but why Eritreans feel jealous when your best friend got an award or steps up because you are jealous and since 60th or 70th it was your history of what you doing now! Change your mind to encourage from bottom of your heart for your brother & a leader will become your brother by himself not your niebor!! Thanks

  • Genet-orginal October 29, 2014

    It is not a smart thing to do to tell the world and DIA how you are conducting your activity.

    The European Union is really thinking about a new approach towards DIA and offering aid. You got to be kidding me. This is going to be the worst deadly blunder ever by the EU, Why would any body or the EU wants to resuscitate the anemic DIA and his regime? Unless, they are enjoying what he is doing to the Eritrean people right now. Don’t give me this “Oh I care about human right” No body cares about human right, unless it can be used as a leverage to get to something.
    EU or any body, for God’s sake don’t do any thing. let this rotten dictator and his regime collapse on its own weight.

    God bless our people and land!

  • true lies October 29, 2014


    You are smart person ,put 2&2 together.You do not see the west ,Isaias & weyane triangle .Nobody is letting Eritrea to sustain as a nation ,the end game is to put Eritrea under Ethiopia.The west ,weyane & Isaiuas are evacuating Eritrea of it’s productive people .You do not see famine coming to Eritrea & making Eritrea a failing state ,help will be given through Ethiopia ,I believe Eritrea was granted independence with expiry date ,we need to fight against this.

  • Genet-orginal October 30, 2014

    true lies

    “Nobody is letting Eritrea to sustain as a nation; the end game is to put Eritrea under Ethiopia” (true lies)I agree.

    It is also true to any underdeveloped countries of the world. In this world full of greed, wanting to control everything and everybody, you have to stand up for yourself in any way you can. In our case, we are failing to convince our own people, NOT to support the “end game of putting Eritrea under Ethiopia”. This “end game” is not what the majority of Eritreans want. We have Eritreans supporting the main facilitator of the “end game” Isayas. In this world of dogs eats dogs, we only can control what we can do locally. For example, Isayas and his supporters, complain about the West and Weyane about their failure to do the right thing by the Eritrean people. for me reviweing the past 14 years of Isayas’s actions, I am convinced he, Mr Isayas is the heavy weight player of the “end game to put Eritrea, once again under Ethiopia” Most of us know what Mr Isayas is doing or has been doing is just wrong. We say, it is just a common sense. Yet we have our brothers and sisters who are not concerned about what is happening around them. In a society like ours, customarily, there are things don’t and wouldn’t be accepted under any circumstances. For example, Killing, taking over someone’s land without reasonable compensatiion, taking underage children out of their protective homes, and treating your own people like slaves are the few Eritrean reality under Mr Isayas. In general Eritreans are against these terrible actions. Then how do you explain the reasoning, for Eritreans to support what Isayas is doing? Let us define Support.

    “Support” is defined by the online dictionary, as “bear all or part of the weight; hold up, carry, reinforce, brace, shore up, cover up, underpin, give assistance to especially financeially enable to fucntion or act,. help, assist,defend, do business with”
    Do Eritreans who support Mr Isayas know, they are supporting their own people’s death and to put Eritrea under Ethiopia which is the end game?

    God save our people and our Eritrea.

    • Tamrat Tamrat October 31, 2014

      Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s relationships is the most complicated relaion ever in any nations history. I dont blame the ego of some individuals or Groups wanting to be the leader of the great Ethiopa or the divided several small nations, or to controll Eritrea throuough the state of ethiopia or controll ethiopia throught the state of Erirea. But what disgisting me is to sacrifice millions for Anarchy rather than using the Resource of these great clutured, resourcefull patience reasliance People in the vast Resource full land and sea, lakes and revers, forsts and dersrs.

      But putting my frusration aside i ask whu Ethiopia is always the culprits?

      Ethiopia is accused for lating Eritrea under the colonizaiton of Italia, Ethiopai is accused of conferdeerating Eritrea by force, Ethiopia is accused of uniting Eritrea With ethiopia by force, ethiopia is accused of colonizing Eritrea.

      And by some miracle ethiopia was appreciated for acknowlading the independent Eritrea first in the world.

      Then ethiopia is accused for invading Eritrea again, deporting tens of thousands of eritreans and ethiopian eritrean origin.

      And the accusation is continues ethiopia is accused of supporting the eritrean rebels, ethiopia is accused allowing isaias to continue in Power to paralize Eritrea.

      Ethiopioa is accused to conlonize Eritrea again by weakning Eritrea through isaias regime. And ethiopia is accused for not helping the eritrean rebls.

      Ethiopia is accused of sanctioning the isaias regime, ethiopia is accused of smugling tens of thousands eritreans into Ethiopa. Ethiopa is accused of putting tens of thousands its own People as eritrean refugees in the camps.

      Ethiopia is accused of crowding the western camps by pretending eritreans.

      What is EThiopia not accused of then?

  • aus 17 October 30, 2014

    can the language and culture cover succeed this time (DEMHIT)? I hope Asmerinos has learned their lessons from the hard way, we all obliged to swallow under different pretexts? Are we aware now, inspired, equiped and one step ahead. Or yet we need 23 years more to learn our past mistakes?

  • Daniel October 31, 2014

    Yesterday the brave Burkina Faso people said enough is enough and within one day protest they ousted the long time dictator blaise campaore from power. Why the Eritrean people can’t do the same?

  • mahta November 4, 2014

    Can i tell you the trueth no one can do like this. Becouse our poeple live in side eritrea they do not have enough information still know specially the military soldiers. They are controlled every one by socurity of some non sense poeple. They are realy floosh poeple. And most of them are not eritrean poeple some of them even though eritrean they have no relatives and famil . Issas is wise man to do bad things he knew the poeple who are werked him that is why eritrea still now is dead. He constructed poeple.