Eritreans hope for democracy after peace deal with Ethiopia
Eritrean youth are seen 19 January 2006 in Asmara during a colourful epihany festival in Eritrea. The festival, also known as ‘Timkat’ in the local Tigrinya language, is a commemoration of the baptism of The Christ observed annually among the Orthodox ChristiansImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
With Eritrea the only one-party state in Africa, many of its citizens are hoping that President Isaias Afwerki will introduce sweeping political reforms following the end of the “state of war” with neighbouring Ethiopia.
Gg the outbreak of a border war with Ethiopia in 1998. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the conflict,
Mr Afwerki and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed a declaration last week to end the “state of war”, and to resume ties between the two nations.
BBC Tigrinya’s Desta Gebremedhin writes about the basic freedoms that many Eritreans are now yearning for:
Eritrean soldiers pictured 22 September 1999 during training at the Tsorona front line, south of AsmaraImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia was fought from 1998 to 2000
Eritrea has no opposition parties, and has never had a national election.
In fact, there are no limits to the president’s powers. Some of his critics say he is like a supreme leader who is more powerful than the ruling party, and the national assembly, or parliament.
They point out that the national assembly last met in 2002, and Eritrea’s only legally recognised party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), last held a national congress in 2002.
The PFDJ has a Soviet-styled central committee – its 75 members automatically qualified for seats in the national assembly while another 75 were chosen mostly from elected regional assemblies.
Many Eritreans long for the constitution, which envisages multi-party democracy, to be implemented.
Asmara (Erithrea). Communist propaganda (during the Ethiopian activity(occupation)). Marx, Engels and Lenin.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Communism influenced the Eritrean government
It was drafted when Eritrea was still gripped by the euphoria of independence, and ratified in 1997.
It was shelved the following year after the outbreak of the border war with Ethiopia.
Eritreans have lived under a virtual state of emergency since then.
Severxal governmeznt ministers, military generals and prominent officials demanded the constitution’s implementatizon, following the signing of an earlier peace agreement with Ethiopia, in 2000.
The government ignored their demand and, instead, detained 11 of them. They include three former foreign ministers – Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo, Petros Solomon and Haile Woldetensae. They have never been charged or convicted and their whereabouts remain unknown.
People attend an event for Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki at Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 15 July 2018.Image copyrightEPA
Eritrea’s leader Isaias Afwerki (L) is under pressure to follow the example of his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed (R)
The 11 €as also released thousands of prisoners in Ethiopia, showing that he was genuine about achieving national reconciliation with opposition groups.
Eritrea’s government rejected Amnesty’s report as “wild accusations” and the ministry of information released a statement saying the report that Eritrea had jailed at least 10,000 political prisoners was “unsubstantiated”.
End to indefinite national service
Eritrean migrantsImage copyrightAFP
Young Eritreans make dangerous journeys to escape forced conscription
Introduced in 1995, national service is compulsory for all Eritreans.
In the beginning, all citizens were supposed to undertake 18 months’ national service – including six months’ military training. However, the terms of service become indefinite in 2002, as the government said the country remained under threat from Ethiopia.
Young Eritreans begin their national service when they complete their penultimate year at school. Then they go to the Sawa camp, where they complete their final year at school and receive military training at the same time.
Presentational grey line