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Eritrea: Eritrea Government Profile



President Afewerki

Isaias Afewerki was elected president of independent Eritrea by the national assembly in 1993. He had been the de facto leader before independence. Presidential elections, planned for 1997, at no time materialised. Eritrea is a one-party national, with the ruling People\\\\\\'s Front for Democracy and Justice the only party allowed to operate.

Mr Afewerki has been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on its critics and has closed the private press.

US diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks in December 2010 offer an unflattering view of Mr Afewer's policy: 'Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant." Is the country"on the brink of disaster?" asked the American ambassador Ronald McMullen.

Born in 1946 in Asmara, Isaias Afewerki joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. He received military training in China the same year, again went on to be deputy divisional commander.

In 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean People s Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 he was elected secretary-general of the organisation.


Next defeating the Ethiopian military government in May 1991, Eritrea functioned as a distinct political unit. Between the end of the war in May 1991 and the celebration of Independence Day in May 1993, the EPLF formed a provisional government to run the country. The provisional government was comprised of a 28-member executive council. This provisional government organized elections at the village, district, and provincial level throughout the country to broaden popular participation. In fact, a National Assembly that included as its members the EPLF Central Committee members; the chairman, secretary and one female member of each of the ten provincial councils; ten additional women (nominated by the National Union of Eritrean Women); and twenty others (prominent individuals who were not EPLF members, inclunding former ELF leaders) was established to form the basis of the new government. The National Assembly again elected Isaias Afewerki president of the provisional government until May 1993.

Following the referendum, in May 1993, an interim government was created to govern for four years. In this government, a National Assembly was formed, consisting of the Central Committee of the EPLF and 60 other individuals. Ten out of the 60 seats were reserved for women. The assembly elected Isaias Afewerki president. He as well served as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chaired the executive branch—the National Council—whose members he nominated. The National Assembly ratified all of his nominations. This government was to serve until a constitutional commission prepared a constitution, and the government organized elections.

In 1996, the 50-member constitutional commission submitted a draft document for public debate. It provided for multiparty democracy based upon Western standards featuring a full array of civil liberties. Ratified by referendum in 1997, the constitution called for national elections in May 1998, which were delayed by the war with Ethiopia, subsequently rescheduled for December 2001, and postponed indefinitely

Eritrea - Political parties

The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) started the armed struggle for the independence of Eritrea in September 1961. In 1970, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) evolved from the ranks of the ELF with a new vision and program. Initially, both fronts intensified the war against Ethiopia. Both the ELF and the EPLF were mixed Muslim-Christian groups. However, they differed in the way they dealt with religious, ethnic, and regional differences inside their organizations. For example, the ELF organized itself into relatively autonomous separate units by regional, and therefore typically religious and ethnic, divisions. The EPLF on the other hand was comprised of units with mixed religion, ethnic, and regional backgrounds. By 1977, the two parties controlled most of the countryside. However, with their contradictions at the breaking point in 1978, the parties fought an all-out war against one an extra. By 1981, the EPLF had defeated and chased the ELF from Eritrea, leaving it the lone party operating in the country.

One still unsettled issue is the nature and role of political parties. The EPLF government has opposed the creation of parties based on race, religion, region, or ethnicity. A split between Christian and Muslim-based parties would be disastrous because the Christian-Muslim divide in the country is about fifty-fifty. The EPLF itself is a good example of a party free of religious, ethnic or regional basis. Since its inception in 1970, it represented a united front of people with very diverse political views who shared the common goal of obtaining the right of self-determination for Eritreans.

Following its defeat in 1981, the ELF leadership divided into additional than a dozen different factions. Some ELF members joined the EPLF while others fled to Sudan. Next 1991, most of the former leadership returned to Eritrea to accept positions in the government or to form businesses. Others continued to discredit the government from outside the country. The Eritrean Islamic Jihad, a militant terrorist group, is a notable example.

At its third Congress on 10–17 February 1994, the EPLF adopted a new name, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and committed itself to widening its popular appeal to all sectors of the Eritrean society. The National Assembly, dominated by the PFDJ, declared a ban on opposition political activity until the implementation of the constitution, thereby giving the PFDJ a monopoly on power. Though a political party law was drafted by a committee of the National Assembly in January 2001, it had from presently on to be debated and approved by the Assembly.

Eritrea - Local government

During the years since independence in 1991, Eritreans have been participating in a process of electing governing councils for their villages, districts, and provinces. Between 1993 and 1997, both the central and local governments underwent a series of reorganizations. In 1996, Eritrea was restructured into six semi-autonomous zones or regions, each consisting of several subzones. The change from 10 provinces to six zones was controversial, but gradually won public acceptance.

Zones are administered by governors and have their own local assemblies. At the central level, the Ministry of Local Governments oversees local affairs, and concerns itself with formulating national policy, regulations, and research and manpower development, leaving implementation responsibilities to regional and local governments.

Judicial system

The legal system is a civil law system borrowed from Ethiopia's adaptation of the Napoleonic Code. The court system consists of courts of initial instance, courts of appeals composed of 5 judges, and military courts, which handle crimes committed by members of the military. Traditional courts play a major role in rural areas, where village elders determine property and family disputes under customary law or in the case of Muslims, Sharia law.

Although the judiciary appears to function independently of the executive branch, it suffers from lack of resources and training. The new constitution promulgated in 1997 provides for democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free assembly, and free association.

Eritrea - Armed forces

In 2002 active forces numbered around 172,200 with a reported 120,000 in reserves. The army constituted 170,000 personnel, of which 60,000 were to be de-mobilized at the same time as the border dispute with Ethiopia concluded. The army was equipped with approximately 100 major battle tanks. The navy numbered 1,400 and there were 800 members of the air force. The UN maintained observers and troops from 45 nations. Military expenditures were $275 million, or 19.8% of GDP in 2001.

Government type: 

transitional government

Administrative divisions: 

6 regions (zobatat, singular - zoba); Anseba, Debub (South), Debubawi K'eyih Bahri (Southern Red Sea), Gash Barka, Ma'akel (Central), Semenawi Keyih Bahri (Northern Red Sea)


24 May 1993 (from Ethiopia)

National holiday: 

Independence Day, 24 May (1993)


adopted on 23 May 1997, but has not yet been fully implemented

Legal system: 

primary basis is the Ethiopian legal code of 1957 with revisions; new civil, commercial, and penal codes have not yet been promulgated; government also issues unilateral proclamations setting laws and policies; also relies on customary and post-independence-enacted laws and, for civil cases involving Muslims, Islamic law; does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction


18 years of age; universal

Legislative branch: 

unicameral National Assembly (150 seats; members elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms)

Judicial branch: 

High Court - regional, subregional, and village courts; also have military and special courts

Political parties and leaders : 

People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ [ISAIAS Afworki] (the only party recognized by the government); note - a National Assembly committee drafted a law on political parties in January 2001, but the full National Assembly has yet to debate or vote on it

Political pressure groups and leaders: 

Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP) [HAGOS, Mesfin]; Eritrean Islamic Jihad or EIJ (includes Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement or EIJM also known as the Abu Sihel Movement); Eritrean Islamic Salvation or EIS (also known as the Arafa Movement); Eritrean Liberation Front or ELF [ABDULLAH Muhammed]; Eritrean National Alliance or ENA (a coalition including EIJ, EIS, ELF, and a number of ELF factions) [HERUY Tedla Biru]; Eritrean Public Forum or EPF [ARADOM Iyob]

International organization participation: 

ACP, AfDB, AU, COMESA, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt (signatory), IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS (observer), ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO (subscriber), ITU, ITUC, LAS (observer), MIGA, NAM, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO

Flag description: 

red isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) dividing the flag into two right triangles; the upper triangle is green, the lower one is blue; a gold wreath encircling a gold olive branch is centered on the hoist side of the red triangle