A Look Back at an Extraordinary Year
By Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion
Undeniably, 2018 was an extraordinary year for Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. The powerful winds of change swept across the region, ushering in the possibility of lasting peace, stability, and security.
The year’s rapidly unfolding, momentous events have been both highly encouraging and a greatly welcome development in a long-troubled region. For Eritrea, in particular, the year was especially eventful. This article is the first in a three-part series that looks back at some of the important events and developments that unfolded in the country over the past twelve extraordinary months. Parts II and III of the review will be published in subsequent editions of Eritrea Profile.
As ever, the New Year and holiday period were celebrated with great enthusiasm by Eritreans across the country and around the world. With little doubt, however, the largest party was the one that took place in Sawa, with celebrations organized by the Ministry of Information and Sawa National Service Training Centre.
Additionally, President Isaias Afwerki paid a working visit to Egypt upon the invitation of the President of Egypt, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Eritrean leader’s visit, where he was welcomed by a guard of honor, was illustrative of Eritrea’s growing regional and international relations. Notably, the visit sparked media hysteria regarding the closure of the border with Sudan and far-fetched rumors of an Egyptian and Emirati military presence in Eritrea. During his traditional New Year’s interview, President Isaias dismissed the reports and rumors as a “joke.”
Interestingly, as Eritrea began the year by continuing to effectively counter external efforts to isolate and weaken it, more evidence was beginning to emerge that despite the former Ethiopian regime’s outward veneer of growth, prosperity, and stability, all was certainly not well. In fact, the country was on the verge of collapse. In highly prescient comments delivered during his New Year’s interview, President Isaias stated that, for the TPLF-led regime in Ethiopia, “the game is over.” Months later, he would repeat the statement as events proved him to be correct.
Of course, with it being the beginning of the year, numerous meetings were held by various organizations, government ministries, and local or regional administrations in order to discuss priorities and outline various activities for the upcoming year. Notably, Eritrea and China also signed a loan agreement worth $US 87 million, which would partly be channeled to construct the first phase of the 29 km-long asphalt road connecting Adi- Guaedad with Habela.
Memorably, the month also saw the visit to Eritrea by a number of distinguished international entertainment figures, such as Eritrean-American comedian and film star Tiffany Hadish and the British musician Joss Stone. Later in the year, Hadish would also wear a dazzling traditional Eritrean outfit to the Academy Awards, proudly showcasing her roots and heritage. Not to be forgotten, Eritrean rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle would also visit the country later in 2018.
February saw Eritrean athletes make history and add to the country’s fast-growing sporting legacy. In Rwanda, Eritrean cyclists dominated the 13th African Continental Road Cycling Championships. The Eritrean team won the team time trial competition for an unprecedented 8th consecutive year while there were victories and positive results in numerous other categories, including the junior and women’s competitions. Remarkably, since its inception in 2001, Eritrea has won more medals in the African Continental Road Championships than all other African countries combined. Upon the Eritrean team’s return to Asmara, thousands of Eritreans poured out into the streets to joyously welcome the athletes home.
Although known for its cycling and long-distance running prowess, Eritrea was also represented at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda, an Eritrean-Canadian alpine skier, competed for Eritrea in alpine skiing, becoming the first athlete to represent the country at the Winter Olympics. Notably, the month also saw FIFA President Gianni Infantino visit Eritrea. During his visit, Infantino met with President Isaias Afwerki and the Commissioner of Culture and Sports, Mr. Zemede Tekle, to discuss the development of Eritrean football.
Eritrea is blessed with a rich diversity of cultures. Late in the month, UNESCO joined Eritrea’s Commission of Culture and Sports, as well as high-level government officials and community representatives, in a two-week workshop as part of the UNESCO project: “Strengthening the capacities of Eritrea for implementing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage”. The project aimed to support Eritrea safeguard its intangible cultural heritage through the effective implementation of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which Eritrea ratified in 2010.
A number of development-related activities took place during February. There was the start of a joint Eritrean-Egyptian model farming project in Eritrea to help support agricultural productivity and food security. As well, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), drafted a roadmap for the successful implementation of the country’s second health sector strategic development plan and achievement of health-related Sustainable Development Goals. The month also saw the completion of several potable water supply projects, the organization of youth skills development programs, a research workshop in Asmara organized by the National Commission for Higher Education, training programs for teachers and artists, and many other important activities.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after three troubled years in office. Those years were characterized by famine, violence, economic challenges, and serious political and social instability. Hours after Desalegn’s resignation, the Ethiopian government declared a nationwide state of emergency. Although the regime continued to claim Eritrea was behind its crisis, the situation was largely self-inflicted – a fact that became increasingly difficult to deny. Eventually, by late March, Ethiopia’s ruling coalition selected Dr. Abiy Ahmed as its chairman, paving the way for the Oromo leader to become the country’s prime minister.
On March 8, International Women’s Day was commemorated nationwide with different activities under the theme “Women’s Empowerment: Prelude to Equality”. Additionally, a representative of the National Union of Eritrean Women addressed the 62nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, outlining the progress and challenges of women in Eritrea.
In March 1988, in the Battle of Afabet, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front dealt a crushing defeat to the Ethiopian occupation forces of the Nadew Command. The momentous achievement was described by the late British historian Basil Davidson as the “African Dien Bien Phu.” This past March, the 30th anniversary of the Eritrean victory was marked with celebrations in Afabet and a series of important activities looking back at the historic events.
The month also saw Eritrean delegations participate in a number of international events and meetings. The Eritrean Commission of Culture and Sports, in cooperation with the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, attended the Youth Mobile Festival in Barcelona, which had over 15,000 participants from around the world, while an Eritrean delegation also attended the 53rd World Tourism Exhibition, held in Berlin from 7 to 10 March.
As well, early in the month, high-level representatives from Eritrea and Finland held a meeting in Asmara to build on past progress and address various challenges within the education sector.
A fundamental part of being Eritrean is confronting injustice. A reflection of this was how Eritreans in the Netherlands staged a peaceful demonstrationon 13 March protesting the unjust manner in which they were treated by the Dutch government in recent years. As well, in Geneva, the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations in Geneva, in collaboration with Nevsun Resources Limited, Bisha Mining Share Company, and Danakali Limited, held a seminar titled, “Demystifying Eritrea: the Ground Reality, Mining and Human Rights”, which was focused on addressing the outdated stereotypes and misguided narrative about Eritrea.
Locally, March saw the initiation or continuation of a number of community and development projects across the country, including vocational education and training programs, the construction of kindergartens at the Halibet and HazHaz hospitals, the installation of solar power panels at the Hagaz Community Hospital, a workshop focused on the preservation of tourist sites, the launch, by the Ministry of Health, the WHO, and other stakeholders, of a five-year National Action Plan for Health Security, and other activities. Of special note, a report published by the WHO and the Uppsala Monitoring Center ranked Eritrea as the highest of all African countries in terms of completeness and number of submitted drug safety reports to the global database.
Eritrea and its people have a long history of resilience and perseverance. Challenges are not to be seen as insurmountable barriers, but as opportunities for learning, growth, and development. This characteristic resilience and perseverance was illustrated by the YPFDJ’s annual conference. In 2017, the YPFDJ European Conference was cancelled by local Dutch authorities amidst controversial and unfortunate circumstances. Undaunted, the YPFDJ in Europe came back stronger in April 2018 to hold a highly successful conference, featuring hundreds of participants and a number of important activities.
Of course, April 13th also marked the 16th anniversary of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s final and binding decision on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border. For years, the former Ethiopian regime rejected the EEBC’s decision. However, after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation in February 2018 and with the country on the verge of implosion after years of mass protests, Dr. Abiy Ahmed officially assumed office on April 2nd. Abiy, who became Africa’s youngest leader and the first Oromo prime minister in the 27 years that the ruling coalition has been in power, would quickly begin to seek change and reform. His reforms would extend to changing his country’s relationship and approach toward Eritrea. During his inaugural speech, Abiy promised to make peace with Eritrea. A further sign of the looming changes to the region was the visit by a US delegation, led by then-Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto, to Asmara from 22 to 24 April.
Other important events during the month included, inter alia: the national celebration of International Health Day at the Orotta Referral Hospital; the founding of the Congress of the National Association of Chemical Engineers on 21 April; the graduation with Master’s Degrees from Swiss and South African universities by numerous individuals employed by Eritrean governmental institutions; Eritrea’s participation at the 10th African Leaders’ Extraordinary Summit in Rwanda; and the celebration of Easter across the nation.
As ever, during the month of April, several activities were conducted to help improve people’s standard of living and support development, including training programs focused on pest control in agricultural areas, vocational and skills development programs, erecting electrical lines in rural areas in order to improve electrical access, workshops for teachers, the introduction of modern farming practices in rural areas, and the construction of elementary schools and expansion of the hospital in Agordet. As well, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare reported that the Government of Eritrea has distributed over 786,000,000 Nakfa to war-disabled veterans over the past 15 years.
Undeniably, Eritrea’s greatest resource is its people, particularly the youth. However, it also possesses an abundance of natural and environmental resources. This point was underscored by the discovery in April of several new species of avifauna. With Eritrea still so young and unexplored, it is reasonable to expect that many more exciting discoveries lay ahead.
Undeniably, 2018 was an extraordinary year for Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. The powerful winds of change swept across the region, ushering in the possibility of lasting peace, stability, and security. The year’s rapidly unfolding, momentous events have been both highly encouraging and a greatly welcome development in a long-troubled region. For Eritrea, in particular, the year was especially eventful. This article is the second in a three-part series that looks back at some of the important events that unfolded in the country over the past twelve extraordinary months. Part I, reviewing the months from January to April, was published in the last issue of Eritrea Profile. In this issue, a review of May to August is presented, while part III of the review will be published in the next issue of Eritrea Profile.
For Eritrea, May is about independence. Eritreans know freedom does not come free. A glance at the Eritrean history shows how independence was not simply handed to the country. Rather, Eritreans worked tirelessly and sacrificed greatly for it. As has become customary, large celebrations were held, both in the country and around the world, to mark the 27th anniversary of independence. This year, the theme of celebrations was “Vision through Toil”, reflecting that achievement of Eritrea’s grand visions and lofty goals required – and still does – much toil and effort. Not to be forgotten, this year’s celebrations coincided with the 20th “anniversary” of the TPLF-led regime’s invasion of Eritrea.
Other important days recognized during May included the commemoration of International Workers Day, celebrated on May 1st at the Coca-Cola Factory, National Afforestation Day, which featured a one-day workshop from the Ministry of Agriculture, and African World Heritage Day.
The month also saw many important diplomatic activities. An Eritrean delegation, composed of representatives from several ministries and the National Union of Eritrean Women presented a national report during the 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, held in Mauritania. As well, the Eritrean Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa and Southern African countries participated at the Japan-Africa Economic Development Forum, held in Johannesburg, while the Embassy of China in Eritrea celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of China-Eritrea diplomatic relations and officially opened its newly-built embassy in Asmara.
Numerous community and development-related activities were also conducted, including, among others: the construction of a four million Nakfa dam in Habero sub-zone; environmental sanitation programs in numerous villages; women’s empowerment seminars; awards for outstanding students in various regions; and a PFDJ-sponsored workshop on the preservation of ancient manuscripts.
While May is about independence, June is, above all, about reflecting on the great sacrifices made to bring about that independence. On June 20th, Eritreans paid their respects to the thousands of martyrs who sacrificed their lives during the independence struggle and to safeguard Eritrea’s sovereignty. However, this year’s Martyrs’ Day was not only an occasion for solemnly reflecting on the past, but also one of looking to the future with optimism and hope.
Events were set in motion on June 5th, when Ethiopian PM Abiy surprised many by announcing that “Ethiopia is now willing to abide by the Algiers Agreement and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission boundary decisions”. On June 20th, at a national commemoration service in Asmara, President Isaias Afwerki addressed the momentous unfolding developments in Ethiopia and the related statement on June 5th by PM Abiy. Remarkably, President Isaias announced Eritrea would send a delegation to Addis Ababa “to gauge current developments directly and in depth as well as to chart out a plan for continuous future action.” According to President Isaias, the move reflected Eritrea’s “readiness to actively engage in the positive developments” and was in response to “positive signals issued…by the Government of Ethiopia.”
Hours later, speaking in Ethiopia, PM Abiy replied to President Isaias’ comments, thanking him for his decision, describing it as “historical news on a historical date,” and committing “to personally receive Eritrea’s delegation graciously”. Less than a week later, on June 26th, a high-level Eritrean delegation, composed of Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Yemane Gebreab, Presidential Advisor, travelled to Addis Ababa for a two-day visit – the first time in over two decades that a top-level delegation from Asmara had visited Ethiopia. During the historic visit, the delegation delivered a message from President Isaias to PM Abiy and also held extensive discussions with the PM and other senior Ethiopian officials.
Beyond the developments with Ethiopia, numerous local activities were conducted in June, including: a workshop for law enforcement officials on countering human trafficking and smuggling, jointly organized by the UNODC and the Government of Eritrea; environmental sanitation campaigns in several sub-zones; a freshwater fish farming workshop by the Ministry of Agriculture in Anseba; a skills-training program in Adi Guadad; graduation ceremonies at the Wina Technical Boarding School in Nakfa and the College of Marine Science and Technology in Massawa; the extension of over 1.1million Nakfa in interest-free loans to disabled female veterans by the National Association of Eritrean War Disabled Veterans; the launch of a three-month training program for naval cadets; the commemoration of World Blood Donor Day; and the national celebration of Eid Al- Fetir Al-Mubarek.
Historic events continued to unfold in July. On July 8th, PM Abiy, accompanied by a small delegation, made a visit to Asmara for historic talks with President Isaias. At the airport, he was warmly greeted by President Isaias. The two embraced before they walked down a red carpet. Later, the streets of Asmara were filled with tens of thousands of people, who cheered on the leaders’ convoy and waved the twinned flags of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Flowers and popcorn were tossed in jubilation. In the evening, an official state dinner was held in honor of PM Abiy.
On the morning of July 9th, the two leaders signed the “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship”, which formally ended the “state of war” between their two countries and “opened” a “new era of peace and friendship.” The countries also agreed to forge political, economic, social, cultural, and security cooperation; resume transport, trade, and communications links; restart diplomatic ties and activities; implement the EEBC boundary decision; and jointly endeavor to ensure regional peace, development, and cooperation.
Less than a week later, on 13 July, President Isaias gave a keynote address to the 31st round of youth graduating from Sawa. There, he announced that he would lead a delegation to Ethiopia the following day. Upon arriving in Addis Ababa, his first visit in 20 years, he was warmly welcomed and his visit sparked excitement and jubilation. The trip included visits to development and historical sites, President Isaias receiving numerous gifts and accolades, and a brief joint-address by President Isaias and PM Abiy at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
On July 16, the two leaders officially reopened the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa, while two days later, Ethiopian Airlines made its first trip to Eritrea after two decades. Former Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn and the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church were among the passengers on the historic flight. When it landed, there were emotional scenes as relatives and friends were reunited after decades, while traditional dancers waved flags and flowers. On July 20, Semere Russom, the Minister of Education, was appointed as Eritrea’s Ambassador to Ethiopia.
The historic developments were widely applauded by the international community. Eritreans and Ethiopians, in their own countries and around the world, held rallies to express support for the developments. Support was also expressed by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly, the UN Secretary- General, the African Union and the European Union, IGAD, COMESA, the Pope, and countless international leaders. Notably, on July 24th, at a tripartite summit in Abu Dhabi, President Isaias and PM Abiy were awarded the highest Abu Dhabi honor, “The Zayed Award”, by the Crown Prince of the UAE and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The month finished as it began: with history being made. On July 28th, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, President of Somalia, visited Eritrea. He became the first President of Somalia to formally visit Eritrea. In scenes similar to those that broke out weeks earlier, the Somali leader was warmly welcomed by tens of thousands of Eritreans. During President Mohammed’s visit, the two leaders agreed to establish diplomatic ties and exchange ambassadors. On July 30th, they signed the “Joint Declaration on Brotherly Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation”.
While the month’s remarkable developments were welcomed by most, certain elements aimed to work against the positive changes. Additionally, while the sanctions on Eritrea had become largely unnecessary, some still lobbied for their maintenance. Finally, important local activities also took place, such as the Eritrean Pharmaceutical Association’s annual conference, a workshop by the NUEW to strengthen capacity, a visit by an Egyptian medical delegation to train local health professionals, and graduation ceremonies at Hamelmalo College of Agriculture, the Eritrean Institute of Technology, and Asmara College of Medical Science.
August, like the months preceding it, was historic. Early in the month, President Isaias held talks with a senior Ethiopian delegation composed of Lemma Megersa, President of Oromo Region, and Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister. He would also meet with a Japanese delegation led by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Masahisa Sato, a senior Saudi delegation led by Foreign Minister Adel Al- Jubeir, and Germany’s Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Muller.
Importantly, the month also featured efforts to consolidate the progress of previous months. On August 10th, an Eritrean delegation composed of Osman Saleh and Yemane Gebreab visited Ethiopia. They delivered a message from President Isaias to PM Abiy and discussed the implementation of the agreement between the two countries. The delegation visited Somalia from August 13th to 15th. In Somalia, they met with President Mohammed, while the Joint High Level Committee of Eritrea and Somalia, established in July, held its first meeting in Mogadishu on August 14th.
On August 18th, Asmara again played host to a regional leader, as Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, arrived for an official visit. Upon arrival, Kiir was given a warm welcome by President Isaias and senior government officials.
Notably, the month saw a series of important peace agreements concluded in Asmara. On August 7th, Ethiopia and the Oromo Liberation Front signed a reconciliation agreement, while on August 16th, the Amhara Regional State and Amhara Democratic Forces Movement signed a reconciliation agreement. Then, on August 28th, the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement completed an agreement with the Government of Ethiopia.
Countless local activities took place in August. These included a forestation campaign in Berik sub-zone, the commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week, the beginning of the 32nd round of national service and academic year at Sawa, a vocational training program for youth in Logo Anseba sub-zone, the nationwide celebration of Eid Al-Adha Al-Mubarek Hejira year 1439, the introduction of new vaccines against polio, measles, and rubella, and the kickoff of Festival Eritrea at the Expo Grounds.
In Eritrea, September is about remembering the armed struggle, which was sparked by shots fired by harbenya Hamid Idris Awate at Mount Adal on September 1st, 1961. The 57th anniversary of that event was commemorated at the Expo Grounds during Festival Eritrea. The nine-day annual festival was celebrated with extra excitement since it coincided with the historic developments unfolding across the region.
On September 5th, Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed and Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed arrived in Asmara for a tripartite summit. The three countries’ leaders announced the “Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia”, which states that the countries will: bolster comprehensive cooperation that advances the goals of the peoples of the three countries; build close political, economic, social, cultural, and security ties; work in coordination to promote regional peace and security; and establish a Joint High-Level Committee to coordinate the efforts in the framework of the joint declaration.
Later that day, an Ethiopian ship docked in an Eritrean port for the first time in two decades and won Bisha Mining’s international bid to transport copper concentrates. On September 6th, the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara officially re-opened. President Isaias handed the key to PM Abiy and they jointly raised the Ethiopian flag as the Ethiopian anthem was played. Redwan Hussein was appointed as the new Ambassador to Asmara.
Notably, the joint high-level committee established during the tripartite summit conducted its first initiative by travelling to Djibouti on September 6th to hold discussions with President Ismail Guelleh. The committee was headed by the foreign ministers of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The trip was fruitful, as Eritrea and Djibouti agreed to normalize ties after a decade of tension and hostility.
Less than a week later, on September 11th, as part of Geez New Year celebrations, Ethiopian and Eritrean armed forces met peacefully to clear landmines, open border crossings, and celebrate the holiday. During the day, President Isaias and PM Abiy would officially open the Debai-Sima-Bure and Serha-Zalmbessa border points connecting the two countries, while days later, on September 15th, the Adi Quala-Rama road connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia through the Mereb River was reopened.
Unsurprisingly, these developments were met by great excitement by the people of both countries. The border openings led to the reuniting of friends and families, heavy traffic, and considerable trade and commercial activities.
On September 16th, in recognition of the vision, courage, and statesmanship they demonstrated to bring about peace, President Isaias and PM Abiy were presented “The Order of King Abdulaziz”, Saudi Arabia’s highest medal, by King Salman bin Abdulaziz. President Isaias and PM Abiy also signed the Jeddah Peace Accord, further cementing peace and cooperation. The historic ceremonies were conducted in the presence of King Salman, the UN Secretary-General, the African Union Commission chairman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and others.
The diplomatic activities continued the following day when President Isaias met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and with Djibouti President Guelleh. The two leaders agreed to establish a new chapter of cooperation and expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for its contributions. Two days afterward, President Isaias held talks with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
September’s other notable diplomatic activities included the visit by an Eritrean delegation, composed of Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab, to Russia to hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and President Isaias’ meeting on September 13th with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, who delivered a message from President Abdul Fatah el-Sisi. President Isaias also received representatives of Amhara Regional State, who expressed their support for peace, while Eritrea’s Cabinet of Ministers held a meeting on September 28th to discuss developments in the region.
Locally, the month featured numerous events, including the drafting of a 2017-2021 strategic plan by the Ministry of Health to eradicate the prevalence of malaria; an €11.7 million project to provide energy to the rural towns of Areza and Maidma; graduation ceremonies for the College of Arts and Social Sciences and the College of Business and Economics; the conclusion of a four-month certificate training program for Ministry of Information staff; training for teachers in the Central region, celebrations of Geez New Year and Meskel, and the commemoration of World Tourism Day, International Youth Day, World Contraception Day, and International Reading Day. As well, a delegation of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions visited Eritrea from September 1st to 4th, while an Eritrean delegation attended the Horn of Africa Women’s Forum in Vienna.
At the end of the month, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister addressed the UN General Assembly, calling for the unjust sanctions to be lifted and demanding compensation for the economic hardship. As well, Eritrea reiterated its support for Somalia during a high-level meeting held in New York and attended by the UN Secretary-General.
Exciting developments continued in October. On October 12th, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte arrived in Asmara, where he met with President Isaias and government officials to discuss bilateral relations. Two days later, on October 14th, President Isaias led a delegation to Ethiopia. There, he would meet with PM Abiy to discuss developments and also jointly-inaugurate the Omo Kuraz III Sugar Factory in southern Ethiopia. Then, on October 19th, President Isaias hosted a Russian delegation headed by Mikhail Leonidovich Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Discussions focused on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation.
Notably, on October 17th, the foreign ministers of Eritrea and Ethiopia headed to Mogadishu for an official visit. The visit was part of the ongoing developments in the region and continued the process begun by September’s “Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.” The foreign ministers expressed their support for the Government of Somalia and its political progress. They also reaffirmed their respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all three nations. A week later, Osman Saleh and Dr. Workneh met with Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy during the second Italy-Africa Forum, held in Rome from October 24 to 25. The meeting focused on Italy’s contributions to strengthening peace and cooperation in the region.
While New York is the “city that doesn’t sleep” and Paris is the “city of love,” Asmara was staking its claim to be the “city of peace.” Following the numerous peace and reconciliation agreements concluded over previous months, on October 21st, the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) signed a peace agreement.
In October, the UN General Assembly elected Eritrea to serve on the Human Rights Council. Eritrea issued a statement outlining that it was proud of its selection and did not take the responsibility lightly. As well, a UN delegation headed by Dereje Wordofa, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, visited Eritrea to discuss the country’s progress and strengthening cooperation.
As ever, the month was filled with numerous important local activities, including a seminar on malaria in Foro sub-zone; the inauguration of a 6 million Nakfa water project in Logo Anseba sub-zone; a seminar on environmental sanitation in Barentu; the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Association of Eritrean War Disabled Veterans; the commemoration of International Teacher’s Day, International Day of the Girl, and World Food Day; a training program for the Ministry of Agriculture’s staff members in Gash Barka; a graduation ceremony at Barentu School of Assistant Nurses; an engineering workshop by the Embassy of China in Eritrea; and a delegation of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers participating in the founding Congress of the Horn of Africa Confederation of Trade Unions, held in Ethiopia.
In an interview on November 3rd, President Isaias discussed the significance, progress, and regional ramifications of the historic peace agreement with Ethiopia. Less than a week later, on November 9th, he and Somali President Mohammed visited Ethiopia to meet PM Abiy and discuss progress of the “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship.” Then, on November 17th, President Isaias received a message from Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, congratulating Eritrea for its recent developments also extended an invitation to President Isaias to visit Kenya.
One of the year’s most important events unfolded on November 14th, as the UN Security Council rectified a nine-year-old miscarriage of justice and unanimously lifted the sanctions that were imposed on Eritrea in December 2009 and expanded in 2011. The decision sparked large celebrations by Eritreans, both in the country and abroad. Who could begrudge them this moment, since they had fought so long and remained firmly committed to their principles and values? Various leaders, as well as several regional and international organizations, sent messages of congratulations and support to the people and Government of Eritrea.
Locally, Eritrea continued to make history; from November 21st to 25th, Eritrea hosted the inaugural Africa Cup of Cycling. The competition featured teams from across Africa and saw Eritrea dominate, leaving little doubt as to who is Africa’s cycling superpower.
Other important local activities included a workshop on tourism in Anseba region; the launch of the national measles and rubella vaccination campaign and distribution of Vitamin A program; the 3rd Congress Meeting of the National Association of the Mentally and Physically; a tour of inspection for over 100 forestry and wildlife experts conducted by the National Forestry and Wildlife Authority; a NUEYS seminar for youth workers in Barentu; and the observance of World Antibiotics Awareness Week, International Day of Bacteria, World Diabetes Day, and International Children’s Day.
The last month of an extraordinary year began with President Isaias holding talks with the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, on December 4th in Asmara. Despite decades of challenges from previous US administrations, President Isaias expressed Eritrea’s readiness for constructive engagement and strengthened relations and cooperation with the US. Subsequently, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Makila James, visited Eritrea from December 14th to 16th,
Following the October meeting of President Isaias with the Italian PM, the Eritrean leader also held talks with Claudia Del Re, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, on December 5th. Notably, the Vice-Minister was accompanied by representatives of various Italian businesses, who met with government officials to discuss investment opportunities.
On December 13th, President Isaias made a historic visit to Somalia to meet with President Mohammed. The two pledged to strengthen their nations’ historical relations and cooperate in all areas. From Somalia, President Isaias headed to Kenya, following an earlier invitation from President Kenyatta. The two discussed Kenya’s role in regional peace and the possibilities for trade and investment between their countries. Subsequently, President Isaias held talks with Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on December 17th.
Eritrea’s positive role in the region was illustrated as leaders of the ONLF, in accordance with a peace agreement reached with the Government of Ethiopia in Asmara, departed from Eritrea for Ethiopia. As well, adding to awards they received in the previous months, President Isaias and PM Abiy were awarded the 2018 “Imam Al Hassan Bin Ali Award for Promoting Peace”, by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, at the 5th assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi.
On December 4th, the President of the Confederation of African Football, Dr. Ahmed Ahmed, accompanied by a delegation of officials from the football federations of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti, visited Eritrea. The delegation held discussions with the local federation to explore ways of expanding the game in Eritrea and strengthening the relationship between the governing bodies of the countries. Then, on December 16th, the Red Sea Camels put in a dominating performance, winning 3-0 against South Sudan in a youth international friendly held at the Cicero Stadium.
Other notable local activities included the establishment of the China Alumni Association by Eritrean graduates from Chinese institutions; a two-day national conference on sanitation at the Asmara Palace Hotel; the annual meeting of the Executive Board of the East Africa Athletics Federations; the 5th Annual Pharmacovigilance Conference; the inauguration of a 2 million Nakfa water project in Adi Musa; an Eritrean delegation’s participation at the Intra-African Trade Fair, in Cairo; the observance of International Day of Disabled Persons, World AIDS Day, and International Human Rights Day; and nationwide Christmas celebrations on December 25th.
Last, on December 31st, Eritreans enthusiastically celebrated the end of a historic year. As the clock wound down on 2018, many Eritreans began to look forward to 2019 in the expectation of further developments, progress, and positive change for the country and the region.