Eritrea has rejoined a regional bloc it left 16 years ago, its information minister said late on Monday, in the country’s latest move to rebuild ties with its neighbours.
Asmara quit the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa (IGAD) in 2007 to protest against the deployment of Ethiopian troops to Somalia to force out al-Shabab fighters who controlled most of southern Somalia then.
“Eritrea resumed its activity in IGAD and took its seat at the 14th Ordinary Summit in Djibouti,” Information Minister Yemane Meskel wrote on Twitter after the summit. He did not say what had prompted the decision but said Eritrea wanted to join other IGAD members and help advance peace and stability in the region.
Eritrea, which has been ruled by Isaias Afwerki since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993, fought a border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 and has repeatedly fallen out with its neighbours.
It is also under sanctions from the United States and European Union for alleged human rights abuses.
However, it has taken steps in recent years to repair ties.
In 2018, it signed a peace deal with Ethiopia, which formally ended the state of war that had existed since the border conflict began. It also restored diplomatic ties with Somalia, normalised relations with Djibouti and strengthened ties with Kenya, which announced this year that it would open an embassy in Asmara.
Still, human rights groups said Afwerki’s rule remains as repressive as ever, pointing to forced military conscription, which continues to drive thousands of people to flee the country each year. According to the 2023 Global Slavery Index, Eritrea, Mauritania and North Korea have the highest prevalence of modern-day slavery in the world.
Eritrea also drew international condemnation for alleged atrocities committed by its soldiers during the 2020-2022 war in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where they fought in support of Ethiopian troops against Tigrayan forces.
Asmara has denied those allegations, but witnesses said its troops are still on the ground in the region, continuing human rights abuses despite a November truce ending the war. Last month, thousands of people in Tigray demonstrated against the presence of Eritrean troops, who are not mentioned in the truce.