Eritrea: Why Eritrea Matters?

Asmara (HAN) June 20, 2015 – Regional Security strategy News. Security Industry Tracker. American Military University. By Dr. Patricia Campbell, Assistant Provost at American Public University System. In 1993, the first post-colonial peaceful separation of two African states occurred when Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia. Post-colonial Africa is littered with failed secessionist attempts that have left millions dead as post-colonial leaders strove desperately to maintain control of their newly independent states. Leaders who once valorized self-determination as a post-World War II imperative were not willing to embrace any struggle for self-determination that called into question the colonial borders that gave us the modern African map. In fact, it was the struggle for self-determination that helped lead to the civil war in Ethiopia that ended in 1991 and created the conditions from which Eritrea emerged.Eritrea and Ethiopia

The Eritrean rebel group the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front led a more than 30 year war against the Ethiopian government. They were joined in their struggle to remove the repressive Derg (name for the Ethiopian government from 1974-1991) regime after its successful coup in 1974 removed Emperor Haile Selassie from power. When the Ethiopian government fell in 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which was really a group of allied rebel organizations with the same goal of removing the Derg from power in Addis, took control of the country and negotiated with the EPLF to allow for the peaceful secession of Eritrea from the larger Ethiopian state. The EPLF (which later changed its name to the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice—PFDJ) emerged as the leadership of the newly independent country. Its leader was and continues to be Isaias Afwerki.

At independence, the excitement among Eritreans was palpable. For the first time in many years, Eritrean ex-patriots, the majority of whom had fled as refugees during the Ethiopian civil war, began returning and sending money home in hopes of helping what was promised to be Africa’s newest democracy. There was good cause for hope. During the civil war, the ELPF, which was the rebel leadership of the Eritrean people, had a series of policies that were unique among post-Cold War rebellions. For example, women, who were more than 30 percent of the rebel fighting force, enjoyed more rights and opportunities than are generally typical in semi-feudal societies.

The rebel organization was progressive in terms of delivering education to all, regardless of gender. The ELPF believed an educated rebel force was key not only to a successful rebellion but also to the successful running of a state once victory was achieved. Other gender progressive initiatives were part of the ELPF approach to rebellion. For example, land reform policies in areas it controlled allowed women to inherent land for the first time.

Sadly, many of the early hopes and dreams for a democratic Eritrea slipped away as the new leadership did what many other post-conflict leaders do: consolidate power and eschew all opposition. Mild tactics of political control morphed into outright brutality and far ranging human rights abuses. Renewed conflict with Ethiopia and other East African countries provided an excuse for the increasingly authoritarian regime to muscle opposition into silence. All democratic pretenses disappeared as Afwerki and his government strangled the opposition. Most egregious for many Eritreans was the forced conscription policy.

At first, many Eritreans were in favor of the policy since they had fought for independence and were fiercely proud of their achievement. However, they were aware that many in Ethiopia were not happy with the separation that left Ethiopia landlocked without access to a port. The rumblings in Ethiopia concerned many Eritreans and thus maintaining a trained fighting force was not seen as problematic. When Ethiopian and Eritrea again went to war in 1998-2001, many were grateful that the state had remained vigilant by maintaining a trained civilian-military. In addition, many of the older Eritreans who had grown up as rebel soldiers saw value in their experiences.

The state of Eritrea also had much rebuilding to do and labor was needed. Thus, when the government required 18 months of national service from its youth, many saw this as a logical and good way to protect and build the new nation. However, as the political repression escalated, the government turned the national service requirement into a de-facto indentured servitude and 18 months expanded to an indefinite number of years with minimum if any financial compensation. Some youths tried to hide from the government, while others fled outside the country to escape the forced conscription. Political tensions continued to escalate as dissenters were arrested and disappeared after suffering torture at the hands of the government. The press was shut down. The country successfully alienated many of its neighbors and has since been labeled the “North Korea” of Africa.

At present, the U.N. estimates that 4,000 Eritreans leave their country each month. Many flee across land borders into Sudan and Ethiopia, while others take to the Red Sea headed for Yemen. Some flee through Libya or the Sinai. These migrants are faced with a horrendous journey as they encounter forced detention, extortion, rape, torture, and other forms of severe deprivation. There are also those who attempt the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean in hopes of securing European asylum. This route has received international attention of late as the number of people attempting this journey has risen, as has the number of those dying while making the crossing. An estimated 900 migrants are believed to have perished at sea within the last week of April 2015. According to International Organization for Migration “As of Monday [April 20, 2015], there have been about 18 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year.”

Unfortunately, this humanitarian crisis will likely continue. As European countries struggle with crafting appropriate policies, the U.S. has had the luxury of distance. The State Department seems content to let the European Union address the crisis. The large number of deaths this past week has increased US attention to the plight of fleeing Eritreans, but the larger question remains regarding our policy toward Eritrea itself.

From a humanitarian perspective, the plight of Eritreans should be high on our list of priorities, but humanitarian concerns rarely drive U.S. foreign policy unless we can tie the humanitarian crisis to some larger strategic imperative. Sadly, one of the consistent failures of U.S. policy is our inability to recognize early in a humanitarian crisis that our strategic interests are also at stake.

Currently, Eritrea is in just such a position. Internally, it is a failing state that has increasingly relied on state terror to subdue its citizens. Human rights abuses are widespread, there is no freedom of expression, and arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and murder are all too common. There is no free press, no independent judiciary, and the government has even ceased pretenses at democracy. Externally, Eritrea has failed as a responsible state actor. Its support of al-Shabab in Somalia resulted in successful US demands for U.N. sanctions against Eritrea. Despite Afwerki’s overtures to Uganda, Sudan and Kenya in recent years, since independence Eritrea has had problematic relations with all of its neighbors with some of those conflicts spilling over into war. It has also had problematic relations with the African Union because it believes the AU is a tool of Ethiopia and a state of war continues to exist between the two countries.

In fairness to Eritrea, Ethiopia is in violation of the 2002 U.N. Border Agreement that sought to delineate the border between the two countries. However, despite some attempts by the regime in Asmara to reconnect with its neighbors, Eritrea remains a state in isolation. Overall, the state is ripe for collapse. In 2014, Eritrea rated 23rd on the Fund for Peace’s Fragile State Index, slipping from 55th in 2005.

When states fail, power vacuums emerge and, militants of various persuasions step in to fill the void. Given the overall instability in this geographically strategic region, the time for US foreign policy to prioritize Eritrea is now, before it joins the ranks of nearby Yemen, Libya, Syria and Somalia. This once fiercely proud nation is seeing its youth demographic disappear. At present, thousands of Eritreans are fleeing every month and are willing to face horrendous conditions for a chance at a better life. But what becomes of those who can’t flee and remain behind as the state teeters? Sadly, they become a target for extremist rhetoric and the region has no shortage of militant groups seeking new recruits.

For the U.S. government, Eritrea should matter both for humanitarian and for strategic reasons. The suffering currently being endured by Eritreans at home and those fleeing life-threatening conditions should also matter to the rest of us. sources: American Military University.


Photo: US President Barack Obama (African Tour)  will discuss security cooperation with all AU members, including Eritrea.


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  1. Did you say Eritrea is a failed state?? you wish, FYI the only safest Nation in Africa is Eritrea, we know our history and we trust our Government to death, you guys keep barking like a dog, and Eritrea(Camel) is marching. we would have said a lot of things but since you guys trying to demonize Eritrea deliberately, there is no need to waste our time by telling the world our true story, Eritrea will prevail for ever, and we secrify our life as we did for the past 60 years, Eritrea is independent nation, and will be forever, keep your dirty hands off Eritrea, leave us alone so that we rebuild our war devastated Country, where were you when the atrocious actions took place on Eritrea for 60 years. no body gave our independence with a silver plate. US doesn’t owe Eritrea a penny so leave our nation alone, Glory to our marytres

    • And we don’t bend over to western Neo- colonial system, as we said before, Eritreans kneel down on two occasions, 1) when we pray ) when we shoot. glory to our martyrs.

  2. Hi how do you do hope you have a productive years to come .
    yes i leave in the west but besides the Pont i want make all is good what you disclose but
    as a guy who just got back from Eritrean a month a go i can tell you there is hardship in the country but it is not like you put it mostly it is economic all that is because people like you who
    Never stepped a foot inside Eritrean yet you talk about you know eritrea more than Eritreans
    if you are eritrean before now a new fashion (Eritho) or whom was pretending to be eritrean till
    some one notice him that he is impostor any way my question to is have been to eritrea if no atlist tell us why even if you can say because you’re from south of you know where good luck
    if can just go for two weeks then report from experience buy awet ne,hafash ze kebrni ne Semattna

  3. Interested in making people aware of the situation in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti as well as Somaliland. and Somalia.
    As there is a lot of misunderstanding about these countries, and this urgently needs to be addressed. I am interested in doing some research on these countries and trying to answer questions on how they are perceived by he West and how we got it so wrong.

  4. Part of the reason why Eritrea is a failed state today:-

    1) ILLEGAL AND UNJUST #US SANCTIONS were placed on our tired Third World backs bc
    the mendacious US gvt thinks it can scapegoat helpless nations like ours while it wrecks
    havoc all over Africa through Al Shabbab, AFRICOM and what not. USA GET OUT OF AFRICA!

    2) Eritrea’s sovereignty is still being threatened through the illegal occupation of our territories

    3) The Tigrayan minority lead gvt in Ethiopia is responsible for continual unrest and gross
    human rights violations in The Horn refer to GENOCIDE, LAND GRABS AND RAPE OF OGANDI WOMEN IN OGADEN.

    4) There are some 6million Tigrayan Tigrigna speakers in Ethiopia, many of whom pose as Eritreans in order to enter Europe/the US as asylum seekers and refugees, THEREFORE the gross exaggeration in the number of Eritreans leaving Eritrea every month.

    Which is not to say that Eritrea doesn’t have other problems as well but western media lies, unprovoked hostilities, NEOCOLONIALISM and US geopolitical interests in THE HORN ARE EQUALLY RESPONSIBLE for the drownings, exile and suffering of Eritreans and all other East Africans) today.


    • Hi everyone, I want to say only one thing. I swear to God, Eritrea will not exist as now just after few years. Who is eritrea? Its people was Ethiopian and will continue being like that. I am not threatening but talking real, we are the future generation of Ethiopian unity, we need our brothers back soon!

    • Dear Jessica

      We already Did it. although we rcvd the article from another sources.

      Geeska Afrika Online -Academic papers Desk

  5. Hello,

    Please email me about the byline for this article at Again, it’s original content written by one of our professors that was placed on one of our university blogs, You need to link to our blog or take the post down. I’d be happy to discuss further, but at this point it looks like you scraped the article from our site.

  6. With All Due Respect, here is my idea: “No One is Perfect” and Those troubles made us Stronger.

    Firstly, I am Eritrean, then, there are certain facts and traits that people should know about Eritrea. We are proud people of our identity, still much proud of the history and the just of the wars with DERG. However so, we never thought this things could ever happen to our country and our youth at this 21st Century.

    Secondly, we really dont like the Ethiopians, their mentality is completely different than us, we live to survive and progress by blood. They dont have that drive and we dont care as a whole, let alone their infinite unproductive number. They are burden to fix and live with, they are dependent people forever.

    My country is very poor with limited job resources and , but it’s youth are much civilized, competitive in education, thus we can see the concept of entrepreneurship and that’s why we are taking risks. Youth are fleeing the country, and the youth know why they are fleeing the country. It’s much better than wasting once life with out purpose.

    Our leaders have certain war mentality, but they mean for good for Every Eritrean and death is not only just for someone with war mentality. Their problem, is they really dont care about the people of those neighboring countries and that has backfired.

    Economically, we can survive independently, the brutal Eritrean gov have thought us to be different from other people, well those in Business did well as well, they are killers in business. Too much rich Eritreans with investment capacities in the country to hold those 6 million people ( we are only 6 mil people) . we have this sharing mentality and we never Never never let down our own kind.

    Politically, we need three parties to save the rest of the world from wasting their time.

    I’m not denying a big game is being played all sides, and the Eritrean gov as well.
    Awet Nehafash and Peace to the world.

  7. Evil and wicked Eritrean–God is punishing you for your crimes!!! There is more punishment to come!!! Remember God dwells in Ethiopia–It is the home God Almighty–the most high!!! I do pray for changed heart–repentance of your people!!!! After all wickedness and love of war would not help anyone else but bring chaos and suffering to human beings; and God hates wicked people —people who love war, killing, raping, torturing. This is what is going on this world–Satan has many sinful, wicked, evil people working for him–but God has few people!!!!