Eritrea continues to be an enigma few outsiders know well. Alan Boswell is joined by author and journalist Martin Plaut, who offers unique insights on the Horn of Africa’s most off-the-radar country and President Isaias’ autocratic state.
Human rights groups denounced compulsory military training amid COVID-19, while opposition group claimed attack on Eritrean officials in Ethiopia. Govt early Sept sent thousands to infamous Sawa military camp to undergo compulsory military training despite movement restrictions and closures of schools amid COVID-19 pandemic; NGO Human Rights Watch 11 Sept urged govt to reverse decision, citing risk of virus spreading in overcrowded camp, and to end compulsory military training. Eritrean opposition group Eritrean Defence Forces for National Salvation early Sept claimed attack on officials from Eritrea’s ruling party Peoples’ Front for Democracy and Justice in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in late Aug, leaving one dead and two injured; if confirmed, incident would be first attack on Eritrean officials in Ethiopia since 2018 peace deal between two countries. In capital Asmara, authorities 4 Sept arrested senior security official Colonel Teame Goitom, who has worked with Eritrean security and intelligence bodies in Ethiopia since 2018, for unclear reasons. President Afwerki 7 Sept received Sudanese delegation led by Sovereign Council’s Chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, both sides agreed to bolster bilateral ties and regional peace.
Eritrea’s youth exodus has significantly reduced the young nation’s human capital. While this has had advantages for the government – allowing the departure of those most dissatisfied and most likely to press for political change – the growing social and political impact of mass migration at home and abroad demands concerted domestic and international action.
Change is in the air in Eritrea, a highly authoritarian state, but any political transition will require internal political inclusion and channels for external dialogue if it is to preserve stability and improve Eritrean life.
To prevent Eritrea from becoming the Horn of Africa’s next failed state, the international community must engage more with the country.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea impasse carries serious risk of a new war and is a major source of instability in the Horn of Africa, most critically for Somalia. Following Ethiopia’s refusal to accept virtual demarcation of the border by the now disbanded Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC), Asmara unilaterally implemented it and forced out the UN peacekeepers (UNMEE), significantly raising the stakes and shattering the status quo.
The risk that Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume their war in the next several weeks is very real. A military build-up along the common border over the past few months has reached alarming proportions. There will be no easy military solution if hostilities restart; more likely is a protracted conflict on Eritrean soil, progressive destabilisation of Ethiopia and a dramatic humanitarian crisis.
The fragile peace maintained by Ethiopia and Eritrea since they signed a comprehensive agreement at Algiers in December 2000 is fraying dangerously. With a costly two-year war now followed by nearly five years of stalemate, patience on both sides of the border has worn thin, and there are worrying signs that the countdown to renewed conflict may have begun.
A 12 June clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia comes as the Horn of Africa’s two most implacable rivals face a crossroads.
Originally published in Slate Afrique