Why Is Eritrea Impoverished and Isolated?
By Teweldeberhan Gebre
Eritreans have been subjected to systematic poverty and injustice under their government for the last two and half decades. The very government that liberated the country from the Ethiopian invaders and their East-West sponsors is now the real oppressor of its people. It is not only an embarrassment but also a humiliation to the very Eritrean values of hard work and resilience. In Eritrea, poverty is state driven, and state instigated with the ultimate goal and greed to hold onto political power by controlling the people’s economic, social and political lives.
The issues of poverty is thus a means to control people’s life by controlling their productive economic resources and their labor, and above all their aspirations of democratic Eritrea. If the state machinery tightly controls national wealth and labor, there is nothing left for society to depend on and live a normal life. It is a tragic fate for Eritrea and Eritreans once hopeful to see a growing and affluent country after decades’ of bloody liberation war.
Today, Eritrea and Eritreans are stigmatized, ridiculed, and treated with contempt even by the most notorious countries like Ethiopia, the Sudan, and South Sudan to mention few. In search of an answer to the question of why Eritrea and its citizens continued to be stigmatized, ridiculed and treated with contempt by all nations, searchlight should be placed on the erroneous economic and human resources policy of the government. A leadership that doesn’t learn lessons from its past and present and with an attitude ‘we know’ for you.
Eritreans, the supposed hardworking and resilient people in Africa, and reputed for their heroic struggle against all the odds are now suffering untold shame and contempt in the hands of refugee campaigners and human traffickers despite their untapped potentials to build their country by all means. This paradox calls to mind, a semi-official communique in the early 1990s, which state in part, that, Eritrea will become the next Singapore of Africa. This vision has gravely eroded the country and its people’s hope. Despite our geo-strategic and international significance we miserably failed to capitalize on this potential comparative advantages due to a leadership gap. Many Eritreans mistakenly believe that the world states deliberately isolate Eritrea. I argue it is not true.
In my judgment, the Eritrean leadership has excluded itself from world politics and international relations due to its authoritarian nature, bad human rights records, poor governance and leadership, and the absence of the rule of law in the Eritrean jurisdiction. Under these scenarios, no one can expect the Eritrean leadership to have healthy and constructive diplomatic relationships with the powerful democratic nations. I contend, any measure of respect to any country by the world community is proportionate to its internal dynamics, prosperity, good governance, diplomatic skills, and above all the unreserved respect to the human rights of its citizens. None of this is entertained in Eritrea. In other words, Eritrea has nothing to offer to any state willing to engage with it.
In aligning with the above line of thought, isolating the Eritrean nation state from the powerful countries is voluntary and deliberate acts of its leader. The leadership tells us that the world has a prejudice on us Eritreans, but the truth is because of the leadership’s unwillingness to engage, weak/poor diplomatic skills and its internal contradictions.
The fact is that the head of state is leading the country unconventionally and by an iron fist. As a result, the opinion of the rest of the world about Eritrea and its sad domestic realities is, of course, reflected in all international forums and the Eritrean leadership is busy in defensive diplomacy. The administration is also busy justifying youth migration as economic and advocating for open migration just like commodities and finance. It doesn’t stop here but also demands wealth and rich states to take responsibilities for providing livelihoods, educating and training youth migrants including from Eritrea. The irony is a leadership that completely denied its young people to exercise their rights to livelihood activities in their country advocates about livelihoods elsewhere.
The instances of subjection of Eritreans in unfair treatments by their government are too many to mention but suffice it to point out the sad reality of poverty and economic hardships that stare the people in the face. Today, lawfully or unlawfully, thousands of Eritreans are languishing in jails for decades, and hundreds of thousands have left the country for the better life outside their homeland due to the mismanagement of the country’s economy and its human resources.
In conclusion, economic hardships and endemic poverty in Eritrea are due to the nefarious national service and closed economic policies of the government. As always, to justify the endless national service, the pretexts are prioritizing national defense and securities for we are under the situation of “no peace, no war” with our southern enemy. To justify the closed economic policy the leadership shamelessly hedges into educating us on the model of ‘self-reliance.’
I don’t think the leadership knows that the idea of self-reliance is an American capitalist idea. If it doesn’t know about self-reliance – my advice goes like this: read Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand.’ That invisible hand of Adam Smith is the secret for a successful and prosperous nation, and that is about self-reliance. The characteristic idea of self-reliance is about each and every individual’s invisible contribution which eventually sums up into a national wealth. You cut and ate each ten fingers and ten toes of each citizen, and now you have a crippled economy that neither feed its people and nor can finance its defense needs.