The economy has been shattered by the vagaries of regional rainfall, the state’s destruction of the private sector and the huge costs of military mobilisation. Society more broadly is under enormous strain. Remarkably, there have not yet been serious protests, but pressure is building, both inside the borders and in the extensive diaspora, whose remittances have been a major financial support. A range of external opposition groups – though still deeply divided – are lining up against the regime.
To avoid a fresh crisis in the Horn of Africa, the international community and the Eritreans alike will need to demonstrate a new level of imagination and flexibility. It is vital that the international community engages with Eritrea, politically and economically, and rigorously assesses the country’s internal problems as well as its external pressures. Development assistance and improved trade links should be tied to holding long-promised national elections and implementing the long-delayed constitution. At the same time, in particular the UN Security Council should pressure Ethiopia to accept the border ruling. All this is necessary to prevent another failed state from emerging in the Horn. That outcome is otherwise distinctly possible given the widespread lack of support for the government within the country and the deteriorating state of the army, whose ability to either sustain Isaias Afwerki’s regime or to successfully manage regime transition is increasingly questionable.
These are some worrying news indeed, which should move the international community to get its act together. And speaking about that, a curious coincidence: a couple of days ago, this is what a European Voice article reported on an article about how EU development policy would be altered by the appearence of new players on the field (read China):
China’s emergence therefore adds to concerns about the eclipse of European influence. It also adds fuel to debates about responsible political engagement. So how should the EU now maintain and use its influence? “The first thing to do is to back African solutions to African problems,” another Commission official said.
That is not a new idea, but, in a political context, can become controversial: he said that this implied having relations with dictatorial leaders such as Isaias Aferweki of Eritrea, a man seen by many as a subversive influence across the Horn of Africa. “There are ways in which the problems [in Eritrea] can be overcome,” the official said. “The EU can have a moderating influence. Eritrea is not North Korea.”
Could the EU be already on the case and managing the potentially messy case of Eritres, or was this just a random example, and therefore pure coincidence? Would welcome more informed voices on this…