afrol News, 21 September - Analysts fear Eritrea could soon join Somalia's road towards a failed state. The economy is heading towards a collapse, poverty is rising and the dictatorial regime has lost all its legitimacy.
This is the conclusion in the report "Eritrea: The Siege State,", released by the renowned Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG), which analyses ongoing and potential political crises around the world.
The critical ICG report analyses the fragile political and economic situation following the devastating war with Ethiopia (1998-2000). "Just a decade ago, Eritrea might reasonably have been described as challenged but stable," the analysts hold.
But by now, the situation had changed. Eritrea today was seen as "under severe stress, if not yet in full-blown crisis. While not likely to undergo dramatic upheaval in the near future, it is weakening steadily. Its economy is in free fall, poverty is rife, and the authoritarian political system is haemorrhaging its legitimacy," according to the ICG.
Especially the deteriorating state of the economy and the army were causing concern. The economy had been shattered by the state's destruction of the private sector and the huge costs of military mobilisation. Both factors had put society under enormous strain.
"As Eritrea continues on this trajectory, its current economic and political problems are only going to deepen," says ICG analyst Andrew Stroehlein. "While there is no open protest at the moment, the government cannot take this for granted over the long term. Change is really only a matter of time," he adds.
Even before independence in 1991, the Eritrean freedom movement was marked by militarism and authoritarianism. President Isaias Afewerki and a small cohort of ex-fighters, who never have been elected, since have strengthened their grip on power, while suppressing social freedoms in favour of an agenda centred on an obedient national unity and the notion that Eritrea is surrounded by enemies.
Eritrea has fought in recent years, directly or indirectly, with Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan and involved itself in various ways in the conflicts in eastern Sudan, Darfur and Somalia. Relations with Ethiopia in particular remain extremely tense.
Instead of elected representatives, President Afewerki has relied on the army to secure his power. But while the earlier was the key stabilising force, "it is becoming less stable, riddled with corruption and increasingly weak," the ICG report says. "National service - originally intended to build the country - could well prove one of the catalysts for the regime's eventual collapse," it adds.
President Afewerki has become increasingly isolated, only fuelling his regime's constant outcry against foreign enemies and dangers. In 2009, the African Union (AU) took the initiative for UN sanctions against Eritrea following the regime's military support to the Somali Islamists fighting AU troops. This had made Eritrea a friendless "siege state," according to the report.
But the ICG analysts warn against demonising the Eritrean regime, recalling that neighbour states, especially Ethiopia, are co-responsible for fuelling the many regional conflicts.
To avoid a fresh crisis in the Horn of Africa, the international community needed to "engage with Eritrea, politically and economically, and rigorously assesses the country’s internal problems as well as its external pressures," the ICG urges.
Otherwise, "another failed state" would be "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 Afewerki's regime or to successfully manage regime transition is increasingly questionable," the report concludes.
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