The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in Kassala state has manged to abort the smuggling of a large quantities of consumer goods and building materials amounting to 5 billion which was on its way to a neighboring country.

This operations comes in the framework of border security with the neighboring countries.

A security source told SMC that the seizures included building materials (cement, zinc and linoleum), and consumer goods (sugar, flour and oil) in addition to cars spare parts and tires.

He confirmed that a number of smugglers were arrested in preparation for bringing them to trial.



With their hopes dashed that peace with Ethiopia would bring an end to national service, young Eritreans must either accept a life of forced labour or flee















A teenage boy in a dormitory for unaccompanied minors in Shagrab camp, Sudan. Tens of thousands of Eritreans live in the camps after escaping military service and repression at home. Photograph: Sally Hayden/Getty Images

Dawit was tiring, but he could not stop. An Eritrean schoolteacher on the run, he was crossing the border to Ethiopia alone at night, with only a stick to protect himself against the hyenas and the military squads who pick up runaways.

He was risking his life to get out so that he could take up a scholarship in the US. In Eritrea, one of the most isolated and repressive countries in the world, young people have no future. Their choice is to undertake compulsory national service, or try to flee.

Eritrea’s national service is harsh, pays a pittance and goes on indefinitely. Usually, conscripts go into the military. But Dawit had been doing his national service as a teacher for more than 13 years. The government would not let him go.

When Eritrea signed a peace deal with Ethiopia in July after a 20-year standoff, rumours began circulating that gave Eritrean families great hope. People whispered that political and religious prisoners were about to be freed, that the country’s most notorious jails would be closed, and that the indefinite conscription of anyone aged between 18 and 50 would end.

Many believed the historic reforms introduced by Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, were also bringing change to Eritrea, which has been ruled by former revolutionary fighter Isaias Afwerki since the country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

In July, the Eritrean embassy in Ethiopia reopened, and the first commercial flight in two decades took off from Addis Ababa to Asmara, with champagne and roses handed out on board. Last month, the road border was reopened in two places. Reunited relatives embraced and soldiers in fatigues danced in celebration.

At one graduation ceremony, reportedly attended by Afwerki, a new batch of conscripts were told they would serve for no more than 18 months.

“All the mothers in Eritrea think their kids are coming back from the frontlines,” says Helen Kidan, from the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights.

National Symbol















A patriotic poster set on a window in Asmara. Eritrea has blamed external factors for its slow development. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In fact, nothing has changed, say Eritrea watchers. They point to the recent arrest of the former finance minister and author of a book calling for a youth uprising against the president.


The minister for labour and human welfare, Luul Gebreab, told Bloomberg recently that the government was studying the economic effects of demobilisation, but several officials said it would not happen yet.

Although the pretext for conscription no longer exists, the rumours that it will be phased out are probably false, says Fisseha Tekle, a human rights researcher on Eritrea and Ethiopia for Amnesty International. “For the last 15 years, they were blaming Ethiopia. That excuse is no longer there, so it is high time for them to stop this scheme.”

Eritrean activists and analysts say the indefinite national service is less about conflict with Ethiopia than a way to keep people weak and unable to mount resistance to the government. They suggest the authorities are unlikely to demobilise tens of thousands of militarily-trained men and women who bear a grudge against them, with no prospect of finding them alternative employment.

National service usually lasts between five and 10 years, but can last for up to 20. Conscripts often work 72-hour weeks in extremely harsh conditions with inadequate food and low pay. No one is legally entitled to take leave, which depends on the whim of commanding officers. Some conscripts have reported going for years without being allowed to visit home. If a conscript fails to return after taking leave, their parent may be jailed until they do.

Eritrean teenagers spend the last year of high school in a military camp before going straight into military service. If they get good enough grades, they might attend college and be given a civilian role. But the only way out is to leave the country.

Central Market
















The central market area in Asmara. Photograph: Jack Malipan/Alamy Stock Photo

Dawit’s midnight run to Ethiopia was the second time he’d tried to escape. About a year earlier, after being denied an exit visa to study in the US, he paid a trafficker to get him out. He was caught and jailed for seven months, moving between the country’s notorious, overcrowded prisons. Eventually, he was released and reassigned to a school in a remote area, with his small salary suspended for six months. “It’s just slavery,” he says. “You toil day and night and you get nothing.”

Every month, thousands of young people like Dawit sneak out of the country, ending up in Libya, Sudan, Europe, or dying along the way. Visitors to refugee camps on the Ethiopian side say more Eritreans have been crossing recently, amid warnings from traffickers that this could be their last chance to claim asylum elsewhere.

But false perceptions that things are improving in Eritrea could change other countries’ attitudes to taking them in. “In Europe, they’re using every excuse to deny entry, deny asylum applications,” says Tekle.

Eritrean officials have made empty promises about national service before. In 2015, Lord Avebury told the House of Lords the Eritrean ambassador had said conscription would be restricted to 18 months, but nothing changed.

For now, many Eritreans are surviving on rumours thattheir children may soon be allowed to come home, get a job, have a family life and a future.

“The mothers are expecting something. The 140,000 people doing their national service on the border are expecting something,” says Kiden. “The families of journalists and other political prisoners are expecting something. And I don’t see how these hopes will be fulfilled.”



The Eritrean people are angry and feeling disrespected in their own country

By Seid Ali Hijay

With the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, both countries opened their borders and allowed people-to-people movements and interactions. As the result of this opportunity, the Eritrean regime allowed the Ethiopian merchants to freely sell their goods inside Eritrea without any limitations.

An Eritrean who recently visited Asmara indicated that Ethiopian merchants are now moving freely in many parts of Eritrea, including Asmara, Keren, Massawa, Dekemhare, and other towns of Eritrea, where Eritreans are required to show they have permission to travel.

The visitor indicated that although this new opportunity helped reduced the prices of grains and goods, the Eritrean people are angry at President Isaias’s regime for giving privileges and priorities to the Ethiopians that he has denied to Eritreans. The visitor indicted that the regime has instructed the authorities, the police, Administrators to facilitate this trade and not interfere or stop the Ethiopian business men coming to Eritrea.

In one instance, an Ethiopian trader with a truck hit a young Eritrean woman in Asmara downtown. He was quickly surrounded by Eritreans, who tended the woman and watching over the Ethiopian driver, until the police comes. Once the police arrived and asked his driving license, the police realized that the driver was an Ethiopian with a TG truck tag plate. The police immediately returned his license and let him go. The onlookers was angry and shouted at the police for not arresting the driver or taking some action. To their surprise,  the police responded by saying that his hands are tied and can’t do anything about this, because they were given instructed by the regime to not touch or interfere with Ethiopian merchants.

In another incident at behind Enda-Selassie location, one of the areas reserved for the Ethiopian merchants to sell their goods, an Eritrean mother approached a Tigrian merchant to buy a white teff. He showed her the sample teff, but the mother was not convinced it was a white teff and further probed the Tigrian merchant by asking again are you sure this is a white teff and it doesn’t look like it to me. The Tigrian merchant responded   “ኣትን ኣደ ስቅ እልክን ዉሰዳ ብወዲዓከር ጨኒኽን ዝነበርክን” with contempt in his dialect language. [Translation: “old woman just take what I am selling, you people have been stinking eating Wedi Aker (sorghum)”]

The Eritrean mother was furious with his contemptuous response and clapped back by saying “እንታይ ኢልካ፦  ወዲ ዓከር በሊዖም ደይ ኮኑን ደቅና ስሬኻን ዕጥኻን ኣፍቲሖም ዘጛዬይኻ::” [Translation: “Our children who grew up eating chickpeas made you run out of the country without your weapons!”] While they were squabbling, some young Eritreans nearby heard them. They approached the merchant and threatened him to immediately leave or they’ll butcher and package him in his sacks. The merchant was so terrified and he immediately left with his truck and belonging without uttering a word.

The visitor also indicated the Ethiopian merchants are allowed to freely exchange their Nakfa to dollar in a black market in broad daylight in front of the authorities and policemen, without any repercussions. The exchange rates  goes as far as 1 dollar against 20 Nakfa, which is much better than the exchange rate set by the regime. As to remember this privilege is denied to Eritreans. In fact, any Eritrean caught exchanging  is punishable up to 2 years, including financial penalties.

Although these incidents seem to be trivial, but have deep ramifications for the Eritrean people. The regime is conducting widespread psychological assault against Eritreans in their own country by allowing to be disrespected by their arch rival south. Most importantly, the regime is denying and oppressing the Eritrean people to work, do businesses and accumulate wealth. This is a deliberate policy by the regime to psychological kill  the Eritrean people but also to transfer the wealth from Eritreans to the  people from the south, in the process creating weak, destitute and dependent Eritreans.

The above policy along with the forced exodus of Eritreans and new settlements by people from the south are going to lead to major social engineering down the road- where Eritreans will be dominated in numbers, wealth, culture, values, and beliefs to the extent that they’ll be hopeless and helpless to challenge and change their situations.

The competition between great powers has triggered a string of major political developments in East Africa.

3 hours ago
Eritrea's President, Isaias Afwerki receives a key from Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed during a ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, 2018. [Reuters/Tiksa Negeri]
Eritrea's President, Isaias Afwerki receives a key from Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed during a ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, 2018. [Reuters/Tiksa Negeri]

Over the past year, East Africa has seen an unprecedented flurry of political developments that are changing dramatically the political landscape in the region. 

Eritrea has emerged out of its diplomatic isolation, signing declarations of peace and cooperation with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia and publicly calling for the lifting of international sanctions. After years of hostility over the building of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, Ethiopia and Egypt have seen a significant improvement in relations. Sudan, too, has mended relations with its northern neighbour and has managed to get US sanctions lifted.

Many have welcomed these new political developments with euphoria, believing that they mark a new dawn for East African politics. The Horn of Africa is indeed set for a significant departure from the past, but it is important to note that there are external factors behind these changes.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appear to be the sponsors of most of these diplomatic efforts, but their role too has been shaped by bigger players. The undercurrent to these changes is the major shift of US foreign and defence policy from the "war on terror" to strategic competition with other global powers, mainly Russia and China

Since the end of the Cold War, the "war on terror" has been at the centre of all US alliances in the world, including in the Horn of Africa. However, in recent years, the US has gradually come to perceive the rise of China and Russia, and not terrorism, as the biggest threat it is facing in Africa and elsewhere.

This policy shift has been outlined in the 2018 National Defence Strategy and articulated by a number of US officials, including US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who in a January speech said:

"Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security. We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other... To those who threaten America's experiment in democracy, they must know if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day."

It is in this context that Washington has sought to forge alliances with African forces to support its antagonistic competition with these two great powers.

Eritrea in, Djibouti out

In March this year, General Thomas Waldhauser, AFRICOM Commander in Africa, warned the US Congress that China would threaten US interests globally and particularly in the Red Sea if it takes a key port in Djibouti.

The Doraleh Port had been operated by UAE-owned DP World since 2006 but the Djibouti government broke off its agreement with the Emirati company and nationalised the port in February this year.

According to Waldhauser, Djibouti has assured the US that it would not hand the port over to the Chinese, who set up their first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, but he warned that if it does, this would cut off supplies to the US military base in the country and restrict the movements of US Navy ships in the area.

He further concluded that the US will "never outspend the Chinese in Africa" and he was in "the process of rewriting US military strategy in the region with China in mind." Given the heavy economic and military presence of China in Djibouti, US interests shifted towards its neighbour, Eritrea, which could - in the future - host a new US military base and provide the US with access to its ports.

For this to happen, Eritrea first had to emerge from its diplomatic isolation, especially by normalising relations with Ethiopia. To achieve that, the US launched a quiet campaign last year involving church officials and US diplomats lobbying the two sides to come together and resolve their differences.

Soon after US senior diplomats and senators voiced official calls for normalisation of relations between Eritrea and all neighbouring countries. US allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE also played an important role.

While the US diplomatic offensive succeeded in pulling Eritrea out of isolation, it left Djibouti out of the grand rapprochement it engineered.

US' shifting policies

The shift in US priorities in East Africa has also introduced a number of other major changes in the region. First, it has further diminished the importance the US gives to supporting the armies of countries in the Horn of Africa, particularly that of Ethiopia. This means that the Ethiopian army's role in regional security and foreign policy will diminish, with the exception of UN peace-keeping missions. 

Second, it has strengthened US support for the alliance between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, at the expense of Qatari and Turkish interest in the region.

This shift has also favoured the Egyptian army. In September, the US reinstated $195m in military aid to Egypt which was frozen last year over country's dismal human rights record and relations with North Korea. 

The US has also given its blessing for a new role of the Egyptian military in the Horn of Africa. In January this year, Cairo dispatched Egyptian troops to Eritrea, stationing them at the border with Sudan, provoking speculations that it is seeking to establish a military base there.

Third, this shift has also meant that the US government is putting more effort on the economic front, which could have diplomatic and economic implications. While the US realises that it cannot match the scale of Chinese investment in Africa, it is still looking to curb Chinese economic influence in the region.

Part of its strategy is to encourage US companies to invest more in East Africa. In Ethiopia, this trend is already visible: while in the past US officials from the Department of Defense and the White House used to visit Addis Ababa, now it is officials of the Department of Commerce with entourages of US businessmen.

Fearing reproach from Washington, some East African countries may scale down their ties with China and revise their public procurement procedures. Seeing this trend, China has already announced its decision to cut down investment in Ethiopia until its current debt payment is restructured. 

The US government is also looking to set up a special agency to invest up to $60bn to counter Chinese interests in the developing world, including East Africa.  

In his March address to the African Union, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: "We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa. But it is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty."

This signals that just as the US is pushing on the geopolitical front in East Africa, it might start doing so on the economic one as well. While the region needs to address its rising debt and dependence on China, the economic policies that the US would press for might not be in its best interest either.

East Africa will need all the assistance it can get, be it from developed liberal states, from Gulf monarchies or Asian economic powerhouses. But as the competition between China and the US intensifies, it increasingly looks like this financial support will come with conditions.

Therefore, countries in the region and the continent as a whole should resist unwarranted interferences in their internal policy decisions and insist on their sovereignty being upheld. If they succeed in this, they will be able to reap the benefits of the emerging economically competitive multipolar world order.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.  

Inside Story

Is Ethiopia on a path to inclusive democracy?



Eritrean Afar elders call for their rights

%PM, %09 %596 %2018 %15:%Oct Written by


Source: Eritrean Afar National Congress

WE are Traditional Afar Elders of Eritrea. We have fled our beloved country, the territory of Dankalia, our homes, and properties due to violence and persecution including mass murder, torture, rape, disappearances,communal displacement, destruction of our culture and indigenous way of life.

Since the normalization of relations has started between Ethiopia-Eritrea there have been numerous attempts by agents of Eritrean regime to intimidate and influence leading Afar Elders decisions and coerce our exiled community to return without any guarantees to their lives, safety and security and restorations of their rights and properties in Eritrea.

WE CONDEMN these actions of intimidation and coercion by Eritrean government and call on all of our people to remain steadfast and united under these circumstances.
WE, THEREFORE, The Eritrean Afar people, the Traditional Afar Elders, including Afar refugees, women and youth assembled together in the City of Logya, Ethiopia declare to the World the solemn will of the Eritrean Afar Nation as follows:

1. The Eritrean Afar people must be compensated for the loss of lives, properties, their indigenous way of life and must be compensated for other crimes against humanity committed during the past 27 years in Eritrea.

2. The Eritrean Afar people must have the right to political autonomy in Dankalia within its traditional territories of the coast of Bori to Rahayta.

3. The Eritrean Afar people must have the right to own and control their lands, fisheries and natural resources including a percentage of payment on the use of the Port of ASSAB and other industrial infrastructureswithin its territories and must enjoy the profits therefrom under conditions established by law.

4. The Eritrean Afar refugees who have fled Eritrea shall have the right of return to their homes and properties in Eritrea under the supervision and the assistance of the United Nations, and must be compensated for the persecution and for all other losses that they may have suffered in Eritrea.

WE, by our names, signatures, and marks pledge our commitment and resolve to the above solemn principles and pledge to contribute to restorations of rights to all Eritreans and contribute to sustainable peace and inclusive economic prosperity and relations between regional governments.


%PM, %05 %463 %2018 %12:%Oct Written by

Human Rights Watch, HRW, has accused the Eritrean government of continuing to repress opposing voices citing the recent arrest of a former finance minister, Abrehe Kidane Berhane.

According to the international rights group, contrary to hopes that peace with Ethiopia after decades of enmity was going to birth a new air of freedom, Asmara was going on with business as usual.

“There was hope that change would come for Eritrea’s many political prisoners after Eritrea and Ethiopia made peace this year, ending three decades of enmity,” said Maria Burnett, East Africa director at HRW.

“But, Berhane’s arrest shows nothing has changed. Jailing critics in Eritrea remains the norm,” she added.

The former government official’s arrest in September was as a result of a two-pronged criticism of the president Isaias Afwerki. Berhane posted a video on YouTube and published a two-volume book calling for an end to what he said was Isaias’ dictatorship.

He demanded that the president steps down and transfers power to a younger generation. The video has since September 6, 2018 till date raked close to 20,000 views. His book is titled, Eritrea Haragey (Eritrea, My Country).

In his book and video, Berhane says that Eritrea’s “struggle for independence was never to install dictatorship. We need ideas and principles to guide us – not individuals with absolute power.” 

He is on record to have demanded that the president reconvenes the National Assembly, which sat in over 16 years. He opines that in the absence of elections, it is the legislature that will be able to replace Afwerki.

Berhane warned, “if there is any force that wants to derail the process, he would have to face the Eritrean youth.” The Eritrean government has not officially commented on his arrest or the views he has advanced.

HRW and other rights groups have repeatedly called on the government to release political prisonsers and other people – media and religious faithful – being held in detention centers across the country.

Government has justified an indefinite military national service scheme with the threat of violence by Ethiopia. In the wake of June 2018 peace deal, there has been indications that the program was set for review.

Young Ethiopians are among the majority of persons from the region trying to escape conditions back home by making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Government has repeatedly rejected claims that local policies was to blame for the exodus.


The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and The America Team for Displaced Eritreans has issued the urgent appeal below.



  • Call upon UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations, donor countries and the international community to ensure that all available resources be deployed to move these vulnerable individuals to safety – including by airlifting them to safe countries – and to otherwise administer aid and protection as soon as possible.
  • Call upon the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to monitor the overall situation more effectively, to promote comprehensive solutions for the thousands of refugees, migrants and trafficking victims warehoused in Libya, and to end their enslavement immediately.
Their appeal is issued on behalf of 54 other organisations including churches, NGOs and other groups working on the issue in the USA.

Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed (L) receiveds Eritrea's FM Osman Saleh (R) at Addis Ababa airport on 26 June 2018 (Photo Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

September 29, 2018 (ADDIS ABABA) - Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Mohammed Saleh Saturday accused some Security Council members of seeking to hamper the lifting of international sanctions imposed on his country despite the recent reconciliation with Ethiopia and Somalia.

On December 23, 2009, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, travel bans on its leaders, and froze the assets of some political and military officials after accusing the Eritrean government of funding and arming Al-Shabaab group but Asmara denies the charges.

However, in July 2012, U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported that Eritrea had cut its support for the al Qaeda-allied militant group in Somalia.

In his speech before the UN General Assembly, Saleh pointed to the "unwarranted sanctions" on his country saying they have caused much of economic damage in Eritrea and once again called for its removal.

He further said that in spite of the historic reconciliation between his country Ethiopia and Somalia still there some international powers seeking to prevent the lift of

"With positive winds of peace flowing in our region, several UNSC member States are these days calling for the immediate lifting of the deplorable sanctions. The diplomatic discourse is not however fully coherent," he said.

"As it happens, some countries are looking for procedural and other pretexts and preconditions. The apparent aim is to move the goalpost and maintain the illegal sanctions on Eritrea," he stressed.

The Eritrean top diplomat was pointing to recent statements by Tibor Nagy, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for Africa who told the Congress last September that his administration has concerns over Eritrea’s human rights record and relations with North Korea.

Nagy cited the detention of U.S. embassy local staff and several Americans for "politically-motivated reasons". He further pointed to the detention of religious and political prisoners and the indefinite national service saying they are also a source of worry.
On North Korea, he said Washington wants a full explanation from Eritrea over past weapons purchases from North Korea highlighted in a U.N. report.

"Eritrea cannot assume that by saying wonderful things and opening good relations with the neighbours that will automatically lead to sanctions relief," stressed the former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.

Asmara in the pas denied accusations of human rights violations by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

Last July during a discussion on the lift of sanctions on Eritrea, the British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce said such matter needs more time to discuss it.

"At some point that will need to be reflected in what we do on sanctions. But the Council hasn’t had a full discussion of that yet," she told reporters after the UN Security Council meeting.



An assessment of Eritrea

%PM, %28 %731 %2018 %18:%Sep Written by

This paper from the German independent foundation, Bertelsmann Stiftung, gives some penetrating analysis of the state of Eritrea.

This extract is striking:

“The economy remained in a poor state, and the chronic electricity blackouts, shortages of fuels and drinking water continued. The government did not use the revenues from the Bisha mine, estimated at about $1.2 billion since 2011, to invest in the economy, nor did it provide the population with basic imported consumer goods. Military officers applied their own regulations in the administrative regions under their control, while the civilian administrative apparatus was powerless. Military and PFDJ leaders continued to run their own shops.”

The full report, dated 2018, can be found here: BTI_2018_Eritrea.

Below is the Executive Summary

Executive Summary

During the period under review, the Eritrean government made no significant change in its political and economic agenda, remaining a surveillance state committed to a command economy and an autocratic political system. The economy was under the control of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party and the military. High-ranking military officers were involved in illegal activities, including goods smuggling and human trafficking of Eritreans seeking to leave the country. Human trafficking of Eritrean refugees across the border to Sudan and from Sudanese refugee camps to Libya continued with the involvement of corrupt Eritrean and Sudanese officials. The high-ranking PFDJ cadres of Muslim faith who had been arrested in the aftermath of the January 2013 mutiny remained in custody without due process of law.

The economy remained in a poor state, and the chronic electricity blackouts, shortages of fuels and drinking water continued. The government did not use the revenues from the Bisha mine, estimated at about $1.2 billion since 2011, to invest in the economy, nor did it provide the population with basic imported consumer goods. Military officers applied their own regulations in the administrative regions under their control, while the civilian administrative apparatus was powerless. Military and PFDJ leaders continued to run their own shops.

In late 2015, the government introduced “currency reform.” All existing Nakfa currency notes had to be exchanged for new ones at a 1:1 rate. However, in this process only an amount of ERN 20,000 could be exchanged in cash, all assets exceeding this amount had to be deposited at a bank account. Through this process, the government attempted to contain illicit business activities and to force its citizens to disclose their properties. Since then, withdrawal of cash has been severely limited (to ERN 5,000 per family per month), and the black-market exchange rate dropped to a certain extent. However, in the absence of any economic liberalization it is doubtful if this measure can contribute to containing corruption, and economic activities remain severely hampered.

Politically, Eritrea remained a dictatorship in which public political participation was impossible, civil rights and freedom of expression and assembly were absent, and human rights were routinely violated. In summer 2016, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea stated that the government of Eritrea has committed crimes against humanity since the time of independence. In 2014, President Isaias announced the establishment of a commission with the purpose of drafting a new constitution, but no progress to this end had been achieved as of January 2017. The unlimited-term of national service remained in place without any reforms. Males between 18 and up to 60 years and women until the age of 27 were forced to serve either in the army or the national service, and elderly citizens were forced to patrol their neighborhoods as “militia.” The government continued to exploit the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council to raise money from the diaspora communities by portraying Eritrea as a victim of international conspiracies.

Government functions were executed by the president and a small group of advisers, for which the PFDJ’s head of political affairs Yemane Gebreab played a decisive role. The ruling PFDJ is the only party allowed to exist. Together with the military, it holds a monopoly on the economic sphere. The party-owned Hdri Trust Fund controls all state enterprises with no external financial monitoring allowed. The mass exodus of tens of thousands of Eritreans continued unabated, and throughout 2016, several thousand Eritreans crossed the borders to Ethiopia and Sudan every month. State institutions and social services were further weakened by this process, as large numbers of professionals (teachers, doctors, engineers, etc.) were among the refugees. Arbitrary arrests and religious persecution continued.

There was absolutely no progress toward democratization, which has been ruled out by the president. The public was unable to communicate civic interests without the risk of being arrested. However, the elderly “neighborhood militias” continued their passive resistance against patrolling their communities. In the absence of free market mechanisms, the import-export trade remained in the firm grip of the ruling party’s elite, while the military operated large-scale contraband activities. The city of Tessenei bordering Sudan remained a hub for the contraband trade of goods, organized by military officers and PFDJ cadres, including the Minister of Trade and Industry Nesredin Bekit. There is no public welfare system, and traditional social safety networks based on extended family structures have been continuously weakened by prolonged recruitment into the national service. Diaspora Eritreans usually support their families inside Eritrea financially, and many of them paid the 2% tax imposed on them by the government either voluntarily or by coercion, providing a stabilizing factor for the regime.

Malnutrition and poverty, which are endemic in Eritrea, worsened due to drought-like conditions in 2015, although the government denied any shortage of food in contradiction to UNICEF statements. The continuous use of charcoal for cooking purposes accelerated environmental degradation. Generally, Eritrea has continued to follow a destructive path, which runs counter to democratization and economic liberalization.

Foreign relations with all regional neighbors except for the Sudan remained poor, as were relations with the United States. European politicians approached the Eritrean government throughout the period under review in the hope of curbing the refugee outflow, and development cooperation between the EU and Eritrea resumed. However, European representatives lacked a deeper understanding of the root causes of flight and failed to demand reform of the national service as a precondition to stop the mass exodus. The sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the United Nations in 2009 and in 2011 remained in place.