Eritrea 'a state under siege'

2010-09-22 11:04

Nairobi - The international community must engage more with Eritrea to prevent it from becoming the next failed state in the Horn of Africa region, the International Crisis Group think tank said Tuesday.

"Just a decade ago, Eritrea might reasonably have been described as challenged but stable," ICG said in a report analysing Eritrea since the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia.

"Today it is 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," ICG said.

"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," said Andrew Stroehlein, Crisis Group's communications director.

The group said the militarism and the authoritarianism that "define Eritrea's political culture" have their roots in the region's violent history and notably in the 30-year war for independence, achieved in 1991.

Stabilising force

"The real significance of that legacy has only become clear in the past decade, as President Isaias Afwerki and a small cohort of ex-fighters 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," Crisis Group said.

The group's report said the army, long the country's main stabilising force, is "becoming less stable, riddled with corruption and increasingly weak".

"The international community should engage with Eritrea on the basis of a greater understanding about the country's past and current grievances," Crisis Group said.

Eritrea gained its independence from neighbouring Ethiopia following a 30-year war. But tensions with Ethiopia remain high, and a border dispute led to a return to armed conflict between 1998-2000.