With civil war, abject poverty, and millions displaced under the umbrella President Afwerki’s political tyranny, Eritrea is symbolic as the crisis for which the world stood idly by. Ranked 164th in the 2016 Corruption Perception Index, Eritrean civilians must live life trapped in the sphere of the one party state, with suppression of all political opposition since Afwerki seized power in 1993. Detention without trial and forced labour camps lie in wait for political dissenters, creating a culture of fear that encourages loyalty to the ruling party, the PFDJ. Yet despite the injustice of this economic and humanitarian turmoil, Eritrea remains invisible in conventional Western media; a forgotten crisis of the 4.5 million people on the Eastern Horn of Africa, with little sign that the end is near.
The Eritrean economy has ground to a halt under the protectionist nationalism of the ruling party, evident by the 50% poverty rate that is forecast to increase as the crisis deepens. The nation has long been a bastion of the self-reliant autarchic doctrine, originating from it’s 30 year war of independence from Ethiopia, when all resources were produced in underground factories. This ideology has permeated into the Eritrean economy, contradicting Ricardian economic theory of mutual benefits from trade. The economy has been stifled by the lack of resources, contributing to the 53% rate of malnutrition in the country.
The haunt of such self-reliance persistence has a further hold on the military situation. Unlike the situation in other African warring states such as The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UN peacekeeping troops are a common sight, cruising the forests in their armoured vehicles, such external aid is a rare occurrence in Eritrea. Their steadfast dedication to believing in their own abilities through rejection of foreign help is slowly crippling the country, prolonging the civil war that has already left 12% of its population as refugees. 5,000 Eritreans embark on the perilous journey through the desert each month to escape the oppressive regime. The risk of falling into the hands of human traffickers in conjunction with the dangerous sea crossing is evidence of the desire to escape the country; a betrayal of the independence cause that they fought so hard to achieve.
Yet the government’s lock on personal freedoms is perhaps the greatest sorrow from Eritrea’s crisis. The lack of Western media coverage is partly a result of Eritrea’s closure to foreign media outlets, creating a secretive police state where prisons are “overflowing”, in a report by American Ambassador Ronald McMullen. Months of negotiation with the central government were needed for the BBC to gain access to Eritrea for a documentary. Thus, the traditional argument of the political gravity effect may not hold; it is not Western media’s reluctance to focus on Africa and preference for the affairs of similar developed nations that is the cause of the low coverage, but the restrictions imposed by the African nation itself.
Eritrea is plummeting towards its doom as the Western world remains in oblivion. Whilst we enjoy the peace, civil liberties and economic freedom of the developed world, Eritrea languishes in poverty with barely a reference in our daily media. This is a dangerous situation for the future of Mr Afwerki’s state; reluctance to accept financial and humanitarian aid could precipitate further outflows of refugees fleeing the fighting and political constraints. Eritrea’s future hangs in the balance; yet the Western world barely knows it.