The first years after the independence there was regular economic growth, but with the outbreak of the border war with Ethiopia (1998-2000) the Socio-Economic Situation in Eritrea went into disarray. Since then the situation has deteriorated a lot. Due to the unlimited period of military service for most of the men, the continuous exodus of the workforce from the country, the thousands who were killed during the conflict, and the unending imprisonment of so many, most of families in the country are now headed only by women. There is no customary bread winner to sustain the family members. Those in military service are working for the government without pay. What they get is more pocket money than a just remuneration for their labour.
At present the national economy is in complete shambles. First of all, as mentioned above, there is no rule of law. Consequently corruption is rampant. Partiality and favouritism to individuals and groups has become very common practice. Anyone who has somebody in high places can bring in goods but the price depends on his whims. In the public sector there are very few industries and no internal or external investment,nor is there any national budget and no accountability. A couple of years ago, for instance, the then Minister of Finance resigned his post because he was kept in the dark about the production of gold from the mines of Bisha in western Eritrea, or any other financial activity, which is totally handled by the PFDJ finance officer. In brief the little money that the Party (not the State) may have is used for the following three fields: propaganda, espionage, and arms. A fourth field is certainly the pouch of the powerful that are suspected of amassing money in foreign banks.
According to a recent UN Report the resources are dominated by the ruling party People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the economic wing commonly known as 09. The 09 is the hub of all corruption and embezzlement in the country and it is run by Hagos Kisha who is directly accountable to the president himself. The gold-mine industry which gave much hope has still to benefit the nation after many years of digging. According to Swiss Fraud Leaks in February this year, the Swiss branch of one of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC, that profited from doing business with tax dodgers around the world, ranked Eritrea 53 out of 200 countries with assets of $US 699.6 million stashed in these offshore accounts. Meanwhile the country is lacking all basic necessities: foodstuff, electric power, fuel, health service, etc.
The UN report lists the main perpetrators of these violations as the Eritrean Defense Forces, in particular the Eritrean Army, the National Security Office, the Eritrean Police Forces, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the Office of the President, and the President.
The private sector of the economy has been paralyzed for more than 20 years and has practically been eliminated. Traders and constructors have had their licenses withdrawn at least six years ago. Hence, many of those who could, left the country for countries like South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Angola and the Gulf States. In the idyllic years after independence Eritrea was renowned for transparency and freedom from corruption. At that time it was praised very much, but now it has hit the bottom and become one of the most corrupted nations. By now we can clearly see that also corruption, like famine and ignorance, are used as political weapons to control, subdue and oppress the entire people.
These and many other hardships forced the Eritrean population to flee to other countries just to breathe some air of freedom. According to the UN there are two refugee routes:1. Eritrea…Sudan/Ethiopia…Libya…Italy. 2. Eritrea…Sudan/Ethiopia…Egypt/Sinai. Israel Sudan and Ethiopia both host more than 100,000 refugees each. Unfortunately many refugees fall victim to human traffickers on their way to Europe or Israel. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) estimated that 5000 Eritrean refugees were leaving the country each month. (J.L.)