In1958 a group of Eritreans formed the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) to cultivate resistance to the centralizing of policies of the imperial Ethiopian state. Four years later, in 1962, the organization was discovered and dissolved by imperial forces. Later that year, Emperor Haile Selassie annexed the country and the Eritrean Liberation Front waged a 30 year war for independence.
In 1991, with the help of the Ethiopian rebel forces, the EPLF finally defeated the Ethiopian military in the capital of Addis Ababa. Following the defeat, the UN supervised a referendum in Eritrea, or UNOVER, while declaring Eritrea’s independence and international recognition. The EPLP soon gained power and established a one party state banning any further political activity.
Today, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is the ruling party and no other political groups are currently allowed to be formed, even though the unimplemented Constitution of 1997 provides for the existence of multiparty politics. Over the years, periodic elections have been scheduled and canceled due to various reasons, but no official elections have yet to take place.
The Impact of a Militant Government
While there is no official war occurring in Eritrea, there is no doubt major conflict. With more young individuals being recruited for indefinite military service, many families find themselves broken apart leaving just mother and daughters to tend to the home and land. With some young boys as old as 14 being enlisted in the military, families are fleeing the area to keep their children safe. With more than 3% of the Eritrea population fleeing the area, it is clear that the region is still filled with strife and conflict.
Many Eritreans are searching for refuge, describing the constant fear of arrest, lack of community, gathering in groups or even lingering outside their own homes for too long. The countries totalitarian state makes it extremely difficult to relax and enjoy normal day to day activities, with the constant worry and sense of being watched. Adam, a 16 year old boy from Eritrea, migrated to Italy and recently told the Guardian, “The day I arrived here, that’s my new date of birth,” Adam said in a recent interview in Sicily. “The 16 years I previously lived, they don’t count. In Eritrea, I never used to think about the future – I never knew if I’d survive the day. But now I’m trying to do that.”
Risks of Engagement with Ethiopia
Even though the country is not “at war” the President, Isaias Afwerki, doesn’t hold back on the possibility of a return to conflict with neighboring Ethiopia. On March 29th, Ethiopia claimed they had killed, wounded or captured over 45,000 troops over the conflict in the region of Badme from February 23rd to March 26th. While there is no official confirmation of Ethiopia’s claims, Eritrea did confirm that they engaged with the Ethiopian military in the Badme region earlier this month. The border conflict originally broke out last May and after a rocky eight month reprieve, reengaged this February.