Eritrea: Self-reliance, militarisation, and diaspora

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This chapter discusses post-liberation Eritrea in relation to three overlapping dynamics that have shaped Eritrea’s history from 1991 onwards. Those are, first, the legacies of the liberation struggle, in particular the quest for self-reliance embedded in its ideology, combined with deep suspicions about outside actors. Second, and partly intertwined with the philosophy of self-reliance, is an oversized belief in the military strength of Eritrean combat forces, as long as all citizens show the same propensity for sacrifice as the original fighter generation. Third, Eritrea is a classical diasporic state, and its heterogeneous diaspora has not only been vital in securing independent statehood, but also played an important role in regime survival since.
These dynamics combined have resulted in various contradictions in Eritrean politics. They include the successful pursuit of developmental objectives related to social indicators combined with various waves of economic growth and decline. In parallel, the political regime has become increasingly authoritarian, with renewed war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 and a period of no peace no war up to 2018 since an important rupture, but not the sole cause for these dynamics. In addition, Eritrea has pursued an assertive foreign policy in the region and beyond, seeking influence far beyond its size and traditional importance.
Taken together, Eritrea’s political trajectory has been pursued under the ideology of
self-reliance, and, through the exercise of tight control over the Eritrean citizenry, in country as well as in the diaspora, has put sacrifice to the Eritrean cause at the heart of citizenship rights (or their negation). Since the 2018 rapprochement with Ethiopia that has transformed Eritrea’s geographical and political isolation, ruptures have accelerated within Eritrea and among its diaspora, potentially threatening regime viability. It thus remains to be seen if Eritrea can re-invent itself as an innovative regime in the wider region.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa
EditorsJean-Nicolas Bach
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)9781138353992
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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