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Eritrea

Sekondi Accra

It seems as though the governemnt of Isaias Afewerki is not only easing the harsh treatment of its citizens, it is also softening its hardline foreign policy approach by engaging in new foreign policy initiatives. In 2010 it abruptly ended its border differences with Djibouti and began to reach out to the Arab world for new allies. For quite some time, the Eritrean government sought to achieve both its external and internal policy goals by overreacting to conflicts. With information tightly controlled inside Africa's youngest country, the changes have elicited surprise at home as well as speculation abroad. The country now seems open to receiving international assistance and foreign investment. While some analysts discern no change in the regime's seige mentality, others think the government is responding to an internal reality: In order to remain in power, it cannot continue to deny food and services to its people.

Times have been difficult since December 2010, when the United Nations (UN) imposed sanctions on Eritrea because of its support for the insurgency in Somalia. Even though they gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, many Eritreans continue to emigrate by the tens of thousands hoping to avoid chronic food shortages and mandatory national service. In fact, a large part of the country's income is provided by Eritreans abroad. Nevertheless, continuation of military service and mobilizations are increasing pressures on the population while the government is struggling to manage their long term ramifications.

The Isais government, the only one independent Eritrea has ever known, designed a one party state that does not permit conflicting political agendas, independent media or public criticism. Eritrea has no constitution or public elections and there are no indications that the present regime plans changing this policy. Its leaders are former guerilla fighters who forged thier politics in a war for self-determination and are open to seeking outside assistance. The few political activists have not been heard from in years and Eritreans who practice one of its banned religions are incarcerated in desert jails then tortured. According to the few aid workers allowed into the country, even a good harvest cannot ameliorate the debilitating food deficit. While rural Eritreans have been left to starve in years past, charitable organizations state that the government is gradually letting international aid increase, so long as none of the donars promote it publicly. In an October 2010 report, the International Food Policy Research Institute cited hunger rates in Eritrea "extremely alarming".

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that real GDP growth in 2010 and 2011 will be slight, at 1.8 and 2% respectively. In 2010, the government began an unprecendented drive to attract foreign tourists emphasizing its storied archeological history along with advertising its immaculate pristine coastlines at Massawa. The few tourists Eritrea does attract usually visit Asmara, which is considered by many the country's most attractive city. But it is going to take more than tourism royalties to revive the Eritrean economy which suffers from a fixed exchange rate of the nakfa and the over reliance on agriculture which is dependent on intermittent rainfall.

A positive glimmer of hope for Eritrea's ravaged economy will be the first production of several gold mines. Attracted by liberal mining laws, nearly 20 companies are at various stages of exploration. The first to produce will be Canada's Nevsun Resources, in which the government has a 40% stake, which should yield 1 million ounces of gold, 9.4 million ounces of silver, 700m-800m pounds of copper and 1 billion pounds of zinc. Even though the government has great expectations for its mineral sector, it will probably not gain any profits of its investment until at least 2015.

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Eritrea maintains an embassy in the United States at 1708 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-319-1991).
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