Eritrea — January 2006

Sociopolitical Situation

The sociopolitical situation in the country remains tense and dangerously uncertain. The national elections in Ethiopia, Eritrea’s growing frustration with the UN “inaction” on the border demarcation, and the consequent increasing restriction of the UNMEE peace keeping operation are the principal causes. The very need for the UNMEE is now open for reconsideration by the Security Council this month. Finally, the US has offered to the Security Council a new diplomatic effort, sending high-powered teams to both countries this month. The situation is now at a very critical stage.

The economic pressure due to the long standoff, “no war and no peace,” is becoming increasingly so unbearable to the people that supplementing living costs by rationing basic food items by government run “fair shops” is essential. The global increasing price of fuel worsens the economic situation even further. Recently, Eritrea has managed to normalize its relations with the Sudan, which hopefully will alleviate the cost and supply of consumables into the country.

There was a better rainfall and harvest this year, unlike the last four to five years of drought. Nevertheless, the country still does not have self-sufficiency in providing food. The UN and a few NGOs continue to provide emergency food rations, especially in rural Eritrea where most of the hard hit population is composed of women and children displaced due to the war.

Religious Situation

The relations between the official religions and the state remain normal to date while the “new religions” or sects remain banned for national security reasons. Pope Benedict XVI raised the issue of religious freedom for all when he received the new Eritrean Ambassador to the Holy See recently.

With the threat of the planned phasing out of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) funding for schools and clinics, the three bishops in Eritrea established a new program, Solidarity/MAADI, to support all catholic schools and clinics requesting the aid from donor agencies. Although the phasing out had been planned for many years, since there has been no sign of economic improvement and realistic hope for self-support, the Church undertook this new program on an emergency basis, putting a moratorium on new construction of schools and clinics.

Suspending for a favorable time its original ambitious program to establish an endowment fund, the Solidarity/MAADI program is now focused on a two-year interim period (2006-2007). The program headed by Abune Thomas Osman, the eparch of Barentu, is directed by a committee and is still in the process of establishing its office at the National Secretariat and looking for adequate technical staff. The Program has set some guidelines and regulations for co-funding, cash transfers, community contributions, and reporting.

The program has proposed a budget for each school and clinic, continuing the ten-year-old CEI tradition, limited to salary payments of working staff. An overall budget with a complete picture of administrative costs and revenue for each institute has yet to be provided by each school/clinic requesting aid nor adequately studied by the program.

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