Eritrea — January 2007

Sociopolitical Situation

The overall sociopolitical situation in the country remained tense. The Boundary Commission has opted for virtual demarcation of the border and closing the case if Eritrea and Ethiopia do not settle their differences before November 2007. While the developments in Somalia provided a ground for much war rhetoric between the two countries, giving the possibility of war by proxy in Somalia, the UN Security Council has decided to reduce the size of the UNMEE further, changing its mandate to that of an observer mission. The Eritrean-USA relationship is at its worst, as Eritrea openly blames the USA for supporting Ethiopian illegal regional hegemony. The political situation in the Horn of Africa is now at a critical stage, affecting most adversely the State of Eritrea.

The cost of living is increasing constantly as supplies dwindle, with no private businesses to import goods due to government restrictions on hard currency. There is no cross border trade with neighboring countries. In order to supplement basic living costs, rationing basic food items by government run “fair shops” is still essential. The global increasing price of fuel worsens the economic issue even further.

Religious Situation

With the restriction of travel and work permit on foreigners, the Catholic Church in Eritrea finds its mission and activities restricted. Entry visas and work permits for missionary religious and clergy are overly restricted. Travel within the country needs ten-day advance permission from appropriate government offices.

Currently the Catholic Church and the Department for Religious Affairs are in uneasy dialogue as the government requested formally the clergy of both faiths, Christian and Islam, to do their national service. This affects all the male clergy and scholastics below the age of 40. The Council of Eparchs has prepared a written a document in response to that threat.

The Eritrean Catholic Secretariat “Solidarity/MAADI” program to support the schools and clinics run by the church is now in its second and last year of its “interim” period. A restructuring of the program for another five-year term and the formation of a MAADI Association is being considered by the committee in charge. On the other hand, the secretariat’s emergency appeal to European Caritas organizations for funds for the purchase of medicine and supplementary feeding for the clinics has received a minimal response. The Church has to pay the import tax for such items at the ports.

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