Eritrea — January 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

Many expected war to resume between Eritrea and Ethiopia when U.N. peacekeepers left the buffer zone. No significant incidents, however, have disturbed the peace. Instead, hostility took on a regional form, through a proxy war in Somalia and an unexpected but brief war between Djibouti and Eritrea. With Ethiopian troops withdrawing from Somalia, Eritrea seems apprehensive about its next steps. Excluded from most regional gatherings, Eritrea blames the outgoing U.S. administration for its ills and hopes for policy changes with the new U.S. administration. Currently, goods come to Eritrea only through Sudan.

The worldwide food crisis, coupled with the nation’s depleted hard currency reserve, is now showing its worst effects on the society’s living standards. Hunger among adults and malnutrition among children are now evident. The national focus and massive effort given to food security has shown results, but government management of cultivated land and the harvest are not without problems.

Currently, the population of the capital city and regional capitals depend on state rationing of basics through community administrations. With soaring prices of staples, most of which are imported, the majority of people remain dependent on state-provided monthly rations.

The nation’s young workforce continues to be engaged in national service duty, usually involving national infrastructure development, construction and agriculture.

Religious Situation

The Catholic Church in Eritrea, through its MAADI Association Eritrea, continues to provide health and educational services to people nationwide. Government restriction on vehicles and a limited number of registered vehicles have hampered social services; rationed fuel supplies also limits mobility. Currently, CNEWA, Church in Need, MISEREOR and PORTICUS are co-funding about 100 health and educational institutions of the local church.

The Eritrean National Secretariat and the three eparchial secretariats (Asmara, Barentu and Keren) continue to provide pastoral services in line with their respective three-year Pastoral Strategic Plan, which began in 2007. The formation of priests and religious as well as catechists remains the top priority of the church.

Eritrea’s Orthodox Church, the largest church in the country, is in a state of crisis. The new patriarch, Abune Dioscoros, is holding his ground despite the circumstances of his predecessor’s removal and his subsequent election. The divisions among the Orthodox faithful in the diaspora are more pronounced. Some follow the new patriarch while others remain loyal to the elderly and deposed patriarch, Abune Antonios. The Orthodox remain apprehensive yet silent about the Catholic Church.

Eritrea’s Islamic community, which includes about half of the country’s 5.5 million people, continues to enjoy stability without any foreign influence of radicalism. No significant demographic growth due to conversion has been documented, but Muslims continue to maintain a significant influence over the economy.

While the government is secular, it favors the Orthodox Church and Islam, faith confessions who remain silent politically. The Catholic Church, which is more vocal, is often coerced to abide by laws intent on limiting growth and functionality.

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