Eritrea — June 2005

Sociopolitical Situation

The sociopolitical situation in the country remains uncertain. The dilemma of a situation of neither war nor peace continues to cost and pressure the nation and its population both materially and psychologically. The huge national service work force engaged in the national campaign of reconstruction is also a defense force ready for engagement in a renewed border war with Ethiopia, although this is unlikely.

People are increasingly becoming indifferent while the young suffer the burden of extended years of common frugal life in the national service without any foreseeable hope of a normal future, private life and personal goals. Economic pressures are becoming increasingly unbearable; basic food items are being rationing through government run “fair shops.” Gasoline continues to be rationed, and hard currency is now regulated with a new stricter law; permission of the national bank is needed for hard currency transactions.

The UN and a few NGOs continue to address critical food shortages, especially in rural Eritrea where women and children are the most hard-hit. Emergency food supplies include cereals, oil, sugar and food for children. There is an acute drinking water crisis in rural areas and in the urban areas water is strictly rationed. Unlike the drought conditions of the last four to five draught years, the early rains of this rainy season offer a real hope for agricultural programs.

Religious Situation

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is now allowed to operate in Eritrea, and some more denominations are likely to get permits soon. A state media interview with religious leaders on the issue was a very positive development culminating in a debate on religious liberty.

Since the majority of Eastern Christians in the country, including Catholics, have a low profile, many civil leaders were amazed at the attention given to the Catholic Church on the occasion of the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II. It was empowering to the local church.

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