Eritrea — June 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

Eritrea celebrated its 18th anniversary as an independent nation on 24 May with a slogan: “Our Independent Political Choice, Our Development Guarantee.” While banners depicting that slogan were posted almost everywhere, local administrators reiterated its message in their anniversary speeches.

Eritrea’s political landscape has been overwhelmed by what has happened in the volatile region. Very apprehensive of any form of regionalism, Eritrea cautiously looks for regional balance. It fights for its perceived place in the family of nations often dominated by its longtime enemy and neighbor to the south, Ethiopia. Somalia’s sociopolitical situation impacts directly Eritrea and Ethiopia, as well as their relationship. The latest call for sanctions on Eritrea for its support of Somalia’s hardliner opposition group is the climax of the isolation that Eritrea has endured in the last decade. Eritrea blames former U.S. administrations for its ills and hopes for regional policy change with the Obama administration.

Soaring prices of imported food, nearly depleted national hard currency reserves, little agricultural output and the lack of cross-border trade impact adversely society’s living standards. Malnutrition among adults and children (who suffer the most) is evident especially in the rural areas. The national focus and massive efforts to attain food security have shown some results; but government management of cultivated land and the harvest were not without problems. The population of the capital city and regional towns live on government-issued supply rationing on a monthly basis.

Religious Situation

The Catholic Church’s social support of the population, through its health care and educational institutions, continues in spite of the restrictions placed on the use of vehicles, withdrawal of most foreign religious expertise and the challenge of providing funding subsidies to these institutions. Currently, CNEWA, Church in Need, MISEREOR and Porticus are funding about 100 health care and educational institutions of the local church.

Eritrean Muslims, who make up half the population, are a peaceful community who are particularly strong in the business community. Muslim leadership and faithful have insignificant links with foreign counterparts, be it moderate or radical.

The most pressing pastoral challenge for Eritrea’s Christians is adequate pastoral care to the young, who are often disillusioned by the sociopolitical situation. The exodus of the young, who flee across the borders, crossing deserts storms and torrents, manifests the level of desperation inside the country. Although banned by law, underground Christian or pseudo-Christian sects attempt to provide some hope, often appealing and consoling the young and restless. The majority of the Orthodox and Ge’ez Catholic faithful are increasingly threatened by these sects; family problems due to such differences in religious expression are on the rise.

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