What the Horn of Africa could learn from Eritrea

By S. Spooner

Eritrea is labelled as the Horn of Africa’s ‘bad boy’, but in this time of drought a resilient, and almost courageous, impression of the small state emerges. Despite the struggle to rebuild the nation following decades of fighting with neighbours, Eritreans are coping with the disaster better than more stable nations in the region. Millions are being pledged from various nations and organisations to helping the countries affected by drought and famine, but Eritrea silently works away at her own model of development which keeps the donors and dependency at bay.

Following a trip to the nation, Gordon Peters, a member of the World Democratic Movement, observed a situation where “people are poor but nobody is really starving” and a country-wide philosophy and practice of self-sustainability. In a telephone interview, Peters said that he was very impressed by the country’s community development and restoration programmes which include agriculture and forestry. And whilst it is a common perception that there has been a large-scale diversion of resources and manpower to the military, the national service is greatly involved in facilitating this development.

So, whilst the rest of the Horn of Africa struggles with starving populations and refugee movements, Eritrea’s “managing to restore its terraced agricultural land, to re-forest, to help returnees set up land holdings, to educate children and give women an equal say in the economy and society – and to extract something like 6 per cent of profits from mining companies for social development.”


Peters believes that this shows that there is a sustainable alternative to asking for aid: self-reliance. A path not many African nations can claim to take!

Eritrea has been clear on its determination to go it alone as it believes it’s in its best interests to do so. In a letter to the United Nations early this year, the country’s Minister of Finance made said that they wanted to opt out of long-term development agreements as they believe the UN makes problems worse, not better.

The letter stated that ‘aid only postpones the basic solutions to crucial development problems’ and that ‘national development will never materialise if it is done by depending on grant financing from UN agencies or other (bilateral) sources’.

Despite relying on agriculture-led development, Eritrea does have potential to get in there with the big boys. Peters believes that agriculture provides a “basis for other things to happen”. It alleviates immediate poverty and can foster the growth of the service sector. Peters also mentioned that Eritrea has great interest in developing a tourist industry, but they are “isolated geopolitically which limits this”.

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