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HDI Ranking: 181/187
HDI Score: 0.351
After a 30 year struggle for independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea had to build government institutions at every level from the ground up. While appearing to make some promising steps towards democracy and decentralization, Eritrea remains highly centralized with the long-standing President Isaias Afwerki retaining an authoritarian grip on power. Extreme government repression and interference impedes the development of open and real grassroots participatory democracy, and local and regional authorities are really an extension of the ruling, and sole, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party.
Local governance at a glance
The people of Eritrea have a deep-rooted tradition of participating in local government and executing development projects (USAID, 1994).
In 1992, the Provisional Government of Eritrea signed Proclamation 26, establishing the provincial, sub-provincial, district, and village government structures (USAID, 1994).
When Eritrea transitioned into full sovereign statehood in 1993, the national government also created administrative institutions at the national, regional and local levels (Arial Programme; Connell, 2007).
Eritrea was re-divided in 1996 from 10 regions (zobas) into six. The government appoints a provincial governor to manage each zoba, who in turn nominates sub-provincial and town administrators (USAID, 1994). There are also 56 sub-zobas, administered by council assemblies voted in through local elections, the most recent of which occurred in 2010-2011 (Arial Programme, n.d.; USAID, 1994).
The Ministry of Local Government was created to implement national policies, monitor local affairs and assist local authorities administer security, healthcare, and education services, as well as develop infrastructure (Arial Programme, n.d.).
- There are legislated gender quotas at the sub-national level. Electoral Law 2001, Article 17.2 mandates that at least 30% of the provincial and district council authorities must be women. However, the quota provisions have not been implemented (Quota Project, 2013).
Civil society actors include
The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is a membership association sanctioned by the government that seeks to empower women by enhancing political, economic, social and cultural participation through various trainings and services. While NUEW advises the government on women’s issues, it does not advocate against national policies and has hindered other independent women’s groups from forming (Connell, 2011).
National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) works to engage youth to actively participant politically, economically, and socially in all strata of the country, but is also monitored and controlled by the government (Connell, 2011).
Capacity building institutions
Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies disseminates political and social information, and gives access to the Constitution of Eritrea.
Economic management is centralized (Library of Congress, 2005). Local government expenses are paid for by a combination of taxes, user fees, intermittent government grants and community contributions. These local institutions cannot rely on the central government to transfer funding (USAID, 1994) and there are no mechanisms in place to do so (UNCDF, 2001).
Key Initiatives for participatory local governance
A Constitutional Commission was established in 1995 to develop the laws of land, and a high rate of the public-including at the grassroots level- participated in forums to engage with this democratic process (UNESCO, 1999). While the constitution was ratified in 1997, its mandates remain suspended indefinitely (Lynch, 2013).
To further democratic ideals, equality and women’s participation in local government, The Local Government Act (Proclamation 86) was signed in 1996 to begin the process of decentralizing administrative structures and duties (UNESCO, 1999; Arial Programme, n.d.).
With program support by UNDP and UNCDF, and funding from the Belgian Survival Fund, the Anseba Local Development Project was administered by the Eritrean government to implement the provisions of the Local Government Act and further the decentralization agenda. The project goals were to reduce poverty, improve infrastructure for self-sufficient development and strengthen local government capacities in the Anseba region (UNDP, n.d.).
Challenges for participatory local governance
Eritrea backtracked from initial democratic progress to an increasingly authoritarian and centralized rule. Any power or autonomy at the regional and local levels is superficial; all sub-national administrators must answer to the superior chain of command of the PFDJ rather than working with and for the local people (Tronvoll, 1998; CIA, 2014).
Freedom House named Eritrea as one of the nine most repressive countries in the world (Freedom House, 2012). Among other human rights abuses, the government harshly restricts freedom of speech, assembly, press, association and religion. Reports of politically motivated disappearances and detentions, as well as inhumane treatment of numerous political prisoners abound (US State Department, 2012).
Political opposition parties, independent news agencies or autonomous civil society organizations are prohibited (Connell, 2011; Freedom House, 2013).
The single remaining peoples’ assembly, the baito zoba, is only allowed to make “recommendations” on development policies highly monitored and controlled by the national government’s interests (Tronvoll, 1998).
Unlike national elections, there have been regional and local elections, but they are anything but fair, open and democratic. All voting for local public office is conducted in town meeting style sessions run by PFDJ officers, who ensure elected officials conform completely to the policies of the central government (Connell, 2007).
Recent posts on this website about this country:
- Survey results : advanced seminar – decentralisation and local governance : session 1.2 (2012)
- Who counts? : the quiet revolution of participation and numbers (2007)
List of sources (in order of citation)
USAID, 1994: “An Assessment of Municipal Management in Eritrea”
Arial Programme, n.d.: “Eritrea”
Daniel Connell, 2007. Freedom House: “Countries at the Crossroads: Eritrea”
Quota Project, 2013: “Eritrea”
Connell, Daniel, 2011. Freedom House: “Countries at the Crossroads: Eritrea”
Library of Congress, 2005: “Country Profile: Eritrea”
UNCDF, 2001:”Eritrea-Project Concept Paper”
UNESCO, 1999: “The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports Eritrea”
Lynch, Tiffany, 2013, Foreign Policy: “The country that’s never had an election”
UNDP, n.d.: “Eritrea: Anseba Local Development Project (ALDP)”
Tronvoll, Kjetil, 1998: “The process of Nation-Building in Post-War Eritrea: Created From Below or Directed From Above?”
CIA, 2014: “The World Factbook: Eritrea”
Freedom House, 2012: “Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies”
US State Department, 2012: “Eritrea 2012 Human Rights Report”
Freedom House, 2013: “Freedom in the World: Eritrea”