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The African Garrison State

The African Garrison State: Human Rights and Political Development in Eritrea

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 223
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  • Book Info
    The African Garrison State
    Book Description:

    When Eritrea gained independence in 1991, hopes were high for its transformation. In two decades, however, it became one of the most repressive in the world, effectively a militarised "garrison state". This comprehensive and detailed analysis examines how the prospects for democracy in the new state turned to ashes, reviewing its development, and in particular the loss of human rights and the state's political organisation. Beginning with judicial development in independent Eritrea, subsequent chapters scrutinise the rule of law and the court system; the hobbled process of democratisation, and the curtailment of civil society; the Eritrean prison system and everyday life of detention and disappearances; and the situation of minorities in the country, first in general terms and then through exploration of a case study of the Kunama ethnic group. While the situation is bleak, it is not without hope, however: the conclusion focuses on opposition to the current regime, and offers scenarios of regime change and how the coming of a second republic may yet reconfigure Eritrea politically. Kjetil Tronvoll is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Bjoerknes College, founding and senior partner of the International Law and Policy Institute, Oslo, and a former Professor of Human Rights at the University of Oslo; Daniel R. Mekonnen is Senior Legal Advisor, International Law and Policy Institute, Oslo, and former Judge of the Zoba Maekel Provincial Court in Eritrea.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-364-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Map 1 Provinces, Main Towns and Ethno-linguistic Groups of Eritrea
    (pp. x-x)
  6. 1 Introduction: The Eritrean Garrison State
    (pp. 1-21)

    A perennial issue in the study of civil-military relations is the understanding of why and at what point a government perceives the need to militarise its structures of administration, leading to a perversion of civilian rule and a gradual slide towards military autocracy. This book’s objective is to address this issue and assess the political context and human rights situation in Eritrea to attempt to explain why the country, since its liberation in 1991 andde jureindependence in 1993, has developed into one of the world’s most authoritarian states, militarised with a reputation for human rights abuse.

    As early...

  7. 2 Judicial Development in Independent Eritrea: Legal Pluralism and Political Containment
    (pp. 22-43)

    The land of Eritrea has, over the centuries, been controlled by different powers, all of which have left an imprint on both official and informal sources of law and legal authority in the country. During the last century Eritrea has experienced five radical political transitions all involving shifts of judicial authority.¹ Consequently, in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the current workings of the judicial system and the rule of law in Eritrea, it is crucial to have knowledge about the historical trajectories of law in the country.

    This chapter will thus first outline how the sources of law...

  8. 3 Rule of Law(lessness): The Special Court and the Judiciary
    (pp. 44-55)

    The young Eritrean nation was established in 1991 with one great drawback: its freedom was secured from a dictatorship by a Marxist-Leninist-inspired liberation movement which was devoid of democratic experience and which abhorred dissent and divergent opinions. The political culture in the country at the time of independence was thus moulded by decades of war and driven by a government whose policies were anchored in ideological doctrines which lacked any regard for human rights. Consequently, as is illuminatingly described by an exiled Eritrean academic:

    Eritreans became prisoners of the warrior culture that brought them independence. By the end of the...

  9. 4 Democratic Curtailment: ‘Never Democracy, Always Control!’
    (pp. 56-74)

    Eritrea today is a country under siege by its own government, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). The pretext of external enemies is used as an excuse to deny people their basic rights and freedoms of opinion and expression, to organise and assemble, and to practise their religious beliefs (Connell 2007; AI 2008b; RWB 2008; USSD 2008a, 2008b; HRW 2009; USSD 2009). The Eritrean government does not allow any alternative voice or opinion to be heard; all resources and people are mobilised and channelled into maintaining the country’s totalitarian and militaristic structure. No private or independent press or media houses...

  10. 5 Obliterating Civil Society: Denying Freedom of Organisation and Expression
    (pp. 75-91)

    When Eritrea achieved independence,de facto1991 andde jure1993, many national and international observers expressed a strong degree of optimism towards a positive development of democracy, civil society and a culture of human rights in the country. President Isaias Afwerki was characterised as belonging to the ‘new breed’ of African leaders who apparently enjoyed popular support among their constituencies, rhetorically endorsed liberal democracy, human rights and a free market economy, and had a well-defined development policy based on their own priorities. As such, Isaias Afwerki, and the rest of his generation of leaders,¹ heralded a clear breach with...

  11. 6 The Eritrean Gulag Archipelago: Prison Conditions, Torture and Extrajudicial Killings
    (pp. 92-106)

    Eritrea is a country re-born out of suffering and human rights abuses. Its independence was hard won in 1993 after a 30-year-long war of liberation (Cliffe and Davidson 1988; Connell 1993; Iyob 1995). The massive and widespread human rights abuses experienced by the Eritrean people suffering under the yoke of the Derg military regime of Ethiopia, made them determined that they would ‘never kneel down’¹ in their struggle against oppression (Firebrace and Holland 1987).

    It is cause for despondency that the oppression and massive human rights abuses, now committed by their liberation hero-turned-dictator, President Isaias Afwerki, persist in Eritrea today....

  12. 7 Everyday Life of Detention and Disappearances: Vulnerable Groups in a Population Under Siege
    (pp. 107-127)

    Memories of the detention and disappearances of loved ones by the brutal Ethiopian military dictatorship during the war of liberation still linger among the people of Eritrea. However, today those memories are overshadowed by the current brutal reality, that their own government is even more ruthlessly vicious than their former enemy.

    Despite the fact that there is a fairly adequate formal legal framework for the protection of basic human rights in the country (see Chapter 2), widespread and systematic violations on a massive scale occur on a daily basis in Eritrea. Eritrean and international laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention,...

  13. 8 Minority Marginalisation: EPLF’s Policies of ‘Cultural Superiority’
    (pp. 128-143)

    In 1993¹ Eritrea became what was then Africa’s newest state after a 30-year-long war of liberation against Ethiopia. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) organised its resistance around a stringent nationalist ideology, where identity markers of ethnicity, culture, religion or regionalism were banned. The particular colonial history of the country, EPLF’s ideology and the brutal and protracted war itself – which impacted on all people in the region – were believed to help to foster and consolidate an all-embracing national Eritrean identity (Negash 1987; Iyob 1995; Pool 2001). Today, however, over two decades later, the Eritrean nationhood cherished and celebrated...

  14. 9 Diversity Diminished: Targeting the Kunama Minority Group
    (pp. 144-164)

    The consolidation of nationalist sentiments in Eritrea and the construction of a centralist, unitary state after independence in 1991 have led to a growing tension between the dominant nationalist ideology – which partly reflects the cultural sentiments of the Tigrinya majority group – and minority groups. This is aggravated by the fact that the EPLF/PFDJ government is perceived by many minority representatives to be a predominantly ‘Tigrinya’ government as the language and political culture of the government stems from the Tigrinya group inhabiting the Eritrean highlands and urban centres throughout the country.

    Of the many minority groups in Eritrea, the...

  15. 10 The Militarisation of Eritrean Society: Omnipresent and Never-Ending Military Service
    (pp. 165-183)

    In our introductory chapter, we outlined how the concept of the garrison state could be used as an explanatory framework to understand Eritrea’s post-independence development. In this chapter, we will further explore this assertion in terms of its relation to the high levels of militarisation in the country, both past and present. The country has been further militarised, particularly since the 1998-2000 border conflict with Ethiopia. The latest move by the president pushes the militarisation of society to the extreme, by ordering the establishment of a ‘peoples’ army’, supplying arms directly to households throughout the country. This involves the arming...

  16. 11 Eritrea: Towards a Transition?
    (pp. 184-194)

    As we have seen, when the ELPF came to power in 1991 and established itself as a provisional government, hopes were high for a democratic system of governance. Over two decades later these aspirations are nothing but bleak memories. In the intervening years Eritrea has developed into one of the world’s most totalitarian and human rights-abusing regimes. This is well established in the wealth of academic literature, reports of international rights groups, interviews with refugees, victims and other stakeholders, as well as decisions of regional and international semi-judicial organs that we have cited extensively throughout this work. For example, at...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-203)
  18. Index
    (pp. 204-212)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-215)