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6 Aug 2018

The Economist

Eritrea: The Economist claims conscripts forced to work in road-construction, dam-building & mines

"Eritrea, Africa’s most repressive state, begins to open up"

ERITREA, one of Africa’s newest countries, was born in battle...Eritrea has remained a garrison state. “With the war everything stopped,” says Samuel, a middle-aged Eritrean who grew up in Massawa but later moved to Ethiopia. When war broke out in 1998 he was sent home, along with some 70,000 of his compatriots. Ethiopians in Eritrea were sent the other way. Samuel was forced into military service. Twenty years later he is yet to be discharged. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Eritreans who have either been conscripted to the army or to a system of compulsory non-military service...Citizens were meant to serve for 18 months, after which they could get on with their lives. But in 2002 the government made the term indefinite, which the UN says amounts to mass enslavement...

Some conscripts serve in the army, though all are expected to head to the front if war breaks out. “We all know how to handle a gun,” smiles Yared Ambaw, a 28-year-old accountant at a bar in the capital. Many do forced labour, such as building roads or dams. The luckier ones are sent to government departments. Many teachers, journalists, accountants and even hotel staff are conscripts paid pitiful salaries...Apart from two big mines that are joint ventures between the government and overseas firms, there has been almost no foreign investment. The government says this is because investors are frightened off by an arms embargo, yet its own policies are also to blame. There is almost no private sector and construction is carried out only by companies that belong to the ruling party and that are staffed by conscripts.