In This Review

Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa's Most Repressive State
Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa's Most Repressive State
By Martin Plaut
Oxford University Press, 2017, 264 pp

Since gaining its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long and bitter war, Eritrea has retreated further and further into itself. A secretive, narrow-minded elite helps the president for life, Isaias Afwerki, run the country with an iron grip. Afwerki’s rule combines old-fashioned authoritarian repression (inspired by Maoist doctrines) with unrestrained corruption: the handful of profitable businesses in the country are controlled by regime cronies—with the help of banks in nearby Dubai, according to Plaut. Because the regime has never conducted a real census, keeps no official economic statistics, and refuses to publish a national budget, analysts have been left to merely guess at the extent of the government’s economic malpractice. Plaut has written a well-informed and useful introduction to the country. He argues that the long-standing border dispute with Ethiopia is sustained by Afwerki’s growing paranoia but that the Ethiopians have also helped keep the conflict going for their own purposes, even though international law is pretty clearly on Eritrea’s side.