Stony silence from Eritrea as Ethiopia basks in Nobel glow
Abiy, who has said he hopes his Nobel prize will inspire peace-building by other African leaders, was also lauded for an array of reforms at home, including releasing jailed dissidents and welcoming home exiled armed groups. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres credited Abiy as one of the main reasons why "winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa". But little has changed in Eritrea, where a system of compulsory national service, which forces citizens into specific jobs at low pay and bars them from travelling abroad, has led to descriptions of the nation as an "open-air prison" akin to North Korea and forced thousands to flee. Now prominent dissidents are worried that the situation is getting worse. For Dawit, a former education official who fled Eritrea shortly before Abiy and Isaias first embraced on a tarmac in Asmara, the fact that little has changed is deeply disappointing.
"At least before there was hope. We thought maybe if there is peace, maybe if this changes, things will go the right way," said Dawit, who wanted only his first name used for safety reasons.
Eritreans continue to flee the country en masse and the country's national service system remains in effect, forcing thousands of Eritreans into military training even before they finish secondary school. 'Was it really happening?' One thing that has changed since the peace deal is Eritrea's global standing. The UN has lifted sanctions, and the European Union is funding a road-building project -- though critics contend it relies on forced labour. Asia Abdulkadir, a Nairobi-based Eritrean activist, said steps to bring Eritrea in from the cold alarm those who see Isaias' isolation as "one of the things that might speed up" his exit. Border tensions -- particularly with the political party that controls Ethiopia's Tigray region that borders Eritrea -- remain as bitter as ever. These "present a major obstacle to deepening the peace process, reducing the chances of a political opening in Eritrea," said William Davison of the International Crisis Group think tank.
Recent months have also seen signs that the political space is shrinking. In June, officials ordered the closure of Catholic-run health centres after church leaders published a letter expressing concern over the lack of reforms. There are also reports of a new wave of attempts to nationalise private schools. "The government clearly feels empowered to once again go after individuals or bodies, including the Catholic church, who have taken the risk to critique -- however mildly -- some of their policies and practices," said Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch. For those hoping for political change, the timeline is even more uncertain. But Dawit, the exiled education official, said he believed the world would one day get a glimpse inside his country. "A lot of bad things are happening in Eritrea," he said. "One day it will come out and the world will say, 'Wow, all of this was happening. Was it really happening?'"
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