Corruption in Eritrea is a considered a deeply serious and growing problem. The level of corruption used to be considerably lower in Eritrea than in many other African countries. Indeed, it was traditionally viewed as having a “strong ‘anti-corruption’ culture” and considered relatively “egalitarian and corruption-free.”[1] In 2006, a report by Bertelsmann Stiftung stated that corruption, as of that date, was not a serious problem within Eritrea. While noting that there had been “cases of corruption since independence,” they existed on a negligible level, although politically-motivated corruption allegations have been made.[2] But, in fact, corruption is said to have been growing steadily worse ever since 1998, when, not long after the end of its decades-long war of independence, a border conflict with Ethiopia led to another war.[3]

Another source stated in 2015 that over the previous decade, corruption had become ingrained in Eritrean everyday life, with bribes required for most government services. Other alleged types of corruption include the payments of ransoms for hostages “under the eyes of the government.”[4]

On Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021, Eritrea ranked at 161st out of 180 countries. On a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being highly corrupt and 100 very clean, its score in recent years declined from 25 in 2012 to 20 in 2017, rising to 22 in 2021.[5]


Eritrea's location along the Red Sea

Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia until 1991, when Eritreans won a civil war that had lasted for thirty years and were granted independence. After a UN-supervised referendum, in which Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence, Eritrea declared its independence in 1993.[3] At that time, Eritrea had a weak private sector with few skilled workers, a situation that led the government to take steps to build a strong private sector. During the 1990s, the private sector began to flourish and the economy grew significantly, causing many observers in the West to view Eritrea “as a beacon of Africa.”[citation needed] The decades of war, however, had planted the seeds of many social and economic problems, corruption among them.[3]

A 1998 border conflict with Ethiopia led to another war, which ended in 2000.[3] Despite the official end of the war, warfare has continued on a lower scale. Meanwhile the regime has been accused of clamping down on free speech, shutting down private newspapers, shrinking the private sector, and imposing indefinite military service. All of these moves against individual liberty, human rights, and the free market have been factors in increased corruption.[citation needed] As of 2006, Eritrea had not yet held free elections; the Constitution adopted at the time of independence had not yet been implemented; the president was ruling by decree; the National Assembly had last met in 2002; opposition parties were prohibited, as were civic organizations, the right to assemble, and freedom of the press; the judiciary was inactive; the ruling party, government, and military formed “one single conglomerate of power” with “a low level of transparency.” Since 2001, civil liberties had been “gradually restricted,” with “numerous arbitrary arrests” and human-rights violations on an “alarming” scale.[2] From 126th place on Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, Eritrea dropped to 134th in 2012 and 166th in 2014.[citation needed]

The increase in state ownership in Eritrea has been critiqued as a step back for economic freedom and for doing business generally, partly because it has caused rising corruption. The 2012 Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom named Eritrea the second-worst country in sub-Saharan Africa for economic liberty. The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Project Index for 2011 ranked Eritrea at 180th, with only three countries, Guinea Bissau, Central African Republic, and Chad, scoring worse. It has been suggested that since the government maintains control over foreign exchange, friends of government personnel are allowed to bring goods into the country and sell them at great profit, thus increasing opportunities for corruption.[citation needed] Nonetheless, economic growth has been very strong since 2011, largely because of country's mining boom, which has placed Eritea among the fastest growing nations on earth; but corruption has kept this new wealth from reaching as many people as it might have.[6] At the same time, the country has also been ravaged by drought.[3]


Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki meets with former American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

Among the supposed factors breeding corruption in Eritrea is the intense concentration of power. The Eritrean Constitution calls for a separation of powers among the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches, but this has never been implemented. Isaias Afwerki, who has been president since 1993, has usurped the Congress's constitutional powers and is generally viewed as being all-powerful. The 19-member Executive Council consists entirely of presidential cronies.[citation needed] Eritrea's business community is composed mainly of personal associates of the regime's economic officials, fronts for top-level officials of the ruling party, and people who “enjoy the patronage of senior officers of the security and military establishments.”[4] The government “controls all foreign exchanges” and is “virtually the only legal source of imports,” a situation that makes it possible for military and government officials to profit by collaborating with illegal smugglers. Similarly, the country's strict laws about importation and the inconsistency in the granting of exit visas enable customs and immigration officials to profit from bribery and money laundering.[1] A 2014 report has described institutional corruption has "erode[d] the foundations" of economic development. The state's control on the economy allows for little private investment, while extremely low government salaries encourage corruption.[citation needed]

An additional factor in the spread and persistence of corruption is the lack of an independent press to report on it. Eritrea has been described as “Africa's biggest prison for the media.” The only news media are government-owned, and experts compare them to the Soviet media.[citation needed]


The 1997 Eritrean Constitution calls for a judiciary that is independent from parliament. None of this has been implemented, however. Instead there is a judicial system consisting of two separate court systems: Regular Courts that adjudicate disputes based on law and Special Courts that adjudicate disputes that are not based on law.[7] The latter courts are supposed to address corruption, but are themselves considered by Amnesty International and other experts to be “one of the most corrupt and inhumane court systems” globally.[citation needed][8]


A 2013 report by Transparency International UK called Eritrea the “most militarised country in Africa,” with about 20% of its population in uniform. For this reason, many have called Eritrea the 'North Korea' of Africa. The army is not only large but also one of the nine most corrupt armed forces in the world, along with Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, the DRC, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. According to TI, there is a possible scheme in place of public funds earmarked for "secret" military purposes in the name of national security which are in truth appropriated illicitly. There are said to be several military-owned businesses with “unauthorised private enterprise by military personnel.”[9]


In 1996, Eritrea's government declared that all land would henceforth be considered the property of the state and would be re-distributed in accordance with need. It then confiscated a good deal of private land and turned it over to former soldiers, foreign investors, and resettlement programs. The 1990s also saw the privatization of some companies, and since 2000 the government has increasingly intervened in the economy and commerce and propagandized against private trade and business. These activities have involved a considerable amount of favoritism, kickbacks, and other forms of corruption.[2]

Mining Industry[edit]

In July 2013, Martin Plaut reported that since 2011, the government had earned over $900 million from the Bisha gold mine, but it was not known what had happened to the money. Even as the state was reportedly amassing huge mining profits, Plaut charged, poverty and hardship were worsening. "There is some evidence," he stated, "that show the [government] is gambling and squandering state resources without any accountability."[6]

Persecution of Christians[edit]

Eritrea, as of 2011, was one of 8 nations considered to be Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) by the US State Department owing to the abuse and persecution of Christians other than those belonging to the three recognized denominations: the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea.[10] “Up to 3,000 Christians from unregistered church groups were held in detention” in 2011, according to Amnesty International. Between 2002 and 2011, many churches were closed, and tens of thousands of Christians fled the country; state-owned media have told the public that suppressed Christian groups were being paid by the CIA to destabilize the government, and have actively encouraged citizens to turn in persons whom they suspect of holding prayer meetings in their homes. This mass religious persecution has provided an opportunity for extensive corruption of a specific kind on the part of ruling-party politicians and military officials, who have arrested suspected Christians under the country's official anti-Christian policy and held them in prisons, unofficial detention centers, and military barracks in exchange for ransom.[10]

Anti-corruption efforts[edit]

There is reportedly no real organized effort in Eritrea to combat corruption. The regime has been described as using a “so-called war on corruption” to crack down on political dissenters and opponents.[2] In May 2015, the president urged a group of party and government officials to discuss American and European pressure on Eritrea to reform its government and release detainees, yet when some of those officials proposed that the government reform in certain areas to appease Western nations that send aid to Eritrea, the president underscored the need to stand up to pressure from the “hegemonic West.” Business leaders in Eritrea were reportedly “shivering with fear” over what the president's comments might signify; it was said to be unclear if the rumors signified a wave of jailing or not.[4] Shortly after the aforementioned meeting, the president addressed the country on the 24th anniversary of Eritrean independence, denouncing “deluded and corrupt” state officials who, he charged, amassed wealth illegitimately. “Such deplorable practices of corruption and theft,” said the president, “must be combated vigorously.”[1]

Eritrea is one of the few nations that has neither ratified nor signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "President Isaias Warns Corrupt Officials". Tesfa News. May 24, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Eritrea". Bertelsmann Stiftung.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Corruption in Eritrea". Transparency International.
  4. ^ a b c "Isaias Of Eritrea Threatens Corrupt Government Functionaries". Awate. May 26, 2015.
  5. ^ "Corruptions Perceptions Index 2021 for Eritrea". Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Eritrea's missing $1 billion". Martin Plaut.
  7. ^ Kjetil Tronvoll; Daniel Rezene Mekonnen (2014). The African Garrison State: Human Rights & Political Development in Eritrea. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 46–. ISBN 978-1-84701-069-8.
  8. ^ Vernon Valentine Palmer; Mohamed Y. Mattar (22 July 2016). Mixed Legal Systems, East and West. Routledge. pp. 158–. ISBN 978-1-317-09538-5.
  9. ^ Yacob, Betre (Aug 15, 2013). "Eritrea in Critical Defense Corruption". ECADF.
  10. ^ a b "Eritrea: Corruption, Paranoia and Religious Persecution". In Chains for Christ. Oct 20, 2011.

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