The international community’s role in Eritrea’s postliberation phase of exception

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


When Eritrea emerged from its decades long struggle with Ethiopia to attain de jure independence in 1991, there was widespread optimism about the country’s future. Eritrea was applauded as “the one ray of hope in the Horn of Africa” (McSpadden 1999, 73). The international community—including states, international organizations, the media, and academics—for the most part celebrated the government’s unorthodox approaches to the country’s economic, political, and social development. By the late 1990s, however, the mood towards Eritrea had changed and previously excited onlookers made their disappointment clear. Numerous reasons have been proposed for why Eritrea failed to effectively develop during this period, not least the role of Ethiopia and the shortcomings of domestic governance. This chapter, however, seeks to expand existing literature on this theme by asking: in what ways did the international community’s engagement with President Isaias’s regime in the period between Eritrea’s liberation and its descent in to war with Ethiopia influence the country’s trajectory? Using examples related to the multilateral attempt to repatriate Eritrean refugees in the first half of the 1990s, this paper explores the ways in which the international community, most notably in this case the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and its donor states, behaved in ways that potentially isolated and hardened the new regime in Eritrea. It draws on three “unremarkable” features of these negotiations to highlight that identifying and understanding the more quotidian diplomatic experiences of newly independent states like Eritrea is critical if we are to understand how their governing psyches have evolved and become consolidated.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPostliberation Eritrea
EditorsTekle Mariam Woldemikael
PublisherIndiana University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780253046055
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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