Eritrean News

News of Eritrea

Complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Famine in Eritrea: a mirage or a disaster?

The government of Eritrea denies that Eritrea is suffering the effects of the drought and famine which is plaguing  Somalia and much of the rest of the Horn of Africa.  They claim the country had a good harvest and ample food supplies. Presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab said: “There [are] no food shortages in Eritrea at the present time. Last year, we had a bumper harvest.”  It has declined any aid.

But has Eritrea been immune to the famine? It’s difficult to say since the country is largely closed to outside observers and the local press is run by the government under tight control. In its crisis map of the Horn of Africa region the UN has listed Eritrea as “stressed,” but officials admit they have almost no information on the situation on the ground. A BBC report this month suggest that conditions in Eritrea may be dire. Satellite imagery from weather monitoring group the Famine Early Warning System shows below average rainfall from June to September. This is the main rainy season for Eritrea and comes after years of severe drought in consecutive years. Evidence of the problems Eritrea has can be found in northern Ethiopia. Emaciated Eritreans are crossing the heavily militarized border at the rate of 900 a month, according to journalists in the region. They tell tales of crops that have failed and homes without food, reports the BBC.

WATER BOY Eritrean refugee in Shagarab camp.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently described Eritrea as a black hole in terms of independent information. The Eritrean people “most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region (and) are being left to starve because there’s a clear-cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea to food and other humanitarian support for its people,” Ms Rice said. UN agencies have been refused access to Eritrea and most aid agencies have been expelled. 

Defecting Eritrean sailor face deportation

Over 30 members of the Eritrean naval forces have deserted to Yemen in August  according to claims by an exiled Eritrean opposition group called the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization. The group claims that the sailors are in danger of being forcibly returned to Eritrea by Yemeni authorities.

“A total of 38 Eritrean Navy members in four groups have fled to Yemen during the past two weeks . . . with their navy boats and weapons across the Red Sea” said a spokesman for the group. He said that  since the start of July an increasing number of young Eritrean Afar refugees are attempting to cross the turbulent waters of Red Sea to Yemen. The opposition group expressed concern for the safety of the recently defected sailors and other Eritreans who remain in Yemeni detention centers.  The group appealed to United Nations High Commission for Refugees to put pressure on Yemeni Government to refrain  from deporting the Eritreans back to their home country where they face reprisals.

Government buys stake in gold mine

Nevsun Resources, the Canadian mining company which developed and owns the Bisha gold mine  said the Eritrean government had agreed to pay $253.5-million for its 30% stake in the operation. The state will settle the amount, which two independent international institutions helped determine, with after-tax cash flows from the mine.  The move proves that Nevsun has a winner on its hands and that the government wanted to increase its share in the lucrative mining business. Enamco, the Eritrean state-owned mining company, will likely settled the amount within two years, depending on metals prices.

WE'LL TAKE ANOTHER 30%, PLEASE Canada's Nevsun's goid and copper mining operations at Bisha

“The government of Eritrea has significantly contributed to the project, both financially and through the board of directors of Bisha Mining Share Company, as well as through the support of the Ministry of Energy & Mines, the Ministry of Finance and various other Ministries,” Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis said in a statement. “By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion.” In addition to the 30%, Enamco has a 10% free carry stake in Bisha, giving it a total 40% ownership. Bisha produced 93,000 oz. of gold in the second quarter this year, generating an after-tax net profit of $60.6-million for Nevsun. And there’s lots more gold in Eritrean hills.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ethiopian and Eritrean news summaries are complied with the invaluable assistance of Shlomo Bachrach’s East African Forum which collects news items from the horn of Africa. Shlomo sends out a daily selection of the top stories from the region. To see his work, to register for his service and to discover how to support this important work go to 

2 responses to “Eritrean News

  1. I live in California and we have experienced the worst drought over the last 3 years, but we never faced starvation or famine. I’m sure that’s very difficult for Barry Hillenbrand to believe since he is under the illusion that drought means famine. But the truth is, droughts are natural phenomena, but famines are man-made. Over the course of the last 15 years, Eritrea has built over 2000 dams, mini dams and reservoirs throughout the country to harvest every drop of rain, and by using dam irrigation system, its farmers are now able to harvest Three times a year, even when there occurs rainfall irregularities that causes drought. For this reason, Eritrea has achieved food security and is unaffected by the drought sweeping across East Africa. The famine in neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia is a man-made famine. The regime in Ethiopia has expelled millions of farmers from their ancestral lands and sold the fertile land to Indian, Arab and Korean land-grabbers for as little as $1 per hectare. The 4.5 million internally displaced Ethiopians are today facing famine of Biblical proportions. And the famine in Somalia was also caused by Ethiopia’s invasion of the country in 2006, where over 2 million Somalis were displaced from their homes and have been living in make-shift camps. It is these people who are now exposed to the man-made famine in Somalia. The regime in Ethiopia has caused the famines in both Ethiopia and Somalia. When the world media were reporting about the emergence of famine in East Africa, the prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, announced he had ordered 200 battle tanks from the Ukraine for $100 million dollars. And a recent Wikileaks secret cable has revealed that the regime in Ethiopia diverted aid money to buy arms. The famine in Ethiopia is man-made.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Daniel. I witnessed extensive “water harvesting” in Eritrea in the 1995-97 period. It’s only fair to add that there was some amount of coercion (“carrot and stick” variety) in building the dams with manual labor, but I have do doubt that coffer dams and cisterns have saved Eritrea from famine, and they have done in other arid zones around the world.

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