The Hermit in the Horn of Africa

06/26/2015 01:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

Northeast Africa is known as one of the more volatile regions in the world. The 'failed' states of South Sudan and Somalia are relatively well known and acknowledged for their instability, yet there are a variety of other actors in the region that are rarely heard from. Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, one of the largest militaries in Africa and is often perceived as a success story despite authoritarian rule. However, on the other side of the relative prosperity and stability of Ethiopia is Eritrea.

Eritrea is scarcely covered in the news, for not only is it a small country with seemingly minimal influence, it is incredibly hermitic. After World War II, Eritrea was established in a union with Ethiopia despite significant tensions between the two. Eritrea would later go on to fight a war of independence from Ethiopia and gained independence in 1993. Eritrea was widely recognized by the international community and became a member of the UN, yet it remained largely isolated.

Eritrea ranks toward the very bottom of the majority of international indexes. Freedom House ranks Eritrea below North Korea in press freedom, a nation widely known for repressing outside media, and toward the bottom of the 'hunger index.' Eritrea is one of the last remaining one-party states along with Vietnam, China, North Korea, Cuba and Laos and the president Isaias Afwerki has remained in office since its independence. Human Rights Watch claims that Eritrea has implemented one of the most brutal regimes imaginable, with little to no autonomy allowed for its citizens.

Many countries have maintained sanctions on Eritrea in the hope of removing the current regime from power. The United States has considered putting Eritrea on the state sponsors of terror list due to their alleged support of terror groups operating in the region, terror groups that serve to hinder Ethiopia and the wider African Union military campaign in Somalia. The government of Eritrea of course denies this as would any government in their position.

The government attempts to restrict freedom of movement, although many do manage to escape the country and end up in refugee camps in nearby Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are over one hundred thousand Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, and many more in Europe. Many of these refugees are attempting to escape forced military service due to the 'cold war' with neighboring Ethiopia.

Eritrea is rarely on the western radar due to its limited impact on the global community. Eritrea may be a threat for the region, but unlike North Korea it does not purport to have nuclear weapons. Eritrea does not utilize erroneous propaganda in the same vein as North Korea either, rather it relies on state control through its isolation.

The regime is likely to maintain its hold on power for generations to come due to little to no organized dissent. As Eritrean refugees continue their plight, western governments will likely continue to sanction the regime until they reform, something that they seem to have little interest in doing. Regimes ultimate desire is to stay in power, and the only chance of reform is due to necessity for regime survival. We cannot get a country to change its ways through sanctioning, as the sanctions typically impact the lives of ordinary citizens rather than the regime in these types of authoritarian regimes.