North Africa: Think Again – Eritrean Authoritarianism and Human Trafficking in the Sinai

ANALYSIS By Simon Allison On the world map, there is no such thing as an 'ungoverned space,' bar the two poles and our woefully under-regulated oceans. It is a neat, practical system, where all land is accounted for

ANALYSIS
By Simon Allison
On the world map, there is no such thing as an ‘ungoverned space,’ bar the two poles and our woefully under-regulated oceans. It is a neat, practical system, where all land is accounted for and all people know where they belong. That’s the theory, at least.
The reality is a little different. A lot different, in fact – especially in parts of Africa, where governance is poor or non-existent, borders are permeable, people hold multiple identities and the illegal can flourish far away from regulation and the rule of law.
Understanding how these ungoverned spaces function, and how they are connected, is key to understanding the factors that drive some of Africa’s most serious problems, including transnational terrorism and crime. An example that illustrates this phenomenon – and provides a few clues to policymakers on how to approach these problems – is the link between authoritarianism in Eritrea and human trafficking in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
A staggering number of Eritreans have already fled their country, and more seek to join these refugees and asylum-seekers every day. As of January 2014, the United Nations (UN) estimated that there were 308 000 Eritreans outside of Eritrea – nearly 5% of the country’s total population.
It’s not hard to figure out why so many Eritreans have left and many remain desperate to follow. Those who didn’t flee the decades-long civil war, or the brutal post-independence conflict with Ethiopia, now have to contend with a regime in which political space is non-existent, economic prospects are virtually nil and a programme of indefinite national conscription is effectively a form of indentured servitude, often lasting eight years or more.

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