Personal Rule in Africa: The Case of Eritrea

by Petros B. Ogbazghi


Notwithstanding the on-going struggles for democratic transformation, many African countries still lack rudimentary principles of the rule of law and legitimate political institutions. Contemporary Eritrea exemplifies this type of situation in which personal rule is the embodiment of the political system. The article argues that the perpetuation of personal rule in Eritrea is explained by the political strategy of unleashing sheer coercive force against citizens by the military whose loyalty is bought off by providing its top echelons control over substantial state economic resources. This is facilitated by a culture of impunity fostered by a legacy of three decades of guerrilla conflict, and by deliberately keeping the rest of society off-balance in an economic situation characterized by rampant poverty. The regimenting of civil-society institutions within the power structures and chapters of party-controlled organizations has reduced them into instruments of social control in order to diffuse any form of organized resistance. Finally, the party and the bureaucracy as agents of the state function to accentuate the symbolic dimensions of socio-economic activities to which the entire society is mobilized in order to wedge the immense legitimacy gap and make the system appear popular.

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Petros B. Ogbazghi¬†is former Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Administration, University of Asmara, Asmara, Eritrea. He obtained his Ph.D. in Politics and Administration from Tilburg University, the Netherlands. He studied both at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Heague and at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, where he obtained his Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Currently, he works as a consultant and researcher on migration, refugees and racism in the Republic of Ireland.


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