Eritrea in Critical Defense Corruption

By Betre Yacob

Eritrea, one of the smallest nations, is known to be most militarised country in Africa. According to different sources, the number of its army is estimated to be more than 600,000—which is approximately 20% of its total population. Many, for this reason, call the country the “North Korea of Africa”. To our surprise, a recent study has also revealed that this smallest nation has not only a huge defense force but also most corrupted. According to the study, titled “Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index 2013”, the Eritrean Defense Force is among the top 9 most corrupted defense forces in the world.

The study released by Transparency International UK (TI-UK), which is said to be intended to provide governments and citizens with valuable information on how their defense ministries and armed forces compare to others in tackling defense corruption, has listed the Eritrean defense force in the “F- Band” or in “Critical Category of High Defense Corruption”—along with ALGERIA, ANGOLA, CAMEROON, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, EGYPT, LIBYA, SYRIA, and YEMEN.

The study, the first ever evaluation of corruption vulnerability and risk in defense ministries and armed forces, assessed 82 countries, selected according to the size of their arms trade and the total and per capita size of their militaries. The assessment was done using a comprehensive questionnaire of 77 questions, clustered into five potential risk areas (such as “Political risk”, “Finance Risk”, “Personnel Risk”, and “Procurement Risk”), and scores were given to counties in bands A to F— with A being “Very low” ; with D being “High” ; and F “Critical.”

According to the study, Eritrea scored “F” in almost all questions. For instance, the country scored “F” in questions related to budget scrutiny, internal audit, and external audit.

The study shows that Eritrea ranks below all sub-Saharan countries which are known for suffering from conflict, political instability, poor governance, and internal divisions. Even its neighbouring Ethiopia, one of the most repressive nations, ranks better— listed under “D-Band.” “Eritrea exhibits very poor results, beset by networks of patronage, highly secretive government and, again, a legacy of conflict”, the study says.

Under Financial corruption risk, the study reveals that asset disposals are not monitored, controlled, and transparent in Eritrea. It further exposes that beyond illegal spending of official government budget, there is potentially illicit use of budgets earmarked as secret, often kept out from public and legislative oversight in the name of ‘national security’. “It concerns corrupt behaviour associated with both licit and illicit military-owned businesses and with unauthorised private enterprise by military personnel”, the study reads.

The study also says that six of the nine most corrupted countries in “Band F” have military expenditure as a proportion of GDP in excess of 2 per cent, and Eritrea is one of them. According to the study, Eritrea’s expenditure is more than 4 per cent.

The study indicates that the citizen of Eritrea should give attention to the defense corruption. This is because, the study says: “corruption often leads to impunity, undermining public trust; it threatens citizens’ security, such as when the military’s ability to act with impunity puts peoples’ lives at risk.”

The study, which put a spotlight on the widespread corruption in Eritrea, finally recommends different actions to be taken both by the Eritrean government and people. For instance, it suggests the government to analyse the corruption risks in the national defense and security establishments, and develop and implement an action plan to tackle the identified risks. It further says: “Make secrecy the exception, not the norm. Publish the defense budget in detail each year, including the percentage of the budget that is secret. Ensure that secret spending is subject to oversight that is secure but nonetheless is independent of the military and the executive.”

Eritrea is one of the most poorest countries in the world. Its GDP, one of the smallest in Africa, is 2.61 billion. And 60% of its GDP is also covered in debt. According to Fox Business report, 65% of the population of Eritrea suffer under extream poverty.

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