Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2010

"Dreams Don't Come True in Eritrea": Anomie and Family Disintegration due to the Structural Militarization of Society

Nicole Hirt

January 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


This article analyzes contemporary Eritrea's acute crisis within the framework of the theory of anomie. It is based on the hypothesis that militarization, forced labor, mass exodus, and family disintegration can be interpreted as the consequences of two incompatible norm and value systems: the collectivist, nationalistic, and militaristic worldview of the former liberation front and ruling party People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), and the traditional cultural system of Eritrea's society. In 2002 the regime introduced an unlimited "development campaign," thereby forcing large parts of the society to live as conscripts and perform unpaid labor. This has caused a mass exodus of young people and a rapid process of family disintegration. The article is based on empirical fieldwork and evaluates the ongoing developments, which have led to rapid economic decline and the destabilization of the entire fabric of society.