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Posted by Ethio Tribune on December 5, 2012

The country that’s a vast, militarised prison camp. And it isn’t North Korea

There is a country where almost every adult has been conscripted into the army or forced to perform compulsory labour of one kind or another. Its dictator rules with an iron fist and keeps his people on a permanent war-footing. No, this is not North Korea, but Eritrea, a country that has surely become Africa’s version of Sparta. Its total population is less than 6 million, but 320,000 Eritreans serve in the regular army or reserve forces. If the same proportions applied to Britain, our armed forces would have more than 3.2 million personnel. So Eritreans inhabit a country that amounts to a vast, militarised prison camp.

So it’s no wonder that the entire national football team chose to defect when they were allowed to go to Uganda for a regional tournament this week. Like his North Korean counterpart, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea makes it almost impossible for his people to travel. He knows full well that, given half a chance, most young Eritreans would pack their bags and leave. Just about the only people allowed out are the national sports teams – and they defect all the time.

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