Self-reliance has been the development principle of Eritrean State since its independence in 1991, a principle inherited from its long years of liberation struggle. As a new and poor country, Eritrea requires external assistance. However, relations with partners are persistently strained due to ideological differences, discord in strategies and policy frameworks. Eritrea follows the ‘developmental state’ model where the state is the driving force of development, spearheaded by the only political organization in the country-the PFDJ. On the other hand, donors fall within the liberal or neo-liberal continuum; where the private sector plays a driving force and political pluralism is emphasized. Countries that pursue self-reliant development policy pass through three discernible and temporal phases-(i) partial dissociation/disengagement, (ii) gradual restructuring and (iii) re-association (Biersteker 1980: 229-264). Although Eritrea’s development path within these three typologies had faced persistent interruptions; the country has modelled its own development path mirroring its self-reliance and ownership principle amidst a global aid system which adheres to a set of explicit and implicit norms. The development and the sustenance of strong ownership involves negotiations relative to once negotiating capital. This indeed is different to idealistic donor-recipient marriage of interests; it manifests a power-control features as neither the ‘recipient’ nor the ‘donor’ is passive in the process of negotiation (Whitfield and Fraser 2010: 341–366). While the three-phase process was arduous; the evidence show that it has worked for Eritrea. Eritrea owns its development strategy, on its own terms and in the ‘Eritrean way’, with external assistance only coming in case of capacity gaps. However, the sustenance and translation of the national self-reliance policy at the community level requires shared understanding, wider mass participation and the presence of civil society. While Eritrea has modelled its own form of mass participation based on local social movements, the country’s increasingly tight restriction of civil society, circumventing of aid management and lack of political pluralism raises questions over the feasibility of its selfreliant principle. Notwithstanding the persistent hiccups to the process of selfreliance, Eritrea’s travel through the contours of the three phases was dynamic, continually evolving and merits its own features that can be learnt in the quest for alternative development for the developing world.

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Pegler, Lee
Social Policy for Development (SPD)
International Institute of Social Studies

Mehretab Medhanie. (2016, December 16). Reconciling self reliance & external assistance in the development process: the case of Eritrea. Social Policy for Development (SPD). Retrieved from