Areas the Eritrean government should improve upon
|Increasing Eritrea's mobile-phone subscription by as little as 10% will grow GDP per capita by 1.4% -Photo: Aster Habte|
Although most media outlets downplay Eritrea's achievements in favor of negative and distorted news, the inconvenient truth is the country is leading sub-Sahara Africa in most of the important socio-economic indicators. As of today, Eritrea is on track to achieve 6/8 UN Millennium Development Goals; is approaching 85% literacy rate; and has an economy growing by 8.5%. Due to these accomplishments and more, the Africa Research Institute, a London-based think tank, dubbed Eritrea and Rwanda as the "Princess of Progress". Even with these achievements, however, there are still six important areas the government should improve upon:
Mobile-Phone: Eritrea has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in Africa. Currently, just 6% (360,000) of Eritreans own mobile phones. Studies show increase in mobile subscribers have higher impact on business productivity and GDP per capita in countries with low levels of penetration levels. Moreover, if Eritrea were to increase mobile subscriptions by just 10% (38,000 more), the average yearly growth of GDP per capita would be 1.4 percentage points higher.
Internet speeds: Eritrea's internet penetration rate is a little over 6%. While this is around the sub-Saharan African average, it still lags behind in broadband speeds. For the most part, Eritrea has 2G internet speeds, which is more expensive and slower than 3G broadband internet speeds. Similarly to the mobile phone study aforementioned, a Worldbank/IFC report finds for every 10 percentage-point increase in high-speed Internet connections there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points. Additionally, if broadband is made affordable and accessible, it would have a direct impact on education, health, and standard of living; the three main indicators in the UNDP Human Development Index.
Digital Media: Each year, the government spends millions of dollars on Eri-TV; and it is starting to show, too. Eri-TV has improved drastically over the years in term of picture quality and programs. However, this is not the 1970s anymore, and most potential tourists, policy makers, intellectuals, journalists and Eritrean youths in the diaspora do not watch Eri-TV to get information about Eritrea. These days, most people consume information from the internet. So it's absolutely essential the government launches several websites that deliver timely news and statistics about Eritrea.
Social services: The current social services provided by the government are not sustainable and have become an enormous finical burden on the state. For example, in order to provide free education, 45% of Eritrea's annual budget is spent on education. While this is commendable on the government's part, it might be in the country's long term interest if fiscal constraint is adopted until the economy is robust enough to handle significant social services. Eritrea should follow in China's footsteps, which according to Article 14 of their Constitution, the state "builds and improves a welfare system that corresponds with the level of economic development." Even Cuba, which has been providing universal education for several decades, has been forced to end this program and other state benefits due to the enormous burden social services have put on their economy.
Education: Education in Eritrea needs to be more cost efficient and productive. One option that maybe able to meet both criterias is digitizing school curriculum in much of the same way Khan Academy has and Google plans to do. The government, in collaboration with the Eritrean diaspora, should provide every Eritrean student with one laptop and access to affordable broadband internet service. With these tools put in place, teachers can produce videos and educational games for students to learn subjects from. In order to motivate teachers to produce better content, they should receive financial rewards every time their videos are selected by the students in helping them understand a particular subject.
Urban Development: It is no secret that Asmara has major housing shortages. Much of the resources that should be spent on developing the city are being spent on burgeoning social services and development of rural areas. From a humanitarian point of view, the government is completely right. But from an economic and a political point of view, the government should at least consider cutting back. Developing Asmara creates jobs; grows the economy and shows people and potential investors that things are changing. As much as the government has done to improve Eritrea (and it has done a lot!), most of it can not be seen with the naked eye. Infrastructure development, however, is undeniable. With urban infrastructure, you don't need a Google search to see how the government has improved the country; it's there for the eyes to see at all times. But there are signs the government is moving towards tackling Asmara's housing shortage. Recently, the Housing and Commerce Bank of Eritrea announced it will build 1,680 modern homes and shops this year, in what is to be the largest urban development project the city has seen in over 15 years.
|70 e-readers sent to Eritrean students by the Eritrean diaspora|
|Sample of a typical Asmara cafe's internet speed. I've been told broadband speeds are|
on their way, so this is encouraging.
 Africa Research Institute, March 2011
 Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory 2012, pg. 80
 Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory 2012, pg. 48
 Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory 2012, pg. 48
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