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Globalization and Eritrea: Questions and Considerations

South African/international band performing in Asmara during Independence Day festivities

Globalization and Eritrea: Questions and Considerations

While the issue of globalization has long received considerable attention, not enough work has been done on the social costs involved (in terms of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and exclusion) in the modern era of globalization, nor on the interrelationship between the information highway, the process of globalization, and the growing marginalization of people (especially women) in poor, developing countries.

A young, low-income country, Eritrea is bound to encounter a variety of issues, and possibly challenges or problems, as it experiences the process of globalization. This article raises some general points related to Eritrea and globalization based upon ongoing “on the ground” observations by the author.

Globalization is a complex, multidimensional, multifaceted, and contested concept that defies simple definition. Broadly, it can be described as the process of growing interdependence and interaction of cultures, peoples, organizations, and nation-states across borders.

In economic terms, it can be defined in terms of trade liberalization, including the breaking down of tariff and non-tariff barriers, and the free flow of capital, technology, goods and services, and finance across national boundaries. Regardless of the particular definition utilized, it is increasingly becoming understood that while globalization involves many positive aspects and benefits, it can also lead to a range of problems.

First, Eritrea’s path toward globalization will require addressing the issue of inequality and potential destabilization. Economic inequality within societies, especially when it appears to be connected to increasing globalization, frequently reduces social cohesion and can make it increasingly difficult for people to accept macroeconomic change without social tension.

As well, contemporary forces of social and economic transformation associated with globalization have destabilized, and in many respects worsened, the lives of many – especially women and children. Many have been caught-up in the throes of social changes, such as structural adjustment, the extension of market capitalism to formerly socialist countries, and the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and extremism. In one regard, it augurs well that Eritrean society has traditionally been based on unity. Moving forward, it will be important to continue to promote equality and tolerance (e.g. through national or community-based social programs) to sustain peace and ensure that no one is left behind as the country globalizes.

In a previous article, I discussed Eritrea’s nascent mining and energy sector; recent years have witnessed the country’s mining activities and energy potential receive considerable mainstream attention and coverage (with much of it misinformed and lacking context). Eritrea’s mining sector has played a positive role in the country’s economic growth and broad national development efforts.

Recently, Nevsun Resources also announced impressive exploration drilling results from near the successful Bisha mine, which will likely result in higher production levels and, potentially, a longer mine life. Yet, as Eritrea continues to grow and integrate into the broader global economy, it will be vital for the country to raise and vary exports, moving away from low-value added and potentially unstable primary products.

Manufacturing is essential to growth, and with rapid technical change and globalization, it is becoming important as a means of modernizing and diversifying the economic base. In this context, the country’s focus on and investment within education and human capital development are key, not only towards the realization of a fundamental human right, but also as they can help build and refine the population’s skills and capabilities to compete within fierce global markets.

Globalization will increase employment and reduce poverty only if skill levels are improved and economic structures are transformed. Importantly, it is not just for “hi-tech” sectors that advanced skills are needed; even “simple” areas like apparel, footwear, and basic engineering products require a modicum of skills to compete globally.

Last, beyond global competition, Eritrea should focus on education and human capital development since they are vital to counteracting possible severe economic and social costs associated with globalization (e.g. unemployment, which in turn can lead to criminal behavior or other harmful or dangerous behaviors, such as sex work or illicit drug use). Education and human capital can improve poor people’s chances of securing a job, raise productivity and earnings of the working poor, and increase the efficiency of entrepreneurs.

As a way of comparing and analyzing countries within the interconnected, interdependent global economic system, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is one indicator that is often used. Utilizing GDP, although Eritrea is gradually globally integrating and its economy is growing, the country is still poor. However, as a measure, GDP only takes into account activities within the formal economy, thus leaving out a host of informal economic activities and intangible, or non-market, effects.

For Eritrea, the latter point raises an intriguing consideration, as the country has a large segment of its population, especially women, involved within the informal sector. Additionally, historical and recent analyses show that women’s family or domestic work does not subside when they enter into formal wage work. 

Regardless of whether or not they are responsible for generating cash income, Eritrean (and global) women perform the majority of farming and agricultural tasks, household food preparation, cleaning, childcare, and other tasks (locating and carrying water, wood, fuel, etc.).

Thus, one potentially far-reaching question for Eritrean analysts and policymakers – as well as society in general – is even though the country is integrating and “tied to” globally-developed concepts such as GDP, should Eritrea overlook the informal sector (hosting many women) or consider “unproductive” (like the rest of the world) much of women’s daily work?

Visit just about any neighborhood in Eritrea, and you are quickly confronted by the site of satellite dishes hoisted upon the roofs of homes. Alternatively, walk through many of the country’s busy urban streets, and you will likely encounter Eritreans, both young and old, watching foreign news or soap operas, surfing the Internet or Facebook, playing a newly released computer game, or listening to a recording by an international band, DJ, or singer.

These developments arouse the issue of media and globalization; since World War II, there has been an emergence of a global media industry dominated by a small number of transnational media conglomerates. Furthermore, media globalization has involved an uneven flow of information and communication products within the global system.

For Eritrea, a country with a rich, diverse culture, possible questions to ponder include how the country will approach the issue of “media imperialism” or the potential cultural homogenization and standardization that may arise with media globalization? Additionally, for a society historically based on community and the group, how will Eritrea be affected by the fact that much media and globalization are inextricably linked with the promotion of the ideology of consumerism and individuality?

Finally, with Eritrean society valuing gender equality and pursuing an improved place for women within society, the power of image and media within globalization will be vital to understand. Through the power of the image, the media can strengthen stereotypes or legitimate longstanding inequalities.

The media often distorts, under-represents, or mis-represents women; globally, women are often only seen as wife, mother, and housekeeper, thus reinforcing their conventionally assigned roles and limiting their professional horizons. Or they are represented as sex objects to be used, in some cases in masochistic, perverted and pornographic depictions.

Globalization is complex, involving many benefits and potential problems. As Eritrea continues to integrate globally and experience the variegated processes of globalization, it will face a range of issues and potential challenges.

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Globalization and Eritrea: Questions and Considerations Reviewed by Admin on 12:04 AM Rating: 5

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