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Eritrea’s Participation at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (Part II)

By Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

Note: This is the second article in a multi-part series reviewing Eritrea’s participation at the 2022 High-Level Political Forum and the country’s presentation of its Voluntary National Review report. Part II offers background about the development of Eritrea’s inaugural report and an overview of its main elements. Subsequently, the country’s policy enabling environment and several guiding principles are discussed.

The core of the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process involves countries assessing and presenting their progress, achievements, and challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). VNRs provide an important snapshot of where countries stand in the implementation of the SDGs, with a view to help accelerate progress through experience sharing, peer-learning, identifying gaps and good practices, and mobilizing partnerships.

To a large degree, the structure and elements of Eritrea’s inaugural VNR report are consistent with those proposed under the United Nations Secretary-General’s Guidelines. The report comprises a total of 64 pages, separated into several sections: an introductory section; a discussion of the methodology and preparation process; a section outlining Eritrea’s policy and enabling environment vis-à-vis SDG implementation; a detailed review of progress made in achieving the SDGs; and a concluding section, which closes the report, discusses several challenges, and points the way forward. (Following the concluding section, there is also a detailed statistical annex with coverage development indicators.)

During the process of preparing the VNR, the multi-institutional National SDGs Taskforce (NST) and thematic working groups closely adhered to the guidelines outlined in the “Handbook for the Preparation of Voluntary National Reviews”, developed by the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In addition, members of the NST and thematic working groups participated in several formal preparatory activities, including a series of multi-day regional and global workshops.

Prior to data gathering and analysis, preliminary assessments were conducted during multi-stakeholder consultations convened by the NST and the thematic working groups. These sessions addressed the availability and quality of data, as well as identified possible sources and mechanisms for collection or estimation. Furthermore, detailed collection and reporting instruments and procedures were developed, in order to ensure consistency across the working teams and maintain a high degree of quality and rigor.

Data were collected from local (ministries and offices) and international (UNICEF, the WHO, UN-IGME, UNESCO) sources. Consistent with the guidelines detailed in the VNR preparatory handbook, Eritrea’s report touches upon the status of implementation of most SDGS, but with special emphasis on SDGs 3 and 13.

Embodying the key principles of the 2030 Agenda, while also remaining uniform with the rest of the national VNR process, the development of the report was locally-owned, inclusive, highly collaborative, and transparent. Preliminary drafts were developed by the thematic working groups, overseen by the NST. The draft development process was guided by the common framework detailed in the preparatory handbook. As the substantive body of the report was progressively developed and steadily updated, working drafts were continuously shared with a diverse set of stakeholders. This provided a vital opportunity for ongoing review and enrichment through critical feedback and the incorporation of diverse perspectives, as well as helped to maintain a high degree of accuracy, refinement, and common understanding. A final working draft was disseminated during a validation workshop, where it was endorsed by various stakeholders following thorough review and open consultation.

Policy and Enabling Environment

Following the introduction and methodology sections, the report discusses Eritrea’s policy and enabling environment vis-à-vis SDG implementation.

Sustainable development, in all of its forms, elements, and principles, remains an integral part of Eritrea’s long-term vision and policy architecture. In fact, even prior to the international community’s collective formulation and adoption of the SDGs (or preceding Millennium Development Goals) the country had fully embraced and was wholly committed to very many of the same development priorities and objectives.

Eritrea emerged out of a long, bitter struggle, not only for national independence and emancipation, but to bring about social justice, gender equality, shared prosperity and poverty elimination, and human rights. Various documents, statements, and declarations, crafted both before and after Eritrea’s independence, have articulated its bold vision to become a prosperous, developed nation where the full potential of its entire people, including women, children, and the historically marginalized, underrepresented, and vulnerable, is realized in a healthy, clean, and safe environment with peace, strong national unity and cohesion, sustained economic growth, and social justice.

At present, the vast majority of Eritrea’s national policies, action plans, and cross-cutting priorities, which are collectively based upon and informed by the country’s prevailing socio-political, historical, cultural, and ecological realities, are closely aligned with the SDGs and have been identified as being highly supportive of the country’s development objectives. Perhaps the most pertinent is the National Charter, adopted in February 1994 in the historic city of Nakfa. The National Charter, which provides the guiding vision for the country, outlines a number of objectives and aspirations, the vast majority of which closely align and run parallel to many of the SDGs.

Significantly, Eritrea has also signed onto an array of important regional and global agreements, conventions, protocols, and frameworks that help to advance its development objectives and reinforce implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Additionally, it has undertaken tangible steps to foster a conducive environment for sustainable development that promotes inclusive, whole-of-society approaches, leverages the country’s rich diversity and wealth of local, indigenous knowledge systems, and catalyzes collective actions and contributions from all regions, communities, and groups.

As a fundamental pillar of its development agenda, Eritrea has established cooperative framework and close partnerships with a range of international organizations and specialized agencies. Many of these relationships are robust and longstanding, dating back to the earliest years of the country’s independence. Meaningful engagement and cooperation have been built upon a platform of common principles, transparency, and trust, with concerted efforts being based on complementarity and guided by locally-defined development priorities and needs.

In addition to its cooperation with various organizations and agencies of the United Nations system, Eritrea has maintained steady relations with other partners. It shares robust ties with many bilateral partners, is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and works with different international organizations in the North-South and South-South framework.

Notably, Eritrea’s large diaspora also plays a positive role in assisting development processes. As well as making substantial financial and in-kind contributions to a range of initiatives and projects, the diaspora promotes trade and investment opportunities, is active in business creation and entrepreneurship, provides diverse volunteer support, and assists in the transfer of knowledge and skills.

Guiding Principles

Eritrea’s development and nation-building processes are firmly grounded on a number of principles, including social justice and self-reliance.

Regarding social justice and leaving no one behind, the country places unwavering emphasis on ensuring that all, regardless of any distinction, can freely and fully participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the achievement of development. Eritrea’s laws, regulations, and policies, which are underpinned by strong and longstanding socio-cultural values, establish a platform for inclusive development, while guaranteeing and promoting an array of basic and fundamental rights. Discrimination, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, color, religion, socioeconomic status, language, opinion, gender, or other similar distinctions is strongly prohibited and punishable by national law.

Since independence, the country has crafted a spectrum of policies and adopted various legal instruments to help address the specific needs of and catalyze progress for vulnerable groups (e.g., the poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, nomadic populations, and those residing in hard-to-reach areas). These interventions play a critical role in cultivating peace and unity within Eritrea’s multiethnic, multicultural society, aim to mitigate disparities and create a level playing field on which all Eritreans have an opportunity to excel, and seek to ensure that every individual is empowered and able to enjoy the fruits of development.

Eritrea’s development approach is also guided by self-reliance. Perhaps somewhat unique or less common, this approach is often maligned and misjudged, with the country frequently (and incorrectly) being labeled as “isolationist”. In its interactions with other governments, international development organizations, global financial institutions, and other potential donors, the Eritrean government has historically insisted on establishing genuine partnerships and cooperation, while retaining firm control of its development agenda and local implementation. As well, foreign aid is turned down when it does not fit the country’s needs or its capacity to use effectively. Thus, Eritrea does not reject external support – it actively welcomes it, but only when it fills a locally-identified gap and complements the country’s own internal efforts. In fact, the Eritrean government has encouraged assistance that addresses specific needs which cannot be met internally, which is designed to minimize continued external support, and which complements and strengthens, instead of replacing, Eritrea’s own institutional capacity to implement projects.

Rather than isolationism, this approach is rooted in a desire to avoid crippling dependence, ensure local agency, and foster a strong, clear sense of responsibility for and genuine ownership of the country’s future among all citizens.

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