Eritrea remains under the totalitarian grip of President Isayas Afewerki. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2008 the president said that elections would not be held for decades because they would polarize society. He also said he would remain in full control of the country until the country is secure. On 31 July, the UN Security Council terminated the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea; observers were hopeful that neither side would return to conflict, despite the unresolved border issue. However, in June, International Crisis Group warned in a report that the border problem meant there was a risk of a new war, and suggested that the immediate priorities were for Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from all land that the border commission had awarded Eritrea, and for Eritrea to pull its army back from the Transitional Security Zone.

Pastoralist groups in Eritrea were at grave risk during 2008 because of inadequate rains. UNICEF stated that the ongoing border stalemate with Ethiopia, crop failure and high food prices would all have a negative impact on the already challenging humanitarian situation. There are 22,300 internally displaced people, and an estimated 85,500 malnourished children in the country.

Religious persecution remained a live issue: Amnesty International calculated that there were 'at least' 2,000 religious prisoners of conscience, mostly from evangelical churches.

Eritrea has around nine ethno-linguistic groups and the country has a policy that primary school instruction should be available in the mother tongue. In reality, there are not enough qualified and experienced teachers to prepare the curriculum, and challenges arise when languages that are usually spoken need to be translated into written form. According to UNICEF, half of school-age children, mostly girls, do not attend school. The government has partnered with UNICEF to ensure that 100,000 girls complete primary school in three target regions. The scheme, Complementary Elementary Education (CEE, see p. 41), was set up in 2005 and provides out-of-school children with basic competences. It is currently bringing education to over 5,000 girls and boys in more than 70 centres in remote villages.

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