The protests have raised concerns across Eritrea and the Horn of Africa region about what this means for Africa’s so-called hermit kingdom. As an isolated nation with a repressive regime, Eritrea has been ruled by Isaias Afwerki since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991. The country’s human rights track record remains abysmal, as it regularly subjects citizens to arbitrary arrest and harsh treatment, according to Human Rights Watch.

The one-party state also promotes a national conscription service that drafts citizens for an indefinite period of time, forcing them into “slave labor” conditions. And because of the repression, many Eritreans flee to neighboring countries or to Europe, making them one of the top refugee contributing nations in the world.

The current protests, however, threaten to reverse some of the recent developments that many thought was bringing the Horn of Africa nation in from the cold. Following years of lobbying, in July, UNESCO listed the capital Asmara as a World Heritage Site due to its Italian-era modernist architecture. The government has also allowed and even promoted competitive cycling in the country, with many young people looking to it as a gateway to the world.

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