By Martin Plaut

The Eritrean government has been boasting that since July 2015 it had increased the salaries of National Service conscripts.

Previously recruits, who completed the first 18 months of their service, received 600 Nakfa gross monthly salary. After deductions, their net pay was about 400 Nakfa or about US$ 26 – at the official rate of exchange.

(1 USD is 15 Nakfa at the official rate and 23 Nakfa at the black market rate).

But instead of increasing pay, a new system of deductions means pay has actually fallen!

The pay in the pockets of the servicemen and women has dropped to 370 Nakfa.

Information from inside Eritrea, posted on the Facebook page of well-known Human Rights Defenders, provided a details of the breakdown of the deductions the regime has imposed.

The article shows how this happens.

The gross salary of conscripts was raised to 1800 Nakfa, but then came the deductions!

  • 300 for ‘logistical needs. This includes supplying the needs of the army, delivery and transport.
  • 180 for housing. The government claims it will build houses for the recruits.
  • 250 transit fees. This refers to fees charged on vehicles to provide for the tear and wear of the roads – a cost imposed on the National Service recruits.
  • 100 for food
  • 600 enforced bank savings

The total deductions came to 1430 Nakfa.  And 1800 -1430 = 370 Net or about USD 24.

The troops consider this ruse an insult to their intelligence and are outraged by these compulsory levies.

National Service protests

There have been open protests against the scheme, and a rising number of National Service men and women who have crossed the border and gone into exile.

An article posted on 10th of December 2016, reported that members of the 49th Division were openly expressing their anger and frustration at what they consider to be the unjustified deductions from their salaries, made without their permission.

The report gave further details of the system of deductions for logistics, family, saving (deposited in bank), housing, for sport and membership subscriptions for the only legal political party – the PFDJ.

Deductions have reduced salaries to pocket money.

Fearing an uprising, the army began reshuffling army commanders at the beginning of December.

The reshuffle occurred at battalion and brigade level, and as a result army units were relocated.

Information on this can be found here in Tigrigna.

Deductions are not the only sources of frustration.

Families have been forced to report the whereabouts of family members using the coupon system.

Businesses, such as restaurants, have been under intensive surveillance and controls, designed to prevent them from employing anyone who has not been exempted from National Service.

A member of Africa Monitors who visited the refugee camp of Shagarab in Eastern Sudan found that the number of National Service recruits fleeing the country increased during 2016.

His research supported findings reported on the Human Rights Defenders website.

He found that gross salaries have been increased to 2700 Nakfa. But after deductions the troops received about 300 Nakfa net.

Further information on this can be found here in Tigrigna.

National Service recruits now constitute the bigger proportion of the refugees who flee the country.

Growing anger among the conscripts threatens to spill over into further protests, with unpredictable consequences.