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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Surveillance and Society
Volume (Issue) 9(2)
Page(s) 93 - 113
Title of proceedings Surveillance and Society

Open Access


Eritrea is one of the world's newest countries and, proportionally to its population, one of the most militarised. Inheriting a socio-economic situation devastated by 30 years of guerilla warfare, the current government organised reconstruction efforts around the "Warsay Ykäạlo Development Campaign" including National Service conscription. Over the past decade, the Eritrean state has developed techniques of surveillance of conscripts through the production and distribution of documents (IDs, laissez-passer) that must be presented at hundreds of checkpoints deployed throughout the national territory. Since the duration of National Service has been extended to an unlimited period of time, these surveillance mechanisms have mainly focused on cracking down, identifying and preventing defection. Despite important limitations to its surveillance of conscripts, the Eritrean state successfully keep hundreds of thousand of conscripts working in the National Service for many years. I argue that the surveillance apparatus itself, in both its bureaucratic and its military formulations contributes almost on a daily basis to (re)producing various uncertainties, fears, beliefs and expectations that are the core of relative coercion in the National Service. Moreover, bureaucratic procedures and police interventions contribute to the perpetuation and actualisation of a despotic modality of governance, inducing in conscripts the perception of the existence of a highly authoritarian police state that is effectively omniscient despite their experiences of the low-tech surveillance.