I find your perspective on the state of science in Eritrea too narrow and founded on questionable assumptions (Nature 491, 8 and Nature 491, 24–26; 2012).

You assume that links with Western institutions are inherently beneficial; that exiled individuals convey an objective picture of the situation inside a closed country; and that disagreements between governments and academic institutions with Western links result from wrongdoing by the government.

Given the complex and difficult recent history of Eritrea, I suggest (without wishing to endorse the regime) that the interests of elite academics, often trained in the West, may not overlap with those of the country's poorer population. And, although international cooperation is part and parcel of academia, recipients of crucial aid are rarely in a position to stand up for their own interests against powerful donors.

Elements of the Eritrean regime want national institutions to survive and eventually flourish without foreign resources, even if that means serious difficulty in the short and medium term. A closed education system, for example, could take a generation to develop the technical expertise and facilities otherwise delivered immediately to a willing aid recipient.

States must decide for themselves on their path to independence. We may not like what they decide, but drawing a line between those who are with us or against us will not benefit the international scientific community, or the vast populations of countries such as Eritrea.