Eritrea’s got 99 problems: A de-facto dictatorship is but one
Traditionally, Eritrea has been one of the countries in Africa you probably don’t want to visit. The main reason Eritrea tourism has been in question? Poor relations with neighboring Ethiopia, a country with which it has been officially at war since 1993. Well, until July 2018, when the countries officially re-established ties.
Which is not to say you’re completely in the clear if Eritrea tourism interests you. While the chances of the Eritrean government unceremoniously sanctioning the killing of several innocent tourists again are slim in this new era of diplomacy, a stark truth remains. Eritrea is essentially the North Korea of Africa—and you know how North Korea treats visitors.
Eritrea is (Unofficially) a Dictatorship
The good news? Eritrea’s 1997 constitution allowed for political parties for the first time since the country achieved independence. The bad news? Not only was the constitution not implemented, but the 2001 elections that were to take place in spite of this legislative blooper never occurred, due to Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean land, which constituted a technicality that rendered this particular law obsolete.
Indeed, one man has ruled over Eritrea for its entire 23 years of modern existence: Isaias Afwerki, who represents the only political party that’s currently legal in Eritrea, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. In other words, he’s a dictator without having that title, which endangers not only citizens, but calls Eritrea tourism safety into question.
That Whole Tourist Killing Thing
To be fair to Eritrea on this matter, it wasn’t as if the dictator walked into Ethiopia, climbed Erta Ale volcano and slayed the tourists himself. Unfortunately, many investigations have led to the conclusion that the Eritrean government both funded and armed the rebels who carried out the killing, which constitutes essentially the same thing.
The behind-the-scenes nature of the crime, on the other hand, has allowed the Eritrean government to vehemently deny responsibility, which simply increases the rest of the world’s view of it as untrustworthy and unaccountable.
Locals Have It Worse Than Tourists
Of course, neither the lack of political parties in Eritrea, nor the hostility of the country’s de-facto dictator alone make it somewhere not worth visiting on their own. Rather, it’s the human rights abuses that have resulted from this arrangement, again and again, that should make you think twice before considering Eritrea tourism.
Indeed, Eritrea’s president is not shy about using his absolute power, in ways as ridiculous as requiring that citizens obtain permits to dine with their friends, and as terrifying as extra-judicial killings and public torture. Additionally, the Eritrean government is said to have a massive network of spying and surveillance—if you think the NSA is bad, trying trading your American cellphone for an Eritrean one!
The cumulative effect of Eritrea’s brutal regime has been a huge flight of Eritrea’s from the country. Currently, it’s estimated that more than 6% of Eritreans on the planet live outside of Eritrea, many of which fled to Europe on vessels that make the current, Syrian-piloted boats on the Mediterranean look luxurious. Additionally, the Eritrean life expectancy is just 61 years on average, in spite of the relatively high healthcare standard in the country, which says a lot about the overall quality of life in Eritrea.
The Worst Part? Eritrea is Incredibly Beautiful
Eritrea’s heinous political situation is made all the uglier by how beautiful the country is, from a physical standpoint. Whether you bask in the colonial splendor of the capital, Asmara, or explore ancient ruins on one of the virgin islands in the country’s many Red Sea archipelagos, Eritrea tourism would be very worthwhile, were it not for all the reasons you’ve just read.