The Times’ intrepid Africa reporter Jeffrey Gettleman plays tourist in Eritrea for a guest spot on Sunday’s travel section. The picture he paints of Eritrea’s architectural wonders makes the capital, Asmara, sound like an intriguing place to visit. There is almost no crime, the climate is near perfect, and the Italian-influenced cuisine sounds delectable. It recalls, the title of his article suggests, La Dolce Vita.
Gettleman does include a “hefty caveat” for potential American tourists. (And, it should be noted, the Eritrean-American relationship took another turn for the worse today when the United States banned arms sales to Eritrea over accusations that the government in Asmara is arming Islamist Somali insurgents. As Gettleman says:
American-Eritrean relations are at a historic low point, with American officials accusing the Eritrean government of sponsoring terrorism in Somalia. It’s a long story, having to do with the chaos in Somalia and the poisonous relationship between Eritrea and its much larger neighbor, Ethiopia, which happens to be America’s new B.F.F. (best friend forever) in Africa and is currently occupying Somalia. The Eritreans paint themselves as victims of a Western conspiracy.
UN officials and peacekeepers might also think twice before visiting as the government is not very hospitable to their kind. Last spring the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia-Eritrea (UNMEE) was forced to shut down after Asmara effectively withdrew its consent for the mission. More recently, the Eritrean government refused to meet with UN investigators on a fact-finding mission to the site of a clash between Eritrean and Djibouti armed forces.
Joking aside, I don’t doubt that Asmara is a nice place to visit. I just wish the Eritrean government behave more cooperatively toward the United Nations.