You Might Want to Take Eritrea Off Your Bucket List

Eritrea's got 99 problems: A de-facto dictatorship is but one

Eritrea Mountain
jjron via Wikimedia Commons

I'm generally not one to speak negatively about any travel destination—my mission in life, after all, is to inspire people to travel. Unfortunately, the more I learn about the African country of Eritrea, the less I want to visit it. And the less I want to visit a place, the less I feel compelled to give my followers the motivation to do so.

To be sure, while my first strike against Eritrea (learning, upon hiking at a volcano in bordering Ethiopia, that the Eritrean government unceremoniously sanctioned the killing of several innocent tourists) was a big one, it's not the only reason Eritrea has been removed from my bucket list. Broadly, you might say Eritrea is 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.

That Whole Tourist Killing Thing

To be fair to Eritrea on this matter, it wasn't as if the President himself walked into Ethiopia, climbed Erta Ale 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 arrangements, again and again, that should make you think twice before adding Eritrea to your bucket list.

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 is a country that would very much be worth visiting, were it not for all the other reasons I've cited here.