Addis & Asmara Reconnected

Thawing of Ethiopian/Eritrean relations will make a visit to Eritrea theoretically much easier, assuming Eritrean officials’ willingness to pony up tourist visas.

The Eritrean capital has been downright awkward to get to, with flights only from Sharjah and Dubai in the UAE, Cairo, Egypt, Istanbul, Turkey, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Khartoum, Sudan. It looks like Eritrean Airlines runs a flight up to Milan-Malpensa, too.

Yesterday’s resumption of flights from Addis by one of Africa’s biggest and best-connected airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, marks real progress in reopening the Eritrean capital, Asmara, to the world.

A little like Havana, Asmara is a city frozen in time. As Quartz explains:

“It goes back to Benito Mussolini. When the Italian fascist leader decided to invade Ethiopia in the 1930s, he chose the country’s small northern neighbor Eritrea as a base from which to launch his operation. Thousands of Italians ended up migrating there to help with the effort. By 1939, half of Asmara’s population was made up of Italians.

“Petrol stations mimicking aeroplanes and boats, commercial buildings designed as trains, cavernous cinemas with fine period plasterwork and Art Dem interiors, fine ultra-modern hotels and offices, and government buildings with highly politicised monumental designs.”

Check out these photos from Asmara.

Opaque Regime Watch

Two good reads today:

A Glimpse into a Mysterious African Dictatorship: Is Eritrea on the Verge? from Time


The secret lives of North Korea from The Independent

AsmaraEritrea is one of those countries most people can't quite put their finger on on the map (Clue: All you have to do is find Djibouti). The author and African correspondent Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You is one of the only books about contemporary Eritrea I'm aware of, other than an odd, very handsome 2007 coffee table book called Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City by Edward Denison. As for North Korea, a couple of things: See this I mentioned last week, and here's a DPRK visitor we talked with on CS&W back in 2009.