War Tourism In Eritrea. Eritrea has been gripped by war, violence, and occupation for decades. The Italians in the 19th century brought colonization, cappuccino, and apartheid laws. After WWII, the Brits temporarily occupied Eritrea stripping the country of its valuables. After the Brits departed, Eritrea was placed in a federation under Ethiopia. Ethiopia chipped away at Eritrea’s freedom and culture. This resulted in a 30 year war with Ethiopia that caused 250,000 causalities and Eritrea’s eventual independence in 1991. Another war erupted between Ethiopia and Eritrea at the end of the 1990s. Eritrea has been on a continual war footing ever since, resulting in conscription of both sexes, sometimes in perpetuity.
When traveling throughout Eritrea you will encounter Eritrea’s war past.
Eritrea celebrates its independence on May 24. Asmara is not shy in commemorating “A quarter century of resilience and development”. Every window and building seems to be festooned with posters, flags and streamers. I seemed to be confronted with this image on every street corner. A sexy African version of the US’s Iwo Jima. On the eve of independence, the streets are closed down, and the Eritreans fill the street listening to music, performances, and dancing on the street. On Independence Day a military parade full of pomp and circumstance, including military bands and screaming MIGs.
Don’t be surprised to see a tank or two turned into a memorial at an intersection or a random spot recognizing Eritrea’s sacrifice in the war with Ethiopia.
The Italians labored for over four decades to complete an engineering marvel in the first half of the 20th century. This 200 mile plus track makes for a fantastic picturesque drive today, but its original intent was to ferry troops and supplies to the front.
Living history. Set up in a hall are dozens of exhibitions educating all on the 30 year war of independence. Scores of black and white photos some sobering portraying the sacrifices of the war. Veterans man each of the exhibitions acting as a professor teaching their specific discipline. I homed in on two exhibitions, where the professors spoke English. A grey-haired man walked me through a series of grainy photos. This exhibition detailed all the sacrifices the Eritreans made from a supply standpoint in local factories supplying the front. My professor worked at a battery factory during the war. The second gentleman was an engineer during the war. On a wall, were myriads of sobering photos of those engineers lost in the war. He then showed me displays of mines … Soviet, US, and homemade varieties. Next to the mines were handwritten engineering manuals, inclusive of exploding tank on the cover. A map detailed one of the fronts where the Eritreans demined over 100,000 plus mines. The tremendous sacrifices came to life in this brutal war. War tourism in Eritrea.
Hundreds and hundreds of vehicles many of them military and from the 30 year war of independence with Ethiopia rest in this tank cemetery.
Cemeteries of War Dead
A British military cemetery rests on the outskirts surrounded by a low wall and cactus. The cemetery is impeccably maintained by the British government. Two hundred seventy three graves from those who perished battling in WWII are found here. The dead are a diverse group, there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who are honored here.
Tens of thousands of Italian soldiers travelled to Eritrea to fight in several battles over the years. There was a disastrous invasion of Ethiopia in 1895-96 that resulted in 15,000 dead. Another invasion took place under Mussolini from 1935-36 that included a victory. Nearly one million on both sides were injured or died during this vicious war. And the Italians had to battle of the Brits during WWII, but eventually the Italians laid down their arms in defeat.
US Military Base
Asmara sits near the equator at over 7,000 feet. Its unique geographical position proved to be the ideal place for a Cold War listening station. At its height, over 4,000 US servicemen were stationed at the Kagnew Station in Asmara listening to the Soviets. Today it is abandoned, and is a lived in neighborhood for the locals.
Massawa sits on the Red Sea and over the years it has been a significant port from everyone from the Ottoman Empire to the Brits. During the 30 year war of independence with Ethiopia it was subject to many attacks from the Ethiopian air force. Sadly, even today, you can still see the destruction caused during the war from 25 years ago.
War Tourism In Eritrea.