Africa News blog
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Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki has guarded his country jealousy since independence, pushing a self-reliant attitude that encourages Eritreans to rebuild Eritrea for themselves.
But in order to develop the potentially lucrative mining and trade sectors, he will have to open up the country more to foreign money and therefore possible foreign influence.
The government intends to launch free trade zones at its main ports in Massawa and Assab on its Red Sea coast, and dozens of firms, including from China, India and Dubai, have already registered to operate there to take advantage of the bustling cargo shipping lanes.
Reserves of gold, zinc and copper have been found in Eritrea and analysts are predicting a mining boom. Fourteen foreign firms are exploring in the country and the first project is expected to start producing gold by late 2010.
I hesitate to blog again on Eritrea, given some of the vitriol that greeted a post last year. For some, Reuters was an apologist and mouthpiece for Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, simply for interviewing him in May 2008. For others, we were doing the CIA’s work by taking some awkward lines of questioning to Asmara.
The passion on both sides reminded me of the torrent of deeply felt responses I used to receive when reporting on Fidel Castro from Cuba between 1998 and 2002.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is probably one of Africa’s least-known yet controversial leaders. After a successful 30-year independence war against neighbouring Ethiopia, he won praise from the West in the 1990s for being part of a “new generation” of progressive African leaders. In recent years, however, the Eritrean president has been increasingly criticised from abroad as running his small Horn of African nation along authoritarian lines.
Not usually keen on giving interviews to Western media, President Isaias Afwerki sat down this week for a nearly two-hour chat with Reuters’ Asmara correspondent Jack Kimball and East Africa bureau chief Andrew Cawthorne. In it, he criticised the United Nations, denied an incursion into Djibouti, outlined Eritrea’s economic policies and accused the United States of trying to destabilise his country.