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Eritrea: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Eritrea

There are three official languages in Eritrea: Tigrinya, Arabic and English. Local businesspeople in Asmara, particularly the older generations, may also speak Italian.

Business is generally quite problematic in Eritrea, principally due to the level of bureaucracy that prevails. Business stamps are a necessity for every piece of paper that leaves or enters an office, making business slow and often unnecessarily complicated. Paperwork and its needless creation can often be tiresome, but it must always be remembered that this is a system still struggling to get to grips with a fast and technologically advanced world into which it was forced to engage almost overnight. Lack of facilities, equipment and manpower compound the problem.

In general, if you have a business visa and are doing business, insist on signing a contract which includes an advance payment before you start doing any work, for it could be many weeks or months before the necessary paperwork is created that will allow you to receive full payment. This unfortunate inefficiency is certainly not likely to be caused through any desire to swindle. Eritreans are unreservedly honest to their word; it is simply that the system struggles to operate efficiently at the best of times.

Office Hours

Mon-Thurs 0700-1200, 1400-1800, Fri 0700-1130, 1400-1800. Hours may vary slightly.

Economy

The long-running Ethiopian civil war left Eritrea, which was, until 1991, the northernmost province of Ethiopia, with its economy in a parlous condition. Since the split from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has been engaged in a series of military campaigns which have stunted its economic development. The most recent border war with Ethiopia (1998-2000) cost Eritrea several hundred million dollars.

Agriculture sustains the bulk of the population with indigenous grains, maize, wheat and sorghum as the main crops. However, reconstruction has been hampered by the legacy of war (damage to land, mines, and a lack of equipment and human resources) and poor rainfall, making the country prone to needing food aid.

The small industrial economy produces glass, cement and textiles. The government has been developing fishing and mineral industries, particularly as there are thought to be significant oil and gas deposits within Eritrea's territorial waters and precious metals on land. Exploration rights have been granted by the government to several major multinational oil companies to conduct marine surveys and copper, gold and silver are already being mined in the western regions.

With an average annual per capita income of US$400, Eritrea is one of the world's poorest countries. The economy expanded rapidly after independence, but this was hampered by the renewed hostilities in 1998 and has struggled to improve until recently. Erratic rainfall and below-average cereal production continues to limit growth, but mining in the last two years has made Eritrea’s economy one of the fastest growing in Africa. The growth rate was 9% and 7% in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Eritrea has been granted admission to the ACP group of Third World countries, which receive preferential access to certain European Union markets, and it is now a member of the International Monetary Fund.

GDP

US$3 billion (2012).

Main exports

Copper, gold, sorghum, textiles, livestock, and small manufactured goods.

Main imports

Machinery, petroleum products, food and manufactured goods.

Main trading partners

Italy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, Nigeria.

 

 

Keeping in Touch in Eritrea

Telephone

All towns and cities are connected via the internal system and public phone boxes can be found in the main streets. International calls can be made from the public phones in the Telecommunication building outside the theatre in Asmara.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with mobile phone companies.

Internet

There is internet access in the main towns, but coverage is variable and often frustratingly slow.

Media

Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately-owned news media. It also has no private radio or TV stations. No criticism of the government is tolerated. The government closed the private press in 2001 on the premise that it endangered national security.

There are no independent newspapers in Eritrea. Hadas Eritrea is published three times a week in English, Arabic and Tigrinya. A youth paper called Tirigta is published once a week, as is the only English language paper, Eritrea Profile.

The only official television channel is the state-run Eri TV. CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and some other foreign news channels are broadcast in some of the higher-end hotels and cafes or bars.

The radio, like the television and printed media, is dominated by the state-run Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea (Dimtsi Hafash) which operates two networks with programmes in 11 languages. Radio Zara has a state-run, FM network.

Post

International post services are reliable, though slow. Services have not been resumed with all countries since the previous war.

Post Office hours

Mon-Sat 0800-1200, 1400-1900; Sun 1900-1200.