BY ASMAIT FUTSUMBRHAN | ERITREA PROFILE
Today we talk to His Excellency the British Ambassador to the State of Eritrea, Alisdair Walker. After being in Eritrea for over six month, the Ambassador and his family surely have something to say about the country.
Welcoming us into their lovely home, the Walker family shares about their time in Eritrea which they are impressed by the diverse cultural ethnicity, architectures, bio-diversity and most of all, the hospitality of the Eritrean people they were able to be part of.
Q : We are honored to meet you all and have you on our page; would you please tell us about your impression of Eritrea after you introduce yourselves?
Ambassador Alisdair Walker: It is a pleasure to be here. I have been here for almost seven months now. It is a real pleasure to be in Eritrea. I have enjoyed exploring the country, the beautiful architectures in Asmara, Massawa and Keren.
But most of all, my family and I are delighted to have the opportunity to ride a bike everywhere. I realized that our love of cycling is something that links the UK and Eritrea. It is a great way of exploring Asmara and its backstreets, but also coffee, I love and enjoyed all the macchiato I had all over Asmara.
Sue Walker (wife): I have been married to Alisdair for over 25 years and this is our 5th posting overseas and so far very enjoyable one. As we have travelled many countries, it’s often very hard to integrate and get to know the local people. But here, this is by far the friendliest welcoming posting we have ever had. It has been very interesting getting to know people on a genuine level.
Another thing that I am impressed about is the faith of the people. It is very sensual to them and you can see the hope they see in a spiritual picture. I see an incredibly amazing country and I share what I have seen here whenever I go back home. I think Eritrea is a hidden treasure.
Alex Walker (eldest son): I Just finished studying political theory masters at the London School of Economics. I studied history as an undergraduate and enjoyed talking to people about Eritrea’s past. For instance we went to Massawa last time and visited the Red-Sea Museum and we had a terrific tour guides who were really informative. They took us through the region’s pre-history, ancient history and through its colonial past right up to the preset with lots of specimens and exhibits. That was interesting. It certainly deepened my understanding of the fascinating past of Eritrea.
Hanna Walker (Daughter): I am on my final year in university studying graphic design communication. I was fascinated by the amazing architecture here in the country. I have been doing a photography project here to show it back home in London. I don’t really need to say much, I think I can capture a lot of it in camera. I have been in Asmara, Massawa and Keren and I have documented great photos and I think that is the color of the people. I feel like it’s a country that needs to be explored, I don’t believe that any of my friends know how beautiful the country really is. It has been a good opportunity that I can show what I saw here. It is a beautiful country and it needs to be advertised more through photos and websites.
Jamie Walker (Youngest son): I am 18 and just finished school. I am about to start a biology degree program at Oxford University. I have really appreciated the beautiful wildlife and the landscapes around Eritrea. We have been hiking out of the town around Drfo and other places around Asmara which was a delight. It is a gorgeous country with an impressive bio-diversity and I really admired and enjoyed that.
Q : As you all have visited some parts of the country, what do you say about the endowments that Eritrea has?
Ambassador Alisdair Walker: I would say the biggest issues that we touched upon is that the opportunity for tourism in Eritrea. It’s a big potential. I think following the peace agreement with Ethiopia last year, we are looking forward to seeing the county open. I believe that government of Eritrea is focusing on the infrastructure so that people are able to travel around the country. It will be a great opportunity to really open up things.
Eritrea have a fantastic environment which is very clean, we also said that the architecture in Asmara is unique for anywhere in Africa. Furthermore, the red sea and the Dahlak islands are amazing and diving down there would be of huge interests for many tourists, which gives a big job opportunities and I think that is one of the many things that the government is working towards. I trust that opening up hotels and bringing more people into the country would be beneficial for Eritrea.
Alex Walker: We have a book of the Asmara buildings that was compiled in 2003. And we were surprised to see many buildings that we weren’t able to see which were listed on the book such as Cinema Odeon. The Cinema is an imposing and massive building. It has a lot of potential and it could have been used in any kind of event. But we found out that it has been years since the building was put to any use. Buildings like that could draw in many tourists. It just needs a bit of infrastructural investment, and it would be amazing to see.
Q : What is your opinion on the educational system of the country?
Ambassador Alisdair Walker: Investing in English language which I know is the medium of education from year 6 which has been a great benefit here. I am struggling to learn a little bit of Tigrigna since coming here but having many people speak good English has been helpful and is one of the many positive things for Eritrea. English, being a universal language, Eritrea opens up and helps to create more investments coming into the country. I know the government is putting focus on job creations in vocational trainings, which are one of the strengths of the country.
I have met really bright young Eritreans budding entrepreneurs at an event the youth association organized with the UN. I saw their potential for technological development and investment in the country. They are people who really want to see this country grow with really good ideas. They just need a bit of a boost to help them take these ideas into development.
The UK Government is investing in Masters education, we already keen to see more young Eritreans to go to the UK do master’s degree and come back to invest in the growth of the country. In the UK we call it STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and I think that is probably where Eritrea needs the support developing its technical capacity and knowledge into that area. The UK is ready to help provide the support.
Alex Walker: We have been impressed by the level of English the young people speak here. Whenever we have been in any kind of situations, people would step up and ask if they can be of any help to us. I have been fortunate to study at some of UK’s universities, we are very lucky to have some leading higher education establishments. It would be great to see more Eritrean students going over to the UK acquiring expertise and coming back to their country and investing it. One of strengths of Universities in London is their internationalism. So may be Eritrea can bring many international students to study in Asmara which would be good to have different mentalities which could be beneficial.
Q : Mr. Ambassador, what kind of activities does the UK have in Eritrea, and what areas of cooperation would you like to see In the future?
I realize our history with Eritrea goes back to almost 70 years. Of course, not all of that is positive, but I really am looking forward to build a future of partnership with Eritrea in a very much future orientated fashion.
We have been working since 2013 on our development cooperation with UNICEF fixing on Eritrea’s health care, water and sanitation. We are also working to support Masters Qualifications. We also have new projects at the moment we are focusing on job creation in alliance with various organizations here.
The UK also hopes to support the governments’ priorities. As a country and a partner on a multi-lateral system we discuss political issues with the ministry of Foreign Affairs and other parts of the government.
Climate change is going to be an important issue on the coming year as we prepare to host big conference in UK. We hope to work closely with the government of Eritrea regarding the huge bio-diversity. The benefit of having a strong relationship with Eritrea is that we are able to discuss the difficult issues, our differences and values.
Trade is another area UK is keen to do more in the country and we have already started to see progress since the peace agreement last year. That is a growing interest for British companies to come and explore and understand the opportunities here and invest, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sector. I am hopeful that going forward we are going to be able to do so much more.