Despite sanctions, Deputy Mayor celebrates conflict-prone state of Eritrea

Despite sanctions, at least one Canadian leader is celebrating the conflict-prone state in the Horn of Africa: Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.

Norm Kelly hopes to "strengthen ties" with repressive government

A map showing the country of Eritrea. (Google Maps)

Canadians are urged not to go to Eritrea. The Canadian ambassador to Eritrea is not even in Eritrea, but a diplomatic outpost in Khartoum, Sudan. Likewise, the Eritrean diplomat has been previously kicked out of Canada.

Relations between the two countries are strained. Eritrea has a similarly limited relationship with European countries and the United States.

But at least one Canadian leader is celebrating the conflict-prone state in the Horn of Africa. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly is sending his best wishes to the African nation of Eritrea on Saturday, May 24, the 23rd anniversary of the country's independence. 

In a letter addressed to the Consulate of the State of Eritrea, Kelly celebrates the "friendship" between Canada and Eritrea. "This occasion is an opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of the Eritrea's people and celebrate the traditions and culture of your great nation," he writes.

Eritrea is one of the poorest nations in Africa, yet Canada does not provide humanitarian aid to it. It rates 160th of 200 countries on the UN gross domestic product index.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, and was officially became a nation in 1993, though the struggle for independence lasted decades before in armed conflict.

In the short time it has been a nation, it has seen several wars, economic sanctions, and human rights and freedom of the press complaints.

In short:

  • Eritrea has a violent recent history with its neighbouring countries, with battles against Yemen and Ethiopia.
  • It is a one-party state with a knack for repression. There are an estimated 10,000 political prisoners filling its jails, according to Amnesty International. There are more journalists in jail in Eritrea than anywhere else in Africa. Reporters Without Borders ranks it last in the world on press freedom, below North Korea.
  • According to the UN, the rocky coastal nation also uses its money to support armed rebels opposing Ethiopia, and others with ties to the notorious al-Shabaab movement in Somalia. Because of Eritrea's destabilizing role in the troubled Horn of Africa, the UN imposed sanctions on the country in 2009, hoping to choke off its access to arms and money. Canada later adopted them, meaning money sent to Eritrea could be violating UN sanctions and breaking Canadian law.
  • The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch has raised alarms about slavery existing in the country.

Kelly did not comment when asked about the appropriateness of the letter.

View Kelly's letter below.

A congratulatory letter from Norm Kelly on behalf of Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto. (Office of Norm Kelly)


  • An earlier version of this article included a comment by Ahmed Iman, head of consular affairs in the Eritrean consulate. That comment could not be directly attributed to him and it was removed.
    Jun 13, 2014 2:18 PM ET