Modern Nostalgias for Sovereignty and Security: Preserving Cultural Heritage for Development in Eritrea

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


In the late 1980s, the world bank announced a ‘holistic approach’ to development, proposing cultural heritage as a tool for post-conflict reconstruction, nation building, economic development, and poverty reduction. The bank considered eritrea a ‘natural experiment.’ in 1993, eritrea declared its independence from ethiopia after decades of violent conflict. Its capital, asmara, largely built under italian colonialism, survives as an ensemble of early twentieth-century modern architecture and urban planning—and as a symbol of eritrea’s sovereignty. In 2002, the eritrean government started the cultural assets rehabilitation project, financed with a $5-million development loan from the world bank. Carp focused on the preservation of asmara’s modern architectural heritage, generating attention and support abroad and eventually leading to the inscription of asmara’s ‘historic perimeter’ on unesco world heritage list. However, eritrea remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a dictatorial government endorsing a radical policy of self-reliance, endangering food security and causing massive emigration. This chapter analyzes the heritage valorization of asmara’s modern architecture based on multi-sited anthropological fieldwork. Asking about relevant norms and forms of government, it investigates how the modern architectural heritage of asmara is instrumental both to the eritrean regime and to transnational organizations, but for different reasons and to different ends.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfrican Heritage Challenges: Globalization, Urbanization and Development in Africa
EditorsB Baillie, M.L.S. Sørensen
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-15-4366-1
ISBN (Print)978-981-15-4365-4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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