Urban Safety and Security: The Case of Asmara

By: Simon Woldemichael

Violence has reached record levels in many cities of the world and has become a critical threat to the security and development of urban dwellers. Levels of burglary, robbery, rape, kidnapping, killing and other types of crimes are on the rise in several urban areas. These crimes not only result in injury and loss of property but also increase the general feeling of insecurity. Women and children, in particular, are the most vulnerable groups harmed by violence.

As the world becomes more and more urbanized, cities are increasingly seen as places of opportunity. If cities are secure and well administered, they can offer their residents diverse social, economic, and cultural benefits. However, most urban areas, particularly in the developing world, do not fulfill this potential. Many are characterized by extreme social exclusion, inequality, and high levels of crime and violence.

Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, is blessed with extraordinary peace and tranquility. Its inhabitants are live in harmony with a tolerance of diversity and multiculturalism. Strong social cohesion prevents tension, violent crime, including violence against women, theft, and other crimes. One foreign observer described the social order and honesty she encountered in Eritrea’s capital city like this: “Asmara was certainly the only African city in which not only was I regularly offered lifts by strangers, but I accepted them without hesitation.” She added, “The most dangerous thing that could happen to you in Asmara after dark was to stumble on a piece of broken paving.” Trust and cooperation are easy to find among the people. Trust plays a central role, perhaps the main one, in the life of Asmarinos.

The extraordinary peace and stability of Asmara is not really maintained through the work of the police and security forces. Asmara has become home to a peaceful society primarily because it exhibits a high degree of social cohesion. Trust makes it possible to maintain peaceful and stable social relations among the people. Asmara has, reportedly, the lowest incidence of crime and violence in Continent. The streets of Asmara are the safest places one can walk on at any time of the day or night. The government puts significant emphasis on the maintenance of peace and order and it ensures women and other vulnerable members of the society enjoy their rights to live in a peaceful and safe environment.

According to the well-known Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are placed among the basic needs that should be satisfied for all humans. To live in a safe city free from harm and danger should be the right of every citizen. Among others, specifically Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” The Sustainable Development Goals particularly highlight the importance of safe cities in the commitment to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

We proudly claim with confidence that Asmara is safe because the city’s inhabitants are able to live, work and participate in urban life without fear of bodily harm or intimidation. Asmara is oftentimes described as a beautiful, clean city with well-designed buildings and well-decorated streets. The social beauty and safety of Asmara enjoyed by its inhabitants are, however, far greater and appreciable than the architectural beauty of the city. The people of Eritrea have developed the capacity to live together in harmony. Their collective historical experience oriented them toward peace and tolerance rather than towards violence. The life of the people is shaped by the discipline of peaceful co-existence, mutual trust, and tolerance.

Today, crime rates have soared in the developed and developing world. Urban dwellers try to secure their homes and gated communities are increasingly becoming common. Contrary to this reality, gating and surveillance technology is unknown in Asmara. The houses of the rich, government officials and famous personalities have no surveillance instruments or special fences.

For Eritreans, Asmara is not just their capital city but an icon of unity with a very strong social bondage and attachment. It is not only the political and administrative center of Eritrea but also a desirable place venerated for its peace. Songs, poems, and novels have been dedicated to the beauty and peacefulness of Asmara.

The government’s policy that promotes social cohesion and peaceful coexistence has also developed a sense of community and trust among the people and removed all forms of discrimination and division.

In Eritrea, like many other countries, there is an increasing trend toward the concentration of people in the cities. The high concentration of people in cities constitutes advantages and disadvantages. In addition to social inequalities, it creates additional pressure on the state to respond to the increasing demand of the city. If these demands are not adequately addressed, crime, theft, violence, unsafe and unhygienic environments, and many other social ills develop. Therefore, in order to maintain and make the safety and security of our cities sustainable, the government must continue its efforts to make the rural areas attractive places. The provision of social services and opportunities in rural areas is a guarantee for the sustainability of city life.

Safety and security are sine-qua-non to progress and development. No society can develop without peace, security, and social harmony. Therefore, guarding the moral, spiritual and cultural values of the Eritrean society is of vital importance to the sustainability of safety and security.