Eritrea uses the nafka as its currency. Each nafka is then divided further into 100 cents. The currency is issued by the Bank of Eritrea and is issued as both notes and coins. Coins are issued as 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 cents (the 100 cent piece is in effect 1 nafka) and the notes are issued in the form of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 nafka, but the 100 nafka notes are rarely seen.
The currency is of quite a low worth, with around 15 nafka required to buy one US $.
The currency is identified by the international currency code ERN and it is pegged with the US dollar.
History of the Eritrean Nafka
The Eritrean nafka is a relatively new currency, since it was only introduced in 1997. It was introduced as a replacement for the Ethiopian birr which had been the currency in use in Eritrea at the time. Prior to this the tallero had been in use.
Ethiopia and Eritrea were effectively linked together, after the Second World War. This was not done through real choice, but because the united Nations voted that it should be so. Eritrea was to have its own, individual parliament, but was to become 'federated' with Ethiopia, which meant that it would only be partially able to govern itself.
However, the Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie abolished the federation and closed down the parliament in 1961 and then publicly announced in 1962, that Eritrea was the 14th province of Ethiopia. As a result, the people of Eritrea fought back and launched a movement known as the Eritrean Liberation Front.
The struggle for independence took a long time to be won and the history is catalogued with bloodshed, much fighting and many people being killed, with some droughts and famine thrown in as distractions. However, eventually in 1991, independence was gained and as a result the government, after it had formed decided that it would not only get rid of the Ethiopian currency, but it would have its very own currency. Poignantly, the currency was named nafka after a town in Eritrea which was seriously bombed during the struggle for independence.
Getting Hold of Nafkas
The fact that Eritrea is only just emerging after 30 years or so of bloody civil war, means that there are relatively few ATM facilities in the country. In addition, the lack of a financial infrastructure, means that there are also relatively few places that can actually accommodate a credit card. This is very much a cash based economy.
You will find that if you do travel to Eritrea (but please view safety issues section below) that traveller's cheques are actually the best way of carrying cash. Traveller's cheques can be cashed at banks without any real problems.
The easiest way to change cheques is to take them in the form of US dollars or even euros, as opposed to other currencies. You may also find that it is relatively hard to exchange any nafkas that you have left when you leave the country, so try to ensure that you either spend all your currency or exchange it before you leave.
Eritrea is a really cheap country, simply because it has relatively few facilities and tourism is not yet established, due to the ongoing safety issues, which show no signs of easing. In Eritrea, you will find that accommodation food and drink costs almost nothing when compared to western costs, so it really is cheap. Even reasonable accommodation in a hotel can cost as little as US $ 15 per night, so money goes a long way in this country.
However, before you decide to travel to this area, there are some very real security issues which you need to take into account.
As of 2008, most foreign nationals were advised that travel to Eritrea should not take place, unless it was absolutely necessary. This is due to the ongoing safety issues, which have not yet been resolved.
The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains closed, but there are significant tensions between these two countries. The two countries are not in agreement as to where the border between them should be and both are laying claim to the town of Barentu, which means that there is a very real risk that fighting could break out at literally, any time. For this reason, the border between the countries has been closed for some time and there are no longer any flights between the two countries: it is simply seen as too risky.
Since the end of 2006 there has been fighting in Somalia and this has effectively rendered much of this part of Africa unstable, with people being much more tense and concerned about their political situation than before. Indeed the area is almost on tenterhooks, even like a powder keg which is just waiting to blow up: which makes Eritrea a potentially very dangerous place to visit.
Since 2008 there have also been some fighting between Eritrea and Dijibouti, which again, leads to general instability.
Even after all this, you still feel that a trip to Eritrea is necessary you need to be aware that for travel outside of the capital Asmara you will have to get a permit from the government. This may not always be issued, since they do not want the risk of foreign nationals being killed or taken hostage, so to some extent, they simply want you to stay away.
Finally travellers should also consider what assistance will be given in an emergency, if they do travel to the country and an 'incident' occurs. Generally, governments are viewing this as such a dangerous country, that they will offer only very limited assistance if something goes wrong. They do not feel that it is reasonable to have their staff enter into the country, since it is just so unsafe.
If travel to Eritrea is vital, then you should ensure that you have adequate insurance to cover any costs that you may incur when in the country. This may be medical or hospital costs (important if you are involved in conflict). Near the border with Ethiopia there are many landmines which have not yet been de-activated, which makes the risks even greater and may also affect your insurance premiums. It may not even be possible to get insurance to cover you: or if you can then it will probably be extremely expensive.
Healthcare in Eritrea is improving, but is still far behind the western expectations of what healthcare should be like. So you would be well advised to ensure that your insurance policy can fly you back to your home country if something happens.
Many people in Eritrea do not have sufficient money to buy basic healthcare and so they cannot access paracetomols or other painkillers. As a result, it can be a good idea to take some with you and give them out to people instead of a tip: the painkillers may actually be worth more than even the biggest tip!
Women travelling to Eritrea should be aware that there are no tampons available in the country and that the chances of finding sanitary pads is low, so you should bring in adequate supplies of sanitary protection.
Alcohol is not generally available within Eritrea, it is only available in a few bars and hotels. Even then it may be hard to get spirits, with the most emphasis on Suwa, which is a national drink that has some (but not very much alcohol).
There are some very strict laws in Eritrea and the sentences can be harsh. Same sex relationships are not permitted and you will be taking quite a risk if you publicly display affection with a member of the same sex. It is also illegal to use 'private' money exchangers, so do not be tempted to use them, even if they offer you a fantastic exchange rate. Eritrea has a zero tolerance approach to justice and it is more a case of locking people up and then finding out if they are guilty, so ignore all money exchangers who approach you.
The Eritreans are very sensitive about pictures being taken of any government buildings, so try to avoid taking any photos of these types of buildings or even of police officers, since it may cause offence and land you in jail !
Travellers should also dress modestly, to ensure that they do not cause offence. Also it is important not to be too familiar with someone or to flirt with them too much, since culturally flirting is not considered to be appropriate behaviour within this Society.
The people of Eritrea have not yet managed to achieve peace and for the vast majority of the people alive today, they simply cannot remember a time when Eritrea was stable and prosperous. It has undoubtedly settled down from being ravaged by civil war, but it has not yet achieved full stability, which is a shame, because it is a great country to visit, with a people who are extremely warm and friendly and who have had very little contact with outsiders, but nonetheless almost greet them like old friends. It is true that English is not widely spoken and so sometimes it can be difficult to communicate, but when greeted with an Eritrean smile, you really do feel as if you are indeed extremely welcome!
Hopefully, with time, the situation will calm down and travel to Eritrea will once again become possible. However, this may not be for some time, but it is almost a case of 'watch this space' since whilst it remains largely undiscovered, it is a fascinating place to visit, so the best time to go is as soon as possible, after travel restrictions are lifted and before it becomes too popular and loses its charm. It is a really unique country and it would be sad for that uniqueness to be lost, if too many travellers visit.
In the interim, for a glimpse inside this fascinating country, visit http://www.asmera.nl. It provides an interesting insight into the country and more importantly its people, who are still able to smile and look forward, even after so much conflict.