With war over Ethiopia, Eritrea are back in business

Published 14.10.2018 20:38

After 20 years of bloody conflict and grim stalemate, the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is bustling once again, revitalising frontier towns and allowing the countries' long-estranged populations to reacquaint themselves.

"We have everything we didn't have before, from the smallest to the biggest products," said Abraham Abadi, a merchant in the Eritrean town of Senafe whose shop is now filled with biscuits, drinks and liquor made in Ethiopia. Yet the border's re-opening has sparked a surge in refugees and also raised concerns over the black market currency trade that some fear will destabilise the economy. Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea voted for independence in 1993 after a bloody, decades-long struggle. A dispute over the the border plunged the neighbours into war in 1998, leaving tens of thousands dead in two years of fighting.

Flights restarted and embassies re-opened shortly afterwards, and in September, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki re-opened the crossing at Zalambessa, an Ethiopian town on a major route into Eritrea. The opening was transformative for the town, a strip of shops and restaurants damaged in the war and economically paralysed by the border closure that now bustles with shoppers. In Senafe, a trading hub 23 kilometres (14 miles) north of the border, the impact of the rapprochement is clear. Twice a week, organised groups of Ethiopian merchants cross the border, marked by a bare strip of earth only recently cleared of anti-tank mines, for Senafe's market days. They bring with them recharge cards for the Ethiopian telecom whose service can be picked up in parts of the town and teff, the once-scarce grain needed to make the staple injera food. Meanwhile, Ethiopian traders are grumbling over the unstable value of the Eritrean nakfa against their birr currency. Both countries' governments have said they hope the renewed trade links will boost their economies.

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