SEATTLE — The capital of the northeast African country of Eritrea maintains the Italian façade installed during Italy’s colonial rule. Eritrea has been in conflict for much of its modern existence and has only recently gained independence. Much of the current infrastructure in Eritrea and developmental plans for the future are in response to the destruction of Eritrea’s infrastructure in place during Italy’s rule
After gaining independence from Italy during World War II, Eritrea continued the fight in a civil war with Ethiopia that lasted 30 years. Eritrea earned de jure independence in May 1993, but tensions with Ethiopia remain due to Eritrea’s sought-after coastline along the Red Sea. In the first five years of Eritrea’s independence, the country made immense strides to improve its economic and social indicators, resulting in an average economic growth rate of 10.9 percent per year.
In 1998, a border dispute erupted with Ethiopia that has required large military expenditures towards border protection and slowed economic growth. Despite this, Eritrea maintains its independence with a self-reliant approach and a government that maintains peace and stability. Within this governance, Eritrea’s plan for infrastructural development proposes to encourage foreign investment and provide opportunities that align with Eritrea’s self-sustained independence.
According to the World Bank, “the Government of Eritrea… is investing in three priority areas; food security and agricultural production, infrastructure development, and human resources development.” With 80 percent of the labor force dedicated to agriculture, the developments in Eritrea’s infrastructure aim to enhance agriculture production and shift the labor base into industries and services.
Plans to pave roads, connect cities, build air bases and update ports have been initiated to connect previously isolated areas and empower citizens employed to work on these projects. They have also enhanced trade capacities and established relationships with neighboring countries.
One of the most significant advancements of infrastructure in Eritrea since independence has been the string of roadways that connect the capital to the two main ports of Massawa and Assab. The capital, Asmara, connects to the port of Massawa via the Asmara-Massawa road, which continues into the southwest of the country via the Massawa-Assab highway. Developments along this stretch of roadway, according to Eritrea’s Ministry of Information, are “some of the largest road construction witnessed over the years.”
In 2006, three bridges were finalized along the Asmara-Massawa road, and in early 2017, a ring road around Asmara was built to relieve the traffic the road drew to the capital. Many roadways were already in existence from the time of Italian rule, but only about 4,000 km of road was paved in 1991, compared to today’s 14,000 km of paved roads. According to the governor of Adi Nifas, in the outskirts of Asmar, the new developments to roadways “give us easy access to the capital, we no longer feel isolated.” The connections these roads bring to formerly isolated areas have opened opportunities for greater access to institutional employment, and quicker transport of goods to ports.
The port of Assab was a main port in 1988 when it handled about 71 percent of the export/import trade. During the Ethio-Eritrean war, the port became idle and was only re-opened to undergo repairs and maintenance in 2002. The port now maintains a naval base and handles 2.5 million tons of goods combined with the port of Massawa. New roads have also grown relationships with bordering countries such as Sudan. In 2013, Eritrea completed a 100km road connecting the Massawa port to the Sudanese border town of Garora, beginning a strategic alliance between the neighboring countries.
Advancements in infrastructure in Eritrea span far beyond roadwork. In cooperation with airline corporations, Eritrea’s seven main airports have increased capacity for local and international flights. The Massawa-Assab Ports Authority, established in 2005, is overseeing port developments such as renovations to accommodate big ships and expanding road access. Eritrea has also constructed many wells to increase access to water and is working towards covering 70 percent of the country with water.
In 2016, The Minister of Transportation and Communications, Tesfaselasie Berhane, discussed the developments in infrastructure in Eritrea, including ports, strategic roads and aviation, postal, internet and telecommunications services. Eritrea now has 14,560km of strategic roads and developments in all other areas of infrastructure are continuing. The minister noted that “The introduction of mobile phone services is growing and the coverage is almost nationwide with remote areas of the country becoming beneficiaries. The infrastructure of WI-FI is already put in place and ready for providing Internet service.”
While Eritrea’s GDP growth rate has slipped since the eruption of the border dispute with Ethiopia, the country is ranked seventh in the world for its growth in industrial production. The advancements in roads and cross-country access have opened opportunities for citizens to work in more industrialized jobs and forward the country’s growth. Once a country in ruin, Eritrea is capitalizing on the remaining infrastructure from Italian rule to revitalize its economy. Infrastructural development in areas such as dams and roads has served to fulfill basic human rights and to lift Eritrea from its place among the least developed nations in the world.
– Eliza Gresh