When the borders open: the EU rebuilding roads connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Antonia Schräder and Emma Myhre

In September last year, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia opened, two months after Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed a peace deal which declared the official ending of the war between the countries[1]. It was a shock for most of the international community. After 2 decades of a hard border and war between the countries, newspapers showed a smiling Afwerki getting keys handed over to the Eritrean embassy from former rival Ahmed[2]. These pictures will be historic, but they also bring up a lot of uncertainties and questions. Will the peace be sustainable? What impact will open borders have on Eritrea as a totalitarian regime? Will open borders cause a decrease in emigration? These questions are taken seriously by the EU, wishing to play a key role in assisting Eritrea towards a better future for its citizens.

There will be many obstacles to overcome. What we see right now in Eritrea is a government that reconciled with its neighboring country, but never with its own population. With all the hope Eritreans have for a peaceful future, human rights abuses are still very present. Though borders have opened and the first planes are flying from Addis Ababa to Asmara, the people of Eritrea still live in a dictatorship.

The EU is committed to accommodate economic growth as a first phase of getting Eritrea on a path to a brighter future. In february of this year, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica visited Eritrea to launch an initial €20 million project to rebuild the road connection between the Ethiopian border and Eritrean ports. Mimica expressed his hopes on the project:

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“The European Union is committed to support Eritrea and Ethiopia in delivering their historic peace agreement, which ended twenty years of conflict. To back this, we are launching a €20 million programme to rebuild the roads connecting both countries. This will boost trade, consolidate stability, and have clear benefits for the citizens of both countries through the creation of sustainable growth and jobs.” [3]

The programme is part of the EU’s approach to foster political dialogue with Eritrea and hence encourage political and economic reforms. Being committed to human rights, the EU aims to see improvements throughout its cooperation with Eritrea which has a long history of human rights abuses. In short, tackling root causes of poverty and supporting the peace agreement with Ethiopia is at the heart of the EU’s newly launched project[4]. The coming years will show how successful such projects will be in giving Eritrea a better future.

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