With border open, Ethiopia and Eritrea are back in business

People shop at a market in the southern Eritrean town of Senafe, some 30km north of the border with Ethiopia, on October 3, 2018. The whirlwind peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea that began earlier this year has seen flights restarted and embassies re-established. (AFP / MICHAEL TEWELDE)
Updated 14 October 2018
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With border open, Ethiopia and Eritrea are back in business

  • After 20 years of bloody conflict and grim stalemate, the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is bustling once again
  • Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea voted for independence in 1993 after a bloody, decades-long struggle

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA BORDER: For two decades, little besides soldiers, refugees and rebels moved across Ethiopia and Eritrea’s closed border, but today the once-barren no man’s land teems with activity.
Horse-drawn carts, buses full of visitors and trucks piled high with bricks and plywood make their way across the frontier, watched by relaxed soldiers from the two nations’ armies who just months ago stared each other down from trenches carved into the rocky soil.
After 20 years of bloody conflict and grim stalemate, the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is bustling once again, revitalizing 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 destabilize 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 neighbors into war in 1998, leaving tens of thousands dead in two years of fighting.
The conflict continued as a cold war after Ethiopia refused to honor a UN-backed commission verdict demarcating the border, a policy Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reversed in June.
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 paralyzed by the border closure that now bustles with shoppers.
“We’re selling sandals and these shida shoes,” said trader Ruta Zerai, gesturing to a pile of the open-toed footwear popular with Eritreans.
In Senafe, a trading hub 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the border, the impact of the rapprochement is clear.
Twice a week, organized 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.
Some even decide to stay.
“I live where I can get a job. As long as I have a job, I’ll stay here,” Sanle Gebremariam, an Ethiopian currency trader working in Senafe, said at a roadside where busses from both countries congregate.
Heading in the opposite direction are thousands of Eritrean refugees fleeing the country’s repressive government and stagnant economy.
Eritreans, many of whom aim to reach Europe, came across the border when it was closed, but the UN says arrivals in Ethiopia have increased nearly eight-fold since its opening.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian traders are grumbling over the unstable value of the Eritrean nakfa against their birr currency.
“We’re trading together, but the exchange rate is unregulated, unstable and illegal,” said Taeme Lemlem, a bar owner in Zalambessa, echoing similar complaints, made before the border war, that were never resolved.
Getachew Teklemariam, a consultant and former Ethiopian government adviser, said the unregulated trade at the border, where there appears to be little customs or immigration controls, risks opening a “shadow monetary front.”
“The exchange rate is being governed by largely speculative perceptions from both sides of the border,” said Getachew. “The overall trade scenario has to be guided by some strategy.”
Both countries’ governments have said they hope the renewed trade links will boost their economies.
But the neighbors are not equals. Eritrea’s economy has underperformed since the war, while Ethiopia has grown at some of Africa’s fastest rates, which hasn’t escaped the notice of visitors to the country.
“I’m very surprised. I didn’t expect this much development,” said Simon Kifle, an Eritrean air force serviceman who was hurrying back across the border before its sundown closing after his first visit to Ethiopia.


Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

Updated 14 min 1 sec ago
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Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

  • Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind
WASHINGTON: Millions of women worldwide are still unable to access and own land despite laws recognizing their rights, researchers and campaigners said on Monday as they urged countries to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
Patriarchal attitudes toward women and girls and a lack of knowledge of their own rights “prevent millions of women from owning land,” said Victoria Stanley, senior rural development specialist at the World Bank.
“Only 30 percent of the world’s population own land titles, and women are often the least likely to have any land registered,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a World Bank conference in Washington, D.C.
“Stand for her land,” a campaign launched on Monday by the World Bank and advocacy groups including Landesa and Habitat for Humanity International, aims to change that by promoting better implementation of land laws for women.
Globally, more than 400 million women farm, yet only about 15 percent of farmland is owned by women, according to Landesa.
That inequality exposes women to all manner of rights abuses, rights activists say.
Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind.
Although Zimbabwe’s constitution gives women and men equal rights to property and land, in many rural communities tradition overrides national legislation, experts say.
Godfrey Massey of Landesa Tanzania said the existence of laws in itself does not necessarily translate into better access to land for women.
“Women can own land just as men, but few women are aware of this in Tanzania,” he said, calling for more initiatives at the community level to raise awareness of land rights.
“We’ve seen trainings lead to a rise in women joining village land councils or realizing that their husband can’t mortgage the family land without their consent,” he said.
Rajan Samuel of Habitat for Humanity India said that efforts to improve land rights must acknowledge cultural norms like India’s centuries-old Hindu caste system.
“You can have all the policies in the world, if you don’t engage the community from day one you won’t succeed,” he said.