Interlinking Eritrea through Transport and Communications Networks
Far places have been getting nearer and nearer to one another. Geographical gap is no longer a barrier. Slow and monotonous means of transport and communications have been gradually substituted by more advanced and faster systems. The coming together of smooth and easy road networks, internet connection, postal services, telecommunications, maritime transportation, and aviation services in perfect harmony have been playing a very decisive role in creating a more balanced and efficient service. It is the synergy of the development in all sectors that enables any given society to live in perfect harmony with its surroundings and even reach far off places at ease.
If all transportations and communications services rhyme in perfect harmony, they would bring significant and balanced changes in people’s living standards. “Perfect Harmony…For National Dignity” is the theme which has been chosen for the nationwide symposiums of all ministries to reflect the journey Eritrea went through in the twenty years of independence in every sector. As part of the overall national symposiums, the Ministry of Transport and Communications held a three-day symposium in Mendefera from 2-4 March, 2011.
The main objective of the symposiums that continue to be held in different cities of the country is to enable the general public realize the developmental accomplishments registered throughout the country by means of simple representation of all the sub-sectors in the ministry. All the subsectors of transport and communications have been advanced in an integrated manner so as to render comprehensive and complimentary services.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications symposium was arranged in a way that reflects the historical background of transport and communications in Eritrea, its evolution during the period of armed struggle and more importantly the advances in the post independence period.
The technical skill of Eritreans was highly developed in the early 1950s and the number of private vehicles gradually increased. Unfortunately, the highly advanced transportation system deteriorated during the Ethiopian colonization period. What the symposium highlighted is then the intensive projects implemented in the past twenty years.
The Minister of Transport and Communications, Woldemichael Abraha said in the opening of the symposium that thanks to the efforts in road construction and the renovations, effective road network is now in place across the nation. As such the number of routes has increased from 36-215 and the number of buses has risen from 256 to 1,775– resulting in an increase of passengers from 3 million to 20 million per annum. Similar achievements have been registered in maritime, aviation, and communications services.
The cumulative skill acquired during the days of liberation struggle harmonized with the later technological advances has interlinked Eritrea with the world. All the four sub sectors of transportation and communications used to function in isolation as authorities, however, they merged to operate under the umbrella of Ministry of Transport and Communications which created a unified and balanced development.
In a paper she presented at the symposium, Director General of Land Transport, Ms. Senait Lijam, pointed out that modern land transportation in the country began in 1937; transportation coverage increased amply in 2010 while the number of terminals has increased from 15 in 1991 to 30 in 2010. She also cited a number of strategic roads and bridges constructed in the past 20 years. The achievement registered so far in land transportation has in great deal solved the problems that used to exist. Such an achievement is not however, an end result for a nation which is constantly engaged in building a better tomorrow. The coverage of asphalt roads once used to cover 4,000 would not be limited at its present coverage of 14, 000 km.
The action plan of the ministry indicate that as facilities of transportation are demand driven, with the ever increasing of developmental activities, the capacities of transportation systems would also increase accordingly. In the coming years, 2011-2015, the department of land transport plans to increase its capacities in providing vehicles that would be employed to facilitate diversified sectors such as industrial, agricultural, mining, construction and tourism. Hence, renovating and expanding the transportation system, introducing traffic management regulation, structural adjustment of land transport department, installing modern inspection system and close circuit television (CCTV) among others are out lined in the five-year plan.
As a continuation of the presentations on the development of land transport system, head of railway transportation Mr. Amanuel Gebreselasie gave highlights of the early development of railway lines in Eritrea. Indicating that the first railway (Zula-Kumayle) line was established in 1868, he said that the biggest line in the country which stretched about 374 km from Massawa to Bisha took 45 years from 1887-1932 to be finalized. Eritrea’s railway line which was among the first railway lines in Africa was also totally dismantled during the Ethiopian colonial era. Mr. Amanuel gave briefings about the concerted actions that were undertaken to renovate the century old steam locomotives and the railway line with the assistance of some expert senior citizens. Bearing in mind that Eritrea’s railway line has high significance in the development of truism sector as well as transporting cargo, Mr. Amanuel said plans worth 460 million Nakfa have been set to be implemented in the next five years that include upgrading Asmara-Massawa railroad, laying about 50 km long new railway line that would cover 20 km from Asmara Embaderho, 25 km Massawa cement factory-Ghedem and the rest 5 km would be stretched from Massawa to the Free Zone area. And importing new trains and carriages that would be used in transporting about 850, 000 tone of goods annually is also part of the plan.
The establishment of advanced regional ports is among the underlining national policies. The second day of the symposium was about the advances in maritime transportation and especially about the endeavors made to upgrade the ports of Massawa and Assab at the cost of 1.4 billion Nakfa.
After issuing regulations about maritime transportations in 1991, Eritrea became a member of International maritime association in 1993. The port of Massawa which was established in 1655 during the Turkish period was at its highest level of advancement during the Italian colonial period. However, it was degenerated during the Ethiopian colonial era. The Massawa port which hosted a ship named Far Suez in 1990 after the liberation of the port city has passed three renovating and upgrading phases: 1991-1995, 1996-2002, and 2003-2010 that are part of the comprehensive undertaking that have been accomplished in the last twenty years so as to pave a way for effective services.
Hence, Mr. Ghebremedhin Habte, Director General of Maritime Transportation said that shallow harbors with a depth of 3.8 meters have been upgraded to a depth of 12 meters so as to meet international standards and easily host big cargo ships. Modern facilitating equipments such as tugboats, harbor cranes, shore cranes, mobile cranes, bagging machines, forklifts, and spare parts have also been steadily introduced. Likewise, modern terminals and the Hirgigo oil jetty were established, Sigalet causeway and Bab-Ashera roads were expanded, roads inside the port have been renovated and asphalted, and master plan of Massawa port has been finalized.
The construction works in the Assab port which was founded in 1856 include renovations of a ship harbor, putting in place of new water lines, construction of new container yard, and renovation of stores among others.
The maritime transport department has not been confined to the aforementioned activities; it has charted out two major programs to constructing new regional port for the free trade zone in Massawa and to expand the port of Massawa to make it more modern and regionally competitive port. In line with the presentations on maritime transportation, Dr. Araya Tsegay, head of Free Zone authority gave briefings about the relations of free trade zone with the national ports and airports. Dr. Araya highlighted the prospects of Massawa port in delivering transshipment and refueling services. A proclamation issued in 2006 states that the ports and airports of Massawa and Assab as well as refinery and salt production fields as part of the free trade zone.
All sub-sectors of the ministry are interrelated to one another. Mr. Paulos Kahsay, director general of civil aviation department also presented a paper about the historical back ground of aviation services in Eritrea, challenges encountered in the demarcation of national airline boundaries, as well as the close associations between the aviation services and the free trade zone. According to Mr. Paulos, renovation of Asmara international airport and the construction of Massawa international airport are among the major achievements of the aviation services. Emphasizing that Massawa international airport is highly imperative as an alternative airport, he said that other new domestic airport would be constructed in Tio and Dahlak islands which are highly essential for tourism promotion as well as to render technical assistance and to refuel planes in times of emergency. Other domestic airports such as Keren, Afabet, Barentu among others would be upgraded, renovated, and some would be also moved to other safe and wider areas. To facilitate mining activities, a new airstrip would be established at the Bisha mining site.
The third day of the symposium discussed about the communications services which was also introduced during the Italian colonial era. The communications department that embraces telecommunication, postal and internet services has also shown tremendous improvement in the last twenty years. The number of switches for domestic and international calls has steadily increased. Digital satellite stations were introduced in 1992, 1993, and 1997. Cities and rural areas were also connected through microwaves. The number of lines for international calls has increased from 12 to 800 calls at a given time. Postal service which is equally significant means of communication was introduced in 1893. The postal department received about five accreditations of merit from international postal union in the past twenty years. Introduction of internet services since 2000 is also among the major accomplishment of the department of communications. The symposium that continued from 2-4 March concluded discussion on future advances in Communications services that include the increase in geographical coverage of telecommunications to 95% and also and upgrading internet and mobile telephone services to the 3rd generation of connectivity.