It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted a 3-day extensive interview from the 6th to 8th of September 2013, with local media outlets pertaining domestic regional and international issues. Excerpts of the second part of the interview follow:
When it comes to infrastructure, especially road networks and rail¬way, there have been a number of activities carried out in the last few years. Still, as part of the national master plan, there are short and long term plans related to con¬struction – mainly road networks and the like. Given that consider-able expenses will be incurred for doing these things, how is the do¬mestic capacity for the implemen-tation of such plans? What about the possibility of other means of funding these projects?
Of the seven infrastructural ar¬eas, road network is the basic one. Roads, dams, residential and other houses, electricity, communication technology, mining are interrelated and they influence each other. In this case, roads are just like mus¬cles. They are basically important for achieving development goals. Agricultural activities, the con¬struction of dams, soil conservation activities and other activities can hardly be carried out successfully without having road networks con¬necting different places. We may divide roads into two categories – asphalted roads and those roads that have not been asphalted. We do not have a finalized plan in rela¬tion to the need to have effectively adequate road networks.
This is an issue that has to be handled flexibly. Basically, it is not that possible to implement devel-opment plans, which we aspire to realize, based on the inherited as¬phalted roads. By the standards of these days, in terms of their width, their quality and the places they connect, the inherited roads we have in Eritrea are not effective.
This indicates the need to have new road networks in the country. This does not mean that the roads we already have are entirely use¬less. To this effect, maintaining and further improving these roads will be also very helpful for realizing development goals.
Which road network is more effective? The one that connects Keren, Aqurdat and Barentu or the one that connects Liban Ha¬bela, Mensura, Aqurdat and Sawa (up to the border between Eritrea and Sudan) without going through Barentu? The importance of the latter one is not a controversial one. One important issue is what type of road should this be – what can this road be used for? What about the expenses that has to be incurred in a kilometer? What will be its use for all types of vehicles? Will it be helpful for passengers? Given the topography of the area, we need to consider the resources that have to be used for this investment. Such road networks can be considered major roads.
The existing roads – such as Asmara-Keren, Keren-Nakfa, Asmara-Adi-Quala, Asmara-Senafe – should be further improved ac¬cording to the demands associated with such services. Considering their current situation, these roads can hardly be considered modern ‘asphalted’ roads because they are very narrow. Hence, we should not be limited to these roads. Instead of the Massawa-Asmara road, we may alternatively think of going to Teseney from either Foro or Wia trough Adiqeyih, Mendefera and Barentu. There is also a need for road networks connecting differ¬ent places in Gash-Barka where there are various significant devel¬opment projects and programs. In line with the expansion of services and development plans and proj¬ects associated with our economy, we need to have a number of as¬phalted roads. It is important to have roads connecting the coastal areas of Massawa and Qarora, Massawa and Assab, and beyond that it is very helpful to have roads connecting these parts to Djibouti. It is very useful to have a road di¬rectly connecting Gulbub, Afabet and Zara without the need to go through Keren as these areas have important resources for develop¬ing our economy. So far there is no road that connects these areas. You go to these areas through indirect roads that make you incur a lot of expenses. This is not cost-effective. All these are associated with important plans that are helpful for developing the economy. Until we are able to realize what we aspire in this case, the roads that are not so far asphalted – the existing roads in general– will certainly remain use¬ful. But eventually they have to be asphalted and further improved.
It is not possible to have invest¬ments, for example, agricultural projects, if there are no roads that are helpful for transporting your produce in a cost-effective manner. Therefore, different factors must be considered when we want to have a particular road network in place.
This has to be studied exten¬sively. While we have a general picture about what has to be done in relation to this issue, there is no finalized plan related to road net¬works. We are in the process of developing specific plans as there are preliminary studies that can guide us on how to proceed with the issue of constructing effective road networks.
At this time, it may be difficult to assume the responsibilities of hav¬ing well-developed road networks using our domestic capacity. But little by little it is possible to devel¬op domestic capacity for dealing with such issues. In many coun¬tries, it is often believed that such major projects are better handled by foreign companies. This belief is also reinforced by the influence of the companies themselves. While it is true that it may not be realistic for a country like Eritrea to claim that it can do everything by itself since such countries certainly have limited domestic capacity, but it is not impossible to develop do¬mestic capacity step by step. As mentioned earlier, it is very diffi¬cult to construct the Asmara-Liban Habela-Mensura potential road with domestic resources only. However, after some years it will be possible to do this with the help of cumulative experiences acquired over the years. Here it must be noted that those roads that are part of our immediate priorities and that cannot be dealt with our domestic capacity should be con¬structed with the help of external resources. Generally, everything that can be done with domestic ca¬pacity has to be done domestically simply because, unlike the case of doing things with the help of for¬eign companies, this will enable us to acquire relevant experiences related to road construction. In this case, assessing your domestic capacity is imperative so as to tell things that can be done domestical¬ly from those that can be done with the help to external support.
The major existing construction companies in Eritrea such as Se¬gen, Asbeco, Bidho, and Keyh Bahri has acquired good cumula¬tive experiences. 80% – 90% of the roads I am talking about can be constructed with the help of these companies. The next important is¬sue is the issue of machinery. The machinery we already have has significantly improved our capac¬ity to implement such projects. In addition to the issue of machinery, manpower requirements, and the need to have experienced and ca¬pable companies, one has to think in terms of construction raw mate¬rials.
Another important issue is the issue of funding the aforesaid proj¬ects. Compared to those projects that can be financed through our own currency, those dimensions of the projects that can be financed through hard currency create more pressure. Of all the concerns that have described above, oil is the most important factor. This is the most constraining factor as it is imported with the help of hard cur-rency. Hence, we need to take into account the effect of what we do on the need for oil as we have limited resources.
When it comes to energy is¬sues, one of the biggest problems we have is associated with the is¬sue of electric services. Another challenge associated with infra¬structural projects such as building houses and other similar projects is the corresponding requirement for cement as it has very strategic importance. To this effect, we have established a cement factory as it is far better to have your own locally produced cement factory than to import. However, as there is no enough electric supply that enables this factory to be operational for 24 hours. To this degree, energy is one of the most important factors that affect important infrastructural projects.
Overall, at this moment, we are in a better position when we con¬sider the road network conceptual plans we have if we think in terms of resources mobilization, time frame, and our domestic capacity to implement such projects. How¬ever, it has to be noted that there is a need to be cautious in managing the strategic resources.
The role of a railway network is also very significant in facilitating the implementation of develop¬ment goals. At this time, this has not been considered as part of our top immediate priorities because the demanding efforts related to this investment are not that easy and affordable. However, it doesn’t mean that this will remain post¬poned for ever.