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“A Plan for Further Expanding and Rehabilitating Ports and Harbors has been prepared:” President Isaias

It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted a 3-day extensive interview from 6th to 8th of September 2013, with local media outlets on pertaining domestic, regional and international issues. Excerpts of the third part of the interview follow:

Mr. President, ports, harbors and airports play a great role as facilities for development and economic growth. What has been done so far towards the improvement of such infrastructures and for adding new harbors and airports with the help of domestic capacity? What are the plans for making these infrastructures effective enough for local and global services, that is, the intention for making them attractive for business and trade activities? Would you also please tell us about the free zones for which much money and energy have been invested?

The ports we have in Eritrea – Assab and Massawa – are not that effective. These ports are used for importing goods to Eritrea and for exporting goods from Eritrea. Their services should not be limited to this level only; they need to be expanded further.

A lot is said about the Port of Assab. These are just talks that are colored by political motivations. I don’t want to talk much about this issue. The Assab Port, however, has to be expanded further. People may tend to feel that the Port of Assab is there just to be used only by Ethiopia. But if it is improved and expanded to the required extent, it will certainly be of service to regional as well as global actors. This issue should not be associated with and hindered by the current security problems. Expanding and improving this port is a strategic project. When and how we do this could be a different issue.

Given its infrastructure, you can’t claim that the existing Port of Assab is a real ‘port’. The Port of Assab has no eclectic supply. It also lacks water supply system. If its situation in the 21st century is the same as its situation was during World War II, let alone by global standards you can’t consider it a port even by regional standards. Regardless of what we may face during implementation, we have prepared a plan for expanding the ports. Whenever we think to implement this plan, we need to think in terms of the corresponding demands for energy, electricity and water. One has also to think in terms of the need for corresponding airports. Regardless of our capability, we should consider the corresponding need for relevant infrastructural projects. Ports and free zones are very important as there are more activities carried out in these areas than in Asmara. Therefore, ports should be associated not only with importing and exporting goods but they should be used as fruitful grounds for free zone activities and should be used as trade and manufacturing centers. To this effect, as stated above, there are plans prepared for expanding the ports of Assab and Massawa. But there are some constraints for implementing these plans. Once these plans are put into practice, the ports will be regionally and globally competitive. It is only then that we can talk about the relative importance of the ports.

When we were intending to build the Massaw Airport, many funding institutions told us that we don’t need to have it and we were told that doing it was not within reach taking into account our domestic capacity. While we have not been using it effectively, this is an asset for the future; its services will certainly be very useful for future purposes.

It is not only ports that need to be rehabilitated and further expanded; harbors too should be rehabilitated and further expanded. There must be many small and medium harbors. All activities should not be limited only to the two large ports – Assab and Massawa. There must be also road networks connecting all the infrastructures that we intend to build. There should also be more airports that will be used for the said purposes. Then not only Ethiopia but even Djibouti can make use of these infrastructures. Overall we should not be too late for implementing the aforesaid plans.

In relation to the issue of airports, we can’t limit ourselves to the Asmara Airport. This too cannot be considered a really effective airport by modern standards. The Massawa airport should be expanded soon and all the facilities that make it operational should be in place as soon as possible. Such airports are important not only for port purposes, but they are also very important for trade, industry and tourism purposes. This can be further justified by the concerned technical experts, but the Asmara Airport cannot be as useful as that of Massawa Airport. Energy consumption and the corresponding costs incurred while using the Massawa Airport for transporting people and goods are much less when compared to that of the Asmara Airport. When we think in terms of the airports we need to have, that is when they are ranged in terms of their importance that of Massawa will be the first, that of Assab the second and that of Tessney and its environs will be the third. The Asmara Airport may be considered a fourth or fifth in importance. There can be also other airports like that of Sawa. The Sawa Airport is not being used currently, but it will be very useful in the future. It is also very important to have an airport around Tesseney.

What have been planned in relation to the said infrastructural projects cannot be put into effect using only our own capacity. We need to make use of external resources, skills and expertise until we can gradually develop our domestic capacity. Therefore, we will work in partnership with others so as to realize what we aspire in connection to having the required infrastructure in place. If we are to integrate our economy to the global economy, we cannot do things by ourselves only.

When we think of the infrastructural investments associated with ports, airports and harbors, we need to take into account the situation of the Red Sea region. What we do is likely to be dictated by our location. To make an effective use of the location we have, we need to contemplate on what infrastructural projects would be more helpful for our purpose. This is to mean that there are situations that certainly affect what we do and what we are going to have – our choice. In this case, we need to be very concerned about the standards of our infrastructural investments. One way or the other, the aforementioned infrastructural investments have to be realized as soon as possible. This must be considered in comparison with the other priorities we have. However, these are projects that should not be delayed.

Your Excellency, Could you explain the ways and means of expanding the scope of the free zone in line with the plans to upgrade the potentials of sea ports or building new ones?

The Free zone is just at its initial stage. It is important to issue the necessary proclamation, and thus to expand its scope stage by stage. However, it is not possible to create a free zone without putting in place the necessary infrastructures as I have mentioned earlier. If one plans to use Massawa as a hub of investment, there is a critical question that needs to be posed. Is there any viable supply of electricity? Is there sufficient water supply? Is there suitable land, marine, air and other transportations facility for transporting goods and people? And is the potential investor capable of using it as an investment hub? Nowadays, free zone is not a bad concept. But, it is unrealistic to say we have created an actual free zone. But, this does not mean we should give up for it has not succeeded despite the attempts made to developed a free zone through issuing proclamations and working for years towards its implementation. We cannot say we have developed the capability to develop an actual free zone that could motivate potential investors and owners of business ventures by just issuing proclamations and rectifying policies alone. There are also other complicated issues. We have not even fully utilized our national potential. A few small-scale plants have been put in place. In case of effective harnessing of fishery resources and exporting national products via Massawa port, we should ask whether we have the required facilities or not. Sustainability of water supply is also among the uncertainties in that environ. With regards to fishing, especially around the port city of Massawa, do we possess the preservative and packing facilities aimed at export? The capacity for fishing by itself is insufficient vis-à-vis the required potential for related services. Export of fish can also be considered on the basis of free zone. Fishing activities in Assab area may have their own territory. The Launching of a free zone is not only an impressive idea, but it can also be implemented on the ground. We should not however forget that there are numerous factors that need to be implemented so as to make it reach a higher level of standards.

You have been touching the issue of electricity supply earlier on different topics. Scarcity of electricity supply has been negatively affecting different production plants. It has indeed been a constraint. What clarification could you give us about plans charted out to bring sustainable solution so as to positively impact economic growth at a national level?

Among the major constraints in economic growth is the supply of electricity along with that of fuel. During inception, the electricity supply system was interconnected, which could serve only to a limited part of the country. It is an outdated system. Its nominal capacity did not exceed 120 megawatt. It could not meet the national demand apart from that of households and services which do not involve significant consumption. It was installed from the viewpoint that its capacity would be extended phase by phase. We cannot say it is working at its full capacity. There exists maintenance problem as well as spare parts deficiency. The disconnection of supply of electricity here and there is an indication of the existent situation of the power plant. The available electricity supply potential has ensured only limited outreach with a major lack of potential towards areas of the western lowland such as Omhajer, Teseney, Haykota, Akordet and Barentu. The charting of a plan to this end is a vital prerequisite so as to upgrading the potential of electric supply alone could not enable the cement factory give a 24 hours service. Thus, the cement factory need to have an alternative or substitute power plant of its own so as to meet the demand required for all round infrastructural programs. The issue of the cement factory is a clear indication as to what extent the problem is huge. Industrial plants like textile factory and other small-scale business ventures and all activities that relay on electricity supply have been affected by such deficit. But, are we still using the electricity supply in its full capacity? If we are producing thousands of megawatts and we are not making use of it, what is then its significance?

Besides, it is to be noted that the power generation currently at use has been driven by heat engines that are fuelled by furnace or gas and not by other means such as water or wind. No matter how huge the amount of such like power generation would be, what matters is the ultimate cost it requires to produce one megawatt and on what projects shall this energy be utilized. The end result of putting in place the power plant is aimed at minimizing the costs of different items and thereby to make due contribution in the overall economic growth. Hence, until necessary preparations and assessment to maximize electricity supply potential is carried out, we have only mapped out transitional plans that could help us address the current crisis. At this time, an extension of energy supply may be required. For the time being, new power stations that could correspond with the size and production capacity of each respective sector of economic growth would be put in place. Finally, different economic zones of the country would have their own networks. All the distribution lines that pass through Foro, She’eb, and that reach around AKordet, Barentu, and distribution lines around Teseney would be joined to a centralized national network. But, where is this supply of electrify generated from? What are the ways and means of expanding the capacity and ensuring the sustainability of the current potential of the transitional electricity supply? These are questions that deserve no hasty answer. It is to be noted that a hasty decision of finding alternative ways that lead to no way out situation would not be taken under the pressure of such crisis. Through making maximum use of the resources we have at hand, we will find a medium term solution that would alleviate the scarcity and thereby we would be able to chart plans directed towards the promotion of other programs. There is imbalance of demand and supply of electricity in some sectors, industrial plants and in smaller-scale business ventures. I have been bringing these all additional points just to make it clear that the issue of electricity supply need to be seen in a wider range of time and under a broader context.

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