September 11, 2018, another historically meaningful date for Eritrea and Ethiopia as the both Debaisima-Burie and Serha- Zalambesa roads were officially reopened. The strategic routes that connect Ethiopia with the ports of Assab and Massawa were officially reopened by President Isaias Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after having closed for 20 years. The routes are expected to heighten the movement of people and goods from and to both countries. The routes were colorfully reopened in the presence of both countries’ higher officials, members of both armies and people of both countries. In the morning hours of September 11, the two leaders started their journey by going to the Debaisima-Burie route and returned to Asmara to make their direct flights to Serha- Zalambesa route for another similar reopening ceremony.
The people of Serha and Zalambesa were celebrated the historic day colorfully as it was the Geez New Year. People from the Subzones of Adikieh, Senafe, Serha and neighboring towns were already on set and we, the journalists, were pretty sure the same initiatives were going on at the other end as it was only a matter of few meters to see. Journalists were recording the impressions of the people and everyone was busy with selfy shots to capture the great event. Women and young girls in their traditional white outfits were dancing to the tunes of various peace melodies and their faces were filled with smiles and giggles. Serha men, in their traditional cloths were riding their mules here and there. People were hugging and kissing each other before the ceremony even began and we could easily note what it meant for them. The organizing committee did their best to accommodate the invited guests, and to make sure the songs by women were not interrupted. Some of the songs went on like ‘Yohannaye Enque Hagosena’- translated as Congratulations to all of us and ‘Alena endyu weilye bhade knweilye’ which goes as ‘We have an appointment to celebrate together’. Many of the songs cherished peace and reunion of both people. Slogans such as ‘Love Won’ and ‘Our ordnance Truth, our wish Peace’ were boldly displayed on placards.
When it was almost midday, we heard the first helicopter coming, followed by other two. Soon after the helicopters were visible in the skies of Serha, people started to gather to welcome their leaders. The Eritrean army stood on both the ends of the roadside leading to Zalambesa as announcers both in Serha and Zalambesa signaled to the people to get ready for the exciting moment.
The three helicopters landed one after another, and later the charismatic leaders of both nations walked and waved to their people all the way from Serha to Zalambesa. The moment of joy was beyond words. People from both sides started to shout the leaders’ names until they reached the red carpet and ribbon cutting area on the border and take their seats. The women’s ululation was phenomenal, and it did not take long for the people to mingle immediately after the ribbon was cut. Camera men set their cameras in continuous shot mode, not to miss any moment. After the leaders and their delegates took their seats, the announcer kindly asked all present to stand up for a moment of silence to remember the fallen heroes of both countries. This was followed by the national anthems of Ethiopia and Eritrea. A loud applause from the audience accompanied both national anthems. Eritrean camel and horse riders galloped towards the town of Zalambesa, having their animals covered with flags of the nations. Later, the leaders made their way to Serha to be reunited with Eritrean elders and invited guests. Both leaders took gustation of the healthy barely bread and popcorn served on the table. Soon after this, the southern region’s traditional dancing group started to dance holding white birds in their hands. The song went on like this: Negiru Semay, Negiru Bahri…Selam Sieru, roughly translated as Even the sky and the sea spoke that peace surely won. Eritrean and Ethiopian youth danced on the same dancing floor jumping and expressing their joy and excitement. Drone cameras over the skies let people knew their moment of joy was being aired.
The moment was all about exchanging happiness everyone dreamed of for the last twenty years. Several lambs were sacrificed for the great day and ‘Raya Beer’ was served there and Asmara Beer was available in Serha for everyone willing to drink. My colleagues and I had the chance to share a meal with a Tigray Policeman. The after party continued in both places until we made our ways back home. Everyone enjoyed the reunion and expressed their wish to celebrate forthcoming holidays together.
What surprised me most was to see people asking for their respective currencies without conditionality to enjoy their nights in the neighboring towns of Serha and Zalambesa. I could see the eagerness people had to get together.
The border and surrounding areas were dominated by the cars’ horns moving in and out. Bajaj taxi (local taxi in Ethiopia) and some minibuses reached AdiKieh town and Kia Taxi (from Asmara) was seen heading to Zalambesa town.
People I talked to on the day had this to say.
- -Mohammed Ali Abdella from Subzone of Emba Soira
It is an interesting day as we are celebrating it on a religious holiday that strengths our harmony. Today is a New Year in both calendars; the Geez and Hjriya as well. Celebrating a historic day with two holidays makes it something worth remembering forever. Our hearts are really over the skies with joy.
- -Ms. Tirhas Tekie from Subzone of Senafe
I am really overjoyed. It is a remarkable day of peace for all of us here after all of the hardships we had to face. Everyone’s heart is open for peace right now; no one will be able to close this. We will work tirelessly to sustain our cooperation and make it long lasting because we both deserve it. Congratulations to everyone.
- –Mr. Bereket Hailemikiel from Zalambesa
We are one people who need to enjoy mutual peace. The “no peace, no war” years have given us hard times. Five years ago, with my friends, we launched a peace friendship and brotherhood page in social media to aggressively promote peace and fight against all ill information towards both countries. Members of the page are both Ethiopians and Eritreans who worked hard for this day. We are honored and happy to see our effort pay off at last. We should promote the peace we achieved today in an institutionalized way. Small conflicts that may happen should not be taken as personal and blown out of proportion.
- -Mr. Ismael Abdelqadir, adult education and media Instructor from Subzone of Senafe
I have been for a while expecting this day to come. It feels great. So much has been sacrificed for this day and people of both nations should guard the momentum. I would not dare say there are Eritreans or Ethiopians who don’t need this peace. However, people of both nations should protect their countries against irresponsible individuals so that our harmony stays forever.
- –Mr. Ghebremedhin Desta, from Subzone of Serha
It is a special double holiday for all of us with the Geez New Year. We used to be companions with our neighbors in Zalambesa. We used to share the good and hard times together unlike the past twenty years. Now, we are happy that chance is restored and we get to see each other as before. Our expectation is to interact through the land, air and sea routes with our Ethiopian neighbors. I would like to pass my sincere greetings and congratulations to both people.
- Mr. Mihretab Legese, member of Eritrean Defense Force from Subzone of Serha
I would say this day is another independence day. I am really excited to live in it from today onwards. I look forward to restoring the old days’ life both people had in the past. I would really want to stress both people need to keep on doing what they are doing to promote peace and love.
- –Mr. Haile Ghebrehiwet, Car Driving trainer from Subzone of Senafe
Let alone human beings, animals appreciate peace. This is because everything comes after it.
Both people have tasted the sore flavor and it is now time, to enjoy this sweet moment. For us to see their faces and for them to see ours is a feeling that cannot be expressed with words. However, it is upon us, the people, to sustain the peace. People, particularly those on the border should campaign for love and serenity.
Expressions of joy have been flowing throughout the day on the border that words cannot fully explain.
The mutual declaration of peace and friendship signed between the two countries on July 9 included the restoring of transportation, trade and telecommunication connections. Based on this, telecommunication service started on July 9, air transportation on July 18 and sea transportation on the 5th of September, followed by the opening of the land routes on the 11th of September.