Ethiopia, Eritrea Reopen Border Crossings
Formal opening restores direct road transport for the first time in two decades, paves way for trade
Updated Sept. 11, 2018 1:53 p.m. ET
The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea reopened shared border crossings on Tuesday, restoring direct road transport for the first time in two decades and capping months of whirlwind diplomacy that has thawed a frozen conflict.
Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and longtime Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki gathered with soldiers and marching bands to open the frontier at Bure, a front line that saw some of the fiercest fighting during the 1998-2000 war that left tens of thousands of people dead. The move, timed for the celebration of the Ethiopian new year, opened the border post “for road transport connectivity,” Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter .
The formal opening of the frontier paves the way for cross-border trade between the erstwhile enemies after their unexpected reconciliation since Mr. Ahmed took office in April. The leaders said troops would be withdrawn from the border—one of the world’s most heavily mined frontiers, according to the United Nations—to ease tensions.
The peace deal is set to recalibrate trade and geopolitics in a strategic but volatile region perched next to the Middle East and along the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes for goods and oil from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal.
For Ethiopia—a rising regional power and strong U.S. security ally with a population of 100 million and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies—the deal will help redirect military spending toward development and gain access to the sea. The reconciliation could help bring Eritrea—a country so isolated it is often referred to as Africa’s North Korea—in from the cold and invigorate a moribund economy reliant on conscription and national service.
Ahmed Salim, a strategist from the political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said the border opening suggested the peace efforts were real and would be difficult to reverse. “The border opening marks an important milestone for the Horn of Africa. … These developments are positive for Ethiopia’s economy, particularly as the country’s access to a variety of ports have increased almost overnight,” he said.
The peace process is already reverberating beyond the affected nations.
After years supporting opposing sides in Somalia’s civil war, Ethiopia and Eritrea last week signed a cooperation agreement with Mogadishu to restore peace and stability to the region.
The geopolitical shift has also spawned a series of moving stories of reconciliation as friends, neighbors and family members are reunited after more than two decades of separation. Families divided by the conflict will now be able to go and visit each other by crossing the border.
Sana Bununis, a resident of Bure, was emotional as he told state-owned Ethiopia television that he hopes to finally visit his relatives on the Eritrean side of the border after years of separation.
“This is a day we have all longed for,” Mr. Bununis said, cradling an Ethiopian flag on a dusty, potholed road. “We are very happy.”