Ethiopia-Eritrea border trade boom as peace takes hold

Ethiopia-Eritrea border trade boom as peace takes hold

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The reopening of the border between former enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea has dramatically changed the towns near the frontier, writes the BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza.
The sun had just risen but the market in Adigrat was already coming alive when I went to visit.
Dozens of makeshift stalls lined the street where a group of women traders were sifting chickpeas.

In another place an elderly man was removing chickens from cages and placing them outside his shop.
You can buy almost anything at the market: spices, building materials, fridges and washing machines.
The market in this Ethiopian town, just 38km (24 miles) south of the border, has been transformed since the border opened four months ago after a peace deal ended the “state of war” between the two nations.
Many Eritreans now cross over to see what they can buy.
Mebrhit Gebrehans, a middle-aged woman with a big smile, is one of the traders whose business is booming.
She was busy opening a sack full of fresh spices and was calling over potential customers when I met her.
“What we fear is war. We love peace. When the Eritreans come to this market, I welcome them with a smiling face. They buy spices, honey, grains and even biscuits. And we buy different clothes from them,” she said.
“When the border reopened, we were worried there would be shortages of some things, but there hasn’t been. Everything is normal,” she added.
Just down the road, there was a section of shops selling plastic wares, from brightly coloured water tanks to jerry cans to plastic sandals.
Shop owner Haile Bisrat told me cheerfully that treating his Eritrean brothers well was not only about cementing peace. It also made good financial sense.
“We get to make a little more profit than before as the market is in a better state.
“When the border first reopened, as many as 2,000 Eritreans were coming every week. The numbers have gone down a little, but that’s perhaps because they’ve bought everything they wanted.”
Adigrat was full of cars and lorries with Eritrean registration numbers.
Many of the lorries we saw were carrying building materials like cement and construction cables. But small cars were also carrying huge loads of goods like mattresses, cereals and washing machines.
At the local bus station, touts were shouting the name of the Eritrean capital, Asmara, hoping to draw in Eritrean customers.
Beyene Tewelde was one of them. He had travelled hundreds of kilometres to shop here.
“I came to buy what I need. So I’ve got shoes, containers and spices.
“The prices are very fair. Before the reopening of the border, I used to buy everything in Asmara. But from where I live, Adi Qeyih, it’s better to come to Adigrat than Asmara.”
The reopening of some of the border crossings, including one earlier this week, is part of the peace deal signed last July by Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The agreement has also seen diplomatic ties renewed and phone links between the two countries restored after being cut off for nearly two decades.
The war, fought over the exact location of the common border, began in May 1998 and left tens of thousands of people dead.. -BBC

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