BY KESETE GHEBREHIWET | SHABAIT
A network of transport and communications infrastructure has been put in place in different regions of Eritrea since the wake of independence. But, what was the reason for the urgency? Does it succeed as planned? Mr. Tesfaslasie Brhane, Minister of Transport and Communications, has recently conducted an interview with Eri-TV as regards the achievements so far registered in the transport and communications sector.
When Eritrea was liberated in 1991, there were only 267 trucks in the country. The 240 trucks were used for the transportation of goods and the 27 were used for transporting liquid. In the last 27 years of independence, the number has increased to over 15,000. Out of the total, the 3,244 were heavy load trucks to transport goods and liquid.
A total of 1.6 billion Nakfa has been paid for the import of vehicles that include trucks, buses, and minibuses. The 727 million Nakfa was spent on trucks while the 185 million was for urban transportation and rest 474 million Nakfa was for rural transportation through the purchase of buses and minibuses.
In the pre-independence period, transportation service was provided only to 26 destinations from and to the capital. Owing to the import of vehicles and the implementation of various infrastructural networks, transportation service has been growing steadily with an increase of 7 new routes. Today, there are a total of 294 destinations.
There were only 257 buses in the pre-independence period; there are now 1,783 buses offering viable service. The 475 are owned and operated by Harat Transport Company, which is providing transportation services linking the remotest parts of Eritrea, including the mountainous areas of Mount Embasoyra, to the rest of the country.
There is almost no area Harat Transport Company has not reached. The company offers services to any area of the country where a road has been constructed through popular campaigns by residents of such areas.
What is more, urban transportation service has begun in different cities in the last two years. Massawa, Assab, Teseney, Barentu, Mendefera, and Keren now have become beneficiaries of urban transportation service.
According to the data of 1993, a total of 9.8 million passengers have transported annually. The number of passengers in 2017 rose to 92.4 million.
The total number of taxis in the pre-independence period was below 200. The number of taxis, including minibuses increased to 1,363 in 2017.
The transportation service which started with a total of 257 buses and minibuses has now risen to 1,793. The number of villages that have become beneficiaries of transport service throughout the country has reached 1,890.
Overall, transport over land has improved so much over the years, covering 85% of Eritrea’s landmass. How about Marine transport?
In the last 27 years, a total of 58 million USD has been invested for the renovation and expansion of the ports. The ports were almost totally rebuilt. New cranes were installed and marine transport has tremendously improved.
Airline service has also shown remarkable development. Asmara International Airport was mainly used as a military base in the pre-independence period. The airport was almost ruined. Renovation of the airport was the primary task in the post-independence period. The airport was renovated to meet civil aviation standards. Assab airport was also renovated, Sawa airport was constructed, and airstrips in Teseney, Barentu and Mahmiment were built.
Aviation agreements were signed with various countries including Germany, Italy, Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Yemen, Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
A number of airport equipment and other necessary materials were purchased to provide efficient service. New ambulances and firefighter vehicles and hygiene materials were imported. New stores were built and the runway was renovated. The airport was under a threat of flooding and to mitigate this diversion canals have been built around Adi-Guadad and metrological equipment has been installed.
At this time, Egypt, Turkey, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia, Sudan Airways and other airlines are providing services in Eritrea. The airways that are currently functional in Eritrea are providing satisfactory service. Fly Dubai, for instance, is flying nine times a week. There are other airlines which are planning to begin service in the country and with the competitive atmosphere among the various airlines, cost-effective airline service is expected to be realized in the long run.
The Government of Eritrea gives utmost priority to rural development activities. Most of the transportation services are being offered based on population density. There are 30 transport routes in the Anbseba region, 28 in the Northern Red Sea, 83 in the Gash-Barka and 63 in the Southern region.
But, does this provision meet the demand of people? With an ever-increasing population, there is always a growing demand for transportation service. Much needs to be done and the Government is exerting extensive efforts. The import of new buses will continue to meet the increasing demands of passengers. Some areas that were hard to reach in the past have now become beneficiaries of transport services.
The Government has a major project in the provision of marine transport. There are plans to improve marine transport. Creating competitive marine transport at a regional level is compulsory. Hence, the ports need to be upgraded in terms of depth and other facilities so as to accommodate bigger vessels.
What is the development so far registered in communications service and what about the short and long-term plans? Various activities have been accomplished in three phases in order to enhance communications services. The first phase is 1991. There was no viable communication service throughout the country and there was no service at all in Assab. The most difficult problem was that it was not possible to make international calls. International calls were only possible through microwave stations installed in Ethiopia and this was disconnected in the independence period.
The major task was then to introduce an infrastructure for international calls. A transitional station was established in May 1992. A standard international switch was installed in the period between 1993 and 1995. An underground landline that serves 4,000 beneficiaries in Massawa, as well as 4,000 in Keren, was erected. The international switch eased not only international calls but also local calls throughout the country.
Internet service was started in 2000. There was a very limited bandwidth of 512 kb/sec downlink and 256 kb/sec uplink. It was not possible to provide internet services for clients. The second phase in the provision of internet service was the period between 2001 and 2010. Over 30 million USD was invested in this period. The bandwidth was increased to 49 Mb/sec. The 40 Mb was for downlink and the rest nine for uplink. Through a steady development, the internet service has increased to 300 Mb/sec in the period between 2011 and 2016.
The introduction of mobile service in March 2004 was a major development in the communications service. The first service started in Asmara, Massawa, Dekemhare, and Mendefera. All old and non-functional telephone lines were replaced with new ones at a cost of 23 million USD. CDMA service was also introduced.
Microwaves were installed in different parts of Eritrea. There were only 5 towers throughout the country; later over 110 towers were set up. In order to provide satisfactory service, 12 telecommunications centers were built in various areas of the country such as in Adi-Quala, Hagaz, Elabered, Ghinda’e, Idi, Gelalo and Tio.
The third phase is between 2011 and 2017. There was only one switch for mobile service and one switch for international calls. So, additional switches were introduced in this period.
Eri-Tel had to ensure that all the towers had a power supply of electricity. So, 42% of the towers were made to be powered by solar energy. Since there was no supply of electricity in Barentu and a supply of only 3 hours in Adi- Keyih, Eri-Tel took initiative to install solar energy in those towns.
All the core network centers in Asmara, Mendefera, Massawa, Assab, Keren, and Teseney have a stand-by generator. This was implemented in the third phase. At this time 85% of Eritrea has telecommunications coverage.
There were only 11 permanent post office and 26 agents throughout Eritrea. Now, there are a total of 52 permanent stations and agents. Eritrea has received a “B” level certificate for the efficient postal service it has been offering. The country has registered remarkable progress in meeting the standards of Global Monitoring System. There are now 18,000 mailboxes as opposed to only 2000 in the past. The Eritrean Post Office is now offering EMS Service which is equivalent to that of DHL and FedEx.
The Government of Eritrea has mapped out major projects for the improvement of transportation and communications services. Studies are now being carried out to introduce enhanced services that could impact all development sectors.