Business hopes, refugee woes after Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal

Eritrean President Afewerki (right)and Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed

Eritrean President Afewerki (right)and Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed

Teklehaimanot Tesfazigi is 103 years old and has witnessed Eritrea’s many stages, from the Italian colonial period to the British administration, which ended in 1951, when Eritrea joined Ethiopia in a federation.

Then there was the Eritrean War of Independence that ended in May 1991, followed by a bloody two-year border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 and a subsequent cold-war period between them.

Despite a peace deal signed in Algiers in December 2000, putting an to end to the border war that is estimated to have killed 70,000 from both sides, the two countries remained in a state of bitter enmity along their 1100km border.

That hostility ended in July this year, with Ethiopia and Eritrea signing a peace declaration enabling air services to resume, phone lines to reopen, and the restoration of diplomatic missions. Their common border reopened on September 11.

Tesfazigi lives in the picturesque and quiet Eritrean city of Adi Quala, 30km north of the Ethiopian border.

But the centenarian had once lived in Ethiopia and owned two hotels and a natural gum processing business there, which he had to leave behind at the outbreak of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict.

He was made to return to Eritrea as part of a forced population exchange between the two countries that saw hundreds of thousands from both sides deported.

Now he spends his days greeting mainly Ethiopian customers at his small hotel, Tourist, in Adi Quala city.

He says he is hopeful about business after the common border resolution.

“The war and the subsequent cold war between the two nations has cost me dearly,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I used to employ more than 2,000 people in Ethiopia before the outbreak of the war. When I returned to run my hotel business in Adi Quala, we had a chronic shortage, which closed the business for a long time.”

Kibreab Tewolde manages the Messebo Cement factory in Ethiopia’s Mekelle city, the capital of Tigray regional state, which borders Eritrea.

He hopes Eritrean ports can facilitate renewed business ties between the two nations.

Landlocked Ethiopia used to depend mainly on the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab for its foreign trade, but conflict led Ethiopia to shift its foreign trade to neighbouring Djibouti. -Aljazeera

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