Less than a year after it signed a peace declaration with Ethiopia and opened up its land borders, Eritrea closed its last open land border yesterday. Positive gestures were made in 2018 towards the normalization of the relationship between the two countries, which have been in a political standoff for the last 20 years following a two-year war from 1998-2000.
Eritrea has systematically (and unilaterally) closed its land borders in recent months, with the Serha-Zalambesa border crossing closed in December and Om Hajer-Humera this month, ending yesterday with its third and last border of Bure-Assab. The government of Ethiopia has stated that they have not, on their side, made any step to close their borders but that Eritrea did it on their side. Eritrea has not issued any comment at the moment.
The land borders were not accessible for tourists, who still have to apply for a visa and enter Eritrea through Asmara airport. Nonetheless, the land borders meant a lot for the local people living on both sides who had seen new trading opportunities and family reunions for the first time since the war. For Ethiopia, it was also an opportunity to have access to the Red Sea through Eritrea.
At the moment, the other steps taken toward normalization have not been affected by Asmara’s decision. New direct flights between the two countries’ capitals, Addis-Ababa and Asmara, are still provided by Ethiopian Airways and direct phone calls between the two countries are still possible.
Speculations as to why Eritrea decided to close their borders abound, but the DW Amharic and Ethiopian news service supposes that it might be an attempt to regulate commerce between the two countries.
For the time being, YPT’s Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somaliland & Eritrea) tour remains unaffected but we will continue to monitor the situation.