Self-reliance is the golden principle by which Eritrea achieved its independence from foreign domination. Again, after independence, Eritrea’s development strategy is based on self-reliance and the state is working accordingly. I am reminded of the saying: “Seeing is believing.” Someone who has got the chance to explore Eritrea before and after independence needs no explanation. The achievements registered in Eritrea over the last 18 years in the national reconstruction activities in the transportation, education, health, and agriculture sectors are enormous. These achievements are from scratch; scored under the principle of Self-reliance. As compared with other developing countries that got their independence sixty years before, the young state, Eritrea, has recorded extraordinary national progress.
In the beginning, when Eritrea emerged from a 30-year long arduous armed struggle for national independence, it inherited a ruined physical, economic and social infrastructure and plainly an empty treasury. Ever since the attainment of national independence, the people of Eritrea have been fighting to win the bigger and more challenging dream – to construct a new country from a war-battered economy. To meet this national dream, numerous tasks in the reconstruction of the social, economic and physical infrastructure are being taken up. The government has been fighting against various challenges in different sectors. Lying infrastructure is one of one of the sectors in which the government has been doing intensive efforts. So far, in the last few years, great successes have been achieved in infrastructure activities in the country. Many residential buildings, health and educational facilities have been built; including roads, railways, dams, residential houses, infrastructure facilities of airports and the like.
A brief overview of some of the achievements registered in Eritrea over the last 18 years in the national reconstruction activities in the fields of transportation, education, health, and agriculture sectors alone would provide us with adequate demonstration on the success of the nation-building process. In the field of education, as part of both the country’s short and long-term development strategies, the government of Eritrea has invested heavily into the development of one of its greatest resources, its people. As shown by various indicators, Eritrea’s commitment to the physical and intellectual development of its people is enormous. With the few resources available to it and even in the midst of war, the country has been able to take command of the educational capacity of its people. To meet a qualified human resource, the government has been doing vast investment on the construction of educational infrastructure. This is because the government has the belief that the current national reconstruction process of Eritrea is centered on educational reformation. As a matter of fact, the only university existed in the country at the time of independence in 1991, the country now spread out universities and colleges, which offer graduate degree and diploma programs. It has established about eight colleges at tertiary level within a short span of time to build human resource required for the present and future.
High-level education institutions with a special attention on science and technology have been constructed. Eritrean Institute of Technology, Halhale Business and Economics College, Hamelmalo Agricultural College, Marine Colleges at Massawa, Health College at Barentu, and College of Medicine in the capital Asmara are some among others. In view of that, lots of youths are graduating from these colleges every year. They are now playing a part in the national development programs. The emergence of these new classes of trained youth from these colleges blended with disciplined minds and skills, instead of raw graduation, will greatly help in the growth of high-level trained manpower to the nation. This will certainly have enormous drive in solving the problems of the nation thorough applied research and the generation of new knowledge. Furthermore, the number of elementary, junior, and secondary schools is increasing. According to reports from the Ministry of Education, the number of schools has increased by almost 90 percent since independence. Consequently, the enrollment of students also increased from 60 thousand to 700 thousand.
In the health sector, hospitals and clinics now located throughout the country increased by over 200% and are providing services to communities that were formerly neglected before independence. Since the dawn of independence, several referral hospitals, maternal and pediatric health centers have been constructed. At the regional level, referral hospitals have been constructed in Asmara, Barentu, Mendefera, Ghindae, Assab. Additionally, clinics have been built at almost every village and town in Eritrea. Meanwhile, according to reports, health professionals have increased almost by 90 percent. As a result, remote villagers, and the urban dwellers are equally enjoying access to social services of health facilities.
In the transportation sector, based on reports, transportation, mostly in the rural areas, more than 1500 km long earth roads, 605km long gravel roads and 527 km long asphalt roads have been constructed since independence. These roads, in addition to their social significance, they have been playing a role in enhancing tourism. To say more, the amazing Shebah-Serejeka, the road that crosses tourist destination places in the northern escarpments of Eritrea is an example of hard work determination of Eritreans. It is one of the main lines through which international tourists visit the hills and the coastal areas of Eritrea. Demhina-Karibosa, the road under construction by Biddho Construction Company and the administration of zoba Debub is another example. It connects the historical sites of Adulis and Zula with Qoahayto, Keskese, BelewKelew, and hence, its importance to tourism. More interestingly, as it connects many villages with the cities, it is important for the socioeconomic well being of the people of Eritrea in general and those who are living around it in particular. Meanwhile, others, such as the Massawa-Assab and Barentu- Teseney roads were constructed and asphalted. Additionally, the 119 km Asmara -Massawa railway has been reconstructed. The rail system was entirely dismantled, its iron rails used to make bunkers. The railway has now been renovated; it has stared rendering transportation service. It is expected to give additional impetus to the development of tourism industry to the country. This effort optimizes the fundamental principle of the Eritrean national development program — ‘progress through self-reliance’.
As part of infrastructure development, construction of bridges by national construction companies was also a successful activity. Important bridges, such as, Engerene, Primakantry, along the road to Teseney, Adi-Keshi and Haykota have been constructed. The renovation of the port city of Massawa is another significant work during the last few years of independence. The war had left Massawa in ruins. Port facilities in Massawa were badly damaged by heavy bombing after the city was liberated in February 1990. Water and sewage systems in the town barely functioned. Heavy military vehicles had torn up the few asphalt roads. It is under further reconstruction in a bid to serve as a free zone port. Parallel with it, an international airport has been constructed, and Massawa. Housing projects that suit the Eritrean free zone are underway.
Such a project is not limited in Massawa only but also in many of the regional centers, such as, Asmara, Keren, Barentu and so on. Because the vast potentials of the agriculture sector in Eritrea require infrastructure development, improving agro-infrastructure development would be important to guarantee food security. More than 80 percent of the people of Eritrea depend on agriculture. And Building dams and introducing new agricultural projects are therefore the means by which agriculture can be modernized. The government has been taking steps to enhance it, and has been satisfactory. Scores of dams have been constructed. Gherset-Teseney, Fanko, Semomo, Warsay, Digsa are some among the most commendable ones.
In short, Eritreans are constructing their state from scratch, doing it much as they won their sovereignty – through their own efforts and on their own terms. The principles by which Eritrea achieved its independence from foreign domination, namely self-reliance, continue to drive the development efforts of the country today with intensity. But then again, one needs to remember: national reconstruction is a process; it takes time and effort; it is not an overnight assignment. Moreover, National unity and a bright atmosphere of national consciousness and positive spirit of preparedness is the number one criterion to rehabilitate and reconstruct the war battered country. Period.
By: Seare Habtemichael