Eritrea : A Glimpse to Senafe Sub-Zone

by Habtom Tesfamichae

enafe is located on the edge of the Eritrean highlands. It is known for the ruins of Metera (also known as Belew Kelew), the monolithic church of Enda- Tsadqan and for the local stone outcrops. It is 135 km to the south east of Asmara.

The sub-zone of Senafe is one of the twelve administrative districts of the Debub region and is bordered with Adi-Keyh in the north, Tserona in the west, Northern Red-Sea in the east and Ethiopia in the south. Senafe is inhabited by more than 76 thousand people in 118 administrative areas or villages. Most dominantly the Saho and Tigrinya ethnic groups inhabit this sub-zone.

The sub-zone of Senafe is about 1231 sq. kms wide. The highest peak of Eritrea, mount Soyra at 3013 meters above sea level, is found in the sub-zone

It is home to various historical, archeological and geographically significant sites. In addition to the historical places that are found within the sub-zone such as the Metera historical place, there are other archeologically and historically significant sites such as Qohaito and Tekondae. Metera, also known as Belew- Kelew, is believed to have been one of the busiest trade zones from around 7th BC to 7th AD. In the 1960’s excavation by a French archeologist, Francis Anfrey, three churches and a lamp with a picture of a fox jumping on some other animal were found in this place. The excavation took ten years and before the findings of Francis there was only one 5m long obelisk and some broken ceramics that could be seen. The excavation revealed remnants of residential buildings of ancient princes, kings and religious leaders and their castle with their properties, valuable crosses used by the people living in this area in the 7th – 8th century AD.

The obelisk of Metera is believed to have been built in the 3rd century AD during the Axumite Kingdom. It has engraved shapes of a crescent and the sun at the top with Ge’ez writing below it. According to the legend in the area, the scripture was written by King Ageza in memory of his brave ancestors.

In Metera there are also other historical sites, the monastery and an ancient tree. The tree has 12 branches and the tale in the monastery is that those twelve branches represent the 12 months of a year with each branch yielding ripe fruit for one month. This way the monastery’s servants are guaranteed food all year round. All the historical sites and findings in Metera indicate the Axumite and Pre-Axumite settlements in the area.

According to the administrator of the sub-zone, Mr. Idris Ali Shker, there are other unexcavated sites in the area. Domestic and international visitors come to this area for different purposes including for research and to visit historical sites. To better utilize these resources for tourism, service rendering institutions are thriving. To improve their quality of service, the administration of the sub-zone in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and others organizes training and supervision.

The sub-zone of Senafe is known for its fertile land which enjoys an average of 553 mm of rainfall a year. The people of the sub-zone make their living through agricultural activities and herding and a small percentage are engaged in trade. The crops that grow in this area are the typical highland crops such as taff, wheat, barley, maize, cereals and vegetables.

Since Eritrea’s independence, the government has built around 23 water dams to increase the amount of land for irrigation and to ensure a year-round agricultural production.

“The biggest weakness we have to admit here is that despite having an arable land and good water supply our irrigation system has not been developed and we now feel that we have to increase our irrigation-based agriculture and utilize our water resources to increase income,” says Mr. Idris.

There is a plan to utilize the land beneath the dams for irrigation with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).

In addition to the agricultural activities, this area of the eastern escarpment is famous for its honey production. According to a data obtained from the MoA branch in the sub-zone, more than 40, 840 kgs of honey have been produced last year. “This is the current state of production but still can be improved through modern way of farming. This is one of the potential areas not properly exploited,” says Mr. Idris.

In the last year around 1646 modern beehives have been distributed to farmers. There are still farmers who still use traditional beehives but they are encouraged to use modern beehives so that the honey production can be increased and cleaner and healthier production can be reaped. Currently, there are around 2400 traditional beehives scattered in the sub-zone. The bee farmers are organized in a union.

The people of the sub-zone were living in a perpetual fear of war before the peace deal last year. The effect of the border war with Ethiopia had left them with heavy damages. Following the war, their activities were limited due to the militarization of the border. But now that peace has been ensured the administration of the sub-zone is embarking on grand developmental initiatives to tap the resources of the subzone.

Every summer the inhabitants conduct water and soil conservation activities. They regularly organize community-based afforestation and reforestation activities.

“Regarding potable water supply, we don’t have any shortage of water in our sub-zone,” says Mr. Idris. The town of Senafe gets its water supply from water taps and the delivery system is being expanded to areas where the water link has not been made. These are provided with water tank trucks. The remaining administrative areas are provided with solar system energy, generators and manually-operated pumps.

There are around 50 schools, from pre-school to secondary school level. The areas that don’t have access to education are those in the mountainous eastern settlements.

There are nine health institutions scattered throughout the sub-zone and one hospital in the town of Senafe, the center of the administration. Their capacity and the quality of service they offer are improving from time to time.

The Asmara-Senafe road which was rough and bumpy has now been renovated, reducing the long-hours it used to take. The town of Senafe has eighteen hours of electric power supply from the town of Adi-Keyh.