More reflections on Ethiopia’s quest for access to sea

Following the recent statement made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the issue of Ethiopia raising the issue of getting access to sea and alternative port, various reactions have been coming from multiple corners. Politicians, academics and even ordinary individuals have been expressing their reflections and thoughts on this critical issue for Ethiopia.

The premier has insisted that Ethiopia will continue raising the issue of getting access to sea and alternative port through win-win approach and not in any way presenting a threat to any of its neighbors. Recalling that Ethiopia with a population of about 47 million and low economic growth had two ports 30 years ago, even though its population and economy have grown many times today, he said the country has no alternative port and it needs it. The premier did not downplay the vital role Djibouti has been playing in Ethiopia’s growth and development by letting Ethiopia use its port for years now. In fact, he thanked the government and people of Djibouti for that. But he also underlined that Ethiopia will have more needs in the future and; Djibouti alone may not suffice to accommodate all its growth and expansion ambitions. Our neighbors must understand our concerns, he was heard stating.

According to him, it is important to find an alternative port as Ethiopia’s economy and population are growing at a high rate.

“Ethiopia didn’t ask an inappropriate question that is out of the law. Ethiopia has no desire to fire a shot at neighboring countries. But, what we are saying is let us discuss this in terms of the law and business. The premier underscored that those who link the Red Sea issue with Eritrea’s sovereignty are wrong. Ethiopia has no desire to violate the sovereignty of any country. Abiy also said that Ethiopia believes that the issue of port should be resolved immediately and without delay.

Neighboring countries and governments of the world should understand that we have submitted a request to get access to sea by sharing Ethiopian Airlines, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or other organizations, and that we are committed to common development. As Ethiopia needs peace, prosperity, and development, it is ready to discuss the issue of port with all friends who believe in this agenda.

Ethiopia’s diplomatic principles are based on working in cooperation and harmony with other countries, giving priority to neighboring countries and encouraging regional integration, mutual growth, and working toward mutual interest.

He dismissed the erroneous comments raised in connection with Ethiopia joining the BRICS+ group stating that it was not made to support one side and ignore others. Ethiopia joined BRICS+ to strengthen mutual cooperation and not harm any country

Meanwhile, scholars have stressed the need for the government of Ethiopia to pursue its diplomatic efforts and dialogues to enable the country to have access to ports in a mutually beneficial manner.

A scholar said sea ports that had originally been used by previous rulers of the country had regrettably and sadly been taken away by a major historical error causing the disclosure of the issue that was toned down for decades.

In spite of the fact that there were various challenges across the Red Sea, such situations did not prevent the country from using the ports. He noted that Ethiopia was effectively utilizing the ports of Berbera, Zeila, Assab and Massawa and other alternatives to link up with the rest of the world through trade and other spheres of relations.

The scholar noted that there are historical and legal justifications that provide access to ports and hence there is a need to rectify the historical error in a peaceful manner and current efforts to raise the issue need to continue in a more vigorous manner.

The entire public, scholars and politicians need to raise the awareness of the youth on the matter and help them to come to a common national consensus on the topic.

Ethiopia needs to further enhance ongoing efforts on her historical and legal rights to have access to the sea ports. The government should continue to pursue its diplomatic efforts and dialogues to enable the country to have access to ports in a mutually beneficial manner.

It was also noted that the government is obliged to ensure justice based benefits for citizens by utilizing the provisions of international law and creation of a spirit of fraternity and cooperation to ensure peaceful development in the region. The need to conduct deeper and wider level of consciousness to ensure common understanding on the issue of access to ports is also clear. It should be stressed that Ethiopia needs to work in cooperation with all international partners to resolve the issue of access to ports on the basis of international law and the principles of give and take.

In another reflection on this matter, the analysis of the American Scholar Lawrence Freeman is remarkable. He says leaders of the Horn of Africa nations have to consider discussing Ethiopia’s quest for having access to sea as it would increase the physical economic growth of the East African region. He considers the matter in a wider perspective because he does not believe the benefit is limited to Ethiopia but to the entire Horn Region. The premier’s initiation of the issue according to him is important as he has underlined that the matter will be presented and pursued only through peaceful means.

The American analyst stated that access to sea not only reinforces the steadily growing import-export trade of Ethiopia but also ensures development in the region. Hence Ethiopia’s quest for coastal access to sea outlets “is essentially correct” as it would enable to increase physical economic growth of the people in the Horn of Africa.

He said, “If people understand more about physical economic growth, they would understand that this is not only very reasonable, but it is correct. If you want to raise the standard of living for 200 million people living in countries in the Horn, then you would benefit from the trade that could be increased in Ethiopia by having a port on the Red Sea.”

Freeman said “The Prime Minister is putting these issues on the table now. (He says) let’s discuss how we are going to bring this about. And I think that is the approach of a statesman and I would agree with it.”

“If we look at how we increase the physical economic growth of the people in the Horn of Africa, it is going to depend on Ethiopia. Ethiopia is going to be the dominant economic growth center. And this will benefit all the other countries.

Freeman said disseminating media reports that Ethiopia is claiming access to sea using force if necessary is distorted. This is a very divisive policy that has been used in Africa for hundreds of years. Political leaders and statesmen must rise above this. The purpose is to prevent the development and sovereignty of African nations. Freeman said the leaders of the nations in the region can sit down and discuss how the region will grow economically. He noted the leaders should be able to counter those media and other internal and external enemies who are trying to create tensions between the neighboring countries. There is no objective reason for countries in the Horn of Africa not to work together for common aims.

Discussions should, therefore, be considered among leaders, experts in the area, including economic experts, water experts and transportation specialists on access to the Red Sea, the analyst stated.

Similarly, at a joint workshop entitled “Ethiopia’s Strategic Pursuit: Unlocking the Red Sea- a Journey through History, Geopolitics and International Law” organized by Samara University in collaboration with Dire Dawa, Addis Ababa, Jigjiga, and Mekelle universities, Addis Ababa University Interim President Samuel Kifle said Ethiopia should ask for reclaiming its right and unlock the Red Sea for achieving prosperity. The history of human civilization and the fight for global power supremacy, he said, have affected the nations neighboring the Red Sea and also invited others from distance. The Red Sea hence holds a high order in history, geopolitics and international trade. He added, “For us, Ethiopians, the Red Sea was and still has remained to be part of our history, both as a curse and a blessing. Now it seems a new world order is in the making that we should ask for reclaiming our rights and unlocking the Red Sea for our prosperity.”

According to him, getting the facts right and informing others about Ethiopia’s pursuit for a fair access to the Red Sea is essential that needs due attention.

Similarly, Samara University President, Mohammed Usman said on his part that, as academic institutions, universities must create a platform to discuss and direct the right path of mutual benefit in the Red Sea corridor.

He elaborated, “Ethiopia, as a landlocked country, cannot hold itself aloof from emerging regional issues that could significantly affect its vital interest. Given its close proximity to the Red Sea and other adjacent states, as well as its growing economic demands and regional security concerns, Ethiopia must pursue peaceful means based on the principle of mutual benefit and expedition of regional integration to secure its access to the Red Sea. The task at hand is to clearly define Ethiopia’s strategic interest towards the Red Sea.

Likewise, AAU Professor Yakob Arsano said North Eastern African countries need permanent mutual cooperation and security bondage on fair access to sea and unleashing the prevailing potential. Yakob said that sharing the water within the region enhances regional development and security.

Moreover, he elaborated that the North Eastern African countries need to foster shared aspiration, self-reliance, strengthen regional organizations such as IGAD, and COMESA, establish task forces on littoral and riparian issues as well as engage in reactivate negotiations, and boost mechanisms of peace and security.

According to him, transforming regional geopolitical relations, equitable and reasonable utilization of regional resources, protecting and conserving the shared water resources, and enhancing economic cooperation are among the promising opportunities in the region.

The countries of North Eastern Africa are destined to stay together, he stated, adding that cooperation on shared resources can be the engine of prosperity and sustainable peace and security.

Cooperation among riparian and littoral nations should be guided by principles of mutual trust, empathy, equitable and reasonable utilization of littoral and riparian resources.

Yakob underscored “Now is the time that the countries in North Eastern Africa should embark on a new milestone of regional cooperation on shared endowments.



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