Access to the sea: Reliable path to sustainable economic prosperity

The Red Sea is one of the most crucial yet geopolitically volatile places in the world. The region puts the neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East in an advantageous position to defend national interests. Many superpower nations across the globe have done everything to have a stake in the region. Name it the USA, China, Japan, France, or UAE; every nation has at least a military base to put boots on the ground.

The Horn of Africa and the Red Sea are also important for African countries to maintain their national interest and get every advantage that the regions provide. Those who have access to the sea have been benefiting more in the past years as other nations who want to be in the region pay millions of dollars to get and access any portion of the area.

Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia are obtaining a lot from their ports. On the other hand, countries that are still in the Horn region but with no sea access have faced several challenges to stay in the competition and secure their national interest. A nation with no port always has sovereignty and economic threats compared to the ones that have one.

At this point, one of the densely populated nations in Africa, Ethiopia has been left with no sea access for the last three decades facing myriads of bottlenecks.

Indeed, the country is playing a vital role in the region fostering regional integration. It has been involved in major regional issues like peace and security. Ethiopian soldiers have paid their blood and bone like no other nation to defend the region’s peace. Besides, the country is known for its successful diplomacy to live peacefully with its neighbors. It has shown its unchanged stand regarding regional integration and shared values for a better tomorrow.

With all the good deeds that the nation sacrificed for the region, Ethiopia has recently started to raise some bold questions about accessing the sea. Surprisingly, the country was seriously rejected and shifted in political cooperation. Some even started to work closely with Ethiopia’s historic enemies to reject Ethiopia’s call to sea access.

It is a fact that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has lately raised the desire to access the sea by applying a win-win and give-and-take approach with its neighboring countries. In good truth, Ethiopia has not hesitated to bring its mega projects like Abbay Dam and Ethio-telecom to the table for negotiation so that any country can get a share in any of its flagship projects and companies for its quest for sea access.

Keep knocking on nations’ doors rigorously, Ethiopia has finally got a positive response from Somaliland to get some land and access the sea. In return, Ethiopia pledged to support the latter in its quest to become a sovereign state coupled with letting some share form its asset. From the onset of the announcement of the agreement, nations from different corners of the world have reflected on their stand regarding the accord between the two parties.

Prominently, Somalia has fully rejected the agreement and asked other nations to stand by Somalia. Forgetting all the favors Ethiopia did to Somalia, the government of Somalia even sticks with some historic enemies of Ethiopia and with the ones who have no track record in regional integration in the Horn.

The accord between Ethiopia and Somaliland will bring economic and other benefits without harming the other. It is a fact that Ethiopia has been disadvantageous in the past years as the nation imports more than 90% of its commodities from outside. Such a deal paved the way for Ethiopia to economic and political supremacy and influence in the Horn and Red Sea. The country always believes in peace and fosters regional cooperation among its neighbors. Such a stand has been reflected in every endeavor of the country.

Having a stay recently with a local media, Peter Pham, a former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel and Great Lakes Regions of Africa, said that it is imperative to understand Ethiopia’s legitimate interests and needs to access the sea and ensure economic security for its people.

The former U.S. Special Envoy said Ethiopia has played a critical role in providing peace and security throughout the region. “It has every right to expect in return for that same goodwill and understanding for its legitimate interests and needs within terms of access to the sea and secure economic security for its people. It can’t all be a one-way street,” he stressed.

It is to be recalled that speaking of the MoU signed between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, Pham stated that he has been very encouraged by the historic agreement from the very day of the announcement.

“Why am I so positive? First and foremost, I believe international relations have to be based upon reality not fiction, not fantasy, not wishful thinking but reality. And the reality is the geopolitics and economics of this Horn of Africa region, which is so vital and changing, shifting before our eyes; and we need to adjust to these.”

According to him, the second part of the reality is Ethiopia’s legitimate interest in having “what I call redundant port structures.” Additionally, Ethiopia is the world’s most populous landlocked state with 120 million people, and to date, Djibouti has been providing access to the country. However, he added that a great country with 120 million people should not rely on one outlet. The former U.S. Special Envoy further pointed out that as Ethiopia is looking for access to sea the Berbera Port makes sense economically.

“DP World has already invested in there, and the United Kingdom government is investing in phase two. There’s a road infrastructure, bringing up the port there.” There is an excellent runway; all sorts of things make that a compelling case, he added.

Moreover, Pham elaborated that Africa as a whole and this region in particular lacks critical infrastructure. “I think the key is that Africa as a whole, but this region in lacks critical infrastructure. So, I’m very much in favor of anything that contributes to whether ports, roads, energy, or electricity. Anything that adds to the stock, that helps create the conditions for economic growth and prosperity shared throughout the region is a positive development.”



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