Solid rationales behind Ethiopia’s sea access quest

In a significant development that holds immense significance for Ethiopia’s economic growth and regional integration, the Ethiopian government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Somaliland, granting Ethiopia access to the strategically located Gulf of Aden. This historic agreement opens up new avenues for trade, enhances Ethiopia’s naval connectivity, and strengthens the longstanding ties between the two nations.

On January 1st, Ethiopia, a landlocked country for over three decades, signed a historic agreement to re-access the sea. The pact was signed between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse BihiAbdi. According to reports, this deal stipulates that Somaliland would lease 20 kilometres of its Gulf Eden coastline to Ethiopia.

The MoU with Somaliland marks a turning point in the nation’s efforts to overcome this obstacle and diversify its trade routes. The land granted by Somaliland through a lease situated on the Gulf of Aden provides Ethiopia to establish a naval force that will improve the country’s security as well as the region. The accord may also give the chance to Ethiopia with a direct link to global maritime trade networks, reducing dependence on neighbouring Djibouti and offering new opportunities for economic expansion. It is known that Ethiopia has been using the Port of Djibouti for about 95 % of its import export trade.

Through this partnership, Somaliland also aims to boost its own economic development and enhance regional integration. The port deal may increase trade and investment opportunities also the result from the agreement are expected to contribute to job creation and infrastructure development in the region.

International observers such as U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel and Great Lakes Regions of Africa, American Political and Economic Analyst Lawrence Freeman, and others have welcomed the MoU, recognizing its potential to foster stability and economic growth in the Horn of Africa. The success of this partnership will not only strengthen bilateral relations but also serve as a model for regional cooperation and integration, inspiring other African nations to explore innovative solutions for their own development challenges.

With Ethiopia ready to gain access to the sea via Somaliland and Somaliland set to profit from increasing investment and commercial activity, this historic deal has the potential to change the region’s economic landscape. As the two countries begin this new chapter of collaboration, the world waits in expectation, hoping that this breakthrough will usher in a future of shared prosperity and stability in the Horn of Africa.

However, following the signing of the agreement, different unwarranted statements have circulated here and there by various entities. It is painful to see statements that fail to acknowledge Ethiopia’s contributions to the region, especially when statements come from those who were not present during Somalia’s difficult times. So, it is important to note that Ethiopia’s interest in accessing the sea comes from the desire for economic growth and ensuring the country’s security.

Dareskedar Taye (PhD), a senior foreign relations expert at the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA), explained to The Ethiopian Herald that the signing of the MoU is part of Ethiopia’s struggle to access a seaport. Depending on a single country’s port creates security and economic burdens for Ethiopia, so it needs to break out of this geographical prison. Therefore, the country has been searching for different alternatives, but other countries have been unwilling to cooperate. Thus, Ethiopia signed the MoU.

The MoU provides Ethiopia with an alternative sea access, which helps in market pricing. When a country depends on a single port, the price is determined by the host country, whether it is high or low. Additionally, the partnership with Somaliland takes into account the former security issues, as new infrastructures will be built, enhancing people-to-people ties and expanding market options for exports.

However, there have been challenges from Somalia and other countries regarding the misinterpretation of Ethiopia’s desire to access the sea. Addressing concerns raised by the Somali government, the expert emphasized the divergence between perceptions and realities surrounding the agreement. He stated that misinterpreting Ethiopia’s pursuit of maritime access as a pretext for military aggression does not align with reality.

The agreement reaffirms Ethiopia’s commitment to safeguarding its national interests and combating insecurity in the volatile Horn of Africa region.

Dareskedar also criticized Somalia’s alignment with anti-Ethiopia forces and urged cooperation over contentious areas. Detrimental alliances could exacerbate regional tensions, so it is important to rebuild constructive engagement in addressing shared challenges.

Ethiopia’s pursuit to access the sea through the port deal with Somaliland reflects a strategic imperative driven by economic necessity and national security considerations. However, the agreement has sparked diplomatic tensions, underscoring the complex dynamics at play in the Horn of Africa, as explained by the researcher.

The initiative that Ethiopia’s government has taken to access the sea is continuing, and it is expected to resolve the issue in this generation. Furthermore, if possible, the country is open to exploring different alternatives from its neighbours. After the Somaliland deal, different countries have expressed interest in discussing their own offers for Ethiopia, he added.

Following the Ethiopia-Somaliland accord, there have been plenty of comments both in support and criticism. However, the reality is that Ethiopia has been tirelessly working for regional integrity, and its contributions to the region, including for Somalia’s peace, are unquestionable. As Ethiopia strives to access a seaport, all commenter parties should consider the country’s contributions and should support the deal.

Recently, American Political and Economic Analyst Lawrence Freeman told The Ethiopian Herald that Ethiopia has been defending Somalia with its resources and troops, going back to early 2006, and they still continue to do so. Freeman emphasized that the idea of mobilizing a war against Ethiopia is baseless and dangerous, and he called for other countries to refrain from interfering in the Horn of Africa. He stressed the importance of studying physical economics and understanding that the agreement is beneficial to all nations in the region. Freeman advised moving forward with the agreement, as it will help the people and economies of all nations involved. He also urged a shift away from anger, historical grievances, and pettiness, and instead, focusing on the future and the potential for economic growth in the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa, which largely depends on Ethiopia’s economy.



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