The expectation was that the Ethiopian Administration (“EA”), which came to power in 2018 would prepare the region for a peaceful future and development and a breathing moment for the international community which was getting tired of calls for support and aid for the dying millions of the Horn of Africa States, either as a result of droughts and famines or as a direct result of ethnic-based civil conflicts or as a result of foreign intruders and terror groups.
But the opposite appears to have come forth from the new EA and the region is more and more embroiled in conflicts, wars, unattended calamities that could easily have been handled and the drifting apart of the region, which should have grown closer, working together and cooperating for the betterment of the miserable and poor people of the Horn of Africa States region. Should one say, of course, with sarcasm, “Thank you!” to the new EA, which appears to have lost its way almost from its very beginning? No, of course, for the EA may misrepresent and/or misunderstand again as it did to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist, who founded the prize is said to have instructed that it should be awarded only to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” as was quoted by VOA’s Bob Garver in his essay entitled “Nobel Peace Prize Critics Say Award Has Drifted From Supporting Peace” on December 11, 2021. He used Abiy Ahmed, the current prime minister of the EA, Aung San Suu Kyi an ex-head of the civilian government of Myanmar, and Baraka Obama, the ex-president of the United States as prime examples of laureates who did not/do not live by the spirit of the Prize.
The Horn of Africa States region is drifting ever more away and apart from the realm of peacebuilding and the Nobel Laureate of the EA apparently is the prime mover of this disarray in the region. Is the EA working on its own, or is it being manipulated by other hands? This is a major question that needs to be understood clearly and carefully. What is happening in the region now and why the sudden aggression against a neighboring country, Somalia and its seas or attempts to also aggress Eritrea and its Red Sea coast? Ethiopia is a landlocked country, and its borders are set out in the United Nations Organization political map of the world’s nations, the very reason Somalia was denied when it claimed the Somali State in Ethiopia in the second half of the last century, which led to the collapse of both military governments of the two neighboring countries. This has not, perhaps, sunk into the mindset of the new EA. This should not be difficult for no country can also claim the source of the Blue Nile either. It is Ethiopian as the seas of the region are Somali, Eritrean and Djiboutian.
This does not mean that Ethiopia cannot have access to the seas and waters of the neighboring countries. It can but through agreements that do not involve forceful leasing and/or twisting the arms of neighboring nations. It does have access to the seas of the long coast of the Horn of Africa States region of some 4,700 km, which can it use to import and export goods. It already uses the ports of Djibouti and Berbera, and it has not been denied the usage of any other port. All it needs is to enter into win-win contracts with these coastal countries for that is one of the major assets with which they need to deploy as revenue generators for their countries and people. But even better, it should have helped in the creation of a Horn of Africa States integrated economic block, which would have created a common market, a common customs union and a common many other matters that would have assisted in the development of the region.
Other nations have quarrels over the Red Sea and the Bab El Mandab chokepoint, which is disrupting navigation in the region. The largest shipping companies of the world are currently shifting their ships to longer trips around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, which is adding thousands of kilometers to the voyages of ships and hence the cost of goods and this would probably give rise to more inflation and shocks to the world economy. The Houthis, as a result of the war in Gaza between the Israelis and Palestinians, have been troubling the Red Sea in support of the Palestinians, and major powers are gathering their navies to protect their trade through the region. The EA should have taken advantage of this in creating a gathering of the countries of the region to develop a common approach to the threats that could come from storms of the quarreling non-regional powers. But Alas! It would appear that the EA has taken the wrong turn and only increased the pressures on the region and Ethiopia in particular, which will not only lose the goodwill of the neighboring countries, but which will bring the quarrels to its own doorstep.
Ethiopia just joined the BRICS Plus club, which does not please the West and the navies of both China, NATO, Russia and India, and those of many other nations, are in the vicinity, in Djibouti and Berbera and the in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and in the Indian Ocean and beyond. They are not in the region for child’s plays. The attempts of the EA to involve itself and the region in these extra-regional matters would only be to the detriment of the EA and the region. The EA has opened a new pandora box of troubles in the region. In the place of constructive dialogues to address mutual interests with the neighboring countries, it has embarked on a serious and wrong trajectory, which may end up in the breakup of Ethiopia, instead of Somalia or Eritrea, with which it is not at ease, as well, presently for the same reason of a quest for a sea outlet.
There would be involvement of Egypt, no doubt, and other powers including Turkey, the UAE, the United States, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and India in the region. Note Egypt is not happy with the GERD and the management of the Nile waters as is currently in the hands of Ethiopia. There would be shifts in alliances in the region and involvement of extra-regional forces. This would cause disruptions to trade as is evident today in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, continuing widespread migration from the region, and of course instabilities, deaths and destruction. The region would go once again into a new cycle of violence which it does not need. The year 2024 has not started well for the region thanks to the wobbly EA policies, which appears to have lost its way.
It is ironic that the EAC, which was hailing the admission of Somalia into its group just about a month ago has not yet mentioned the aggression against one of its own potential territories, which demonstrates that Somalia made a major erroneous strategic miscalculation in joining that Swahili club.