In a previous article I penned and entitled “The Horn Of Africa States: The Northern Indian Ocean” and dated October 9, 2023, in Eurasia Review, I noted that “The Northern Indian Ocean could, as a matter of fact, be described as the home of the first global trade basin, with all these parties playing their roles in extensive and expansive trading activities, people travel, and the spread of belief systems”. The parties referred to in the article included among others the Horn Africans, Egyptians, Europeans, Persians, Chinese, Arabs, and other Africans. Reference to the Northern Indian Ocean would be meaningless if the Red Sea is not part of the natural infrastructure, which gives importance to the northern Indian Ocean or the Somali Sea as it is sometimes referred to.
In a further article on the same subject but looking at the marine resources of the region, I wrote, “The marine space of the region is vast and rich, geopolitically located, and handles more than 20% of global trade and 11% of West Asia’s oil and gas. It is covered by a long coastal belt of some 4,700 km containing extensive beautiful beaches, lagoons, mangrove forests, and of course, rich marine life. The region’s marine resources, unfortunately, remain unutilized even at mediocre levels. The region does not realize that the marine resources could contribute much towards the sustainable development of the region. The region’s marine resources are threatened even through foreign invasions that do not seek permission from some of the governments of the region, which makes the region weak with an inability to protect its resources from non-regional parties”. This was in article published in Eurasiareview.com on October 16th, 2023, an entitled “The Horn of Africa States: Harnessing The Region’s Marine Resources”.
The Red Sea, accordingly, touches a nerve in the region when parties either local or non-regional mention it or pronounce plans for exploiting its resources including even access to it. It is why the recent Ethiopian hint at seeking an access to the Red Sea rang some bells across the region. Ethiopia should have access to the sea, and it has, and it can have more gates and ports through which it can have easy access to the Red Sea and even the Indian Ocean. The nerves were rattled by how this was presented, which highlighted “By any means”. Indeed, this was an unfortunate incident which, instead of bringing the region’s countries closer only caused each of the coastal countries to shrink away from a potential Ethiopian onslaught.
Perhaps the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H.E Abiy Ahmed, was talking over the shoulders of the region’s leaders to the regional populations, having noted the seemingly pathetic lack of interest in a regional approach to matters of regional importance such as the maritime resources of the region presents, including its geostrategic location. However, one must note that Ethiopia’s access to the sea in the present context as it was in the past, rests on a complex regional and international framework. In the present this involves the coastal countries of the region namely Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea and international laws as those of the UN and its various bodies as opposed to the past when Ethiopia had to deal with the old Horn African countries of Punt, Macrobia and later the Ottoman Turks and the Europeans. Ethiopia never had direct access to the Sea. One must note that Ethiopia is a new country dating back only to 1932. Before then, there were Abyssinia and Axum and others. Ancient Axum broke into two parts, the province of Tigray in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Possible Solutions for Ethiopia’s Access to The Sea
There are only three possible ways Ethiopia could access to the sea without ruffling the feathers of anyone in the present complex international situation, where some only see chaos, wars, and terror as the only means for the attainment of their goals, although this is not something entirely new. It has always been the survival of the fittest and strongest throughout human history. This has been the cause of miseries of humanity throughout history. We do not hope that the Horn of Africa States, which already suffers from its own internal idiosyncrasies, the tribal/clan competition for power, would revert to this bestial nature of man. In this respect, we look at three possible solutions for Ethiopia’s access to a sea.
1. Bilateral Relations with Countries of the Region and Beyond
Ethiopia can establish bilateral ties with each of the countries of the region, namely Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea. They can even go beyond the region to establish other bilateral ties with countries like Sudan and Kenya, which their own coastal belts. Through these bilateral ties, Ethiopia and the concerned countries can either invest together in the expansion of existing ports or build together new ports to cater for the needs of Ethiopia and the concerned countries. It has already tied to Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, which can be improved further.
2. Ethiopia Can Join the EAC
Ethiopia can join the EAC and hence benefit from the oncoming East African Federation, which would be the largest country in Africa, with its capital in Arusha. Here, Ethiopia should be prepared to lose its sovereignty and become part of a nation of nearly half a billion people and a territory of some 6 million square kilometers. It would have direct access to both the Indian ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, which the EAF would have, once it is in place. I doubt Ethiopia would opt for this proposition. Its history, its destiny and the pride of its people would not allow it to lose its sovereignty or territory, much like its neighbors in the Horn of Africa States region.
3. The Horn of Africa States Regional Block
Ethiopia can help forge a new regional economic block consisting of the SEED countries, namely Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, which would then enable it to have access to the long maritime coast of the region of some 4,700 km. Here there would be no need for wars or force but gentlemanly agreements among the nations of the region, which help the region move forward together in the development path. Ethiopia, as the largest country and the only one landlocked, would have access to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Sea and the Indian Ocean. This would have a positive impact on Ethiopia’s economy but also on the region. This would end the civil wars within the countries of the region, the border disputes among the countries of the region and forge new and stronger relations among the countries of the region and their populations which have been growing over the past several decades.
There is no country better than Ethiopia, at present, to lead the formation of a new Horn of Africa States integrated regional block, which should help it achieve its goals of achieving a middle-income economy or even better. In the past, Ethiopia lost many opportunities through attempts of deceitful art of domination in the region, instead of helping the region work together. Attempting to dominate the region has been the hallmark of its foreign policy which has miserably failed, and it would be better for the country to revisit its regional policy and create and forge a new policy of living together in the neighborhood in peace and prosperity.
The Red Sea is an important waterway and stirs many reactions and emotions. As the biggest country in the region, Ethiopia can be a force of evil or a force of peace. It would do itself a big favor if it played the role of the peacemaker in the region as opposed to being a force of evil and a demonic troublemaker. An integrated economic region would be the best hope for the region, and Ethiopia can help develop and create it. Regular meetings of the leaders of the region and organized by Ethiopia, would be more helpful in stabilizing the region rather than destabilizing it, as the recent pronouncements of Ethiopia’s prime minister seems to have achieved.
A harmonious regional block would achieve much more for Ethiopia. The region and Ethiopia should be working in that direction, and away from primarily shortsighted security issues. There is no way Ethiopia can have access to a sea through force, thus noting the lack of foresight in discussing and investing in maritime activities, including naval forces, as Ethiopia seems to have been engaged in lately. The historical, cultural and ethnic relations among the populations of the region are much stronger and require leadership, planned strategies and foresight.