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(La Vanguardia) Ethiopia seeks outlets to the sea ... and a new Navy

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Sunday, 17 June 2018

Ethiopia seeks outlets to the sea ... and a new Navy

06/17/2018 09:42
Omer Redi

Addis Ababa, Jun 17 (EFE) .- Nearly three decades after losing its access to the Red Sea, Ethiopia is eagerly seeking maritime outlets in ports of neighboring countries, while trying to resuscitate the Navy that dismantled after being landlocked after the independence of Eritrea .

The new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, has announced his desire to obtain port outlets and has instructed the Armed Forces to start a new business model that would lead to a refoundation of the Navy.

After losing the War of Independence of Eritrea in 1991 and, consequently, its coastline, Ethiopia kept the Navy operational (some 3,500 troops and 26 ships) with bases in Yemen and Djibouti, until its demise in 1996.

"We have succeeded in building national defense with one of the strongest air and ground forces in Africa," Abiy said two weeks ago in a speech to the military, in which he advocated "developing the capacity of the maritime force in the future".

"The prime minister is carrying out a logical strategy to protect the interests of Ethiopia in regional and international affairs," an Ethiopian Foreign Ministry source told Efe.

Abiy reinforced this idea, arguing that "the reforms that are going to be undertaken in the (extinct) Navy will be in line with the socioeconomic and political changes that Ethiopia is going through."

Despite the disarmament of the Navy, a maritime-military training institute has been maintained on Lake Tana, the largest in the country and containing 50% of the freshwater reserves, as well as being considered a source of the Blue Nile.

On the other hand, the country of the Horn of Africa has created a state maritime trade company, which operates with boats moored in ports of neighboring Djibouti, where 95% of Ethiopian exports and imports exit and enter.

This successful business does not come cheap to Ethiopia, since it pays almost 2 billion dollars to Djibouti each year, which accounts for more than half of the average profits for Ethiopian exports.

That is why, just one month after swearing in on April 2, Abiy made three fundamental visits in that strategy of looking out to sea: Djibouti, Sudan and Kenya.

In Djibouti, at the end of April, Abiy offered the president of that small country, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, shares in two key state companies (the Ethiopian Airlines airline, one of the largest in Africa, and the telecommunications company Ethio-Telecom) In exchange for which you acquire shares in your ports.

Two days after that visit, Abiy went to Khartoum, where he reached an agreement for Ethiopia to use Sudan's biggest outlet to the Red Sea, Port Sudan, to diversify their options and save costs.

The Ethiopian leader reached a similar agreement less than a week later in Kenya, where he was granted the acquisition of land on the island of Lamu (north).

Abiy obtained that achievement as part of a billionaire tripartite project (Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan) of transport and infrastructure that dates back to 2012 and has suffered delays due to lack of funds and insecurity in the area.

However, the search for a maritime partner can bear fruit: this Saturday, on an official visit to Somalia, Abiy and his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, agreed to invest together in four seaports and improve land communications between both countries.

In the same statement, both leaders commit to boost diplomatic and trade relations, as well as to end the economic barriers between Ethiopia and Somalia.

If the pacts achieved in this diplomatic carousel reach a good port, Ethiopia would no longer depend on Djibouti, where there is more and more control and presence of naval forces from countries such as the US, France, China and Japan.

A fact that, for the political analyst Yohannes Anberbir, concerns Ethiopia, which sees how the coasts closest to its territory are filled with foreign military ships.

"The last unilateral movements of Djibouti regarding its ports have alarmed the Ethiopian authorities," explains Yohannes Anberbir.

The reconstruction of the Ethiopian Navy can also respond to geopolitical interests that go beyond the national aspirations of Addis Ababa, as Yohannes suggests.

"The Ethiopian naval ambitions - the expert points out - seem to be supported by its western allies, mainly the US, in its attempt to counteract the growing influence of China, the Persian Gulf countries - above all Saudi Arabia -, Iran and Turkey." EFE

(Software translation)

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