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EurAsiaReview.com: Ethiopia Losing Its Way – OpEd [Part I]

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Saturday, 06 January 2024

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Ethiopia is, indeed, the largest country in the region of the Horn of Africa States both area-wise (1.1 million sq.km.) and demographically (about 120 million). It has also the largest and fastest growing economy with an average growth rate of about 6% over the past decade, but its population is marked as one of the poorest in the world who live on an annual US$ 1,000 per capita income.

Because of this and others, it is one of the most influential countries in the region and when it breathes, all the other countries  of the region pay attention and watch carefully, and the recent actions of the country with respect to Somalia is no different. Would this lead to some improvement of the region or would it lead to another chaotic period, not different from the past, which was marked by violence, underdevelopment, hunger and starvation and pseudo-leaderships who lived on the poor backs of their populations?

How would those actions of Ethiopia contribute to peace and economic development in the region? And how would it assist in calming the region and the fight with the imported terror groups that have taken roots in the region? Have the actions of Ethiopia helped sow instability and insecurities in the region? All of these and many other questions are in the minds of most pundits in the region, and, indeed, the international community and those who want peace in the region and hence development to fight off hunger and starvation, with which the region is associated.

We review in this article the current policy developments of Ethiopia and its repercussions on the security, peace, development and stability in the Horn of Africa States region and the Suez Canal – Red Sea – Indian Ocean waterway, a vital shipping route for global trade. It would appear that the current Ethiopian policy with respect to the region and to its own populations appears to be based on strategic deception and not on genuine desire to stabilize and develop the region, the way other regions of the world cooperate and work together. It does appear that it involves use of all the tools available to it including diplomatic, economic and force both in and outside the region. This is, indeed, a policy designed to dominate with force and not logic or reason or all the other advantages it may assume to have. 

 Has the Ethiopian regime which came to power only in 2018 and which appeared in its outset to be a forebearer of a better Horn of Africa States succumbed to forces that do not wish the region well or was it really that strategic deception we noted in the paragraph afore? Perhaps, the Ethiopian administration may have been lured by promises of investments or loans from multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF that they would grant the country loans to build a port if they secured a location on the Somalia coast or help in settling the internal strives in the country. Was the debt relief awarded to Somalia recently part of this program? There are many unanswered questions in the minds of people, for there are those who believe that Somalia is not completely innocent and is currently shedding only crocodile tears.

But money is cowardly, the administration was not perhaps told and so are investments. It would never come to where there is chaos and insecurities. Money would run as far away as possible from the region and more particularly from Ethiopia, which was hoping to continue its developmental growth and be an important player in Africa’s future policy making clubs. The other members of the Horn of Africa States region are poor, fragile with weak governance anyway, and/or did not expect much anyway. They survive on the wits of their populations, but ambitions do blind people, and the current Ethiopia regime may have lost its way.

The current administration of Ethiopia on arrival in 2018 took steps that appeared to be radical with respect to Ethiopia’s previous administrations in the region. It indicated that it was going to turn the page to a new leaf both internally and externally but since then it had wars in its country over many fronts such as the terrible Tigray war, the ongoing Amhara war, the  ongoing Oromo war, the Afar and Somali wars, the Benishangul war, all within Ethiopia, the rift with Eritrea and now the rift with Somalia, the Fashaqa dispute with Sudan, and the unsettled dispute with Egypt over the GERD and the Blue Nile waters.

This aggressive attitude on the part of the administration can only disturb the region more and would not be to the benefit of neither Ethiopia nor the other countries of the region. This represents a slide to more conflicts and tensions in the region and would not help Ethiopia genuinely attract any investments. Ethiopia appears to have become a lackey of some hidden forces pushing it over the brink and especially with respect to the current turmoil over the 2nd most important commercial waterway in the world, the Suez-Red-Sea-Indian Ocean shipping route.

Ethiopia may have forgotten that it is officially a landlocked country in the eyes of the world, but the fragility of the surrounding countries may have helped it push itself into the forefront of the nations that need to have a say in one of the most important seaways of the world – the aforenoted Suez Canal-Red Sea-Indian Ocean shipping route. There is no doubt it has built alliances with many other countries including some Gulf Arab countries who may be pushing it to the forefront so as not to allow the littoral nations and actual owners of the coast to develop their ports to compete with existing ports in the Gulf.

Ethiopia could have simply worked with these nations of the region in a more peaceful manner on contracts that would have been win-win projects for all concerned. Developing a naval force when one is landlocked is perhaps close to lunacy or an indication of launching of wars in the region. Who would be the winner or loser in such conflicts? No one knows. Perhaps the Ethiopians have overestimated themselves and overreached! This may lead to Ethiopia breaking into multiple parts! The current world order, however, does not allow or sanction countries to invade others. Access to the sea could have been handled in a more professional, more diplomatic and more peaceful manner. Creation of a common market and an economic integration of the region would have been the better way. Ethiopia has wrongly been advised that it cannot be ignored when maritime affairs are at stake! It should have only supported the littoral states of the region defend their turf and not put itself in the forefront to create chaos instead of stability and wars instead of peace. The Ethiopian administration has, indeed, overstepped and put on shoes much larger than its feet.

The policies of Ethiopia have led major powers to reassess their views on the Horn of Africa States region and especially with respect to security matters involving not only piracy, the Houthis and the activities of Arab/Persian threats to navigation in the region. Organized crime involving drug trade, human trafficking, religious terror groups and other extra-statal forces would now also find more reasons and substantial opportunities to operate and expand in the region. Perhaps, we should remind ourselves of the rise of the Al Shabab group, which resulted from the invasion of Ethiopia of Somalia in 2006. Since the announcement of the intentions of Ethiopia on the Somali coast, pronouncements from this group have been hitting the airwaves in the region. This, indeed, is not good the for the region and raises the genuine question of “if Ethiopia is losing its way?”

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

   *Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at suleimanwalhad@yahoo.com.


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