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DefenceWeb.co.za: Ethiopia looks to France for naval development amidst diplomatic tensions

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Ethiopia, a landlocked country, is seeking France’s help to develop its naval force. The evolving situation in the Red Sea has spurred Ethiopia to propose the deployment of a naval force in the area, aimed at guaranteeing overall safety and security.

Dima Nego, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Foreign Relations and Peace Affairs at the House of Peoples’ Representatives of Ethiopia, expressed this during a meeting held on 17 January, which included representatives from the National Assembly Committee on National Defence and Armed Forces of France and the Foreign Affairs and Peace Standing Committee of the Ethiopian Parliament.

Tawfik Abdullahi, leading the Foreign Relations Subcommittee, seized the moment to engage with the French delegation, headed by Thomas Gassilloud, Chair of the National Assembly Committee on National Defence and Armed Forces. The exchange occurred at the office of the Foreign Affairs and Peace Standing Committee within the parliament, where Tawfik underscored Ethiopia’s active participation in various peacekeeping endeavours, highlighting the paramount importance of the region for the nation.

Ethiopia has been pursuing a peaceful strategy to obtain a sea coastline for several years, to no avail so far. Despite consistent efforts to present its proposal for a maritime outlet, other countries, including the European Union, have interpreted this imitative as Ethiopia’s willingness to resort to war. The nation had to turn toward sovereignly-contested neighbour Somaliland for a chance at sea access. On 1 January, Ethiopia signed a memorandum of understanding with the nation claimed by Somalia, agreeing to recognize its independence in return for a naval port.

However, this triggered a diplomatic crisis, as Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has warned Ethiopia against putting this plan in motion, over threats of war. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had to appease the situation, citing the fraternal bond between the two countries and his desire to continue trading with his neighbour.

Facing this deadlocked situation, Ethiopia hopes that its long-standing EU partner, France, would provide a solution. Indeed, the first contact with Ethiopia was established when France arrived in modern-day Djibouti and established a protectorate in 1833. In 1907, Emperor Menelik II gave France its largest embassy in the world at the time.

Today, Ethiopia is France’s fifth-largest market and second-largest trade surplus in sub-Saharan Africa. France mainly exports transport equipment and pharmaceutical products, and imports agricultural raw materials, including coffee. In terms of military cooperation, a defence cooperation agreement was signed in March 2019 during the President Macron’s visit, providing a legal framework for sending French troops to Ethiopia and vice versa. The agreement provides for French forces stationed in Djibouti to travel to Ethiopia for joint training and exercises.

A letter of intent has also been signed for the establishment of an Ethiopian naval component with French support. So far, France has supported the reconstruction of an Ethiopian navy, with a French cooperation officer seconded to work with the naval chief of staff in order to provide specific training. Additionally, letters of intent have been executed to strengthen relationships with two additional branches of the armed forces, namely the army and air force. Ongoing cooperation initiatives include providing military officers with French-language instruction and enhancing the infrastructure of the Ethiopian International Peacekeeping Training Centre (EIPKTC).


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