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Ethiopia’s Determination for Port Access by All Means Necessary
By Balal Mohamed Cusman
Tuesday October 17, 2023


Since the PM of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia H.E. Dr Abiy Ahmed announced that his country is exploring all options to secure a port for Ethiopia, either through negotiation, “give and take,” or “force”, the concern of the littoral countries in the region about his intention has increased sharply. PM’s call to acquire sea access by force is a concerning proposition for the peace-loving people in the Horn of Africa region because resorting to aggression and military action is not only extreme but also unwise and irrational, particularly in a region with a history of conflict in the better part of the recent memory. Unsurprisingly, when PM Abiy mentioned his intention that one of the potential spots in which he wishes to seemingly annex is Saylac – Somalia, it was translated that there will be a new era of escalating tensions between the two countries, jeopardizing the hard-earned stability of the region.

The rhetorical comments towards the annexation of part(s) of another country in the region is not only illegal but it is indeed a grave mistake given the bitter historical context between some of the countries in the region versus Ethiopia. Horn of Africa region had experienced some of the worst wars in the past, therefore, such announcements can have far-reaching consequences not only for the countries involved but also for the regional and global security.

For the betterment of all communities in the region, this article delves deep into the risks and consequences of such hastily statement could have on the communities of both countries, and shed a light on the potential for escalating tensions, conflicts, and instability in the region as it will also highlight the best alternative for a peaceful coexistence between the communities.

Somalia and Ethiopia fought bloody wars in the past, which often left a trail of unresolved and deep-seated animosities and mistrusts. Despite that these historical conflicts between the two sides were never been fully addressed and resolved in a manner that all stakeholders are satisfied with, yet it was apparent that in recent years, the two sides have been getting closer together to believe that peace is possible through mutual cooperation and collaboration.

This newfound harmony between Somalia and Ethiopia has not only paved the way for improved diplomatic relations, but it also brought about several positive developments in various aspects of their cooperation. Therefore, engaging in an open and constructive dialogue with neighboring countries is prerequisite in fostering understanding and finding mutually beneficial agreements. by approaching the issue with diplomacy and a commitment to peaceful negotiations, there is a greater chance of reaching agreements that promote long-lasting peace and prosperity between the two countries and the region at large.    

However, PM Abiy’s remarks that Ethiopia should have access to the sea, particularly by “force” reopens the past wounds and show the potential that it could invariably lead to another escalations between the two peoples eroding the revealing but skimpy trust that was building-up in recent years, and undermining any efforts to bring the people of the two countries together in a peaceful manner. This may also exacerbate the already ailing security situation (inter-communal conflicts or terrorism) in the region resulting in a surge of militarization and increasing the likelihood of armed conflict, making the Horn of Africa region a hot spot for military build-up and proxy conflicts further destabilizing the overall security of this geopolitically important region of the world. The region is already facing numerous challenges, including, but not limited, political instability, terrorism, economic disparities, and humanitarian crises etc therefore it is actually essential that we do not drag the Horn of Africa into a deeper crisis by making inflammatory remarks.

From historical perspective, any cognizant mind can understand that a new conflict between Somali and Ethiopia can only bring death and destruction and a dire humanitarian consequence to the people of both sides waning any prospect to live in peace with each other, which in turn may lead a simmering situation for decades to come further perpetuating the regional insecurity and instability.   

This is not a hypothetical explanation of what could possibly happen if this rhetoric is translated into action but it is a reality that the two countries have a clear historical experience as the they fought many wars in the past, mainly because of land disputes and/or hegemonic ambition of one side over the other, which eventually provoked hostilities between them.

In the contrary, the pursuit of peaceful resolutions not only lead to a more stable and prosperous region but also opens doors for mutual collaboration and cooperation on various fronts. By fostering positive relations with neighboring countries, one can establish trade routes, engage in joint ventures, and promote cultural exchange, which ultimately benefits all nations in the Horn of Africa.

A clear example of a peaceful, cooperative and collaborative coexistence is the relationship between landlocked East African countries, such as Uganda, South Sudan etc and their coastal neighboring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Seemingly the interdependency that this natural phenomenon has created between these countries brought them closer together and strengthen their relationships with a reciprocal respect leading to a peaceful coexistence between them. The peaceful coexistence made by these countries serve as a testament to the power of mutual respect, and understanding leading them to a brighter future for all. Similarly, our two countries can overcome any obstacles to peace and prosperity when we choose unity over division. By choosing unity over division, we embrace a collective spirit that transcends barriers and fosters respect, understanding, empathy and collaboration. Together we can build bridges instead of creating conflicts and work towards a future where mutual respect and solidarity prevails. 

Rather than trying to utilize coercion, and bullying tactics, Somalia and Ethiopia can engage in mutually beneficial interactions that contributes to their economic developments and geopolitical interests. Such a positive relationship plays a significant role in strengthening the bond between the two countries. Both sides can realize the immense mutual benefits of cooperation and understanding. Therefore, adventuring out to create a positive and good relationship between the two countries must be the first consideration for any Ethiopian/Somali leader or institution– now or in the future -  in his/her quest to have access to a sea port or to have access to the market. This would, among other things, have facilitated the badly needed economic growth, cooperation in various other areas and most importantly a peaceful coexistence.

Developing Somali ports and other necessary infrastructure connecting between the two countries to allow Ethiopia legally benefit from Somali’s ports, on the one hand, and Somali to get access to the Ethiopian market, on the other hand, will undoubtedly lead to trade in partnerships, cultural exchange, health economic cooperation and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between the two sides. As we navigate the complexities of our time, let us remember that in unity, we find strength, resilience and the power to create a more harmonious and inclusive region for all. By pursuing peaceful means, we can avoid exacerbating the already existing problems and work towards sustainable solutions that benefits all parties involved. Therefore, respecting sovereignty, adhering to the international norms, and prioritizing diplomatic engagement are crucial steps towards peaceful and prosperous future for our two countries and can prevent any future conflict between the two countries.

Balal Mohamed Cusman the former State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia.

He can be reached at Email: [email protected]


 





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