Ethiopia: Urgent need for aggressive foreign policy to pursue and safeguard regional interest
By Berhane kahsay
Tigrai Online, July 19, 2017
The recent arrival of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in the Horn region has caught Ethiopia totally unprepared. As a result, it seems to be having difficulties formulating a strategy needed to counter the alarming changes in the dynamics of the region. Clearly, Ethiopia is now in a perilous spot that could possibly have a bearing on its steadiness and the first-rate economic realisations of the last twenty or so years.
The East African hub should have anticipated the possibility of the Saudi led coalition securing footholds in Eritrea and Djibouti to offset the presence of Iran, the backer of the Yemeni Shia Houthis. Somaliland has also come under the domain of another member of the Gulf States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since the beginning of 2017. The oil rich Arab nation has signed a lease agreement to manage Berbera port for a period of 30 years in return for economic and social development projects amounting to $ 1 billion. More ever, the quasi-independent state has given permission to UAE to set-up a military base with the proviso that the Arab nation would protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In 1991, Somaliland established its own state but its efforts to garner recognition from the African Union and the international community never materialised. Failure to secure acknowledgement forced the former British colony to heavily rely on the good will of neighbouring countries including Ethiopia for financial support and protection form the Islamist Al-Shebab.
At this stage, Ethiopia was in pole position to seal an agreement with Somaliland to secure a long term lease of Berbera for less than what the UAE has agreed to pay now. Ethiopia spent US$860m constructing Tana Beles and Tekeze dams and this is estimated to be more than three times of Somaliland’s annual budget which was set at US$295 in 2016. Possible objections emanating from Djibouti for fear of losing port revenues--- and in Somalia’s case--- to prevent a de facto recognition of Somaliland as a state, which Mogadishu still considers as part of its own territory, could have been dismissed by Ethiopia as her interest comes above theirs.
No doubt that acquiring an alternative outlet to the sea would have eliminated political and economic vulnerability as it minimizes dependency on a single nation to ship indispensable incoming and outgoing merchandises. Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s failure to grab this opportunity has now led to the acquisition of Berbera by UAE and this can possibly aid Egypt, a fellow Arab, to establish an additional point of access to Ethiopia to cause havoc by dispatching unpatriotic elements. It is also a matter of time before Egypt latches on Saudi Arabia, which has set-up a military base in Djibouti, to increase her options of scheming against Ethiopia in order to scupper the Horn nation’s efforts to utilise the Nile waters to develop its hydro-power capacity.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is now on Saudi’s good books for acquiescing to return the two disputed Red Sea islands to the Kingdom ignoring his own people’s objections and court rulings against the transfer. This is in addition to joining the alliance against Qatar that has created job opportunities for over 300,000 Egyptians living in the oil rich nation at the present time. Qatar is struggling to maintain its sovereignty which has been threatened by the Saudi led pact which includes insignificant minnows, Eritrea and Djibouti, who are squabbling over a couple of areas near the Red Sea. Qatari peacekeepers which were stationed between the two warring countries have now left and it is likely that Saudi Arabia/Egyptian contingents might be used as replacements. Under such a situation, should Ethiopia take a pre-emptive strike against Eritrea and occupy the disputed areas?
Ethiopia’s fiasco does not end in Somaliland. Even in proper Somalia, it failed to read the prevailing voting intensions of the electorates and backed the losing candidate during the recent election. How is this possible after having paid huge sacrifices to restore law and order to this fragile state by eliminating the fundamentalist Islamic courts Unions in addition to expelling Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, from large parts of Somalia? What about hosting 245,000(2014 figures) Somali refugees in Dollo Ado camp where they have access to education, health and employment opportunities? Kenya on the other hand announced that it would involuntarily repatriate 263,000 Somali refugees from its camp in Dadaab to their war thorn country.
After expending huge efforts and fatalities to restore normalcy to the war thorn nation and welcoming hundreds and thousands of refugees, the Somalis voted against Ethiopia’s preferred candidate to lead the country. This is indicative of the fact that the clans were not appreciative of Ethiopia’s endeavours to help them rebuild their nation after two decades of destructive war. Equally disappointing was Ethiopia’s inability to win the trust of the various clans after decades of constructive political engagement in Somalia.
The new Somali Prime Minister has now been given a clear mandate, and in due course, the link with Ethiopia, which campaigned against his election, is likely to be strained. Saudi Arabia is certain to move- in and establishes a third military base in the region by enticing Somalia to its axis with the provision of financial and military backing. This would be another vantage point for Egypt to plot against Ethiopia from close quarters. The Saudis are already in motion and recently they cajoled Somalia to sever its ties with Iran and received $50 million for accepting the Kingdom’s demand. Furthermore, $80 million was on offer to the shaky state to join the groupings against Qatar. Before long, Somalia, which is in a dismal economic quandary, will become a full-fledged proxy state of the Saudis.
Ethiopia’s debacle seems to be endless. In South Sudan, it has been overtaken by Uganda which has managed to bring Salva Kiirk, president of the newly independent country, under its firm control. President Yoweri Museveni, who visited Eritrea in 2012, is determined to protect his lucrative domain by eliminating Kiir’s political rival, Riek Machar. To this end, Museveni has formed an alliance with Egypt which is supplying weapons and bombing areas occupied by South Sudanese rebels in return for support of any Egyptian campaign against Ethiopia, according to South Sudan News Agency( March 5, 2017). Sudan Tribune also reported that ‘’ the three leaders( Museveni, Kiir and al-Sisi) agreed to open training camps for Sudanese armed opposition at Uganda-South Sudan border with the view to topple Sudanese government for supporting construction of a dam by Ethiopian government on River Nile.’’ (January 9, 2017). It is in Ethiopia’s interest to forge a solid military pact with Sudan, and in the event of an Egyptian attack, they can take proportionate counter measures in unison. Ethiopia should also consider disrupting the flow of the Nile if GERD was to be destroyed by Egypt; this will bring the Arab nation, which cannot survive without the Nile, to its knees. Tanks, airplanes, long range missiles will get Egypt nowhere because Ethiopia has the ‘Nile nuke’ which is far more lethal and devastating.
The ascendency of Uganda and Egypt in South Sudan is a further reflection of Ethiopia’s failure to aggressively pursue and safeguard its interests. Lt General Tsadkan Gebretensae was a special advisor to the South Sudanese government and Ethiopia should have taken advantage of this opportunity to cultivate ‘her own’ highly placed operatives within the army, the executive branch, SPLM, business communities and leaders of the two largest ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer.
Furthermore, Ethiopia ought to have been in a better position to influence the South Sudanese government because of its invaluable contributions that helped prevent the fledgling petroleum endowed neighbouring nation from plunging into an all-out destructive inter-ethnic conflict. But this was not meant to be; and the golden opportunity that was left by Ethiopia was exploited by Egypt and Uganda to bring Salva Kiir under their spell. Riek Machar could have been used by Ethiopia as a bargaining chip, but not long ago, it prevented his plane from landing at Addis international airport to please Salva Kiir who is now colluding with those that are working against her interests.
At this moment in time, Ethiopia is in grave danger as it has been surrounded by enemies and potential enemies that have obtained the freedom of the Red Sea which is a vital import and export route. The presence of Saudi Arabia and her followers in Eritrea and Djibouti made it possible for the Kingdom to police the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a choke point linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Thanks to Esayass, Ethiopia is at their mercy and no decisive retaliatory measures have been taken to eliminate the dictator, who is still tightening the noose, once and for all. Seb do yeley!