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Ethiopia and Djibouti Chose to Swim Together - part two

By Amen Teferi
Tigrai Online, March 4, 2015

Ethiopia and Djibouti Chose to Swim Together - part two
Ethiopia and Djibouti heading to reunification now many infrastructural linkages are like one country eventually the political border will be meaningless.

For a long time the regional policy of any country in the Horn had been characterized as a policy of regional destabilization. Beggaring one’s neighbor is a nuanced or finely developed political art in the Horn. Hence, past regimes of Ethiopia have adopted internal and external policies that have engulfed the country as well as the region in an intensive intra and inter–state conflict.

One of the universal features of the conflict in the sub-region is that the dissenting rebel groups of one country are starting armed struggles in other. And these rebel groups would only achieve a measure of success when they got a chance of operating in the land of neighboring country.

Hence, when EPRDF came to power it tried to stay out of any sort of conflict and made every effort not to be drawn into the regional conflict system. And it was committed to change the age-old conflict prone relations of Ethiopia with its neighbors.

It has changed the traditional analysis of the national security and foreign policy of Ethiopia, based on sensible perception of the reality with emic rather than etic perspective. And the link between democracy, development and conflict within and without is highlighted as strong.

As various scholars have has indicated conflict resolution strongly relies in emphasizing democratization, respect for fundamental individual and group rights, increasing the involvement of civil society in public life, a more efficient management of the economy, fair distribution of national wealth, and above all, a leadership that is responsive, responsible, transparent and accountable.

The government is convinced that addressing the internal political conflicts would require institutionalization of the democratic system of governance. This condition would encourage an all-inclusive participation of the social groups and open up the road for development. Therefore, the remarkable step taken by the ruling party of Ethiopia, in the past two decades, has transformed the political system of the country, in as much as it has an immense impact on the general states of affairs in the Horn. 


The government of Ethiopia believes that developing, adopting and implementing viable political program and economic policy that would dry out the quagmire of poverty would surely dampened the conflict within the countries. It is clearly indicated in the policy that addressing the vulnerability of the country would require ending up the internal political conflict by adopting a democratic systems that recognize the diversity of the nation and institutionalizing the democratic system of governance, which encourage participation and inclusion, rather than resistance and alienation.

However, as most of the states in the region are undemocratic, regionalized civil wars and inter-state rivalry becomes the characteristic feature of the Horn of Africa. And some of the countries in the region have been engaged in exporting conflict to the other country. And this has created a politics of destabilization in Horn of Africa that led the parties to an overt and covert effort aimed at regime change. Therefore, the corner stone of their policy was destabilizing one’s neighbor. Hence, attempt to have a common forum that would promote regional goals had been unsuccessful.

But, the recent event is a tangible signal for the transformation that undergone in the geo-politics of the Horn or the north-east Africa. It heralds the opening of a new chapter in Ethiopia and the Horn as well. The notable implication of this economic integration is that resources which have evidently been source of conflict in the past, has now become drive in forging strong economic interdependence in the sub-region.

As nature has it, the geographical position and formation of Ethiopia necessitates defining its developmental tasks by taking in to account the realities of its relation with its immediate neighbors. For one thing, countries in the Horn co-shared ethnic groups, natural resources, environmental problems and developmental challenges. This situation entails that countries in the Horn should have an integrated move in a selected common areas of interests.    

The character of states in the Horn affects the decision making process and the conduct of foreign policy by governments in the region. Therefore, the action of the individual states has a strong impact on the inter-state relation, which perpetuates the politics of destabilization in the Horn of Africa.

To my mind, the changing nature of the inter-state relation is greatly influenced by the changing nature of the government in Ethiopia. This is mainly because Ethiopia is a “core state” in the region. This becomes even clearer, when we see the spillover effect of the things happening in Ethiopia in the recent times. Of course, every state will have its own share in the picture of the Horn region. Nevertheless, it will not be a debatable issue that Ethiopia is a big country in the sub-region that would have an impact as good as its size.  All the same, it will be suffice to note that Ethiopia has made great paradigm shift in the period after 1991/92 as it has adopted policy that has effected change of attitude towards its neighbors. And it has tried its best to harmonize its national and regional interests and play an important leading role in the regional organizations. 

When positive steps are taken by creating economic bondage, old antagonism will recede and mutual confidence will eventually build up. But any regional cooperation schemes will remain to be a hollow shell so long as the parties involved are only apt to pursue their national interest and undermine the regional.

This could be reflected by the absence of a political consensus and economic bondage in the sub-region. Solid cooperation on selected regional economic interests often provides much more tangible integrative ties than high-level politics. The power interconnection between Ethiopia and Djibouti is one crucial step to this effect.

Ethiopia and Djibouti

As the late Prime Minister Meles had said on the inauguration of the Ethio-Djibouti power interconnection, Ethiopia has embarked on a huge renewable energy development program. He also declared that Ethiopia has an extensive potential for a hydroelectric power that will be enough to the sub region. He also added, “We are more than ever convinced that we in the region swim or sink together. We are determined to make sure we swim together rather than sink together. The Djibouti president Omar Guelle has expressed the same vision. This requires that we integrate our economies and get the best of each other’s potential. And this in turn requires that we intensify infrastructural link as the first step for the integration we sought.

To this end, the two countries have engaged in an extensive infrastructural linkage. Apart from the road network, there is a plan to construct two modern railways that would link Ethiopia with the port of Djibouti. Djibouti is building a new port at Tajura .

Moreover, Ethiopia has broad telecommunication power grid linkage of the first rate quality. Soon it will be having the first rate railway connection with Djibouti. According to many people, what Djibouti and Ethiopia are doing in this regard is exemplary to all countries in the Horn and beyond.     

We can unmistakably understood the significance of this interconnection when we see the fact that Djibouti is totally dependent on diesel for its energy consumption and has the most expensive energy tariff in the world. This will incur a high cost of production, which will in turn greatly hinder the country’s industrialization and its ability in job creation.

It is worth mentioning here that a shopkeeper in Djibouti used to pay 20-30 thousand Birr per month for his electric bill. On the other hand, the poorest Djiboutian family must pay close to 2 thousand Birr per month for a small-electrified ventilator.

Hence, the cheapest electric power from Ethiopia would consequently be fortune to Djibouti. The same is true to Somaliland, Southern and Northern Sudan, Eritrea or Egypt. An industrialization process in these countries would be better facilitated with the cheaper electric power from Ethiopia. Apart from Djibouti, Kenya has already signed an agreement with Ethiopia. Somaliland and Southern Sudan are ready to buy this electric power.

The Ethio-Djibouti power interconnection and the road and railway linkage would be instrumental that would strengthen not only the relation of the two neighboring countries but also the whole region of the Horn. As was evident in what has happened when Sudan becomes an oil producer and exporter. Sudan’s case has indicated that change in the economic order of a given country in the region would transform the relation of countries in the Horn.

Ethiopia and Sudan

When Sudan becomes an oil exporter, its relations with its neighbors, notably Ethiopia, begin to transform. It also encourages the development of a strong economic interest among Sudan’s neighbors. As some scholars would prefer to call, this development is clear sign for “the emergence of oil diplomacy” in the region. Now, with regard to Ethiopia, we are witnessing the emergence of “water diplomacy” in the Horn. This resource will prove to be most critical in the future relation of these countries. No doubt, security will continue to be an important variable in the relations of the two countries. Nonetheless, it will be based on a new vision and ambition.

Energy–led integration also stimulates a deeper economic co-operation in other areas of infrastructure. Energy will be a new variable that could change the whole configuration of the relation and politics in the Horn. Oil pipelines, corridors to the sea and expansion of hydroelectric power line across the region will substantially alter the strategic environment.

What has been seen as another key source of conflict in the region over the past decades was competition over water. So far, competition over water resource is widely seen as a key source of conflict in the region. Water, which thus far happened to be one of the contentious and volatile elements in the region, is now seen to be a potentially a key factor that refurbishes room for regional peace and cooperation. As it stands today, Ethiopia’s use of its water resources will be key asset to encourage and consolidate peace in the wider region.

Ethiopia has managed to do this in a marvelous commendable fashion. Its use of water rather has created a new attitude in its relationship with her neighbors. The curiously positive development that has emerged in the past few years should be harnessed very carefully. The most important move in this regard was the news of construction of the Grand Millennium Dam. We have seen that some of the psycho–political hurdles surrounding the use of Nile water is broken and opened up a new chapter in the relation of Ethiopia and Egypt.

The Nile basin, which was assumed as the most dangerous resource has now changed and shown a very encouraging development. Nile Basin initiative (NBI) has gone a great length in breaking some of the psycho-political hurdles surrounding the basin. The recent developments have helped us to realize that Nile has a great potential in regional integration. We can envisage the possibility of having a grand scheme of regional water development with the full consent and cooperation of all parties concerned.

A development plan that would be supported by a general consent of the riparian states will help them to work out a common plan and remain engaged in a constructive dialogue. The antagonistic relation will give way to a cooperation that took in to account the political realities of each country. As such, water would lead to on a co-centered conflict resolution at a regional level.

What must be underscored is that even the age-old animosity and mistrust and interstate rivalry that characterize the Ethio-Egyptian relation has significantly transformed and opened up a venue for a warm friendly ties.

The new approach of the policy created fresh vista where the destructive elements become redemptive to Ethiopia and the sub-region. This progress is primarily dependent on what is happening in Ethiopia. As indicated in the policy, Ethiopia’s foreign policy is a replica of the goals and objectives of the regional organization of the countries in the Horn- IGAD. Every effort being made to address the important national interests of Ethiopia would at the same time be a addressing the important goals and objectives of the IGAD.

Some scholars argue that the economic aspects of the Horn’s geo-politics are receiving considerable attention primarily because of oil and water. These scholars are anticipating, that water, and infrastructure issues will substantially alter the strategic environment of the Horn. It is believed that the new energy-led relationship will change the longstanding assumptions about choke points and economic interdependence.

In general, a more diverse energy routes could definitely reinforce economic interdependence and help to dampen the potential for conflict where energy revenues and pipeline fees are at stake. One thing to be noted in this regard is that the major producer of energy will not have the luxury of enjoying its economic benefit without a peaceful and cooperative relation with their neighbors. Energy revenue and pipelines fees that will be at stake will help to dampen the potential for conflict.

This fact will encourage an economic interdependence that would foster overland links. The recently exhibited over land links will potentially has an important implications for regional politics. The Gondar-Gadarif route will open possibilities of overland shipment of oil from Sudan to Ethiopia. It would also open up the possibilities of direct overland cross border trade relations among the neighborly countries in the Horn. And the movement of people would also create a broader economic interdependence.

The FDRE foreign policy has opened up a way that would make possible this kind of ventures. It all begins with the change of attitude on the part of the government of Ethiopia with a redefinition and appreciation of its national security. One of the most remarkable things, among others, in this regard is that the policy is formulated based on an emic perspective. And the power interconnection with Djibouti is a fruit of this policy. 

Take as read, that the recently inaugurated power interconnection of Ethiopia with Djibouti has a multi-faceted implication in the bilateral relationship of the two sisterly countries in particular, and the sub-region in general. And it has created an insanely optimistic felling in me. 

The future of the Horn of Africa

As in the previous decades, the dictates of statecraft in the Horn and in North-East Africa at large in the 21st century, have demanded an involvement with the affairs of the neighbors. This is mainly dictated by the very complex nature of the conflict map of the region that has an interconnected character as a result of internal and external factor, particularly in the cold war period when the super power was engage in an ideologically induced war of proxy.

Even some argue that for the nature of power consolidation is too closely associated with regional politics, this situation has led states in the region to be engaged in what can be said “the politics of mutual destabilization.” Every state looks its neighbor as a threat to its security, while others attribute it to the fault lines in the conduct of foreign policy. Here is a significant new approach by the Ethiopian government after the downfall of the Derge regime.

For one thing, the Ethiopian government used to consider not only the neighboring state but also its own citizen living in the lowland areas along its borders. It has been considering the marginalized citizens living in the periphery of territories as engaged in subversive actions, smuggles guns and weapons to the dissident groups which in short be named as great threat to the national security and sovereignty of the country.

However, this situation changed with the coming power of the EPRDF that has taken a move that has changed the overall political landscape of Ethiopia by democratizing the political system. The most remarkable thing in this regard is the decentralization process that gave a chance of self-government to the marginalized lowlanders who lived in the periphery.

Countries of the region are not only belonged to the poorest countries in the world. Overuse of scarce renewable resources has resulted in a wide spread poverty and environmental degradation which poses a major threats of environmental security in the horn countries. Scarcity of renewable resources transforms ecological boundaries in to ethnic political boundaries of dispute. Therefore, intra-ethnic violence comes to be regarded as the natural states of affairs. The character of the state and resource allocation is also central to the problem. In almost all the group conflicts in the horn, access to natural and social resources expressed in terms of justice, fairness, equitable sharing and equal development was the primary concern of people in arms.

In the case of Ethiopia, devolution of power to the regions has created a fertile ground for the pastoralists to enter in to the core of the Ethiopian life and self-rule. The restructuring of the Ethiopian states after the period 1991 has virtually reversed the attempts by generation of rulers of Ethiopia to centralize the state power and pursues a bold venture of transferring authority to ethnic based regional administrations.

What is evident now is the developmental efforts made by the Ethiopian government in areas where it co-shared ethnic groups with the neighboring countries. This is attracting peoples who are living just across the border of Ethiopia. Ethnic groups in Somali, Afar, Benishangule or Gambela etc are attracting the attention of their kin who are living across the border. For instance, educational materials prepared by the above-mentioned regional states of Ethiopia are being used by the ethnics groups in Sudan, Djibouti, and Somali.

The Economic development enjoyed by the local community along the border is lulling the others who live just across the border. Ethiopia is now centers of economic development, which attract their relatives who fled the country decades ago are now coming back. The fastest growth of the huge economy of the core state in the Horn, Ethiopia, is beginning to attract the attention of the region and the world. This notable economic growth has a spillover effect in the Horn, which would create very suitable condition for the regional peace and economic cooperation in the Horn.


But it is important to note the current situation in the region seems to have contradictory features. We have a tendency of economic integration and cooperation on the one hand, and disintegration and armed conflict on the other. This is particularly the case we see in Sudan and we see people who seem to be pessimistic in the future of the Horn.

We know that the civil war in Sudan was conceived and fostered in the womb of marginalization and it has eventually concluded in the separation of the South Sudanese from the North. Soon South Sudan immersed into another round of conflict.   

Political leaders in South Sudan did not take every caution to avoid civil war and they do not seem to have drawn essential lesson from the past. They still engaged in an endless squabbling. This is unforgivable mistake on the part of the political leaders.

However, IGAD has fiercely committed itself to find peaceful political solution for the problem in South Sudan; we have significant progress in the negotiation of the warring parties. We also hope that there will be a growing tendency in addressing political conflict through peaceful and democratic dialogues.

The two Sudan cannot dream development without having a strong economic tie with other countries in the Horn and all should work aggressively in building East African economic community.

Please read part one

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