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Ethiopia and Djibouti Chose to Swim Together

By Amen Teferi
Tigrai Online, February 16, 2015

The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Visit to Djibouti

Last week, the Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn was in Djibouti on a three-day official visit. His visit to Djibouti has brought to light the strong interest the two countries have in further consolidating their relation to the level that some groups or individuals may find as something unexpected. Hailemariam and his counterpart the Djiboutian president are much optimistic about the integration of two sisterly countries. Ethiopian PM has even declared, “Political integration is not that difficult” and asked members of the Federal House of Representatives to support his government in realizing this goal.

His visit has markedly opened a new chapter, which would infinitely deepen the multifaceted, social, economic, historical and cordial relationship of the two countries. Thus, it had received special attention and spurred diverse interpretations form various corners.

According to Hailemariam countries in the Horn cannot have surefooted development without establishing economic integration among themselves. He also underscored that Ethiopia’s development is inextricably knotted with the peace and security of the region; thus he expressed the readiness and unwavering commitment of his government in strengthening the existing ties of the two sisterly countries.

Moreover, he said, “Any foreign aggression or assault aimed at undermining the basic national interest of Djibouti and its people would simply get on the nerves of Ethiopia.” In this regard, he chose to be unusually explicit, for he has unequivocally declared the importance Ethiopia has attached to its overall relationship with Djibouti.

In short, the PM visit to Djibouti was meant to highlight the ever-deepening bond of the two countries, in social, economic, political spheres and their interest in further expanding cooperation in the military sector.

Hailemariam emphasized the fast growing infrastructural development being undertaken by Ethiopia is meant to facilitate the economic integration between Djibouti and Ethiopia pointing that the two countries have pioneered the move to economic integration by establishing the energy alliance in the Horn.

In related news, AU commissioner for the infrastructure sector was last week on record lauding Ethiopia’s effort in taping its renewable energy resources and commended its endeavor in developing its national road and railway network that would also ensure solid economic integration among in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

As the current trends are obviously indicating, we will in the near future witness the death of a national economy per se. The chance is as P.M Meles had once said, we are bound “to swim or sink together.” We cannot see a developed and prosperous Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Somaliland or Eretria etc without having regional economic integration.

As we all know, poverty, marginalization, and hopelessness are key triggering factors for a protracted conflict in this region. These were factors favorable for the insurgent groups that until recently were proliferating in the Horn.

However, the existing sporadic conflicts witnessed in the pastoralist communities living in the peripheries of various countries in the Horn will gradually dry out with the ongoing socio-political and economic transformation happening in these communities. Djibouti can be cited as a good example to the transformation pastoralist societies in the region.


Hundred years ago, Djibouti was just a camp of pastoralist traders. The great grandfathers of the current Djiboutian generation had been pastoralists. When the pastoralist mode of life has changed and the people began to have a settled life, the current conflict situation will give way to lasting peaceful life.

For instance, the abundant natural sources -fertile land and water- have so far remained untapped in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Nevertheless, following the relative peace witnessed in the past few years, the Somali region is experiencing very impressive progress in all sectors of developments that would ultimately contribute to create enduring peace and security in the Horn.         

On the other hand, we know that after the discovery of oil in Sudan, i.e. Northern Sudan Republic, has become giant economy in the Horn. It was enjoying the luxury of being oil producer with a potential of emerging as a giant economy in the Horn. Later, with the emergence of the southern Sudan as a new independent state this situation has swiftly changed. With the new dramatic turn of events or the separation of the Southern Sudan that elusive luxury has suddenly gone. Abandoning all other sectors of the economy, including farming, Northern Sudan has begun to rely on oil and found herself in difficult situation confronting with new challenges.

The point is things are pushing in the direction of integration. The oil rich land locked southern Sudan now contemplating to use the port of Djibouti. And this would only be possible if only it has a land link with Djibouti that of necessity must go across Ethiopia. This in turn will help Ethiopia to integrate with its neighbor and continue to engage in the regional developmental efforts, which is supported by the current favorable regional and global conditions.

Though the geopolitical importance that the Horn had been enjoining during the cold war period is now fading away, the giant global economies of China and India are energizing the developing economies of Africa They are aggressively penetrating into the huge market of the sub-region. With the emergence of the Asian big economies-china and India- the Indian Ocean has increased its strategic importance. Thus, the Horn (Africa in general) is getting more attentions of the big economies. Impressive economic growth in Africa is attracting various investors from all over the world. Regional stability is imperative for this robust economic trend to continue. 

Thus, the power interconnection with Djibouti could clearly indicate not only the potential of Ethiopia to emerge as a huge powerhouse in the region, where many of its neighbors badly need the cheaper electric power Ethiopia could offer, but also the inevitable economic integration the countries in the Horn would embrace. It is to be recalled that Kenya and Sudan had also signed hydroelectric power supply agreement with Ethiopia.

Diesel is an expensive source of electricity. Therefore, the Ethio-Djibouti hydroelectric power interconnection would definitely ease the burden of business operators in Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. Considering the fact that small enterprises operating in Djibouti are, on average, incurring 30 thousand Birr per month for their electric bill, hence, it would be attractive for Djibouti to purchase extremely cheaper and clean electric power from Ethiopia. This and other new development in the Horn would led to an energy based economic integration or interdependence in the Horn region.

One can rightfully expect that Egypt will soon join this interconnection and soon we will see Ethiopia serving as “the power hub of the North-eastern Africa,” as the late PM Meles Zenawi had envisioned.

In the near future, we will surely have an organization named as “Multilateral Commission for the Horn of Africa” that is mandated to foster closer cooperation and strive to resolve common concerns the countries in the region. And seek ways to improve public understanding of such problems and to support proposals for handling them jointly, and to nurture habits and practices of working together among the Horn countries. With this, it will herald that time for conflict has gone and the time for cooperation has come.

Hailemariam’s recent visit to Djibouti would reassure us that economic integration of the two countries will be realized so sooner than many can expect. The leaders of both countries have reflected their strong commitment to redefine the stereotypic and longstanding features of the region, which is war and hunger. This exciting change of political disposition has prompted me to appraise the current standing of the Horn in light of the basic percepts endorsed by the foreign policy of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Foreign Policy

To begin with, the foreign policy of Ethiopia is not formulated by reiterating hollow grandeur, which is driven by such hypocritical vanities that the past regimes used to harbor.

Following the introduction of the new foreign policy, Ethiopia has achieved huge diplomatic success and excellent neighborly relationship with many of its neighbors. It has also played indispensable role in pacifying the Horn. Ethiopia has leading role in brokering and restoring peace in Sudan and Somalia. It is also instrumental in the ongoing negotiation process being carried out under the auspice of the regional body called IGAD. The vigilance and dedication it has shown in the negotiation or arbitration process to end the civil war in South Sudan is simply admirable. Ethiopia’s foreign policy would enable it to forge strategic bilateral relationship with all its strategic partners. Ethiopia was active in appraising the strength and weakness of our continental organization AU and has played significant role in framing AU’s fifty years vision.

The Ethiopian government has adopted a new broader definition of national security. Therefore, its primary focus is not a military defense or regime stability. The redefinition of its foreign and security policy is primarily driven by an inward looking assessment of its basic national interest. It has adopted realistic, rather than idealistic disposition, in the formulation of its foreign and security policy. The policy is born out of the conviction that one’s national security cannot be guaranteed by having a well-trained and armed defense force, but by establishing a vibrant democratic system, which would at the same time serve as an essential prerequisite to create sustainable and all-inclusive development.

As history of the region can indicate, the undemocratic states in the region have failed to be representatives and therefore contain all the seeds for both the intra and inter-state conflicts. Beggaring one’s neighbor is a nuanced or finely developed political art of the Horn. Hence, like every other state in the region the policy Ethiopia was pursuing in the past can be characterized by a policy of regional destabilization. The bid for regional power was aggression, which is still true as far as the Eritrean regime is concerned.

Consequently, we have very fragmented regional diplomatic landscape and weakened regional organization. The current Ethio-Djibouti relationship clearly signifies a detachment from the past political culture that had been nurturing aged old intractable conflicts and war, which had constantly been destabilizing the Horn. The strong economic tie among countries in the Horn is the product of the changed attitude born out of the general democratization effort undergoing in the region.

Following the demise of the notorious Derge regime, Ethiopia has taken courageous steps that had helped her to relive herself from the overwhelming historical challenges that have remained unsolved for ages. In the period after 1991, the country has embarked upon huge national projects that have created the momentum to spur sustainable development.


Ethiopia has begun this remarkable process by overhauling the longstanding political system that had been strangling the Ethiopian people for so long a time. This has created a venue where the voices of the voiceless have gotten unique attention. Marginalized ethnic groups in Ethiopia have courageously worked to redefined “Ethiopianess” anew. We behold this enticing event taking over where the deplorable situation that has engulfed the country for ages have started to dissipate and made Ethiopia hospitable to its citizens and attractive to its neighbors.

The political change that has effected a notable economic and social transformation not only changed the way Ethiopians view themselves, but also the perception they had towards their neighbors. In appreciating the perception of the later, it is worth examining the foreign and security policy and strategy adopted by the FDRE government.

The policy is not, as it has been the case in the past, formulated by recanting the objective reality and reiterating a tangentially created hollow grandeur. The new policy has insulted itself from such hypocritical vanities that characterize such policies adopted by the past regimes. It rather has take on a new broader definition of national security with an inward looking stance. Thus, its primary focus is not a military defense or regime stability; but democracy, good governance and development.

In view of this policy, it is not the nature of the state in the neighboring countries that would mainly dispose Ethiopia vulnerable to any foreign aggression, but the absence of democracy and sustainable development within.

As the past successive regimes of Ethiopia had failed to develop a viable political and economic formula to govern the internal affairs, they were also unable in establishing a regional cooperation in the conflict ridden Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa is one of the most fragile crisis regions in the world. And that is reflected in the regionalized civil wars and inter – state rivalry in this sub-region. The net result of these failures indeed was a protracted internal strife and regional instability. 

The Horn used to be a very complex or hard to analyze, thus creating a confused picture in the mind of scholars who tried to grapple with issues of the sub-region. The region was characterized by a diverse complexity of issues that would baffle even the most intelligent of the towering talents who attempt to study the inflexible conflict in the region. However, recent development has changed the unruly character of the Horn and it started to be intelligible. Thus, scholars are suggesting an energy-led (water and oil) economic cooperation and integration would be a viable scheme to bring a lasting peace in the Horn of Africa. I would say that the foreign and security policy and strategy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has in its way the same flight deck.

Before anything, the policy EPRDF formulated has surely dispelled the misperceptions of the past regimes, and is informed by the objective reality of the country to ensure the benefit of the people of Ethiopia and the sub-region as well. This unprecedented economic growth in Ethiopia has evidently shown a spillover effect on the rest of the region.

The government, apart from ensuring the political system of Ethiopia to be hospitable to its citizen, has also devised an economic policy that has brought a fast and sustained economic growth which could serve in turn as strong catalyst or vehicle for regional security, cooperation and integration.

According to the foreign policy of Ethiopia, ending up an internal strife and regional conflict could not be possible without having a meaningful economic integration in the sub-region. That was the message conveyed by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in the speech he had delivered at the inauguration of the power interconnection of Djibouti with Ethiopia. His message was that “the success of achieving stability in an individual country of the Horn would substantially depend on the overall stability of the Horn in general.”

Of course, most of the states in the region are still undemocratic and truly not representatives in nature. Therefore, many of them contain within themselves the seed of internal political conflicts. Absence of democracy and good governance has indulged countries in the sub-region into intra and inter-state conflict.

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