By Fidel Amakye Owusu

1. The secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia in the early 1990s technically made the latter the largest landlocked country in terms of population size in Africa and the world.

2. It was clear that one of the major reasons Ethiopia had resisted the independence of Eritrea was the fact that its access to the Red Sea ports was going to depend on the whims and caprices of a smaller neighbouring state it could not predict.

3. As Addis Ababa expected, despite being allowed to use the port of Assab after the independence of Eritrea, that was short-lived. It was cut off when another war started later in the last decade of the 20th century.

4. Last year, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia made the region nervous when he implicitly stated the country could use force to access the coast if peaceful means failed. Not that the country does not get its imports–as it uses the Djibouti corridor to get them–but has been due to the country’s quest for a secure port under its control.

5. It has the largest economy in the East and Horn of Africa regions of Africa.

6. And so what?

7. Currently, Ethiopia seems to have abandoned its aspiration in Eritrea as it was projected to be more expensive. The past has shown that any aggression will be met with fierce resistance from Asmara. Isaias Afwerki is in firm control of the country and experienced enough not to blink.

8. Consequently, Ethiopia a few days ago signed an agreement with the autonomous Somaliland of Somalia to have “an exclusive lease on the sea”. It is expected to last 50 years. This has spooked Mogadishu and heightened tensions between the two states. The issue of sovereignty and interference has been raised.

9. Interestingly, if Addis Ababa wants a secured port, the last thing will be to heighten tensions with its neighbours and enter into agreements of this nature.

10. Way forward?

11. Firstly, like Abiy Ahmed had started when he first assumed office in 2018, he should use the power of Ethiopia to pursue peace and ensure good neighbourliness. His initial rapprochement with Eritrea for which he became a Nobel laureate could be continued in the volatile region.

12. This is because, if Ethiopia feels it wants a port for itself due to the insecurity and unpredictability of the region, then its actions worsen the situation. In the last couple of decades, the country has seen impressive growth without owning a port.

13. It will continue to grow and still be confident about its maritime trade with the rest of the world if the Horn of Africa is stable—something it must help achieve.

By Fidel Amakye Owusu – International Relations and Security Analyst and Writer

Article Reproduced with Permission from Fidel Amakye Owusu

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