Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh will pay a three-day state visit to Ethiopia starting from today. In connection with this, The Ethiopian Herald has held an exclusive interview with Mohamed Idriss Farah, Djiboutian Ambassador to Ethiopia concerning the possible outcomes of the president's visit and the two countries' multifaceted relations. Excerpts:
As part of the frequent high level exchange of visits, your President will pay an official visit to Ethiopia. What value will this visit add to the ever growing bilateral relationship between Ethiopia and Djibouti?
Our relations with Ethiopia are very strong. We have been working for the past five and six years to bring about economic integration between our sisterly countries. Of course, President Guelleh will pay official visit to Ethiopia from March 15 to 17. And of course we have a lot of things in the pipeline. First we are ready to launch the operation of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway line. But some finishing works still remain to be done on the Ethiopian side regarding supply of power. In our side, the electricity is ready and we hope to start operation by May 2017.
We are also working together on border issues. I talked about the railway and it is really important to merge our immigration and custom services, otherwise we would lose time and money. As you know, 1,000 trucks travel from Djibouti to Ethiopia, and another 1000 the other way around every day. These trucks waste a lot of time along the border and thus our respective custom as well as economy and finance ministers are working together to resolve the issue. We need go forward quickly [and make improvement] in this regard. We hope to finalize these issues during the official state visit.
Would you tell us about the efforts that have been made by your country to further its economic ties with Ethiopia?
Answer: Ethiopia is our number one partner in the world. First of all, we are neighbours; we are brothers and the same people. If you also see it diplomatically, Djibouti first opened its embassy in Ethiopia. I also understand that from my several discussions with officials at Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Djibouti is among the first countries for Ethiopia [to establish diplomatic relationship with].
Our people have to know this fact. I know sometimes our people do not understand exactly what kind of economic integration we are working on. Thus we need to inform the people, we need to facilitate easy travel between the two countries. We have people whose family members are living in both sides of the border, so we are the same people. Of course, we are also closely working together with major partners including China to build our infrastructure, not only the railways, but also the port and airport. Ethiopia is the primary target of the projects. We are building these infrastructures to enable the country [Ethiopia] get easy access to international market.
What is your reflection on the move by the two countries to realizing regional integration in particular and AU's aspiration of continental economic integration in general?
By the way, the [ongoing] economic integration between Djibouti and Ethiopia is exemplary for the integration for Africa. It is the same as the role played by France and Germany in the establishment of European Economic Community. Of course, we are ready to add in more countries, but as you know there is stability concern in the region. We have Somalia, Eritrea, and South Sudan. We have also Yemen which is close to Djibouti. We need to add in more countries to this vision of integration but the problem is the peace and stability in our region.
How are you working with Ethiopia on common issues of concern such as fighting terrorism, contraband trade and other cross border crimes?
We are working together, not only on terrorism [but also on other issues]. We also face illegal migration in the region. We have a lot of people from the region moving through Ethiopia and Djibouti to migrate to the Middle East illegally. We also fight this together. We also fight together terrorists. As you know in Yemen we have Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups living there. Djibouti is the gateway to the Horn and hence we have to fight these terrorist before entering the region. Our intelligence is working together with their Ethiopian counterparts to fight these [terrorist] forces which aim at destabilizing Ethiopia by crossing our territory.
How are the two countries collaborating to ensure peace and stability in the East African region, particularly in Somalia and South Sudan?
We are not in South Sudan because it is a little bit far from Djibouti, but we have some military people there. But in Somalia we are working with Ethiopian forces; we fight together the Al-Shabaab forces. Besides fighting Al-Shabaab, at the same time, we have to build the economy in Somalia. This is very important because without economic progress, it is impossible to see a peaceful Somalia that can take part in regional issues. The other thing is that we share Ethiopia's stance that it is really important to build Somalia's army.
As AMISIOM, we don't need to stay 20 to 30 years in Somalia; we need to move very quickly. Before we move, it is important for Somalia to have its own military. If you know Somalia, you can imagine the army never exists and doesn't have a base. Thus it is really important to build Somalia's army before we return back to our countries. Ethiopia also has this same objective.
Of course Ethiopia was in South Sudan also. And the situation in South Sudan is very dangerous. Both the security and humanitarian situation is very dangerous. We also know that a lot of South Sudanese people are coming to Ethiopia at the border and I would like to say congratulations for Ethiopia for helping them. More than 800,000 South Sudanese people are living in Ethiopia. It is really important to see Ethiopia helping all countries in the region.
How do you see the performance of the Ethio-Djibouti Joint Ministerial Commission in advancing bilateral cooperation? And what efforts have been made to enhance the people-to-people-ties of the two countries?
Of course, we are doing very well, getting hand to hand with our Ethiopian side at ministerial and technical levels. So I think it is really important to add in such cultural issues in our economic integration. I think it is very good, but as I said it is really important to incorporate the people. Without the participation of the people, it is really difficult to do achieve anything. The people are ready to move forward and achieve this integration. [We need to have strong people to people relation] for instance through music that Djiboutian musicians come and do music here and we have also to bring Ethiopian Musicians to Ethiopia.
I see this morning people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [of Ethiopia] and I told them it is important to organize economic forum. I understand we don't have that much time as Prime Minister Hailemariam was in Uganda for a state visit. But it is important to organize such forums following our president's visit. Djibouti's investors have to invest in Ethiopia and vice versa.
Because, in Djibouti, we have a law and agreement that any Ethiopian investor who want to invest or do business in Djibouti will have equal privilege as a Djiboutian. Ethiopia has also a similar law. So I think it is really important to encourage the Ethiopian business people to come to Djibouti. Because as you know we have a lot of foreigners such Chinese, Europeans and others investing in Djibouti. But there is not significant number of Ethiopians. This is amazing! So it is really important to see the Ethiopian business people coming and invest in Djibouti as second home.