Ethiopia, Djibouti - Torchbearers of Regional Integration

The flags of Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Ethio-Djibouti ties dates back to ancient times of pre-colonial Eastern Africa. There are abundant records indicating several hundred years of diplomatic history between kingdoms and sultanates of the two states and much of that long history of bilateral relations has been characterized by extraordinary neighborliness.

The bonds between the countries go much beyond sharing geographic borders. They are even more invigorated by peoples in both countries having the same culture and speaking the same languages. The psychological closeness of these peoples truly transcends the physical boundaries.

When Djibouti was under French rule, the ties between the two countries were limited to trade. An important milestone in boosting bilateral trade was the Ethio-Djibouti railway. Construction of the Franco-Ethiopian railway as it was then called, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, was begun in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917. The railway line has been serving as the major carrier of commercial items and passengers' movement between the two countries until it became obsolete about two decades ago.

The new railway which replaced the older one has helped boost bilateral trade as well as the volume of Ethiopia's international commerce. It was also to become an important gateway aiding mobility and cultural exchange. The much cherished 786 km long railway symbolizes the long and fruitful ties of the two neighboring countries as well as their fraternal peoples.

The two countries have been enjoying stronger diplomatic ties since 1977, when Djibouti got its independence. The strong ties between the two countries were further consolidated after the Ethio-Eritrea border conflict, when Ethiopia started to use Port of Djibouti as the sole inlet and outlet for its import-export trade.

Ethiopia's move in this regard has helped to further bring the two countries and their peoples even closer.

In the best interests of assuring mutual development and advancing closer people to people ties, the two countries are working together in the social, economic and political spheres.

Ethiopia shares Djibouti's vision of enhancing friendship and mutual growth and is hard at work to that end the country seeks economic integration with neighboring countries and considers Djibouti a priority in this regard. Thus as a manifestation of this desire massive bilaterally oriented infrastructure developments are in evidence.

In the cooperation between the two countries, the matter of port stands at the forefront since Ethiopia is undertaking almost all of its import-export activities via ports in Djibouti.

As its economy is booming, Ethiopia's use of ports has been increasing over the past decade and the two countries have been engaging in huge infrastructure development activities to materialize the envisioned economic integration, as the result, Ethiopia and Djibouti have been connected in railway, road and electricity.

Following Ethiopia's economic boom, Djibouti's ports have become busy and the government is utilizing its ports properly. Certainly, the ongoing mega projects in Ethiopia and rising local demand for imports of industrial commodities have led to an ever increasing use of ports in Djibouti.

The strategic role of ports cannot be underestimated as Ethiopia strives to sustain the momentum and move steps ahead to join the club of middle income countries. Djibouti's Ambassador to Ethiopia Mohammed Idriss Farah told The Ethiopian Herald that as an important economic partner, his country is expanding and modernizing its existing port facilities and infrastructures and building new ones in a bid to satisfy Ethiopia's ever growing demand for port service.

The regional body, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has planned an infrastructure-driven economic integration among member states. Known as the Minimum Integration Plan (MIP), the scheme encompasses cooperation in the transport, industry, ICT, peace and security and agriculture sectors among others.

The Ambassador noted that Ethiopia and Djibouti are the two nations that have been particularly hugely investing on infrastructure to implement the envisaged IGAD plan and the expansion of infrastructure will enable the two exemplary countries to integrate their economy.

In addition to their cooperation in railway and road projects, the two countries are bilaterally involved in the energy and water sectors.

Telecom connectivity is yet another sphere where Ethiopia and Djibouti are working in collaboration and the telecom service providers of the two countries are working closely to boost the crucially important service for possible economic integration.

Tourism is also among the sectors that will help to integrate the two countries' economies and the natural, historical and cultural attractions of Ethiopia and Djibouti draw visitors from both sides, and boost tourism earnings in both sides.

There is no doubt that trade has paramount importance in facilitating economic cooperation between countries. In this regard the strong trade ties between Ethiopia and Djibouti are believed to play a crucial role.

According to Ambassador Mohammed, the service sector contributes the lion's share of Djibouti's GDP and the largest share comes from the sale of port services to Ethiopia. As a trading partner, Ethiopia on its part exports coffee, gold leather, fruit, vegetables and power to Djibouti.

Undoubtedly both countries are strongly committed and highly motivated to build robust and comprehensive relations based on mutual interests and certainly there is every indication they will remain the torchbearers of the great IGAD vision of creating regional integration, the Ambassador noted.

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