20 July 2018

Ethiopia: Re-Accessing Assab - Centerpiece of Rekindling Ethio-Eritrea's Tie

Photo: Yemane G. Meskel
Eritrea and Ethiopia have signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship. The Agreement, which specifies five pillars, was signed by President Isaias Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (file photo).

Shortly after Ethiopia and Eritrea broke their deadlock and resumed diplomatic ties, port Assab has once again become a front burner issue on the warming up relations prompting early works to reopen various infrastructural facilities including roads leading to the port.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week announced that the works have begun on both sides to repair roads and facilitate the service while a task force has been formed from Ethiopian side to preside over the whole activities. This has been praised as leapfrog move by many scholars in terms of increasing trade efficiency and competitiveness by expanding sea outlets for Ethiopia and bringing economic cooperation in the region.

In his article 'The Necessity of Assab Port to Ethiopia' Gebrerufael Girmay compared the importance of the Port Assab to Ethiopia as much greater as the importance of the Great Renaissance Dam construction in the Nile basin.

Further elaborating the claim above, Dr. Yakob Hailemariam, an International legal advisory, says accessing Port Assab brings overwhelming advantages to the country and has certain advantages over the other in terms of distance from the center.

"It was nothing but bankruptcy for a country; pumping hefty amount of cash to expand the port years ago to which the country did not make use of it as the two countries entered into conflicts."

However, the recent positive developments flicker a ray of hope on mutual cooperation to develop the port, he explains, adding the fact that Port Assab is much near than Port Djibouti and has layers of advantages for the economic growth.

The country's economy is poised to grow more; thus, the import-export business cannot be met with one or two ports, necessitating concerned bodies to look for alternatives, according to him.

For long the country has been using port of Djibouti effectively and maintained warm diplomatic ties with Djibouti. And the renewal of relations with Eritrea will help secure efficient port services to the expanding economy, he underscores.

In this regard, Port Assab will be an alternative outlet for the country that mainly serves the northern part of the country cutting the distance and time significantly, he adds.

However, it requires painstaking assessment of the infrastructural facilities that have been abandoned for 20 years, Yakob indicates.

"The basic prerequisites to resume service are roads and bridges. Experts should be deployed to assess the facilities. It is plain fact that the port should be well developed to accommodate big ships and heavy machinery. This needs expertise explanation and decision."

Expanding accessibility of ports will not fracture relations with coastal countries, says Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise Public Relations Team Leader Ashebir Nota. "It rather benefits the whole region in fostering regional integration. Ethiopia is a big country that it also needs many outlets so there will not be possible overlap of advantages"

Lacking territorial access to the sea, landlocked countries are subject to extra costs for transit and transport services making them less competent in global markets as opposed to coastal countries, he argues. "Alternative outlets will definitely ease the costs and trade efficiency."

In a separate interview, once Dr. Dareskedar Taye told The Ethiopian Herald that being geographically disadvantaged and hit by high shipping prices, landlocked countries face barriers in global trade. "The well being of landlocked nations mainly rests on coastal neighbors' cross-border political relations, peace and stability."

Landlocked countries are the primary victims of global price hike, particularly when it comes to shipping and freight transport, he noted, adding that unlike the coastal countries, the nations live under the cloud of uncertainty due to excess reliance on other states.

This is likely to affect investments and trades of the landlocked states, Dr. Dareskedar added.

"Global trade involves long distance transit and transportation process. During the course, landlocked countries facing difficulties in import and exports, are also vulnerable to high port services cost. Besides the economic pressure the countries face, the problem transcends across the political spectrum. Countries may get in trouble when diplomatic rows unfold with their coastal neighbors."

In just few days, there have been rapid and rosier developments between Ethiopia and Eritrea. And if the ongoing agreements come to fruition and gained further momentum, it is inevitable that port of Assab would be the centerpiece of their fresh cooperation bringing additional opportunities of economic integration to the Horn Region.

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