Ethiopia: Strengthening Ethio-Djibouti Relation to Augment Mutual Benefit

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (file photo).

Djibouti port is one of the sea outlets of Ethiopia located in the suburb of Bab-el-Mandeb in the south shore of Red Sea. It is bordered by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Historically, it was part of the Ethiopian territory but after the agreement emperor Menelik made with France in 1884, the port had been given to France by concession to be administered for 99 years lease. However, it obtained its independence from France in 1977 before the end of the lease period.

The coastline is deeply indented by the Gulf of Tadjoura. Djibouti is one of the hottest places on Earth, with an average annual temperature of nearly 32° C (90° F). The average annual rainfall is less than 125 mm (5 inch), and vegetation is sparse.

The population is roughly divided between two groups: the Afars of the north and the Somali-speaking Issas of the south. Both are Muslims, and both were traditionally pastoral nomads. The Afars, who lean politically toward Ethiopia, and the Issas, with traditional affinity to Somalia, have often fought fiercely. Djibouti has suffered economically from an influx of refugees from neighboring countries. The country also has an Arab trading community and a substantial French-speaking community.

Both Ethiopia and Djibouti have historical, religious, ethnic and cultural attachments. Both Somali and Afar speaking populations have their cousins here in Ethiopia. Ethiopian communities reside in Djibouti and the Djiboutian community also resides in Ethiopia.

As Djibouti is arid, the country's basic agricultural commodities are imported from Ethiopia. Construction of the first rail way transport which connected Addis Ababa with the port city of Djibouti conducted by a French company had begun operation in 1917.

The functionality of the rail way and development of port of Djibouti gave way for the establishment of towns and the flourishing of urbanization which are along the rail way such as Bishoftu, Modjo, Adama, wolenchiti, Metehara, Awash, Yerer, Dire Dawa and Galafi. Side by side with these, the expansion of industries attracted foreign investment for boosting commercial farms which supply their products to agro-industries of sugar factories planted in the middle and upper Awash Valley.

The flourishing of urbanization also helped for the emerging of towns which accommodate the heterogeneous communities. None farming service sectors such as hotels, garages, recreational places, educational institutions, and health centers had flourished. Rural to urban migration has become a common phenomenon in these towns.

Port of Djibouti also served as a marine transport way out for Ethiopia after Eritrea was occupied by Italy in 1891. The first Ethiopian delegation during emperor Menelik, led by Ras Mekonen left Ethiopia to Europe through the port of Djibouti and returned in the same route.

When Emperor Hailaselassie was visiting countries such as Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Belgium in 1924, he used the sea route from Djibouti to Europe via Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. Until air transportation was introduced, several Ethiopian delegates used to travel to Europe and Asia through port of Djibouti.

While Djibouti was under the French colonial rule, Ethiopia had established good political and economic relation with France. In the 1920s while modern Education was expanding before the aggression of Italian fascists against Ethiopia, French language was thought in the Ethiopian schools as a compulsory subject. The curriculum also was adopted from the French curriculum. The French community had resided here. Many buildings designed and constructed by French architects still exist in Addis Ababa. When the fascists occupied Ethiopia in 1936, Emperor Hailaselassie went exile in Europe and traveled through the port of Djibouti. During the fascists invasion Ethiopia had been denied access to sea through Djibouti and this made the struggle for liberation harder.

Italian Fascists, during the occupation years, used the rail transport for importing ammunition and weapons and dispatching soldier to the war front to crush the patriots. Since then, Ethiopia drew lesson how being landlocked affects a sovereign State in terms of protecting its own security and maintaining trade relations with the foreign world.

Right after the defeat of fascists and the restoration of the imperial rule, Ethiopia energetically exerted its effort to obtain access to sea outlet. The indefatigable diplomat, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, Aklilu Habtewold enabled to win and realized the nation's aspiration to access to the sea through federating Eritrea with Ethiopia after fierce battle in the United Nations platform.

In the late 1940s, officials who assumed the ministerial position in the Government of Ethiopia such as Yilma Deressa and Aklilu Habtewold had been educated and graduated from Sorbonne University of Paris. The trade relation between the two countries was booming and while Ethiopia exported agricultural products to France, it also used to import capital goods from there.

Currently, the electrified standard gauge railway and road transportations are stretched between the two countries, Ethiopia and Djibouti, serving in conducting import and export trade of the former in an increasing rate.

After the independence of Eritrea in 1991, Ethiopia became a land locked country again and since then, it has been heavily dependent on the port of Djibouti for its import and export trade. Therefore, strengthening the two sisterly countries' relation in terms of economic, political, social and security issues has become essential.

Recently, Ethiopian Ambassador to Djibouti, Berhanu Tsagaye affirmed that the long-standing diplomatic relations between the two countries has strongly continued in all spheres.

Ambassador Berhanu characterized the Ethio-Djibouti ties as an inseparable, mutual friendship that has endured for years. He said that the two countries have been working in partnership and based on mutual benefits in the areas of water, roads, railways, electric power, ports and other vital development sectors. The countries are enjoying encouraging cooperation in the areas of political, economic, trade and infrastructure based on mutual trust, the ambassador indicated.

He further said that the people of Ethiopia and Djibouti are strongly interlinked with culture, language and other social bondages.

Regarding infrastructure development, the Ambassador noted that collaborative efforts are underway to improve road conditions from Djibouti to Ethiopia. Both countries are also working to address complaints about Djibouti's customs services and expedite imports at Djibouti's port. It is proved that Ethiopia has become the largest economy in the Horn of Africa and it is registering rapid growth sustainably.

The country is also the second most populous country in Africa next to Nigeria with more than 120 million. The number of population is one of the indicators of economic potential of the given country. If it is well educated and trained it could be more productive and at the same time, will be high consumer and such a situation attracts foreign investors.

The location of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa where flanked by Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb and Indian Ocean brought additional opportunity to the country. The presence of Supper power countries in Djibouti is increasing and are eyeing on Ethiopia because they know that the country has great potential for the economic growth due to the availability of natural resource such as surface and underground water, mines, arable land with the combining of technology, capital and labor can triple the nation's economic growth.

The construction of the Abbay Dam which is eying its completion soon further attracts foreign investors to invest their money on various economic sectors. It also enhances our country's bargaining capacity in the global affairs. Currently, the manufacturing and the service sectors are flourishing in various parts of the country. They employ thousands of people, utilize local raw materials and enhance creativity. The construction sector is also booming and creates job opportunity to thousands.

It is also understood that the manufacturing and the construction sectors utilize inputs from abroad and when they are expanded, it is apparent that import and export volume is increased which in turn necessitates the utilization of ports.

Economic growth induces boosting trade which needs the utilization of various ports elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, in addition to using the port of Djibouti for its import export trade, it also supplies basic commodities such as food items and potable water to that country. It is also supplying electric power to Djibouti which implies that how the two countries are intertwined.

Ambassador Berhanu highlighted the joint initiatives like transporting fertilizer at a rate of 5-6 tons per day. Djibouti has implemented Green Legacy Initiative by importing seedlings from Ethiopia. The ambassador reaffirmed the commitment of the countries to supporting each other and overcoming challenges together.

As agriculture is the main stay of the nation's economy which holds more than 80% of the labor force, it supplies food to the market and is the major earner of foreign currency. Hence, raising its productivity is not questionable. Among the mechanisms enable to raise productivity is utilizing inputs such as fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides which are imported from abroad.

According to sources from the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration, when the port of Djibouti is busy, unloading imported goods faces challenges and it might be forced to wait for days long until the port is free from congestion and such a situation poses a delay in the transportation of fertilizer to the central part of Ethiopia and creates inconvenience to agricultural activities. Hence, in addition to utilizing the neighboring countries' ports, owning its own sea corridor through diplomatic means is very essential for Ethiopia to accommodate the growing trade volume of imports and exports.



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