Abiye’s Quest for Seaport: Is It Ethiopian-Eritrean war?!

By: Mansour Suleiman

The events of the “Al-Aqsa Wave” encouraged the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiye Ahmed, to issue statements amounting to a declaration of war on the countries of the Horn of Africa overlooking the Red Sea. The most notable of which is the speech he delivered before members of his parliament, in which he blamed the Ethiopians for not giving any attention to the Red Sea questions, saying: “Although the source of the Nile is in Ethiopia, it represents an existential issue for the Egyptians and Sudanese and it is not considered taboo to discuss it publicly. In the same way, it shouldn’t be a taboo to discuss the Red Sea issue for Ethiopians.”
He added: “The Red Sea and the Nile River represent two essential tributaries on which the fate of Ethiopia and its development efforts depend, and they will advance the country’s affairs, either to a great renaissance or push it into oblivion.”
He argued further that: “Ethiopia’s rights and claims to access to a port are an issue rooted in history and geography, and have economic justifications, including the fact that Ethiopia’s legitimate need for adequate access to the sea is included in the United Nations Charter.”
In order to escalate Ethiopia’s historical obsession with water outlets to its maximum limits, Abiye Ahmed noted that Ethiopia is considered an island surrounded by water, but it is nonetheless a thirsty country. That is to say, it is a landlocked country.
He also warned his fellow legislators – and his counterparts in particular in neighboring countries – that with the growing population in Ethiopia, the issue of discussing obtaining a sea port on the Red Sea is no longer a luxury, but rather an existential issue for Ethiopia. How can a country that is rapidly moving to reach a population of about one hundred and fifty million living in the “prison of geography”?
These statements spurred concern and questions in the region, particularly among some of Ethiopia’s neighboring countries that have ports overlooking the Red Sea, such as: Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.
These statements were taken seriously, particularly since they came after the leak of a previous speech by Abiye Ahmed, in which he said: “Ethiopia will work hard to secure direct access to the port, either peacefully or by force if necessary.”
In this case, how can we understand these statements? What are the implications of its timing? What are the contexts and methods in which the issue of Ethiopia’s direct access to a sea port is raised? Are the statements considered an indicator of the tense situation internally, or in relations with its neighboring surroundings, particularly with Eritrea? Does it herald the outbreak of another war in the region?
There is a lot that can be said to answer these questions, but we will keep it to four things:
First: It seems clear that Abiye Ahmed wanted to present his ideas at this time when the region is witnessing major geo-strategic changes, which provide appropriate international conditions to raise the issue of Ethiopia obtaining a sea port.
In doing so, it confirms a recurring pattern of cases of exploitation of the countries of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Eritrea in particular) and major events.
It is a striking irony that whoever rereads the contexts of important events – in some countries of the Horn of Africa – finds that the authorities there usually exploit major events in the world to take policies and decisions that may sometimes amount to a declaration of war.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki had previously taken advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the events of September 2001 in the United States, and arrested a large number of state and ruling party officials, as part of the wave that was later known as the events of the arrest of the “Reformists Group” on September 18, 2001. Their fate remains unknown till this moment.
Another, more devastating event, was that the federal government in Ethiopia took advantage of the world’s preoccupation – and the United States in particular with the repercussions of President Trump’s loss in the November 2020 elections – by launching war against the Tigray regional government, on November 4, 2020.
Second: Abiye Ahmed – following the thinking of the Ethiopian elites – has become accustomed to carrying out from time to time what historians call “historical review.”
What is meant by it is: the process of reconsidering previous historical facts or phenomena, particularly in the event that new sources or evidence are available that help understand those facts and phenomena in a different and new way.
Unfortunately, we do not find in Abiye Ahmed’s statements enough to say that there is new evidence or legal references that would authorize him to reconsider the laws of the existing national states in the region, to the point of allowing access to a sea port.
Strong criticism on the judgement
The issue of population growth or Ethiopia’s urgent need for an outlet to the sea for development reasons does not entitle him to make such statements. But we know from experience that he resorted to such a historical review or more precisely pretext-based, after coming to power in April 2018.

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