Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed says, ‘no reason for conflict over Red Sea’

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Speaking on the 116th year anniversary of Defense Forces Day in Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Abiy dispels conjecture regarding conflict with neighbors over Red Sea access

Speaking to members of parliament earlier this month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discussed the “the vital significance of the Red Sea” to his nation’s future. This declaration came after an extended period of rumor and conjecture, spanning weeks, if not months, regarding Addis Ababa’s pursuit of port access through its littoral neighbors to the east. A fuller context of this latest development was provided in a recent report by Abren.

Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa with approximately 120 million residents, lacks direct access to the Red Sea, a major global trade thoroughfare. In contrast, neighboring countries of Eritrea, Djibouti and the de facto state of Somaliland enjoy excess capacity maritime access relative to their economies.

While Prime Minister Abiy mentioned his government had no intentions of interfering by force or coercion, his earlier comments raised concerns among some observers and neighboring states, who believed his words had the potential to raise tensions, particularly with neighboring Eritrea, which maintained very close ties to Ethiopia since a peace agreement between the two was reached in 2018.

In what appears to be reassurance, while speaking at “Defense Forces Day” held in Addis Ababa yesterday, Abiy emphasizing stated “Ethiopia has never initiated hostilities against any other country and has no intentions of doing so”. He went on to state that Ethiopia’s recent request for sea access should not be interpreted as a precursor to military conflict.

Reconciliation with Eritrea back in 2018 earned PM Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize. However, his government’s military involvement to quell an insurrection by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) resulted in civilian deaths and interrupted relations with the U.S. While there has been no clear scientifically verifiable count of the death toll, most mainstream news outlets reported the Tigray conflict resulted in the loss of several hundreds thousand lives.

In the 1950s Ethiopia gained access to the Red Sea as Eritrea, a former Italian colony was federated with Ethiopia by the UN, a move that was supported by the United States and Britain. However, Ethiopia’s monarchy proceeded to gradually and forcibly annex Eritrea, incorporating it into the Ethiopian empire despite significant protestations. After thirty years of fighting for its independence, Eritrea officially became a sovereign nation in 1993. It maintained relatively stable relations with Ethiopia, which continued to freely use the port of Assab until a 1998 border war between the two ended that engagement. Currently Ethiopia depends on the port of Djibouti for almost all of its maritime trade.

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