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News: Ethiopia’s quest for sea outlet, own port neither new nor a threat to neighboring countries: PM Abiy

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) responding to questions raised by members of parliament on Tuesday Photo: PMO

Addis Abeba – In his response to questions raised by lawmakers at the 3rd year 4th regular session of the House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) today, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed despite widespread talks, analysis, conspiracies and predictions, Ethiopia’s quest for sea outlet and to have its own port is neither a new agenda, nor designed to threaten the sovereignty of neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa.

“What I want countries in the Horn of Africa, the world in the east and west alike and all others to understand in good faith is our genuine interest and our problems,” the Prime Minister said and went on reasoning Ethiopia’s quest to access sea outlet and own a port in the Red See coast, a topic that has gripped many and caused a stir ever since he first made public comments about it.

PM Abiy told lawmakers that some 30 years ago Ethiopia was the owner of two ports, during which it had only around 46, 47 million people, and only around 10, 12, 13 billion dollar GDP. After 30 years, Ethiopia’s status was reduced from ownership of two ports to using two ports, Djibouti and Assab, through trade rules and agreements with the respective countries.

That was further reduced to the use of the port of Djibouti after disagreements and conflict with Eritrea. While he expressed the appreciation and acknowledgement of the people of Ethiopia and the government for the support from the people of Djibouti to make the port available on trade rule terms, he said “we want Djibouti and others to understand our fear.”

He described the distorted geopolitical factor in the Horn as something that scares Ethiopia, and outlined scenarios of “big powers” arguing through media “because they all have camps in Djibouti. If these big powers atart a conflict, Ethiopia is the one who is scared, he said, adding that countries like Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa will not feel the same fear we do of such scenarios happen resulting in the disruption of the flow of fuel or fertilizer for one week. This is regardless of whether the Djibouti government allows it and we have the interest.

He mentioned recent news of missile attacks coming from Yemen, which is only about 28, 29 km sea width from Djibouti. If the big powers there start shooting at camps on other side, it leaves Ethiopia, a country with a population of 120 million, without options. Such scenario is not necessarily because the Djibouti government is imposing pressing on Ethiopia, he said, but circumstances leading to such geopolitical missteps, and because the big powers have the capacity to shot from a distance. “It is not good to ignore such facts,” he said.

With regard to the need for cooperation between neighboring countries in the Horn, PM Abiy mentioned that Ethiopian people are dying by taking part in the fight against Al-Shaabab that is troubling Somalia. “When Ethiopian says it is facing challenges, brotherly neighboring countries must ask what it is that is challenging Ethiopia.”

Over the past few years Ethiopian economy has grown 20 fold, the population growth has reached 120 million, but the economic context to cater for this grown is not matched and is rather shrinking, he said, and warned “it is a matter of time,” before such scenario bring problems.

“I think they were absent when we built a Navy or did not have YouTubes; when we built a Navy, it is clear that there is no other agenda, we meant we need a sea; the agenda is clear”

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PM Abiy Ahmed

Dismissing comments that Ethiopia was forcing its way to the Red Sea, the Prime Minister said that what Ethiopia saying is “let’s discuss about it under the rules of business. There is no country from the far east to the far west that does not say the Red Sea is important”, he said, and this includes on matters such as preventing piracy. “Why is it a shame when we say we need it… for us it is the only breathing outlet we have.”

Criticizing those who say the agenda is new the PM quipped saying: “I think they were absent when we built a Navy or did not have YouTubes; when we built a Navy, it is clear that there is no other agenda, we meant we need a sea; the agenda is clear,” he said, referring Ethiopia’s less talked about preparations of a Naval force and adding that it was not correct to misrepresent the agenda as something new.

He also responded to those who say it is to violate Eritrean sovereignty. “Did we build GERD to violet Sudan’s sovereignty?” he askd, and goes on to say that Ethiopia built the GERD to produce energy and to measure and send the water “to our brothers” throughout the year, in order for it to benefit both Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. “So is the Red Sea; we have no interest to touch anyone’s sovereignty; we have no interest to invade anyone; but we need an uncompromising choice under the rules of business.”

Connecting the matter with population growth, the PM said such scenario should “concern our brothers more than us” and mentioned that even in the past few months Ethiopia has repatriated some 130 000 Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia, which should be equally concerned if this is not resolved. Likewise countries such as Tanzania and South Africa that are dealing with the flow of irregular immigrants should also be concerned on the matter.

“What we are saying is let’s discussion to avoid conflict to avoid the scenarios of hunger forces.

In his message to “the governments of the world” including the US, China, European, Middle East and Arab as well as African governments the PM said that if what Ethiopia is asking is undeserving question outside of laws, business rules, and peaceful means, “they can tell us to refrain and we will abandon it. What we are saying is let us discuss, let us talk. By 2030 Ethiopia’s population will grow to 150 million, the economy will grow; what Ethiopia is saying is let us discuss for this not to cause trouble and not to lead our children to conflicts.”

“Ethiopia has no interest to shot a single bullet towards Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya or any other country in its neighborhood; nor do we have any question on the sovereignty of any country.”

PM Abiy Ahmed

To the Ethiopians the PM invoked a lesson from the way Emperor Hailesselasie dismantled the confederation arrangement with Eritrea leading to the 30 years war and Eritrea’s eventual independence to become a country. A lesson should be taken from such acts of dismissing discussions, equivalent to ignoring the confederation arrangement, to solve such issues. “This is our memory of yesterday”, he said adding that it is difficult to guess what would be the outcome of disregarding such scenarios, “just like the confederation.”

Dismissing speculations of impending conflict in the Horn of Africa, PM Abiy said that “Ethiopia has no interest to shot a single bullet towards Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya or any other country in its neighborhood; nor do we have any question on the sovereignty of any country.”

“What we are saying is we have the best Airline in Africa, lets share that and you share the water with us; we have built the number one dam in Africa, let’s share that and you share [the water] with us; your economy has problems, as our economy, so let us come together and grow together,” he said. He questioned how saying ‘let’s share the Airline’ be taken as equivalent to war. “The name GERD itself is a pride; it is a dam we built after many ups and downs, but we are saying even that is okay to share” for mutual benefits. “So it is good to discuss this matter calmly and peacefully.”

Ethiopia does not have threats of war coming from any of its neighbors, he said, but if in the event of an attack “we have more than enough capabilities” to defend the country. AS

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