Ethiopia's Natural Quest For Sea Outlet Offers Dividend For All

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BY BEREKET SISAY

Ethiopia has made bold assertion about its natural and legitimate right to sea outlet. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently made presentation to Ethiopia’s members of parliament about the importance of access to the sea. The underlying principles of his presentation, were among others, while pursuing for the common destiny of the peoples who have consisted in any of the country, for instance, in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Eritrea, the peoples deserve utilizing resources in the region for mutual benefits as they have common heritage, language and culture. 

It is against this backdrop that Ethiopia has offered for equitable and fair utilization of resources, in this case, sea outlets, and the issue must put on table for peaceful dialogue and discussion. Let alone in 21st century where mutual cooperation, shared vision and mutual benefits, multilateralism and give and take are much articulated in the global stage, these notions were among the core guiding principles for the United Nations, African Union and other regional and international blocks.

Even if we follow the currents trends among nations in the region, there are collaborations, despite variations in magnitude. If wisdom prevails, countries in the region will intensify their endeavors and explore all avenues for common prosperity. Given historical, geographical, cultural and inter-dependence nature of the neighboring peoples, negotiations and give and take principles  are in their best interest.

For its growing population and economy, Ethiopia's lack of access sea outlets for its foreign trade is a major obstacle to the country's attempts to boost its exports and reap the benefits as desired. Needles to mention, the lack of direct access to the coast diminishes the country's export performance as it discourages business entities due to operational cost of freight in the logistics network.  

In support of this argument, studies have shown that landlocked developing countries continue to face structural challenges in accessing global markets. As a result, landlocked countries often lag behind their maritime neighbors in terms of overall development and foreign trade due to their distance from the coast. The UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States report shows  that lack of territorial access to the sea, remoteness and isolation from global markets, additional border crossings, cumbersome transit procedures, inefficient logistics systems, weak institutions and poor infrastructure cause LLDCs to incur significantly higher transport and other trade transaction costs than coastal countries. These high costs have an enormous trade-restricting effect, which has a direct negative impact on economic growth and puts LLDCs at a disadvantage in realizing their full potential in support of their sustainable development efforts.  

Moreover, dependence on another country's port is not a sustainable and viable option for a nation, as it is based on principles agreed between countries, as opposed to having its own natural direct access. Thus, it is possible to conclude that lack of access to sea routes and exposure to high transportation and transit costs puts Ethiopia at significant economic disadvantage position and for this it is not surprising that Ethiopia is now reconsidering options to gain access to the Red Sea. 

Moreover, gaining access to the sea would have a huge positive impact on Ethiopia's economy, giving a new impetus to the country's overall development. Sea outlets will further stimulate the economy, of course with dividends to all. This is because the sea outlet will enable Ethiopia to reconnect to one of the world's most important trade routes - the Red Sea, which, according to the European University Institute, now carries around 80% of the world's trade by sea, as well as more than 12% of the world's seaborne cargo and 40% of Asia's trade with Europe.

Given Ethiopia's geo-strategic location, the lack of direct access to the Red Sea is an obstacle to the country's future. So, Ethiopia's call for access to the Red Sea can be achieved through peaceful diplomatic engagement with neighboring countries. More importantly, neighboring countries should first deem Ethiopia’s request as a legitimate concern as part of a regional agenda for shared economic prosperity. What's more, Ethiopia's willingness to offer part of its national assets, such as taking a share from Ethiopia Airlines, Ethio-telecom, including the Great Renaissance Dam, attest that Ethiopia is calling for a genuine partnership and win-win cooperation. This is not solely for Ethiopia but  a dividend for all who are engaged. This is the explicit call that the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made to countries in the region. 

There are countries that have gained access to the sea after long diplomatic efforts. For example, it was sincere diplomatic negotiations that led to Poland's gaining of access to see, and it's no different for Ethiopia to seek direct access to the Red Sea through mutually beneficial and peaceful diplomatic means. Therefore, neighboring countries must be open for dialogue as sea outlet for Ethiopia is imperative both for its current as well as future economic goals and dividend for all. Ethiopia's request for sea access is not a matter of competing interests between neighboring countries, but of mutually agreed benefits that will further regional economic integration in the context of shared development agenda. It must be noted that the Horn of Africa, which has long been characterized as a hotspot of insecurity and fragility, can easily transform the region into one of sustainable peace and development as long as the countries of the region are inclined towards such a mutually beneficial agenda, and this is incumbent on all the countries of the region. 

 

Ethiopian News Agency
2023