Without a sea coast why is Ethiopia trying to reestablish a navy?

28Mar 2020
The Guardian
Without a sea coast why is Ethiopia trying to reestablish a navy?

In April 2018, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took control of the leadership of the nation and while addressing the Armed Forces for the first time; it was at that point in time that he revealed his plan that Ethiopia will have a Navy.

There after the Ministry of Defense started working on the Reestablishment of the Ethiopian Navy; assigned the Commander of the Navy - a dynamic Flag Officer who currently is working diligently to reestablish a meaningful naval force.

Later, from his vision of establishing the Economic Integration of the Horn of Africa, it is presumed that his final goal would be Political Integration which will supervene the possibility of access to the sea and the creation of a Navy capable of protecting the Horn of Africa.

Talking about regional integration it has remained a political and economic priority for Africa ever since the aftermath of colonization. The creation of the Africa Union in its mandate included promoting unity, solidarity and strengthening cooperation for development among African nations. Various successive efforts after the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and later the AU have reinforced this commitment. Most recently, regional integration agenda is a projecting aspect of the AU's Vision 2063, with an aspiration of being an integrated continent with free movement of people, goods, capital and services and infrastructure connections.

Why regional integration?

In the 21st century, there are more than 200 international borders around the world. Borders are necessary for nation states to survive, govern, and grow.

Sovereign states make political and economic choices in terms of the levels of integration they would want to have with other sovereign states. Countries that have integrated regionally benefit from growth spillovers, larger markets, and scale economies in production benefiting producers, investors, and consumers.

Going forward, the nature and pace of integration in Africa would also be defined by wider economic opportunities and challenges.

In particular, there are likely to be four key economic drivers of regional integration:-

First, nature of economic growth and macroeconomic stability could be an important factor for integration.

Second, the ongoing demographic boom and rapid urbanization could be another important factor for integration.

Third, an accelerated pace of structural reforms, which leads to improvements in competitiveness and consequent opportunities for agglomeration and specialization among countries, could be another driver for integration.

Finally, advances in technology and its falling costs are likely to be another driver of integration.

The Prime Minister wants Ethiopia to become an evocative international trade competitor. Ethiopia will need to protect its trade routes in the years ahead something that demands a maritime display of force. A future Ethiopian Navy would also play a part in regional economic and political integration in the Horn of Africa, a key strategic goal of the Premier.

Ethiopia is the Horn of Africa's key player thanks in part to its growing economy and a population of over 100 million. But it is also concerned at its lack of sea access. Eritrea gained its independence in1991 and Ethiopia lost her seacoast and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) government immediately closed the country's Navy. Since then, Ethiopia had no reason to reexamine its choice, but now times are changing and Prime Minister Abiy has his own concept on the maritime security of the Horn.

In line with Ethiopia's growing economic potency, the Prime minister wants to make his country a significant actor in international trade, but doing so will oblige Ethiopia to protect its trade routes in the future. Actually, establishing a Navy will help convince investors that the Horn of Africa is a secure environment guaranteed by the HORN MARITIME POWER.

The Prime Minister has been leading ambitious efforts to integrate the country, both economically and politically, with its neighbors around the region, including Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and others. The move also comes after decades of weakening wars and other problems that have inundated the region. He has gained support from his regional counterparts thanks to his efforts to foster greater stability through integration. Now by pushing for a Navy, Ethiopia is adding a maritime component to this overall drive. Nevertheless, this state of affairs gives Ethiopia several benefits:

First, Ethiopia has reliable allies with great resources both in the West and East. Her political regional significance and own fast growing economy along with the 100 million population which is a readily available market will have a substantial say in the drafting of regional maritime development strategy.

Second, it will allow Ethiopia to develop the competences of its neighbors while employing their ports.

Finally by achieving its regional Economic Integration the Prime minister will substantiate its vision of Political Integration of the Horn which will be a welcome addition to the region. Political unity of the Horn Region will open the flood gate of integration particularly for Eastern Africa and finally to the rest of the regions in the continent.

When the Prime Minister announced his plan of setting up a Navy he was emphasizing on the role of the navy in the birth of a united Horn of Africa. A robust maritime force is a requirement for having a strong integrated economy on the Horn. When we look at the security posture of the region a strong and indomitable maritime force is a necessity. The Horn must not depend totally on the presently available foreign powers when it comes to its maritime security. It is true that the Horn of Africa has neither ship building yard nor the robust economy that the industry demands. However, whatever the state of affairs, our maritime security primarily must be controlled by our own forces and not by outsiders whose prime objective is maintaining their own national interest and of course with the secondary objective of assisting the host nations. These foreign powers have sincere desire to assist the Horn nations but not indefinitely. Hence the Horn Nations must be able to have their own integrated maritime force to safe guard the interest of the nations in the region.

Why is the Horn of Africa today a platform for scuffle for antagonism and authority?

Because of lack of a strong regional Navy in the area the incident of Piracy since 2008 at the coast of Somalia has threatened the safe passage of merchant ships in the region

The Bab El Mandeb is a passage for 5 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products

The civil war in Somalia and Yemen have become the natural springboard of radical muslims and other contenders in the region there by resulting instability in the region.

To wrap up, according to Prime Minister Abiy the reason for the rebirth of the Ethiopian Navy was not simply of emotion and extravagant but it is a honest desire from the side of the Prime minister to add an assertive component to his desire to see a unified Horn of Africa economically stout and militarily self-contained. For that to happen, the Horn primarily has to integrate economically which is the first faith to the grand plan of Political Unity. For all that to materialize the Horn of Africa Nations have to safeguard their maritime security by their own maritime force capable of withstanding any threat from the sea. It is with that in his mind that the PM said Ethiopia will have a Navy.

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