Editorial - View Point

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Ethiopia's friendly relations with its neighbours

It is to be recalled that Ethiopia hosted the 20th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa from 21st-28th January 2013. Concurrently, the country was chosen as a venue to celebrate AU’s 50th anniversary through assortments of events including film festivals, musical extravaganza, sports, symposiums, seminars and exhibitions. The celebrations started on January 27, 2013 which also coincided with the date that Ethiopia has assumed its Chairmanship of the AU. The celebration marks the 50th year establishment of the organization which is the defining moment for the African renaissance.

The decision to establish the AU/OAU's headquarters in Addis Ababa and to celebrate its 50th golden jubilee at its birthplace was the reflection of the understanding about Ethiopia's constructive role, together with its African brothers, in supporting African cause both during the colonialism and post-independence era, and its significant contribution in all the main pillars of the AU. The decision was also made in consideration of the country’s decisive role in maintaining the peace and security of the continent in general and the Horn region in particular.

The present-day Ethiopia achieved this highest status in Africa partly due to its effective foreign relations policy that promotes peace, stability, economic growth and prosperity based on mutual interest and respect. The purpose of this article is, then, to briefly examine the country’s past and present relations with the international community in general and with neighbouring countries in particular.

Like many states in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia was relatively isolated from other countries not immediately adjacent to it until well into the 19th century. Many historians trace modern Ethiopian foreign policy to the reign of Emperor Tewodros II, whose primary concerns were the security of Ethiopia's traditional borders, obtaining technology from Europe (or modernization), and to a lesser degree Ethiopian rights to the monastery of Dar-es-Sultan in the city of Jerusalem.

Tewodros' diplomatic efforts, however, ended disastrously with the British expedition of 1868 which concluded with his death. Despite the efforts of his successor Emperor Yohannes IV to establish a relationship with the United Kingdom, Ethiopia attracted less attention of the world powers until the opening of the Suez Canal. More important, the Mahdist War drew outside attention to her once again.

The same major interests that Tewodros had; i.e., the security of Ethiopia's traditional borders and modernization once again came to the limelight as demonstrated by the outcome of the First Italo–Ethiopian War, Ethiopia's admission to the League of Nations (in September 1923), and the 1935 Second Italo-Ethiopia War. Following the decisive Ethiopian victory at the battle of Adwa, Menelik II rapidly negotiated a series of treaties fixing Ethiopia's boundaries with its neighbours.

Since World War II, Ethiopia has played an active role in world and African affairs. Ethiopia was a charter member of the United Nations and took part in UN operations in Korea in 1951 and the Congo in 1960. Former Emperor Haile- Selassie was one of the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Addis Ababa is the host capital for the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the OAU (now the AU). Although nominally a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, after the 1974 revolution, Ethiopia moved into a close relationship with the Soviet Union and its allies and supported their international policies and positions until the change of government in 1991.

In many respects, the foreign policy pursued by the defunct Derg regime was similar with the foreign policy of the old imperial regime. The aspect that changed from one era to the next was Ethiopia's ideological alignment. Whereas the regime of Emperor Haile- Selassie had relied heavily on the patronage of the United States, that of President Mengistu Haile -Mariam cast its fate with the Soviet Union. Both the pre- and post-1974 governments used economic and military assistance from their respective superpower patrons to prolong their stay in power. Analysis of Ethiopia's past foreign policy suggests that in addition to serving as the pawns of one superpower or another, Ethiopia's leaders consistently placed their ideological perceptions before what was best for Ethiopia.

In the past, Ethiopian governments had concentrated on mobilizing and agitating the people with a message focusing on national pride and based on the achievements of previous generations. Former governments consistently failed to understand that the systems they put in place would cause national humiliation to the present generation. They did not mobilize people to fight the real sources of our shame. Instead, they indulged in bragging arrogant declarations of bravado. This situation had exacerbated the country’s vulnerability to threats in two ways. In the first place, it had prevented Ethiopian people from recognizing that the source of their national shame is lack of development and democracy; and this in turn had blocked efforts to embark on the path of progress through the forging of a national consensus. Past governments indulged in jingoism with an empty stomach, exposing Ethiopians to even greater vulnerability because it was not in their character to promote democracy, good governance and rapid development. Militarism and arrogance also produced conflicts with neighbouring countries that could have been prevented.

In the present-day Ethiopia, the goal of the country’s foreign and security policies are aimed at ensuring Ethiopia’s national interest and well- being as well as promoting democracy and development. The country cannot attain development and democracy by closing its doors and taking refuge in its mountains. According to available information from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the major basis of Ethiopia’s current foreign and security policy is achieving economic development and democracy in the framework of globalization. The policy is also based on mutual benefit, give and take, negotiation and mutual respect rather than advancing unilateral interests. It aims at eliminating or at least reducing external security threats and increasing the number of foreign friends that can help to create a regional and global atmosphere conducive for Ethiopia’s peace and security. Ethiopia’s diplomatic activity also targets at forecasting potential threats and addressing them through dialogue and negotiation. Today, Ethiopia has excellent relations with the international community in general and with its neighbours in particular except with Eritrea, which launched an unprovoked flagrant aggression against Ethiopia in 1998. Ethiopia has been playing a vital role in the Horn’s stability and is increasing its involvement in the economic and infrastructure development efforts of the Region. It has also been extending a substantial contribution to the success of the international efforts geared towards bringing about a lasting peace and stability in the war-torn Somalia.

This article attempts to briefly deal with Ethiopia’s past and present relations with its neighbouring countries; i.e. Sudan, Djibouti, and Kenya as follows starting from the Ethio-Sudanese bilateral ties.

Ethiopia and Sudan first established formal relations in 1956. As neighboring countries, Ethiopia and Sudan have long standing historical relations. To further consolidate their relations, the two countries have been involved in a multi-sectoral cooperation which includes joint infrastructure development, trade, water resource development, transport and communication, industry, investment, etc. There are several mechanisms of cooperation that exist between the two countries which include Joint Ministerial Commission, Joint Political Committee and Joint Border Development Commission. There are also close relations and cultural exchanges between the people of Ethiopia and the Sudan. This is being facilitated by the Joint Ministerial and Joint Border Development Commission fora.

Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Djibouti were established in 1984. Ethiopia and Djibouti have long standing historical relations. Currently, bilateral ties between the two countries are excellent more than ever before. Ethiopia and Djibouti share a boundary of 470 Km. The two countries have established several Joint Mechanisms of Cooperation to further bolster their bilateral ties. Some of such Mechanisms are: the Joint Ministerial Commission that examines political, economic and social issues; the Follow-up Committee that oversees the implementation of agreements and decisions made at the Head of State and Ministerial levels; the Joint Border Administrators and Commissioners Committee that examines border security, immigration, refugee and health matters; and the Joint Border Sub-Committees, which react and give on the spot solution to problems that may arise along the common border.

Ethiopia and Djibouti have signed several treaties of friendship and cooperation at various times. Ethiopia has been using the Port of Djibouti for its import and export since 1998. Improved efficiency at the port proved vital to handling the upsurge of Ethiopian cargo after May 1998. Both countries share ownership of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway; however, this utility is in need of repairs and upgraded capacity. The railway is tied to the Port of Djibouti, which provides port facilities and trade ties to Ethiopia. Since 1991, there have been several official visits at Head of State and Ministerial levels between the two countries where political, economic and social issues have been examined. Significant results have been achieved to further strengthen the relations between the two countries.

Relations between Ethiopia and Kenya were established in 1954 when Ethiopia established an Honourary Consulate General in that country. In 1961, Ethiopia appointed its first Ambassador to Kenya and six years later Kenya opened an Embassy in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia and Kenya enjoy a long standing traditional relation dating back to the independence of Kenya, in 1963. These relations are based on good neighbourliness, peaceful co-existence and non-interference in their respective internal affairs. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between these two countries, various organs had been established and agreements signed to further strengthen the cooperation existing between the two countries.

As stated above, the present-day Ethiopia is doubling its efforts to maintain friendly and peaceful bilateral ties with its neighbours based on mutual cooperation and benefit. In doing so, Ethiopia has attached due emphasis for the respect of its national interest and security. Along side consolidating its political, economic, social and cultural ties with peace loving and law-abiding neighbouring countries, Ethiopia is also watching an eye on anti-peace and belligerent elements in the Horn that are bent on wrecking havoc and anarchy in the region.


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