Core Principles of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Ethiopia-Yemen relations
Ethiopia and the Republic of Yemen have deep rooted and symbiotic historical and cultural relations signified by the shared legends of the Queen of Sheba and Abraha, a viceroy for the Emperors of Axum in the 6th century. Indeed, relations between the two countries are so rich in all aspects that one can only mention the highlights. There is a strong resemblance in terrain and in the architectural design of buildings both in Yemen and in various parts of Ethiopia, underlining the strong ties between the two countries. Geez and Sabean alphabets are very similar, emphasizing the long and strong cultural relations. The free movement of people from one to the other since ancient times has made the assimilation of the peoples of the two countries both possible and easy. Today, there are thousands of Ethiopians living in different parts of Yemen; at the same time many Yemenis live in Ethiopia. The presence of the Yemeni Community School in Addis Ababa is one indication of this fact. It plays a substantive role in strengthening people-to-people relations. Yemenis have not forgotten that Ethiopia provided a place of sanctuary for many Yemenis during the rule of the Imams after the 2nd World War before the Yemen Arab Republic was set up in 1962. In turn, Ethiopia is deeply indebted to those Yemeni troops who came to fight for Ethiopia to help stop the aggression of Siad Barre, the then dictator of Somalia, in 1977-78.
Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Yemen were inaugurated in 1935. Relations continued even when Yemen was divided into two separate states, and have continued since the unification in 1990. Since then Ethiopia and The Republic of Yemen have had their embassies in Sana’a and Addis Ababa respectively. Relations today between the two states are excellent, operating on the basis of history, kinship and family reinforced by a joint approach and attitude towards bilateral relations in regional policies, in economics and in trade. There have been a number of high level visits from each country, though bilateral relations really only flourished on a major scale after the fall of the Derg and the EPRDF’s coming to power. Today, Ethiopia and Yemen have a Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) that operates at ministerial level. This was set up to follow up implementation of the various agreements, political, economic and social, that have been signed at different times. The two countries have an excellent record of cooperation in fighting terrorism, human trafficking, and other illegal acts, and this aspect of cooperation can certainly be expected to continue and expand.
The volume of trade between Ethiopia and Yemen is less than might be expected between two sisterly countries, but it is on the increase. Ethiopia exports to Yemen mainly consist of cattle and livestock as well as other agricultural products; it imports various consumer goods, including chemical compounds. There is ample scope for increasing trade activities between the two nations based on the principles of comparative advantages and South-South Cooperation. Indeed, Yemeni investors have now started looking towards Ethiopia on a substantial scale. A number of joint activities have been set up and some are now operational. The numbers can be expected to rise sharply as numerous other projects have been approved but not yet implemented. There is a Joint Implementation Follow-up Committee that looks after the implementation of projects and the resolution of problems that investors might encounter. A Memorandum of Understanding for the creation of a “Joint Business Council” has also been signed between the respective Chambers of Commerce. These are essential pre-conditions to help expand economic relations between Ethiopia and Yemen. They also indicate the interest of both countries to take their relationship to the highest possible level.
Yemen and Ethiopia also co-operate extensively in multilateral forums. Together with Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen were co-founders of the Sana’a Forum for Cooperation, set up in 2002. This plays a pivotal role in bringing some of the countries of the Horn of Africa and Yemen together. The Forum is currently composed of five members with the Republic of Djibouti and the TFG of Somalia becoming members. The aims of the Sana’a Forum include enhancing co-operation in the areas of economics, trade, investment and tourism, social development, education and health in the Horn of Africa, as well as addressing the political and security interests of member states in the southern part of the Red Sea.
A joint concern for the Forum as well as for Ethiopia and Yemen is terrorism and piracy which affects the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Ethiopia, of course, has no coastline but the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are major waterways and piracy affects Ethiopia’s trade through Djibouti and has serious economic implications for both Ethiopia and Yemen with insurance and other costs rising. Yemen and Ethiopia agree that a solution of the problem lies in Somalia and without stability there, piracy cannot be solved.
As we have noted, Ethiopia and Yemen have excellent relations sharing many common interests at both bilateral and multi-lateral levels, sharing information and acting jointly on issues like terrorism and the peace and security of the sub region. There is every reason to believe this will continue. Equally, Ethiopia strongly believes that such a relationship can and will continue to expand and progress as the impact of development in either country is felt fully - there are still a number of additional fields of cooperation that have yet to be fully explored.