Core principles of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Relations with Neighbouring Countries
Ethiopia enjoys warm relations with all its neighbours with the exception of Eritrea. This reflects the mutual interests of the counties of the region, and it also highlights the objectives of Ethiopia’s foreign policy as laid out in the Foreign Policy and National Security Strategy which emphasizes the government’s priorities: fighting poverty and backwardness and the promotion of democratization. The strategy makes clear that Ethiopia values relations with its neighbours and has a keen interest in advancing bilateral and regional relations on the basis of mutual interest. In this regard, the revitalization of IGAD was, and remains, a top priority in Ethiopia’s efforts to bring together neighbouring countries in the quest for peace, stability and economic development. Similarly, Ethiopia’s active participation in the AU as well as IGAD has contributed to the creation of a cooperative framework among countries in the region on issues of common concern including peace initiatives, conflict early warning systems and economic integration.
On the bilateral level, as mentioned, Ethiopia enjoys good relationships with all of its neighbours with the single exception of Eritrea. As we noted in the previous item, this is not a situation of Ethiopia’s choosing. Ethiopia continues to hope that Eritrea will stop its efforts to destabilize its neighbours, act to normalize relations with Ethiopia, and resume its rightful place in IGAD. It has to be said that little progress is apparent at the moment.
With Somalia, Ethiopia has been active in working on the resolution of conflicts there. Since the early 1990s it has hosted successive peace conferences aimed at bringing together different parties to the conflict. Ethiopia has done everything possible to support any effort by regional organizations as well as by the international community to resolve Somalia’s problems. Despite security threats from armed and extremist groups in Somalia, Ethiopia has always remained a friend to the peoples of Somalia. Indeed, it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia. It was in this spirit, and in the face of an intolerable level of extremist threat, that the Ethiopian government accepted the request of the Somalia Transitional Federal Government to send troops to Somalia in December 2006. The performance of the Ethiopian Defence Forces while in Somalia demonstrated the level of respect and friendship that Ethiopia has for the peoples of Somalia. In addition to cooperation with, and support for, the Transitional Federal Institutions, Ethiopia also maintains close cooperation with both Puntland and Somaliland on a range of issues of concern. It has made it clear that it will continue to extend every support it can to help find a lasting solution to the conflicts in Somalia.
With Sudan, Ethiopia shares thousands of kilometres of border. In the past, relations have not always been as good as they might have been, and misguided policies on both sides of the border for a long time complicated relations. The coming to power of the EPRDF opened a new chapter of cooperation which has been characterized by friendship and mutual respect. Apart from security cooperation and the continuing joint effort to properly demarcate their common boundary, both countries are aware of the potential for mutually beneficial economic cooperation. Ethiopia now imports 100 per cent of its benzene from Sudan, and exports cereals and sesame to the Sudan. Ethiopia’s use of Port Sudan is particularly significant for increased investment in the northern parts of the country. All this has created a real opportunity to leave any difficulties behind. Also important in Ethiopia’s relations with the Sudan is the fact that Ethiopia has a close friendship with both the North and the South. It has always supported peaceful resolution of conflicts between the two regions. It remains a committed supporter of the CPA, and has frequently expressed willingness to use its close ties to both areas to help resolve any differences over post-referendum issues. There may still be areas that need improvement, but Ethio-Sudan relations will continue to thrive whatever the outcome of the referendum.
Another neighbour with which Ethiopia enjoys excellent bilateral relations is Kenya. Both countries are active members of IGAD and play a significant role in the African Union. They have steadily deepening economic cooperation and people-to-people relations. Joint commissions are active in resolving any disputes that arise between trans-boundary communities over scarce resources or as a result of cattle rustling. Cooperation in security and in infrastructure is growing steadily. Ethiopia fully appreciates the value of further strengthening relations in the areas of road transport, the use of ports and in energy. Both countries have spent millions of dollars in infrastructural development aimed at further extending the benefits of their long-term relationship. The building of the Gilgel Gibe III dam, for example, is seen by both as another milestone in enhancing bilateral relations. There are clear indications that these will continue to expand.
With Djibouti, of course, Ethiopia shares long-standing cultural, historic and economic ties because of the railway linking Djibouti port with Addis Ababa, which has now been operating for nearly a century. There are fraternal links between the peoples on both sides of the border. The Port of Djibouti remains Ethiopia’s largest outlet to the rest of the world; Ethiopia is Djibouti’s biggest customer. The two countries have close ties in security and other areas. Both are committed to bringing about economic integration in the region and have co-operated on other regional problems including Somalia. As in any such relationships, misunderstandings can arise, but there are mechanisms in place which can quickly address these. Today, Ethiopia and Djibouti have an excellent relationship cemented by common economic interests. Nor should one overlook the very good relations Ethiopia has with Yemen. Ethiopia along with Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti, is involved in the Sana’a Forum for Co-operation, now a major factor for stability in the Red Sea.
Ethiopia’s relations with its neighbours are now far more solid than ever before. Apart from Ethiopia’s declared policy of peaceful relations based on the principle of mutual respect, the existence of enduring security, economic and political ties has made these relationships closer and more dependable. The role of the regional organization, IGAD, in this respect is significant, and its current revitalization is hoped to be a major factor for improving relationships and development in the region. Obviously, extremism and terrorism remain a growing threat requiring regional co-operation. This is in the vital interest of all countries in the region. Others outside the region, and the international community as a whole, may have responsibilities in fighting extremism; however, in the last resort it is the responsibility of the regional countries to take the lead in addressing this threat. This, indeed, is reflected in the common position taken by the IGAD states with respect to the problem.