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Port of Djibouti with container handling cranes in background

A Djibouti policeman stands guard during the opening ceremony of Dubai-based port operator DP World's Doraleh container terminal in Djibouti port February 7, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

Djibouti Rejects Ethiopia’s Red Sea Port Plan

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October 20, 2023

By Simon Marks (Bloomberg) — Djibouti joined Eritrea and Somalia in rejecting an appeal from Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to grant his country direct access to a port on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

“Our two countries have always maintained strong, friendly relations,” said Alexis Mohamed, a senior adviser to Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh. “But you should also know that Djibouti is a sovereign country, and therefore, our territorial integrity is not questionable, neither today nor tomorrow.”

Abiy has identified sea access as a strategic objective for landlocked Ethiopia and warned that failure to secure it could lead to conflict down the road. In a televised lecture, he called for talks with neighboring countries and suggested that they could be given shares in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in return for similar stakes in their ports. He also referenced the nineteenth century Abyssinian warrior, Ras Alula Abanega, who said the Red Sea was Ethiopia’s “natural boundary.”

Earlier this week, Eritrea described Abiy’s comments as “excessive” and said “the affair has perplexed all concerned observers,” while Somalia’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Omar said his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were “sacrosanct and not open for discussion.”

Read More: Ethiopia Says Lack of Port Access Can Fuel Future Conflict 

Abiy’s push comes as he struggles to quell widespread domestic dissent, particularly in the northern Amhara region where militia members are resisting efforts to incorporate them in the national army. His administration is also in talks to restructure its debt after its finances were hammered by the global pandemic and a two-year civil war with rebels from the Tigray region. 

On Thursday, the prime minister’s office said he had visited China’s deep sea Yangshan Port, south of Shanghai, during an official state visit. He also held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Qiang and Dilma Rousseff, the president of the New Development Bank. The multilateral lender was founded by the Brics group of developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and Ethiopia has been invited to join its ranks next year.

Abiy and Xi earlier this week announced that their relations would be elevated to a so-called “all-weather strategic partnership” to strengthen their friendship, mutual trust and bilateral engagement. 

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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