What is Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed thinking?
Fresh from a two-year civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people died and the economy went from one of Africa’s best performing to the verge of default, Abiy has chosen to threaten his neighbors.
In a public lecture, the Nobel Peace Prize winner warned that there’s a risk of conflict if his landlocked nation doesn’t secure direct access to the Red Sea.
The lack of access to harbors “prevents Ethiopia from holding the place it ought to have,” Abiy said in the televised speech. “If this is not going to happen, there will be no fairness and justice and if there is no fairness and justice, it’s a matter of time, we will fight.”
He invoked a 19th century Abyssinian warrior who had proclaimed the Red Sea as Ethiopia’s “natural boundary.”
It’s drawn an angry response.
Somalia said its territorial integrity is “sacrosanct.” Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a bitter three-decade war, described the comments as “excessive,” adding that all countries in the region were “perplexed.” Djibouti said its territory was unquestionable, “neither today nor tomorrow.”
In a neighborhood that’s been wracked by conflict for decades — and continues to be so, with Sudan in the midst of its own civil war and Somalia battling Islamist militants — the remarks seem an unwise course for Abiy to chart.
He has enough problems at home without adding to the ranks of his enemies.
The government’s battle against the northern province of Tigray has ended in an uneasy peace with both sides licking their wounds. Rebels from the neighboring Amhara region have also fought federal troops, while the building of a giant dam on the Blue Nile river has infuriated Sudan and Egypt.
Abiy’s reputation as a man of peace has been marred by the conflict with Tigray. Taking his country into a fight over access to a port would bury it. (ANTHONY SGUAZZIN | BLOOMBERG)