The expansion of the Somaliland Port of Berbera and the meeting between Somaliland and Somalia leaders will be among the discussions points between Ethiopia Prime Minister Aby Ahmed and the United Arab Emirates leadership this weekend.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed landed in Abu Dhabi on Thursday evening for a round of talks with the hosting government over trade partnerships and efforts to find peace in the horn of Africa.
Abiy was received at the Presidential Airport by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court.
Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Abiy and discussed relations and co-operation between the two countries and ways to tackle issues of mutual interest.
Abiy is accompanied by his wife, Zinash Tayachew, Dr Hirut Kassaw, Minister of Culture and Tourism, Adanech Abebe, Minister of Revenues, and Muferiat Kamil, Ethiopian Minister of Peace.
Ethiopia and the UAE have partnered with Somaliland in the expansion of the port of Berbera which once completed will be the biggest in the region.
UAE’s DP World is expanding the port at a cost of USD 442 Million and is also expected to set up an economic free zone complement the growth of the Port of Berbera as a regional trading hub.
Somalia has been against the expansion of the port claiming Somaliland has no right to enter any international agreements.
Somaliland separated from Somalia in 1991 and declared its own independence. The two countries have been at loggerheads since then.
But early this week, the Ethiopian Prime Minister brokered a meeting between Somaliland president Musa Bihi and Somali president Abdullahi Farmajo in Addis Ababa, talks that lasted for an hour.
Ethiopia and the UAE believe that a lasting solution between Somalia and Somaliland is vital for their interests in the horn of Africa.
This is Abiy’s second trip to UAE in less than one year.
UAE was one of the Gulf nations Abiy visited last year as part of pooling regional support, especially for economic reforms. The Crown Prince also visited Addis Ababa in 2018.
Ethiopia – UAE relations have been on an upward trajectory over the course of 2018.
Over the last decade, the UAE has gradually increased its presence in the Horn of Africa, using development and humanitarian projects to boost its prominence.
It has significantly invested in ports, logistics and trade developments, to secure its port empire across the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait by the Red Sea, to profoundly boost its international trade and regional soft power.
The Emirati-owned company DP World’s opening of a port in Djibouti in 2008 signalled a developing presence in the relatively then-untouched Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia has served as a key platform for growing UAE influence, where Abu Dhabi alongside Saudi Arabia helped broker a peace deal with Eritrea, after a two-year state of war between the two states.
It has since continued to shower Ethiopia with aid, also carrying out key development projects. The UAE had also built an oil pipeline between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Emirati companies have increased investment particularly in Ethiopia.
Such moves are also an attempt to compete with Turkey, Iran and Qatar, whose increasingly positive ties with east African states are met with unease by Abu Dhabi.
A setback for the UAE’s political ambitions in the Horn of Africa, however, are its ties with Somalia who have grown closer to Turkey, a key Emirati rival.
In response, the UAE has focused its support on Somalia’s autonomous regions.
The UAE and Ethiopia last February agreed to cooperate to turn Somaliland into a “major regional trading hub,” which helps the UAE’s ally Ethiopia gain greater trading access, and subsequently boost the UAE’s own trading and economic capabilities.
Furthermore, its alliance with Ethiopia, which also invests in Somaliland’s Berbera port, has helped the UAE gain greater control over it.
The UAE has also attempted to build a military and naval base in Somaliland.
BY ODINDO AYIEKO