An Ethiopia-backed port is changing power dynamics in the Horn of Africa

When Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Ethiopia became landlocked and therefore dependent on its neighbors—especially Djibouti—for access to international markets. This dependency has hampered Ethiopia’s aspiration to emerge as the uncontested regional

When Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Ethiopia became landlocked and therefore dependent on its neighbors—especially Djibouti—for access to international markets. This dependency has hampered Ethiopia’s aspiration to emerge as the uncontested regional power in the Horn of Africa.

Recently, however, the ground has been shifting. As we point out in a recent article, Ethiopia has attempted to take advantage of the recent involvement of various Arab Gulf States in the Horn of Africa’s coastal zone to reduce its dependency on Djibouti’s port. The port currently accounts for 95% of Ethiopia’s imports and exports. It has done so by actively trying to interest partners in the refurbishment and development of other ports in the region: Port Sudan in Sudan, Berbera in the Somaliland region of Somalia, and Mombasa in Kenya.

But it is Berbera, in particular, that will prove the most radical in terms of challenging regional power dynamics as well as international law. This is because a port deal involving Somaliland will challenge Djibouti’s virtual monopoly over maritime trade. In addition, it may entrench the de-facto Balkanization of Somalia and increase the prospects of Ethiopia becoming the regional hegemony.

Ethiopia’s regional policy

Ethiopia’s interest in Berbera certainly makes sense from a strategic perspective. It is closest to Ethiopia and will connect the eastern, primarily Somali region of Ethiopia to Addis Ababa. It will also provide a much needed outlet for trade, particularly the export of livestock and agriculture.

The development and expansion of the port at Berbera supports two primary pillars of Ethiopia’s regional policy. The first is maintaining Eritrea’s isolation. The aim would be to weaken it to the point that it implodes and is formally reunited to Ethiopia. Or it becomes a pliant, client state.

The second pillar rests on maintaining the status quo in post-civil war Somalia. Simply put, a weak and fractured Somalia enables Ethiopia to focus on quelling persistent internal security difficulties. It also keeps up pressure on Eritrea.

Ethiopia’s ambitions for Berbera have been hampered by two problems. Firstly the Republic of Somaliland – a de-facto independent state since 1991 – still isn’t recognised internationally. This makes engagement a political and legal headache. Secondly, Ethiopia, doesn’t have the critical resources needed to invest and build a port.

Ethiopia had been trying to get Abu Dhabi and Dubai interested in the Berbera Port for years. It’s latest push was assisted by a number of factors. These included a shift in the UAE’s military focus in Yemen and Ethiopian assurances of more trade and some financing to upgrade the port.

Ethiopia’s diplomatic push – which coincided with developments across the Gulf of Aden – finally got it the result it craved. In May 2016, DP World, a global mega-ports operator, signed an agreement to develop and manage Berbera Port for 30 years.

The Berbera Port deal

It is unlikely that DP World would have signed the deal if it didn’t see some long-term commercial benefit. The deal also includes economic, military and political dimensions.

Economically, for example, there will be investments in Somaliland’s fisheries, transportation and hospitality industry. The UAE will also establish a military installation in Berbera. The base is intended to help the UAE tighten its blockade against Yemen and stop weapons being smuggled from Iran.

Politically, the Berbera Port deal has provoked mixed reactions in Somaliland. There has been some popular anger aimed at Somaliland’s former president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud aka “Silanyo”, and his family who reportedly benefited personally from it. Anger also stems from inter-clan and sub-clan rivalry over land, particularly in the Berbera area.

But the anger in Somaliland pales in comparison to the reaction in Mogadishu. This is because the Somaliland government has remained largely isolated internationally – until the port deal.

Somalia Federal Government ministers have publicly challenged the right of Somaliland to enter into official agreements with any country. The Ethiopian-driven deal means that Mogadishu’s claims over the breakaway territory have weakened substantially. The deal means that Somaliland has partially broken the glass ceiling of international recognition by entering into substantive deals with viable business partners and states operating on the global stage. Mogadishu can no longer pretend it controls the government in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa.

Ethiopia’s wins

The bottom line is that Ethiopia has engineered access to another port and enhanced its security and strategic economic interests. With the growth in annual volumes of transit cargo, Ethiopia has, for a long time, needed alternative routes from Djibouti.

In addition, Ethiopia has ensured its presence in the running of the port by acquiring a 19% share in the deal.

And by wangling a legally binding agreement between Somaliland and another state, Ethiopia has potentially paved the way for eventual international recognition of Hargeisa.

Ethiopia has also further cemented its hold over Somaliland through a combination of pressure and material incentives. By bringing significant outside investment and recognition, Ethiopia can also increasingly meddle in its internal affairs. This is a conundrum for Hargeisa. It finds itself increasingly emboldened to act independently. Yet it remains constrained by the need to get Addis Ababa’s approval.

As Ethiopia begins to move increasing amounts of goods and services on Somaliland’s new highway to the refurbished port of Berbera, Hargeisa may begin to question key aspects of the port deal.

The ConversationBut one aspect will not be in question: Ethiopia’s rising power and influence over the entire region.

Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University and Ash Rossiter, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities & Social Science, Khalifa University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Review overview
  • Bajet May 8, 2018

    When will poor isolated Eritrea’s ports ever get refurbished or get new highways? When all our camels are dead!
    Twisted and messed up Eritreans need another new 30 yrs revolution of Sahel to wake up to the 21st century.

    • k.tewolde May 9, 2018

      It would have been a different story if the Eritrean people were the decision makers,as a matter of fact the armed struggle itself wouldn’t have taken that long,however people like you who always wished the demise of this nation slithered among us early and often to cook up this grim scenario we witness today.BTW if you are wondering about the “isolated… ports” they are up for sale,as is,unrefurbished to the highest bidder,no consent needed from the owners- the Eritrean people. Meshaq sherafat geromuna,zesdemimyu.

      • Mesfin May 9, 2018

        Your fucked up head needs urgent moulding, the fake armed struggle duped your already poorly fed life and fucked up head for life. Why are you cooking up fake stories?

        • Bajet May 9, 2018

          They say imitation is the best form of flattery. In the case of poor Eritrea we might say it is the best confirmation that what Eritrea is doing is right.
          No other people have worked for so long, so hard and with such consistency against their self-interest – again, this remains especially true of poor Kebessa Eritrea.
          Mesdemdem k.tewolde, you keep blaming others as a typical headless bojbaj chicken. Do you bloody think when our poor unfortunate young Eritreans were being savagely raped and beheaded by your barbarous muslim Arabs, they were meshaq sherafat? You should bloody be stoned to death.

    • Mesfin May 9, 2018

      It is not the Eritrean ports that need refurbishments or new highways.
      Before the ports the people that you rightly described as twisted and messed up
      need urgent repairs and moulding – ‘miliHam kem nay medeber’ in their fucked up heads.
      We have been boasting about our useless ‘only useful if Ethiopia uses them’ wedebatina shitty.

      • Mesfin May 9, 2018

        ‘only useful when Ethiopia uses them – in terms of massive “millions if not billions yearly” revenue just as tiny Djibouti gets from port services. But you need two to tango!

      • Bajet May 9, 2018

        Many thanks brother Mesfin for your response and support.
        What poor Eritreans are enduring is one of our own making (yes, vanity,bravado, vindictiveness, empty pride, fake identity) is the source of ‘our countrymen’ predicament in Sinai and elsewhere. Simply put, Eritreans need to resolve own problems and find our own solutions without escapism. Get our messed up house in order and look inwards not outwards for solutions.

  • Agame May 9, 2018

    The dream of independent and prosperous eritrea came to end becuse of the narrow minded, closed society and war addicted tigrigna speakers ill guided leadership in Eritrea.

  • amanuel May 9, 2018

    We will make a deal with real ethiopians ones the fake weyanes, tegarus and hgdf are gone for good and leave peacefully as neighbours with oromos and amaras.

    • Mesfin May 9, 2018

      abudurahiman, you are NOT being drilled properly by your savage barbarous Arabs, are you? The good/kind people of Ethiopia (the Tegaru, Amaras, Oromos, Somalis) since they’ve kicked you out of Ethiopia for good they are prospering and developing their country beautifully. Eritrea would also develop, prosper rapidly once and for all gets rid of you fucked up foreign mercenaries

  • Bajet May 9, 2018

    Brother Mesfin,
    This muslim jerk comedian would be coming back as Sol, almaz, Wedi Hagher, Aba thimmer, Nahon, keshi mars, Samson Beraki, Amare Resom, Duri Mohammed, Hamid Ibrahim, Khalid, Mohammed, Setit, Noor, Keshi Marcello, etc. He is a truly fucked up muslim taliban terrorist who suffers from severe identity crisis. Some day we will find him outside his jihadi terrorist screen and should do him a favor by breaking his ugly Islamic garbage face into pieces.

  • Danilo May 9, 2018

    Why then the tigray fake state is looking eritrean ports while Ethiopia is looking other ports.

    • Bajet May 9, 2018

      Seb tsewuE tebelkus kondaf mahayim muslim baAl beles.
      Your muslim cousins are prospering and developing like never before in your old Tigray – Ethiopia. Are you still resentful and bitter for being kicked out of Tigray – Ethiopia? You will soon also be kicked out from Eritrea for once and for good, will you go back to Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Egypt as beautiful and peaceful Ethiopia will NEVER allow you back to return??? Muslim garbage shit.

    • amanuel May 9, 2018


      Akli tsibet koynuni,
      Aykealkun nibeyney….
      Dada dada dadada…..

      Komu eyu zigebir akli tsibet danilo.
      Kiflit kaa tewesikulen eyu kab wey..anne mesleni. Habesha keybla amhara siletihiwis agazian elen yifitna alewa aklitsibey…timali kab ethiopian tigrayin hibri aynikum elen zisegegana resienao mesleni. Ab cage atikum kemderahu tefareyu 30 million kitkonu mo firhi kab amhara kiwetselkum.

      Dada dadada….dada dadadada …dadaaaaaaa.

      • amanuel May 9, 2018

        Hitokaye zimilis zeleku nimintay tigray masdawa yitimita alewa, nimintay tigray tigrigni kindizibla agazian yiblalewa, nimintayke badme zeyteksa

        • Danilo May 9, 2018

          ኩቡር ሓው Amanuel,እዞም ሰባት ከም ዝዓበዱ መኣስ ጠፊኡና።የግዳስ፡ልቢ ኣዕቢና እምብር።

  • Mesfin May 9, 2018

    Danilo or Papagalo or Ossama bin Laden,
    If you weren’t a victim of your own ignorance, then you would or should have known better the path Ethiopia is taking {Tigray being part of Ethiopia} – Tigray is NOT a fake “independent” country like your “Islamic Eritrea”, yet! OK!
    You see Signore bin Laden, Ethiopia is at peace and developing so fast without troubled Eritrea and would take another 30 yrs of your Arabic ghedli adventure or “Egyptian armed struggle” among Eritreans to come to our sense and join Ethiopia {not that Ethiopia would have us back}. Forget the fake {Arabs sponsored and brewed in Cairo} ghedli shit, it has put poor Eritrea and Eritreans into stone age era. Simply, stop being a day dreamer, OK! Good boy.

    • k.tewolde May 9, 2018

      Mesfin and Bajet ,who are you trying to appease with this Islamophobic vile you are spewing all over the net? whose support are you trying to harness by regurgitating this crusader rhetoric? the KKK ,let me guess the alt right or …….the least goes on? In this world where it is fast integrating into one global community through technology,where a Punjabi is marrying an Armenian through the internet,where a neurosurgeon in Boston is teaching how to exice a neuroblastoma in real time to med students in Finland,you are preaching of putting together a christian nation in the horn,please! get a real job,go back to school and learn something that will do away with borders, tear down walls and bring people together for the greater good. Guess who is living in stone age or sifting through the Agaazian scrolls?

      • Bajet May 9, 2018

        Wedi Amate Komarit/hooker – Wedi Hirkam scum bag, barbaric evil Islamic ELF mendef whore mouth heedless bojbaj chicken, why the fuck do you bore us with your criminal ELF mendef hallucinations all the time? Can’t you fucking find something real thing outside assenna to amaze you or can’t you fucking find old criminal savage ELF mendef shefatu/bandits like yourself in their beggars stinker wheel chairs to mingle with? And what the fuck do you know about “real jobs and real schools”??? You not fucking managing well with your beggar’s food stamps and hand outs, are you ESUB ELF JASUS scum bag? Once a beggar wedi komarit crock then always the same old…..

        • Bajet May 9, 2018

          correction: please read as ‘headless’ chicken the bojbaj wedi Amate Komarit.

          • k.tewolde May 9, 2018

            What horrible thing did I say to deserve all this insults including my mom who passed away without seeing what we going through today?

      • amanuel May 9, 2018

        Amaras are more christian than tigray or eritreans…..why are not included in agazian?

        The whole agazian project is the desperation of wey….anne!!!

        • k.tewolde May 9, 2018

          Amanuel,our mothers said it all a long time ago,”SEBA’AY KILITES NIYOW NEJEW KIBIL MOTE”…….Period.

          • rezen May 9, 2018

            You are in BIG trouble!!! When we meet in Asmara for our legendary berad shahee meAmer with embotito you are going to pay a fortune.
            I read your two liner of a gem and I went wild with laughter in a PUBLIC LIBRARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine?!?!?! I just put my head down on the keyboard with my two hands on my head and trying to hide and muffle my laughter. I succeed but with my head and shoulder still vibrating……… OH! LORD!
            It is a FANTASTIC LINER, k. tewolde. .

      • almaz May 9, 2018

        These are hgdf agents trying to disrupt the opposition forum and discourage all eritreans who oppose hgdf. Do not be deceived by words that insult hgdf or muslims.

  • k.tewolde May 10, 2018

    rezen, my mom man!, I miss that woman like crazy,she will throw you some knuckle balls,you just head to the dugout masticating on that thing for the rest of your life-truth!! never backs down from anybody,bold!! This one is one of her liners. I am glad they didn’t throw you out of the library.Call me next time,we will go to the coffee shop next door laugh our ass off.

  • Degoli May 10, 2018

    Eritrean ports are dying slowly as PM Meles had predicted. My sister who had visited Massawa in January confirmed this fact and called it – “ghost town”.
    The Ethiopians will soon weaken Djibouti by propping up Somaliland and killing a united Somalia forever and ever, then one day they will scoop up all the ports for nothing.
    Somalia will be the first to die and followed by my Eritrea.
    It pays off to be a stable and regional power rather than be enslaved and scooped up by Arab Bedouins and Rashayadas in their slavery.
    “This is because a port deal involving Somaliland will challenge Djibouti’s virtual monopoly over maritime trade. In addition, it may entrench the de-facto Balkanization of Somalia and increase the prospects of Ethiopia becoming the regional hegemony.”.

  • ገዛ ተጋሩ May 10, 2018

    ናይ ኢትዮጵያ ኣፍደገ ባሕሪ ምንዮት….

    ደርሆ እንተሓለመት ጥረምረ እዩ።

    ምነሊክ ጎበዝ ልቡ ኣብደረቱ…..