The Gulf Gains in Ethiopia, Will They Thrive “Politically”?

The Gulf Gains in Ethiopia, Will They Thrive “Politically”?

Till the year 2014, the Ethio-Gulf relations didn’t amount to the level of real political interaction. The Gulf economic presence in Ethiopia exceeds its political presence which is limited to one diplomatic representative in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has found the Gulf investments on its own territory and the Ethiopian labor in the Gulf capitals a real solution for its serious unemployment crisis and a major contributor to the acceleration of Ethiopian economy given the flow of financial transfers to Ethiopian banks.

Therefore, the Ethiopian media up to now only highlights the Ethio-Gulf relations in the context of trade and open investment, taking into account the Ethiopian labor in Gulf countries which ranked first among foreign labor working in Gulf capitals. Though, the period from 2015 and ensuing was so crucial in the course of these relations for Gulf countries began to view the Horn of Africa countries as the cornerstone of its future strategic orientation in the African continent and the actual extension of Gulf national security much worried by the divergent political visions of its members.

Currently, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh seem to have the stronger presence on the Ethiopian scene, which doesn’t necessarily indicate the absence of other Gulf countries. Countries like Kuwait, Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman practice a sort of reserved anticipation or rather watching and acting as per their interest.

Addis Ababa is quite aware that the international powers are the sole planners of the past and future scenarios in the Horn of Africa, especially that these powers emphasize via their world-renowned media arm that no Gulf success in the Horn of Africa will be achieved without their intervention. Accordingly, Ethiopia is endeavoring to take this unique opportunity after the international powers have created a feverish spot out of the Horn of Africa for more than twenty years.

The Ethiopian public opinion believes that the Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation hasn’t led to real political gains for Gulf countries. From the viewpoint of the Ethiopian political elite, the Gulf countries today despite having achieved some economic gains but they still don’t possess the will and strength necessary for realizing political gains in the scale suggested today in the media.

For instance, if Addis Ababa is confronted by a real political obstacle it will turn to its regional neighbors such as Khartoum, Djibouti and Kenya instead of Gulf countries; a matter that Gulf leadership should recognize.

What is held by the Ethiopian public opinion and well identified by Addis Ababa is reinforced by the political tensions in Africa and which has proved a Gulf failure to win over the peoples of the African continent apart from their leaders. From the Ethiopian standpoint this could be attributed to Gulf countries lack of a reliable, long-range strategic vision on the African continent. In addition, the Ethiopian public opinion implies that the Gulf race in the Horn of Africa in particular and in Africa in general is but a sort of competition between Gulf countries to gain political influence that couldn’t be achieved without international support. The question here is: will the international powers make use of the support needed by Gulf countries in order to succeed in Africa? Or will this success be curtailed as per the interest of these international powers no matter contradictory with the long-range Gulf interests?

Today, Addis Ababa seems more interactive with its regional and international setting after the Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation described as historical following a twenty-year war. Regarding the influence of this reconciliation on the Ethiopian and Eritrean domestic levels, we find that Asmara accepted this reconciliation because of its enormous positive consequences and not due to its inability to continue the war. Moreover, the reconciliation with Ethiopia will help to make the regime of Isaias Afwerki acceptable on the regional and international levels and will consolidate it against internal opposition which may try to remobilize public protests. At the same time, this will impair the Eritrean opposition abroad and thwart its goal of establishing a real national Eritrean government.

The Eritrean leadership is aware that Ethiopia only views them as an insurgent subordinate, but the question here is: does Ethiopia still remember what the Ethiopian High Commissioner Andlakashu Masai once said in 1955 in Eritrea that there are no Eritrean affairs but rather Ethiopian affairs? In turn, will the Eritrean people forget what the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie said that the liberation of Ethiopia would be complete only by obtaining a sea port?

As for Ethiopia, Haile Mariam left behind a heavy legacy that Abiy Ahmed who acts according to his own analysis of domestic, regional and international settings could not deal with. It seems that the internal situation in Ethiopia is more complicated than we thought, for Abiy Ahmed has a number of important issues such as the intent of the Amhara to change the constitution, the Ethiopian Somalis in the Ogaden region who are at odds with the Oromo in several different parts of Ethiopia, and to add insult to injury, the rising voices of the Tigray ethnicity extremists demanding secession on the background of Ethiopian Prime Minister’s intention to hand over the disputed region of Badme to Asmara.

In international crisis tradition, it is known that reconciliation between two conflicting parties can only be achieved by agreeing on a radical solution to the crisis and then announcing that solution. But the Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation broke that rule and appeared different and unusual for the two sides agreed on ending the war and resuming flights between them without talking openly to their people about the Badme region which triggered a twenty-year Ethiopian-Eritrean war. That sounded as if they preferred to proceed along and delay entangled issues to other occasions.

Consequences of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Reconciliation on Neighboring Countries

Somalia: Asmara and Addis Ababa realize the “different” political line followed by Somalia under President Mohamed Farmajo, and hence, betting on a real Somali alliance with Asmara and Addis Ababa is unlikely.

Djibouti: Despite being both cautious and angry toward that reconciliation but Djibouti will not lose Ethiopia and vice versa. Meetings should have been held or would be held between the Ethiopian and Djibouti sides to assure the latter that the reconciliation will not be at its own expense; but to what extent will the Djibouti side accept that?

Sudan: Sudan carefully monitors the outcome of this reconciliation and what could happen in the future on its eastern coast. The Eritrean and Ethiopian sides recognize the role Khartoum had once played and could play today if its interests were put at risk or its security threatened. It seems that Addis Ababa is more careful not to provoke Khartoum, and therefore Khartoum will enhance its alliance with Moscow and Ankara, especially that Khartoum believes Asmara could repeat its provocations (psychological warfare) on the eastern coasts.

And finally, will the Gulf gains in Ethiopia thrive “politically”?

The Gulf countries will not achieve much of the gains expected in Ethiopia, and Addis Ababa will remain open to welcome Gulf delegations despite their divergent political visions. Ethiopia will carry on holding the stick from the middle, uncompromising its foreign policy and will benefit from all. Ethiopia will not side with Cairo and thus miss the opportunity to rise and become a power in East Africa (Grand Renaissance Dam), especially the country’s leadership is quite aware that giving up this project an inch would result in its being overthrown by its very peoples who wouldn’t calm down. Domestic discords among various ethnicities with some of them demanding secession will disappear given that the people of Ethiopia felt a Gulf-Egyptian impediment preventing the realization of a long-awaited rising.

The international powers closely watch the changes taking place in the Horn of Africa and have their own scenarios prepared and designed prior to planning the Eritrean-Ethiopian reconciliation.


Dr. Amina Alarimi,

UAE Researcher in African Affairs


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