Last Thursday saw a milestone event at the Sheraton Addis Hotel. For the first time in decades, diplomats and scholars convened to discuss the ever-dynamic Red Sea geopolitics.
It is a meeting coming as Ethiopia tries to establish itself as a leading influential power in the Horn of Africa region, even pledging to pursue all means to achieve direct access to the sea.
The Institute of Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministry’s War College jointly hosted the inaugural regional security forum on September 21, 2023.
The forum aims to delve into the intricate dynamics of Red Sea security, bringing together a diverse array of participants, including diplomats, regional security specialists, representatives from political parties, and stakeholders from various organizations.
During the meeting, the primary objective, as outlined by Mesafint Tefera, deputy executive director of the Institutes of Foreign Affairs (IFA), was to raise awareness about the escalating security threats in the region.
The gathering aimed to foster discussions on regional platforms, promoting security interdependence among nations bordering the Red Sea. Additionally, it sought to bolster the influence of think tank groups in shaping regional agendas and policies.
Addressing the forum, Abdeta Diriba (PhD), who now serves as the executive director of the Center for Dialogue Research and Cooperation (CDRC), emphasized the urgent need for unity among Ethiopians. He stressed the importance of recognizing existing fault lines and establishing a cohesive mechanism that can foster trust and confidence in the eyes of regional and international powers.
“When Ethiopians act together, others will behave differently, but if Ethiopia is busy itself, what can we do in Somalia?” said Abdeta. He added that he had served as a special envoy to Somalia, and during that time, Ethiopian soldiers trained Somali soldiers who ended up emulating the behavior and actions of the Ethiopian army. They were often referred to as “copies.”
He emphasized the importance of Ethiopians becoming a model for creating trust and cooperation.
Renowned retired ambassador Girum Abay was among the distinguished attendees at Thursday’s crucial meeting. With a wealth of diplomatic experience, Ambassador Girum emphasized the pressing need for Ethiopia to prioritize resolving its internal challenges before venturing into additional regional responsibilities.
While the importance of securing port access is acknowledged by nations worldwide, including Western powers, the Ambassador underscored the urgency for Ethiopians to unite and tackle their domestic issues head-on. By doing so, Ethiopia can ensure its own stability and position itself to reap the benefits of regional economic and political competition, according to the diplomat.
Girum’s passionate plea centered on the notion that Ethiopia must first overcome its present obstacles to emerge as a shining example of a nation capable of effectively harnessing the vast resources of the Red Sea region. He stressed the paramount importance of addressing internal concerns, as without tangible progress on the home front, aspirations for grand achievements on a broader scale will remain elusive dreams.
“It is only through the collective efforts of Ethiopians and a return to stability can the nation be taken seriously and wield significant influence in the region,” Girum said.
Recent years have presented immense challenges for Ethiopia. After emerging from a devastating civil war in Tigray, the country now grapples with additional crises unfolding in Amhara and Oromia, as well as conflicts cropping up elsewhere. The protracted fighting has exacerbated societal fractures, raising alarm among stakeholders regarding Ethiopia’s path forward.