#Ethiopia plans to build naval base “adjacent to the Red Sea & the Indian Ocean.”
So says General Berhanu Jula, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces. He told Addis Standard: “We are consulting with other countries regarding the naval reinstatement, capacity, & structure.”
Ethiopia is certainly a great nation. But – apart from a few patrol craft on lake Tana – what is General Berhanu thinking of? Where will these bases be?
He gave a few more details.
What does ‘adjacent to’ the Red Sea mean, other than establishing bases at Assab or Massawa? President Isaias has travelled to Ethiopia today.
Are naval bases on the agenda of the tripartite meeting that President Isaias, Prime Minister Abiy and Somalia’s President Farmajo are due to hold in Gondar?
The three leaders have every right to discuss the proposals, but these are major developments. They need to be put to the people for their consideration. But while Ethiopia and Somalia have parliaments, Eritrea does not.
Without transparency and democratic buy-in, surely the Eritrean people have a right to question the legitimacy of what will inevitably require a reduction in their sovereignty?
President Isaias has already allowed Saudi Arabia and the UAE to develop bases at Assab. But allowing Ethiopia to return to their former bases would be another matter altogether.
Eritreans fought for independence for 30 years to end Ethiopian control over their territory. They defended it in the 1998 – 2000 border war. Tens of thousands laid down their lives. President Isaias must surely be open with them about what he plans, and obtain their consent.
Ethiopia’s previous naval bases on the Eritrean coast
In 1955, the Imperial Ethiopian Navy was founded, with its primary base—the Haile Selassie I Naval Base—at Massawa. By the early 1960s workshops and other facilities were under construction at Massawa to give it complete naval base capabilities.
The Imperial Ethiopian Navy established four bases: Massawa was the site of the naval headquarters and enlisted training facilities; the naval air station and naval academy were at Asmara; Assab was the site of a naval station, enlisted training facilities, and a repair dock; and there was a naval station and communications station on the Dahlak Islands in the Red Sea near Massawa.
Former Ethiopian diplomat Birhanemeskel Abebe speculated that strategic and geo-political security concerns could be driving the navy plan.
“Ethiopia’s right to use international waters demands it has a naval base,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.
He suggested Kenya, Somaliland and Djibouti as possible locations for the base. But the ports of Eritrea are much more obvious.
The plan, Mr Birhanemeskel said, was to push for the “unification of the Horn of Africa as an economic bloc and the navy is part of that project”.