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Home eritreahub France to help landlocked Ethiopia rebuild its navy – in Eritrea

France to help landlocked Ethiopia rebuild its navy – in Eritrea

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (R, bacground) speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron (L, bacground) while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide sign agreements on March 12, 2019 in Addis Ababa. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The deal – outlined below – comes with few details, but some are provided by previous announcements by Ethiopia.

The plan was outlined on Eritrea Hub in November last year. [See below]

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently said on state TV: “We built one of the strongest ground and air force in Africa… we should build our naval force capacity in the future.”

“General Berhanu Jula, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces, told Addis Standard: “We are consulting with other countries regarding the naval reinstatement, capacity, & structure.”

Ethiopia bases 2

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?

There is – of course – only one place the navy could be located: Eritrea. What say do Eritreans have in this major decision?


Ethiopia, France sign military, navy deal, turn ‘new page’ in ties

Source: Reuters

 

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia and France agreed their first military cooperation accord on Tuesday, a deal that includes helping the landlocked nation build a navy, as Paris seeks to boost economic ties in Africa’s second-most populous country.

On a four-day visit to the Horn of Africa, President Emmanuel Macron is looking to break from France’s colonial history on the continent and nurture relationships in a region where it has lagged behind in recent years.

Macron wants to leverage a mixture of Paris’ soft power in culture and education and its military know-how to give it a foothold at a time when Ethiopia is opening up.

“This unprecedented defence cooperation agreement provides a framework… and notably opens the way for France to assist in establishing an Ethiopian naval component,” Macron told a news conference alongside Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The accord also provides for air cooperation, joint operations and opportunities for training and equipment purchases.

Abiy, who took over as premier in April last year, has presided over major political and economic changes that have included the pardoning of exiled rebel groups and reconciliation with longtime neighbouring foe Eritrea.

The country disbanded its navy in 1991 after its then-province Eritrea, which is on the Red Sea, seceded following a three-decade war for independence.

“We are here in a friendly country where we want to strengthen and build a new page in our common history,” Macron said. “Since you became prime minister our vision (of Ethiopia) has profoundly changed.”

He and Abiy also agreed deals to develop Ethiopia’s cultural heritage, including preserving churches and opening an archaeological dig at a 12th century village. Paris will provide 100 million euros to help the country’s economic transition.

Macron was accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, including the chief executive of telecommunications group Orange, Stephane Richard, who is looking to position the company ahead of Ethiopia’s privatisation of the sector.

Shipper CMA-CGM and family-owned agri-food group Soufflet are among firms signing deals on Wednesday. A 50-strong French business delegation is due in Addis on Friday.

France’s history in Ethiopia dates back to the start of the 20th century. Its largest embassy compound in the world by size – 43 hectares (106 acres) – was given to it by Emperor Menelik II in 1907. In 1917 it built the rail link between former colony Djibouti and Addis. But these days its influence and business deals fail to rival the likes of China.

“The railway between Djibouti and France is 100 years old and the work that we now want to complete with President Macron is for the long-term. Perhaps in 100 years we’ll talk about it again,” Abiy said.


Ethiopia has plans for naval bases – but will Eritreans be consulted?

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 bases 2

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.

Ethiopia bases

What does ‘adjacent to’ the Red Sea mean, other than establishing bases at Assab or Massawa? President Isaias has travelled to Ethiopia today. Isaias Gondar

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.

Ethiopia Massawa

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”.


Source: BBC

Why landlocked Ethiopia wants to launch a navy

When Eritrea gained independence in 1993, Ethiopia suddenly found itself without a coastline and so it took the logical step of disbanding its navy. Now, it is reconsidering its decision and its latest manoeuvres in the region suggest it could be shopping around its neighbourhood to find a naval base it can use.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently said on state TV: “We built one of the strongest ground and air force in Africa… we should build our naval force capacity in the future.”

His comments revealed the country’s naval ambitions but his plans for how to achieve this goal have not been made public. However, Ethiopia’s latest push to enter into deals with its coastal neighbours signals something is afoot.

What is behind the move?

State-linked Fana Broadcasting Corporate quoted Mr Abiy as saying the military reforms should “take into account current fast changing world, socio-economic and political situation in Ethiopia”.

After Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter border war from 1998-2000, there was little chance that Ethiopia could carry on using Eritrea’s ports as it had done previously. So it had to find alternatives.

Ethiopia recently signed a deal to take a stake in the port of Djibouti, which now handles roughly 95% of all its exports and imports.

It is also connected to its small neighbour by a new 472 mile (759 km) railway line – opened last year – which links the capital Addis Ababa to the port of Doraleh, an extension of the port of Djibouti.

The railway line has increased the movement of cargo volumes to and from the port to such an extent that at least 70% of all its activity is now Ethiopian trade.

Roba Megerssa Akawak, head of the state-owned Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE), told Bloomberg that Ethiopia was concerned that Djibouti was controlled by foreign naval forces. US, China, Japan and France all have military bases there.

“We are afraid perhaps in the future that even Djibouti may not have its own say to really decide on its own fate. This is quite a threat to Ethiopia,” Mr Roba said.

He added that a navy would also help protect the 11 Ethiopia commercial ships in a “very volatile” Red Sea area where Ethiopia has other economic interests “and there are conflicting political interests”.

These ships are currently based in Djibouti, from where they sail to ports in the Gulf, the Indian sub-continent, China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and Indonesia.

Ethiopia also still has a civilian maritime institute which trains more than 500 marine engineers and electro-technical officers each year, with plans to train more than 1,000 officers annually.

According to the Ethiopian Maritime Institute the graduates have skills and knowledge “needed to succeed in the global shipping industry”.

Building a navy from the ground up is however a different kettle of fish – it would require massive financial investments and a lot of time to train the forces, as well as a base.

Since coming to power in April, Mr Abiy has also signed deals with Sudan for access to Port Sudan, in a bid to diversify its port outlets and reduce port fees.

Ethiopia has also agreed a deal with the self-declared Somali state of Somaliland for a 19% stake in the port of Berbera which includes a plan to build a road from its border to the port.

Eritrea rapprochement

Mr Abiy also struck a reconciliation tone in his maiden speech – calling on long-time foe Eritrea to resolve their differences, saying the two countries were “not only intertwined in interests but also in blood”.

He has since followed up on his reconciliation offer by agreeing to a 2002 border commission resolution which awarded disputed territories, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea. This was one of the war’s main flashpoints.

Eritrea has not commented on the move.

Its information minister Yemane Gebre Meskel had previously told the BBC that relations could not be resolved until Ethiopia withdrew “from the occupied territories”.

However, the relationship with Eritrea is unlikely to thaw to the extent that Ethiopia could once more rely on its ports in Assab and Massawa. There is also a danger that Ethiopia’s naval ambitions could alarm Eritrea.

Former Ethiopian diplomat Birhanemeskel Abebe speculates 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.

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”.

He said Ethiopia would use its strong cultural and economic ties in the region to push for its naval ambitions.

The Kenyan option

In May, Ethiopia agreed a deal with Kenya to facilitate the acquisition of land in the island of Lamu as part of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) project, a $24bn (£18bn) transport and infrastructure plan to link the two countries and their neighbours.

The project was signed in 2012 but has been beset by funding delays and security problems in both countries.

In Ethiopia, the government was until recently dealing with large anti-government protests which culminated in the resignation of Mr Abiy’s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn in February.

Mr Abiy has struck a different tone since taking office, calling for reconciliation in Ethiopia. He has pushed for reforms including the release of political prisoners and activists.

His government has also ended a state of emergency.

Deo Gumba, from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says Ethiopia’s naval ambitions could be targeting the operations of Islamist militant group al-Shabab in Somalia, as well as piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Mr Gumba said that, as a US ally, Ethiopia was likely to get support for its plans.

Is a navy feasible?

Timothy Walker, a maritime researcher at ISS, however cautioned that it would take decades for Ethiopia to have a fully fledged naval unit.

“It may create a maritime branch of its armed forces but not a navy… it would take decades for the procurement of ships and training of the force.”

“Many African countries do not have a sufficient navy and if you look at the Horn of Africa, the big world powers are the ones who operate there,” Mr Walker said.

“Recorded incidents of piracy and militancy in the region do not justify investment in building a navy from the ground up.”

But despite the naysayers, Ethiopia seems determined to press on with its plans.

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. The people of Eritrea are the owners of Assab and Massawa. Our Constitution doesn’t allow any foreing military base to be established in Eritrea.

    • Maybe in that case you should stop Saudi Arabia from using Eritrean bases for its murderous war in Yemen.
      FYI Djibouti has US, Chinese, French, Japanese military base and what happens? They take in the money from all of them. Eritrea could do the same. But, given the state of affairs, worrying about naval bases as a problem of sovereignty is cynical. Agelglot is the problem of sovereignty that we have.
      And talk about sovereignty – do you know the number of US and, indeed, British and even French bases that Germany has had? None of this has been seen as a problem of sovereignty. Maybe AfD members think it is one.

      • This is the problem with Ethiopian which they have not learned yet or accepted the reality that Eritrea has been and always will be independent country…you have no business tell others what to do… You are land locked therefor you have to accept the realty and work with other by respecting thier demands. Quit frankly Ethiopia do not have a choice but be a respectful neighbor…otherwise you know the deal as far as Eritrea side…is concern…remember 1960-1991 and 1998-2000…

  2. The base in itself is not a problem but what concerns me is thé fact that Eritreans are left uninformed and unconsulted on this huge issue.

  3. You are land locked?

    We have been such for the last 25 years or so after traitors made Eritrea separated from Ethiopia.
    Have the people of Eritrea/Ethiopia made the referendum ?
    No
    Didn’t the then Ethiopia owned Red Sea and control across the gulf of Eden for centuries? Then why should we brothers do oppose each other for the benefit of foreigners who have military bases in the region?
    President Isaias has already allowed Saudi Arabia and the UAE to develop bases at Assab.
    Oh at least Eritrea should be happy to discuss the question of Assab to give Ethiopia and get something in return.Cos Assab historically belong to Ethiopia and if it wasn’t due to traiter late PM melese, the border dispute people already assigned Assab to Ethiopia. See the foreign unseen hand there to separate us and made us weak?
    Having joint or mutual air force navy military accord will benefit both of us, in case of foreign invasion or attack that.

    • you guys just won’t let it go huh? you guys lost the war and Eritrea is it’s own country. you won’t get Assab or massawa so, I suggest you get ready to see your navy at lake tana. you Ethiopians aren’t built for war man. the only thing you guys are good at is begging.

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