s the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Ethiopia and the self-declared Somaliland Republic on January 1 continues to raise the specter ofa geopolitical earthquake in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, the imperative for Ethiopia to pursue a delicate balancing act in its diplomatic engagements has never been as critically vital as now. The deal, which allows Ethiopia to establish a military base as well as a commercial maritime zone in a 20-km stretch of Somaliland’s sea coast in exchange for shares in its neighbor’s flagship carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, and formal recognition as an independent state sometime in the future, has understandably stoked furious reactions. Given it considers Somaliland to be part of its territory, Somalia is vehemently opposed to any arrangement that it believes spells loss of control over the breakaway region. It has received the staunch support of Egypt, the Arab league, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in its condemnation of Ethiopia. Other actors including the African Union (AU), EU, Turkey, and U.S. have adopted a more measured stance, urging for the de-escalation of tensions and respect for Somalia’s sovereignty. The potentially adverse ramifications of the memorandum of understanding and the several binding treaties that give legal effect to it call for the pursuit of a skillful diplomacy on the part of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s foreign policy has rested on the core principles of ensuring respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity; the pursuit of mutual interest and recognition of equality of states; non-alignment; and forging an environment fostering fraternal relations with other nations and their people. These tenets have been articulated in one form or another in the current constitution of Ethiopia as well as various nationally adopted documents, namely its foreign and national security policies and strategies. However, the implementation of these policies has invariably been driven by global/regional geo-political realities and the ideological camp to which the nation belonged. As a result, the actions of successive Ethiopian governments were not necessarily consistent with the principles set out in official foreign policy instruments.
It’s not only the deepening spat with Somalia that requires of Ethiopia to manage its international relations prudently. Ethiopia is strategically located in the Horn of Africa, making it a pivotal player in regional politics. As such, it must carefully navigate its relationships with neighboring countries such as Eritrea and Djibouti, which have their own geopolitical interests and alliances. Balancing these interactions is crucial for maintaining stability in the region and avoiding potential conflicts that could negatively impact the country’s development and security. Additionally, its ongoing dispute over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has strained relations with Egypt and Sudan. This issue has heightened the need for Ethiopia to engage in a diplomatic juggling act to manage its relationships with these neighboring countries while also pursuing its own national interests.
Further afield, Ethiopia has long-standing ties with both Western and Eastern powers, including the United States, the European Union, China, and Russia. These ties have not always been warm, blowing hot and cold due to a host of largely domestic factors. As such, it must carefully manage its relationships with these global powers to secure economic investments, strategic partnerships, and development assistance. Balancing the diverse interests of these stakeholders while safeguarding its national sovereignty and economic independence is a delicate task that demands astute diplomatic management.
Ethiopia’s internal diversity and complex ethnic dynamics add another layer of complexity to its diplomatic engagements. With over 80 ethnic groups and multiple languages spoken throughout the country, Ethiopia must work to address internal tensions and regional disparities while projecting a unified front in its international relations. This requires deft diplomacy to balance the interests and demands of various domestic actors. Moreover, as a member of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations, Ethiopia is expected to play a proactive role in regional and global diplomacy. This requires skillful navigation of multilateral forums, negotiations, and alliances to advance its interests while contributing to collective efforts for peace, security, and development. This multilayered engagement demands a diplomatic juggling act that leverages Ethiopia’s position and influence on the international stage.
Ethiopia is a nation which needs to engage in diplomatic juggling to navigate its complex relationships with neighboring countries, global powers, regional dynamics, internal diversity, multilateral forums, and economic partnerships. This can go a long way towards safeguarding its sovereignty and promote its core interests. If Ethiopia is to chart a path that promotes its national development, security, and influence in a rapidly evolving global landscape, it is paramount that it skillfully manages these varied interests and the multi-faceted challenges staring it squarely in the face.