Ethiopia's Diplomatic Renewal, Geopolitical Realignment

Dec 16 , 2023
By Hintsa Andebrhan

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has embarked on a vigorous diplomatic campaign marked by a series of high-profile engagements that have drawn global attention. The initiative, which could be termed a 'diplomatic honeymoon,' signifies a proactive approach to navigating complex geopolitical landscapes.

However, a critical assessment reveals that the effectiveness of this diplomatic manoeuvring hinges not only on historical ties and regional goodwill but more so on concrete policies and strategic alignments that resonate with contemporary global economic and political realities.

Ethiopia has often drawn on its rich past to forge international relationships. The narrative of the Prophet Muhammad advising his followers to seek refuge in Ethiopia, under King Nejasi's protection, echoes this historical depth. Such narratives, while significant, might not suffice in modern diplomatic engagements, especially with countries like Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Crown Prince, known for his pragmatic and strategic approach, focuses on realistic policies over historical anecdotes. This is evident in Saudi Arabia's ambitious "Vision 2030" program, which earmarks 25 billion dollars for investments in Africa. The program focuses not on historical connections but on practical economic and political engagements.

Prime Minister Abiy's recent participation at a summit Saudi Arabia hosted can be considered part of this broader diplomatic initiative. However, there seems to be a missing link in presenting Ethiopia's strategic economic and political policies in a manner that would align with Saudi Arabia's investment interests. The absence of a articulated Ethiopian perspective, particularly concerning the strategic Red Sea corridor, is notable.

With its significant influence in the Red Sea region, Saudi Arabia could have been a critical ally for Ethiopia, especially given its aspirations. However, the inability to assert Ethiopia's position on this front could be viewed as a missed opportunity and a lapse in foreign policy undertaking.

The summit in Berlin, another significant diplomatic platform, aimed to boost investment in Africa. Expectations were high that the Ethiopian government would leverage this opportunity to attract global investors. Yet, the recent withdrawal of France's telecom company, Orange, from Ethio telecom's partial privatisation process points to a potential mismatch between Ethiopia's investment priorities and the expectations of international investors.

The incident could reflect on a broader issue within the government's approach to economic diplomacy and its ability to effectively promote its investment policies on the global stage.

Moving beyond these specific events, it is crucial to consider the geopolitical dynamics within the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia's relationships with other regional players like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and their involvement in neighbouring countries like Sudan. The UAE's alleged military support to Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the ongoing civil unrest in Sudan present a complex backdrop. While Ethiopia's continued diplomatic engagement with the UAE is essential, there is a need for careful navigation to ensure that Ethiopia does not inadvertently exacerbate regional tensions or become entangled in neighbouring conflicts.

Perception and strategic positioning are crucial in international diplomacy. Ethiopia must demonstrate an understanding of these dynamics and the ability to craft and implement policies that reflect a sophisticated grasp of the geopolitical chessboard. This involves recognising and filling any policy vacuums that other regional or global players might exploit.

Ethiopia faces its own set of challenges and opportunities on the domestic front. With the youth constituting 70pc of its demographics, as Prime Minister Abiy reminded his audience at the UN COP-28 climate summit in Dubai, there lies significant economic and social opportunities. However, this potential can only be harnessed through the development of clear and robust policies that link Ethiopia's human capital and natural resources. Failure to do so could lead to economic stagnation and social unrest.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 16,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1233]

Hintsa Andebrhan ( worked as a researcher with the United Nations Population Fund and IPAS International Ethiopia. Interested in history and politics, his work was on social affairs.

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