Ethiopia’s neighbor to the east, Djibouti, has always attracted great powers for its Geo-strategy. And countries from the west and the east have established a military bases in Djibouti.
Saudi Arabia is the latest country, if the news alert from Wazema Radio is correct, to secure agreement with Djibouti to establish a military base. Citing what it calls commentators, Wazema radio also hinted the possibility of a role for Ethiopia in the arrangement of Djibouti military base agreement between Saudi Arabia and Djibouti with the objective to foil the agreement between Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. But the alert does not give a clue if the opinion is informed by recent visit of Prime minister Hailemariam Desalege to Saudi Arabia or if there is more into it.
In fact, there are indications that Saudi Arabia, on its own, was already working on fostering relation with Djibouti. According to Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia and Djibouti signed a cooperation agreement in the field of security at least some seven months ago. Saudi Deputy Primer and Minister of Interior,Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, and Djibouti Minister of Interior, Omar Mohammed Burhanuddin, reportedly signed the agreement some time in April, 2016.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia appointed a new Ambassador to Djibouti last month and president Ismail Omar Gulleh of Djbouti accepted the credential of Saudi’s Ambassador to Djibouti, Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Daoud. So the possibility of Ethiopia for arranging the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Djibouti is very slim,if at all.
But what is more important is not the question of agency in the arrangement of the agreement. Saudi Arabi is not facing any security related problem that emanates from the Horn of Africa. On the other hand, expressed or not, it is not naive to assume that Saudi Arabia has its own ambition in the region. Without doubt, Saudi is establishing a military base as part of pursuit of its interest/ambition. From what Saudi Arabia was doing in the past in the form of supporting policies that destabilize Ethiopia ( for example there was rumor that Saudi supported Ethiopian rebels including the current regime in Ethiopia during colonel Mengistu’s administration) and in view of Ethiopia as a landlocked country with main access to the sea via Djibouti, there is no question that Saudi military presence in Djibouti constitutes potential security risk for Ethiopia.
In a related development, Eritrean president Isayas Afeworki was in Egypt for three days working visit. According to ” Awate ,seems to be critical of Isayas administration, upon arrival in Egypt, he was welcomed by the minister of irrigation and president of council of ministers which Awate related to the possibility of Nile as one of the agenda to his visit to Egypt. Isayas and Egyptian president Sisi have reportedly discussed about cooperation between Egypt and Eritrea. A joint committee is already formed to work on cooperation between the two countries in the areas of agriculture,fishery and security. In terms of security, there is unconfirmed talk that Egypt is said to have secured agreement with Eritrea to set up military presence over the Eritrean side of the Red Sea and even to work on joint military command post, just like what Ethiopia and Sudan have formed along the Ethio-Sudanese border. There is speculation that Egypt is of intent to play scare tactic against Ethiopia as a means to influence change on Ethiopia’s stand over the dam on the Nile river. In fact, Eritrea itself might think of using Egyptian military presence as a scare tactic against Ethiopia. But it is clearly questionable it if will be in the long term interest of Eritrea.
True, relation between what is now the government in Eritrea under Isayas Afeworki’s presidency and Egypt goes back to the times when Isayas Afeworki was leader of guerrilla forces. Even before that rebel ELF,another Eritrean rebel during the time of Emperor Haile Selassie, had office in Cairo. What that means is that it is clear Egypt has been consistent in exploiting emerging situations, even could go to the extent of creating one, so as to distabilize and weaken Ethiopia. Recently, Ethiopia openly accused the government of Egypt on grounds that it is organized radical ethno-nationalist forces who claim leadership over Oromo.
Not too long ago, about a year ago to be exact, global research group based in Canada published a report that Eritrea signed agreement with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. UAE has a thirty years lease on Asab. Saudi on its part had some agreement to use Asab as a base for logistic center. Djibouti could simply be new addition to the urge to position itself in the region.
Blinded by motive to maintain minority government at any cost, the regime in Ethiopia is of course not giving due attention for these diplomatic looking encroachments that could constitute a great peril to Ethiopia sooner or later. And Ethiopia is not doing anything about it, apparently.