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Eritrea, Somalia pet projects that keep Abiy awake

Sunday August 25, 2019

In the aftermath of thawing of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, border towns such as Serha have been a beehive of activity with reconstruction of infrastructure such as bridges and roads reconnecting the two countries.

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Eritrean military officer Col Kflom Gergish says most of the works connecting Asmara with Addis Ababa, will be complete by September. He is supervising the reconstruction of the Dekemhare-Serha road.

All this was made possible by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s regional mediations. But recently, Eritrea shut down its borders again.

An Ethiopian government official familiar with regional peace rapprochements by Addis Ababa told The EastAfrican: “Actually, the border never closed. First, there was initial excitement on both sides, and people started dealing with contraband. We needed to set up measures to control that. In this deal, supported by both sides, failure is not an option. It is costlier than opening up.”

The survival of that peace deal is one of the PM Abiy’s pet projects, the official said.

Dr Abiy used his chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to offer an olive branch to Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and even Kenya. He has had mixed results. Somalia and Eritrea agreed to iron out their differences but Kenya and Somalia have failed to agree on a way forward in their maritime boundary dispute.

Yet it is in Somalia where his influence could be most influential. Historically, Ethiopia and Somalia under former regimes were enemies, fighting over the future of the Ogaden region which hosts the largest Somali population in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia and Somalia have gone to war in the past, while Addis Ababa had a mutual military pact with Nairobi, treating Somalia as a common threat. Officially, the Ethiopian government says it is rebuilding relations with all its neighbours, especially those with access to the sea.

“Abiy is an honest broker, visionary leader, he wants to see a stable, and peaceful eastern African region, of course he has to secure Ethiopian interest first,” Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a regular commentator on Horn of Africa affairs told The EastAfrican.

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