Sudan, Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti and Kenya aspire to host the port facilities required by their neighbor’s emerging economy
The conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray has not aroused opposition in the Horn of Africa. Who is silent grants and does not bother the giant. Because that country that in the 1980s broadcast images of a starving population and caused musical waves of solidarity is today an emerging power with annual economic growth rates of over 8% and a market of 110 million potential consumers. But the new colossus lacks access to the sea and requires ports to access the shipping lanes. The huge profits silence old rivalries and encourage ambitious infrastructure projects. Sudan, Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti and Kenya aspire to satisfy the most powerful country in the region.
The commercial career requires high investments and generates political alliances. The noise of the fighting in northern Ethiopia has muted the echo of a major announcement in the same area. On June 24, the new Berbera naval terminal in neighboring Somaliland was launched. The port that the Soviets used during the Cold War wants to become the gateway for capitalism in East Africa. The docks that handled 4,000 to 5,000 containers per month will start to work with 15,000 and at the end of the works they will extend over a coastline of more than one kilometer.
The city is on the banks of the Red Sea, where the main maritime routes of the world converge and the ultimate aim is to create a special economic zone and a corridor with neighboring Ethiopia. The investment of 442 million dollars has been made by Dubai Ports, the company that represents the interests of the United Arab Emirates in the area. In this regard, the distribution of the Port Authority’s shares reflects the interests at stake. The construction firm owns 51%, the local Administration, 19%; and Abyssinia, 30%. The aim is for Berbera to reach a traffic volume of more than 2 million TEUs mobilized, a unit of measurement for this type of cargo, while the South African Durban, the largest on the continent, is close to 3 million.
The political paradox is unavoidable. Somaliland is hoping for a ‘boom’ that will provide it with both economic self-reliance and practical grounds for international recognition three decades after it broke away from Somalia. It would be strange if one of the most important commercial ports belonged to a ghost country and was subjected to a bureaucratic nebula. The Mogadishu government has protested against an agreement that undoubtedly puts reunification away.
The future is so bright that it even obscures black episodes of the most recent past. The Machiavellian regime of Eritrea also trusts the suitability of its ports of Massawa and Asab within the logistical needs demanded by northern Ethiopia. Both have already opened up to trade and, according to the Tigrian insurgency, have provided bases for drone attacks. Apparently, it matters little that just two decades ago, both countries fought a futile war that caused 123,000 fatalities. Now, the Government of Asmara strives to correct errors and participates in the Tigray conflict by supporting the Government.
The small country of Djibouti has so far been the main beneficiary of the enmity with Eritrea and the limbo of Somaliland. 90% of the incoming goods circulate through the old French colony, by train to Adis Abbeba. But the growth of Ethiopian demands makes it impossible to maintain this monopoly. The local authorities fear the consequences of diversification and have already offered to modernize the port of Tadjoura, a town anchored at that time that the writer Arthur Rimbaud used as a base for arms trafficking.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s foreign policy seeks different supply paths for his development plans and explores all possibilities. Sudan is another of the countries tested. Although there is growing tension between the two governments, Port Sudan’s ability to become another relevant logistics center has been tested. The strategy is similar. Ethiopian projects have financial support from the Emirates.
The most original proposal comes from Kenya and surpasses all for its daring. The Lamu corridor or LAPSSET, its official name, proposes a connection between the Indian Ocean, Ethiopia and South Sudan, integrating commercial transport, passenger flow and oil exports. The vast program includes the construction of port infrastructures, airports, highways, railways, dams and oil pipelines, with the city of Isiolo as the main communication hub with the two countries.
The major works began in 2014 and in May the new Lamu port, with 32 berths, was inaugurated, one of its most relevant projects. The high cost, now estimated at more than 24,500 million dollars, and the insecurity of the area, affected by the incursions of the Somali Al-Shabaab militias, condition its viability. In its favor, it has the discovery of large oil deposits around Lake Turkana, and against it, the impact on privileged ecosystems and communities of traditional life.