As the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea reaches the six-month mark, with no sign of a peaceful resolution to the standoff, Ethiopia is firming up its relationships with ports in other neighbouring countries to ensure imports and exports continue to move smoothly.
A well-placed source in the transport industry told IRIN on Friday that the EU would be shipping, for the first time, a 15,000 mt consignment of food aid destined for eastern Ethiopia through the port of Berbera in the self-declared state of Somaliland. The Kenyan port of Mombasa will also be handling cargo for Ethiopia, the Kenya Ports Authority said yesterday, according to the ‘Daily Nation’. The transport source told IRIN that if the Berbera shipment goes well, “it will be all systems go for Somaliland.” The port of Berbera handled incoming traffic of 65,000 mt of cargo last year, according to an UNCTAD official quoted by the ‘East African’ on Monday, but could handle up to 1,000 mt per day, according to a report from the UN in Ethiopia earlier this year.
An aid official recently in the Somaliland “capital”, Hargeisa, told IRIN in Nairobi that the economy of northwestern Somalia was still suffering the effects of a ban on imports of its livestock imposed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and could benefit greatly from the Ethiopian cargo. The livestock ban followed fears of an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever spreading up from Kenya and southern Somalia earlier this year.
Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi visited Ethiopia’s most important port in neighbouring Djibouti last weekend, and, reporting on the visit, the official Ethiopian News Agency said the two countries will work out mechanisms to “further streamline” the services offered at the port. The rail and road links from Djibouti to Ethiopia have become strategically critical, as the Eritrean ports of Assab and Massawa are unavailable to landlocked Ethiopia. An attack by unknown armed men about three weeks ago on the northern road from Djibouti to Ethiopia resulted in five trucks and their contents being burnt, the transport source said.
The EU is being approached to fund a proposed modernisation of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, the independent ‘Addis Tribune’ reported last week. Shortages of fuel tankers have impaired fuel distribution to outlying areas of Ethiopia, the transport source said. “A lot of the fuel tankers were owned or operated by Eritreans”, the source said, and many Eritreans have migrated from Ethiopia or been expelled since the conflict broke out this June.