The Ethiopian Herald By Desta Geberhiwot
Ethiopia which has already sent 1,000 army officers to Russia for naval training is accelerating the establishment of a naval force in what could be described as a major step ahead by the Horn of Africa’s biggest economy in strengthening its maritime trade and security interests.
Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy said that wide-ranging activities are underway to effectuate the establishment of the naval force.
“We will make the navy great again. Ethiopia’s navy was known for its bravery and greatness and at this time [efforts are in the pipeline] to restore its dignity and make it powerful again, according to a post on the social media account of the Ethiopian National Defense Force.
Besides Russia, the U.S. is also supporting Ethiopia’s effort to reinstate its naval forces. In a telephonic press conference with the U.S. Army Maj. Gen Roger Cloutier, Commander of the U.S. Army Africa, Rear Admiral Kindu Gezu, Chief of the Ethiopian Navy told The Ethiopian Herald that previously he expects supports from Washington.
He said: “Capacity building is a priority and the U.S. is providing support in all services and we believe Washington will be on the side of Ethiopia in realizing our vision.”
Ethiopia has a big vision to establish Navy or to reestablish this Navy and the country is in the process of building this Navy, he said, adding that to build a Navy boosting capacity is a priority more than anything else. “With that, we believe that the United States is still supporting the Ethiopian military or the Ethiopian National Defense Force regardless of which services, he remarks.
“So far, we have several undertakings, mainly focusing on training aspect and I believe that still the U.S. is on the Ethiopian side to support and build this Navy.”
This follows the government’s decision to re-establish a naval force which was disbanded in the 1991. The quest for a naval force has come to fore with the coming of Dr. Abiy Ahmed who vowed on a well-organized and disciplined army.
Seating at less than 60 KM away from the Red Sea, Ethiopia could face increasing threats with the militarization in the Horn region. The region faces growing global security threats; from piracy to terrorism.
This has been the main driving force behind the country’s ambition to reorganize a naval force which has been a missing wing in its defense forces for about 30 years.
Since Ethiopia announced its plan, many powerful countries have shown interests to help the country realize its ambition to reestablish naval force.
Also, France had been key player in establishing the Imperial Ethiopian Navy in 1948 by Emperor Haile Selassie I. Similarly, France, this time has demonstrated its desire to assist the country in supplying equipment and trainings to the forces.
“We value Ethiopia’s role in ensuring peace and security and combating terrorism in the East Africa,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in his visit to the country in 2018, adding that both countries share similar vision in countering terrorism and in collaborating to boost the latter’s defense forces capability.
Also recently, Ethiopia sent 1,000 troops to Russia for naval training, according to Capital a local newspaper. It was also reported that Ethiopia is in talks with Djibouti to have naval base.
Members of the former navy were well trained in countries like France, Britain and Norway.
Commodore Tilahun Mekonnen was a graduate of the former naval force college and he was also among Ethiopians sent to the U.S. to monitor the purchase of six medium naval ships.
Tilahun says the naval force during the imperial time was well organized and had significant contribution in defending Ethiopian interests along the Red Sea. It was deterring threats coming from different directions.
“The then navy had been deterring illegal activities such as defending the coastal areas of the country that had been under Ethiopia’s rule. Though Ethiopia has no coasts these days, the threats are there.”
He tells The Ethiopian Herald that the government’s decision to reorganize a navy is timely and concrete to neutralize threats coming from the seas as the Horn of Africa host growing military bases and dynamic political and security interest.
“The fact that the country is landlocked, does not guarantee that threats are not imminent from the sea. Naval guards in this regard will help safeguard the interests of the country; he says “There are many overt and covert interests near to Red Sea and Indian Ocean. And if any conflict or war breaks out, we have no army to defend our interests.”
The rise of piracy and militarization along the Red Sea are also among the valid reason which puts obligation in the country to reestablish the navy.
The Red Sea is very strategic location where countries are vying to control the area; this should definitely be a concern to Ethiopia and other Horn African countries. Having troops in the sea in this regard is not an option but a must-do task.
Almost all powerful nations have base along the Red Sea including the gulf countries, so Ethiopia cannot afford not to have a naval force. Moreover, Horn of African countries should find a way where they can collaborate and work together towards a collective defense mechanism.
It is ironic that the country, with the largest economy in the East African region having over 100 million population, and proximity to the Red Sea strategic location, has no military wing that can protect its national interest on the sea.
Unless the coastal country where Ethiopia heavily uses to import and export its commodities are safe, its interests would be at risk.
“The wellbeing of landlocked nations like Ethiopia mainly rests on coastal neighbors’ cross-border political relations, peace and stability,” Luelseged Girma, expert with Foreign Relations Strategic Studies Institute told The Ethiopian Herald previously.
The coastal countries are mainly using their sea outlets for economic activities; many countries including superpowers are developing their naval base in the area. This risks not only the countries’ interest but also that of Ethiopia’s.
However, Luelseged argued establishing a navy is hard. It may take up to 5-10 years. It requires working with other countries with the skill and technology in navy development.
“Building a navy force strictly requires huge finance and expertise. The country should be working with other countries to solicit finance and develop base.”