France is to help Ethiopia rebuild its navy. That much we know. A deal was signed by President Macron during his visit to Ethiopia.
“This unprecedented defence cooperation agreement provides a framework… and notably opens the way for France to assist in establishing an Ethiopian naval component,” Macron told a news conference standing alongside Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
So far, so good. But where will the navy be based? There appears to have been no official announcement.
Djibouti as a base for the Ethiopian navy
Some – rightly – point out that President Macron visited Djibouti before going on to Addis Ababa, so the Ethiopians might get a base there.
France (along with the USA and China) already have a base in Djibouti, which the French President visited. Djibouti hosts France’s largest naval base on the continent and is home to some 1,400 personnel used to train African troops as well as to monitor the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
Eritrea as a base for the Ethiopian navy
Another view came from the United States.
Ambassador Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, has acted as a consultant for a number of African governments (some of them dictatorships) and has previously called for the Eritrean government to be ‘brought in from the cold’.
Now Ambassador Cohen suggests Eritrea would be a useful location for the Ethiopian navy.
The Eritrean government’s view
Officially nothing is being heard from the Eritrea government. President Isaias has kept his public in the dark.
Eritrea Hub published an article looking at the possibility that Massawa or Assab might be the home for the Ethiopian navy – as was in the past.
This view appeared to be rejected by Ambassador Estifanos, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, who described this as ‘Fake News’.
But just what the ‘Fake News’ might have been wasn’t exactly clear. So here was an attempt to clear the issue up, in the absence of an official statement. This was the Ambassador’s response.
‘No strings attached’ with three angry exclamation marks might be interpreted in a variety of ways. Is Ambassador Estifanos saying that the Ethiopian navy will be based in Eritrea, but with ‘no strings attached’? Or is he trying to say something else.
Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya or Lake Tana
Sadly the issue has not been cleared up: Eritrea or Djibouti – one of them will have to be the home for the revitalised Ethiopian navy.
Other options? Somalia, Somaliland or Kenya. Might Sudan be considered? Each has its own problems. Otherwise the Ethiopian navy will be left going in circles around Lake Tana.