Ethiopia’s Evolving International Relations

4 Mons Ago 1204
Ethiopia’s Evolving International Relations


Ethiopia, with its ancient history, trade and strategic location, has long played a pivotal role in African and world political and diplomatic affairs. Although the country’s old history of global diplomatic ties has gone through fire and water due to foreign policy shifts following regime and political ideology changes, Ethiopia has paid a price to maintain its national interests in regional and global political economy.   And very recently it has embarked on a new chapter of interterminal diplomacy marked by bold reforms and increased engagement with the international community.

The country’s diplomatic journey has paid off to the present-day Ethiopia. From ancient empires to modern diplomacy, Ethiopia has navigated a remarkable course on the world stage. Ethiopia's foreign relations are as complex and vibrant as the nation itself. From its ancient history as a powerful empire to its modern role as a key player in the African and global affairs, the country has navigated a fascinating diplomatic journey.

Ethiopia boasts a rich diplomatic legacy dating back to the powerful Axumite Empire, which flourished between the 1st and 8th centuries AD. Axum's extensive trade networks connected it with civilizations across the Red Sea, laying the foundation for centuries of engagement with the wider world.

From historical point of view, Axum had been sought as a cradle of civilization. The ancient trading networks of Axum attests Ethiopia’s rich diplomatic heritage. This powerful empire interacted with Rome, Greece, and beyond, laying the foundation for a centuries-long tradition of engagement with the world.

Ethiopia's international stature was further solidified when it became a founding member of the League of Nations in 1923. Emperor Haile Selassie's iconic 1936 speech condemning Italian aggression remains a pivotal moment in the fight for collective security and against colonial expansion.

Even during the time of the Cold War, Ethiopia had played greater diplomatic role in balancing East and West. On this juncture, the state piloted a complex landscape, maintaining its independence while forging alliances with both sides and maintaining neutrality in their global affairs. Its active role in peacekeeping and regional diplomacy established it as a crucial player in East Africa and beyond.

Even after the Post-Cold War Ethiopia prioritized regional stability which has been taken as another successful diplomatic culture of the nation. Ethiopia at this stage heightened its diplomatic influence in the region and focused towards regional stability and economic development. Its contributions to conflict resolution in Somalia, Liberia and South Sudan showcase its commitment to peace building.

Ethiopia has been playing crucial roles being Africa's voice and championing continental interests on the global arena. Ethiopia actively engages with multilateral organizations like the African Union, UN security Council and the World Trade Organization, advocating Africa's interests on issues ranging from climate change to global governance.

Today, a country which sustained yesterday's long and historic diplomacy and foreign relations which spanned from the neighbor states to overseas on areas of economy, diplomacy and political aspects, has commenced a new chapter of foreign relation and diplomacy since the advent of the new regime run by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.   

What the renowned Political-Economic Analyst for Africa Lawrence Freeman told EBC could shed some light on Ethiopia’s diplomatic and economic journey on the global stage, the incumbent has taken office in 2018.

According to Freeman, the most significant accomplishment for Ethiopia in foreign policy was joining the BRICS. As of January 1st, 2024, Ethiopia has become one of ten nations that comprise the BRICS, and also one of three nations on the African continent that belonged to the BRICS. Freeman believes this solidifies Ethiopia’s diplomatic position as a leading nation in sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

The analyst underlined that the formation of the BRICS and its growth institutionally over the last decade is extremely important, because the western-dominated political and financial institutions are suffering in terms of their control of the world's politics and finances. This gives an opportunity for developing nations or emerging nations like Ethiopia to have their own institution and promote their own policies, independent of the dictates of the western geopolitical financial elite.

Laurence Freeman said Ethiopia’s influence in Africa in general and in East Africa in particular will grow as the BRICS itself continues to become a weightier institution providing an alternative to the western political financial establishment. Whilst, this puts Ethiopia in an important and unique position on the African continent and also globally.

Ethiopia's economic growth also instantly linked with activities the nation has carried out on its foreign relations. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19 and the onset of the war in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, Ethiopia was one among a few African and world nations with fastest growing economies. This of course was slowed down by the above-mentioned causes, Freeman explained. “However, we should expect that Ethiopia has the potential to become a leader once again in economic growth in Eastern Africa and the African continent.”

Freeman elaborated that the near completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will advance Ethiopia’s economy over the years ahead. The diplomatic activities that Ethiopia has been doing on the global stage while constructing the Dam, Africa’s flagship project, has been significant. The completion of GERD is a game changer to boost Ethiopia’s say and diplomatic bargain in the region and beyond. The GERD with only two turbines operating is already strengthening Ethiopia’s export of clean energy to Sudan, Kenya, and Djibouti. As the GERD reaches its complete potential of 5,150 megawatts, it will not only supply more energy to Ethiopia but also expand export of electricity to neighboring nations in Eastern Africa. Thus, the GERD and Ethiopia have already started causing the most demanded regional economic integration, which will expand and provide a potential model for regional economic integration.

With its electricity potential Ethiopia has the potential to become a major economic powerhouse on the continent. Thus, Ethiopia is expected to emerge as one of the most dynamic economies in the world.

Reflecting on Ethiopia’s audacious step towards regional relations, Freeman commended Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s motivation and courage in 2018 of settling past grievances over land with Eritrea, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize. However, there is no reason for anyone who understands the region, to claim that Ethiopia’s policies towards achieving a port that would give the nation access to the Red Sea, is a cause for war in the Horn of Africa. This is blatantly untrue and those who are participating in this war-mongering event may have ulterior motives for promoting this kind of scenario. War should not be on the table because it is in no country's interest.

Ethiopia doesn't need war to access seaports that it can develop to expand its export-import trade. Hailing the recent agreement signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland, Freeman said the agreement will enhance regional integration. The agreement speed up the growth Ethiopia's landlocked economy by providing access to Red Sea ports, potentially boosting trade and fostering closer economic ties in the Horn region, he added.

However, as there are many success stories that have been registered in areas of foreign diplomacy and relations, there are also contemporary challenges that hampered the nation's foreign relations.

For instance, the two-year devastating Tigray conflict has brought an impact on Ethiopia's foreign relations. The presented a significant challenge to Ethiopia's diplomatic efforts over the years. Balancing internal concerns with international pressure requires careful navigation and commitment to peaceful resolution. However, following the Pretoria agreement, Ethiopia’s foreign relation with countries like USA has been resorted.

To wrap up, Ethiopia's unique position and rich heritage have the potential to make it a bridge between Africa and the world, to promote peace, cooperation, and a shared future. By fostering mutual understanding and dialogue, one can appreciate the complexities of Ethiopia's foreign relations and support its aspirations for a brighter future.