The Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) and the allied Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have made quick military gains over the past weeks that could enable an offensive on Addis Ababa, throwing the entire logistics and supply chain to the country into disarray.
On 30 October 2021, TPLF forces seized the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha on the strategic A2 highway connecting the Tigray capital of Mekelle with Addis Ababa. At the same time, the OLA claimed that they seized control of several towns south of Kombolcha on the highway leading to Addis Ababa.
With this military offensive, the OLA and TPLF have the potential to control most of the A2 highway to Ethiopia and can use it to help push further southward. The southern portion of the A2 highway is an important supply route into Addis Ababa and southern Ethiopia.
On 2 November 2021, the TPLF’s spokesperson said that their forces were closing in on the town of Mille in the nearby Ethiopian region of Afar. Mille is located at a strategic point of the A1 highway, the only highway connecting landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti, which currently handles over 95 percent of its imports and exports. TPLF control of both the A1 and A2 highways would effectively cut off Addis Ababa’s access to Djibouti from all possible routes.
Ethiopia has in recent years sought more sea routes to reduce its over-reliance on the Djibouti port corridor. The conflict in Ethiopia has not affected the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset), Kenya’s East African Community and Regional Development Minister Mr. Adan Mohamed has said.
“Instead, it has created an opportunity for Kenya to offer Ethiopia an alternative import route in instances of disruption on its main trade corridor with neighbouring countries,” Mr. Mohamed said.
According to the Minister, a larger part of the project is in Kenya including the Lamu Port hence the implementation of the KSh 2.5 trillion project remains on course undisrupted. Ethiopia has already constructed a highway to Moyale border point with Kenya.
Together with South Sudan, the northern neighbour is a key partner in the Lapsset project launched in 2012 during former President Mwai Kibaki’s regime. Kenya has so far invested about Sh40 billion in the construction of the first three berths, with the facility currently operational.
Lapsset creates the second major transport and transit corridor in the country, after the Northern Corridor, which is a multi-modal trade route linking the landlocked countries of the Great Lakes Region with the Port of Mombasa.
Last year, state officials from the three countries met in Mombasa where they renewed their commitment to the corridor. Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary Mr. James Macharia, Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Mr. Meles Alam and South Sudan’s Undersecretary in the Ministry of Transport Captain David Martin signed an MoU to signify the three states’ commitment to supporting the revitalization of the project.
The Lapsset corridor route to Ethiopia is via the Lamu-Garissa (257km), Garissa-Isiolo (280km) and Isiolo-Moyale (502km) Road. Currently, Lamu Port connects to Ethiopia through 1,425km of the road via the Lamu-Garsen-Garissa-Kilimambogo-Isiolo-Moyale (Ethiopia border) route.
To support cross-border trade, Kenya and Ethiopia in September this year signed an operations manual for the Moyale One-Stop Border Post, which was commissioned on 9 December 2020.
Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, was the major port for Ethiopia until 1998 when the border conflict erupted. Ethiopia had been using Assab port, which is 887km northeast of Addis Ababa, as a major logistics hub.
After his elevation to power, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed forged a truce with Eritrea. He struck a deal with President Isaias Afwerki which included restoring Ethiopian access to the ports of Massawa and Assab.
Since Eritrea gained independence in the early 90s, Ethiopia became a landlocked country, a move that had hampered its ambition to become a regional powerhouse.
Ethiopia has also put its focus on another port in Somaliland. Port Berbera is set to become the most modern port in the Horn of Africa this year when its first phase is completed.
With Arab Gulf States growing interest in the Horn of Africa region, due to geopolitical and strategic considerations, in May 2016, DP World, a global port mega-operator agreed to develop Berbera port and manage the facility for 30 years.
Ethiopian’s government acquired a 19% interest in the port project. The other partners in the project are DP World with a 51% share: and Somaliland with a 30% share.
The total investment of the two-phased port project will reach $442 million. DP World will also create an economic-free zone in the surrounding area, targeting a range of companies in sectors from logistics to manufacturing, and a road-based economic corridor connecting Berbera with Ethiopia.
The port deal with Somaliland, an autonomous region from the main Somali, which though not internationally recognized by the international community, gave the county the much-needed reprieve by signing a deal with a recognized state. Port Berbera is now the closest sea route to Ethiopia, a journey of 11 hours. It has opened the route needed due to huge growth of the import and export, largely livestock and agricultural products.
UAE-based DP World Group port officials said that the port, which currently has the capacity to handle 150,000 container port traffic- Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), is expected to expand into handling one million TEUs of 20 and 40-foot mixed units.