New President Abiy Ahmed was speaking with military leaders when he told them that “we should build our naval force capacity in the future”, which instantly attracted international attention because the country’s been landlocked since Eritrea’s 1993 secession. That now-independent country has always feared that Ethiopia still harbors designs to either forcibly reincorporate it or turn it into a proxy state for regaining its historical access to the Red Sea, though that’s unlikely what President Ahmed had in mind when he made his curious suggestion.
Bloomberg included some very relevant information in their brief report on this development by reminding people of how Ethiopia has recently reached different port deals with Sudan, Djibouti, the self-proclaimed independent Somalian region of Somaliland, and Kenya all across the Horn of Africa region, thus giving the country a natural interest in wanting to protect its terminal investments and the Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOC) that go along with them.
Correspondingly, it can also be expected that Ethiopia would eventually clinch conventional military deals with its regional partners in order to protect the transport infrastructure connecting their ports with the rising African Great Power, which is the second-most populous country on the continent and also has one of the world’s highest rates of economic growth. The development of an Ethiopian Navy would also be the first time that an African country has proactively gotten involved in the new “Scramble for Africa” that began in the Horn region in the mid-2000s following the spree of Somali piracy off the coast.
In the decade since, this part of the world has become one of the most militarized, with American, Chinese, Emirati, Saudi, Turkish, Italian, French, and Japanese bases popping up all along its coasts, and Russia was just recently invited to build a naval base in Port Sudan late last year after President Bashir’s visit to Moscow, though it’s unclear whether President Putin plans to take him up on this offer.
What Russia can do, however, is assist its Soviet-era Ethiopian partner with its plans to build a new navy, which could in and of itself herald an important “Return to Africa” for Moscow and enable it to showcase a different dimension of its “military diplomacy” than the air and ground forces that gained global renown during the anti-terrorist intervention in Syria.