Ethiopia-Kenya partnership is a bright example for Africa
Ethiopia and Kenya are bound together by a special historical relationship and as several books that I have read about the two countries points to, their friendship is forever defined by Ethiopians’ early support of Kenya’s struggle for independence from the British. After the latter gained her freedom, the then Ethiopia’s ruler Haile Selassie and Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta became bosom friends. Past aside, the two countries have over the last decade stood hand in hand in support of one another in overcoming acts of terrorism and threats from militants in lawlessness country of Somali as well as other common challenges. The two countries are among the top ten economies in sub Saharan Africa and their proposed partnership would act as a reminder to the rest of Africa that working together has the potential to promote change positive change. In the horn of Africa region, I strongly believe that foreign policy must entail renewing efforts to maintain the peace and stability that has been the region’s undoing for decades especially in Somalia and Eritrea.
Many countries in the region have not been able to reap a “peace dividend.” The region has had interruptions in pursuit of social economic development that has left millions mired in abject poverty and refugees. External environment confronts Kenya and Ethiopia equally hence the deepened bilateral ties. The main challenges to the two countries are infrastructure and insecurity. The situation on the Somalia, for example, has been perennial in the horn of Africa region’s list of challenges. Risk exponentially increased over the last decade after militant and terror organizations took control of large swathes of land in Somalia. Also, there is virtual indivisibility of internal and external issues with regional ramifications that the partnership would definitely solve. Communal and sectarian conflicts in Kenya- Ethiopian border especially in Turkana region, communicable disease, terrorism, human trafficking and people smuggling, are good reasons why this partnership is critical to the future of horn of Africa.
But despite the cordial relation between the two economic giants of the region, there is need to transform “trust deficit” into strategic partnership which has been cited as the reason why Tanzanians have never embraced East African Community close to two decades since its revival after mistrust led to the collapse of original East African Community in 1977. To build trust and confidence among the two countries, Kenya and Ethiopia must establish an enhanced formal and informal communications, governmental and non governmental initiatives especially the one targeting the private sectors. There is also need for the duo to commit to peaceful settlement of disputes between warring communities in Kenya – Ethiopia border. Placing diplomacy at the forefront when it comes to disputes would offer both countries an opportunity to set trend of non use of force solutions that are rare in Africa and we all recall about Ethiopia’s bloody territorial conflict with Eritrea. As a friend of mine who works at McKinsey in New York keeps telling me, addressing geopolitical shifts and change are some of the most challenging tasks facing the continent. Change and transformation within African countries be it political or economic has ramifications far beyond their borders and the same applies with Kenya – Ethiopia partnership.
Significant transformation of the two countries economies has turned them to drivers of East Africa region’s economic growth. As changes take place, the two countries are now going to usher a fresh paradigm in the region’s interstate relations, one that promotes a dynamic equilibrium that will become an envy of many countries in Africa and beyond. If the proposed partnership is well built through respect by incorporating both countries principles and norms that include reflecting common responsibility in maintaining the region’s peace and stability as they have both demonstrated in Somalia, then the future for the partnership is more than guaranteed to succeed. To reflect such an approach, Ethiopia and Kenya should be ready to work toward a treaty of friendship and cooperation and commit to build infrastructures like ongoing Nairobi – Addis Ababa highway, confidence, solve tribal disputes through peaceful means and promote common security. Kenya and Ethiopia can do so much bilaterally, as well as for the horn of Africa region and for the rest of the East and Central Africa through their partnership. The way both countries have worked together in addressing terrorism challenges in the region can serve as a template for cooperation among them in addressing the larger challenges confronting the East Africa region. Me thinks that every accomplishment of this partnership sends a strong message to the rest of the region that countries, no matter how diverse they are culturally, politically or economically from one another, can work together not only for their mutual benefit but also for the good of their region and beyond. Just like Two Door Cinema song goes, something good can work.