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EXCLUSIVE: Ethiopian-Emirati Relations Are Mutually Beneficial And Highly Strategic

The UAE is one of Ethiopia’s top allies and a crucial investor in its economy. The Horn of Africa country can also reliably provide agricultural products to its arid Gulf partner, which makes their economic ties mutually beneficial.


By Andrew Korybko
—  American political analyst


Prime Minister Abiy’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a timely occasion to discuss the mutually beneficial and highly strategic nature of bilateral relations. He and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed (MBZ) praised their ties, with their friendly interaction reported upon in detail by the Khaleej Times in their informative article about the Ethiopian premier’s trip. More can be said about their relations than just what their two leaders discussed, however, which is the purpose of the present piece.

Observers should remember that MBZ played an important role in facilitating the Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement shortly after PM Abiy entered office in 2018. He helped bring these former rivals together and even eventually awarded their leaders the UAE’s highest civil honor that July while they were both visiting his country. That unforgettable development speaks to the UAE’s peaceful, neutral, and balanced grand strategy.

This comparatively small but very wealthy country has successfully diversified its economy from its hitherto disproportionate budgetary dependence on resource exports. Its Dubai Port (DP) World is globally renowned for its management of countless ports across the world. Furthermore, the UAE has invested in many developing countries too, and its Ethiopian and Eritrean partners aren’t an exception. The Emirates also used to use a facility in Eritrea during the height of its military intervention in Yemen.

Just last May, DP World struck a $1 billion deal with Somaliland and Ethiopia to develop a trade and logistics corridor linking the landlocked giant with the port of Berbera. This will help reduce Ethiopia’s dependence on Djibouti for connecting with the world ocean and thenceforth the global economy. The UAE keenly understands Ethiopia’s massive economic potential and wants to play a key role in unlocking it across the coming years. This will help the country rehabilitate after its latest war finally ends.

Speaking of which, the UAE also reportedly maintained an air corridor with Ethiopia throughout the course of that conflict. It was officially for humanitarian purposes but some sources claimed that military wares were also shipped via this route, though that’s never been confirmed. In any case, this corridor proved the UAE’s reliability as one of Ethiopia’s top allies. While the US-led West was spreading fake news about Ethiopia and pressuring it, the UAE bravely charted an independent path.

Having such a close Muslim partner is very important for Ethiopia in terms of optics too. The country’s sizeable Muslim minority is an inextricable part of this civilization-state’s national fabric. By engaging with all friendly countries equally without exception, Ethiopia is about to counteract false claims that the government mistreats Muslims. The UAE appreciates Ethiopia’s historical tolerance of all national faiths, which is something else that these two countries also have in common. 

Looking forward, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of Ethiopian-Emirati ties. The UAE is one of Ethiopia’s top allies and a crucial investor in its economy. The Horn of Africa country can also reliably provide agricultural products to its arid Gulf partner, which makes their economic ties mutually beneficial. Bilateral relations are therefore expected to continue strengthening in a comprehensive manner across all domains. They’re becoming more strategic by the day.

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